Saturday, March 29, 2014

MLB Predictions 2014

We are officially 1 day away from the start of the MLB season (since I refuse to consider the Australian games true games). Here are our predictions for the 2014 season!

American League

AL East- Boston Red Sox
The defending champs lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but the resurgent Grady Sizemore should help fill that gap and youngster Jackie Bradley Jr. will prove to be a more than capable backup should Sizemore go down. A full season from Clay Buchholz will also help bolster the Sox staff, leading them to another AL East title.

AL Central- Detroit Tigers
The loss of Prince Fielder may hurt the offense a bit, but I see no real competition in the division for the Tigers. Their pitching staff is as strong as any teams and recent acquisition Ian Kinsler should be a potent force in the middle of the Tigers lineup.

AL West- Oakland A's
The AL West could be the most intriguing division in the AL this season. Many people like the Angels as a bounce-back team, but a lack of pitching depth will prevent them from capturing the West in my opinion. Likewise for the Rangers, who have 3 starters on their opening day roster with no major league experience whatsoever, pitching will be a major problem. While the A's are certainly not a perfect team, I see them winning 90-92 games behind Sonny Gray, who could be a sleeper candidate for the AL Cy Young this season.

Wild Card- Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays
Both teams are loaded with young talent and I think the pitching staffs are what will make the difference in the always competitive Wild Card race. The Rays staff is anchored by Matt Moore, David Price, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson while the Royals have James Shields and the flame-throwing Yordano Ventura in their rotation. I could also see the Angels making a run at a playoff birth should Albert Pujols rebound from his 2013 numbers.

League Champs- Boston Red Sox
Rookie of the Year- Xander Bogaerts
Cy Young- David Price
MVP- Mike Trout

National League

NL East- Washington Nationals
The Nationals will make the playoffs off the strength of their rotation, which will also be the X factor as to how far they can go in the playoffs. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister could be the best playoff rotation in the league and if they can all stay healthy, this could be the year the Nationals make a run at the World Series title.

NL Central- St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are returning just about everybody from last year's roster and will only be better with a full season of Michael Wacha to look forward to. There is no reason they shouldn't win the NL Central title.

NL West- Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers might spend more than any other team in the MLB but they certainly have the talent to justify it. Their lineup is full of all-stars, from Matt Kemp to Yasiel Puig to Hanley Ramirez to Adrian Gonzalez. Having the best pitcher in the league certainly doesn't hurt either.

Wild Card- Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves

Both teams made the playoffs last year and they should both be even better this season. Gerrit Cole and Julio Teheran are two of the best young pitchers in the game and after a full season of experience in the majors, they will be ready to lead their teams to the playoffs once again.

League Champs- LA Dodgers
Rookie of the Year- Archie Bradley
Cy Young- Jose Fernandez
MVP- Hanley Ramirez

MLB Playoffs

World Series- Red Sox vs. Dodgers
The Red Sox and Dodgers boast two of the strongest lineups in the league and both have strong rotations as well. The Red Sox certainly have more depth which will could come back to hurt the Dodgers should one of their stars get hurt or underperform, but the strength of the Dodgers starting pitchers cannot be overlooked. Clayton Kershaw, Ryu and Zack Greinke are all great pitchers but only Kershaw has shown success in the postseason and with the amount of pitches he throws in a season, he won't be able to be effective by the end of the playoffs. I think this series will go 7 games with the Red Sox finally prevailing due to their pitching depth.

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 NBA Mock Draft #3: March Madness

The NFL Report is proud to present its latest 2014 NBA Mock Draft. For this edition, our NBA writer Matt Reppucci and our College Basketball writer Gabe Schmittlein alternate each pick, with Matt taking the odds and Gabe the evens. If you are interested in how the picks have changed over time, here are links to our 1st and 2nd Mock Drafts of the year. Enjoy!

1. Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
From before he even played one game for Kansas, Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be the #1 pick. However, a slow start to the year and strong play by Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid threatened Wiggins’s spot. Nonetheless, he has really come on recently (except for a poor showing in Kansas’s loss in the NCAA tournament) and put his incredible athleticism to use effectively. Wiggins has been compared to LeBron James coming out of college because of a similar stature scoring ability. If Wiggins can put on a few pounds of muscle and learn to play a more all-around game, he will certainly have success at the NBA level. The Bucks are a team with really no building blocks for the future, so would be ecstatic for the chance to rebuild their franchise with a player like Wiggins.

2. Philadelphia 76ers - Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke
What seems certain with this pick is that the Sixers will draft a small forward, as it is their biggest need and it is probably the most talented position in the draft, with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker leading the pack. The only question now is who will fall to them, Wiggins or Parker. The chances are growing that whoever ends up with the number one pick will choose Wiggins, so that leaves Parker for the Sixers here with the second pick. Parker is undoubtedly the most pro-ready player offensively in this class, and would fit in fantastically for a Sixers team that could use really use someone who is able to put points on the scoreboard with consistency.

3. Orlando Magic - Joel Embiid, C, Kansas 
Throughout the major part of the season, Embiid was looking like the best prospect in this year’s draft and possibly the #1 overall pick. He has a surprisingly well-developed post game, and can score perhaps more efficiently than any other player in this draft. His height gives him an advantage on the defensive end as well as on the boards. The Magic might have more of a need at point guard, so they may be tempted to take Exum, but Embiid is an incredibly rare talent who offers too much upside to pass up. The Magic almost won an NBA championship when they had a star center in Dwight Howard, so if they can get another one here they could trade their current center (who is pretty good in his own right) Nikola Vucevic for a point guard or keep him and have an amazing one-two punch at center that every team (minus the Rockets) would be envious of.

4. Los Angeles Lakers - Dante Exum, PG, Australia 
In nearly any other draft class, Exum would likely hear his name first overall - he’s that good. He resembles a better jump-shooting Michael Carter-Williams, with his tall stature (6’6”), great ball handling, and knack for finding an open man. At this point, the Lakers have needs all around the court, so it makes sense to take the best player available, and that is Exum. It also can’t hurt that Exum has publicly voiced his desire to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

5. Boston Celtics - Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky 
Truthfully, if the Celtics land the #5 pick they might be looking to trade it away. The really don’t have a need at power forward as Jared Sullinger has played very well this season, except Randle is clearly the best player available in this spot. If they don’t trade the pick, they will take Randle just because he is so much better than anyone else left, displayed by his 15.1 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. Although it would be ideal for the Celtics to draft a small forward or shooting guard, a duo of Sullinger and Randle in the front court would be incredibly dynamic. They can both rebound at very high rates, and they can both shoot from the outside, creating so many mismatches for opponents. The best part is, Randle is 19 and Sullinger is 22, which would give the celtics a great core for the future.

6. Utah Jazz - Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State 
The Jazz are a bit cramped in the frontcourt, so it makes sense that they might look to draft a backcourt partner for Trey Burke. Marcus Smart played point guard at Oklahoma State, but he would likely move to shooting guard in the NBA. He already has great skills on the inside for a guard, and if his outside shooting improves, he could be an offensive force for years to come. Though some will be worried by his three game suspension for pushing a fan, it certainly did not impact his on-court performance, as he returned to save the fortunes of a reeling Oklahoma State team.

7. Sacramento Kings - Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana 
Besides Randle, Vonleh is the best rebounder in this draft. He is averaging a near double double, with 11.3 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. The Kings are set at the center position with DeMarcus Cousins and point guard with Isaiah Thomas, small forward with Rudy Gay, and shooting guard with Ben McLemore. However, their major problems are that they have no power forward complement to Cousins, and that as a team their talented players have been underachieving. Adding an exciting piece like Vonleh who could have been a top 3-5 pick in another not-so-stacked draft could launch the Kings into the next level and help them finally realize their potential. Vonleh will help them immensely on the boards as well as taking some pressure of Cousins in the post, making this really the perfect pick for the kings.

8. Detroit Pistons - Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State 
Harris has been oddly underwhelming in March Madness thus far, but in a draft class that is not full of top-tier shooting guards, his draft stock probably won’t drop too much. Though his shooting touch has slightly abandoned him, his incredible defensive work rate has not. For a Pistons team that is in dire need of some backcourt help, especially on the defensive end, drafting Harris would make tremendous sense.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers - Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona 
The Cavaliers are in turmoil as a franchise for, like the Kings, they have good players who are not playing well. Last year they had the #1 overall pick but horrendously used it on Anthony Bennett. What they Cavs really need is to get more athletic, to get someone who can run the floor with Kyrie Irving, does not demand the ball all the time (Dion Waiters, anyone?) but can score when needed. They don’t really need a power forward as they seemingly have all positions covered, but Bennett is already looking like a bust so they would be smart to take Gordon here.

10. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks) - Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia 
The Nuggets are one of the leading teams in terms of drafting international talents, so it should be no surprise that they would go after the top international player in this draft, Dario Saric. Though the Nuggets have no immediate need at the small forward or power forward position, Saric seems to be a bit of a project player, and may even stay international for a year or two after he is drafted. Thus, though this pick may not pay immediate dividends, it makes sense for the Nuggets to draft Saric, as he his power forward frame and his small forward ball skills will make him a difficult matchup problem down the road.

11. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Pelicans) - Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Duke 
Rodney Hood has been a very consistent player this year for Duke, and unlike some of the top talent in this draft, he hasn’t had any long stretches of bad play. His shooting is incredible, including a 42% shooting percentage from three-point range, and his size gives him mismatches over most other shooting guards (as well as gives him versatility to play small forward). While sometimes he has bad days shooting, all great shooters do, the 76ers would be much improved by taking Hood after already taking Jabari Parker in this draft. That would give them a very formidable starting rotation of Michael Carter-Williams, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Thaddeus Young, and Nerlens Noel, who are all very young and talented, setting them up beautifully for the future.

12. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets) - Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton 
If the Magic do end up going for Embiid with their first pick, they will likely look for a small forward with this pick. Tobias Harris is certainly a solid player, but Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo already have the two guard spots locked up, so reinforcing the small forward position makes sense. McDermott may not have the upside of other players in this draft, but he can certainly provide immediate production for a Magic team that may be back in the playoff hunt sooner than predicted.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves - Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky 
While it could be argued that the Timberwolves need more offense besides Kevin Love, the truth is that Love, the face of their franchise, will be departing either by trade this year or free agency next. They Wolves would be smart to put a plan in place to replace him, and since it would be impossible to do that with one player, if they can get a great defender and rebounder this year in Cauley-Stein, they could draft a more athletic power forward who can score next year, setting them up well for Love’s departure. Cauley-Stein averages 2.9 blocks per game and just under 7 rebounds per game, although he would most definitely get more if Julius Randle weren’t grabbing so many. Cauley-Stein would immediately improve the Wolves’ defense, and could eventually improve offensively with the right coaching.

14. Phoenix Suns - Clint Capela, SF/PF, Switzerland 
The Suns are loaded with three picks in this years draft, so it makes sense that they might go international here, especially with Capella being as exciting a prospect as he is. He possesses incredible athleticism, and though he lacks a bit of polish, especially with his jump shot, his potential is endless. Though the Suns may have to wait a couple years until they truly reap the benefits of this pick, Capella could end up being a fantastic player for them, especially because small forward and power forward are two positions of need for the Suns.

15. Atlanta Hawks - James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky 
The Hawks have been looking for a true scorer since they traded away Joe Johnson, and they could be getting a steal this late in the lottery with James Young. Young is extremely athletic and is at his best when penetrating, which gives him the opportunity to score a lot of points as well as use his passing skills (which are very good in their own right) to dish the ball out to the Hawks’ shooters like Kyle Korver to give them more opportunities. While not as good of a shooter as Joe Johnson yet, Young could be the next cornerstone of this Hawks franchise if he develops well (he is only 18) and continues to use his athletic ability to get the paint.

16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats) - Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA 
Zach LaVine may be the most athletic player in this draft class - even more so than Andrew Wiggins. Teams won’t be too turned off by the fact that he doesn’t start for UCLA because he has two of the top guards in the country, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, in front of him. The Bulls are in desperate need of a shooting guard to take some pressure off of Derrick Rose, and Zach LaVine has the physical tools to develop into a star at the two guard.

17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards) - Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan 
Stauskas is an incredible shooter and could have gone even earlier in a different year. He is averaging an unreal 45.1% from beyond the three-point line, which is almost the same percentage as his actual shooting percentage (47.3). While the number of his total shooting percentage looks too low, it is hard for wing players to shoot for a very high percentage as they don’t penetrate and drive to the paint as much as others. The three-point percentage really stands out and shows what great potential Stauskas has, and that makes him exactly the type of player that the Suns are looking for and would love to draft here.

18. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets) - Kyle Anderson, SG/SF, UCLA
Though Kyle Anderson will likely be drafted after his UCLA backcourt counterpart Zach LaVine, Anderson is probably the better player at the current moment. With an incredibly smooth jump shot and great ball handling and passing for a 6’9” player, Anderson is strangely reminiscent of former Celtic Paul Pierce. As the Celtics look to rebuild, they need to identify players that could be part of their core for years to come, and Anderson is one such player.

19. Chicago Bulls - Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville 
This is a steal for the Bulls here. Harrell has been nearly as good as Randle and Vonleh on the boards (8.4 rebounds per game) and added to his 14 points per game has almost been a double double machine. Since Randle and Vonleh went so high, Harrell logically should have as well, and therefore the Bulls would be absolutely ecstatic to land a big man who is athletic enough to score in the post but also rebound and play defense (as coach Tom Thibodeau loves).

20. Toronto Raptors - Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia 
Having just turned 19 years old, Hezonja is one of the youngest players in this draft class, so it understandable that he is not an entirely polished player yet. Though he has a very good mid-range and long-range jump shot and his physical tools are well above average, he still needs to work on his attitude, decision making, and ball handling. The Raptors have made a habit of drafting international players in recent years, so it would not be a surprise to see them pick him here and perhaps let him work on his game for a couple years in Europe before coming to the NBA.

21. Dallas Mavericks - Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse 
Tyler Ennis is another player who, frankly, should have gone higher. However none of the teams that hold the mid-round picks really have a need at point guard. Therefore, the Mavericks would be overjoyed to have Ennis fall into their laps at #21. Ennis is a team leader who would make all of their players better due to his ability to pass the ball yet score when needed. Dirk Nowitzki would certainly love to have a point guard who can get him the ball quickly instead of controlling the ball a lot himself. Monta Ellis would also love to have a running-mate in the backcourt. Taking Ennis here would be the obvious move here for Dallas.

22. Memphis Grizzlies - T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
If Warren had just managed to knock down a couple more free throws in NC State’s gut wrenching loss to Saint Louis (NC State lost 70-73 and Warren went 6 of 14 from the line) his stock would likely have risen four or five spots and he would have saved my bracket in the process. Unfortunately for him, that did not happen. However, where Warren is unfortunate, the Grizzlies are the opposite, as they will manage to pick up one of the most NBA ready players in the draft, who also happens to fill a positional need for the Grizzlies.

23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors) - Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
Grant is an explosive athlete who the Jazz would welcome with open arms after already selecting Marcus Smart earlier in this draft.  With these two players, the team would be immediately more athletic and they would actually have a clear core of players whom they can build around for the future.  Grant is a winner, and is a very good player all-around.  However, he is at his best when running the floor and leaping for alley-oops (despite his smaller 6'8" height), which is where he would thrive on a team with Marcus Smart.  This draft scenario is very promising for the Jazz, so they would be smart to take a similar approach.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers) - P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends 
Before Hairston was dismissed from North Carolina and before people realized how good this draft class was going to be, Hairston looked in line to become a top five pick. Obviously, things went downhill from there, but he has still managed to keep his name in the first round of most draft boards by dominating the D league this season. The Bobcats are desperate for a wing scorer, and Hairston, who is averaging 21.1 points per game for the Texas Legends, would be a perfect fit.

25. Houston Rockets - Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State 
One of the only seniors that will be drafted in the first round this year, Payne is a very NBA ready prospect who will fit in well in a position of need with the Rockets. He could push them from contenders to favorites with his skill as a rebounder (7.3 per game) to take some pressure of Dwight Howard, a scorer (16.6 points per game), his athleticism, and surprising 43.8% three-point percentage. Payne is an all-around solid player who knows how to win and would be the perfect piece that the Rockets would love to add this late in the draft.

26. Miami Heat - Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut 
I am honestly clueless as to why Shabazz Napier is not going to be a higher pick in the NBA draft. My best guess is that there is a predisposed model as to what makes a good prospect: large frame and extremely athletic. Sure, Napier doesn’t exactly fit that model, but he has dominated the college game, so I don’t see why people continue to write him off as a great prospect. He is a lights out shooter, a fantastic passer, and even helps out on the boards, not to mention that he is extremely clutch and has a great attitude. The Miami Heat might be willing to take a relatively low-risk chance on a player like Napier, especially because they still don’t have a completely stable situation at the point guard position.

27. Los Angeles Clippers - K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson 
The Clippers are really only lacking at the small forward position, yet are already good enough that their small forward can be a role player. McDaniels would fit in perfectly in that role, as he could use his very solid all-around game to help the team in bits when needed. He can score sometimes (17.2 points per game), rebound sometimes (7.1 rebounds per game), defend very well (2.8 blocks per game), and use his athleticism to drive to the rim or run the floor. Although his shooting is not great, the Clippers already have great shooters in Jamal Crawford and JJ Reddick, so they wouldn’t need McDaniels to be one. He would fit in very nicely with a Clippers team looking to make a run at a title.

28. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers) - Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina 
This is the Suns third pick in the first round, and even though they already drafted international with one of their previous picks, it seems as if they might go outside the states again here. Nurkic is a prospect with outrageous upside - at 6’11” and 280 pounds, he has one of the best frames in this draft class, and his post game is second to only Joel Embiid. However, there are questions about his attitude, dedication, and decision making that have caused some teams to turn their backs on him but have not deterred other suitors in the slightest. The Suns have no current staple at the center position, so Nurkic might be worth a try for the them, especially with the potential he provides.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State 
Early has played very consistently all season, although he has never been considered an elite prospect. As a senior he has developed his game so that he is now a very solid small forward and all-around player. He can score by using his athleticism (16.4 points per game), and sometimes go off from three-point range (37.5%). Lately, he has played so well in the NCAA tournament (23 points against Cal Poly and 31 against Kentucky) that his stock has probably moved up into the first round. The Thunder would love to have a solid role player at small-forward, so would welcome Early with this pick.

30. San Antonio Spurs - Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona 
In my opinion, Nick Johnson has been one of the best players in college basketball this year. He has been the key player for one of the top teams in the country, and is able to perform on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. While he may be the best perimeter defender in all of college basketball, his offense is not far behind, as his outside shooting is great and he can get to the rim with ease. The Spurs, a team that puts great value on attitude and hard work, would be ecstatic if Johnson fell to them here, especially seeing as Manu Ginobili might not have too many more years in him.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Game Recap: (4) San Diego State University vs. (1) Arizona

Pac 12 player of the year Nick Johnson was 0 for 10 from the field for 0 points with under three minutes remaining and Arizona leading by just three.  When he finally got it going, they didn't have too much trouble closing out the game.  Johnson scored 15 points in the final three minutes including all eight of his free throws, but he really has Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to thank for even putting him in the situation to have that sort of finish.  Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson ended the game with more than half of Arizona's points, which will give them great hope going forward, as previously it's been Nick Johnson carrying most of the load.  Some credit must be given to Sand Diego State, in particular Xavier Thames and Josh Davis, for having the upper hand for much of the game, but in the end, Arizona was simply the better team.

Game Recap: (4) UCLA vs. (1) Florida

There is no doubt in my mind that UCLA's Kyle Anderson was the best player in this game.  However, as is generally the case, Florida won because they were the better overall team.  There was not a single player on Florida that didn't have an impact when they were in the game, but undoubtedly the most impressive performance from Florida was that of Scottie Wilbekin down the stretch.  Wilbekin made several impossible shots to seal the game for the Gators, including an outrageous banked jump shot over a much taller defender to put them up seven with just 2:38 left.  Though this contest was much closer than the score would indicate, Florida will be enthused by the result over a UCLA team that I believe had one of the most talented rosters in the whole tournament.

Game Recap: (6) Baylor vs. (2) Wisconsin

Wisconsin was criminally underrated coming into this game against the Baylor Bears.  People ate up the exciting, fast paced offense of the Bears and rejected the slow, often boring play style of the Badgers.  It just goes to show that exciting basketball doesn't always make efficient basketball, while boring basketball, when used correctly, can make for extremely effective basketball.  The Badgers played great defense and (to nobody's surprise) ran half court set after half court set to perfection on their way to an absolute route of Baylor.  The television providers won't be happy, but Wisconsin will move on to the Elite Eight and look poised to stay in the tournament even longer.

Game Recap: (11) Dayton vs. (10) Stanford

Coming into this game, the majority of college basketball experts said that Stanford had the better team, and I would have agreed with them.  Stanford have fantastic scoring threats - Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, and Chasson Randle all average double digit points - and they played in a slightly more prestigious league than Dayton, the Pac 12.  However, they never could have expected the level of intensity and hustle that Dayton would bring to the game.  Simply enough, Dayton wanted the win so much more than Stanford.  Maybe at some point Dayton's lack of world-beating talent will catch up to them, but it hasn't happened yet... So long Stanford cowbell boy, and hello Dayton Flyers.  Welcome to the Elite Eight.

MLB Power Rankings- 1-10

The start of baseball season is finally upon us. There is certainly no lack of storylines to follow this season; Yasiel Puig's development as a player (and person), Derek Jeter's impending retirement, the expansion of replay among other things. Here are our 2014 pre-season power rankings!

1. Boston Red Sox

The defending champs will surely miss Jacoby Ellsbury's speed but besides that, they are returning nearly their entire championship roster from last season. A healthy season from Clay Buchholz should help bolster the rotation and John Farrell will be faced with an interesting decision as to who will start in center field for the Sox, Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr.

2- Dodgers

The Dodgers have as much potential as any team in the MLB but also the most risk. If Matt Kemp remains healthy for even 120 games and Yasiel Puig can produce similar numbers to last season, the Dodgers will be the team to beat in the NL. An injured Kemp, regression from Puig, concerns over Carl Crawford's and Adrian Gonzalez's age and a lack of rotational depth, however, could derail the Dodgers on their quest for a World Series title.

3- Cardinals

The Cardinals have been one of the most successful franchises in the MLB over the past decade and that looks to be the case in 2014. There are no holes in their roster and their experience should carry them far into the playoffs.

4- Tigers

People quickly forget how well the Tigers performed in the ALCS against the Red Sox. With the exception of David Ortiz, the Red Sox lineup was totally dominated by the Tigers rotation and a rebound year from Verlander should help propel Detroit into the playoffs yet again.

5- Nationals

Though there are some concerns in their lineup, the Nationals rotation should be one of the best in the MLB this season. Anchored by young aces Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, the Nationals will go as far as their rotation takes them.

6- Tampa Bay Rays

Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Rays have amassed an impressive amount of young talent, specifically in their rotation. Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer are all very talented pitchers who should have success in the stacked AL East and the Rays will make a serious run at the Wild Card spot in the AL.

7- Atlanta Braves

The Braves are a great bounce-back candidate for 2014. BJ Upton can't do any worse than he did last season and Justin Upton and Jason Heyward could finally break out this season. One player to watch is Julio Teheran, who could have a real shot at contending for a Cy Young this season.

8- Texas Rangers

The Rangers added slugger Prince Fielder to their already powerful lineup this offseason, though there are concerns about their rotation. The Rangers success hinges upon Yu Darvish's health, which, at the moment, is looking questionable at best.

9- LA Angels

After a very disappointing 2013 season, the Angels are poised to have a nice season in 2014. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton should both rebound and when they do, the Angels will have a lineup capable of carrying them into the playoffs. Their rotation has some question marks but there is plenty of time to address those issues.

10- Oakland A's

Much like the Rays, the A's are a low budget team that consistently puts a talented team on the field due to a brilliant front office. The top of the A's rotation is especially promising this year with Sonny Gray taking the mound on opening day for Oakland and the teams positional depth should help them be contenders in the AL West.

Top 20 Most Memorable Plays From 2013 NFL Season

Honorable Mention: Kyle Orton Week 17 INT: For the second year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys had the opportunity to make the playoffs with a Week 17 victory, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles. The only problem: Tony Romo would not be able to play. Replacement quarterback Kyle Orton had played well throughout the game, but with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter, Dallas needed three points in order to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. Instead, Orton threw a pick on the first play of the possession, costing Dallas a spot in the playoffs.

20. Peyton Manning Running TD: With Denver up by 4 in a game against the Cowboys, Peyton Manning looked to maintain his team's perfect season by scoring on 3rd and goal. For the first time in five years, Peyton Manning pretended to hand the ball to his running back, which even fooled the camera man. Secretly, Manning had tucked the ball into his arm, and rushed for the score.

19. Matt Prater Breaks Kicking Record: With three seconds left in the first half, the Denver Broncos were seemingly too far to attempt a Hail Mary pass, which is why they brought out kicker Matt Prater. In the Denver air, a successful 64-yard field goal did not seem out of the question. Many kickers had already converted on a 63-yard kick, but no other kicker had exceeded 64 yards. In the end, Prater kicked it through the uprights, which makes it the longest field goal in NFL history.

18. Matthew Stafford Fake Spike: In a close game with the Dallas Cowboys, Matthew Stafford completed a 22-yard pass to Calvin Johnson, which placed the ball at the 1-yard line. With the clock ticking down, Stafford was calling for a fake spike, but as he lined up to snap the ball, he noticed that the Cowboys' linebackers were out of position. Once the ball was hiked, Stafford decided to run the ball into the end zone himself, which ended up being the game winning touchdown.

17. Patriots-Panthers Controversy: On a Monday Night Football game, Cam Newton and the Panthers had just drove down the field for the game-leading score. At one point, it seemed that the Patriots would be able to do the same, which would have won them the game. Instead, the final play of the game resulted in a controversial ending, where Tom Brady threw a deep pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone, which was then intercepted by Robert Lester. Some people believe Luke Kuechly should have been called for holding, while others believe the refs made the right decision by not throwing a flag.

16. Super Bowl Pick 6: Although the Denver Broncos still had a chance to tie Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, that window quickly vanished following Malcolm Smith's pick six. Smith's interception gave Seattle the self-confidence needed to close out this game, and the interception earned Smith Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.

15. Patriots Lose to Jets on Questionable Penalty: Handing the New England Patriots their second loss in three games, the New York Jets were somehow able to beat the Patriots in overtime off of a missed field goal. Chris Jones of the Patriots was called for pushing one of his teammates into the pile on Nick Folk's missed 56-yard field goal. The 15 yard misconduct led to New York's game winning field goal on the next play.

14. NaVorro Bowman Pick 6 vs. Falcons: As the Atlanta Falcons marched down the field under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons needed another 10 yards for a potential game winning touchdown on the road. NaVorro Bowman had other plans. After the ball was tipped by Falcons receiver Harry Douglas, Bowman caught the ball, and ran the ball 89 yards for a touchdown.

13. Ahmad Brooks' Sack Overturned: With less than four minutes left in the game, and the New Orleans Saints driving down the field, the San Francisco 49ers needed to stop Drew Brees' offense if they were to win this close game. Suddenly, Ahmad Brooks managed to run past the offensive lineman and drill Drew Brees, stripping the ball in the process. San Francisco recovered the ball, yet the referees overturned the play, saying that Brooks' tackle was too high, and therefore, a 15-yard penalty. The Saints went on to win the game.
12. Antonio Brown Steps Out of Bounds: Down six points, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to score a touchdown in order to beat the Dolphins at home. As time expired, Ben Roethlisberger took the snap, and thew a pass to Emmanuel Sanders, who then lateraled the ball to fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown. Miraculously, it appeared that Brown would score the touchdown and win the game for Pittsburgh; however, at the 12 yard line, the edge of Brown's foot hit the sideline, thus costing Pittsburgh the game.

11. Punt Fumble in Pats-Broncos Game: To cap-off a 24 point comeback completed by the Patriots in a Sunday Night Football Game, the Patriots were forced to punt the ball back to Denver in overtime, instead of going for it on fourth down. The decision proved to be successful. The windy conditions caused the ball to flutter through the air, and eventually hit a Denver Bronco accidentally. The ball was then recovered by New England, which led to a game-winning field goal by Stephen Gostowski (video is here).

10. Ryan Succop Missed Field Goal: With a playoff spot on the line, the San Diego Chargers needed the Chiefs to miss a potentially game-winning field goal in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Succopp went on to miss the field goal, as the Chargers went on to win in overtime, which ended the Steelers' bid for a playoff spot. Later, it was announced that the Chiefs were aligned in an illegal formation, that was left uncalled during the field goal.

9. Patriots Saints: After being handed the first loss of the season the previous week, New England were looking to do the same for New Orleans, who had yet to be defeated at the time. The Saints had multiple chances to end the game, but with five seconds left, Tom Brady connected with Kenbrell Thompkins for the game winning score at home, thus handing the Saints their first loss of the season.

8. Peyton Manning Record Breaking TD: On 1st & 10 with under 5 minutes left in the game, Peyton Manning dropped back in the pocket, unleashed a pass to the right side of the field, and watched as Julius Thomas caught the the 25-yard pass in the end zone to break the single season passing touchdown record. This was not the only NFL record broken by Peyton this season, but I'm sure this record will be the most memorable for Peyton.

7. AJ Green Hail Mary: Even though the Cincinnati Bengals would go onto to lose this game against their division rivals, AJ Green's miraculous Hail Mary catch as time expired sent the game into overtime. At one point, it seemed that the group of receivers and defensive backs would result in an incomplete pass, yet somehow, the ball floated into the hands of star receiver AJ Green.

6. Rodgers' Throw vs Bears: In Aaron Rodgers' return against the Bears in Week 17, the winner between Green Bay and Chicago would earn a trip to the playoffs. Although games between these two teams are normally intense due to their rivalry, this game had much more on the line. So with the Packers down by one with under a minute to go, Rodgers needed to help his offense achieve the game winning score in order to help his team win the NFC North. As Chicago's pass rush relentlessly pursued Rodgers, he launched a ball downfield to a wide-open Randall Cobb, ultimately the game winning touchdown.

5. Peyton Manning Safety: On the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning seemed ready to hike the ball, but at the last second, he took a few steps forward in the pocket to make one final audible. The center did not know this; as a result, the ball was snapped, and flew right past Peyton Manning's head. The ball rolled into the end zone for a safety, which was a terrible start for Denver in the Super Bowl.

4. Coach Tomlin Gets in Way: In one of the most bitter rivalries in all of football, Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens returned a kickoff against the Steelers, and in a one possession game, a score would have been extremely helpful for the Ravens. At one point, it seemed that Jones would have scored, but coach Mike Tomlin had other plans. Tomlin managed to get in the way of Jones, who was later tackled before entering the end zone. The Steelers went on to lose the game, and Tomlin was fined $100,000 for the incident.

3. Luck vs Chiefs lucky run: With 10 minutes remaining in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, Andrew Luck was in the process of mounting an incredible comeback. The Colts, at one point, were down by 28 points, yet Andrew Luck and the Colts would not go away. On this play in particular, running back Donald Brown fumbled the ball at the goal line, yet quarterback Andrew Luck swooped in and leaped for the touchdown. In the end, Indianapolis  went on to win the game and advance to the next round of the playoffs.

2. Megatron Triple team: In the fourth quarter, the Detroit Lions were down 7 to the Cincinnati Bengals and were in desperate need of converting on a 3rd and 18. So as a Bengals defender approached Stafford from his blind side, Stafford unleashed a pass downfield to Megatron. Impossibly, Calvin Johnson was able to catch the ball despite three defenders in his presence for the score (the link is here).

1. Sherman tip: With under three-and-a-half minutes left in the game, the San Francisco 49ers were given the ball on their own 22 yard line. With time winding down, Colin Kaepernick was marching his team downfield, and it almost seemed inevitable that the 49ers would score, thus, sending them to the Super Bowl for the second straight season. But Richard Sherman had other plans. As Kaepernick lobbed a pass in the end zone to Michael Crabtree, Richard Sherman tipped the ball into the arms of his teammate, sealing the win for Seattle. Sherman's rant following the game went viral, and as we know, this interception against San Francisco helped Seattle go on to win the Super Bowl against Denver. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

College Football-NFL Comparisons: Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins rivals Marquise Lee as the top wide receiver in this year's draft. The lean, elegant, quick Clemson Tiger had a stellar collegiate career by any standard, and impressed at the combine (a 4.43 40 will cement his status as an elite player nicely), such that most mock drafts have him going early in the first, top 10 even. Tampa Bay with the seventh overall pick is an intriguing suitor, and they would certainly be happy to have him, but we can't really tell if Watkins will make it that far or, on the flip side, be valued that highly. Regardless, Watkins looks to be an excellent player at the next level, with maturity and talent in equal measure. As an excellent player he already merits an intriguing comparison with Ravens wideout Torrey Smith. While Watkins has a formidable skill set in terms of hands and winning the ball, the area where he truly excels and would even stand out in the NFL is after the catch. Watkins puts together a great and even comical highlight reel with elusiveness and speed. He extends plays and his yards after the catch are astronomical at times. He has the ability to make huge plays with explosive moves, making plenty of decent secondaries look stupid. We have seen this all before in many a great NFL receiver, but Smith especially draws a good comparison in this regard. Midway through Watkins' freshman season (as a true freshman in 2011), an astonishing 63% of his yards came after the catch! This is no statical anomaly for a player who didn't see much of the field, as Watkins totaled over 1,200 yards his freshman season. So he played a lot, made a lot of big plays, and did most of his considerable damage on his feet with the ball in his hands. Beyond this, he has great hands and wins balls out of the air, with 27 touchdowns in three years of college ball. A tempting prospect for any NFL team, Watkins should excel wherever he lands, and he will be fun to watch for years to come.

Friday, March 14, 2014

NFL Free Agency: Day 4 Recap

Hakeem Knicks Signs with Colts: After Reggie Wayne missed the majority of the 2013 season due to injury, the Colts realized that quarterback Andrew Luck was in desperate need of talent at the wide receiver position. The contract will only be for one year, but if things go well in Indy next season, one can expect that the contract would be renegotiated between both sides.

Steve Smith Joins Ravens: After Steve Smith's career with the Carolina Panthers ended in an ugly fashion, Smith will now play for the Baltimore Ravens for the next three seasons. That being said, the Ravens are scheduled to play Carolina at some point in 2014, although it is yet to be announced where the game will be played.

Cortland Finnegan to Play for Dolphins: Cortland Finnegan spent just two years in St. Louis before becoming a free agent, and now, he will find a new destination for the third time in four years. Finnegan played in just seven games last season with 1 interception, no sacks, and no forced fumbles. The deal is reportedly worth $11 million for two years.

Michael Oher Leaves Baltimore for Tennessee: Michael Oher, a player known by many for his interesting story portrayed in the film The Blind Side, has decided to leave Baltimore and will now be joining the Tennessee Titans. Although he is not considered to be one of the league's best offensive tackles, his celebrity status makes this transaction a notable storyline.

Patriots Officially Sign Brandon Browner: Despite his history with performance enhancing drugs, the Patriots were willing to take the risk with this cornerback from Seattle. Browner's suspension will carry over into the first four games of the season, but once he is back, Browner will play alongside recently-signed corner Darrelle Revis.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fan Creates Funny Brandon Weeden "Tribute" Video

After just two seasons with the team, the Cleveland Browns have decided to release 30-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden's combined record with the team stood at 9-23, a win percentage of just 28.12%. In response to the recent news of Weeden's departure, a football fan decided to create a comical highlight video, but not in the traditional sense. This fan decided to show the many interceptions of Weeden's career, with the concluding slide reading, "Thanks for the memories, Brandon." Click to watch the video below.

NFL Free Agency: Day 3 Recap

Darren Sproles Traded to Eagles: Widely considered to be the most versatile running back in all of football, Darren Sproles has now been traded to Philadelphia from his team of three years. The Eagles acquiring Sproles is somewhat surprising because they already have All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy. At 30 years old, the Eagles will have to pay the $3.5 million left on Sproles' contract for one season, but Chip Kelly appears to be content with his recent acquisition.

Vince Wilfork Asks to be Released by Pats: Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has asked the New England Patriots, a franchise that he has played for throughout his career, to be released. The New England Patriots were looking to re-negotiate his contract after an injury to the Achilles cost him the majority of the 2013 season. Wilfork did not take the news well. A five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion, Vince Wilfork may still have trouble finding eligible suitors due to the likeliness of future injuries.

Justin Tuck Accepts Deal from Raiders: The Oakland Raiders are looking to improve their weak pass rush by acquiring former New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. This two-time All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion will make $11 million over the course of two years. After back-to-back seasons with single-digit sacks, Tuck recorded 11 sacks in 2013, so the Oakland Raiders are now looking to improve from their 38 sacks in 2013.

Steve Smith Officially Cut By Panthers: After 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Steve Smith has officially been cut from the Panthers' roster. It is rumored that the Panthers looked to dump the 34 year old receiver in order to require a younger Hakeem Knicks.

Future HOF James Harrison Cut: After the Cincinnati Bengals picked up James Harrison just one-year ago, the Bengals have decided to drop this aging star in order to look for more youthful talent. Despite his great years in Pittsburgh, Harrison recorded just 2 sacks and 30 tackles despite playing in 15 games in 2013.

Other Storylines: Chris Johnson will reportedly take a pay cut in order to leave Tennessee, Ted Ginn joins Cardinals under a three-year contract, Brandon Browners is rumored to have reached an agreement with New England, and LaMarr Woodley joins Justin Tuck in Oakland.

College Football-NFL Comparisons: Johnny Manziel

        I've been waiting to write this one for a while now, as a good debate surrounding Manziel fires me up like it does any college football enthusiast. Say what you want about Manziel, (and everyone takes this liberty), he is going to play a game for a living and make a lot of money doing it. I am not very interested in the off the field stuff (some NFL scouts reportedly are) but I, like most anyone with even a passing interest in football, am enormously intrigued by Manziel as a player. Because, amazingly, the debate does not stop when Manziel steps on the field. People remain divided about him, even as a player, and many question his NFL success. Jaworski, for one, "wouldn't take Manziel in the first three rounds." But the kid won a Heisman for Pete's sake. So of course there is much debate about his ability to perform, but chances are he will go early, some say fifth overall to the Raiders. I see this happening, easily, and when Manziel goes to the NFL I could see him playing like a Doug Flutie.

        Flutie's career was fragmented and short of stellar, but of course he owns some serious college fame and was a great collegiate player. This can undoubtedly be said about Manziel as well, but taken on its own would be a very weak comparison. There are several reasons I join others (specifically, in drawing this comparison: Flutie was mobile as anyone, shocking defenses with his ability to extend plays, move in and out of the pocket, and throw on the run. Manziel and Flutie are incredibly similar in this regard: They make a great highlight reel, with the occasional truly outstanding play, one that runs on Sportscenter for easily a year. Evading and frustrating defensive lines, showing explosive speed and outstanding athleticism, and capping it off with some sort of ridiculous, off balance throw ten seconds after the ball was snapped. Both also exhibit very solid arm strength, and even in the pocket throw a fairly accurate ball downfield, especially down the sideline. Manziel, of course, hopes to have a more prominent run than Flutie in the NFL, perhaps sans the Canadian stints. It should be fun to watch him play professional football, and I recommend you get used to hearing the talk about him, because sometimes it seems that's all we do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NFL Free Agency: Day 2 Recap

Darrelle Revis Signs with Patriots: After the Denver Broncos dominated the first day of free agency, Bill Belicheck retaliated by making a big signing of his own. Darrelle Revis is meant to serve as Aqib Talib's replacement, but they are not taking a huge risk because the contract is for just one season ($12 million). Revis' disappointing season in 2013 clearly drove down the price of his yearly salary, so a successful season in 2014 may allow Revis to earn a new contract for more money. With a rematch between Denver and New England seemingly unavoidable, it will be interesting to see how these new teams will match up against one another.

DeMarcus Ware Signs with Denver: Not only did Denver sign Pro-Bowlers Aqib Talib and TJ Ward in this year's free agency, but the addition of DeMarcus Ware today will clearly enhance a previously mediocre defense. Ware totaled 117 sacks over the course of his career, which is the most sacks by any player in a nine year span, only behind Hall-of-Famer Reggie White; however, Ware had the lowest sack total of his career last season with six, and also had no forced fumbles for the first time of his career.

Eric Decker Now A New York Jet: Close to midnight on day two of the NFL's free agency, it was announced that Eric Decker will play for the New York Jets next season, where he will make 36.25 million over the course of five years. It comes as no surprise that the Broncos were unable to re-sign Decker following their recent acquisitions (Talib, Ward, and Ware).

Golden Tate Strikes Deal with Lions: Throughout Calvin Johnson's career, he has never played alongside a game-changing wide-receiver, which obviously puts a lot of pressure on Megatron to succeed. Now that the Lions have signed Golden Tate to a five-year deal worth $31 million, Matthew Stafford will have another wide receiver to choose from, which may draw potential double teams away from Calvin.

Steve Smith No Longer a Carolina Panther: After spending thirteen years in Carolina, today, we were told that Steve Smith will no longer be a pat of the Panthers' organization. The date of his release has yet to be announced, but there will clearly be many teams looking to sign the future Hall-of-Famer.

Jared Allen May Leave the NFL: Jared Allen said today that he would be willing to leave the NFL if he is not offered the right amount of money. Earlier in the day, Denver supposedly offered Allen 3-years, $30 million, but instead, this offer was accepted by DeMarcus Ware. Now, Allen will have to wait for an equal amount of money, or else he will retire from the NFL.

Other notable story lines: Seattle Seahawks released defensive end Chris Clemens, Josh McCown signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Brandon Weeden was cut by the Cleveland Browns. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

NFL Free Agency: Day 1 Recap

Aqib Talib Signs with Rival Broncos: After New England was unable to sign their star cornerback this past offseason, the Denver Broncos managed to swoop in, and snag Talib off of the market. The contract will be worth $57 million over the course of six-years, even though Talib has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. One thing is for sure: the next time Talib sees Welker in Denver's locker room, the two will have an awkward encounter.

Jonathan Martin Traded to 49ers: Despite all of the controversy surrounding Martin, as well as his nemesis, Incognito, the 49ers were willing to trade for Martin. Martin will now be under his former head coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. The trade was especially surprising due to the recent reports that Harbaugh was losing control over the locker room, so it will be interesting to see how Martin affects the team chemistry.

Jairus Byrd Signs Deal with Saints: Jarius Byrd, a three time All-Pro, has struck a deal with the New Orleans Saints, which is rumored to be worth 6-years, $56 million contract. In the past 5 years, Jairus Byrd recorded 22 interceptions as a safety in Buffalo, which can certainly help the Saints' pass defense, who ranked 24th overall in interceptions last season.

DeMarcus Ware Cut by Dallas Cowboys: The Dallas Cowboys have decided to cut DeMarcus Ware, which will free up more than $16 million in cap space. Now, the Denver Broncos have emerged as one of the favorites to sign the 7-time pro bowler, as well as Defensive Player of the Year.

Julius Peppers Cut By Bears: Julius Peppers, an 8-time Pro Bowler, has officially been cut from the Chicago Bear;s roster. At 34 years old, it comes as no surprise that Pepper saw a drop-oof in his statistics last season compared to 2012.

Jets Showing Interest in Maurice Jones-Drew: After being considered to be one of the best running backs in the league, MJD was unable to find his groove last season due to his injury, as he rushed for 803 yards with 5 scores in 15 games. Depsite his poor season in 2013, the Jets are rumored to show interest in the 29 year-old running back.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

College Basketball Conference Tournament Predictions

American - Louisville
The American Conference has been an absolute mess this year, with none of the tope five teams being able to truly dominate the top of the league.  Right now, Cincinnati and Louisville are tied for best in the standings, but Connecticut, SMU, and Memphis all have at least one win against the top two. Thus, it's very difficult to predict a winner of the conference tournament because these teams have beat up on each other all year with no distinct pattern.  However, I'm going to go with Louisville to win the tournament for several reasons.  First off, in conference tournaments, there is nothing more important than having a clutch late-game scorer, and the Cardinals have one of the best in Russ Smith.  Only Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick even compare to Smith in this category, but they certainly don't exceed him.  Also essential for a team to make a run in the conference tournament is an established big man who can take some of the scoring stress off of the guards, but can also dominate the boards. For Louisville, that would be Montrezl Harrell, who is currently averaging 13.8 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game.  Lastly, I think that coach Rick Pitino gets his team ready for big games like none other.  Sure, they have lost five of their seven games to ranked teams this year, but their two wins have both come in their last four games - that is what we like to call an upward trend.  This trend should continue as I see them winning the American Conference Tournament.

Atlantic 10 - Dayton
In the Atlantic 10, there are truly six teams in contention to win the conference tournament, Saint Louis, Massachusetts, VCU, George Washington, Saint Josephs, and Dayton.  This tournament has huge NCAA tournament implications, because all of these teams probably deserve to make it to the bag dance but chances are slim that the committee would accept six teams from the A10.  Dayton may have the most to gain or lose out of anybody; they have some great wins against Gonzaga, Cal, George Washington, and more recently against Massachusetts and Saint Louis.  However, they don't have a spectacular conference record at 9 and 6, so the conference tournament will be an incredible opportunity to prove themselves.  Without much space between these top six teams, I think the winner of this tournament will come down to who wants it most, and Dayton will certainly want it a lot.

ACC - Virginia
I'm choosing Virginia to win the ACC for the simple reason that they have been absolutely dominant in the conference this year.  They have a record of 16 wins and just one loss in the ACC, they only loss coming near the start of conference play to Duke.  There is no doubt that there is a lot of competition at the top of the ACC, but Virginia have won 13 straight in-conference, including wins against UNC, Pitt, and Syracuse.  All season long, Virginia have been called a poor offensive team, which is true - they rank 289th in points per game.  However, this certainly hasn't stopped them from winning big games, as evidenced by their recent defiling of Syracuse.  Any team that goes 16 and 1 in the ACC is a good bet to win the conference tournament in my book.

Big 12 - Oklahoma State
The Big 12, outside of TCU and Texas Tech, is one of the deepest conferences in college basketball this year, but there are no absolutely dominant teams at the top, which makes the conference tournament very difficult to predict.  Kansas would like to say that they are top of the conference, and though they are record-wise, they have lost two of their last three to Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Thus, I am going with Oklahoma State to win the conference tournament.  NO, they don't have a great conference record, but they have recovered well from loosing seven straight in the conference to win their last four.  For conference tournaments, it is often times not the best team that wins but the hottest team, and with the return of Marcus Smart, there probably is not a hotter team in the conference right now.

Big East - Villanova
The sole reason for my choice of Villanova to win the conference tournament (outside of their absolutely remarkable season) is the fact that they, being the number one seed, will be on the other side of the bracket from Creighton, the number two seed.  Creighton have been Villanova's kryptonite this year, but Creighton themselves have been undermined by several middle-of-the-standings Big East teams.  Thus I would expect a final of Villanova, versus some team that is not Creighton, and Villanova have a perfect record against teams fitting this description so far.  Additionally, Villanova has three or four different players that game make huge shots near the end of the game, which is always an important aspect of a conference tournament winning team.

Big Ten - Wisconsin
Here, my choice of Wisconsin to win the Big Ten conference tournament is based off of a common theme come tournament time: it isn't the best team that wins, it's the hottest.  Michigan and Michigan State would both probably argue that they have better players than Wisconsin, but Wisconsin has won eight straight games, including wins against Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa.  If you take out a small six game stretch in which Wisconsin lost five of six, they are 24 and 0, with wins coming against Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia, and the in-conference opponents that I mentioned previously.  Heck, who knows, maybe Wisconsin does have better players than Michigan and Michigan State - they don't put points up like those two, but they can sure play defense.  Now that I am looking back at their resume, I don't see why they shouldn't be in contention for a one seed, and I certainly don't see any reason why they wouldn't be considered favorites for the Big Ten conference tournament.

Missouri Valley - Wichita State
I really shouldn't have to say anything about this one, but I will.  Wichita State are yet to lose a game through 32 contests, and they even have a few impressive wins in non-conference play against Saint Louis, BYU, and Tennessee.  Put them in one of the weakest conferences in college basketball and I think its a fairly sure bet that they will win the conference tournament.

Mountain West - New Mexico
San Diego State still has a better overall record than New Mexico does, but with a 14 point win over the Aztecs, New Mexico pulled level with them in the conference.  Despite San Diego State's more impressive resume, New Mexico are much hotter at the moment, seeing as they have won twelve of their last thirteen, while San Diego State's two in-conference losses have both come within the last month.  I would even venture to say that New Mexico have the more talented team of the two, with Cameron Bairstow being one of the best big men in the country, and Kendall Williams holding down the backcourt.  There is no doubt in my mind that the final will be SDSU vs New Mexico, but I think with the way that the latter is playing right now, they will emerge victorious.

Pac 12 - Utah
There is no team that needs a long conference tournament run more than Utah.  They sit squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, with a fairly impressive record but not as many quality wins.  Despite this, they have hung decently tough with the big boys of the Pac 12, beating UCLA and coming just short against Arizona, losing in overtime.  Additionally, they have dominated the middle ranks of the Pac 12, with wins against Cal, Colorado, Arizona State, and Washington.  They also come into the tournament in very good form, winning three straight against good opponents.  The reality is, they need this tournament more than any other team in the Pac 12 does, so it seems likely that we will see the Utah team that took Arizona to overtime, not the one that lost to Washington State (who have won just two games in the Pac 12).

SEC - Florida
Florida, with their blowout win against Kentucky today, has just become the first team ever to go 18 and 0 in the SEC.  To be completely honest, there was not a lot of competition for the top spot in the SEC, as the next best team is Kentucky (12 and 6 in-conference).  Florida have won 23 straight, so I guess you could say they are pretty hot right now, not to mention that they have an extremely experienced and consistent team.  Teams with as many veteran players as Florida has tend to fair very well in conference tournaments, which are often a test of stamina, fitness, and mental toughness. Expect Florida to run away from the competition in this year's SEC tournament.

West Coast - BYU
At this point it is pretty definite that Gonzaga will be in the NCAA tournament regardless of their performance in the conference tournament, which leaves an opening for BYU.  BYU, unlike Gonzaga, are not a lock for the big dance, and will need an impressive conference tournament run if they want to make it there.  They come into the tournament in fairly good form, having won eight of their last nine, including a win against Gonzaga.  These two will likely find themselves on opposite sides of the tournament bracket, so it is plausible that we would see a finals matchup between them.  The reality is, BYU need it much more, and should in a style that demonstrates their desperation.

College Football-NFL Comparisons: Teddy Bridgewater

        Teddy Bridgewater has been on everyone's minds for two full seasons now, as a couple of years ago he went on a tear and rose to national prominence. Since then, people expected a Heisman out of him (not really close) and definitely a high draft pick, perhaps even first overall (much closer). Bridgewater's is a slight frame by NFL standards, at a combine 6'2" and 214 lbs. Other than this however, (a weakness easily remedied by an NFL strength program which could probably add 10 or 15 solid pounds to his collegiate frame) Bridgewater does not have many things going against him. While there is no stand out quarterback in this draft, Bridgewater is widely accepted to come closest to an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin type player this year. He is by no means at their level, but he is closest. He, for one, believes that "I'm the best quarterback in the NFL draft."  He won't go first overall in all probability, but he will likely be taken top 5. Potential suitors definitely include the Jaguars who are looking for a quarterback and are intrigued by the former Cardinal. Obviously Houston at the top of the draft could spring for him as well, but most agree that in a relatively bad quarterback year the Texans might wait on that position. 

        I have seen one intriguing comparison this year, and it is certainly generous to a fault, but holds that Bridgewater reminds us of an Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was picked late in the first round, and is 6'2" 225 lbs. Beyond similar size, when he is at the top of his game Bridgewater absolutely reminds me of an elite quarterback. Like a Rodgers, he has an impressive ability to move up in the pocket and extend plays with his feet, keeping his eyes downfield. He throws a great long ball, (sometimes it is nothing short of stunning) and his accuracy, especially into tight windows on quick plays, is excellent. Bridgewater also limits his picks very effectively, with a grand total of 4 last season. Not only does Bridgewater make for a great highlight reel, but he has a consistently high level of play and manages games well. All this is not to say that Bridgewater will enjoy the NFL success of Aaron Rodgers, but rather that that is his ceiling. He promises to be an exciting NFL player, at the least. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

College Basketball Bubble Watch

With just days left before the end of the season, we will look at several College Basketball teams who are on the bubble in terms of making it into the NCAA tournament.  These teams will mainly be teams that may not be in the big dance yet, but with a good end to the season and a solid performance in their conference tournament, they could be primed to hear their name on Selection Sunday.

Looks Like We Made It
These teams may have been forced to deal with the bubble for much of the year, but chances are, bar a dismal conference tournament performance, they will be seeing themselves on March Madness brackets.

St. Joseph's - The Hawk's success in the Atlantic 10 is undeniable, as their in-conference record of 11 and 3 is only worse than Saint Louis.  With wins over VCU and Dayton, as well as a reasonably difficult out-of-conference schedule where they had quality losses to Creighton, LSU, Temple, and Villanova, St. Joseph's should make the tourney despite being on the bubble for much of the season.

Oklahoma State - Early in the season they looked a lock for a high tournament seed, but after seven game loosing streak, Oklahoma State's tourney chances looked bleak.  With Marcus Smart back, though, the Cowboys have won four straight convincing games over solid teams, including victories over Kansas and Kansas State.  Regardless of whether they win their final game against Iowa State, Oklahoma State now seem a lock to be a member of March Madness.

Pittsburgh - The final half to the year has been terrible for Pitt after starting off winning 16 of their first 17.  Though they will be disappointed that they did not finish the season on a very high note, all of their losses have been against very respectable teams, and their solid overall record of 22 and 8 should be enough to carry them into the tournament.

Baylor - Baylor were sitting right in the middle of the bubble until their upset win over Iowa State on Tuesday night.  With a passable conference record (in the most competitive conference in college basketball this year) and a good overall record, as well as several great wins against ranked opponents, Baylor have finally jumped off of the bubble and into the tourney.

Xavier - Nobody would have penciled Xavier firmly into the tournament a week ago, but a win against Creighton will have provided a tremendous boost to their resume, even if they followed it up with a loss to Seton Hal.  After all, the selection committee has to select more than just two teams from the Big East, right?  Right?  RIGHT?!?!

Kansas State - K-State has some bad losses, like really bad losses (North Colorado and Charlotte), but they also four wins against ranked opponents. Despite just losing to Oklahoma State, the game beforehand they had upset Iowa State, which essentially made certain they would be in the tournament. Their final game against Baylor could be an interesting game in terms of tournament seeding, but both teams should be in regardless.

Arizona State - The Sun Devils have not dominated their in-conference opponents, but a 10 and 7 conference record should be enough to send them to the tournament.  It doesn't hurt them that the Pac-12 is regarded as a fairly good conference this year.  Oh yeah, a double-overtime win against Arizona can't hurt either.

Colorado - Chances are, the selection committee won't accept more than seven teams from the Pac-12 into the tournament, and with Arizona, UCLA, and Arizona State taking up three of those spots, there are five teams fighting for the last four spots.  What separates Colorado from these five are their supreme overall record of 20-9 as well as a huge early-season win against Kansas.

Arkansas - Behind Florida and Kentucky, Arkansas have now absolutely solidified themselves as the third best team in the SEC, a spot which will surely guarantee them a spot in the tournament.  Not only do they have a great overall record of 20 and 9 but they also swept the season series against Kentucky.

Gonzaga - Gonzaga will be disappointed that they were not able to capitalize on several opportunities to beat bigger programs like Kansas State and Memphis outside of the West Coast Conference, but ultimately they finished with a fantastic overall record of 25 and 6 as well as an in-conference record of 15 and 3.  Sitting at first place in the WCC, nobody can deny that despite their lack of big wins the bulldogs deserve to be around for March Madness.

Still on the Bubble
These teams, despite their best efforts, have still not guaranteed a birth in the NCAA tournament.  Some teams on this list will find that all they have to do is win their last one (or two) game to ensure that they are in the tourney, while others will need to couple that with a significant run in the conference tournament.  Realistically, a group of these teams will probably live to see March Madness, but another portion will probably find themselves playing in the NIT.  It is more than likely that all of these teams will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

George Washington - Wins against St. Joseph's and Fordham in the final two games of the season would likely be enough to see GW enter the NCAA tournament.  A lack of quality wins could cause voters to hesitate but I think it's unlikely that they would be left out if they win out.

Dayton - They are perhaps a more qualified to enter the tourney out of the Atlantic 10 than George Washington and Richmond, but their record still is beneath GW's.  Maybe a win against Saint Louis would be enough for voters to forget the records and go with the resumes.

Richmond - There is no doubt that Richmond would need a lot to happen to be accepted into the tournament out of the Atlantic 10 with a fairly mediocre record, but if they upset both VCU and Dayton in their final two games and then make a splash in the A10 tournament, we could be hearing their name come March Madness.

Florida State - FSU are really on the brink of the NCAA tournament right now, but a win in their final game against Syracuse would surely push them through.  If they don't win, they would likely need a successful conference tournament run to make it to the big dance.

Clemson - A win against Pitt on March 8th is just the start of what Clemson need to do to get in the tournament.  Right now they have just one win against a top-25 opponent (Duke in January), so they will need a remarkable performance in the ACC tournament to get to the NCAA tournament.

West Virginia - The mountaineers are long shots at this point, but if they win their last two games against Oklahoma and Kansas, they could make a very serious case for being in the NCAA tournament.  Of course, they would have to have a good conference tournament as well.

Providence - A win against Creighton on March 8th and Providence is in the tournament, no questions asked.  The problem is, beating Creighton on the road is not an easy feat in the least.  If it helps, the Friar's already have one win against the Bluejays.

St. Johns - Even if they win their final game against Marquette, St. Johns will need to make a long run in the Big East tournament if they want to get to the big dance.  Their resume just isn't that impressive.

Georgetown - Georgetown has the worst record of any Big East team that has a chance to get into the tournament, so they definitely need to beat Villanova on March 8th to stay in contention. They probably will also need a big conference tournament performance, not to mention that they will need Providence and St. Johns to have poor Big East tournaments.

Minnesota - Minnesota are in a tough position.  They have some solid wins against ranked opponents but they also have a fairly bad record.  Thus, they will need to crush Penn State in their final game and at least win one or two games in the Big Ten tournament if they want to get to the big tournament.

Nebraska - Nebraska are definitely in better shape than Minnesota, because, despite the fact that they have a worse resume right now, they have the opportunity to play against ninth ranked Wisconsin on Saturday.  If they win that game, there is no doubt in my mind that they will jump Minnesota in the eyes of the selection committee.

Indiana - Though their chances look bleak, if they win against Michigan on March 8th and can make a run in the conference tournament, they may just sneak into the chaos that is March Madness.

Oregon - The reality is, Oregon could lose their final game to Arizona and still make the tournament with a decent run in the Pac-12 Tourney.  Their overall record is just so much better than the others teams vying for the same spot.

Stanford - Wins against two other bubble teams, Colorado and Utah, would be huge for Stanford down the stretch.  If they only manage to win one of the two, though, they still have a fairly good chance at being selected for the NCAA tournament.

California - Cal hasn't played great recently but a win against Arizona will make their resume stand out among the crowd.  Games against Utah and Colorado are not must wins, but California probably need to take at least one of the two.

Utah - If Selection Sunday were today, Utah would not be in the NCAA tournament, but with games against Cal and Stanford, two other bubble teams, coming up, they could be challenging for a spot come Pac-12 tourney time.

Missouri - Whether Missouri will make the tournament is almost entirely dependent on if they can beat Tennessee on March 8th.  Tennessee is the only other true bubble team coming out of the SEC, so that game will likely decide the fate of both teams.

Tennessee - See above... The game against Missouri on Saturday will ultimately decide which of the two teams enters the NCAA tournament and which is relegated to the NIT.  They both have nearly identical resumes up until now, so voters will likely see that game as a good indicator of which team deserves the spot more.

LSU - LSU have a very slim chance of getting to March Madness this year.  They need to win out against Vanderbilt and Georgia, and then have a long run in the SEC tournament.  Even then, I'm not sure they really have a shot at making the tourney.

BYU - Though they actually have more quality wins than Gonzaga does, the latter still edged them out for the title of the West Coast Conference.  If BYU make it to the semifinals or finals of the WCC tournament, they will likely be hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.

Southern Miss - Only one team is going to get out of the Conference USA, and it's either going to be Southern Miss or Louisiana Tech.  Because they both have very similar resumes, who gets the call is going to come doing to who advances further in the conference tournament.

Louisiana Tech - In the same exact scenario as Southern Miss, the reality is that whichever team can outlast the other in the Conference USA tournament will earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Green Bay - They won the Horizon conference regular season title, but that might not be enough for them, as the Horizon is by no means a good conference.  Though they do have on enormous win against UVA, it would be nice for their sake to win the conference tournament just to make sure that they don't get screwed over by the selection committee.