The March Madness Narrative: About More than the Champion

The NCAA Tournament is known as March Madness for its fast-paced, unforgiving mad rush to the cutting of the nets over an abbreviated three weekend period. There is so much more to the story than just the one team rushing the court and lifting the trophy. Each weekend hits teams like a hurricane. Within moments of their celebrations ending coaches must have players turn on a dime for the next game less than 48 hours away.

At the end of the tournament, we are left with one winner. This year, that is the North Carolina Tar Heels. However, that is nowhere near the full story. The tournament produces things that can supersede even the Final Four or the champion of the season.  This type of environment forges stronger memories that last. It produces magical runs, heart-pounding and tense action as well as singular moments that capture our hearts. What is made in March lasts forever.

Bryce Drew hit one of the more memorable shots in tournament history. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Throughout the years, many things have surpassed the champions in our memories, but certain moments continue to captivate us. Many people could not name the 1998 Final Four of Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah and Stanford but the vast majority of basketball fans know the phrase “Drew, for the win!” and the Ole Miss loss to Valparaiso that accompanies it. This is now a moment etched in stone. It speaks to the fact that the chaos of March Madness can create a generational memory that lasts far beyond winning a game or the championship.

There are countless examples of this. For small schools, moments such as these can define a program.  They can be the thing that coaches point to when attempting to recruit against bigger schools. Need a better example of this? Look no further than the legendary Davidson run to the Elite 8 with now NBA All-Star, Steph Curry. Big moments for small schools are part of what defines March.

Even Blue Blood programs, however, can also see their drama elevate fan folklore to a higher level. Take what is arguably the most iconic moment in NCAA history: Christian Laettner hits his shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 championship game…the championship game for the region that is. Duke and Kentucky each have amazing programs in their own respects but every time these two share the court together, this is brought up by fans and broadcasters alike. Laettner had a less than stellar career in the NBA and was a forgotten part of the 1992 NBA Olympic “Dream Team” but he is forever immortalized for one shot in a game that was only to make the Final Four. Making the Final Four is certainly something to be remembered, but that game is referenced far more than the Blue Devils championship victory over the Michigan Wolverine’s “Fab Five.”

It is not just moments that capture our hearts, but runs as well. The 1983 run by Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack is a true story that moves far beyond the 40 minutes on the game clock. That year’s title run was capped by one of the more inconceivable upsets of the Houston “Phi Slamma Jamma” team that featured future hall of famers Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler. This Memory of March moved beyond 1983 into the life of the late Valvano and seemed to mirror his outlook on the impossible battle for his life.

March Madness is just prone to stories such as this. With the tense nature of the one and out tournament, drama is sure to elevate the intensity. Yet, time and time again teams put together seemingly impossible roads to the Final Four. Shaka Smart and VCU became the first team to go from the NCAA’s First Four play in game to the Final Four. Though they were unable to bring home the title, this is remembered just as fondly. George Mason’s historic run to the Final Four in 2006 made a career path for Jim Larrañaga much easier to achieve.

Chris Chiozza (11) lets a prayer fly. (Photo courtesy of fansided.com)

This year’s tournament is no exception in either case. Several moments have grabbed our attention. Thus far there are two points in time that stand out the most. The first is The Wisconsin-Florida ending. The game came down to the final second of regulation and eventually led to overtime.  With Wisconsin leading by two points, Florida had one final chance. Enter Chris Chiozza. Going the length of the floor, Chiozza let a leaning, running, impossible shot fly. Buckets. This gives Florida fans that, “Hey, remember when…?” for years to come.

Luke Maye’s shot to beat Kentucky is an example of just how the tournament can become something wholly other than itself. Maye originally was to be a walk on at North Carolina. With some roster shifting, Roy Williams found one for him and he has torn it up in the NCAA tournament. This season he averages 5.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. In these past four NCAA Tournament games he sits at 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. This includes arguably the most important shot in the tournament thus far.

The Kentucky and North Carolina game was marred by officiating woes but did not lack in end of game drama. The Wildcats surged back from a nearly double digit deficit with two minutes to go. Freshman Malik Monk’s three tied the game with under 8 seconds to go. Roy Williams commented that the team knows to push the ball with this amount of time left.  It worked. Forward Theo Pinson took the ball 80 feet and used his body to create separation for Maye who drained a mid range jumper with Minimal time left.  He showed up to an early class the next morning and received a standing ovation.

In addition to these brief stops in time, there have been more lengthy runs in this tournament that were less than expected. The South Carolina Gamecocks reached the Sweet 16 this year for the first time in school history,  Then they made the Elite Eight. No reason to stop there, so they made the Final Four. This is a team that was off the radar for so many. South Carolina was picked in 0.6% of brackets to reach the last weekend.

Michigan made do with their practice jerseys. (Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com)

There is one more storied run in this tournament that will go down in the history books. The Michigan Wolverines are the epitome of what March Madness is supposed to be. They got hot coming in to the tournament. Considering the fact that they almost did not make their conference tournament, they are a surprise. The Wolverines plane from campus to the Big 10 tournament skidded off the runway and caused some minor injuries. Due to the nature of the investigation, John Beilein’s squad were forced to play in practice jerseys. Their regular equipment remained on the scene of the incident. They did  not just play well, they won the whole thing. They rode that momentum all the way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Their last win was over a Louisville team that many experts believed talented enough to make the Final Four.

Now, the Wolverines went on to lose in fantastic fashion to the eventual champion of the region, the Oregon Ducks. Even though they were just inches away from continuing the magic, there is still plenty to rejoice in here. You see, faced with a less than ideal situation the team found a way to put a string of wins together and make something out of it. This is nothing short of the stories that March creates each and every year. This year it happened to be Michigan.

For some schools, just making the tournament is the ultimate goal. So when a school like Lehigh takes down Duke there is more magic present than the powerhouse making it all the way. March is beautiful because of things within it, not just because of the last team left standing’s victory. College sports entail a high level of passion whether it is a family tradition or an alma mater. That is why reaching a little higher than expectations or completing that wonderful play at the end of the game often gets remembered longer.

On title night, there is a reason that it does not end with the presentation of the trophy. There is still one last piece of business to attend to. When “One Shining Moment” plays it is different every year.  New images are now engraved in our minds of that year’s tournament. March is the time when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Every moment has the potential to become something eternal, and that is what this month is all about.

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2017 Dream Team: The Biggest Awards in College Basketball

Now that the 2016-17 college season has officially ended, it’s time to hand out the awards. ESPN had their annual College Basketball Hoophall Awards Night this past Friday, and here is who came out on top. All of these awards make up an unofficial dream team, if you will.

John R. Wooden Award

This award goes to college basketball’s most outstanding player, which happened to be Frank Mason III of Kansas. It isn’t by happenstance that he received this prestigious award.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Frank Mason III of Kansas wins the John R. Wooden Award (Photo Courtesy of AndoverLeader.com)

He wasn’t too elated about this achievement, which is understandable given the circumstances. He isn’t the player to be prideful about his individual success, but rather team success. Given that his team didn’t make it to the championship game, he said, “I know right now it probably sounds crazy, but it doesn’t mean much to me right now.”

In other words, his team comes before him, which is shown in his response to the award. Some people might be maddened by his “ungratefulness,” but in actuality, his perspective is purely that of a good leader and teammate.

The award is still well deserved considering his statistics for the season. Mason finished his senior year averaging 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. He is versatile and shoots well from the outside. His clip is 47.1 percent from the arc and 49 percent from the floor. He led the Jayhawks to many key victories in the Big 12.

Scouts are concerned about his 5-foot-11 height. However, he is one of the deadliest shooters in the college game. It will be interesting to see where he ends up in the draft.

Julius Erving Award

This next award goes to the top small forward in the game, which was Josh Hart of Villanova. Hart was also named Big East Player of the Year for his outstanding play.

Senior Josh Hart of Villanova (Photo Courtesy of SI.com)

The senior averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 33.2 minutes per game for the Wildcats. He shot 51 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from 3-point land. He is no doubt an efficient scorer and shows defensive toughness.

His years as a Wildcat have groomed him to be a presence in the NBA. He has worked his way up each year. He was named to the Big East All-Freshman team in 2014. Hart was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore. He helped lead his team to a National Championship during his junior year, which prepared him for a stellar senior season.

Although Villanova didn’t make a deep tournament run, they had a very successful season. Hart will likely be somewhere between the 20th-30th draft pick range. Some have speculated that the Portland Trailblazers will pick him up.

Jerry West Award

Malik Monk is a scoring machine. It’s no wonder he earned the top shooting guard award on Friday. The Kentucky guard was nothing short of incredible this year.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Malik Monk throws down a dunk for Kentucky (Photo Courtesy of thebiglead.com)

Jerry West himself was one of the great guards in his day. He played for West Virginia and led his team to a National Championship. His nicknames include “Mr. Clutch” and “Mr. Outside” for his clutch shooting capabilities and overall strength on the perimeter. Monk definitely fits the bill.

His scoring capabilities allowed him to have four games with 30 or more points, including 47 against North Carolina. He averaged 19.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Coach Calipari had great things to say about the freshman.

“With Malik you’re talking about a superior athlete with skills and an ability to score that make him truly unique,” Calipari said. “What I love about Malik is that, as the season went on, he learned how to help our team win by doing more than just score. He became an efficient player who I believe will make an immediate impact at the next level.”

Monk earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors as well and declared for the draft just last week. He is predicted to be a top five overall draft pick this year.

Karl Malone Award

The Karl Malone award went to none other than Johnathan Motley of Baylor University as the nation’s top power forward.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Johnathan Motley of Baylor University (Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports)

Motley’s statistics this season were quite impressive. He averaged 17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. In their most recent Sweet 16 loss, he added 18 points and nine rebounds.

The junior has two things going for him. He is a great offensive rebounder with his length and athleticism. He also protects the basket very well, especially in Baylor’s 2-3 defense. Motley also has outstanding foot speed for his 6-foot-9, 230 pound frame.

Yesterday he declared for the NBA draft, but also will not be hiring an agent. He is expected to go in the top 40.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award

The fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski was named the top center of the year. The Polish big man is a prowess in the post. He stands 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, which is hard to guard. He also has great court vision and has an advantage on anyone in the college game because of his size.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Przemek Karnowski of Gonzaga (Photo Courtesy of newsday.com)

His statistics this year were respectable. He averaged 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. The Bulldogs went to him down the stretch in close games for his ability to make strong back-to-the-basket moves.

When asked about the award, Karnowski said, “It means a lot… all the hard work I put in throughout my whole life in basketball is paying off and I’m really happy about it.”

As far as the draft goes, many scouts aren’t truly worried about his basketball abilities. They are worried about his back. Karnowski missed a good chunk of his junior season due to bulging discs in his back, which could be a problem in the future.

All of these players are well-deserving of their awards after some impressive seasons. All are looking ahead to the draft and it will be fun to see where they end up.

 

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Way-Too-Early Top 10 For the 2017-18 Season

The 2016-17 season is officially over after what turned out to be a different season from what most people thought. However, isn’t that always the case?

We expected Duke to rein supreme yet again last year with one of the most talented rosters we had ever seen. They were ESPN’s number one ranked team in the way-too-early top 25 without question. College basketball proved for the millionth time that what is expected to happen never happens.

With seven months until the start of the 2017-18 season, we take a swipe at the way-too-early top 10 for next season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 

You know the drill. We’ve seen this before. Kentucky’s freshmen stars are going off to the NBA (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and being replaced with another bunch of talented studs. The Wildcats have the number one ranked recruiting class in the country yet again, bringing in five ESPN top 100 recruits. They also will have redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.

Even if these new guys don’t turn out to have the same star power as the players they’re replacing, Kentucky has players like Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns), Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries who could only step into bigger roles.

There’s no reason coach John Calipari and the Wildcats won’t be national title contender with a stacked incoming class and key returning players.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels 

College Basketball

UNC guard Joel Berry II drives in a game earlier this year (Photo/ Google images)

The Tar Heels are losing a significant amount of players, but hold on for a second. They are losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and most likely ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. However, they’re still UNC.

Many believe Joel Berry II will come back as well as forward Tony Bradley, who is one of the best rebounders in the country. If that’s the case, the Tar Heels would be poised for another late tournament run.

They will also have Elite Eight hero Luke Maye and freshman five-star shooting guard Jalek Felton. Both could have a significant impact on their success.

There are a lot of ifs, but as we’ve seen, Roy Williams can do magical things with ifs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Besides losing seniors Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, press Virginia is back. Guard Jevon Carter will take another offensive leading role, while forcing steals on defense. Forwards Esa Ahmad and Elijah Macon will be crashing the boards and running the floor both defensively and offensively.

With a Kansas team that will lose a lot of key players, could this be the year Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers take the regular season Big 12 title away from Kansas? It could be.

4. Louisville Cardinals

College Basketball

Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson celebrates their victory over Kentucky earlier this year (Photo/ Adam Creech)

Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals short stay in both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. They are a prime defensive team and will gain three incoming freshmen from the ESPN top 100 and maintain almost the entire previous group.

 

With the exception of Mangok Mathiang, who is a senior, and Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, who could leave for the NBA, Louisville is still poised to have another great season in 2017-18. If Mitchell and Adel stay, Louisville will be in a good place.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Enough is enough, Gonzaga is for real. The nation’s top defensive team will look to replace fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski. The Bulldogs will hopefully look no further than Zach Collins, who could potentially leave for the NBA.

If Collins does return along with Wooden Award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga will be extremely good. Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson also all return to make a dangerous Bulldog team out for redemption.

6. Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers finished 31-5 and managed to jump all the way up to 15th in the BPI. It looks like they’re just getting started.

After they were given a 10 seed in the tournament, which many believed was highway robbery, the Shockers lost to Kentucky by one bucket in the round of 32. Don’t let that fool you.

Landry Shamet, who could possibly be the most underrated point guard in the country, along side sharp shooter Conner Frankamp, could take the team on another tournament run. This time they won’t be considered a Cinderella.

7. Florida Gators

College Basketball

Florida guard Chris Chiozza hits a game winning shot in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin (Photo/ Courtney Culbreath)

The Gators are returning one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country in KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. They will look to top their Elite Eight appearance from this year.

Most of the core crew is still intact. They will add a top 10 recruiting class as well as two transfers.

The Gators are dangerous. This could have already been one of the nation’s best teams. With the addition of the incoming freshmen and transfers, they are only getting better. Third-year head coach Mike White doesn’t seem too fazed after following Billy Donovan and the greatest era in Florida basketball.

8. Villanova Wildcats 

Villanova will wave goodbye to a class that helped lift the Wildcats out of their slump in the 2010s, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Granted, these two are of major importance and have been throughout their years at Villanova.

However, the Wildcats have an ongoing star guard in Jalen Brunson. They also have Donte DiVincenzo, who improved his numbers immensely from his previous year, and looks to improve them next year as well.

Jay Wright’s team is resilient. What many might believe to be somewhat of a rebuilding year could be another year in the limelight.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks will lose a lot of players, including national player of the year Frank Mason III and potential top five pick Josh Jackson. That gives room for guard Devonte’ Graham to flourish in an even bigger role.

The Jayhawks return sharp shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuik on the wing and add top prospects Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike. They will also add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was one of the top point guards in his class two years ago. Whatever happens, we all know one thing: Kansas will be good. They’re always good.

10. Duke Blue Devils

College Basketball

Duke big man Marques Bolden looks to be the new face of the Blue Devils down low after losing Harry Giles and Amile Jefferson (Photo/ Streeter Lecka)

It won’t be all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils next season. They’re still Duke. However, the Blue Devils are going to lose a lot of players starting with Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who were their two top prospects from last year. They will also lose senior captains Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who have been a source of stability over the past four years.

The Blue Devils do have some top prospects coming in, including Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. There also rests the possibility of both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard coming back for another year.

If they both chose to leave, the Blue Devils’ starting line up will most likely have no one older than a sophomore. Either way, don’t ever count out the Blue Devils.

 

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Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

A Closer Look at Luke Maye: North Carolina’s Hero

One name: Luke Maye.

This isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about North Carolina basketball. However, it has been for the past 48 hours. Maye made the game-winning shot to send UNC to the Final Four, while simultaneously ending Kentucky’s season.

If you missed the last shot, you can watch it here. It’s well worth watching.

A quick recap: Kentucky comes down the court and Malik Monk hits a 3-pointer in Maye’s face to tie the game. Then Theo Pinson gets the ball up the court for UNC and pitches it to Maye for the last-second jumper. Rarely do you see two miraculous plays back-to-back like that, but it happened on Sunday.

There is normally discussion about Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks or Justin Jackson when talking about UNC. The avid watcher might recognize Kenny Williams or Theo Pinson as well, but not Luke Maye.

Maye madness

Luke Maye isn’t your standout player. The sophomore averaged four rebounds and 1.2 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season. He averaged 5.6 minutes per game as a freshman.

He might be average at the Division I level. However, he joined Christian Laettner and Scottie Reynolds on Sunday as the only players since 1985 to hit a game-winning shot to get into the Final Four. The kid even got a standing ovation at his 8 a.m. class on Monday.

Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

Luke Maye shoots the game-winner for the Tar Heels on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Comeback)

His best game prior to the tournament was against NC State on Feb 15 when he scored 13 points and made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor. In other words, he hasn’t been consistently “killing it” for the Tar Heels.

However, he has picked the right games to show up for. Maye had a season high of 16 points against Butler and a new season high of 17 against Kentucky.

He might seem like the most unexpected player to win it for the Tar Heels, but Coach Roy Williams had him in for a reason. He shoots 41 percent from 3-point land (the highest on the team). He has only attempted 39 on the season, but he has made those count. He also shoots the fourth highest field goal percentage on the team.

It’s no accident he was on the court. It also isn’t a miracle he made the shot. Nonetheless, he is still a hero.

the tar heels are right where they need to be

As a team, this moment is everything that North Carolina has been working for. Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer to tie the championship game last year, only for Kris Jenkins to come down and hit a buzzer beater to win it all for Villanova.

The Tar Heels are simply good at what they do. The are ranked first in rebounds per game (they pull down 43.7 per game). They also average 85 points per game (ninth overall) and dish out 18.2 assists per game (ranked third in Division I).

Roy Williams is confident in his team because they have the experience and the talent. This is their 20th Final Four, and they have all the reason to fight.

Isaiah Hicks was asked about their loss to Villanova last season, and he said: “We [were] four seconds away from that. Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you, that’s all the motivation you need. Of course nobody likes to lose, but that one, when you’re right there, all of us, we just need that second chance.”

Hicks and the rest of his teammates want that second chance. At this point, it is in their hands. Only Oregon stands in their way. The guys are playing some quality basketball and unexpected players like Luke Maye are peaking at the right time.

Catch all the action on April 1, 2017 at 8:49 PM ET on CBS.

 

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Five Reasons Why NKU Playing Kentucky was a Good Draw

March Madness is a time when everyone rallies behind their team and dreams of advancing to the late rounds of the tournament. The Northern Kentucky Norse are a 15 seed and are likely not headed past the first round. They did however draw an in-state team in this first round that should generate some interest: The Kentucky Wildcats. Some fans are conflicted as they are a fan of both teams, but here is why every Norse fan should be happy that this match-up is happening.

1. Generate Local Interest in The Program

NKU is in its first year of eligibility to make the NCAA Tournament and they did that. How will that success carry over? They need to draw as much interest in the program to sell tickets, get boosters and get recruits. There is no other match-up in the first round that could have generated more interest than playing Kentucky.

Drew McDonald (Photo courtesy: nkytribune.com)

How did this generate interest? Northern Kentucky is located just south of Cincinnati, Ohio. The majority of people in the city dislike the University of Kentucky, even though there is no major rivalry between the Wildcats and teams in the area. By playing Kentucky, the Norse are drawing fans that wouldn’t typically root for NKU, making the game of more general interest.

The key is to get some of these fans to stay on the bandwagon for years to come. Whether they buy one ticket or end up being the biggest NKU fans in the world, it will help the program.

2. Players Get Their Shot at the Super Bowl

I can guarantee that none of these players will end up playing in an actual Super Bowl, but for the Norse this game will likely be the biggest they ever play in.

With five players from the state of Kentucky, and many more from surrounding areas, NKU has a lot of local talent. These athletes were overlooked by the college basketball powerhouses, but the one that stings the most is Kentucky.

3. More People Will Watch Their Game

Kentucky has some of the most watched games in college basketball this season, which won’t change in the tournament. Their games against North Carolina and Kansas were the second and third most watched games in the regular season for college basketball.

Getting in the NCAA Tournament will draw a lot of eyes on a program, but if the Norse had drawn almost any other team the ratings would go down drastically. At the end of the day more eyes on the program is a good thing. The team and school will be more marketable and as mentioned before, should be able to recruit more.

4. They Get to Play in Indianapolis

While NKU is still a relatively new Division I college basketball program, there are some die-hard fans and students that would love to watch their first tournament game in history. It is a monumental game that will lead to good things in the future and can’t be missed for the loyal fans.

NKU isn’t far off from its first round location. (Photo courtesy: oberers.com)

The good news is that, because they are playing Kentucky, they get to play in Indianapolis. This is a manageable drive of, at most two hours from NKU’s campus. Fans have their chance to support their team, which isn’t something that comes very often. Last season Kentucky had to play their first and second round games in Des Moines, Iowa. The Cincinnati Bearcats, who are just across the river from NKU, play their first round game in Sacramento on Friday. Norse fans should consider themselves lucky to have an opportunity to go to this once in a lifetime game.

5. Free Steak

Jeff Ruby is a famous restaurant owner from the Cincinnati area. He has offered free steak to all students at NKU if the Norse can upset the Wildcats. That is free steak for 15,000 students. His steaks aren’t cheap, so this will cost him a lot of money. If a chance at free steak for poor college students doesn’t make you think that this match-up is the best thing that could’ve happened, nothing will.

 

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National Signing Day 2017: SEC

The SEC dominates National Signing Day seemingly every year. This page will be updated throughout the day. Here are how the teams look right now:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Commitments: 24, 5*: 3, 4*: 19, 3*: 1, Other: 1

Nick Saban has assembled another great class. Athlete Dylan Moses (who will most likely play linebacker), offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and running back Najee Harris are some of the best players for the Tide. Harris is supremely talented, but it is a loaded backfield that may not offer much playing time. Alabama recruited a lot of offensive play-makers this season. There a lot of good recruits still considering Alabama.

Top Prospects Signed: ATH Dylan Moses (5*), RB Najee Harris (5*)

2. Georgia Bulldogs

Committed: 26, 5*: 4, 4*: 17, 3*: 5, Other: 0

Kirby Smart has put together a great first full class for the Bulldogs. Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson and Safety Richard LeCounte are among the best players in the class. In the next few years, Georgia should be dominant in the trenches and well on their way to SEC East superiority.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Isaiah Wilson (5*), S Richard LeCounte (5*)

3. LSU Tigers

Committed: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 16, 3*: 7, Other: 0

In Ed Oregeron’s first class, he has helped LSU stay prominent in recruiting. He has a lot of secondary and quarterback help on the way. Corner Kary Vincent is one the best players in the class for the Tigers. Quarterbacks Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan have different styles, but should help out with LSU’s offensive struggles.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Austin Deculus (4*), CB Kary Vincent (4*)

4. Texas A&M Aggies

Committed: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 9, 3*: 15, Other: 0

The Aggies have a lot of players coming in this class. Quarterback Kellen Mond is a highly touted player and may get a chance to get on the field, with all of the transfers out of College Station. He leads a class with a lot of wide receivers. Linebacker Anthony Hines is going to be a difference-maker for the Aggie defense.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Kellen Mond (4*), LB Anthony Hinds (4*)

5. Auburn Tigers

Committed: 21, 5*: 0, 4*: 11, 3: 7, Other: 3

The Tigers have a good recruiting class, which they will be expecting to help win the SEC West with. Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be joining the Tigers from JuCo and will hopefully solve the issues at the position. Their best offensive line recruit Calvin Ashley is a tackle who will be looking to get on the field from day one.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Calvin Ashley (4*), QB Jarrett Stidham (4*)

6. Tennessee Volunteers

Committed: 27, 5*: 1, 4*: 6, 3*: 20, Other: 0

Butch Jones has put together yet another impressive recruiting class. Five-star offensive tackle Trey Smith is one of the best in the class and will likely start the season as a starter. Linebacker Maleik Gray will help out with some of the losses they suffer on defense.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Trey Smith (5*), LB Maleik Gray (4*)

7. Florida Gators

Committed: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 13, 3*: 6, Other: 1

Florida has struggled to find good offense, but they don’t have too many skill position players in this class. They need to hit on the ones they did sign. Their best recruit is offensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, which should help the offense out. Wide receiver Daquon Green is going to have to step up and be the play-maker Florida so desperately needs.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Tedarrell Slaton (4*), WR James Robinson IV (4*)

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

Committed: 21, 5*:0, 4*: 9, 3*: 11, Other: 1

Will Muschamp is doing a great job of recruiting for South Carolina. Corner Jameyst Williams is committed, but may be flipped. He will help out a secondary that isn’t near the top in the SEC. Shi Smith will give the Gamecocks a weapon at the wide receiver position.

Top Prospects Signed: CB Jamyest Winston (4*), WR Shi Smith (4*)

9. Kentucky Wildcats

Committed: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 5, 3*: 18, Other: 1

Mark Stoops helped the Wildcats be one of the most improved teams in the country. The defense wasn’t great, so Kentucky emphasized that in this recruiting class. Secondary players Yusuf Corker and Tyrell Ajian will both be expected to produce in the coming years.

Top Prospects Signed: CB Yusuf Corker (4*), S Tyrell Ajian (4*)

10. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Committed: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 10, 3*: 13, Other: 0

The Bulldogs got a bowl win, but it was a lackluster season otherwise. Coming into the fold will be a lot of defensive players. Brian Cole and Montez Sweat are both JuCo players who will likely help the Bulldogs immediately.

Top Prospects Signed: S Brian Cole (4*), DE Montez Sweat (4*)

11. Arkansas Razorbacks

Committed: 26, 5*: 0, 4*: 8, 3*: 15, Other: 3

Arkansas doesn’t have the best class, but they targeted a lot of offensive players in the class. Brandon Martin is a great JuCo wide receiver that will catch passes from Austin Allen next season. Quarterback Daulton Hyatt is expected to be the future leader of the team.

Top Prospects Signed: WR Brandon Martin (4*), Daulton Hyatt (4*)

12. Missouri Tigers

Committed: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 0, 3*: 20, Other: 3

Missouri doesn’t look like they will be in an SEC Championship Game any time soon. Defensive line has been a huge target for this class. Defensive tackles Walter Palmore and Rashad Brandon both are great hauls for the Tigers.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Taylor Powell (3*), Rashad Brandon (3*)

13. Ole Miss

Committed: 21,  5*: 0, 4*: 8, 3*: 11, Other: 2

Ole miss is usually a lot higher in these rankings as of late, but this year was a down year for recruiting. Wide receiver D.D. Bowie and Linebacker Breon Dixon are both great finds for Ole Miss.

Top Prospects Signed: OLB Breon Dixon (4*), WR D.D. Bowie (4*)

14. Vanderbilt Commodores

Committed: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 1, 3*: 13, Other: 6

The Commodores find themselves in a familiar position at the bottom of this list. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo and linebacker Colin Anderson will need to help make the Vanderbilt defense elite to win football games.

Top Prospects Signed: LB Colin Anderson (3*), DE Dayo Odeyingbo (4*)

 

ACC Signing Day- Here

Big Ten Signing Day- Here

Big 12 Signing Day- Here

Pac-12 Signing Day- Here

 

NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl

There aren’t many draft prospects in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, but some players may be able to improve their draft stock. Kentucky and Georgia Tech are programs that don’t produce a lot of NFL players, but do have some players in the league. This is the bowl game that features two of the best centers in the country. Centers don’t get drafted highly, but these guys can have successful NFL careers. Here are the prospects to watch out for:

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Freddie Burden, C

Projected Draft Range: Seventh round-undrafted free agent.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Freddie Burden (Photo courtesy: myajc.com)

Burden is a good run blocker for Georgia Tech’s triple option attack. He has the mobility to get down field to block defenders on option plays. Because the offense is mostly a rushing game, Burden doesn’t have the experience pass blocking that he needs for the NFL. At six foot three inches tall and 291 pounds he doesn’t have great size, but makes up for that with his mobility. Burden will have to fight to make an NFL team, which will be an uphill battle because of his size.

Kentucky Wildcats

Jon Toth, C

Projected Draft Range: Fourth round-sixth round

Toth is the main reason that Kentucky’s rushing attack took off this season. He is good at getting to the second level of the defense and blocking linebackers. His football IQ is great as he calls out blitzes and sets up the rest of the offensive line. Toth’s pass blocking is good, but could be improved. He has good mobility to get to blocks that a lot of centers wouldn’t be able to get to. Toth has great size for a center at six feet five inches tall and 310 pounds. Toth can be a guy who will compete for a starting job or provide good depth for a team.

 

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2016 TaxSlayer Bowl

The triple option attack of Georgia Tech will take on SEC opponent Kentucky in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

The Yellow Jackets had a tremendous bounce back season going 8-4. Their losses were all to bowl eligible ACC teams. They had solid wins over Boston College, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and rival Georgia.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Justin Thomas (Photo courtesy: yellowjackedup.com)

Quarterback Justin Thomas has been manning the option attack for what seems like forever now. He does have 1,454 passing yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Thomas also rushed for 562 yards and five rushing touchdowns. He is the best operator of the triple option in college football.

Clinton Lynch is likely the target when Thomas throws the ball. He has 490 receiving yards at 30.6 yards per catch, making him great at big plays. Lynch also has six of Thomas’ eight touchdown passes.

Marcus Marshall and and Dedrick Mills are the ones who get the most carries out of the triple option attack. Marshall has 624 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Mills finished the regular season with 602 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

Georgia Tech has an average rush defense that allows 174 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense is also average, giving up 234 yards per game.

The strength of the defense is the interior of the defensive line, with both Francis Kallon and Patrick Gamble having good years.

Kentucky Wildcats

The Wildcats’ season looked like it was going to be bleak, but Mark Stoops did a tremendous coaching job to get the team to 7-5. They didn’t have any bad losses, as their only defeats came at the hands of bowl teams. They have good wins over South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and rival Louisville.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Stanley “Boom” Williams

Stephen Johnson took over the quarterback position for an injured Drew Barker. He wasn’t the most efficient, but the team started to play up to its potential when he took over. He threw for 1,862 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. Johnson added 278 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Jeff Badet and Garrett “Juice” Johnson have been the best receivers for Kentucky. Badet leads in yardage with 639 yards, while Johnson leads in touchdowns with five. Both have a knack for making big plays, but Badet is a little better at 22 yards per reception.

Running the ball is what Kentucky does best. Behind a good offensive line, the Wildcats have two running backs who have reached 1,000 yards. Stanley “Boom” Williams has 1,135 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as the home run-hitting back. Benny Snell is the power back who has rushed for 1,057 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The defense for Kentucky was called one of the worst in the history of college football by ESPN’s Lee Corso. The Wildcats rebounded nicely and has an above average pass defense at 215 yards allowed per game. The run defense is bad at 225 yards given up per game, but they are by no means the worst defense in history.

Linebacker Jordan Jones has really improved this year and has 70 solo tackles.

Prediction

Kentucky’s offensive line will win the game. They are going to control the line of scrimmage, the ball and the clock, which is rare versus a triple option team.

 

Kentucky Wildcats 35 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 31

 

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A Blue Christmas: College Basketball is Being Dominated by Teams in Blue

We all know how the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas go: “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue thinking about you.” After watching a thriller this weekend between two of the top blue teams in the nation, how could one not be thinking about the game between North Carolina and Kentucky? If we are discussing true blue, Duke is definitely in the conversation as well, and let us not forget about Villanova, the #1 team in the nation.

Kentucky Wildcats

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Let’s start with the Kentucky Wildcats. There is one name we all need to be concerned with: Malik Monk. If you have not heard, he put up 47 points for the Wildcats with a 64% field goal percentage on the night. He made his final three-pointer to win the game against Coach Calipari’s wishes, who wanted Monk to drive on the last play. He shot it anyway, and Kentucky came away with the win. How is that for some freshman guts?

However, Monk is not the only talent that deserves recognition. De’Aaron Fox added 24 points on Saturday and he is averaging 15.9 PPG on the season. Isaiah Briscoe also added 10 points and Edrice Adebayo contributed 13 points before fouling out.

Kentucky is 10-1 on the season and still has a lot to prove. This is only their second win against a ranked team this year. They beat #13 Michigan State (who is no longer ranked) early on in November and lost to UCLA by 5 points who is led by standout Freshman Lonzo Ball. This is a key win on their resume as they head into conference play in January.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats will take on Louisville which will be another test of their abilities. Kentucky has won the last three in the series against the Cardinals, but the great part about basketball is that anyone can be beaten on any given day.

North Carolina Tar heels

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

Now for the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were equally as impressive, but came up short. Joel Berry II was one point shy of a career high with 23 points. Josh Jackson put up a staggering 34 points and Kennedy Meeks also added 12 points. UNC played a great game, despite the outcome.

The name of the game was free throws and foul trouble. Berry and Meeks fouled out, and the Tar Heels missed seven free throws overall, which would have been the game right there. This is not a large worry for the Tar Heels though. Joel Berry II is just coming back from an ankle injury and they still had good production from their bench (Tony Bradley and Luke Maye added a combined 19 points).

Kentucky’s bench only had five points to add. It also could have been a very different outcome if Kenny Williams’ last second three-pointer hadn’t missed the mark.

This game was March Madness material, so one can only wonder what March will bring and if Malik Monk will be able to create similar performances in the games to come. Joel Berry II will hopefully continue to impress and Josh Jackson has been nothing short of thrilling. I know I will be counting down the days until February 9th when the Tar Heels take on Duke, another top team in blue.

Duke Blue Devils

Our third team up for discussion, the Duke Blue Devils, are 10-1 and the ACC is not going to be a walk in the park this year. Duke will have to take on Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and of course North Carolina before they can talk about dancing on the big stage come March. Luckily, the combination of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson has been sufficient to top Michigan State, Florida and Rhode Island early on. They also have Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones who are making an impact, and are some names to definitely keep in mind.

I am reminded that the color blue often symbolizes depth and stability. The Blue Devils embody these characteristics and Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in some of top recruiting classes each year. The point is, Duke is consistently above average and sports fans can look for that to continue this season as well. They are firing on all cylinders and they have depth that should logistically carry them far into the NCAA tournament.

Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

This article would not be complete without mentioning the top-ranked team in the nation, Villanova. They sit at 11-0 and one man is doing most of the dirty work. They are led by Senior, Josh Hart who is averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 3.7 APG while shooting 45.3% from behind the arc. Hart is aided by senior Kris Jenkins who is averaging 13.4 PPG and sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are contributing good numbers as well.

Recall Jenkins is the player who hit the game winning shot against UNC last year to win the National Championship game. Needless to say, these Wildcats have talent and the experience. They also have key wins over Temple and Notre Dame that will only add to their resume when discussing bracketology.

As we approach Christmas, these teams in blue have gotten our attention and will continue to be all the talk leading up to March. It would be a very “blue” Christmas without these teams putting on the performance that they have in preseason matches.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all my fellow college basketball fans, and happy holidays!

 

 

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Are Freshmen running the College Basketball scene?

Division I college basketball has always been set apart from other collegiate athletics for obvious reasons. However, it is the single sport where freshmen athletes can make an impact and leave after one year. Which brings me to the question: are the Freshmen the ones who are running the show and what does this mean for the sport?

Let’s look at the top five Freshman in the 2016 recruiting class. Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum at Duke University, Bam Adebayo at Kentucky, Josh Jackson at Kansas, and Lonzo Ball at UCLA. Ball contributed 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the win over Michigan this past weekend. He is averaging 15 points and 8.8 rebounds on the season. Their team remains 10-0 overall coming out of the weekend.

It is not just the current players either. Take a look at past Freshman who have stayed for a year and left for the NBA. The first name that comes to mind is Anthony Davis, who was drafted as a first round NBA draft pick following his freshman season at Kentucky. Davis led the team to a National Championship, was a first team All-American, and received Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. In the 2012 title, Davis’ teammates Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (two other freshman) were the second and third highest scorers with 14 points and 11 points.

Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow were all freshman from the 2014 class that had a stellar year and left for the NBA. They combined for 1,610 points over the course of the season. The other major contributor was Quinn Cook, a senior who added 598 points. They essentially ran the team.

I realize that I have only noted the major power houses in college basketball thus far. So finally I think of Carmelo Anthony. In his 2002-2003 season with Syracuse he averaged a double-double (22 points and 10 rebounds), ranking 1st for freshmen in the NCAA. His professional career has not disappointed either.

There are a lot of stats. However, they are all to make a point. Freshmen run the game of college basketball regardless of the year. The best players and their performance will always be how on-lookers view each successive season.

I could sit here and list off statistics of players like Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Durant, John Wall, or Deyonta Davis, who all dominated their respective years and left. However, the more important question is: what does all of this mean?

This trend is the result of the one-and-done rule. The draft rule is as follows: you must be 19 years of age before the calendar year of the draft and be one year removed from high school athletics. This rule has stood for ten years now. It has allowed the greatest players to make their mark and leave to make money with their talents.

It has irrevocably changed the game.

The level at which players compete is incredible to watch as a fan. This draft rule is a blessing to college basketball, which would lack the finesse without these freshmen bringing fresh talent (pun intended) each year.

In an essence, freshmen run the game of college basketball every single year. This is not a new theme. It has impacted the game greatly and will continue to as long as the one-and-done rule stays.

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