NCAA tournament upset teams

2018 NCAA tournament mens basketball giant killers

A giant killer is a team that can knock off a top dog. A giant killer is a team like Western Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast or the George Mason. They are teams that can cause problems in the NCAA tournament, but the average spectator might not necessarily pick them because they are a small school.

The following teams will most likely be ranked as No. 8-16 seeds in the 2018 NCAA tournament. These are teams that might not be from a power conference, but have all the makings to win at least one game come March.

Missouri Tigers

NCAA tournament upset teams

Michael Porter Jr. (Photo from scoopnest.com)

Most killers don’t come from a power conference. Missouri has been a great team all season. As we creep closer and closer to March, Missouri is waiting on Michael Porter Jr., who is one of the top five freshmen in the country. Getting Porter back come tournament time means that a good team that could fall to a No. 7-10 seed could be extremely dangerous.

The Tigers are 18-8 and have won their last five games. They are 3-2 against the top 25 this season and are the No. 3 team in a very loaded SEC. Porter has missed every single game this season, and adding a top five player can only improve a team that is one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season.

Nevada Wolf Pack

Even though Nevada is a ranked team, they are still going to slide on selection Sunday. Nevada’s strength of schedule is 109th in the country, and that will lose them some respect from the committee. They are 22-5 and first in the Mountain West Conference.

One of their best wins is against Rhode Island, a team that is coming on strong as of late. They lost by six and four respectively to Texas Tech and TCU. They are 14-3 in their last 17 and don’t seem to be slowing down.

One of the toughest things for a snub in the seeding is seeing just how hot a team is come tournament time. The Wolf Pack are one of the hottest teams in the country and believe they can play with anyone. Nevada will probably get placed as a very strong No. 9 seed coming into March. They will be a tough second round matchup for almost any No. 1 seed.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

NCAA tournament upset teams

Middle Tennessee in their 2017 run. (Photo from athlonsports.com)

Well well well, welcome back to the Blue Raiders. The Blue Raiders are 13-1 in their last 14 games, have an RPI of 29 and have a 11-1 road record. For most teams come March, road records wouldn’t matter. But depending on how low the seeding comes for the Raiders, an NCAA tournament game could seem like a road game.

They have lost only five games all season. Three of those games are to USC, Miami and Auburn, teams that are inside the RPI top 50. They have also lost those three games by 14 total points.

If Middle Tennessee falls to the same No. 11 or 12 seed that they did last season, they should be a nightmare of a first-round matchup.

Vermont Catamounts

Speaking of hot teams, the Catamounts have won their last 15 games. They are 22-5 overall and don’t have a single loss outside of the top 95 in RPI. Their worst loss was to Bucknell by four points on the road. In all five of their losses, they have lost by 10 or less, and four of the five losses have come on the road or on neutral sites.

The team does lack good wins, being that their best win is probably a one-point home win against Bradley. The Catamounts have a fair amount of NCAA tournament experience and are led by Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes, who make up 42.5 percent of the team’s scoring.

Vermont locks down on defense and can score pretty well also. The Catamounts could be a team advancing to the second weekend in the NCAA tournament.

No. 14-16 seed

Well there’s always one team that comes out of no where to surprise. Here’s an attempt to pick the No. 14-16 seed, if there is one, that can pull off a major upset.

Montana Grizzlies

The Big Sky’s regular season leader gets a shout out. Montana is 20-6 this season and 13-1 in their last 14. Notable loses include a three-point loss at Washington and a 13-point loss at Penn State. They have beaten Pitt and Northern Colorado (probably their best win) and are 8-5 in road games this season.

Montana’s strength of schedule is 329th in the country which isn’t bad, it’s really bad. They lack wins over any possible tournament teams, but have performed well against the nation’s top RPIs. It only takes one top seed to struggle for a lower seed to have a chance.

If we are taking a shot here, Montana and their 68th ranked defense could shut down a top dog and get the Cinderellas dancing.

 

Featured image from College Sports Madness.

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Big East Conference basketball

Big East bottom feeders show signs of life

As college basketball inches closer towards postseason play, the Big East may be the most intriguing conference in the nation. Villanova has dropped two of its last three games, allowing Xavier to increase its lead. However, two teams sitting in the cellar of the conference have put the remaining conference members on notice with their play as of late.

St. John’s, previously winless in Big East play, has won its last four games. They knocked off then-No. 4 Duke and then-No. 1 Villanova in back-to-back games before defeating Marquette and squeaking past DePaul. Coach Chris Mullin has his team flying high and playing with a high level of confidence.

Meanwhile, the Georgetown Hoyas pushed No. 4 Xavier to its limit in a crushing 96-91 overtime loss. The Hoyas failed to close out the Providence Friars in a 73-69 loss due to a controversial foul call with under five seconds to play. Coach Patrick Ewing’s squad responded with convincing victories over Seton Hall and Butler.

The recent increase of competitiveness in St. John’s and Georgetown certainly raises the parity of play in the Big East down the stretch. The race to avoid falling into the seventh seed and face the prospect of playing St. John’s in the opening round of the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden has opposing coaches nervous. Let’s examine the factors that have allowed both of these teams to secure noticeable upsets of late.

St. John’s: Dominant Guard Play

Big East Conference basketball

Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds silences Villanova. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

During the resurgence of St. John’s, sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds has been unstoppable. During the Red Storm’s four-game winning streak, Ponds has averaged 32.3 points, five assists and 2.3 steals per game.

After sophomore guard Marcus Lovett was ruled out for the season with a left knee injury, Mullin called on Ponds to carry the load even more so than before.

Ponds has always been a talented scorer off the dribble, but he has worked to involve his teammates more during this stretch. To couple this, Ponds has notched up his defensive intensity, harassing opposing guards all night.

Mullin typically rolls out a six-man rotation each game. As a result, Ponds has played all 40 minutes in every game during the Johnnies’ four-game winning streak. Fans of the Red Storm have to be slightly concerned about Ponds developing fatigue come postseason play as his playing rate is not sustainable.

Georgetown: A Big One-Two Punch

Big East Conference basketball

Junior forward Marcus Derrickson celebrates after nailing a game-winning three against Seton Hall. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

Back in November of 2017, Ewing told the media that if Georgetown was going to remain competitive come Big East play, they needed a big season from junior center Jessie Govan. Govan, while having some ups and downs in Big East play, has largely lived up to the hype. Govan has been a reliable rock in the Hoyas offense, averaging 16.7 points while shooting 50.2 percent and grabbing 10 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

However, the player who has brought Georgetown to the next level this season has not been Govan, but junior forward Marcus Derrickson. Derrickson has been the go-to player in the clutch all season, nailing two game-winning 3-pointers from NBA range against St. John’s and Seton Hall. Derrickson served as the offensive catalyst in Georgetown’s 87-83 upset at Butler, scoring 27 points while shooting 84.6 percent.

Govan and Derrickson arguably form the most formidable one-two punch on the block in the Big East. Georgetown has had difficulty in some games properly utilizing both of them as opponents have effectively doubled both big men, forcing the Hoyas into turnovers.

However, Ewing has seen more production from his guards, in particular graduate transfer Trey Dickerson, who scored 18 points off the bench against Butler. This newfound scoring threat has forced opponents off the double, allowing Derrickson and Govan to feast on single coverage.

St. John’s: Scoring by Committee

Outside of Ponds, Mullin lacks a consistent scoring option, which could prove problematic come postseason play. However, the Red Storm have survived by getting key contributions from different players night in and night out based on matchups.

In its 81-77 win over Duke, St. John’s saw senior guard Bashir Ahmed and junior forward Tariq Owens score 19 and 17 points respectively. Ponds and Owens capitalized on Duke’s porous interior defense while Ahmed shot 75 percent from 3-point range.

However, in St. John’s upset win at Villanova, Owens and Ahmed remained relatively quiet on the offensive end. Instead, sophomore guard Justin Simon poured in 16 points along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

While effective, this playing style can be dangerous at times. In St. John’s 86-78 victory over Marquette, the Red Storm required a herculean effort from Ponds to escape with a win. Ponds accounted for more than half of their points with 44. The only other player to reach double-digit scoring for Mullin’s crew was Simon, who scored 16 again. This shows that if opponents are able to limit scoring production outside of Ponds, the Johnnies will have difficulty creating offense in the half-court.

Georgetown: The Kids are Growing Up

Looking beyond Govan and Derrickson, the key to this Hoyas team might be freshmen Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. Pickett was Ewing’s prized recruit this past season after backing out from his commitment to Ole Miss. Early in the season, both freshmen struggled with shot selection and limiting turnovers.

As the season has progressed, both freshmen have progressively increased their level of play. Blair sparked the Hoyas offense in Georgetown’s overtime loss against Xavier, scoring 19 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. Blair only turned the ball over twice in this contest.

Pickett has become more comfortable utilizing his 6-foot-7 frame to shoot over defenders and alter shots on defense. Pickett scored 18 points and blocked two shots in Georgetown’s 83-80 win over Seton Hall.

While Ewing has seen encouraging steps of growth from both players, Blair and Pickett are still freshmen, which means that struggles will not magically disappear. Blair’s shot has seemingly been flat the past two outings, resulting in him forcing shots outside and taking contested attempts off of wild drives to the hoop.

Pickett still has difficulty taking defenders off of the dribble, which is something that Butler took advantage of. Pickett ended up turning the ball over five times in that contest.

 

Featured image by Wendell Cruz/Finish First Photos.

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NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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2018 NCAA Tournament bracketology February 12

The NCAA selection committee released their top 16 seeds this Saturday to give a look into how they would seed the teams right now. This can officially put everyone in the mindset for March Madness. Here is the latest NCAA Tournament bracketology. Click to zoom.

 

First four out: SMU, Nebraska, St. Bonaventure, Utah

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The secret to Ohio State’s stunning turnaround

Jubilation enveloped Ohio State Head Coach Chris Holtmann after his No. 14 ranked team shocked No. 3 Purdue on their home court. Behind a double-double from junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes snapped Purdue’s 19 game winning streak with a 64-63 upset victory. This upset vaulted OSU into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Purdue.

Not many pundits would have predicted that at this point in the season that the Buckeyes would have the top seed in the Big Ten tournament in their sights. Holtmann, in his first season as Head Coach of the Buckeyes, has completely altered the culture of the locker room. Let’s examine how he did it.

Comeback Kids

Ohio State has played with fire throughout Big Ten Conference play, winning four games where they have trailed by double digits. Ohio State faced a 14 point deficit with 10:17 remaining in the second half against Purdue. In the game prior versus Illinois, Holtmann’s squad dug themselves into a 15 point hole at the 10:51 mark in the first half.

Stagnant and careless ball movement tends to be the primary culprit of these slow starts. In Ohio State’s 75-67 win over Illinois, the Buckeyes committed a total of 15 turnovers with junior point guard C.J. Jackson and Bates-Diop accounting for 10 of them. In their upset over Purdue, OSU committed seven turnovers in the first half as they struggled to find their footing early.

Holtmann deserves credit for keeping his team engaged and optimistic, even when they face early or late deficits. Instead, through creative in-game adjustments, such as riding a small line-up late in the second half against Purdue, have allowed OSU to catch opponent off guard and get back into games.

Plethora of Play-makers

Jae’Sean Tate celebrates a big play (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America).

Ohio State’s success has not been a product of luck. Holtmann has been able to create both offensive and defensive schemes that bring out the best in his players. Bates-Diop has transformed into a Wooden Award candidate under Holtmann’s teaching and mentorship. Bates-Diop averages 20.2 points at 50.9 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

Standing at 6-foot-7 and 235-pounds, Bates-Diop’s versatility allows Holtmann increased line-up flexibility. Bates-Diop has a steady mid-range jumper, quick handles and the physicality to burn defenders in the post.

Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and play on the block. Tate, however, is not a volume scorer. He focuses on efficiency and making the smart basketball play. He averages 12.7 points on 54.8 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

The engine of Ohio State’s offense is C.J. Jackson. Jackson, a pass first point guard, is an all-around impressive player who can step up and help his team in a variety of ways. He averages 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, showing his overall versatility as a player.

Heart of a Fighter

Ohio State had no business winning at Purdue. They were without senior Kam Williams who has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. Kaleb Wesson found himself in foul trouble early and only saw 12 minutes of action. Purdue was riding a 19 game winning streak and appeared unbeatable and destined for the number one seed in the Big Ten tournament. In the end though, none of that mattered.

Holtmann and his team rallied around each other and fought through the adversity. On a night where offense came at a premium, Holtmann rolled out a small line-up and the Buckeyes came roaring back behind an aggressive man-to-man defensive scheme. A team that did not believe in each other and in their coach would have quit and accepted it was not their night.

The 2017-2018 Bueckeyes have a different mentality though. They do not back down, regardless of the score or situation. This team personifies the personality and beliefs of Holtmann. After resurrecting a lifeless Butler program, Holtmann left a secure job to take on the daunting task of rebuilding Ohio State’s basketball program. He never shied away from the challenge, instead tackling it head on. And that is exactly what his team has done all season.

 

Featured image by Joe Maiorana/USA Today Sports

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Is Texas Tech the favorite to win the Big 12?

In a devastating weekend of college basketball, No. 7 Texas Tech saw the chips fall in its favor. After demolishing TCU 83-71 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates, the Red Raiders watched as first place Kansas suffered a defeat at home to Oklahoma State. This loss vaulted Texas Tech into a first place tie with Kansas, with Texas Tech owning the tiebreaker having defeated Kansas earlier in the season.

Coach Chris Beard has completely changed the culture of Texas Tech Basketball, working to install a level of toughness, intensity and energy that opponents would have difficulty matching. This change in attitude has led to the Red Raiders becoming a popular underdog story this season. Now, with highly anticipated showdowns against Kansas, Oklahoma and at West Virginia on the horizon, can this Texas Tech team complete the season with a Big 12 regular season title?

DEfensive Attitude

Perhaps the most stunning turnaround for this program has been on the defensive side of the ball. Beard’s squad ranks 11th in field goal percentage defense, 16th in turnovers forced per game and eighth in scoring defense. Add this to the fact that they rank third in overall adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.

Beard’s style of defense is slightly different from other top teams in the nation. Texas Tech does not simply rely on a singular style, such as West Virignia’s full court trap pressure, game in and game out. Beard is notorious for altering his schemes to attack his opponent’s weaknesses.

Regardless of its defensive scheme, the Red Raiders have a knack for forcing turnovers. This allows star point guard Keenan Evans to get out on the fast break and create easy offensive opportunities for Texas Tech. Evans, a ball dominant scoring point guard, can take over games early if he can find his offensive rhythm. Creating turnovers gives Evans increased chances at finding his groove quickly in games.

The Most Underrated Player in the Nation

Evans is the engine and the conductor of this Texas Tech team on both sides of the ball. Beard’s team went through a stretch this season where it struggled to score in the half court. Evans would consistently bail the Red Raiders out of poor possessions with his play-making ability. Evans has averaged 18.6 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game so far this season.

Keenan Evans nails a buzzer beating shot to down Texas 73-71 in overtime (Brad Tollefson/AP Photo).

As mentioned above, Evans has the skill-set to take over any game against any opponent on offense. Against Texas, a team that Tech had previously lost to this season, Evans poured in 38 points, including the game winning step back jumper, on 69.2 percent shooting from the field. Of Tech’s 73 points in that game, Evans accounted for 52 percent of them.

College basketball fans are familiar with how valuable it is come postseason play to have a star who has this skill. UConn fans will recall how Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier seemingly willed their squad’s to national championships. However, both of these teams were coupled with a strong supporting cast, similar to that of Texas Tech, that was committed to playing defense.

Paint Problem

A common theme emerges from all four of Texas Tech’s losses this season: their inability to score and defend the paint against long, physical big men. In its 75-65 loss to Oklahoma, forward Khadeem Lattin controlled the paint from start to finish. Lattin ended up with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. Similarly, in its 67-58 loss to Texas earlier this season, center Mo Bamba rained in 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

Beard understands that the strength of his offense is attacking the rim, not relying on the three ball. Tech shoots 35.2 percent from three collectively. If big men Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton, the only registered forwards on the team, cannot prove to be able to spread the floor by making defenders respect their mid-range jump shot, Beard’s guards will have difficulty finishing drives at the rim. Rim protecting centers will shade toward the rim, anticipating the drive by Evans and co.

Verdict

Beard has molded this roster into a defensive machine capable of shutting down the nation’s most potent offenses any given night. With star point guard Kennan Evans playing lights out, Texas Tech has the momentum necessary to bring home a Big 12 title. However, Odiose must step up in a rematch with Lattin coming up on the calendar as every remaining game matters in a race as close as this one.

Featured image by John Weast/Getty Images North America

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2018 NCAA Tournament bracketology 2/5/18

Only a month and a half until March Madness begins. Teams are about half way through their conference schedules and are jockeying for position. Here is the latest NCAA Tournament bracketology. Click to zoom.

First four out: UCLA, SMU, Nebraska, Marquette

 

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2018 NBA mock draft February 3

+-The NBA season is over the halfway point, which means the “tanking” will intensify. There are some good prospects that many teams will covet in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the 2018 NBA mock draft February 3:

1. Atlanta Hawks- Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke

Not too many mock drafts have Bagley going this high, but he is the best player in the class. The biggest mistake teams make when picking this high is to reach and fill a need. Atlanta needs talented players more than anything and Bagley would provide that. The 6’11” big man is athletic and can do everything on a basketball court, which includes shooting from deep at 34%.

2018 NBA Mock Draft February 3

Luka Doncic (Photo by youtube.com)

2. Orlando Magic- Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia

Doncic projects as a wing player in the NBA, but actually plays on ball a lot for Real Madrid. He stands 6’6″ and is an excellent passer and playmaker. His three point shooting has gone down over the last few years, so Doncic will have to work on that. Orlando lucks out in that they are getting a really good player and they have a need for perimeter players.

3. Dallas Mavericks- DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona

With their selection of Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavericks have a pretty well fit out backcourt. They need some good players on the interior. Ayton is a well-built and athletic big. He is a great rebounder, who often comes up with the ball with plenty of players around him.

4. Sacremento Kings- Michael Porter Jr., SF, Missouri

Porter has been injured since Missouri’s first game and had to have surgery on his spine. That is a serious injury, but Porter was a highly-coveted recruit and has the ability to play point forward. The Kings could bolster their lineup to include: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Porter, Zach Randolph and Willie Cauley-Stein.

5. Phoenix Suns- Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

Young has been the best player in college basketball with his electrifying play. He drives, passes and shoots like Steph Curry, but does turn the ball over too much. He also has struggles on defense, but the offense should make up for it. The Suns need a point guard to replace Eric Bledsoe and to feed the ball to Devin Booker.

6. Chicago Bulls- Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky

The Bulls have struck gold with Lauri Markkanen and now need to give him more support. With the selection of Knox, Chicago can go small with Knox at the four and Markkanen at the five or play a big man and play them at the three and four. Knox has heated up as of late with some clutch shooting and will soon see his name rise on draft boards

7. Memphis Grizzlies- Jaren Jackson, PF, Michigan State

Jackson has been a monster on the inside for Michigan State this season. Per 40 minutes, he is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies can pair him and Marc Gasol together on the inside, if Gasol stays in Memphis.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers- Mo Bamba, C, Texas

Cleveland needs more players who are willing to accept their roles and be worth the paycheck. Bamba will be great for defense and rebounding, much like Tristen Thompson should be. He will provide very little on the offensive side of the ball other than dunks.

9. Philadelphia 76ers- Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

Is it too early to give up on Markelle Fultz? Who knows, but his jump shot isn’t looking too much better. Either way, Sexton is a great player that can get to the basket and distribute the ball.

2018 NBA Mock Draft February 3

Mikal Bridges (Photo by draftexpress.com)

10. Charlotte Hornets-Mikal Bridges, G/F, Villanova

Bridges is one of the most improved players in college basketball this season. He is shooting 43% from deep on the season and provides some good athleticism. The Hornets really need to find out what they are doing with Kemba Walker before taking this pick, as he is seemingly on the trade block every year.

11. Utah Jazz- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

The Jazz hit on Donovan Mitchell in last year’s draft, which means they are set on wing players. They also have Rudy Gobert in the middle. Taking Gilgeous-Alexander to groom behind Rubio wouldn’t be a bad idea. He is a lanky point guard, who plays great defense.

12. New York Knicks- Wendell Carter, PF/C, Duke

Wendell has been a very solid player, who sometimes gets overshadowed by Bagley. He has limited athletic ability, but he is very effective. Carter even shoots the three at a solid clip of 46%. While the Knicks do have Porzingis, he and Carter are versatile enough to play on the court at the same time.

13. Los Angeles Clippers- Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

The Clippers just traded away Blake Griffin and may want to replace him at power forward. Williams hasn’t had a very productive year at Texas A&M, but he is talented.

14. Los Angeles Clippers- Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

With the Clippers having an extra pick due to the Griffin trade they can also improve their perimeter players. Bridges is an athletic wing who already has an NBA body.

15. Philadelphia 76ers- Omer Yurtseven, C, N.C. State

With the earlier pick going to the backcourt, this pick needs to be used on frontcourt depth. Yurtseven is 7’0″ and has taken a huge step forward this season for the Wolfpack.

16. Denver Nuggets- Jared Vanderbilt, SF, Kentucky

Vanderbilt has been out most of the year with an injury, but has come on strong for Kentucky. He is long, which helps him rebound well, but needs to shoot better. The Nuggets can slowly bring him on to fill out the starting lineup.

17. Chicago Bulls- Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky

The Bulls got Knox with their first pick, who can play the three or four, so they now select the super athletic shooting guard. Diallo may be the most athletic in the class and can get to the basket with his strong drives.

2018 NBA Mock Draft February 3

Mitchell Robinson (Photo by sportingnews.com)

18. Milwaukee Bucks- Mitchell Robinson, C, USA

Robinson had intended to go to Western Kentucky, but then dropped out of school to prepare for the NBA draft. The Bucks need more inside depth.

19. Indiana Pacers- Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Indiana could use some backcourt depth and Walker is really starting to come on for the Hurricanes. Both he and Victor Oladipo are versatile, meaning they can play on the court at the same time if need be.

20. Washington Wizards- Brandon McCoy, C, UNLV

McCoy can provide the Wizards with some much needed front court depth and also be a good developmental player.

21. Phoenix Suns- Bruno Fernando, PF/C, Maryland

The Suns picked Josh Jackson last year and Trae Young with the first pick in this mock. They can get a big here to help fill out the roster.

22. Portland Trail Blazers- Chimezie Metu, PF/C, USC

Metu has progressed every year in college and has even developed an outside shot this season.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves- Landry Shamet, PG, Wichita State

Minnesota gets a good defender and a point guard that can learn for a few seasons before challenging for starting minutes.

24. Atlanta Hawks- Dznan Musa, SF, Bosnia and Herzogovina 

The Hawks get their star rookie with the first pick in Bagley and can afford to select a possible draft and stash this one.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers- Trevon Duval, PG, Duke

Duval has played well at Duke and can develop into a good pro. Cleveland’s point guard situation can get a little bit murky after the season.

26. San Antonio Spurs- Troy Brown, G, Oregon

Brown is an athletic wing who needs to develop his outside shot more. Fortunately for him the Spurs are successful at teaching players how to shoot better.

2018 NBA Mock Draft February 3

Alize Johnson (Photo by si.com)

27. Brooklyn Nets- Alize Johnson, PF, Missouri State

The Nets acquired Jahlil Okafor, but still need some more production from the inside.

28. Boston Celtics- Grayson Allen, SG, Duke

Allen can shoot, which will be good for the Celtics’ bench next season.

29. Atlanta Hawks- Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona

In this mock draft the Hawks have drafted Bagley, a possible draft and stash wing and now get a perimeter scorer.

30. Golden State Warriors- Tony Carr, PG, Penn State

The Warriors will likely need to replenish their guard depth this offseason and Carr has been a star for Penn State.

 

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Virginia Cavaliers basketball

Virginia Cavaliers: Consistent as always

The Virginia Cavaliers are dominating defensively again. It seems like every season the Cavaliers are giving up barely 60 points per game on defense. They win games they “shouldn’t” and frustrate dominating offenses.

The Duke Blue Devils dove into the Virginia’s tremendous defense last Saturday and came up short against the Cavaliers.

This season

The Cavaliers have now won 13 straight games, have a 21-1 record and are 10-0 in the ACC. No team has scored more than 68 points this season against their lockdown defense. The Cavaliers are 3-1 against ranked teams and have lost their lone game on the road against West Virginia. They are first in Division I basketball in points allowed at 52.7 per game and are +16.5 in point differential.

They have forced at least 10 turnovers in 20 games this season and have given up more than nine assists just eight times this season. This shows that many teams struggle to share the ball against this team, and many of the baskets that are scored are isolation baskets.

Offensively, the Cavaliers are lifted by three different guards. Ty Jerome, Devon Hall and Kyle guy lead the way, accounting for 38 of the Cavaliers’ 69.2 points they score each game. No single Cavalier averages over 1.7 turnovers per game on offense.

Virginia has the slowest pace in college basketball. They force you to not only defend for 30 seconds on defense, but they are fine with a team taking 30 seconds to take a contested shot when they are on defense. They are built to wear you down, and they are built that way every season.

Most teams aren’t conditioned to grind out games, and teams with good offenses struggle against the Cavaliers because of their lack of conditioning. When the second half rolls around, teams slowly fall apart while the Cavaliers are consistent and fight on.

Week by week

Virginia Cavaliers basketball

Tony Bennett (Photo via google.com)

It seems like each week, the Cavaliers are picked to lose. Many experts see it as a strong offense against the Cavaliers defense.

Duke ended up being a victim of that this past week. The Blue Devils were the home favorite and ended up dropping a game to a suffocating defense. The Blue Devils scored 15 points less than their previous season low offensively, and they did it on their own court.

Duke shot just 26.7 percent from three and turned the ball over 16 times. When Virginia gives you 65 possessions a game and you turn the ball over on nearly a fourth of them, you are going to struggle.

The one struggle with Virginia that causes concern is their lack of rebounding. Being able to control the glass is a big part of winning games in March and April. The Cavaliers got beat on the glass by 13 rebounds against the Blue Devils. They are tied for 313th in Division 1 basketball with 32.5 rebounds per game.

The Cavaliers struggle at rebounding because of how small they are at nearly every position. They start three guards that line up at 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 and are generally small at every position. Isaiah Wilkins starts at power forward and is the Cavaliers’ leading rebounder, standing just 6-foot-7. Jack Salt is their starting center at 6-foot-10.

What’s ahead

The Cavaliers have eight ACC games left to play. As of right now, there aren’t any ranked teams left on their schedule. This season, they are 4-0 against the remaining schedule they have left and have beaten each team by an average of 15 points per game.

The Cavaliers have a very good chance of getting into the ACC tournament at 29-1 and 18-0 in conference play. With stingy defense and timely scoring, the Cavs seem to have found their identity yet again. Their identity looks the exact same year in and year out, and what’s even better is that it works.

Predicting a destination for this team

The Cavaliers have history going against them. Even though many of Tony Bennett’s teams have been excellent, they struggle come tournament time.

In the last four seasons that the Cavaliers have made the NCAA tournament, they have not made a Final Four and have only made one Elite Eight. This team can struggle at times offensively, and barring some deep heroic threes, they would have a few more loses than they do.

I think they finish at 28-2, lose to Duke in the ACC final and lose in the Elite Eight yet again. This team is very good, but the ACC is a gauntlet. It’s tough to make it all the way through.

The NCAA tournament is where absolutely anything happens. Tony Bennett has had better teams that have lost to worse teams. In terms of guessing just how far they go, I’m trusting the historically unpredictable NCAA tournament.

 

Featured image from dailyprogress.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Auburn ready to silence doubters

The No. 11 Auburn Tigers have not captured a victory at the Pavilion in nearly ten years. After a strong second half from junior guard Bryce Brown, the Tigers stormed out of Oxford, Mississippi with a 79-70 comeback win over rival Ole Miss. Coach Bruce Pearl’s team now sits at 8-1 in SEC conference play, holding a two game lead over second place Kentucky. Let’s take a look at why the Tigers have defied expectations this season, and why they are equipped to continue to defy doubters come March.

 

Second Half Dominance

 

Mustapha Heron soars in for a basket (Crystal LoGiudice/Associated Press).

A common theme for Pearl’s Tigers this season has been breaking away from inferior competition in the second half of games. In Auburn’s 79-65 victory over Georgia, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 40-26 lead at halftime, holding Auburn to 25 percent shooting from the field. Pearl, as he has done all season, engineered the necessary adjustments on both offense and defense during the break. This led to an offensive explosion by the Tigers, with Brown pouring in 25 of his 28 points in the second half and sophomore guard Mustapha Heron adding 14 points.

Auburn has scored 50 points in the second half eight times this season with five of them coming against SEC opponents. Pearl has credited his players for having the willpower and resiliency to close out games. Brown has consistently shown the ability to turn on a second gear on both ends of the floor at will this season. Auburn has the unique blend of calmness, intensity and belief in one another which allows them to climb out of significant deficits in any situation and slam the door on any comeback it faces.

 

Nine Man Rotation

Unlike some of the other top contenders in the nation, Pearl has the ability to roll out a nine man rotation every game. This depth allows Pearl to create mismatches against any line-up. All nine players average at least 13 minutes per game and this allows Pearl to wear down opponents as each game progresses. It also allows Auburn to ramp up the on and off ball pressure on defense, understanding that they can withstand foul trouble to any certain player.

 

Come postseason play, teams that roll out primarily six or seven man rotations feel the effect of tired legs. Pearl is unafraid to ride the players who produce for him on a game-by-game basis. This depth provides Pearl with versatility in both creating game plans and adjusting match-ups mid-game.

 

The Emergence of Bryce Brown 

 

 

Bryce Brown silences the crowd (Samantha Baker/AP Photo)

After Auburn suspended both Austin Wiley, a former five-star recruit, and Danjel Purifoy indefinitely for their potential involvement in a federal court investigation against former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person. Most pundits wrote off Pearl’s squad as both Wiley and Purifoy were potential starters for Auburn this season. In order to have a successful season, Pearl needed one of his upperclassmen to step up and lead his team.

Brown has averaged 16.6 points per game, more than double than his average last season. He has been lethal from behind the arc as well, shooting 40.3 percent from three point range this season. In addition to his dominance of the stat sheet, Brown has been the heart and soul of this Tiger team, sparking second half runs with his play-making ability on and off the ball.

 

Defense Wins Championships

Perhaps Pearl’s most impressive accomplishment on the season is the turnaround of Auburn’s defense. According to KenPom rankings, Auburn’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 25th in the nation. Pearl’s defense is predicated on heavy on ball pressure with the intention of forcing turnovers. This style of play allows Auburn to rattle its opponents while slowly burning out their energy.

This is where Auburn’s depth plays to its advantage. Pearl can utilize all nine of his rotational players to maintain this intensity for all 40 minutes of playing time. He can continually send in fresh legs to stabilize the pressure as Auburn’s opponents slowly burn out.

Verdict

Auburn has defied expectations all season long by taking care of business against inferior opposition. However, with games against Kentucky, Alabama, and at Florida remaining, the Tigers must figure out how to consistently show up for all 40 minutes. Pearl’s squad has a chance to solidify a number two seed in the big dance if they continue to manhandle SEC competition. Based on the way the Tigers have rallied around each other this season, anything is possible.

 

Featured image by Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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