Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

In a significant turn of events, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced substantial changes in voting on Nov 6. These changes will have a major impact on how the 2018 Hall of Fame class could be comprised. The Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope for several of the game’s elite players, who’ve now been given a second crack at Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame defines the Modern Era as the span of time from 1970 through 1987. To the layman, this means for a player to be considered in this era, his peak years should mostly fall within that range. This, of course, has serious impact for several players who’ve watched their initial 15-year period of eligibility expire.

Among the names on the newly formed 10-player Modern Era ballot are, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller (executive nominee), Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell.

Among the players on this list with a career WAR of (50+) are pitchers Luis Tiant (66.1) and Tommy John (62). Also joining this list are position players Alan Trammell (70.4) and Ted Simmons (50.1), respectively.

In my estimation, the no-brainer selections are Alan Trammell, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller. Trammell deserves it for being among the best short stops ever, Simmons for being among the best catchers ever and Miller for his work as the first MLBPA union head. Miller has a legacy that every player in today’s game owes a serious debt of gratitude.

How voting works

Alan Trammell had a (52.6) WAR between 1980-1989. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

This newly formed selection committee will consist of 16 members. Membership of the Modern Baseball Committee will be a mixture of HoF members, executives and veteran media members (BBWA). Members will be appointed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors.

The appointees to the Modern Baseball Committee will each serve for a renewable term as well. They will meet twice every five years to discuss the merits of elite players that have slipped through the cracks.

According to the Hall of Fame, voting set to begin in 2017. So presumably, we will have our first voting process at the winter meetings this coming December in Orlando, Fla.

Voting can only take place when there is a 75-percent quorum (12 of 16 members). In the event a quorum isn’t reached, there is an allowance for voting via conference call.

Short Stop, Alan Trammell – Detroit Tigers

Alan Trammell is one of the biggest snubs in the history of the game. I know there is fervent debate about Pete Rose, but unfortunately, he’s banned from baseball. So are the PED players, in a round-about way.

Trammell was a career Tiger having played the entirety of his career in Detroit. A career that spanned 20 major league seasons. These were 20, mostly bright, seasons as well. Had Trammell not had the break down at the end of his career, he would most likely be in already. Still, it’s a shame to see arguably the best short stop of the 1980’s, not enshrined in Cooperstown.

Of the three Hall of Fame short stops that would be classified in the Modern Era (Yount/Ripken/Smith), Trammell (52.6) has a higher WAR than all but Yount (55.1) throughout the decade of the 1980’s. It should be noted, however, that Yount switched to center field full-time in 1986.

It’s not just WAR in Trammell’s case though that shows his greatness. We’re talking about a player that not only posted a (70.4) WAR, we’re talking about an all-around elite player. We’re talking about a six-time All-Star. We’re talking about a four-time Gold Glove winner.

Trammell was a fine hitter, though not known for his power he hit a (.285) clip in his 20 professional seasons. That’s not bad, in fact, it’s the same career average as Robin Yount.

The Tiger legend was also great when the moments were biggest. In the 1984 postseason, Trammell went 13-for-31 in his eight playoff starts. In case you are wondering, that’s an average (.419). However, Trammell saved his best for the World Series in ’84. He hit a blistering (.450) with two homers and six RBI on his way to winning World Series MVP.

Put Trammell in already.

Catcher, Ted Simmons – St. Louis Cardinals

Ted Simmons is one of the greatest catchers that has ever played the game. He still ranks in the top five is several offensive categories after retiring almost 30 years ago. I would go much further in depth on this legend, but I recently laid bare the case for Ted Simmons just days ago.

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Robin Yount was the only short stop with a better WAR rating than Alan Trammell in the 1980’s. (Photo courtesy of: baseballhall.org)

What should be mentioned is that Simmons, a (.285) hitter, was the first catcher to hit 400+ career doubles, and still ranks second in RBI all-time among catchers. That’s impressive no matter which way a person looks at it.

With each passing year, Simmons’ career continues to look better and better. Like a fine wine, it’s time to pop the cork on this fine vintage. Ted Simmons deserves the call to Cooperstown.

Read the case for Ted Simmons here!

Marvin Miller – Former MLBPA Union Head

Marvin Miller wasn’t a player, but his impact on the game of baseball was immense. Miller, an economist by trade, became the first head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.

In 1968, Miller successfully lead the first negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement between players and owners. As a result, the minimum salary was raised from $7,000 to $10,000 over the seasons of 1968 and 1969.

Perhaps the biggest battle Marvin Miller fought while head of the MLBPA, was the challenge to what was known as the reserve clause. Under the reserve clause, players had no rights to pursue better financial offers from other teams. In effect, the owners of major league franchises held all the power. Under the reserve clause, players were bound to a team as “property” and could be sold, released, or traded on the whim of the owner.

Enter Curt Flood.

During the 1969 season, Curt Flood was locked in a battle with Cardinals owner August Busch over a dispute of a $10,000 raise. As a three-time All-Star, and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Flood was right in thinking he was worth more. However, because of rocking the boat, Flood was traded to Philadelphia at season’s end. Presumably as punishment.

Flood denied the trade, and making a long story short, ended up suing MLB over the legality of the reserve clause. A case he would lose, but would lay the ground work for others in his wake. Flood sacrificed his career for those that came after him. I wonder how many of us would be so principled in that same situation.

Miller’s legacy

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Curt Flood, along with Marvin Miller, reshaped the financial aspect of MLB. (Photo courtesy of: The Atlantic)

In 1974, Miller won a landmark case on behalf of the MLBPA. Due to a missed annuity payment, owed to Catfish Hunter, by A’s owner Charlie Finley an arbitrator ruled that Hunter was fee to sign with any team of his choosing. Thanks to Marvin Miller, free agency in baseball was born when Hunter signed a five-year deal with the Yankees.

For the first time a player had all the negotiating leverage to get the maximum financial return out of his skill set.

Also in 1974, Miller successfully convinced two pitchers to play out their 1975 seasons without signing a contract. It was then that these players challenged MLB by filing grievances with the league. The case was heard by arbitrator Peter Seitz, who ultimately sided with pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.

Though the fallout from this case sparked widespread collusion against many of the pioneers of free agency in the 1970s, Miller perhaps changed the game in more ways than any player ever has on the field. After all, Miller fought for free agency, led the MLBPA through three labor stoppages and oversaw average salaries rise from $19,000 in 1966, to $326,000 by the time he stepped away from the union in 1982.

Miller, who passed away in 2012, always blasted the Hall of Fame for colluding against his inclusion in those hallowed halls. Maybe the Modern Baseball Committee will finally give this man his just desserts. Even if it does have to come posthumously.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

 

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CEO 2017: Five sets, five game fives during exciting Melee top 8

For what it’s worth, CEO 2017 had one of the better Melee top 8s of the year. The lack of high-level players didn’t stop those who showed up from putting on a show. It all culminated into Juan “Hungrybox” Debiebma’s first career CEO belt, after running the gauntlet.

Hungrybox after beating Plup in Grand Finals. http://twitch.tv/vgbootcamp

Hungrybox went to two game fives against non-gods, which is extremely rare. He even fell to Justin “Plup” McGrath in Grand Finals, but, fortunately for him, he was playing from the winner’s side so he had the reset in his back pocket. The other player to push him to the brink was Jeff “Axe” Williamson, and it took a clutch on Axe’s counter-pick for Hungrybox to pull it out.

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, there were plenty of game five, last stock, last hit games on Saturday night. In fact, the first five matches of top 8 were exactly that. From Michael “King Momo” Morales’s self-destruct against Colin “Colbol” Green to Colbol pulling off the upset over Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallet, every single set was going to the last hit.

Even with a rather disappointing amount of entrants and top players showing up, it was good to see a lively crowd witness what turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining top 8. Yes, the predictable win for Hungrybox took out some of the drama, but players like Plup and Axe, who both have a huge deficit in terms of losses, seemed to give him a rougher go this time around. The sudden reemergence of what looked like 2014 Colbol was a welcomed surprise. He finished in fourth.

King Momo makes top 8

Melee majors, historically, have been incredibly difficult to break into a top 8 as a player outside the top-50. That makes what King Momo did this weekend special. Momo has been a rising star in 2017 with his second strong performance. Placing seventh was not only his best finish ever, but he achieved his greatest win with a victory over Ryan “The Moon” Coker-Welch.

Unfortunately, his run ended immediately in top 8 but not without showing the world his excellent neutral game and ability to move in and out of his opponents spacing. He is clearly a player to keep an eye on moving forward.

Another Florida player who seems to be improving is Colbol. As I mentioned, it looked more like peak Colbol this weekend than the player who’s had consistent average performances the last few years. The wins were over fellow Florida players, but placing fourth at a CEO is no joke.

Axe and Plup put Hungrybox on upset alert

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/vgbootcamp

Fox has been the one answer for Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff and he finally forced Plup off his Sheik for the matchup. Based off the matchup history, Plup’s Sheik hasn’t fared well but he’s built up the necessary experience to bring out the Fox in finals. He even got his first win over Hungrybox with his Fox on Saturday. But it was only a matter of time before Hungrybox landed more rest setups and he had two full sets to find those openings.

The set with Axe was similar with Hungrybox forcing Axe to play differently than normal. Axe spent his entire neutral game focusing on keeping tight dash dances to eventually whiff punish with up-smash. If only Axe could have kept it up for one more stock, I’d be writing a different story.

Moral of the story: Hungrybox doesn’t lose to players outside the top-five. The top players don’t have a handle on the Jigglypuff matchup and coupled with Hungrybox’s rare and special abilities, it makes it really difficult to pull off the upset. It’s a mental grind and most don’t have the fortitude to see it through to the end. It’s the most central aspect to Hungrybox’s successes. The win at CEO 2017 marks his second consecutive win.


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2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

The Golden State Warriors are the 2017 NBA champions. Now that the Finals are over, the entire basketball community will be focusing on the upcoming NBA Draft on June 22. This is a prime opportunity for teams to either deepen their roster or build playoff caliber teams. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0.

1: Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson/AP)

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are working on a trade so that the 76ers can select Markelle Fultz. Even if the trade doesn’t get finalized Fultz will be the number one overall pick in this draft.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA

Los Angeles is not going to pass on a player who will make those around him better and has the star power that Lonzo Ball has. These rumors floating around about the Lakers falling out of love with Lonzo is all a smokescreen. The truth of the matter is that the first two picks have been decided and they are just trying to keep people interested and on their toes.

3: Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Jackson, SG/SF, Kansas

This pick is just like the first overall pick. It is likely going to be Boston drafting in the third position and they will take Josh Jackson. This is a sign that the Celtics may put all their faith in Isaiah Thomas as their point guard. Jackson can fit right into the culture they are building in Boston and he will help them get closer to compete for a championship.

4: Phoenix Suns: Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke

The Suns are just unlucky. Phoenix was supposed to have a top three pick but fell to fourth when the lottery took place. Now they are going to miss on Josh Jackson by one pick. Jayson Tatum is flying under the radar but will be a very good NBA player.

Tatum has a polished isolation game and can score from anywhere on the floor. Tatum will be a solid second option to Devin Booker.

5: Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: http://www.zimbio.com)

Reports coming out of Sacramento say that the Kings are absolutely in love with De’Aaron Fox and are even willing to trade both the fifth and tenth pick to move up just one spot to get him.

Fox should be around at five and the Kings can draft their franchise point guard. Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox would be a promising backcourt that would help the Kings get closer to the playoffs.

6: Orlando Magic: Johnathan Issac, F, Florida St.

Orlando has been terrible ever since Dwight Howard left. Johnathan Issac has been recently compared to Kevin Durant, but he is not the scorer that Durant is. Issac will bring tons of athleticism to the Magic. He has proven he can play an all-around game but has been very inconsistent. If developed correctly, Issac can become one of the best two-way players in the NBA and an All-Star.

7: Minnesota Timberwolves: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

The Timberwolves are already loaded with young talent and in a perfect world, Tom Thibodeau would like to acquire more veterans in the locker room. Minnesota might be looking to make a trade in the future and will take the best available player which will be Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring machine capable of going off at any moment. He is the best scorer to come out of college since Kevin Durant and will easily average 20 points per game in the NBA.

8: New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France

New York has always been a city of immigrants. The Knicks are going to follow that mold it seems, as they already have Kristaps Porzingis and are in love with Frank Ntilikina.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit:http://bleacherreport.com)

Dennis Smith is arguably a top five player in this class. The Mavericks have a chance to find their franchise point guard who can help lead them back into the playoffs. Smith can score, pass and rebound with the best of them while in college. He also has the insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

10: Sacramento Kings: Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona

The Kings currently have two core pieces in Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein. If they take Fox earlier in the draft then it becomes an even better core. Lauri Markkanen could then take this team to even better heights.

Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to become a power forward like Dirk Nowitzki. He can stretch the floor or go inside. Markkanen would fit alongside Cauley-Stein because he can stretch the floor.

Getting Fox and Markkanen would make the Kings one of the best young teams in the NBA.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville

Donovan Mitchell was projected to be a late-first round pick around a month ago but has lately been flying up draft boards. Teams who have worked Mitchell out have been really impressed by the 6-foot-3 shooting guard. Mitchell is a shot creator and that is something the Hornets need. Charlotte could create a dangerous backcourt by pairing Mitchell with Kemba Walker.

12: Detroit Pistons: Harry Giles, PF, Duke

Detroit needs a big man alongside Andre Drummond. Picking Harry Giles would be a shock here, but could be a huge steal. Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the No. 1 pick before he began having injury problems.

We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender.

Giles has had a lot of injuries but if he can get healthy he has the skill and potential to be the best player in this draft class.

13: Denver Nuggets: Zach Collins, PF/C, Gonzaga

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: http://www.zimbio.com)

Denver is really close to becoming a playoff team in the tough Western Conference. Their young guards just need more experience and will continue to develop.

Collins is a good rebounder and shot blocker. Pairing him up with Nikola Jokic could create one of the most dangerous frontcourts in the NBA. Collins needs to mold his offensive skills, but because Jokic is so skilled offensively, Collins’ defensive skills would create a perfect combination.

14: Miami Heat: T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA

The Heat were amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need.

T.J. Leaf has a high motor and can play both inside and out. Miami would get a player who could be molded into a star by Erik Spoelstra.

15: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: JOHN COLLINS, PF, WAKE FOREST

John Collins could be a valuable piece around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Collins has a good offensive game that would help take pressure off their guards to score. He has a post-up game that most bigs don’t have. His impressive footwork allows him to beat even the best of defenders. If he develops his defense, he could become a top power forward in the NBA.

16: CHICAGO BULLS: JUSTIN PATTON, C, CREIGHTON

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: Chris Machian- The World Harold)

Building around Jimmy Butler seems to be the top priority for the Chicago Bulls. Robin Lopez is serviceable, but he is not a center that will help a team reach a title.

Justin Patton may be one. He is a 7-foot monster that averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Creighton.

NBA coaching could turn Patton into a dominant center in an era of outside shooting. There will be few players capable of defending him once he grows into his own. The Bulls would be lucky to get Patton.

17: Milwaukee Bucks: Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky

The Milwaukee Bucks are building something special. Giannis Antetokounmpo is looking like a future MVP and Khris Middleton is a stud. Drafting Adebayo will give Milwaukee a presence inside to make the Bucks even more dangerous. The talent they already have and can acquire with Adebayo will allow the Bucks to get closer to the Eastern Conference finals.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke

Luke Kennard fits the new style of the NBA. He is a pure shooter and can be a valuable scorer in the NBA. Kennard isn’t going to be a guy who changes a franchise but as a sidekick to Paul George, he could thrive. George wants the Pacers to add talent so they can compete for a title adding Kennard would help go a long way in the Pacers effort to keep Paul George when he becomes a free agent.

19: Atlanta Hawks: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas

Dwight Howard is aging and no longer a top center in the NBA. The Hawks must prepare for the future and that could be in the form of Jarrett Allen. Allen is a beast on the boards and has the potential to become a solid post-up big man.

20: Portland Trailblazers: Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum need help and Justin Jackson would fit perfectly with this team. Jackson would be the piece to help get the Blazers back into the playoffs.

He has great length and can stretch the floor. Jackson played great for most of the tournament. He had a subpar performance in the title game, but can still become a good NBA starter.

Jackson needs to add weight but is a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple positions. His mid-range jumper is well-polished.

21: Oklahoma City Thunder: OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit:http://hoosierstateofmind.com)

OG Anunoby will improve the Thunder on the defensive end of the floor immediately. In college, Anunoby was able to defend all five positions and that kind of versatility will make him a valuable player.

He also shot 36 percent from three in his career and will help take some pressure off of Russell Westbrook.

22: Brooklyn Nets: Ivan Rabb, C, California

The Nets will not be good for a long time which means they can be patient with the development of Ivan Rabb. He has lots of potential to grow offensively.

Rabb is already a good defender, and even though he only averaged about one block per game in his career, he altered plenty of shots. His inconsistency at Cal is what hurts him, but he has shown flashes of brilliance and that is what the Nets will try and bottle up and turn into a consistent output.

23: Toronto Raptors: Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany

Isaiah Hartenstein is a bit of an unknown but is an old school big man. He plays an extremely physical style and is a great rebounder. Hartenstein is also a great shot blocker and the Raptors really need an inside presence. He has very little experience but the success of Kristaps Porzingis helps Hartenstein.

Isaiah Hartenstein will need a lot of developing on his offensive game but with the Raptors current roster, he can fill the role of rebounder and rim protector without having to rush his offensive development.

24: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN, PF, PURDUE

The Jazz are in almost as good of a position as the Celtics. They finished as the fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks.

Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench. Depth is what the best teams have, and that is what Utah is going to get in picking Swanigan.

25: ORLANDO MAGIC: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia

Terrance Ferguson has been very hyped up as of late. He attacks the basketball and can also be a spot up shooter. Ferguson will need to develop defensively but would be a good fit with the Magic who need some more scoring.

26: Portland Trailblazers: Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU

Semi Ojeleye is an athletic freak. Ojeleye can handle the ball, shoot threes, create his own shot and get to the rim. Semi Ojeleye is going somewhat underrated in this draft because of his lack of perimeter defense. The Blazers have enough picks to take a shot on Ojeleye to continue building the depth needed to compete in the West.

27: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): JORDAN BELL, PF, OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: http://247sports.com)

Jordan Bell was a second-round pick before the tournament. Bell was a huge reason Oregon reached their first Final Four since 1939. The Nets would get a solid rebounder who brings in a heavy motor and will give you everything he has. The Nets need these high energy type of players to change the culture in Brooklyn.

28: Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Hart, SG, Villanova

Josh Hart is a leader and a winner, and the Lakers could use some of that in their locker room.

Hart improved his scoring each season at Villanova, and that should translate into the NBA. Hart doesn’t have to be a starting shooting guard to make a big impact. Every team needs a bench scorer and Hart can fill that void for the Lakers as they continue to build towards a championship.

29: San Antonio Spurs: Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana

Any player that the Spurs take should celebrate as if they won the championship. The Spurs will develop Thomas Bryant into a solid NBA starter. Bryant is an excellent rebounder and has a knack for getting offensive boards. He has some decent low post moves and with Gregg Popovich coaching him up he can turn decent into dominant.

30: Utah Jazz: Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse

Tyler Lydon has improved vastly from his freshman season to sophomore season. Lydon improved his points, rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. At 6-foot-9, Lydon can stretch the floor and he would be a great fit in Utah as a solid role player.

Second Round

31: Atlanta Hawks: Dillon Brooks, SF, Oregon

32: Phoenix Suns: Dwayne Bacon, SF, Florida St.

33: Orlando Magic: Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma St.

34: Sacramento Kings: Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia

35: Orlando Magic: DJ Wilson, PF, Michigan

36: Philadelphia 76ers: Tyler Dorsey, G, Oregon

37: Boston Celtics: Johnathan Motley, PF, Baylor

38: Chicago Bulls: Devin Robinson, F, Florida

39: Philadelphia 76ers: Derrick White, G, Colorado

40: New Orleans Pelicans: Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas

41: Charlotte Hornets: Tony Bradley, C, North Carolina

42: Utah Jazz: Mathias Lessort, F/C, France

43: Houston Rockets: Kyle Kuzma, PF, Utah

44: New York Knicks: Frank Jackson, SG, Duke

45: Houston Rockets: Ike Anigbogu, C UCLA

46: Philadelphia 76ers: Anzejs Pasecniks, C, Latvia

47: Indiana Pacers: LJ Peak, SG Georgetown

48: Milwaukee Bucks: Alec Peters, PF, Valparaiso

49: Denver Nuggets: Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson

50: Philadelphia 76ers: Jonah Bolden, PF, Australia

51: Denver Nuggets: Alberto Abalde, SF, Spain

52: Washington Wizards: Cameron Oliver, PF, Nevada

53: Boston Celtics: PJ Dozier, SG, South Carolina

54: Phoenix Suns: Nigel Williams-Goss, PG, Gonzaga

55: Utah Jazz: Sindarius Thornwell, SG, South Carolina

56: Boston Celtics: Aleksandear Vezenkov, F, Bulgaria

57: Brooklyn Nets: Edmund Summer, PG, Xavier

58: New York Knicks: Sterling Brown, SG, SMU

59: San Antonio Spurs: Monte Morris, PG, Iowa St.

60: Atlanta Hawks: Wesley Iwundu, SG, Kansas State

 

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Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Day three of NBA Draftmas is here to trust the process. Philadelphia fans are itching for their team to become contenders. This year they take another step closer to becoming a playoff team.

Summary

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: ohn Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports)

Philadelphia has not made the playoffs since 2012. Their overall record since then is 109-301. The future is beginning to look bright despite the recent failure. The 76ers improved their win total by 18 from last season, showing that the process is indeed working.

Not all signs are pointing in the right direction though. Last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, did not play a single game due to injury. Their franchise center, Joel Embiid, also dealt with injuries. Embiid was looking like the hands down rookie of the year until he went down with a foot injury. This is his third major injury, and it is never a good sign when big men have multiple knee or foot injuries. If he can remain healthy, he is going to be a top-three big in the NBA.

The 76ers struggled offensively, averaging 102.4 points per game, which ranked 25th in the NBA. They shot 44.2 percent from the field and 34 percent from behind the arc. Those percentages ranked 27th and 25th, respectively. They also turned the ball over at an alarming rate with 16 per game, ranking dead last.

Defensively, the Sixers gave up 108.1 points per game. Opponents shot 46.1 percent against the Sixers. Philly needs to improve both offensively and defensively.

Like many teams drafting early, youth and inexperience plagued the 76ers. To develop into a playoff team, the talent inside the organization needs time on the court together. Simmons and Embiid must remain healthy for this team to start pushing for the playoffs. If they remain healthy and this year’s pick pans out, the 76ers should be geared to dominate the East relatively soon.

Picks & Needs

The 76ers have five picks in the draft, four of which are in the second round. This gives Philly wiggle room to possibly move up for a second first round pick.

First Round: No. 3 (via Sacramento)

Second Round: No. 36 (via New York), No. 39 (via Dallas), No. 46 (via Miami), No. 50 (via Atlanta)

The Sixers have a very solid frontcourt made up of Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Brett Brown has publicly stated that Simmons will play point guard. The Sixers still need a very reliable shooting guard who can get buckets.

They could also use some depth at the small forward position. Robert Covington is average at best and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is still young and developing. It will be highly unlikely that the 76ers draft five players. One of their late second-round picks could be used on a foreign player who may stay overseas for a few seasons, but five rookies would be too much on an already extremely young team.

Targets & Thoughts

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Pick #3: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

The Sixers need scoring help from the guard position badly, and Malik Monk is a scoring machine. The SEC Player of the Year averaged 19.8 points per game in his freshman season at Kentucky. Monk shot 45 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from behind the arc.

Every now and then Monk would go off with impressive scoring games. Monk scored 47 against North Carolina, 34 at Ole Miss, 37 versus Georgia and 33 against Florida. He showed just how great of a scorer he is. At his age, he can develop into an ever better scorer in the NBA.

Pick #36: Jaron Blossomgame, SF, Clemson

Jaron Blossomgame is one of the oldest players in this draft. He will have maturity and experience that a lot of draftees won’t have. Blossomgame will be a solid scorer off the bench. He has nice length and size to be a quality NBA defender as well, but will need development in that area.

Pick #39: Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas

Frank Mason III could become one of the best backup point guards in the NBA. Mason has a natural ability to push the ball and creates quick offense. He isn’t afraid to attack the rim to get to the free throw line. Mason will be able to come in and play anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes per game and be a solid role player.

Pick #46: Alpha Kaba, PF, France

Alpha Kaba already has connections on the Sixers. Kaba played with current 76er Timothe-Luwawu-Cabarrot in France. Kaba is able to stretch the floor, something the Sixers could use from a big. Alpha Kaba would not come to the NBA this season and the Sixers could allow him to continue his development for a few seasons overseas.

Pick #50: Aleksandar Vezenkov, F, Bulgaria

Aleksandar Vezenkov is a raw European prospect who is capable of some good outside shooting. Philly will keep Vezenkov overseas until they need him. He has the talent to play in the NBA one day.

Conclusion

The Sixers have another top-three pick that will help them continue the process. Drafting Malik Monk would push the Sixers into playoff contention next season. It isn’t going out on a limb to say Philadelphia will be a seven or eight seed in the East next season. Getting to the playoffs would be the first step. They need that valuable playoff experience for their young core.

In the second round, the Sixers have four more picks that would allow them to be flexible in the draft. They will draft a few players who will stay overseas. Philadelphia is not far from contending for a championship and this draft will push them much closer.

Thanks for checking out the Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day four of NBA Draftmas to see what the Phoenix Suns are going to do.

Day 1 Draftmas: Boston Celtics

Day 2 Draftmas: Los Angeles Lakers

 

Featured Image by Fadeaway World

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Plup’s Luigi Pleases the Crowd at CEO: Dreamland; Mew2King Takes Home Top Prizes

The CEO: Dreamland win for Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman was impressive. He beat top seeded Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, overcoming a 2-4 2017 record against Hbox. The bounce back win was a great story, but it took a back seat to the rise of Luigi.

The last month for Justin “Plup” McGrath was not spent playing Melee. Plup, being a top-10 player, spent the last couple weeks traveling across South Korea and focusing on anything but Melee. In his first tournament back, the readiness and performance was in question. Then, late Saturday night, Plup sent out this tweet:

In light of this tweet, Plup took to the CEO ballroom floor and proceeded to turn heads with a character most people would say couldn’t win a major. Plup’s Luigi was assumed a gimmick when the day started, but no one was thinking that at the end of the day.

Furthermore, Plup took out Michael “Nintendude” Brancato and Sami “DruggedFox” Muhanna, proving early on his Luigi was for real. He made it into a winners semifinal at a major by going all Luigi. It’s a rare sight seeing Luigi anywhere near Top 8. Stephen “Abate” Abate was the first Luigi to make a deep run at The Big House 5 where he almost brought the venue down with his win over Johnny “S2J” Kim (the invisible celing set). The play of Ben “Luigikid” Tolan making deep runs at SSS, and Eduardo “Eddy Mexico” Lucatero Rincon help legitimize Luigi with strong wins in Southern California.

The best part is Plup has no recorded tournament sets with Luigi, so in his first try he finished fifth. He gave the eventual champion, M2K, a ride before the inevitable readjustments coming from M2K’s counter pick of Marth from Sheik.

SFAT Loses the Runback

SFAT and M2K. Photo courtesy of YouTube.com/vgbootcamp

It’s rarer than rare to see a performance similar to Zac “SFAT” Cordoni’s at CEO: Dreamland. The only other player with similar results that come to mind is William “Leffen” Hjelte who has beaten multiple gods before he was considered one himself. SFAT is slowly developing those next level mind games to be able to compete with the likes of M2K and Hungrybox.

Despite a 2-16 lifetime record against M2K for SFAT, he entered grand finals up 3-2 in sets against a player who’s absolutely had his number. All signs pointed to SFAT winning his first major with Gods in attendance. But, as history has shown us before, never count out any of the Gods to get the reset win in grand finals.

M2K, who lost in game 5 against SFAT in winners finals, made key adjustments and played better on Final Destination. Two of the best players statistically on Final Destination played four games on the flat stage. The count was 2-2, but M2K took back stage control and forced his will on SFAT’s Fox.

Unfortunately, SFAT ran into M2K who has historically had his number. The southern California Fox main is creeping into the title conversation. He’s real close to breaking the ceiling, but M2K wasn’t going to let that happen at CEO: Dreamland.

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Why You Should Root for Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament

The main question here isn’t why should you root for Northwestern, but why not? Chris Collins finally did it. Come Thursday March 16 the Wildcats will make their NCAA tournament debut against Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Northwestern

The Wildcats celebrate their first NCAA tournament bid (Photo/ USA Today)

Northwestern was the only team in a power five conference to never appear in the tournament before this past Sunday.

They had just seven winning seasons since the 2000-01 season. Their best finish in the Big Ten was tied for fifth in the 2003-2004 season. They also did not have a winning conference record since the 1967-68 season until this year.

The program is quickly turning around from the looks of things. The Wildcats finished 10-8 in Big Ten regular season play with a win over Michigan in the final seconds. They won two games in the Big Ten tournament against Rutgers and Maryland until they eventually fell to Wisconsin in semifinals.

Now Northwestern looks to make their mark on the NCAA tournament after drawing an eight seed.

Only three first-time tourney participants have made it to the sweet sixteen before being eliminated since 1985: Florida in 1987 (six seed), Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 (15 seed) and Cleveland State in 1986 (14 seed).

It’s been a while since a first-time tourney goer has been such a high seed. The last school to make the tournament for the first time and be better than a ten seed was UC Irvine in 1998 as a nine seed. The highest seed for a first timer since 1985 was the Florida team in 1987.

Northwestern is looking forward with a real chance to compete in the tournament despite being the last power five conference team to make the tournament.

The Wildcats face a ninth-seeded Vanderbilt team in the first round of the tournament. The Commodores snuck into the last-minute at-large bids with a win over Florida in the SEC conference tournament. Vanderbilt has 15 losses on the year, including their loss in the SEC tournament to Arkansas. Some may say the nine seed is generous.

Only 11 teams in the past 60 years with 14 losses have received an at large bid before this year. Vanderbilt tops that with its 15 losses.

The Wildcats not only have a real chance of beating Vanderbilt in the round of 64, but they also have a chance to win their second game in the round of 32 where they would most likely face Gonzaga. Many believe Gonzaga is the weakest of the four one seeds.

Northwestern

Northwestern students also celebrated Sunday with the Wildcats first bid to the NCAA tournament (Photo/Patrick Gorski- USA Today)

What is also interesting is that it would be hard to find a reason to root against them.

Most of the time when people root against a team, it might be for multiple reasons with the most popular probably being its a rival team. The team also may always be good, or maybe you just don’t like them. None of those apply to Northwestern.

You can’t say they have a true rival since they have never been good. There may be just a couple Big Ten teams. As stated before, they haven’t ever been good, so you can’t dislike them for that. The only other reason we can think of that a person may not like them is because they didn’t get accepted into the school. However, it is a pretty hard school to get into.

If you’re looking for a feel-good story, this would be the one. It is also a story that could very well last until the second weekend of the tournament. Perhaps you just want a random team to root for. Northwestern deserves your attention either way, because why not.

 

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The Local: Hungrybox’s Injury Issue, Salem and M2K’s Performances at Smash Conference

Genesis 4 is still two weeks away. The Smash world will now focus in on these next two weeks to prepare for one of the marquee events of 2017. Tournaments have slowed; aside from Smash Conference, there has been no high-level matches since Don’t Park On The Grass. That said, there’s still plenty of news to cover around the entire Smash community.

Hungrybox Struggled with his Finger Injury

Photo via https://twitter.com/LiquidHbox/status/816358130611318785

Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma was not the main story of this weekend, but his finger injury suffered last week playing dodgeball has his Genesis 4 status in question. Hungrybox did say on twitter that he’s planning on playing at Genesis 4, but that he might have to switch up how he holds his controller and try a different button press for his aerials (he usually uses the Z-button).

However, Hungrybox did make an appearance at MVG”s Smash Conference in Florida this weekend, and he didn’t look like his usual self. On top of losing to players he often beats, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman and Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett, his aerial spacing and conversions on hits were clearly not as precise as normal.

Hungrybox will play at Genesis 4, but how effective his play will be is still up in the air. He has two weeks to rest or practice holding his controller different ways.  A half healthy Hungrybox can still make a deep run, but it’s hard to see a scenario where he takes out a God with a busted finger.

Mew2King Wins Smash Conference for Melee

M2K got the win, but the real story was Wizzrobe and Zac “SFAT” Cordoni’s performances at this event. SFAT went 1-9 against M2K in 2016, but early in 2017 he took an early 5-3 game lead with a set win and a game five loss at the Smash Conference. He even had success against M2K on Final Destination, taking two games off him.

On the other hand, Wizzrobe nearly outshined everyone by taking out Ryan “TheMoon” Coker-Welch 2-0, SFAT 3-0, and Hungrybox 3-0. He unfortunately fell to M2K, a matchup that’s known to heavily favor M2K. His performance doesn’t go unnoticed though, and is a building point heading into one of the biggest events of the year.

Finally, M2K earned his first tournament victory of 2017, but it did not come easy. SFAT had him on the ropes on game four in the second set, but a bad positional decision from SFAT gave M2K the corner, and eventually the edge guard. The entire match favored SFAT’s pace of play, but in the end, M2K was able to repeatedly overcome large stock deficits to win.

Salem Takes Smash Conference for Smash 4

Photo via https://smashboards.com/threads/smash-wii-u-at-smash-conference-lxix-mvgs-finest-take-on-florida.444611/

Saleem “Salem” Akiel Young, a legend in Brawl for taking an Apex, earned another career victory by winning Smash Conference over Jamaal “Samsora” Morris Jr. The Bayonetta main had little trouble disposing of the other Florida players, only dropping one game the entire tournament. He made a statement by taking care of busisness in a tournament that featured the likes of Eric “ESAM” Lew, Jestise “MVD” Negron, and Andrew “ScAtt” Huntley.

Even M2K entered Smash 4 and made a splash before being eliminated by Esam. Esam, on the other hand, made an insane losers bracket run to finish third, after falling to Samsora’s Peach earlier in winner’s bracket. It was a tournament of mixed results, as ScAtt was eliminated in losers round two by Florida native, Day.  Strong players had to face off against each other earlier because of upsets, allowing for players like ScAtt, MVD, and dyr to fall out of bracket early in the day.

The consistent and balanced play of Salem and Samsora flashed. Both players had no trouble navigating through a tough bracket and might be two players to watch out for the rest of 2017.

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Why the AP Preseason Poll Deserves More Attention

The Associated Press’ NCAA Basketball Preseason Poll has a dual nature in that, it is both meaningful and not meaningful simultaneously. Every year the poll comes out creating a buzz about who should be higher and who should be lower. As with any preseason poll, power ranking or vote basis is complete speculation. So why should you care? Aside from bringing attention and excitement at the approaching season what does it provide us with? History shows that the AP Preseason Poll provides us with a gaze into the future and that we should give it significantly more attention.

Every year in the NCAA tournament brings with it new surprises, bigger upsets and more underdogs advancing. However, the trends found between the AP Preseason Poll and the NCAA Tournament can’t be ignored.

Despite Ben Simmons choosing LSU, the Tigers were the only team ranked in the preseason not to make the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of thebiglead.com)

To begin, a high volume of teams appearing in AP Preseason Poll make the NCAA tournament.  The 2015-16 season preached having no definitive power. Still, only one team in the preseason Top 25, LSU, did not make the Big Dance. Over the past ten years, an astounding 85 percent (214/250) of teams in the preseason poll make it to March Madness.  In addition, two teams counted against the percentage were Syracuse in 2014-15 and Connecticut in 2012-13.  Syracuse made a self-imposed ban so they became ineligible. UConn became ineligible due to Academic Progress Reports. Removing those two blemishes moves the 10-year average to 86 percent. Even the most inaccurate year, 2009-10, was still extremely predictable before the season began. Essentially, the Associated Press is able to make an educated guess about one-third of the NCAA field before the season begins.

Percentage of Teams in AP Preseason Poll to Make Tournament
Year Percentage
2015-16 96%  (24/25)
2014-15* 84% (21/25)
2013-14 92% (23/25)
2012-13^ 84% (21/25)
2011-12 84% (21/25)
2010-11 92% (23/25)
2009-10 72% (18/25)
2008-09 80% (20/25)
2007-08 92% (23/25)
2006-07 80% (20/25)
*=Syracuse self-imposed ban.
^=Uconn APR ban.

Not only do they predict who the teams who will be in the tournament well, but in general they are able to identify the very best teams in the tournament. At the end of the year, out of 350-plus teams, we watch four play in April. The majority of those teams are included on the AP’s radar.

Shaka Smart and the 2011 VCU Rams were one of the biggest surprises in the past decade. (Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com)

Over the past decade of basketball, an average of 90 percent of the Final Four has appeared in the poll. Only four teams in the decade were not in the poll, but made the Final Four. Two of them were the surprising runs of VCU and Wichita State to the Final Four in 2011. The poll of the 2007-08 preseason contains a nice surprise.  The top four teams in the poll are the four teams that made the Final Four. That was also the only year since tournament expansion that all four Number One seeds made the Final Four.

Moreover, 81 percent of the teams in the Elite Eight and 68 percent of teams in the Sweet 16 made appearances in the poll. Every year, of course, there are schools like Davidson that make a run. It is difficult to predict those runs during your bracket challenge in March, but the point is, the AP has their finger on the best teams in October.

Teams in Each Round that Appeared in AP Preseason Poll
Year Final Four Elite 8 Sweet 16
2015-16 75% (3/4) 75% (6/8) 75% (12/16)
2014-15 100% (4/4) 87% (7/8) 68% (11/16)
2013-14 100% (4/4) 87% (7/8) 68% (11/16)
2012-13 75% (3/4) 75% (6/8) 62% (10/16)
2011-12 100% (4/4) 100% (8/8) 87% (14/16)
2010-11 50% (2/4) 62% (5/8) 62% (10/16)
2009-10 100% (4/4) 75% (6/8) 62% (10/16)
2008-09 100% (4/4) 87% (7/8) 75% (12/16)
2007-08 100% (4/4) 75% (6/8) 62% (10/16)
2006-07 100% (4/4) 87% (7/8) 62% (10/16)

Not only does the AP know about the best teams, but also about the best team. In the past decade, only three champions began the year outside the top ten. Only one began the year unranked. Having the champion ranked at the top spot twice shows that the writers have a deep insight. The average rank for the champion in the preseason, not including the unranked Huskies in 2011, is 5.7.

Preseason Ranking for Champion
Year Team Rank
2016 Villanova 11
2015 Duke 4
2014 Connecticut 18
2013 Louisville 2
2012 Kentucky 2
2011 Connecticut NR
2010 Duke 9
2009 North Caroilna 1
2008 Kansas 4
2007 Florida 1

While the Associated Press may not always rank the Final Four as the top four teams, this is still impressive. The AP shows the ability to weed out the teams not up to par before teams play their first game. This is weeks before teams have even scrimmaged or had an exhibition.

In the next month or so, the AP will release the 2016-17 Preseason Poll. This ranking should be given serious consideration. Remember that history proves this ranking to be quite informative.

 

How SEC Basketball is on the Rise

SEC basketball is not held in high esteem, but it should be and will be soon. Right now when people hear the letters SEC they think two things: bone-crushing football and Kentucky basketball. There is not much thought given to the basketball league that has not finished higher than fifth in conference RPI since 2011-12.

However, conference RPI is not always the best indicator of league strength from top to bottom. The PAC-12 proved this in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The PAC-12 was second in conference RPI but went 2-5 in the round of 64. By percentage the AAC was the only conference worse in overall tournament record. This means that there is more to a conference’s power than the RPI. So even though the SEC is weak in that perspective, there are other things to rate them on.

The truth is that SEC basketball is subtly moving toward relevancy at more than a Big Blue Nation perspective. It will not happen overnight, but the tools are in place and all indications are that the SEC will have a heavy handed affect on March Madness for years to come.

Where it starts: Coaching

John Calipari is the best recruiter in the SEC and one of the best in the nation. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

Coaches control everything. They are in charge of the program’s recruiting success or failure, in game management and tactics of their teams and the integrity of their programs. The SEC is exemplary in this category starting at the top. John Calipari is the best coach in the SEC, no argument there. While before it seemed he was the only one that mattered, he is no longer the only relevant coach in the conference. Other coaches with storied careers are beginning to make waves.

Ben Howland was the architect behind the three straight UCLA Final Four appearances. After a brief hiatus from basketball, he carries a 413-225 career record into his second season at Mississippi State. Bruce Pearl (257-139) finds himself in a similar situation. The difference is that his was more than just a brief hiatus, and he went from one SEC school to another. After three years off, the coach that formerly led the Tennessee Vols to the Elite Eight. Furthermore, there is Rick Barnes (619-333) who now coaches at Pearl’s former school. He once led Texas to 14 straight NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four, two Elite Eight appearances and two Sweet Sixteens.

There is more to add to the list including Frank Martin at South Carolina, Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss, among other notable names. In reality, had Billy Donovan not left for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the ACC not have four of the greatest coaches in the game (Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Rick Patino), the SEC would be have the best coaching arsenal in the NCAA. Regardless, there is an overabundance of elite coaches and that is where growth begins.

Where it leads: The Recruits

High profile coaches bring in high profile recruits. High profile recruits lead to better classes. Better classes lead to better teams. It is a very linear and logical progression. Year in and year out big programs replace their losses without skipping a beat. Thankfully the best example, Kentucky, is in the SEC. They are proof that this strategy can and does work. The SEC has not always been the most prolific in this category, but that is changing.

Obviously the main source of recruits is Kentucky and this year is no exception. They have been top two in recruiting every year since 2009. The program has been keeping the SEC afloat in the pool of relevancy for quite a while. However, there are indications that other schools will join the party.

Surely no one has already forgotten the mania that was Ben Simmons nine month vacation at LSU. Last year the Tigers also grabbed Antonio Blankley, another top 25 recruit. Malik Newman, even though he has now transferred to Kansas, was a great grab by Mississippi State as part of a stellar 2015 class.

The 2016 class was no exception for Kentucky, but there are other SEC schools rising. Mississippi State had a second straight top 25 class with Ben Howland at the helm. Also in the top 50 are Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. Alabama even squeezed in aftergrabbing two 4-stars thanks to Avery Johnson.

In addition Bruce Pearl was able to elevate his 2016 class by getting to work as soon as his show-cause ban lifted. Auburn ranks 25th this year, but it is the 2017 class that should have everyone murmuring about SEC basketball. The Auburn Tigers currently hold the top spot. Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M made the top 25 while LSU is sitting pretty at 26.

The way the conference is headed right now, players will continue to flock to these schools.  The coaches that everyone want to play for are there.  They can help develop young men into NBA stars. The only thing that remains is seeing if success will be found. While not every coach in the SEC is grabbing top 100 prospects left and right, their resumes make it much easier to get any players that they may desire.

Where it ends: Results Tested and Made in March

NCAA Tournament success is the paramount of all measurements. Even just an appearance or several straight appearances can lead to a school being viewed in a more positive light. Now, the SEC has not had the most amazing tournament record over the past decade, but there are some positives to look at.

In 2015 there were five bids by SEC teams. That is a stark improvement from the three per year of the past several seasons. The horizon brings a few more bright hopes. Currently, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has four squads in the 2017 NCAA Tournament (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Texas A&M). That is not very many, but he has Mississippi State in the first four out.

The Aggies may have found some stability for their program. (Photo courtesy of ncaa.com)

Texas A&M also looks to be on its way to being a tournament regular, and had they not met a talented Oklahoma team last year, they may have been the Final Four participant from the region. Additionally, there are some teams not there who could find a way to sneak in. LSU, Auburn and Arkansas all could find themselves with a bid.  If any of those teams, plus Mississippi State find their way in, then the SEC could put six schools in for the first time since 2008.

 

The most exciting thing about the SEC right now is the potential. There are potential tournament regulars outside of just Kentucky now. SEC basketball is no longer a joke.

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