Hogan’s Mock: Part 1 of 6

Today I release part one of my six part series analyzing the 2016 NFL Draft. Teams drafting 1-5 will be analyzed today, while the other 22 teams will be analyzed over the next few weeks. Each team will receive two levels of analysis; what I would do if I were their General Manager, and what I think that they will do on draft day.

  1. Tennessee Titians –

If I was the General Manager: Tennessee needs secondary help as well as offensive line help, but I wouldn’t want to draft either of those first overall. If you take a look at recent offensive linemen drafted first or second overall, you will see that the investment simply wasn’t worth it (Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Jake Long). And if you look back at history no defensive back has ever been taken with the first overall draft choice. I believe that trend continues this year. I would first look to try and trade this pick. No single player in this draft matches the needs of this team in a way that screams first overall pick. I doubt any team in the NFL would want to make this trade with me; therefore, I would draft Laremy Tunsil with the first pick of the 2016 NFL draft. Last year the Titans drafted Marcus Mariota, and he showed signs of promise (until he got injured). In order to protect Mariota from getting hurt again, and open up lanes for their brand new running back, Demarco Murray, Laremy Tunsil is the obvious choice for me.

Who I think they will pick: Laremy Tunsil. I think they will pick him for the same reason I stated above, to protect Mariota and open up holes for Murray.

 

  1. Cleveland Browns –

If I was the General Manager: The list of failed quarterbacks in Cleveland is an anomaly. Cleveland finds a way to ruin every quarterback they draft. The Browns just signed Robert Griffin III, and seem to be set on moving forward with him. I don’t feel extremely confident that any of the top-tier quarterbacks would mesh well with Cleveland. I would then draft Laquon Treadwell with the second overall pick. In doing this Cleveland would get an extremely talented wide receiver who would fill the gap of Josh Gordon, who’s suspension has no end in sight. It would provide a much needed verticle threat for RGIII.

Who I think they will pick: DeForest Buckner. Cleveland is notorious for taking midlevel quarterbacks in the early first round, the most recent of which being Johnny Manziel. The quarterback position is now filled by Robert Griffin III, so I think this might be the year Cleveland passes on a Quaterback. They will instead look to aquire an effective pass rusher to go after Big Ben, Flacco, and Dalton. Buckner is extremely athletic and has very quick feet. His ability to get of the line so quick is why the Browns will take him her instead of the bull rushing Joey Bosa.

  1. San Diego Chargers –

If I was the General Manager: The offensive line for the Chargers is an absolute mess. The Chargers have had recent runs of success cut short because of trouble along the offensive line. Two years ago the Chargers had a legitimate chance at the AFC West division title, but when their offensive line experienced a little bit of injury turmoil, they fell apart. Assuming Laremy Tunsil doesn’t miraculously fall this far down, I would look to draft Ronnie Stanley. He would provide much needed help and stability along the offensive line, and he is as NFL ready as any prospect available in the draft at any position.

Who I think they will pick: Ronnie Stanley. There is no way around the fact their offensive line is absolutely trash. For the reasons I stated above, Ronnie Stanley should be the pick here.

  1. Dallas Cowboys –

If I was the General Manager: The Cowboys are in a unique position. They are drafting in the top five, but aren’t a bottom five team. Their two best players (Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant) were out for the majority of the season. Two years ago the Dallas Cowboys were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They were able to be a contender because they could run the football extremely well, and they weren’t injured. They will be 100% healthy going into this season, but they lack a serious running back. I know they just signed Alfred Morris, but I think he is a better change of pace back than he is a starting running back. I would draft Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas needs to return to the power run game that made them so unbelievably good in 2014. Demarco Murray was incredible in 2014. He was the reason the Dallas Cowboys were one of the NFL’s most feared running games the NFL has seen in the recent years. Ezekiel Elliott is the best power runner available in this draft.

Who I think they will pick: Joey Bosa. Dallas will probably feel okay moving forward with the running backs that they have. I am not sure how Alfred Morris will do, but I do not feel he is the power runner that Dallas needs to return to 2014 form. Dallas will probably look to improve their defensive line and pass rush, and Joey Bosa is the best pass rusher in the draft and maybe even the best overall talent in the draft.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars –

If I was the General Manager: Here is a sentence I never thought I would say, “Jacksonville is set at skill positions on offense”. For the first time in a long time, Jacksonville can move into the NFL draft and not focus on offensive skill players. The Jaguars need help in the secondary and they desperately need a pass rusher. They have Dante Fowler coming back off injury, but it would be unfair to put all the pressure on Fowler to deliver quarterback pressure. I would draft Myles Jack. I think drafting Jack gives Jacksonville a golden opportunity to grab another pass rusher to go along side Fowler, and develop a defensive front to be reckoned with for years to come.

Who I think they will pick: Jalen Ramsey. I think a pass rusher is a great option here, but secondary is also a desperate need for the Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey is an extremely versatile athlete who can play safety or cornerback. This will go a long way in helping the Jaguars became a contender. Cannot go wrong with Ramsey or a pass rusher here.

Can the Caps Break Their Playoff Curse?

In the offseason, everyone knew the Capitals were going to be a good team.  But who would have known they would go on to win the second Presidents trophy in franchise history? With goalie Braden Holtby in net anything is possible for this team.

Image result for tj oshie

Recently acquired T.J. Oshie (capitals.nhl.com)

After another playoff disappointment in the 2015 season, second year general manager Brian Maclellan had enough. During the offseason Maclellan set out to build one of the most explosive lineups in the NHL. In doing so he brought over St. Louis Blues right winger T.J. Oshie, and two Los Angeles Kings forwards in Justin Williams, and Mike Richards. With these additions to an already lethal offense, the Capitals started to look like a serious contender.

T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, both right wingers, have really found their place on the Capitals. Both have more than 45 points on the season. Mike Richards unfortunately has only played 32 games this year but could be a key asset in the playoffs having Stanley Cup experience.

One of the biggest surprises of the year is the performance of Evgeny Kuznetsov. In only his second full season, Kuznetsov is leading the team in points with 73. 23 year old Kuznetsov is also currently 4th in the league in both Assist and plus/minus. The playmaking Russian is often playing alongside fellow Russian teammate Alexander Ovechkin

The goal scoring machine Ovechkin once again finds himself atop the goal scoring leaderboard. Ovechkin is currently at 44 goals on the season, and looks like he may come a bit shy of the 50-goal mark which he has surpassed six times in his career, but a tremendous season without a doubt.

Braden Holtby, goaltender extraordinaire, is on the verge of history chasing the record of most wins in a season (48) held by Martin Brodeur. With only six games left, it’s tough to tell if he will break the record. Also keeping in mind Holtby may want some rest for what could be a long playoff run coming.

Braden Holtby making a great save (russianmachineeverbreaks.com)

The only thing looming over the Capitals at this point is the fact that they have had such little success in recent playoff appearances. In three of the past four years, the Caps have lost to the New York Rangers in the playoffs.

The team was founded 1974 and still has not won a Stanley Cup final. Alexander Ovechkin has taken it upon himself to bring home the trophy to D.C.

The Caps look to turn it around this year while having home ice advantage the entire playoffs. As the standings are today the Capitals would be matched up with the scrappy Philadelphia Flyers. Hypothetically saying they win that series, the next series would be against either the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the dreaded New York Rangers.

Ovechkin has some good years left in him only being 30 years old, but will he ever have a better team then he has right now? In my opinion if they don’t get it done this year it may never happen. Ovi will go down in history as one of the best players to never raise the Cup.

What to watch: 3/31

Predators vs. Penguins –Two playoff teams looking to finish out the year strong.

Senators vs. Wild –Wild looking to stay in the playoffs, Senators look to play spoiler

 

 

NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.

And yet more drama: Match fixing

(courtesy of rockpapershotgun.com)

During the Prodota Cup third place decided, held over a month ago, Peruvian teams Elite Wolves and Infamous were accused of match fixing, after some suspicious odd swings, bets and, of course, some very questionable plays.

Said plays included a Medusa mid with no points in Shield and a Slark who didn’t Pounce away from being first-blooded. Since a video speaks louder than words, a video by NoobFromUA can be found here:

A link to the main discussion on reddit can be found on the video’s description as well.

Of course, there’d been much debate whether there was enough evidence to conclude match fixing. And in fact, after 10 days of supposed investigation from both the tournament organizers and Valve, they were cleared of suspicion.

And when all seemed well for them, it appears that a few days ago, they were unable to actually sign up for the upcoming Major event. Soon, they received this:

(courtesy of gosugamers.net)

4 Elite wolves players and the ex-captain of Infamous seem to be included. For more details, I recommend reading the article @ gosugamers, since they’re the ones who brought this to light.

Now, I’d like to comment on the two main issues this whole story brings up.

First, the ban itself. From the way it’s written, I’m guessing it’s a lifetime ban. This may sound harsh to some, but I believe this is the right way to go. It’s not as if the players are going to jail, and that’s precisely why making an example out of cheaters should be this “severe”; anything less would be the same as giving them a chance to try again. The esports field is way to young to be cheater-friendly, and I’d like it to stay like this.

Of course, all this begs the question whether they really cheated or not. Which brings us to the second issue: The way Valve seem to like dealing with problems (one-liners that dismiss any sort of discussion) has caused people to express their concern.

I understand they don’t have to give any explanations, and maybe they shouldn’t; not everyone is fit to make a fair and well-thought judgement on matters like this. People tend to not take their own opinion seriously enough and how much it can affect a situation.

On the other hand though, it seems a bit unfair to not even give the party in question a chance to defend themselves. Even in court, regarding actual crimes, people get the chance to prove their point to the law and the public. Going back to James Harding’s case, he seemed pretty confused as to what exactly was the problem, and it seems that these 2 teams didn’t know they were being investigated a second time either.

And while I’m with Valve this time (and only this), it perhaps would’ve been better for them to give the teams a shot in presenting any sort of evidence they might have had. If they didn’t have any, it would only benefit Valve’s reputation. In case they did have some, they have every right to do so.

Bold Claims: 90 Wins not Enough in the NL in 2016

The National League is shaping up to be a real madhouse. It has a blend of teams in the rebuilding stages against teams that are primed and ready to make a deep postseason run. While it seems a bit early to be discussing how the playoff race will shape up, these first few weeks feature seemingly sleeper matchups that could have huge impacts come September.

Contrary to the American League, where a vast majority of teams  have a shot to compete in their divisions this year, the National League’s divisions each have two teams that should theoretically run the division, and two teams that should be at the bottom of the totem pole.

The Cardinals were the only team to reach 100 wins in the NL last year. They might have to do so again to stave off division rival and World Series favorite, Chicago Cubs. Image courtesy of wikipedia.com.

In the East, the Mets and Nationals seem the obvious top dogs in 2016, with the Phillies and Braves in the midst of rebuilding for the future, and the Marlins continue to be a dark horse.

In the Central, the World Series favorite Cubs and last year’s division champs, the Cardinals, are sitting pretty coming into 2016 with the Reds and Brewers looking fairly weak. The Pirates deserve an honorable mention as well, racking up 97 wins last year (and taking third, showing how intense this NL Central race can be).

The West sees the Giants (it is an even year after all) and the Dodgers, despite some injuries, as the front runners with the Padres and Rockies being the punching bags of the division.

Now comes the fun part. Each team plays their divisional opponents 19 times throughout the year. They play teams from the other National League divisions 6 or 7 times. So, with three potentially weaker teams in each division, the contenders are all playing predictably weaker opposition in roughly 66 games over the course of the season. If they win two-thirds of these games (which isn’t unreasonable considering the apparent talent gap existing between the upper and lower NL teams in 2016), they’re sitting at 66-33. Even if these teams all play .500 ball throughout the “tougher” parts of their schedules, that’s still 97 wins in 2016. With a couple of favorable series against the tops of other divisions or in inter-league play, there could be multiple teams sitting at almost 100 wins come late-September, and only five of them can make the playoffs.

While it’s incredibly unlikely that the 2016 season pans out this way for every single National League playoff contender, this shows just how crucial these series against “lesser” opponents will be over the course of the season. While the opening games may be forgotten by the end of the regular season, their impacts could be huge on where a team sits in regards to Divisional and Wild Card races come September.

This also makes the series played between the marquis teams in the division that much more exciting to watch. Since each team will theoretically have a large number of wins behind them, head to head records could be huge in deciding if a team is playing or watching October baseball.

This is all theoretical, of course, as every team is prone to big-name injuries or other factors that can derail a season. On the flip side, teams that seemingly don’t have a lot going for them can always surprise everyone with an expectation shattering season or play spoiler to one of the supposed top dog teams. It’s a long season, and anything can happen.

I want to give credit to MLB Network Radio, as I heard them discussing these details and it peaked my interest and made me want to look into some of the numbers and gauge the issue for myself.

Storylines to Follow During the Columbus Major

 

Each Major brings with it its own mixture of stories going into. For MLG Columbus the big one, outside of the teams, is that this is the first North American hosted Major. On top of that, the prize pool is absolutely insane: a total of one million dollars is on the line, with the top place taking $500,000, a whole five times the amount of previous Majors. It’s also the first Major of 2016, and with that arbitrary ‘break’ we find a kind of fresh slate for teams. Who will rise in 2016? Who will fall? While there’s still plenty of time for teams to prove one way or another, it’s always best to start off the year on your good foot.

 

Redemption

 

While some teams look back on 2015 with admiration, others have a lot of explaining to do. While it’s to be expected that teams go through slumps, it’s one thing to go through one, and another to just seem stuck on one. In particular we’re looking at you, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Virtus.Pro, and EnVyUs. These were all top tier teams at one point, teams with Major trophy’s back at home, and others who always seemed to show up big when they needed to. Not so much anymore, and maybe Columbus will be that changing point for them. Or another page on their downward spiral.

The Ninjas are going to need to get outta their Pyjamas if they're hoping to show up big at their first Major of 2016. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

The Ninjas are going to need to get outta their Pyjamas if they’re hoping to show up big at their first Major of 2016. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

NiP have been on a downward slide since their second place showing at ESL Katowice 2015. They’ve just looked… lack luster against their opponents. To this seeming stagnation, NiP teased at some roster changes, which turned out to be about as shocking as NiP’s steady decline: they kept every player except Allu, replacing him with Pyth, and bringing in a coach in Threat. The Ninjas have looked on the up and up though, but sadly we won’t really see the strength of the roster here in Columbus, as Pyth had VISA issues, so Threat, the aforementioned Coach, is acting as a stand-in. Still, if the Ninjas manage to make it out of groups going basically 4 vs 5, that’ll say something.

One of the few untouched rosters. But Virtus.Pro is going to have to show that not changing up the roster was the right move for fans. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

One of the few untouched rosters. But Virtus.Pro is going to have to show that not changing up the roster was the right move for fans. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Virtus.Pro, on the other hand, never really had the ‘peak’ that NiP did. Still, they haven’t seemed like themselves at all. The team has just underperformed at almost every turn, and it’s a concerning feature, given how much of a whipping they received even on their home turf in Katowice. The buzzword of ‘confidence’ seems to come to mind. The team just doesn’t seem to have the ‘Vritus.Plow’ aspect they used to. They also haven’t made a roster change, and while I’m not one to jump on the ‘make roster shuffles at any sign of weakness,’ the team may want to consider that option. There are plenty of talented Polish players throughout the lower teams that they could potentially pull on. It’s possible that Columbus, if it goes poorly, will be the last time Virtus.Pro field their untouched roster.

The Boys in Blue aren't looking so Happy as of late. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

The Boys in Blue aren’t looking so Happy as of late. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

What to make of French CS right now. If you had asked me who the scariest teams were in 2015, surely I would’ve said EnVyUs, maybe even throwing in ex-Titan (now G2) on a good day. But now I really wouldn’t say that either pose as big a threat as they used to to the top tier teams, because right now, neither are even top tier for me. “Frustrated” I think accurately describes the general atmosphere of a lot of the French squads, and it’s a concerning feature. The French Shuffle saw them gain some impressive talent in Apex and KennyS. But that hasn’t translated into dominance like one would imagine, and it seems that emotions are again running high in the squad. Furthermore, KennyS has looked like a monster, and yet the team still can’t seem to galvanize around him. It’s unlikely that the squad will win it all, but a good placement will be a sign towards brighter days for the team.

 

Hope of NA

Murika. Freedom. Ohh, also, a few Canadians. But we're never important. Courtesy of listaddicts.

Murika. Freedom. Ohh, also, a few Canadians. But we’re never important. Courtesy of listaddicts.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect way for NA to start off 2016 than a Major on their home turf, and to have four teams representing them there. That’s the largest amount of NA teams ever at a Major, mostly because EU based Majors limited NA intake to two qualifying teams, and NA teams never really did well with making it out of groups. Still, that’s in the past, and 2016 (maybe) looks like a bright new era for NA CS. Or the continuation of the past.

Will CLG finally make it out of groups? Will any NA team actually? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

Will CLG finally make it out of groups? Will any NA team actually? Courtesy of Leaguepedia.

The definite underdogs of NA (even more underdog than NA is in general…) are CLG and Splyce, in order of success. CLG have a kind of similar story to Flipside: they’re in a huge amount of the Majors, but they just can’t seem to ‘break out’ enough. They’ve taken some interesting maps off of top tier teams, but their biggest story is the fact that they almost always lose 14-16 against top teams. CLG will have a lot of proving to do if they want to shake that title of the ‘almost-there’ in Majors. Big plays out of Tarik and Cutler are certainly required for this to happen though, alongside solid awping out of scoping talent JDM64. The team needs to mesh a lot better than they have, while filling the gaps and holes in their armour, particularly on their CT side. Home soil might help bring the American side victory, as making it out of groups and into Legend status would be a huge win for the team. Not only would it make them guaranteed for the next Major, they’d be poised to possibly start their career as a top team in the world. Or one CLG fan could dream.

Something something Don't Tread On Me something something. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Something something Don’t Tread On Me something something. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Splyce, on the other hand, are a relatively unknown force going into the Major. There are a couple of familiar faces to the NA CS scene, Professor Chaos, Arya, and abE, but outside of that, not much is known of the squad. They’ve got a lot to prove, particularly given nobody really thought they’d make it to the Major, let alone not dropping a single game in the qualifier. Still, in a lot of ways Splyce can take that as their victory and be happy with whatever results come. The team needs to prove that they’re a strong team in NA, but not so much internationally yet. Even an upset win against anyone in the group would be a good showing for them. The Major is largely a learning experience for the team, and while that’s a kind of buzz phrase often used to cover a team’s failure to live up to expectations against international talent, here it actually applies. Splyce is still a young team, a time to test their mettle against top tiers will not only give them good practice, but also possibly reveal weaker team mates who might need to be shuffled out.

Looks like the Four Horseman will have to try and prove that they're a top tier NA team, if not a top tier team overall, even without star new blood in Koosta. Courtesy of Liquidpedia

Looks like the Four Horseman will have to try and prove that they’re a top tier NA team, if not a top tier team overall, even without star new blood in Koosta. Courtesy of Liquidpedia

The two ‘top’ teams for NA have to be Liquid and Cloud 9. Solid management from Team Liquid has edged them above Cloud 9, as Simple and Koosta seem like stronger pickups in the off season than Stewie2K, who has had underwhelming performances as of late. Liquid look almost like a dream team of NA, with strong players in all of their respective roles. Sadly, much like NiP, we can’t make a full judgement of them here. Koosta, who attempted to qualify with his previous team Enemy, now Selfless Gaming, will not be in attendance due to rules of the Major. Still, Liquid look in a strong position to make their second Major appearance one to remember, as they have a chance in their group to make it out. Given that this would be with their old teammate Adren, it’d be quite a statement for future showings: if they can make a strong impression lacking a player they’ve been practicing with, instead being forced to play with a player they kicked due to poor performance, then we can imagine they’d be even stronger with the upgrade in Koosta.

Cloud 9 need to show up big if they want to prove themselves to be an international contender. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Cloud 9 need to show up big if they want to prove themselves to be an international contender. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Cloud 9 are kind of the quintessential NA team in a lot of ways. They’ve got talented players, they’ve been to a majority of the Majors and many of the major tournaments, and they’ve almost made it big. They just never quite do. Shroud is easily one of the most skilled riflers in NA, Freakazoid has proven to be a monster of an entry fragger, N0thing has always been a strong player, and Skadoodle barely needs an introduction as a top, if not the best, awper in NA. But it just doesn’t seem to stick. They always fall short, either through it seems lacking in cohesion or tactics that the European sides seem to bring against them. Stewie2K also has yet to payoff as a pick up. He seems to not be able to make the brash plays he was known for now that he wears the blue and white jersery of Cloud 9. It’s hard to exactly pin point the Cloud 9 problem though, but they’ll need to fix it to see success against international teams. Cloud 9 is easily one of the top teams in NA, but they’ve yet to really prove to be a real contender on the international scene. Maybe, much like Virtus.Pro, the home turf advantage can catapult them to their first playoff showing in a long while.

 

Will the giants reign?

 

Outside of all the shakier story lines going into the Major, there are some bright points in the scene as solid top team contenders: Fnatic, Luminosity, Astralis and Na’Vi. While some of the top tier teams have dipped in form and in standings, there have been some solid teams that have risen to the occasion, either filling the void for top 5 teams, or continuing their dominance as the Kings of the Scene. Will Columbus be a repeat of recent history? Or will an upset in the Force cause one of these top teams to not take the trophy home?

Fnatic look to continue their winning ways going into 2016. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Fnatic look to continue their winning ways going into 2016. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

First and foremost, we’ll talk about easily the best Counter Strike team in existence: Fnatic. The team is just disgustingly good at the game. After dropping Pronax for the talented Denis, Fnatic have seemed to just be on the ascent to greatness. They’ve won the past six tournaments they’ve been to. There’s not a whole lot to be said outside of the fact that Fnatic, when they’re alive and in the game, play probably the best CS:GO that’s currently out there. They’ve got good strats, good calls, great aimers and amazing anchors for sites. It’s an overall solid team, and there’s going to need to be some major work put in by any of the other teams who hope to challenge them. Luminosity have held their own against them, but so far nobody has been able to stop them. At least yet.

A horrible logo aside, Luminosity seem to be a strong contender at any tournament they show up at. Will they finally be able to clinch that trophy this time? Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

A horrible logo aside, Luminosity seem to be a strong contender at any tournament they show up at. Will they finally be able to clinch that trophy this time? Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Speaking of the Brazilian side of Luminosity, they’ve also been probably the breakaway team of 2015. Brazil, prior to this, were a region that largely didn’t register on many minds as a strong one, let alone one that had a lot of showing internationally at Majors. That era is definitely done. The recent showings from Luminosity have been scary, and they’ve taken most, if not all, European sides to three maps in Best of 3’s. Even Tempo Storm seem to be a promising team from Brazil. Aggressive plays out of Fallen, and solid performances from Coldzera (ok, some of those performances were downright criminal…) and fer, taco, hell, any of the team members have placed them solidly as one of the strongest teams in the World. They’ve yet to claim a Major, so they’ll have their eyes set on that sweet prize to really cement their claim to the top of the heap.

Can the Danes finally break their curse at Majors and win? Or will it be another story of Team Chokes a lot? Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Can the Danes finally break their curse at Majors and win? Or will it be another story of Team Chokes a lot? Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

I’ll be controversial here and include Astralis in my ‘giants.’ The Danish kings surely haven’t shown up like many of their fans have always hoped for. They’re known for their choking in semi-final positions, and sometimes even struggling in the group stages of tournaments. Still, there’s a reason that the team still ranks highly on anyone’s list: they’re just good when it all actually works. The team has all the points to work as a great team, it’s just about it all falling into place. And given the competition going into the first NA Major, they’ll have to hope those pieces are in place. Astralis, also, is gifted a relatively easy group for their group stage: CLG, EnVyUs, and Gambit. CLG and Gambit are unlikely contenders for the top of the group, but still have a shot depending on ailing French side, EnVyUs. Even then, EnVy don’t bring much threat to Astralis in their current state. But Astralis needs to look to their playoff run, however cocky this may be, for their true challenge. They’ve struggled to make real dents in a lot of the top tier team’s armor, or have yet to face those teams really. If they want to take their first Major victory, then the team will need to figure out how to take down those top teams just above them in rankings.

Another untouched roster in recent months, Na'Vi look to finally show up in a big way at Columbus. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Another untouched roster in recent months, Na’Vi look to finally show up in a big way at Columbus. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Na’Vi are also in a similar position to Luminosity. They’ve recently become a much stronger, more consistent contender for top four in the world, fixing a lot of their past inconsistencies that they seemed to suffer from. But like Luminosity, Na’Vi have been on the receiving end of Fnatic’s winning streak many a time, and have seen their tournament chances taken away from them by the Swedes. Still, they’ve barely dropped games in recent months to teams outside of Fnatic. Na’Vi really have the chance in this Major to maybe bring home their first trophy, but they will still likely have to overcome their nemesis’ in recent months of Luminosity and Fnatic. In a lot of ways, Na’Vi and Astralis have similar stories. They’re always at the cusp of greatness, always in the playoff section of tournaments, but always seem to be taken down before they can win it all. Whether Columbus will be any different for the CIS team or not only time will tell. But, as with any Major, anything can happen.

 

Hearthstone 101

In March of 2014, Blizzard Entertainment, the creative minds behind World of Warcraft and StarCraft officially released their newest endeavor: “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.”

Better known simply as “Hearthstone,” Blizzard’s newest game soon swept across the globe, spawning millions of players in a short stint of time. By the end of 2015, Blizzard announced it had over 40 million users. Almost overnight, professional circuits began appearing, and many players began devoting themselves to Hearthstone professionally in an attempt to be crowned the greatest in the world at this new eSport. Prizes for the largest of tournaments this year will top out at $250,000, an incredible amount of money for such a young eSport.

I first discovered Hearthstone in December of 2014, and was immediately a huge fan. As my interest grew, I began playing more competitively, joined a team, began coaching, and eventually starting writing about the game. Recently, my family and friends, having seen my writing, have asked me many questions about Hearthstone. Most notably, my brother, who I grew up playing card games with, has decided to dip his water into the massively deep pond that is Hearthstone. He, like most beginners, have very few resources to turn to to learn the basics. A few weeks ago he asked me if I could write an article on “Hearthstone 101.”

Therefore, what follows is a basic primer on the game of Hearthstone for those who either have not previously tried the game, or those who are just beginning and could use some helpful tips and pointers. I hope that you find this useful as you begin your Hearthstone experience.

What is Hearthstone?

Hearthstone is a digital-based collectable card game (CCG). If you are familiar with Magic: The Gathering (MTG), Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokémon, you understand the basic concept already. For those of you who have never played a CCG before, the concept is simple enough: both you and your opponent start the game with a certain amount of life / health / HP. You both have created a deck of 30 cards from the overall card set in the game. You each take turns playing those cards in an attempt to do damage to your opponent, thereby bring your opponent’s life total to zero. If you run out of cards, you are penalized by taking damage yourself. The fun behind the game is figuring out how to create a deck to kill your opponent while preventing your opponent from executing his or her game plan.

On what platform is Hearthstone played?

Hearthstone, unlike MTG or most other CCG, exists entirely in the digital realm – there are no physical or tangible cards to play with. Users must create an account through Blizzards battle.net system. Users can play on both Windows and OS X systems. Hearthstone is also available on all Android and iOS devices through the app store.

How much does it cost?

Hearthstone is technically free to play for as long as you wish. There are plenty of people who have never spent a dime playing. In fact, I played Hearthstone for almost a year before spending any money whatsoever on it. While you probably cannot compete with the professionals on a free to play account, it is surely possible to have a lot of fun and do quite well.

Why is it different / better than other CCGs?

While there are many CCGs out there, the most popular for years, without question, has been Magic: The Gathering. As such, much of my comparisons here will be direct comparisons to MTG.

Gameplay

The gameplay of Hearthstone is based on, but still substantially different from a game like MTG. Both games have two basic categories of cards (yes, I know this is an oversimplification for those experts reading this): Minions and Spells. Think of minions as creatures that you send into battle as your soldiers to protect you. They can attack your opponent or your opponent’s minions, and even sometimes block your opponent’s minions from attacking you! Spells, on the other hand, typically interact with the minions already in play. They can kill other minions, do damage to your opponent, heal your life total, and many other things. Most often, the key to creating a good deck is putting together a good collection of minions and spells that work together.

The way that you play these cards is by expending your resources. More powerful minions and spells cost more resources, and once you use up your resources for a turn, your turn is over. In MTG your resources are land cards. These are separate cards in your deck that you must draw and play before playing minions and spells. During all of my time playing MTG, I often found games decided in the first few turns if one player drew no land cards (or only land cards). This was one of the most frustrating elements of MTG to me, and one of the reasons I was so intrigued by Hearthstone.

In Hearthstone, your resources are called mana crystals (typically just called mana). Mana, unlike MTG’s land, are not cards. Each player begins the game with one mana crystal. Each turn, you gain one more mana crystal. You stop gaining mana crystals after your tenth turn. This makes the game less reliant on drawing land cards, and more reliant on proper ordering and sequencing of the cards in your deck.

game_board

The Hearthstone game board. From http://hearthstone.gamepedia.com/Battlefield

The one other significant gameplay difference between MTG and Hearthstone is the players’ decks. While MTG utilizes large 60-card decks (and allows for up to four copies of a single card in each deck), Hearthstone cuts that in half. In Hearthstone you may only have 30 cards in your deck. Individual cards may not appear more than two times in a deck (and some special cards may only appear once per deck).

The final substantial gameplay difference is the amount of control players have over who or what their minions attack. In MTG, the attacking player simply indicates which of his or her minions will be attacking. The default is that the minions will attack the opponent directly. At that point, it becomes the defending player’s decision as to whether those minions should be blocked by the defending player’s minions, thereby preventing damage directly to the defending player. However, in Hearthstone, the control is given largely to the attacking player. With some exceptions, the attacking player always gets to decide if he or she wishes to attack the defending player directly, or a specific minion of the defending player.

Digital vs Physical Game

Some people who I have spoken to have expressed animosity toward Hearthstone for existing entirely in the digital realm. Those people like the tangible aspect of CCGs. They like having show boxes and binders and closets full of cards. They like being able to trade cards they don’t like, and hoard valuable cards. I chose not to look at Hearthstone under such a dark filter. I actually revel in the digital aspect of the game. In Hearthstone, every player can gain access to all the cards. There is no trading, or black market for rare or overpowered cards. If I want a card, I don’t have to spend hours on eBay tracking it down. It already exists within the game system for me to “buy.”

In addition, not having physical cards means that I can take all of my Hearthstone cards with me wherever I go. While my MTG friends must carry around deck boxes and binders for the specific cards they wish to travel with, I can just bring along my laptop or my phone with my entire card collection already available.

Finally, Hearthstone’s design as a digital-only game allows for easier gameplay, less paper and pen work, and more creative mechanics. For example, in MTG, when a minion or creature gets additional health or attach (called a “buff”), players will often place a die or token on the card. These tokens, in long games, can get difficult to keep track of, and result in confusion and debate. By contrast, when a minion in Hearthstone receives a buff, the buff is calculated automatically by the game, and the minion’s stats literally change on the game board, showing both players the effect of the buff.

The Golden Monkey

As I mentioned previously, the digital space also opens the door for Hearthstone developers to create cards and mechanics that just simply are not possible in a physical CCG like MTG. My favorite example of this idea is the card the “Golden Monkey.”

This card, when you play it, turns every single other card in your hand and your deck into a randomly generated legendary minion. That means that you can end up with cards in your deck that weren’t in your deck. In fact, you don’t even have to own the card for it to be randomly generated and appear in your deck! A similar mechanic not possible in a physical card game is called “Discover.” When you play a card with a discover mechanic, you then select one card from three randomly generated cards that appear before you. That selected card then gets placed into your hand. Again, these discovered cards do not have to be a part of your deck or your collection to end up as an option for you to select.

Who are these Heroes of Warcraft?

Just like MTG has different “colors” for its decks with different themes, Hearthstone has nine different heroes that you can select before making a deck.

From hearthstone.gamepedia.com/Hearthstone_Wiki

From hearthstone.gamepedia.com/Hearthstone_Wiki

While there are over 700 cards in the game, many are hero-specific. Each hero comes with not only specific cards for his or her class, but also an individual “hero power.” This hero power costs two mana. Each hero power does something very different, and often defines the type of play style of the deck. For instance, the hero power for Rexxar the Hunter does two damage to your opponent, often resulting in decks that try to kill the opponent very quickly. In contrast, the hero power for Anduin the Priest allows you to heal for two health, often promoting a deck that tries to create a very long game, eventually just outlasting the other player.

What are these different game modes?

Hearthstone comes with a number of different game modes for users to enjoy. If you’re new to the game, you definitely want to try them all out and see which style of the game you enjoy most. The play mode is considered the most competitive. Each player creates a deck from their card collection and attempts to “rank up,” eventually reaching the rank of “Legendary.” The Solo Adventures allow players to play against a computer opponent in an attempt to eventually win new cards specific to that solo adventure. The adventures always have an interesting theme and story to them, so make sure to turn your sound on as you play through this mode! The arena is perhaps my favorite mode, but is also very difficult for beginners. The arena allows you to draft a deck from scratch. After initially selecting a hero, you are presented with three cards. You select one, and it becomes the first card in our arena deck. After doing this 29 more times with 29 new sets of randomly generated cards, you will have yourself a deck! The object is to win 12 times with this deck before you lose three times. The more wins you get, the better reward at the end (although no matter what you will always get a card pack). Finally, Tavern Brawls is a style that changes from week-to-week. Each week there is a new set of odd and interesting rules. Sometimes you will be given a pre-made deck, and sometimes you will be left on your own to create one just for your Tavern Brawl.

How do I get new cards?

There are many ways to get new cards in Hearthstone. The simplest is by buying them through the in-game store. Each pack costs 100 “gold” (the in-game currency). Alternatively, if you play an arena run (which costs 150 gold), you will automatically get a reward pack. Additionally, your first win each week in the Tavern Brawl game mode will result in a free card pack. Finally, there are also cards that you can get only by completing the solo adventures.

It should be noted that it is entirely possible to collect a large amount of cards without spending money by completing your daily quests. Each day, a new quest or challenge will appear for you (you can have up to three at once). If you complete these challenges (for example, win three games using the Hunter hero), you will be awarded gold. If you save up, you can use this gold to buy packs, enter the arena, or even pay for solo adventures.

What lingo should I know?

CCG – Collectable card game.

Face – “Face” is the term often uses as a synonym for your opponent. You will often hear players saying that you should “go face,” or “hit him in the face.” That simply means attacking your opponent directly instead of one of your opponent’s minions.

SMOrc – “SMOrc” is a term used to describe the strategy of hitting your opponent in the face with reckless disregard for your opponent’s minions.

On Curve – When a player is playing “on curve” it means that they are most efficiently using all of their resources. In Hearthstone, that most often means that the player has used all of their available mana for the turn.

Aggro – “Aggro” is the term used to describe aggressive decks. These decks are almost always the aggressor in the game. They typically tend to flood the board with smaller minions and like to finish off the opponent quickly. If the game drags on for too long, typically these agro decks will run out of steam and won’t be able to generate the required damage to kill their opponent.

Control – “Control” is the term used to describe slower, more reactionary decks. These decks prefer to drag the game on, hoping to run their opponents out of threats. Many control decks do not even make an attempt to do damage to their opponent, and instead, just try to survive until their opponent cannot continue to do damage.

Ladder – The “Ladder” is the ranked system of play in Hearthstone. Players start off at rank 25, and through defeating their opponents, climb higher on the ladder (causing their numerical rank to go down).

Legend / Legendary – A player who climbs the ladder past rank 1 achieves the rank of “Legendary.” These players are now given a single numerical rank that stack ranks them among all of the current Legendary players. Only .25% of players achieve the rank of Legendary.

Meta – If you hear somebody talking about the “meta,” that person is just using a fancy word to describe what type of decks are popular right now in Hearthstone. The best and most popular decks are always changing as new cards are released, and so that is why you will often hear somebody discussing how the meta is changing, etc.

Rope – Each player’s turn is normally 90 seconds long in Hearthstone. During the waining seconds of a player’s turn, a rope appears on the game board and gets shorter and shorter (like a fuse on a stick of dynamite). When the rope runs out, the turn is automatically over. So if you hear somebody talking about “roping” during a turn, it typically means that person is taking all 90 seconds of their turn or has run out of time. If a player does not make any move for an entire turn, their next turn begins with the rope already on the board, and their turn is only 15 seconds long (unless they play a card).

Mill – A player may only have 10 cards in his or her hand at a time. If a player is forced to draw a card while already having 10 in hand, that drawn card is discarded form the game. This discard is known as “milling a card.” To “mill” your opponent means to force them to draw too many cards, thus discarding some of their cards.

the_coinCoin – At the beginning of the game, the computer decides randomly who will go first and second. The play who goes second, obviously at a disadvantage, is awarded an extra card called “The Coin.” The Coin, when played, grants the player one extra mana crystal for that turn.

RNG – RNG stands for random number generator. RNG is a term used to describe the random effects of the game. Sometimes the random elements of Hearthstone result in incredibly wacky and amazing games. Because of the huge swing that can sometimes occur due to the random effects of certain cards, you will often hear players who are far behind in the game hoping for good luck by “praying to RNGesus” (pronounced R-N-Jesus).

How can I learn more about Hearthstone?

Hearthstone has a burgeoning community online. There are an incredible amount of resources available to new players. What follows are just a small sample size of suggestions:

YouTube channels

Popular professional players often post daily videos talking about various cards, or highlighting interesting games and strategies. Some of my favorites include Kripp, Kibler, and StrifeCro.

Twitch streams

Professional players are often playing Hearthstone 10 hours or more a day. It really is a full-time job for these guys. One of the ways they make money is by broadcasting their playing on Twitch.com and receiving sponsorship money or donations from viewers. For competitive Hearthstone action, check out twitch.com/playhearthstone.

Hearthstone / eSports Websites

Many of the professional teams have sites that provide in-depth Hearthstone content for readers. My go-tos are tempostorm.com and liquidhearth.com. In addition, many sites post popular and powerful deck lists. If you are new to Hearthstone and want to see some of the best decks around, check out hearthstonetopdecks.com, hearthpwn.com, hearthstoneplayers.com, or hearthstone.metabomb.net.

Reddit

Finally, what would our modern world be if I didn’t mention Reddit, the front page of the internet. There are a few Hearthstone related sub-Reddits. Some focus on tournament play, some on coaching. The two most popular are /r/hearthstone and /r/CompetitiveHS.

How can I get started?

Getting started is incredibly simple. Just go to http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en to create your free battle.net account.

 

As always, I encourage your comments and questions below. If you want to send me a question directly, or you want some help in-game, feel free to email aPurpleTrain@gmail.com. Until next time, good hunting!

 

 

 

The Rise of the Ducks and Fall of the Canadiens

When you look at the Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadians, you have the Ducks at 42-23-10 and the Canadiens at 34-36-6. At first glance you see a playoff team and an average team that will miss the playoffs. Yet, there is so much more to be said about this rollercoaster ride of a season for both teams.

Anaheim Ducks

On October 29th only ten games into the season, the Anaheim Ducks found themselves at 1-7-2. Very early into the season, the Ducks found themselves at the bottom of the standings.

The one thing a team needs when starting out a season so poor is veteran players to use their experience and leadership to spark other players to play better and make a playoff run. That is exactly what they did to put themselves in a playoff position going on a 41-16-8 run, including a 25-4-2 run.

Ducks look to Ryan Getzlaf to lead them deep into the playoffs. (si.com)

Leading the Ducks into the winning ways was their two veteran forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both Perry and Getzlaf  are Duck draftees from 2003, and both also coming from the 1st round. Since the draft they have been one of the better dynamic duos in the league. This year nothing has changed, with Getzlaf and Perry leading the team with points.

Both players are also 30 years old, now into the latter parts of their careers. Who knows how many more years the Ducks will have with them both for a shot at the cup?

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 06-07, the cup has teased the Ducks mightily. Making the playoffs four of the last five years, including last year where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

If the season ended today, the Ducks would be matched up with a very talented San Jose Sharks team. Even with the Sharks high powered offense, I see the Ducks moving on if they do face-off.

Here are some key points why I think the Ducks can advance far in this year’s playoffs.

Special Teams

When special teams means the most is in the playoffs, and guess who has the best power play and penalty kill in the NHL. Yep, the Anaheim Ducks. With an 86.6% penalty kill and 23.8% power play anyone facing the Ducks is going to be dreaming for a low penalty ridden series.

Size

Usually you will not hear me talk about how big teams are when talking about single games, but the playoffs are another story. With the largest weight average in the NHL, the Ducks can lay the wood. In a playoff series hits pile up and can take a toll on a team. Players will have their heads on a swivel when playing the Ducks.

Montreal Canadiens  

The Canadiens story is exactly opposite of the Ducks. The Canadiens started out the season 13-2-1. They looked like a lock for at least a playoff spot. The Canadian born Carey Price in net looked unbeatable allowing only 3 goals or more in two games during the stretch.

With the second most points last year the Canadiens were disappointed in the playoffs losing in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to lose in the Stanley Cup Final.

Most Canadian fans would blame their woes on the loss of goaltender Carey Price who before being injured was 10-2-0 with a 2.04 goals against average. The problems though run deeper than an injured goalie.

Wing play. The Montreal wingers are their weak point. Other than their captain Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher no other winger cracks the top eleven point scorers on the team. What this means is they lack playmakers from the right and left wing on their team.

What to look forward to next year

Canadiens missing their All-star goaltender Carey Price. (gohabsgo.com)

Players that will bring them to the playoffs next year include a lot of young talent like Brendan Gallagher (23), Alex Galchenyuk (22), and Philip Danault (23). Don’t forget they will also get back who some consider the best goalie in the NHL in Carey Price. Also, they will lean on one of the best offensive defenseman in the league with P.K. Subban.

If you are a Montreal fan, don’t get to down on this season. I will not be surprised when next year they are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

What to watch: 3/29

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars

Final Four Storylines

Well well it’s the Final Four and what can I say? It has been a wonderful year full of upsets, buzzer-beaters, and blowouts. But I did call UNC being in the Final Four. As of right now, my bracket looks like it got hit by an 18-wheeler on the highway. But on Saturday, the games will start no matter how bad my bracket is. It will be the Villanova Wildcats versus the Oklahoma Sooners and the UNC Tar Heels versus the Syracuse Orange.

Here is how we got here. Let’s start with the Wildcats vs the Sooners.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

The Wildcats and the Sooners matchup in the tournament will be a rematch from an early matchup this year. In Hawaii, the Sooners crushed the Wildcats 78-55. But that game should not play in this Final Four matchup because the Wildcats went completely frozen from behind the arc. They shot 12.5% from the three, while their season average is around 35%. They also only shot 31.7% from the field, while their season average is closer to 47%. They will shoot the ball better in this game, I promise. But the Wildcat defense will have to find out a way to slow down the Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. In this tournament, Hield has averaged 29.3 points per game. Easy to say that he is on a hot streak.

Prediction: It should be a great game because both teams are riding high since they both just beat 1-seeds in the Elite Eight to get here. But I am going with Oklahoma to win this matchup behind the play of the best player in the nation, the Senior guard from the Bahamas, Chavano “Buddy” Hield.

Now to the other matchup between the second ACC final of the year, Syracuse versus UNC. One team could have been the overall 1-seed while the other team might have been playing in the three-letter tournament. This matchup in the NCAA Tournament will be the 3rd time Syracuse and UNC have played this year. Syracuse lost both games but in Chapel Hill late in the season Syracuse played them close and only lost by 5. To easily beat the zone of Syracuse is to drive to the basket and pass to the wing for a three.

UNC has not been a great three-point shooting team this year at a season average of 32%, but during NCAA tournament play they are around 38%. While during this NCAA Tournament, the Syracuse zone has held teams to a 34% from the three-point line.

Bob Donnan/ USA TODAY Sports

Prediction: UNC goes for the third win against the Orange this year. They might not shoot well from three this game, but UNC will be able to finish in lane against this team with their big men. Brice Johnson and the other great UNC big men will feast down low against Syracuse on Saturday.

On Monday, it will be the two best players in the nation on the same court at the same time. Double-double monster Senior forward Brice Johnson of the UNC Tar Heels versus sharpshooting Senior guard Buddy Hield of the Oklahoma Sooners.

NA LCS: The League of David and Goliath

david

The exciting culmination of the NA LCS Spring Split regular season taught us that the region is incredibly divided between title contenders and teams avoiding relegation. The trend seems to have been clear where teams with management problems, translate those problems into poor team performances on stage. The league’s Goliaths have proven that they possess sufficient resources to potentially become a good team. Lack of talent and experience seems to be an important factor in the overall organization performance as well.

immortlas

1)Immortals:
Although their organization is new, they enjoyed the benefits of investors and sponsors that supply key resources to compete for the title. With the acquisition of two Korean players, the exploitation of regional talent, and the acquisition of Matt Dylan all point to the direction of great management decisions with abundant financial resources.

stixxay
2)Counter- Logic Gaming:
I did not think in a million years that releasing Doublelift could have resulted in team improvement. I was skeptical of the organization statements that they released him because the team under-performed because of him. Although it was obvious that Doublelift influenced the team in a negative way, I would have never thought how much damage a single personality could have on a team. The Doublelift story comes at a time where another trend seems to arise. The trend is that as the game develops, mechanics are much less of a factor and macro-level play and strategy have become more important.

buny
3) Cloud 9:
They are another example of macro-level play and chemistry outperforming mechanics. Bunnyfufu is regarded as a better mechanical player, yet they perform better with Hai. Cloud 9 has tremendous talent and it would of no surprise if they manage to steal the crown from Immortals.

dardoch

4) Team Liquid:

Dardoch deserves an article dedicated to himself. However I will briefly describe how he drastically turned around a season for a team that was at the brink of starting a 0-4 season. In that fourth game, Team Liquid led by Dardoch managed to turn around a huge gold deficit and in doing so managed to qualify for playoffs. Dardoch deservingly won rookie of the season and should be MVP contender.

gmb
5) NRG:
Probably not too happy with how things turned out in the second half of the season. NRG is still a new organization that should look at the split as a learning experience. Monetary resources allowed the org to acquire Korean talent, but poor macro-level game-play and lack of strategic diversity stagnated progress.

double
6) TSM:
I was expecting TSM to be the second best team and title contender for the League. They have historically been incredibly good in preparation for playoffs and should be considered in the conversation. They are definitely capable of providing an upset, especially in the quarterfinals against C9. However, the amount of talent in that team does not justify a 9-9 season. I was progressively expecting them to suddenly dominate the League once the team learned to be on the same page, but I was left waiting.

The teams that did not qualify for playoffs all showed that it was not as much as the player’s fault, but an organization problem. Echo Fox did not know how to handle team VISAS. Renegades could not find replacement for a severely underperforming RF Legendary. Team Impulse did not manage to sell their LCS spot before the season started and Dignitas did not provide too many resources into their League of Legends team. Overall, the teams that did not qualify for playoffs share a single denominator, a lack of management involvement with the team and with the players.

 

courtesy of Forbes.com, lol.esportspedia.com, youtube.com, redbull.com, lol.esportsmatrix.com, gosugamers.net and gosugamers.net respectively.

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