The Best Player in College Basketball: Josh Hart

Every year one player in college basketball sticks out above the rest. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best NBA draft prospect, but this player is dominating the college game. Last year it was Buddy Hield who stole the show. This season the best player in college basketball is Josh Hart, the guard from Villanova.

Hart was a very important component of the 2016 National Champion Villanova Wildcats, but has elevated his game this season. He has led Villanova to a 26-3 record and kept them in position to get a number one seed on Selection Sunday. If the Wildcats are able to go far in the NCAA Tournament again, it will be because of Hart’s play.

Offense

 

Josh Hart

Josh Hart (vuhoops.com)

Overall, Hart does a little bit of everything for the Wildcats. Offensively he is best known for his scoring. With an average of 18.7 points per game, Hart leads his team in scoring, but does so efficiently. He is shooting 50% from the floor including 40% from behind the arc. Because of his ability to be strong while driving to the basket, and his ability to shoot from the outside, Hart can’t be completely shut down, as he has yet to score under 10 points in any game this season.

Passing is an underrated aspect of Hart’s game. He doesn’t play point guard, but he does a great job of setting up teammates for open shots. His 3.2 assists per game are very impressive for an off-ball guard. He does however, have a tendency to handle the ball well and calm the team down. Hart only turns over the ball 1.9 times a game, which is minimal in comparison to how many plays he makes.

Defense

 

Josh Hart

Josh Hart and Jay Wright (cbssports.com)

Defensively, Hart doesn’t back down from anyone. His length helps him defend well against other guards. He averages 1.5 steals per game, which is just one facet of his good defense. The most telling sign of his good defense is his defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions). His defensive rating ins 95.7. For a point of reference Kansas guard, Devonte’ Graham, who is known as a defensive stopper has a defensive rating of 103.5. Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox has been compared to a lot of great defensive guards, but his rating, 96, isn’t as good as Hart’s.

 

Clutch

So Hart’s all-around game makes him an elite player, but what makes him the best player in college basketball is his ability to step up in Villanova’s biggest games. Hart scored 24 at Purdue early in the season, 37 against Notre Dame and 30 against Wake Forest. With those type of games against good competition you can count on Hart to deliver when his team needs him the most.

Hart is the biggest reason as to why Villanova has already had a great season and will be the reason that the Wildcats will have another successful March.

 

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Cinderella Teams who can Win in the 2017 NCAA Tournament Part Two

As the college basketball season goes on, we are finding out more and more about teams that could end up being stories in the NCAA Tournament. Cinderella teams are teams that are commonly unexplored before March, but in order to be ahead of the curve, they most be studied now.

Cinderella Teams- Part One

Monmouth Hawks

A lot of people know about the Hawks from last year’s team. The bench had crazy celebrations and the team pulled off some good upsets. Unfortunately, they fell short of the NCAA Tournament and settled for the NIT. The Hawks are back this season and if they can make the tournament, can win.

They may not have the quality wins that they had last season, but the Hawks are 16-2 in conference and have a big win on the road against Memphis. The Tigers aren’t a great team, but it is a solid win for a MAAC team nonetheless. The Hawks are ranked 46 in RPI.

Monmouth is led by one of the best guards in the country Justin Robinson. Robinson averages 19.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. He is one of the most effective players in transition, which has fueled an offense that averages 81.1 points per game. With lanky guard Micah Seaborn and sharpshooter Je’lon Hornbeak, the Hawks have a lot of scoring punch from their guards.

Inside scoring is a bit of a problem for Monmouth, but with the guards firing on all cylinders, that isn’t too much to worry about. They are a great rebounding team, averaging 39.5 rebounds per game, which should help them do battle with good teams in the NCAA tournament.

Defense is the main issue with the Hawks, as they give up 73.5 points per game, meaning they will have to outscore their opponent(s) in March, rather than shut them down.

Illinois State Redbirds

Most of the time when people hear the conference Missouri Valley, they think of Wichita State, but Illinois State is having a great season.

Cinderella Teams

Deontae Hawkins (Photo courtesy: dudesonsports.com)

The Redbirds are 23-5 with an RPI of 33. At 15-1 in conference, they are on pace to share the MVC regular season title with the Shockers. Illinois State and Wichita State have split their two meetings, each winning at home. Right now the Redbirds are on the bubble, so they need to make the tournament first, but could be dangerous if they get in.

Illinois State has three players averaging over 10 points per game. Forwards Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh both have inside-out games. Guard Paris Lee scores and sets up his teammates well with 5.2 assists per game. He also shoots well, hitting 42% of his three point field goals.

Those players will need to have big games in the NCAA Tournament scoring wise. If those players are able to score for the Redbirds, the defense will be able to hold up. Illinois State boasts the 10th best defense in terms of points allowed per game in the country at 61.9.

UT Arlington Mavericks

UT Arlington is a team that has already had an impressive season and looks to continue that into March.

Cinderella Teams

Kevin Hervey (Photo courtesy: NCAA.com)

The Mavericks have a great win over St. Mary’s, which improves their resume tremendously. The win was on the road, making it even more impressive. They have a record of 21-6 with an RPI of 34. Their conference record is 11-3 and they are in the driver’s seat to win the Sun Belt.

Kevin Hervey is the Maverick’s leading scorer and is a double-double threat every time he steps on the court. He is averaging 17.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Two guards, Jalen Jones and Erick Neal, also help provide a scoring punch.

While the Mavericks don’t have anything they do extremely well, they are pretty good at offense, defense and rebounding. Their biggest competitive advantage is Hervey and he is going to have to be a star in order for UT Arlington to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

 

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North Carolina Controls its own Destiny

What a week of college hoops. Duke has found its groove with a big win over Virginia. Louisville barely beat Virginia Tech. Kansas beat Baylor by just two points and Pitt took one from Florida State.

Let me remind all college basketball fans, it is only Feb. 21st. This means the best is still yet to come. Lately all eyes have been on the ACC, and rightfully so.

The ACC should stand for Always (in) Constant Conversation, instead of Atlantic Coast Conference. College basketball is constantly talking about the competition in the ACC and I am going to jump on that bandwagon. This season if any, is proving why it’s one of the toughest conferences to play in. North Carolina sits at the top, but will they still be there in a few weeks?

acc current standings

TEAM CONF OVERALL
North Carolina 11-3 23-5
Louisville 10-4 22-5
Duke 10-4 22-5
Notre Dame 10-5 21-7
Florida State 9-5 21-6
Virginia 8-6 18-8
Miami 8-6 18-8
Syracuse 8-6 16-11
Virginia Tech 7-7 18-8
Georgia Tech 6-7 15-11
Wake Forest 6-9 15-12
Pittsburgh 4-10 15-12
Clemson 4-10 14-12
NC State 3-12 14-14
Boston College 2-12 9-18

As you can see, North Carolina is in first place, by a single win. Louisville and Duke hold second place, and Florida state dropped with its loss to Pitt over the weekend.

The Tar Heels have earned their top ranking position in the conference. They have consistently bounced back after losses to Kentucky and Georgia Tech early, and more recently Miami and Duke. With Baylor’s recent loss to Kansas, there has been talk of a #1 ranking for North Carolina. The best part is that they control their own destiny from here on out.

north carolina men’s basketball has a lot going for them

Justin Jackson has been outstanding from the beginning. His junior season is nothing short of NBA material and the scouts are noticing. Back in mid-December Jackson scored 34 points in a great effort against Kentucky, despite the loss. Now it’s February and Jackson is still improving and playing better than ever.

Against Virginia this weekend he scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. Jackson was cranking threes from 30+ feet without reservation. That is the kind of production and confidence you want from a leader.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Justin Jackson gets excited about a play (newsobserver.com)

When Jackson isn’t putting on a show, it’s usually time for Joel Berry II to shine. In a nail-biter against Clemson, Berry II put up 31 points in addition to Jackson’s 18 to clinch the win. In a close win over Pitt, Jackson scored 20 and Berry II added 19. Against Florida State Berry II continuously answered runs by the Seminoles and finished with 26 points, Jackson had 22.

They are the dynamic duo leading the team, but are often lost in the spot light of duos like Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox or Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart.

If those two aren’t scoring, they are dishing the ball to Kennedy Meeks in the post or Isaiah Hicks, who are number one and two in rebounding respectively.

Theo Pinson has also been adding some nice numbers the past few games, and starting for the Tar Heels. When the bench comes in, the Tar Heels still have success. Tony Bradley and Luke Maye contribute good minutes when UNC needs it.

Needless to say, as March is fast approaching the Tar Heels are getting better and have all the right pieces.

Who stands in their way

It might seem like the Tar Heels have a cake walk through the rest of the regular season. This is far from the truth. Justin Jackson and his team still have to play Louisville Wednesday, then take on Pitt and Virginia on the road and finish up with Duke at home.

The scary part for North Carolina is they have everything to lose and their opponents are going to bring the heat. It’s not that their opponents have nothing to lose, but North Carolina definitely has a big weight on their shoulders and target on their back.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Donovan Mitchell throws down a powerful dunk for Louisville (usatoday.com)

Louisville is first up on the four-game tour. The Cardinals are relatively equal with the Tar Heels in most statistical categories. However, UNC is significantly better at sharing the ball (averaging 18.3 assists per game) which leads to 92.3 points per game, which is also higher than Louisville.

Not to mention the Tar Heels also beat Virginia and Florida State whom Louisville lost to. The best part about college basketball is any team can be beaten on any given night, and this game is no exception.

The Tar Heels have the best for last, because Duke will be waiting on a silver platter for them March 4th. This final regular season game is everything that you want in a big game. A historic rivalry, senior night and two of top teams in the ACC going head to head.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the Tar Heels still have to take care of business in February before there can be talk about March.

tournament talk for north carolina

At least Dicky V has confidence in the Tar Heels. It is clear they have the offensive weapons and have played tough teams to prepare them for March.

The Tar Heels are very highly ranked on various offensive categories. They lead Division I in points per game and field goal percentage. They are third for assists per game and number one for rebounds per game in the nation. The statistics speak for themselves, this North Carolina team controls their own destiny in their ability to perform.

We can only wait and see how they decide to play and where they will be seated after the completion of regular season games.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

We Just Witnessed the Greatest Sports Year Ever

Sports are cool, and they’re even cooler when a season ends with fireworks. Thankfully, in the last cycle of season championships, we were able to witness the greatest sports year ever.

From the 2016 college basketball National Championship, to the latest Super Bowl, none of the championships have disappointed. Each of them saw incredible comebacks or last-second scores. As fans, we are blessed to be able to watch all of these games unfold.

That said, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce in the previous year’s amazing culminations.

*Of the four major sports in the United States, and the two major college sports, only one doesn’t make the list. Sorry, NHL fans, the 2016 Stanley Cup was good, but not great enough to be mentioned on the list.*

Super Bowl LI

It seemed as though the states to the most northeast in the U.S. were rooting for New England, and the rest of the population became Falcons fans for one day.

Maybe it’s because Atlanta was foreign to the big stage. It seemed so weird seeing a team like Atlanta playing in the Super Bowl since we had become accustomed to seeing either Seattle, Green Bay, or New York represent the NFC for more than half of the Super Bowls played since 2006.

Greatest Sports Year

In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does- win Super Bowls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maybe Atlanta became America’s team for one day simply because of the hatred spewed towards New England. The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, and won five. New England has also been to the AFC Conference Championship game 11 times since 2001. Picking New England to make it to the Super Bowl has become routine for many NFL pundits because that’s just what they do.

Nevertheless, this Super Bowl just felt different. New England was the heavyweight that everyone had seen win before. Atlanta was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the popular vote was in favor of the newbies.

No one saw Atlanta jumping out to a 21-3 lead at the half and a 28-3 lead as the third quarter waned. At this point, many fans just wanted to see a close game.

We should be careful what we wish for.

The Patriots scored a touchdown late in the third, and continued to mount a comeback in the fourth.

The final quarter was the equivalent to slowly watching a bottle of soda being shaken. The game continued to feel closer and closer, and before long, New England put so much pressure back into the game that the contest exploded to help make the greatest sports year we’ve seen.

In overtime, it was inevitable. Not only did the Patriots have momentum, but they also had history. It felt impossible for New England to lose the game. Coming back from a 25-point deficit and pushing the game into the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime? That’s just not a game New England loses.

Because of the incredible comeback by those darn Patriots, Super Bowl LI capped what was the greatest sports year of all time.

2017 College Football National Championship

In a narrative much the same as the Super Bowl, Alabama took on Clemson to be called college football’s undisputed champion. In this game’s case, there was no insurmountable lead that ended up being toppled. The game was tight the whole way, and was never separated by more than two possessions.

Clemson found itself down by two possessions twice, and each time it seemed like Bama was gonna keep Bama-ing. At one point, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Alabama over a 90 percent chance to win the game.

But this is the greatest sports year we’ve ever seen, so hopefully you’re sensing a theme.

Clemson came back, led by crisp drives from Deshaun Watson. Watson may not have won the Heisman, but at least he got himself a ring. Watson completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game to clinch a victory for the Tigers.

2016 World Series

Where do we start in this event? So many storylines developed by the time the series was all finished. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. Once the Cleveland Indians went up 3-1 on the Cubs, there was no way that would be blown, right?

Maybe Cleveland fans got what they deserved for making fun of the Warriors. #WellActually when a city has to root for the Browns, it deserves no other bad omens. The Indians didn’t catch that vibe.

Greatest Sports Year

Rajai Davis hit the most memorable home run in recent years. (Photo: FX Tribune)

Sure, our very own Matt Hagan knew the Cubs would win it all. However, since no one else did, the 3-1 series lead all but wrapped up the World Series.

The Cubs almost lost it. They had a 6-3 lead with less than two innings left to play. With the lead cut to two, Rajai Davis sent the world into hysteria with the craziest turn of events the World Series had ever seen.

Chicago had it all but won, yet in two seconds Cleveland was right back in it. A ball traveled faster than offseason Rob Gronkowski on the way to the club into the left field seats, while it seemed like it was in slow motion, even as slow as Tom Brady running the 40-yard dash in fashionable yet exotic khaki shorts.

Every baseball kid dreams of coming to bat in the tenth inning of the World Series game seven, and the Cubs had that chance. Chicago scored two, and took an 8-6 lead to end the top half of the inning.

Rajai Davis came back up in the tenth, and even delivered an RBI. The Indians didn’t have enough in them, as they fell short, 8-7. However, it still was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and that remains a joke on social media to this day. When you think of Steph Curry, you think of triples galore, an outspoken wife and the fact that he was the MVP on a team that for the first time ever blew a 3-1 lead.

LeBron James put on the greatest performance of all time in a Finals series in the most historically-charged Finals series of all time. Kyrie Irving hit the most clutch shot of his life to clinch the win for Cleveland- in Golden State.

The 2016 NBA Finals will be a landmark for the NBA’s modern era. With super teams becoming more and more evident, this series will forever be known as the time the NBA’s Goliath was taken out.

2016 College Basketball National Championship

Marcus Paige was supposed to be the hero. He hit one of the greatest three-pointers you will ever see. Double-clutch layups are hard enough, but a double-clutch three is just stupid good.

With Paige’s shot, North Carolina tied Villanova, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left. At that point, viewers of the game had to pick their jaws up from the floor. The shot was incredible.

But what Kris Jenkins did carried more water. A deep triple as time expired sent Villanova into absolute elation.

The Greatest Sports Year

Who knew that game would turn into the precursor to what was to come? With all the great games that happened in the past year, college basketball’s National Championship was my favorite. Everyone has their own favorite, and the games are probably split pretty evenly across the board.

This was a year that we will tell our children and grandchildren about. It was a year that probably will never be topped. We should all feel fortunate that we were alive to take it all in.

If anyone can make a DVD of all these games in it’s entirety, I will throw my money at you. So someone please do that.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Biggest College Basketball Injuries of the 2017 Season

In college basketball, injuries are inevitable. Teams hope for the best and fear the worst when a player goes down. The phrase “out for season” is one that sends shivers up the spines of coaches, players and fans alike. Here are the the biggest college basketball injuries thus far this season.

Maurice Watson Jr., Creigthon Blue Jays

College Basketball Injuries

Maurice Watson Jr. led Creighton to an 18-1 start. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

Greg McDermott and Creighton were having a stellar year. This looked to be one of the best teams in Omaha, ever. The Blue Jays rolled to a 17-1 record and traveled to Cincinnati to face Big East rival Xavier.

Disaster struck when the NCAA’s leading distributor, Maurice Watson Jr., went down with a knee injury. Medical reports revealed that it was the dreaded ACL and Watson Jr. was finished for the season.

Creighton won a huge test on the road but that was largely marred by the loss of their key player.

Watson Jr. transferred from Boston University and sat out a year after averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 assists. This year, Creighton added Marcus Foster from Kansas State along with a great returning cast of Cole Huff and Khyri Thomas.

Freshman Justin Patton also arrived on the scene to give Watson Jr. another target. At 8.5 assists per game and 12.5 points, Watson Jr. was a key part of the offensive flow. Since he went down, the team has gone 2-3 after Saturday’s loss to Xavier in Omaha.

Their ceiling has dropped tremendously. While before the Final Four was on the table for one of the most prolific (84.7 points per game) and efficient (52.1% field goal percentage, second in the nation) offenses, this is no longer a reality. Without Watson Jr., this team does not get past the Sweet 16.

This is a major blow for a team with the potential to win more than just a Big East title.

OG Anunoby, Indiana Hoosiers

With Thomas Bryant returning, the Indiana Hoosiers looked to make some noise even in the post-Yogi Ferrell era. OG Anunoby was a large part of that campaign. He is a multifaceted forward with the ability to score, rebound, defend and create.

Anunoby averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and led the team with 1.3 steals per game. Anunoby was efficient with a 23.7 PER and offensive box plus/minus of 5.4 this year and also effective on the defensive end with a defensive box plus/minus of 4.5. This means that Anunoby adds about as much value on the offensive end as the defensive end of the floor.

College Basketball Injuries

OG Anunoby’s injury put Indiana’s tournament hopes in danger. (Photo courtesy of fansided.com)

In the first half of their contest against Penn State on Jan. 18, they lost Anunoby for the year. The news was confirmed by Tom Crean a few days alter that the forward would need surgery on his right knee.

With the Hoosiers allowing 71.6 points per game and plenty of Big 10 games to go as of yet, that is where he will be missed most. The Hoosiers have stumbled their way to a sub .500 conference record (5-6) and are 2-3 since losing their key asset. In those games the team gave up an average of 83.8 points.

Even though the Hoosiers grabbed wins against Michigan State and Penn State, Anunoby’s presence is already sorely missed.

This is one of those injuries that causes a team to falter from a season of work. ESPN bracketologist Joe Liunardi currently has the Hoosiers at an 11 seed and one of the last four in the tournament, but to be sure of their place in March Madness the Hoosiers need to finish at or above .500 in the Big 10 at a minimum.

That means getting some combination of key wins against 23rd ranked Purdue and Caleb Swanigan who they play twice, a 25th-ranked Northwestern squad or the likes of Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa. They are not safe just yet. Anunoby’s injury puts them in grave risk.

Edmond Sumner, Xavier Musketeers

Xavier basketball looked to finally reach the promised land in Phoenix in 2017 coming into the season. At least they had a great shot to do so. Even with the unexpected departure of Myles Davis, the Musketeers hope were not dashed just yet.

Fresh off of a heavyweight bout with the Cincinnati Bearcats in the crosstown shootout, Chris Mack’s team traveled to New York to take on Chris Mullin and the St. John’s Red Storm. Sumner went down with a torn ACL and so did Xavier’s hopes for playing in early April.

College Basketball Injuries

Sumner (4) was a key piece of the Musketeer offense before his injury. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

The previously projected first round draft pick averages 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He is a dynamic guard with the ability to score, pass and rebound well for his size.

The Musketeers have not necessarily struggled throughout the season to put points on the board (76.7 points per game),  but they have had some poor showings and slumps. Sumner’s exit means less flow for the Xavier offense, so any struggles will increase.

There are no nights off in the Big East and the schedule will intensify for Xavier. Saturday they took down Creighton (minus Watson Jr.) in Omaha. They still have games against Villanova, who clobbered them in their first meeting, Butler and two games against a surging Marquette Golden Eagle squad.

There is a real potential for this team to finish with ten or more losses in the season. They are not in danger of missing out on the Big Dance, but they will not be around come Final Four Saturday.

 

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Is Gonzaga Really the Best Team in the Nation?

Gonzaga Basketball is rolling. They are now 24-0 with their latest win over Santa Clara. That’s right, no losses. In fact, they didn’t trail for 264 minutes of play (13 halves) during this season. ESPN staff writer C.L. Brown recently put out an article describing why Gonzaga is “proving to be a team worthy of its rank” which you can read here.

In the article, he gives all the statistics as to why Gonzaga is deserving of their high seat in college basketball. Brown remarks on their versatility, balance and experience. I agree with him on those three topics. However, what happens when this team meets the competition of Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon or Villanova?

What the Zags have going for them

The Zags have many positives going for them. They are skilled, experienced and have strong statistical production from many players.

Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga Men's Basketball

Nigel Williams-Goss takes the ball to the hoop (Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times)

Nigel Williams-Goss is the real deal. He is in the top five prospective players for the Wooden award and averages 15.6 points per game. In addition to points, he is adding 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. His stats just showcase his talent for distributing the ball to teammates and being able to get into the paint and finish.

Josh Perkins is shooting 44.1 percent from behind the arc. When Willams-Goss needs a kick out, he is there to make the three. All of Gonzaga’s players that average over 20 minutes per game are also shooting over 40 percent from the field. This includes the freshman Zach Collins and senior Przemek Karnowski, who both dominate in the post.

The Zags’ senior class has made it to the NCAA tournament each year. Last year, they lost to Syracuse by three in the sweet sixteen. Josh Perkins missed a runner at the end in the final seconds before Syracuse hit two free throws to secure the win. Gonzaga lost in the Elite Eight to Duke two years ago, which was just their third loss that season.

Gonzaga also averages 85.4 points per game and only allows 61.7 points per game. Needless to say, they are efficient on both the offensive and defensive ends. The Zags defense has also held many teams to very low shooting percentages from their pressure. Mark Few takes great pride in their defensive intensity, and how they close out on shooters and guard the paint.

why they won’t go far in the tournament

Sports Analyst Eric Rothman in regards to the game against BYU said “this was probably the toughest true road game for the Zags so far this season.” ESPN analyst Adrain Branch agreed with him. The fact that BYU (a non-ranked opponent) is the toughest road game thus far speaks volumes of the competition they are playing.

Their game looks flawless because they haven’t had the best competition. In clips from games against Pepperdine and BYU, their offense looks stellar because the defense is lacking. They might be able to feed the high post in two passes, but it’s because help side is nonexistent. Someone might credit that to Karnowski or Collins’ efficiency in the post, but that is for the viewer to decide.

This is not to degrade Williams-Goss or Coach Few. However, who have they really played this season? UCLA and Kentucky are averaging over 90 points per game. UCLA also shoots 53.5 percent from the field and play teams like Oregon, Kentucky and Arizona. Gonzaga doesn’t have any teams averaging figures that are stellar compared to the rest of the country.

The Zags also have their undefeated record working against them. They have a huge target on their back. While they might have experience in the tournament, this is a new year with new people and greater stakes.

Who will hand Gonzaga their first loss?

No. 18 Saint Mary’s might be the team to end the streak. According to ESPN’s BPI, the Zags only have a 45 percent chance of beating St. Mary’s and above 90 percent for the rest of the games this season.

The Zags have had trouble with St. Mary’s in the past. Last year Gonzaga lost to them twice in two very close games. The Gaels will also be looking for sweet revenge after the 23-point loss this season to the Bulldogs. If you have ever played sports, you know just how satisfying it is to beat a team, let alone an undefeated one.

Matchup wise, Saint Mary’s is ranked second in the nation for points allowed (56.6 per game). Their defense is what propels their offense and ultimately what wins its games.

The offense is pushed by junior Jock Landale, who is averaging 16.9 points per game. He scored 22 points against Pacific in a close victory and 14 against San Diego this weekend. Joe Rahon is a senior that contributes experience and big minutes. Over his two years at Saint Mary’s, he has averaged over thirty minutes because he impacts the game in all areas. Rahon is averaging 8.8 points per game 6.0 assists per game.

Gonzaga will have their work cut out for them. Their perfect season is within reach, but will they be able to take the heat when the going gets tough? Yes, they have versatility and experience, but how will it compare to ACC and Big East teams?

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

NCAA Mid-Season Bracket Reveal is Pointless

Selection Sunday is a holy day of obligation for college basketball fans. It is the day when all is revealed about the NCAA Tournament and the true fun can commence. It is the quiet eye of the hurricane with one side being a hectic week of conference tournaments and the other being the extravaganza that is the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA attempted to enhance some of that amusement with their most recent announcement. On February 11th, they will reveal a mid-season version bracket. The top 16 teams will see where they are per the committee.

So what does this actually do?

Honestly, it really does nothing.

There is not much information to really get fans talking since the all-important bubble teams are not included in the mid-season reveal.

When asked about the move, Xavier University coach Chris Mack called it ridiculous, among other adjectives.

“If you want, why don’t you show the teams that are on the bubble? That’s more intriguing,” Mack said. “Who cares if Kentucky is a one seed or a two seed?”

Mack’s poignant comments get to the heart of this move’s hypocrisy.

The NCAA is attempting to create a buzz around the sport earlier than usual, but is not revealing information that will spark anything. College basketball fans do not sit for hours upon end and debate why teams are a three seed instead of a four seed. All this does is tell us who may or may not be in the top 16 seeds which really does not merit a conversation.

On top of the fact that there is so much basketball left to play, it simply is not controversial and thus not what will spark conversation among fans. The thing about controversy is that it creates a palpable buzz. You want more controversy, not less of it, to a certain extent.

A good case study is the 2016 Syracuse Orangemen. Jim Boeheim’s squad was considered an outsider at best to make the NCAA field. In a highly questionable move, the committee gave them one of the 68 entry tickets.

This was so controversial that committee chair Joe Castiglione made a statement about their reasoning. The debate then became whether Syracuse’s Final Four run proved they merited entry or if they never should have been permitted to begin with.

This is what gets people talking, not unnecessary, meaningless updates.

Finally, what happened to good things coming to those who wait? Selection Sunday is the end of the road from a long season of build up. It is the culmination of all of the fear and anxiety that bubble teams go through. It is the one day that we wait for to kick things off.

Why divide our attention to two days? Why taint or spoil the momentum that leads into the first week of March?

There is no reason to change what is working. The NCAA should not look at expanding the tournament. They should not look at elongating the Selection Show. Things are fine the way they are.  We already have the greatest month-long spectacle in sports, there is no need to ruin it.

 

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Let’s Talk About Duke Basketball

Duke Basketball has had its fair share of trials and tribulations this season. Their team is not operating as it has in the past. A lot of people have lost respect for certain players and Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching style. The media have grabbed onto everything that has to do with Duke Blue Devil basketball.

How have the media and other outside forces limited Coach K’s ability to coach? Also, what will the tournament look like for Duke?

Krzyzweski said it himself:

“Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”

Clearly he has not seen five acting as one. If you haven’t heard, Krzyzewski recently forbid his players from wearing Duke basketball gear and from going into their locker room. It’s not the first time he has done this.

Duke basketball has been a dynasty of sorts for a long time now. The rivalry between the Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels has historical significance. Their program recruits top-performing players every single year. The Blue Devils are a well-respected team, but this season has done a lot to tamper with their reputation.

A large part of their tattered reputation is none other than Mr. Grayson Allen. Allen is one of the most scrappy shooting guards out there. He also is one of the dirtiest. His multiple tripping incidents and suspension hurt the team in more ways than most people could’ve predicted.

It hurt the team’s ability to work as a well-oiled machine. Duke is just trying to scrape by in the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of leading it like in years past.

is the media to blame?

With all of the discussion about Krzyzewski and Allen, how can one not turn to the media? Duke is just one example of how the media is ruining college basketball. I am not one to condemn the sports networks because I love listening to Dick Vitale hand out his “diaper dandies” and Jay Bilas give insight. However, these players are under an immense amount of pressure to perform. The constant spotlight is limiting the coach’s ability to coach.

Coach Krzyzewski is quoted saying:

“That’s what I do now: I lead and I teach. If we win basketball games from doing that, then that’s great, but I lead and teach.”

I recall something that my mom always told me growing up: “There is always more to the story and you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

It is very obvious advice, but there is a lot of truth to it. As college basketball fans, we really don’t know the whole story. Analysts like Seth Greenberg find Coach Krzyzewski’s ban on players “comical.” Many other analysts don’t agree with it or see the benefit.

Let me ask you to put yourself in Coach Krzyzewski’s shoes. Your team has players acting up and is losing to teams that they shouldn’t be losing to. He is doing is best to lead and teach. In his eyes, it is more than the losses.

Coach Krzyzewski only has a small frame of time to influence his players and he is trying to correct their actions as human beings and not just basketball players. The media tend to make these issues public and much larger than they need to be. Instead of these guys being basketball players, they become celebrities.

it is also about the young men

I am well aware that college basketball is a business. The ACC alone took in $403.1 million of overall revenue last year. In 2011, the NCAA also signed a four-year television and internet contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for March Madness for $10.8 billion.

Money is the name of the game to the outsider. As a college basketball player and fan, the importance and love of the sport will always prevail. Duke men’s basketball is a team of young guys that suit up to play in large arenas. Coach Krzyzewski is also trying to mold them into men.

For some of the guys, there is very little time. They will leave to go to professional teams and make a career from their talents. I believe that Coach Krzyzewski is still focused on what he proclaimed. He is focused on developing these guys into men that will be able to handle the NBA and life as an adult.

The truth is that a handful of these players will not be wearing the Duke jersey in a couple months. They will be moving on to the NBA. These players have a limited amount of time in the college basketball sphere. Especially those players that are apart of historically respected dynasties like Duke. In this short amount of time, it is the coach’s job to influence them on an off the court.

Looking forward for duke basketball

Despite all of the controversy, the tournament is taking place in March regardless. Luke Kennard has been the glue for the team this year. Typically the freshmen are the star of the show and lack the leadership that a major ball club requires. Kennard is defiling this stereotype and ultimately leading the Blue Devils as the youngest member of the team.

This season has been a rocky road, but the team itself has many great components. Kennard put on a performance in the second half against Virginia over the weekend. He created 75 percent of the Blue Devils’ offense and put up 30 of his 34 points in the second half. He also shot 10 for 10 from the field. Not to mention the three-pointer he made with 6.6 seconds left to win the game.

Kennard isn’t the only positive force for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen might have moralistic issues, but he still leads the team in assists with 3.9 per game. Amile Jefferson is shooting 61 percent from the field and pulls down 9.3 rebounds on average. Jayson Tatum is contributing 16.1 points per game as well.

Duke might not have a true point guard, but they have the talent to go far. It’s just a question if Coach Krzyzewski can get them to work together and not take the name on the front of their jersey for granted.

Duke is ranked ninth in the ACC and 21st in the country. They also haven’t lost by great margins, besides the Florida State game. Duke was in that game until halfway through the second half when Xavier Rathan-Mayes went off for 18 out of his 21 points in the second half. The Blue Devils lost to NC State by two points, Kansas by two points, and Louisville by nine. Last night they beat Notre Dame to improve their overall resume and they can still make a great tournament run.

Nonetheless, Coach Krzyzewski needs to be left to his team. It isn’t a matter of his correctness in disciplining the team and his players. It is a matter of if his coaching techniques and teaching is actually working. These guys need to be influenced and motivated outside of the media in order to play the game effectively.

 

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Cinderella Teams who can Win in the 2017 NCAA Tournament Part One

Every year there are teams that not many people know of who end up busting NCAA Tournament Brackets. Last year, a 15th seeded Middle Tennessee beat a 2nd seeded Michigan State team. The other unheralded teams who won in last season’s NCAA tournament were: Yale, Stephen F. Austin and Hawaii.

There was in no doubt more upsets than that, but those teams were the ones from smaller conferences, who were able to really surprise people. This season there will, in no doubt, be more upsets from teams that people haven’t heard much about. If you wan’t a head-start on preparing for your bracket pool, start following these teams:

UNC Wilmington Seahawks

The Seahawks made an impressive showing in last season’s NCAA Tournament when, as a 13th seed, they stuck with 4th seeded Duke for the majority of their first round match-up. The good news for UNC Wilmington is that they returned a lot of the key players from that game.

Cinderella Teams

Chris Flemmings (Photo courtesy: uncwsports.com)

This season, the Seahawks are a quiet 19-2 so far. While they haven’t played the toughest schedule they are 19th in RPI. Their two losses both came to respectable teams, Clemson and  Middle Tennessee. UNC Wilmington’s main strength is their ability to score. They are 11th in the country in points per game, averaging 86.3 points per game.

Chris Flemmings is the star for the Seahawks and averages 15.9 points per game. His size, at 6’5″ tall, and ball handling skills, make it easy for him to create his own shot. C.J. Bryce does a little bit of everything for UNCW at guard with 17.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game. Bryce struggles shooting from deep, but he and Flemmings team up well together. In last season’s game against Duke, the two combined for 34 points.

The two downfalls of the Seahawks will be their lack of size and defense. Their tallest starter is 6’7″ tall. If they get matched-up with a team that has good inside play, they will have a lot to overcome. With their lack of size, they will likely have trouble defending bigger players. For the Seahawks, they need to hope to outscore their opponent as they have all season long.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

The Blue Raiders were able to pull of one of the most memorable upsets in recent NCAA Tournament history when they defeated Michigan State. Like UNCW, Middle Tennessee also returns a lot of players from last season’s team.

Cinderella teams

JaCorey Williams (Photo courtesy: beinsports.com)

Middle Tennessee has a record of 17-3 and ranks 31st in RPI. They have a lot of solid wins on the season, including: Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, UNCW and Belmont. Their defense is the reason that they are so good. They allow just 64.4 points per game, which is 32nd best in the country. The defense holds up against good competition, as they held Vanderbilt (48), Ole Miss (62), UNCW (63) and Belmont (66), to a limited amount of points.

Three players do the vast majority of the scoring for the Blue Raiders. JaCorey Williams, the transfer from Arkansas, averages 17.8 points per game that mostly come on the interior. Also scoring on the inside is Reggie Upshaw, who averages 14.9 points per game. Giddy Potts, the only guard of the trio, averages 15.2 points per game. With these three players producing, they only need minimal help from their teammates.

The defense is so good because they have the necessary size to defend, something not all mid-major teams have. With Williams and Upshaw both standing at 6’8″ tall, they can match-up with most teams in the country. In order for teams to beat the Blue Raiders they will need to shut down one or two of the big three players in their scoring trio.

Valparaiso Crusaders

The Crusaders weren’t in the tournament last season and have a new head coach, making their good play this season unique. Matt Lottich has Valparaiso as a team to beat in the Horizon League this season.

Cinderella Teams

Alec Peters (Photo courtesy: USA Today)

Valparaiso is 16-4 on the season and ranked 48th in RPI. This might not be the greatest of the teams on this list, but they do have impressive wins. They have beaten Alabama, BYU and Rhode Island. Two of their four losses came to great teams in Oregon and Kentucky. The Crusaders are decent at scoring and defense, but what really sets them over the edge is their rebounding. They average 40 rebound a game, which is 23rd best in the country.

There are two major players to watch out for on the Crusaders. Alec Peters is a 6’9″ post player that averages 24.2 points per game and 10.9 rebounds. He can also stretch the floor a little bit, shooting 33% from behind the arc. Shane Hammick is a big guard, at 6’7″ tall, from the Netherlands. He averages 15.3 points per game on 50% shooting. With these two players rolling Valpo is hard for any team to stop.

To beat Valparaiso come tournament time, teams will need to have good athleticism and speed to push the ball up the court and score, as the Crusaders won’t be able to keep up.

 

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Why is no one talking about Florida State basketball?

Florida State basketball has put together an impressive tournament resume. The Seminoles are 18-2 and at the top of the ACC (tied with Notre Dame and North Carolina). The last time they made an appearance in the tournament was in 2012. If you recall, Jeremy Lin made his debut with the Knicks and #Linsanity was trending. Essentially, it was a long time ago.

With all the success the Seminoles are having, let’s delve into why Florida State isn’t being talked about.

The seniors have never made it to the dance

This senior class has consistently “missed it by that much” and they have yet to partake in the tournament. In 2012, the Seminoles lost to Cincinnati in the third round. After that class graduated, there hasn’t been much excitement.

This senior class made it to the NIT their freshman and junior years. I probably should not mention their sophomore year when they neglected to go further than the regular season.

However, that has been part of their success. They have a younger team and there are only two seniors on the team: Michael Ojo and Jarquez Smith. The older two are playing an average of 13 minutes a game. The young guys are the ones putting up big numbers to lead the charge against respectable ball clubs like Duke and Louisville.

Seminoles have Young personnel

Let’s start with Dwayne Bacon. Yes, his last name is Bacon, which automatically makes him special. The sophomore is averaging 17.4 points per game for the Seminoles and a few rebounds.

If young guns are going to be mentioned, then freshman Jonathan Isaac needs to get some credit. His specialty is shooting without question. The kid is shooting 54 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from three-point land, and 82.4 percent from the free throw line. Let’s not forget he is averaging 7.8 rebounds per game and 13.3 points per game. Those are a lot of stats, and good ones for a freshman.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes leads the team with 4.7 assists per game and provides some leadership on the court. Michael Ojo also adds experience on the court and contributed 10 points in the win over Louisville this past weekend.

In addition, Terrance Mann is a crafty guard who really does it all. He is shooting 60 percent from the field and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game (second on the team). He also uses his great ball-handling skills to take players to the rim.

Deep bench

Head coach Leonard Hamilton does it differently than most Division I college basketball teams. He rotates 12 players throughout the game and utilizes his bench well.

PJ Savoy of Floria State Seminoles (Photo Courtesy of Seminoles.com)

He has four players averaging over 20 minutes a game, but pulls other players into rotation. Jarquez Smith is averaging less minutes and points per game than in past years, but contributes more than just stats. He is a senior that provides composure on the court when Coach Hamilton needs it. Braian Angola-Rodas is also coming off the bench and adding decent minutes.

Earlier this year in their win over Notre Dame, the bench came up big to beat Notre Dame by three in the final minute.

Two of the Seminoles’ starters struggled throughout the game. Terrance Mann was held scoreless and Michael Ojo added just two points (the opening dunk). Sophomore PJ Savoy scored 12 points. Overall, the bench scored 39 points (just under half of their points) in the victory.

tournament hopes and what is to come

The tournament is within reach for the Seminoles for the first time in awhile. The upperclassmen have ownership on their lack of performance in the past. The young guys are adapting well to the pace of college basketball and knocking off good teams in the process.

Florida State has notable wins, but they still have a tough schedule ahead. They are 6-1 in conference play right now, but the second time around is always tougher. Notre Dame will be looking for revenge after a close loss. Duke will also be hungry for a win after losing to the Seminoles by a margin of 16 points when Rathan-Mayes scored 21 points.

Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Miami will not be easy games either. Regardless, Florida State has set themselves up well to make a tournament appearance this year and possibly make a run. They have the young guys to make it happen if they can keep getting quality wins until March (which is still asking a lot, but manageable).

 

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