Northwestern Wildcats Basketball on the Brink of History

The Northwestern Wildcats basketball team is attempting to relinquish one of the most infamous records in college basketball: Its record number of NCAA Tournament appearances. Standing at zero, they are the only power conference team to have never gone dancing.

The tournament consists of 68 teams and has included 64 since 1985.  With the number of Division I teams fluctuating every year near 340, that means approximately 19% of teams make the tournament every year. An overwhelming number of bids go to the power conference teams. Some of the big conferences have eight, nine, or even ten teams punch tickets in a given year. The Big East put in 11 teams in 2011, which is the current record. The fact of the matter is that there is a huge advantage for teams in a big conference.

Yet, even with all of this in their favor, the Wildcats have never made the tournament. Not winning a World Series for a century is bad, but when only one team completes the feat every year it pales in comparison to this. The men in purple have been close a few times but never able to get that signature win or finish the fight toward the end of the season.

Northwestern Wildcats Basketball

Chris Collins has the Wildcats moving in the right direction. (Photo courtesy of northwestern.edu)

Northwestern has not been ranked since the 2009-10 season and that was only a brief stint at the 25th spot. This year they are on the verge of entering the fray once again as they are receiving votes and continuing to win games.

Since Chris Collins took the helm in Evanston, the team has been trending upward. Last year the team finished with its best record since 2010-11 at 20-12. Their current record is 16-4 (5-2) after a close 74-72 win at Ohio State.

They are moving ever so much closer to solidifying a spot in the NCAA Tournament and also to the school record of 20 wins in a season.

With the Big Ten having a bit of a down year, there are not a lot of opportunities for Northwestern to get that statement win. Essentially, the rest of the year they will work to avoid a “fall from grace”. They are 38th in the RPI and have not lost any games to teams outside the top 50. They have a few more opportunities for good wins against teams like Maryland (21), twice against Purdue (27) and Wisconsin (24).

If the Wildcats take a must-win against Rutgers (130) and three others they will be guaranteed a .500 record in the Big 10. That should be enough to push them into the field, but another win or two would push them over the top. Obviously, winning the conference tournament would do the trick as well, but they have never accomplished this either.

An additional factor in their favor is that down the stretch they will not have to do a lot of traveling.  Seven of their last 11 games are at home. This includes two of their best opportunities for key wins against Purdue and Maryland.

A lot of things are in the Wildcats favor. They are currently in the field for many bracketologists including The Game Haus’ Joe DiTullio. DiTullio has them at a nine seed in his most current edition. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi agrees with their current placement in the field.

Northwestern has very little standing in their way at this point.  They just need to take care of business and finish the job. It is about time the program lift this weight from its shoulders.

 

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2017 College Basketball Bracketology January 18

The NCAA Tournament is just two months away, which means teams are starting to make their final push to be invited. There is still a lot of basketball left to be played, but as it stands now, here is the latest college basketball bracketology:

College Basketball Bracketology

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The Big Ten is No Longer “Big”

Week after week there is talk about the No. 1 team in the nation (Villanova this week), the Big East, the ACC, and Grayson Allen. No one is talking about the Big Ten. There is a reason for that.

Maryland leads the conference with a 4-1 record, ranked No. 25 in the country. The Terrapins might be 16-2 overall, but they haven’t played one ranked team this year. They also have yet to play Wisconsin, Purdue or Minnesota. One might remember that Maryland is relatively new to the Big Ten Conference along with Rutgers, who is 0-6 in conference play. Minnesota has recently dropped out of the top 25 ranking after losing to Michigan State this past week. Wisconsin is sitting at No. 17 and Purdue is ranked No. 21. Neither team holds the top spot in the conference.

(Photo courtesy of impact89fm.org)

The Big Ten simply is not the hard-hitting, nitty-gritty conference that it used to be. There is not a single team that dominates. Any team could lose on any given day, which sounds like March Madness. However, it isn’t the exhilarating type of March Madness where teams are upsetting high-ranked ball clubs. It is a lot of average teams beating and losing to mediocre teams, with respect to the rest of the nation.

For a girl who grew up watching Drew Neitzel shoot threes consistently with both hands, and heard about Isiah Thomas and his two years at Indiana, it is obvious that the Big Ten isn’t what it used to be. All of the teams have at least one loss in conference play and teams are struggling to get wins on the road.

The only true press that the Big Ten is receiving currently is from select standout players in the Midseason top 25 ranking for the Wooden Award this year. Those few are Melo Trimble (Maryland), Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin), and Caleb Swanigan (Purdue). Now this article is not to denounce the Big Ten but rather to breakdown the conference and its struggles this year.

What happened to the hoosiers?

Indiana is one of those teams that could make a great tournament run, but will the Hoosiers even make it to the tournament?

The Hoosiers started off the season with a four-point victory over Kansas. Then the team proceeded to lay an egg at IPFW in its fourth game of the season. They also beat North Carolina, but lost to Butler.

If their season continues at this pace, it will be the season that “missed it by that much.” Losing has been more of a theme this year than Tom Crean ever thought possible. The Hoosiers lost to Butler by five, Nebraska by four, Wisconsin by seven and Maryland by three. They are that close.

Indiana is typically a team that gets by. The past two years they have made it to the tournament and last year they made it to the Sweet 16. They have scorers and they have a great coach. They just need to finish.

Sparty on or Sparty off?

The Spartans are sitting near the top of the conference despite losing key players Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Deyonta Davis to the draft last year.

Freshman Miles Bridges (ncaabasketball.com)

The freshmen are clicking at the perfect time. Miles Bridges is coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him for the end of the preseason and beginning of conference play. Nick Ward is contributing 6.5 rebounds per game and has been named Big Ten freshman of the week twice. Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are maturing into great role players for the Spartans, which will be key in March.

This might sound like a lot of positive conversation, but let’s not forget some key losses this season. The Spartans lost to Northeastern, Baylor, Duke, Penn State, Kentucky and Arizona. More recently, Michigan State got the job done against No. 24 ranked Minnesota, but lost to Ohio State on Sunday. This puts them at 4-2 in conference play with a tough week ahead.

Wisconsin is now the consistent leader

Wisconsin is just about the only team that has been consistently competing over the last few years. This year itself has not been stellar, yet the Badgers find themselves on a 16-game home winning streak.

The Badgers are similar to West Virginia in the way that they have multiple players averaging good numbers and are balanced in their scoring. Sophomore Ethan Happ is a 6’10” forward pulling down 9.2 rebounds per game and shooting 62.3 percent from the field. Everyone else on the team is shooting good percentages, but nothing stellar for Division I basketball.

They also only allow 60.2 points per game (ninth in the country). It is the Badgers’ defense that keeps them in games. The seniors also demand an intensity from each other and their standout sophomore Happ. Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter know what it means to get wins and make a run in the tournament. They made it to the Sweet 16 last year before losing to Notre Dame and the National Championship in 2015 (but lost to Duke). They are a good ball club, but to compare them to UCLA, Oregon, or Villanova is another story.

Purdue

The Boilermakers got a win over Wisconsin, but have losses to Iowa and Minnesota. Sophomore Caleb Swanigan is ranked first in the country in rebounds per game, pulling down 12.6 on average. This was key against Wisconsin when Swanigan had 18 points and 13 rebounds to secure the win. The let down is they turned around and took a five point loss to Iowa soon after, despite being ahead by nine at the half.

Caleb Swanigan of Purdue (News-Sentential.com)

This has been the trend for all of conference play thus far in the Big Ten. A team might come out and get a key win, but then come out flat the next game. There is no domination and as a fan, it’s been a tough year to watch so far.

The Boilermakers do have a couple things going for them. They start mostly juniors with the exception of Swanigan. Next year they will be a year smarter and more experienced, which can’t hurt. Purdue also lost to Villanova by only three points at the beginning of the season. They have hope.

 

What does this mean?

Some people might chalk it up to rebuilding years. Others might say some coaches need to make an exit. As someone who has grown up respecting Thad Matta, Matt Painter, Tom Izzo and Tom Crean, I hope the latter is not the truth.

The Big Ten will bounce back. For all my fellow Big Ten fans, there is hope and March isn’t here quite yet. The tournament will see fewer Big Ten teams this year, but no one can predict what they might do.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

An Open Letter to Grayson Allen

To Mr. Grayson Allen,

I have been a Duke fan since a very young age and have come more into a love for the Blue Devils over the past decade than ever before.

Grayson Allen

Photo courtesy: Charlotte Observer

There are a lot of reasons that I am writing this to you today, but I will start with the positives. First I would like to thank you for your stellar performance in the 2015 National Championship. Without your 10 second half points and herculean effort, Duke does not beat Wisconsin.

Second, I would like to applaud your competitive spirit. There is not a person on this planet that could watch games at Cameron Indoor or beyond and call you out for a lack of fire. Even your most recent debacle involves by your intent to hustle for a ball out of bounds. Therefore, you are owed some kudos for the passion that you bring to your team and to each game.

Here’s the problem: you simply are not going about things in the right way. It is outright embarrassing and I am tired of hearing the general public speak out instead of Duke fans themselves. That is the true reason that I am writing this today: to plead with you for more caution within your choices.

As an athlete, sometimes you have a split second to make a decision and you make the wrong one. That is understandable. Tripping Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the open court and away from the ball is unacceptable. An additional trip of Louisville’s Raymond Spalding is egregious. A more recent trip to an Elon player is downright heinous. Subsequently, you made the incredulous choice to throw a tantrum about receiving a technical for said trip.

Grayson Allen

Photo courtesy: Sporting News

I am asking you to stop for the sake of the reputations of your school, your coach, your fans and most importantly of all yourself. During a loss to a very talented Florida State team, you seem to have initiated contact with an assistant coach. Did you do this intentionally? Who knows. What matters is that your past is to be used against you here and I cannot fault people for doing so. You are lucky enough that the aforementioned coach came out and defended you in terms of your intentions on the play.

You may not be so lucky next time. At this point, you have already been suspended for a short amount of time and lost your position as captain of the Blue Devils. Take this as a blessing in disguise and learn from it. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to avoid these situations. Your past currently incriminates you in any questionable situation. Change that.

Grayson Allen

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Do not take this as some plea to turn it down a notch or calm down on the court. Do not take this as some indictment against your character. Take this as it is: a critique of your actions on the court. Off the court I have heard nothing but good things about you. At this point, however, there is a feel that people’s opinions of you on the court are seeping into their judgments of your life off the court that they or I know nothing about.  Do not let that happen.

You have a ring. You have a stellar Duke Career with over 1,100 points so far. Keep all of that and leave whenever you leave with your reputation intact. Do not let that be the thing that you sacrifice for your years of hard work.

Sincerely,

A concerned fan

 

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Baylor vs. West Virginia: Best Matchup of Week 10?

Game time is at 7PM ET tonight on ESPN2 and this is not a game you’ll want to miss. However, before we can discuss the matchup between No. 1 Baylor and No. 10 West Virginia tonight, there needs to be some discussion about Villanova.

Perfect Season Out of reach for Villanova

Last week I discussed the tough week that the Wildcats would have to endure, and if they would still come out on top (Who Will Stop Villanova?). If you haven’t heard, Butler put an end to Wildcats’ perfect season.

Villanova did what was expected, as they limited Kelan Martin to 12 points. However, Andrew Chrabascz put up 13 points, and freshman Kamar Baldwin added 10 points.

But it was really the senior, Kethan Savage, that came up big for the Bulldogs. Savage (laughing at the irony of his name) scored 13 points, five of which were on a critical, late run in the second half.

The Wildcats were their own worst enemy. Mikal Bridges played 28 minutes but neglected to make a field goal, and he is averaging 9.7 points on the season. Everyone has their bad games, but Bridges shoots at 58.9% (the highest field goal percentage on the team). Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart were a combined 7-22 from the field despite Jalen Brunson going off for 23 points.

Baylor vs West Virginia

Jalen Brunson of Villanova (USA TODAY)

Villanova will still be a top contender for the national title. They defeated Marquette pretty handily with a 93-81 victory. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart were back to their point-machine selves. Jenkins added a season high 23 points, Hart chipped in 19, and Mikal Bridges had a quick turnaround from Butler. Bridges scored 15 points and the Wildcats overall shot 65.3% from the field and 60.9% from behind the arc. Yes, you read that right. Villanova shot the lights out.

Big East action continues this week, as the Wildcats take on Xavier at home and travel to St. John’s this Saturday.

Number one falls, next man up

Villanova no longer has a perfect record, but the Bears do. Baylor is one of the two unbeaten teams left in Division I college basketball. Respect, am I right?

It has not been a cake walk for the Bears. Louisville, Xavier, and Oregon are just a few of the teams that Baylor had to get past to be where they are now. They are also one of the few teams to reach the number one ranking, despite not being ranked in the preseason.

How do they do it?

Let’s talk about the junior class. Johnathan Motley, Manu Lecomte, Al Freeman, Jo Laul-Acuil Jr., Terry Maston, and Nuni Amot are all juniors. They are also the top six scorers for the Bears based on point averages. This combination of juniors allows Baylor to be as successful as they are. Without them, who knows where they would be? The best part is, it means Baylor will have this experienced class next year as seniors. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.

Baylor vs West Virginia

Johnathan Motley, a forward for Baylor University (baylorlariat.com)

Motley pulls down 9.4 rebounds per game and Lecomte can distribute the ball well (averaging 4.9 assists per game). Jo Laul-Acuil Jr. defends the paint like any 7’0” center should. He has 52 blocks this season.

It is not just about the juniors though. Senior Ishmail Wainright is a leader on the team, vocally and with experience. He also leads the team in steals, averaging 1.7 per game and 25 on the season. He has a defensive prowess that one should watch out for.

The question is: Will the Bears remain at the number one spot as they take on West Virginia this week at their place?

West virginia has what it takes

This game is very similar to the Villanova/Butler matchup this past week. Once again the top team in the nation on a large win streak is headed to scrappy team’s home court.

West Virginia is unique to most top-ranked teams in the nation. They don’t have a single standout player. They are are deep and have production from many players.

When comparing all of the statistics, Baylor and West Virginia are pretty evenly matched. Except for one category, points per game. The Mountaineers are averaging 90.1 points per game, but Baylor only averages 77.1. West Virginia is also coming off a close overtime loss to Texas Tech, which will only propel them for this game.

They also have the personnel to get the job done and fans to back them up. WVU’s Coliseum supports 14,000 people and it will be loud tonight. Coach Bob Huggins has a team that sits down and defends. Their full court pressure has bothered a lot of teams and allowed them to go on important runs in games. They have many offensive weapons including sophomore Esa Ahmad, Junior Jevon Carter, Junior Daxter Miles Jr., and senior Nathan Adrian to name a few.

In order for West Virginia to pull off the upset against the Bears, they have to come out with energy. Sounds simple, but it could be a make or break factor to the game. Once they get the lead, they can’t let the Bears hang around like they let TCU do this past week.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

When the Remaining Undefeated Teams Will Lose

It is nearly impossible to go undefeated in a season. The last team to do it and win the NCAA Tournament was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.  They were led by legendary Hall of Fame coach, Bob Knight, they are one of 19 teams to even reach the tournament undefeated. The most recent is the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats that fell just short in the Final Four. Wichita State also did it in 2014, but they lost in the second round to a different pack of Wildcats en route to the title game.

There are so many things that can happen in a season. Injuries can instantly derail a team’s season. Players can have acdemic issues as South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell did (and the team is still undefeated with him in the lineup). Naturally, players are human. As good as they are it is difficult to win night in and night out because there is bound to be at least one off night. It is a tall task to make it to March undefeated and it will not happen this year.

With Villanova’s loss to Butler, that leaves two out of the 351 division one teams undefeated. The Baylor Bears (14-0) and the Gonzaga Bulldogs (15-0). Each are currently in the AP top five due to their spotless records.  The question is, when will that first loss come?

Baylor Bears

Baylor has had a stellar season considering the turmoil of their campus over the past few months.  What is not in turmoil is their talented roster. Not to mention the fact that even with the roster they had the team was not picked to be as high as they are now. The preseason conference poll slotted the Bears at fifth in their own conference.

There are several facets to the Bears game that have gotten them to this point. Firstly, they are very efficient.  As a team they shoot 49.9% from the field. Part of that efficiency comes from the team’s depth.  The roster is not very full, 11 players have logged minutes this year, but 10 players play more than 10 minutes per game. Nine of those average more than five points per game.  Jake Lindsey is the tenth player and he contributes 4.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game in support of leading point guard Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte is a Miami transfer and is flourishing in Waco. He has 11.4 points per game coupled with 5.1 assist per game. His success is aided by his top scorers Jonathan Motley and Allerik Freeman. Each of these three players has managed double digit points (16.0 for Motely) in under 30 minutes of play.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) is one of the most prolific shot blockers in the country and is the teeth of the Bear’s defense. (photo courtesy of pickandroll.com)

What is more impressive is the defensive effect that each player has on the team.  All ten players that play significant minutes have a positive Defensive Box Plus/Minus.  This means that each player has a positive net effect on defense being in the game. The one player that it is impossible not to mention when it comes to Baylor’s tenacious defense is Jo Lual-Acuil. The seven foot monster smashes a whopping 3.6 blocks per game, good enough for third in the country. He has reached that mark in only 25.8 minutes per contest along with 11.1 points and 7.6 rebounds. Lual-Acuil’s high production in limited minutes is a perfect example of how Scott Drew’s use of the whole roster keeps his team energized.

That is what got them to this point. They will not reach the end of the season with a zero in the loss column. Baylor has taken down some giants on its way to current record. They have taken down Oregon who is now on track in addition to Xavier and Louisville. Conference play in the Big 12, however, is no joke. Baylor will finish the season with a minimum of two losses in the Conference.

The good news for all of this is that we will not have to wait long for this team to drop its first game. Already nearly faltering against an average Iowa State team, the Bears come home to Oklahoma State and then travel to West Virginia. This is the fun part about the Mountaineers being in the Big 12, teams have to go halfway across the country to play them. Travel has its wear and tear on players.

So after January 10th, only one team will remain undefeated in the NCAA. West Virginia and Bob Huggins are notorious for their full court defensive pressure that has caused 347 turnovers this season, best in the nation. They have only allowed 60.8 points per game. The really scary part? The team is fifth in the nation in scoring behind eight players over 7.0 points per game for a total of 90.7 per game. The fatigue of the Bears and the relentlessness of Huggins squad will result in Baylor’s first loss.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

At the beginning of the year Gonzaga was supposed to be good. They also had a few games that were supposed to challenge them on paper. Gonzaga has beaten all of the bigger conference teams on their schedule: Florida, Iowa State, an Arizona team on a neutral floor that is now coming around, Washington and Tennessee.

Karnowski is the main reason for Gonzaga’s offensive flow. (Photo courtesy of SI.com)

They have done it with a depth created by returning players, transfers and recruits. Nigel Williams-Goss has emerged as one of the most crucial transfers in the nation sitting at team bests of 13.8 points and 4.7 assists along with 5.7 rebounds. The versatile guard is a staple for the offense and has played the most minutes on the team thus far. To help him he has the interior presence of Przemek Karnowski, one of the best passing big men in the country. He has the highest usage percentage on the team (for players that qualify). Karnowski is the center of the offense for the team and his passing threat is a great creator. It helps Williams-Goss and fellow double digit scorer Josh Perkins to get their opportunities.

All of this action has allowed supporting players such as Cal transfer Jordan Mathews to flourish. Mathews is now shooting 42.5% from behind the arc.  Freshman Zach Collins and Killian Tillie also benefit from the lack of defensive attention. Collins is currently averaging 10.6 points per game on 72.5% shooting. When a guy is making three out of four shots from anywhere you know there is something good going on.

Unfortunately even that cannot prevent the Bulldogs from dropping a game or two.  They have a few tests on their schedule that will cause them some difficulty. The BYU Cougars may present somewhat of a challenge, but the team that will take down Mark Few is the St. Mary’s Gaels. The Gales have faced and beaten prime competition this year. When Gonzaga has to travel to St. Mary’s on February 11th, it will be too much for Gonzaga.

St. Mary’s is led by Australian Center Jock Landale with an outstanding 18.4 points per game and 9.7 rebounds. To this point he is one of the most productive players in the country, not to mention the WCC. Another Aussie player that has high production on the team is Emmett Naar.  Naar is a threat in several facets with 10.3 points, 5.7 assists and 2.9 rebounds. He is one of the main reasons that the ball moves so swiftly about the Gaels offense.

What the team truly brings as a strength is its defensive prowess. They are currently third in the country only allowing an astounding 58.1 points per game. They have allowed 61 points or under in 9 of their wins this year. The one game that they lost to UT-Arlington they only allowed 65 points. Gonzaga is a deep team, but they will not be able to fend off the aggressive defense of St. Mary’s.

It’s on the Haus: January 8

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports and esports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program, or come to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports and esports happenings, all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus.

 

Get Dumped Then, Oakland and Detroit

The Houston Texans took down the depleted Oakland Raiders 27-14 in the first game of the 2017 NFL Playoffs. I was rooting for the Raiders to pull this one out, hoping Connor Cook would avenge Derek Carr’s broken leg. Of course, whichever team I root for loses in the first round (#WhoDey), so I guess I should’ve rooted for the Fighting Brockweilers, so as to not curse the beautiful and classy Raider fans. Whatever Houston. Have fun getting whipped by whomever you play in the divisional round.

In the second wild-card game of the day, the Seattle Seahawks euthanized the Detroit Lions, 26-6. I don’t recall watching a team die as slowly and miserably as the Lions did. I feel for Lions fans because as much as you want your team to win, sometimes it’s not meant to be.

However, Twitter dot com has shown me how annoying Lions fans are by calling for Matthew Stafford to be named MVP, elite, and savoir of all things good. I retract my previous statement. Just sit there and sulk, Lions fans. Blaming the refs for 20 years of terrible football really fills the void, doesn’t it?

High Schoolers Play Football on National Televisions

January 8 sports news

Jeffrey Okudah could make an immediate impact next year for Ohio State. (Photo: Eleven Warriors)

The 17th edition of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl was played yesterday afternoon. The East defeated the West, 27-17 and the majority of people who watched the game are older than those that played in it.

Seven All-Americans announced where they intend to attend school this fall, including the number two ranked player in the nation. You can find where each of the seven teenagers decided to attend school and which schools were closest to landing the coveted prospects in this neat table below.

OT Foster Sarell, No. 2 overall, No. 1 T Stanford University, over Washington and others
CB Jeffrey Okudah, No. 7 overall, No. 1 CB Ohio State, over others
CB Darnay Holmes, No. 12 overall, No. 2 CB UCLA, over Ohio State and others
S Bubba Bolden, No. 55 overall, No. 6 S USC, over Ohio State, Arizona State, and others
OT Chuck Filiaga, No. 98 overall, No. 14 OT Michigan, over USC, Oklahoma, and others
RB Eno Benjamin, No. 143 overall, No. 8 RB Arizona State, over Texas, Iowa, Michigan, and others
WR Jamire Calvin, No. 254 overall, No. 36 WR Oregon State, over Nebraska and others

East quarterback Hunter Johnson was named the game’s MVP. He threw for 91 yards and one touchdown. Johnson will take his talents to Clemson next season, and sources tell me there’s a job opening at quarterback next season for Clemson.

It is Finished

After two days of speculation, Kyle Korver is officially a Cleveland Cavalier. Cleveland shipped a protected first-round pick to Atlanta and gave away Mo Williams and Mike Dunleavy in the deal. The Cavs also gave away this year’s first-round pick to Portland for their 2018 first round pick in order to make the deal work.

This seems like a good deal for Cleveland, but LeBron James is still not impressed. King James demands a backup point guard, so it looks like Cavs general manager David Griffin still has some work to do. Either way, with all the weapons already in Cleveland, “Kyle Korver” and “splashes a wide open three” should be paired together a lot as Korver becomes accustomed to his new offense.

I’m supremely convinced that this move was made to replace the GOAT of all GOATS, Joe Harris. Harris averaged a modest yet respectable 2.7 points per game last season for the Cavs, before suffering a broken foot that ended his season. Harris is now averaging 8.9 points per game with the Nets, showing he’s clearly a spectacular player.

I could easily drop 40 points with a 66 overall Joe Harris on any scumbag who tries to front me on NBA 2K, so don’t test me. His range is legit, and his heart just won’t quit.

He Indefinitely Tripped Him

Grayson Allen (maybe) tripped another player in his first game back from his one-game suspension, which came about for tripping players. Take a look at this footage (ha, get it?), and decide for yourself.

Grayson Allen is doing a great job of reinforcing Duke basketball stereotypes. Rather than slapping the floor on defense and diving for loose balls like any white basketball player should, Allen cries like a preppy white-collar teen. I’m convinced Grayson Allen will not rest until he kills a man via tripping, so yeah, he tripped the poor soul.

Hey, Grayson Allen, just stop that.

 

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Who Will Stop Villanova?

It is no secret that Villanova is the number one ranked team in the country and rightfully so. The Wildcats are 14-0 overall and 2-0 in Big East play. They have a full head of steam heading into conference play. Who will be the one to beat them?

What makes Villanova Tick

They have confidence, plain and simple. We are talking about the reigning national champions. They haven’t lost a game since March 12, 2016 when they lost to Seton Hall by two points in the conference tournament. Winning has become the name of the game for Villanova. Jalen Brunson is coming off the best game of his career. He had 27 points against Creighton on Saturday while playing in front of the third-largest crowd the CenturyLink Center has ever seen.

Sophomore Jalen Brunson of Villanova (Getty Images)

Villanova has the three things that any team needs to succeed. They have experience, leadership, and the ability to finish. As mentioned in my past article, A Blue Christmasthe Wildcats are led by two seniors that know what it takes to finish a game.

Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart have consistently contributed good numbers, especially this weekend against Creighton when they got themselves out of a 10-point deficit. Jenkins scored 21 points and Hart added 18 points against the Bluejays.

In addition, Darryl Reynolds was a solid player last season and he continues to be a strong senior presence. Together, these seniors provide the leadership that this teams needs.

Let us not forget about head coach Jay Wright, who simply said “bang” when Jenkins hit the game-winning shot to win the national title last year. Calm, cool, and collected define Wright’s coaching style. He has 30 years of experience in college basketball. Kentucky offered him a job in 2009, which he turned down. Needless to say, he knows what he is doing and the players respond to him.

The Wildcats run a four-out one-in offense that utilizes all of their offensive weapons to the best of their ability. Coach Wright stresses team basketball. The Wildcats use a lot of high ball screens from Reynolds and sophomore Eric Paschall so Hart and Jenkins can create off the separation from their defenders. This has given a lot of teams trouble and allowed for a lot of open jumpers for the Wildcats.

Sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges cannot be neglected either. Brunson had a big game on Saturday as previously mentioned which has been a trend this season. He is shooting 43.8 percent from behind the arc. He also has the ability to put it on the hardwood and get to the rack.  Bridges is shooting 59.1 percent from the field and pulling down about 5.1 rebounds per game.

Does Butler have what it takes?

Butler has a decent shot. The Bulldogs have a few things working in their favor. They have the home court advantage, which is often overlooked. Hinkle Fieldhouse is a smaller arena that supports 9,100 fans that are nothing other than loud to say the least. Butler is also relatively even in all of the statistical categories. Villanova averages 79.9 points per game, 14.4 assists per game, and shoots 50.4 percent from the field. Butler is averaging 78 points per game, 14.7 assists per game, and shoots 49.2 percent from the field. However, statistical data only goes so far.

Kelan Martin of Butler University (Indianapolis Star)

The Bulldogs are going to have to pull out all the stops. Junior Kelan Martin will need to put up at least his average of 18.1 points per game. The following highest scorers are Andrew Chrabascz with 11.9, Tyler Wideman with 9.1, and Avery Woodson with 8.4.

All of these players will need to step up because the focus will be on stopping Martin from adding big numbers. Senior Tyler Lewis will be a large factor, based on his sheer ability to create for his teammates. Lewis is averaging 4.8 assists per game and has the senior experience with big time games like this one.

If the Bulldogs cannot get the job done, who is next in line? The fact is, the Big East Conference will not give the Wildcats any breaks. Villanova will take on Marquette on Saturday at home. The Golden Eagles are coming off a loss to Seton Hall by a margin of three points. They will be hungry for a win.

The Wildcats passed the test of winning at Creighton, but now they look ahead to Butler. The Bulldogs have been known for their upsets (recall Indiana in the 2012 Crossroads Classic). If the Wildcats can come out on top of the week at 16-0, it is no doubt that they are made for March. I know it is only January, but bring on the madness!

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Here is Your New Year’s Resolution: Watch More College Basketball

So you have not thought of a New Year’s resolution yet? No problem. Here is an easy one for you: watch more college basketball. Not only will this be significantly more enjoyable than anything else you can think up, but you only have to keep it until April! Kick off 2017 with a sense of accomplishment and renewed interest in the sport. There are plenty of reasons for you to watch:

Great Players

Markelle Fultz has is the top freshman prospect thus far this year. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

This season is jam packed with young talent. There are dozens of players whose mere presence on the court merits tuning in for a game. Perhaps one of the best examples is Washington’s Markelle Fultz. He is currently topping many NBA mock drafts and is widely considered the top overall prospect. Despite the fact that the Huskies are a lackluster 7-5, Fultz makes it worth your time.

He is an elite scorer with 22.0 points per game so far as a freshman while adding 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He has the size and athleticism of an NBA guard and will surely be a top pick in the draft.  For now, he is a contributor to the attention of college basketball fans.

Other stellar freshman include UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Ball is a lights out shooter with extreme precision. He averages 13.7 points per game, but shoots over 52% from the field and over 42% from deep. He also is one of the nation’s best passers and it shows with his 8.1 assists per game.  Ball uses his lanky size to grab 5.6 rebounds per contest.  There are a few questions about his game, but he is another college player beyond his cohorts and a good reason to make this resolution.

Josh Jackson, in turn, is a freak athlete. Jackson stands at six foot eight and 207 pounds of lean muscle. He has the ability to jump out of the gym. The scary part is that now his shot is coming around.  He is at 52.9% from the field.  His range could use some work, but as a guard averaging 1.5 blocks per game and 6.5 rebounds there is little lacking in his game. He came into the year as the top overall recruit and has lived up to that honor.

Other young players like Jayson Tatum of Duke, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo of Kentucky, Miles Bridges of Michigan State and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac are coming along nicely. So far this is a deep recruiting class.

Let’s not forget the guys that came back, though. Ivan Rabb makes California games more than watchable. The six foot ten power forward was projected to be a back end lottery pick, but made the decision to return under Cuonzo Martin. Rabb is nearly averaging a double-double with 14.7 points per game and 9.8 rebounds. He supplements those figures by throwing in 1.6 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The tremendously talented sophomore is the center of the Bears offense and worth this New Year’s Resolution on his own.

Other players that made the tough choice to return, but also are worth watching include Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson.

Great Teams

So tuning in to see one player is not your thing? No problem. There are plenty of great teams to meet anyone’s tastes.

Creighton and Villanova just finished off 2016 with a titanic clash in Omaha. Villanova had several players return after their adrenaline-inducing tournament run. This year there is no hangover from their dramatic finish. Without Ryan Arcidiacono (graduation), Daniel Ochefu (graduation) and Omari Spellman (eligibility) the team is still kicking on all cylinders. The Wildcats move the ball well and have some great finishers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

Jalen Brunson has been terrific in his new role as the team’s main point guard, leading the team with 4.0 assists per game. Nova has eight players averaging more than 5.7 points per game and that has led them to a team average of nearly 80. Yes, Josh Hart does a lot of the scoring (20.5 points per game) but there is still plenty of unselfishness. Their tenacious defense and deep seeded athleticism has allowed them to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, only giving up 61.5 points per game. Additionally the team is 17th in the nation in turnovers. There is a reason they are the number one team in the land.

Maurice Watson Jr. currently leads the nation in assists per game. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

Despite Creighton losing this game at home by ten, they are still one of the best teams in the country. Creighton was supposed to be good, but the level that they have been playing at is totally unexpected. Before the match-up against Villanova, the Bluejays stood at 8th in the country with a whopping 89.8 points per game. Nine players average more than four points per game.  This team is a lot deeper than last year thanks to transfers Marcus Foster (Kansas State) and Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston). They are now the two leading scorers on the team which has caused some returnees to take a back seat.  This only makes the team deeper than ever. Watson Jr. helps the Creighton offense flow with his 9.1 assists per game. Creighton is 22nd in the nation as a team in assists, which they have on 56% of their made field goals. There are too many contributors to speak about on this team and it is one of the reasons for their success thus far.

There are plenty of other teams worth making a resolution to watch more of. West Virginia and Virginia each have suffocating defenses that keep games tight from beginning to end.  Gonzaga is making a lot of noise out west with a combination of returnees, transfers, and freshman. North Carolina is coming around health wise and now is returning to the form that they were at in Maui. The Tar Heels are an elite team and every game is full of action. Justin Jackson is one of the best players in the country, Kennedy Meeks and freshman Toney Bradley help North Carolina be a top 5 rebounding team in the country and Joel Berry’s return will make this team even better still.

Great Games

The conference season is just beginning and so is your resolution to watch those games. Creighton and Villanova was just one example of the type of game that college basketball has to offer in 2017. There are still plenty of games to come this year.

Duke and North Carolina will face off twice this year, with the first game on February 9th. Their second game is in the final week of the regular season. Both teams are slated to be high seeds come March. These two match-ups will shape the college basketball playing field to see who the best team in the ACC is.

The way things are right now there are several other in conference games with potential.  Kansas and Baylor will square off for the first time February 1st. Despite all of the madness that has transgressed at Baylor this year they have still managed to compile the beginnings of a great basketball season. Kansas boasts some of the top players in the country in Josh Jackson and Frank Mason. An injury to Udoka Azibuke is a set back for the Jayhawks, however, and should make the interior game quite interesting being headed by Landen Lucas who has struggled thus far. Jonathan Motley is a physical presence for the Bears with 9.1 rebounds per game. Miami transfer Manu Lecomete leads the Baylor offense into battle.  he currently averages 5.3 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game.

As Dillon Brooks returns to form, so do the Oregon Ducks. (Photo courtesy of collegebasketball.ap.org)

UCLA and Oregon will face off again on February 9th.  Their first contest ended with Dillon Brooks hitting a game winning shot and UCLA being dealt their first loss of the season. There is no reason to think that the second chapter will be any less exciting. UCLA is one of the most prolific offenses in the country, averaging 93.9 points per game, second in the country. Had Thomas Welsh not missed some time, the Bruins may still be close to 100 points per game as they were at the beginning of the season. They do not just score, though, they pass as well.  They lead the nation in total assists as a team, doing so on 66.3% of their field goals.  The Ducks, on the other hand, had a slow start after making the top five in many preseason lists. The Ducks lost to Baylor early (which does not look as bad now) and dropped their first game in Maui. They have not lost since.  In addition to their victory over UCLA, they took down the red hot, previously undefeated USC Trojans. The Ducks are beginning to look like the team they were picked to be as star Dillon Brooks returns to 100%.

After the regular season contests are over there will be so much more fun with conference tournaments and that little known tournament labeled March Madness. So if you have not yet made a New Year’s resolution or you would like another one, just put more college basketball on your calendar.

 

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Can the Flying Ducks Keep Their Streak?

Oregon basketball has started a streak. They have won their past nine games of this season and have a 33-game win streak at home. The last time the Ducks lost at home was on March 14, 2015, against Arizona, who was ranked fifth in the nation at the time.

Since their last loss at home, winning has been a commonplace for Oregon. The Ducks finished their 2015-2016 regular season at 14-4 in conference play and earned a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. They knocked off Holy Cross, Saint Joseph’s, and Duke to make it to the Elite Eight. The moral of the story is that this team knows what they are doing.

This raises two new questions: Who got them to this point? More importantly, what is to come?

PERSONNEL


Oregon has five players putting up double figures as they enter conference play. First on the stat sheet is senior Chris Boucher, who is averaging 14.1 PPG while playing 26.4 MPG. However, Boucher currently has a boot on his right foot (ankle injury) and is not expected to return until later in conference play. He leads the team in blocks with 35 on the season, which ranks 10th in the nation overall.

The void of Chris Boucher being gone has been filled quite well by Jordan Bell. He had a career-high 23 points against Fresno State last Tuesday. He also chipped in 16 points against UNLV (the first game Boucher was out). Bell is averaging 10.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG and has 33 blocks in total this season.

The absence of Boucher also allowed Dillon Brooks to make his first start of the season against UNLV and contribute 20 points to the victory. He also added nine points against Fresno State. He is a 6-7 threat who averaged 16.7 PPG last season and as a junior, he has the experience and knowledge to impact the game greatly.

Scorers for the Ducks are coming from all classes in addition to Brooks and Bell. Tyler Dorsey is a sophomore and he is averaging 13.5 PPG just behind Chris Boucher. Senior Dylan Ennis distributes the ball well and averages 3.3 assists per game. Finally, Payton Pritchard, who is playing 27.5  MPG, a rather large amount for a freshman on an experienced team.

Experience is the name of the game for the Ducks. However, the UCLA Bruins’ combination of fresh talent and experience could be road block to this long home win streak.

UPCOMING OPPONENTS


Oregon opens conference play against the UCLA Bruins on Wednesday. They do not get a “warm-up” game. They are taking on the second team in the nation that is led by freshmen. TJ Leaf averages 17.5 PPG and Lonzo Ball is adding 13.7 PPG in addition to 8.3 APG. Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford provide the experience for the team and contribute major points as well as high free-throw percentages, which will be key in late-game situations.

Oregon basketball

UCLA Bruins forward TJ Leaf (USA TODAY Sports)

UCLA has the personnel to end this streak. The meeting of these two teams is a rivalry with some bad blood in the past. From 1970 to 1976, UCLA had a home-game win streak of 98 games which included four National Championships. This streak was ended by the Ducks.

This however, is what great games are made of. First, there are two teams with history. Second, both teams have a lot at stake. UCLA puts up 95.8 points a game and leads the nation with 23.6 APG. Their untarnished record for this season would also dissipate. The Ducks risk a 33-game win streak and a win could would be tremendous for their overall ranking.

A win against UCLA does not mean the road gets any easier. After UCLA, the Ducks will take on USC just two days later. USC and Oregon are relatively close in many of the statistical areas. The Trojans are averaging 83.2 PPG while the Ducks average 78.3 PPG. Field goal percentage, rebounds per game, and assists per game are relatively the same. The teams are quite evenly matched and the Trojans are also on a 13-game win streak.

The Ducks can keep their streak if they can contain the Bruins’ large scoring margins by limiting the damage done by impact players like TJ Leaf and Isaac Hamilton. If they can handle UCLA at home and gain some confidence going into USC, then the Ducks should maintain their streak for another week.

 

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