Why Duke’s Season Wasn’t a Total Failure

Many believe this season was a disappointment for the Duke Blue Devils. However, it’s odd to think of Duke’s season as a disappointment considering everything they accomplished.

They finished the season 28-9, which would be considered a really good season for most teams. They also won the ACC tournament, where they had to go through Clemson, Louisville, the eventual national champion North Carolina and Notre Dame.

The word “disappointing” is still thrown around and used to describe their season. Sure, they had a really talented roster and maybe they should have won more games or gone further in the NCAA tournament. However, describing their season as “disappointing” is unfair and inaccurate.

They were the obvious preseason number one to start the season and a heavy national championship favorite. They had a roster of what many people considered to be their most talented roster in a decade.

As the preseason progressed, we watched their players fall like dominoes. Those players included their three top recruits.

Jayson Tatum sat out the first eight games with a foot injury and eventually made his college debut against Maine. Marques Bolden missed the first eight games as well with a leg injury. Number one overall ranked recruit Harry Giles also tore his ACL twice in high school, which lead him to miss the first eleven games.

Duke Basketball

The Blue Devils went 4-3 in Coach K’s absence earlier this year (Photo/ Gerry Broome).

On top of the freshmen injuries, senior captain and team leader Amile Jefferson reinjured his foot, which caused him to miss a couple games. Grayson Allen, who was a player of the year candidate at the beginning of the season, was suspended one game after another tripping incident.

Player injuries are something that is a part of the game and unfortunately happen quite frequently. However, when your coach is injured, that’s a whole different story.

Mike Krzyzewski missed a month after undergoing midseason back surgery. In his absence, the Blue Devils went 4-3 under interim head coach Jeff Capel. In that month, he banned the team from the locker room and from wearing any team or Duke gear.

The Blue Devils still managed to bounce back. After falling to NC State at home for the first time since 1995, Duke managed to string out a win streak of seven games. That included a win against eighth-ranked North Carolina, 14th-ranked Virginia and 20th-ranked Notre Dame.

Just when it looked like Duke was headed for disaster, they pulled it together as only Duke can. With everything they went through with the only self-inflicted wound to be that of Grayson Allen, Duke’s season was actually somewhat impressive.

Duke Basketball

Duke players celebrate their ACC tournament championship in March (Photo/ Getty Images).

They were one game away from another 30-win season. They beat the eventual national champions two out of three games, including one in the ACC tournament. They were also the first team to win four games in a row to win the ACC tournament. Many believed the ACC to be the best and hardest conference in the country. Making history that same year is nothing short of impressive.

Duke basketball comes with exceptionally high expectations. We expect them to be good whether you love them or hate them.

When they lose nine games in the regular season and fall in the second round of the NCAA tournament, many are quick to assume the season was a failure. They didn’t win the national championship, but come next season, there will be another banner hanging in Cameron.

Needles to say, it could have been a lot worse.

 

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2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 2.0 (Post Tournament)

Now that the NCAA Tournament is over, it is time to fully dive into the 2017 NBA mock draft. The NBA season is still unfolding, but many teams are starting to focus on the draft, especially the lottery teams.

The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first. He is the consensus number one pick. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft 2.0.

1: BOSTON CELTICS (VIA BROOKLYN): MARKELLE FULTZ PG WASHINGTON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

It is obvious the Celtics do not need a point guard. Isaiah Thomas has proven his worth time and time again in the NBA. Any player can be a bust out of college. It is still unlikely that Fultz will be a bust, but he has not proven anything in the association.

Boston needs a second scoring option. They play great team defense and find themselves in trouble with Thomas being their only viable option on offense. Boston will take Fultz, but it could be because they plan on trading him for a superstar. Fultz is the clear number one pick, but it is unclear if he will ever play a game for Boston.

2: PHOENIX SUNS: JOSH JACKSON SF KANSAS

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable wing alongside Devin Booker. Jackson averaged 16.3 points per game at Kansas. He is a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Jackson has a good feel for the game and is dangerous on offense. He can score both inside and out and is a very underrated passer.

Pairing him with a future superstar like Booker is only going to lead to success for Phoenix. Having a core of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson will make the Suns a threat in the west in two to three years. Jackson doesn’t have to be a franchise player in Phoenix. He just has to be Robin to Batman, which makes him a perfect fit in the desert.

3: LOS ANGELES LAKERS: LONZO BALL PG UCLA

It is difficult to predict what the Lakers will do. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is a lack of veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player. If they keep the pick, expect them to take the best available player, which would be Lonzo Ball.

Ball’s father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top three prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q.

Ball will be a floor general capable of running an NBA team and becoming an on-court coach. He showed at UCLA that he can make everyone around him better.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. The Lakers need a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be. D’Angelo Russell is a great young player, but could you imagine a backcourt for the next 10 years of Russell and Ball? Sleep on that Hollywood.

4: ORLANDO MAGIC: JAYSON TATUM SF DUKE

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

The Magic seem to have an unclear direction. Orlando hasn’t made the playoffs for four straight years and that needs to change quickly. Frank Vogel has improved the team, but he needs more talent outside of Aaron Gordon.

Jayson Tatum could grow to be an NBA superstar. Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready.  He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and he could become the missing piece in Orlando.

5: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: MALIK MONK SG KENTUCKY

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, didn’t make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Reports came out that the Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

6: NEW YORK KNICKS: DE’AARON FOX PG KENTUCKY

De’Aaron Fox did nothing but help his stock in the tournament, especially when he dropped 39 points against Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16.

The Knicks badly need a franchise point guard to pair with Kristaps Porzingis. Fox would be the perfect fit in New York.

Fox is left handed, which is sometimes hard to defend because defenders are so used to right handed players. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him. Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency, but has proven he can control a game. The Knicks need that more than ever.

7: SACRAMENTO KINGS: JONATHAN ISSAC PF FLORIDA STATE

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jonathan Issac would be a great fit with this team. Issac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. Issac could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potential, who could grow into a solid NBA starter.

8: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: LAURI MARKKANEN PF ARIZONA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://www.si.com/)

Minnesota has a franchise center and small forward in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They have young guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. The Timberwolves need experience and veteran leadership more than anything, so it is tough to predict what they will do with this pick. Lauri Markkanen would be a perfect option for the Timberwolves.

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 Dirk-like power forward. He can stretch the floor or go inside. Markkanen can also play the center position to spell Towns. Markkanen needs to add some weight, but could really help the Timberwolves become a playoff team.

9: DALLAS MAVERICKS: ISAIAH HARTENSTEIN PF GERMANY

From one German to the next.  Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Dallas. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside and outside. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

Sitting him behind Dirk for a year would be the perfect step in developing Hartenstein. He could relate to Dirk easily and due to Dirk being a legend, would really learn how to become a great pro.

10: SACRAMENTO KINGS (VIA PELICANS): DENNIS SMITH PG N.C. STATE

The Kings need a young explosive point guard. Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have since not all are looking for a point guard.

The Kings would get a player like Russell Westbrook by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has the insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

Smith would be a great pick if the Kings want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team while building around Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein.

11. 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 number one 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.

12: CHARLOTTE HORNETS: MILES BRIDGES SF MICHIGAN ST.

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

13: DENVER NUGGETS: JUSTIN JACKSON SF NORTH CAROLINA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(http://www.sportingnews.com)

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Denver. Their young core is close to being a legitimate playoff contender, and Jackson would really help them.

He has great length and can stretch the floor. For most of the tournament, Jackson played great. 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 and Denver would instantly get better by drafting Jackson.

14: INDIANA PACERS: FRANK NTILIKINA PG FRANCE

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Pacers have Jeff Teague, but he has not really proven to be a franchise point guard. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 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.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become a franchise point guard.

15: MIAMI HEAT: TJ LEAF PF UCLA

The Heat have been 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.

TJ 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.

16: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: JOHN COLLINS PF WAKE FOREST

John Collins is a bit of a project. If the Trailblazers take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset to build around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

17: CHICAGO BULLS: IVAN RABB C California

Robin Lopez is an average NBA center at best. The Bulls need a young center who can come in as a defender. Rabb is a solid defender who needs time to develop a back to the basket game.

18: ATLANTA HAWKS: JUSTIN PATTON C CREIGHTON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Eric Francis/Getty Images )

Dwight Howard is no longer a top center. Atlanta needs to think about the future and Patton would be a great pick. He is a seven-foot monster that averaged 12.9 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game and 1.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Creighton.

19: MILWAUKEE BUCKS: BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

The Milwaukee Bucks are building something special. Giannis Antetokounmpo is looking like a future MVP and Kris Middleton is a stud. Drafting Adebayo will give Kentucky a presense inside to make the Bucks even more dangerous.

20: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA MEMPHIS): TYLER LYDON PF 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 Portland.

21: OKLAHOMA CITY: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own. Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs.

22: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA WASHINGTON): LUKE KENNARD SG DUKE

Luke Kennard is a scoring machine. Brooklyn needs alot of help, even though they have been playing well since the beginning of March. Kennard isn’t going to be a guy who changes a franchise, but he can be a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA.

23: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

2017 NBA Mock Draft

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

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

24: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or 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.

25: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Magic could use some of that in their locker room. Josh Hart improved his scoring each season at Villanova, and that should translate into the NBA.

26: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project, and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round, especially with it being their third pick in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

27: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): Jordan Bell PF Oregon

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

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.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

30: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team.

 

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2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Pre-Lottery)

This mock draft will factor in team needs heavily rather than who is the best player. The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first, but it depends on who wins the lottery. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft.

1: Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Josh Jackson sG Kansas

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The Boston Celtics do not need a point guard. Fultz may be the best player in the draft, but Isaiah Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas is also a proven player while any player coming out of college is unproven.

Fultz may be the best player in the draft but doesn’t fit what the Celtics need. The Celtics play great team defense and need a scorer to take the load off of Thomas.

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable scoring option for Boston as he averages 16.7 points per game. Jackson in a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Boston would be smart to add him to their core.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Markelle Fultz pG Washington

Picking what the Lakers will do is extremely difficult. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player, but if they do keep it expect them to take the best available player.

That would be Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is averaging 23.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and six assists per game. Fultz also has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 28.6 and is clearly the best player in the draft. The Lakers can not pass on that just to fill a position of need.

3: Phoenix suns: Jayson Tatum Sf duke

Jayson Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready. The Suns have a star in the making with Devin Booker and need to find a player to grow alongside him.

Tatum could grow to be a solid second option in the NBA. He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and the Suns may be able to find a Robin for their Batman.

4: Orlando Magic: Lonzo Ball Pg UCLA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit:https://www.bostonglobe.com)

Everyone is talking about LaVar Ball’s opinions rather than the play of Lonzo Ball. Ball can ball. It is as simple as that.

His father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. However, talking so openly may hurt his son’s draft stock.

Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q. In the NBA Ball will be a floor general capable of running the team from the court.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. Orlando needs a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be.

5: Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk Sg Kentucky

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, will not make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Interestingly enough, reports came out that Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this top-five pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

6: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Pg N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

The Knicks need a young explosive point guard who will grow alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony is on the back half of his career and will most likely be out of the picture soon. Derrick Rose has been very respectable in New York, but he is not the same player that won the league MVP.

Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have. Not all are looking for a point guard.

The Knicks would get a Russell Westbrook type of player by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

Smith would be a great pick here if the Knicks want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team.

7: Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Issac PF Florida State

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jonathan Issac would be a great fit with this team. Issac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. He could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA style. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potential.

8: Sacramento Kings (Via Pelicans): De’Aaron Fox PG Kentucky

The Kings can afford to be risky with one of their two top-10 picks. Buddy Hield will need a backcourt partner in crime, and Fox could fit that mold.

Fox is unique because he is left handed. It is sometimes hard to defend left-handed players because defenders are used to right handed defenders. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him.

Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency. With Hield alongside him, all Fox needs to do is run the offense.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu)

Dallas got their center when they traded for Nerlens Noel. The guard positions seem to be held down as well with the emergence of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. That makes Lauri Markkanen a perfect option for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki will be going into his final season and the Mavericks need to find his future replacement. Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to replace the greatest European player in NBA history.

Drafting Markkanen will allow him to develop in his first season before Dirk rides off into the sunset.

10: Minnesota Timberwolves: Harry Giles PF Duke

The Minnesota Timberwolves are right on the cusp of becoming a great NBA team. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are continuing to grow and will be one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA in the coming years. They have already begun to show signs of it. Point guard is not an issue as they have Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Picking Giles would be a shock here at number 10, but could be a huge steal.

Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the number one overall 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 under Tom Thibodeau.

This pick could be a bust, but it will more likely create a young core in Minnesota capable of winning championships.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

12: Portland Trailblazers: Robert Williams PF Texas A&M

Robert Williams can jump out of this world. He can put anyone on a poster and loves to do so. There are countless highlights of him dunking on opponents.

Williams has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he knows how to use it. That wingspan allows him to excel as a rebounder and shot blocker.

One thing going against Williams is that he is raw as a big man. He lacks consistency like many raw prospects. The better competition gave him trouble, but with development from NBA coaches, he can turn into a solid NBA starter.

13: Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein PF Germany

The Heat have been 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. The Heat need a power forward that can stretch the floor since Whiteside is the inside presence.

Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Miami. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside, but outside as well. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

14: Chicago Bulls: Frank Ntilikina Pg France

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://hardwoodhoudini.com

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Bulls do not have a franchise point guard on their roster and will be looking for one in this year’s draft. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 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.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become the franchise point guard the Bulls desperately need.

15: Denver Nuggets: John Collins Pf Wake Forest

Denver has a lot of young talent, and Collins is a bit of a project. If the Nuggets take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset.

16: Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton C Creighton

There have been a lot of problems with Greg Monroe in Milwaukee. The Bucks have found a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and need a big man inside to feed off of him. Justin Patton from Creighton can be that guy.

17: Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb C Cal

There have been swirling rumors that Andre Drummond was going to be traded just before the deadline. That still may happen in the offseason, and the Pistons need to prepare for that. Ivan Rabb would be a great fit with Stan Van Gundy.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard SG Duke

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennard has been unbelievable in the second half of the season for Duke. Paul George is rumored to be on his way out of Indiana via trade or free agency in two years. Kennard may not become a franchise player, but will come into the NBA as a scoring machine.

19: Atlanta hawks: TJ Leaf PF UCLA

Drafting a power forward may not make sense with Paul Millsap around, but TJ Leaf is a bit of a project. Millsap will want to be on a contending team as his career unwinds. Everyone knows the Hawks are not winning a championship. Drafting Leaf now gives him time to develop until Millsap leaves.

20: Portland Trailblazers (Via Memphis): Justin Jackson SF North Carolina

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Portland alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards can focus on the scoring and Jackson can be the team’s wing defender. Jackson is capable of guarding multiple positions and would be a solid pick by the Trailblazers.

21: Oklahoma City: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own. Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs.

22: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

23: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Orlando is a tough team to gauge and need a lot. Lydon would be a head-scratching pick, but something they would do. Lydon won’t become an All-Star but will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

24: Brooklyn Nets (via Washington): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP)

Brooklyn needs anything and everything and is nowhere close to being a good NBA team. Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Nets could use some of that in their locker room.

25: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

Adding Bam Adebayo to pair up with Hart could be the start of turning things around. They won’t win many games, but the rebuild has to start somewhere. Adebayo is a solid prospect with lots of potential.

26: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or 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.

27: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: By Pat McDonogh, The CJ)

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team.

30: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Eliminate College Conferences

Change. It is a simply spelt and pronounced word, but becomes complex when people start to deal with change. People run away from change out of fear. People usually grimace at the thought of change. Change is often looked at as a bad thing, but change can also be viewed as a great thing. Change is needed for growth and knowledge. Society finds it hard to change things that are long standing traditions, even if they do not work, are outdated, or completely wrong.

(Photo: Daniel Gluskoter, AP)

(Photo: Daniel Gluskoter, AP)

Take a look at the national anthem controversy for instance. Rather than admit its flaws, people are back-lashing against Colin Kaepernick. Why can’t we admit our faults as people or as a society? Because people hate change, whether it’s for the betterment of society or not. It is so much easier to go with the flow rather than to adapt.

It is time for a change in college football by eliminating any and all conferences. They are unnecessary in this day and age. They serve no purpose other than to please tradition. This is a highly unpopular opinion but hear me out before you grab your pitchforks.

Sep 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate defeating the LSU Tigers by doing the Lambeau Leap following the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-269730 ORIG FILE ID: 20160903_jla_sh5_731.jpg

(Sep 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate defeating the LSU Tigers by doing the Lambeau Leap following the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY)

The best teams need to play each other weekly regardless of their region or conference. Week one was one of the greatest weeks of college football ever. People are still glamorizing it because it was that epic. We saw great games all over such as (15) Houston defeating (3) Oklahoma. We saw Wisconsin upset (5) LSU. We saw unranked Texas A&M upset (16) UCLA. (18) Georgia beat (22) North Carolina. (2) Clemson had to sneak by unranked Auburn by six points. Fans saw Texas upset (10) Notre Dame in an overtime classic. On a Monday night game, (4) Florida State beat (11) Ole Miss.

Week two also saw some great programs matching up for exciting games. Arkansas was unranked and upset (15) TCU. (17) Tennessee beat Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in the most attended game in college football history with 156,990 in attendance.

(http://www.usatoday.com/videos/sports/ncaaf/2016/11/18/houston-dashes-louisville's-playoff-hopes-upset/94060980/)

(http://www.usatoday.com)

Since the first two weeks there still have been great non-conference games even as teams have gotten into conference scheduling. In week six, Navy upset (6) Houston 46-40 in one of the most exciting back and forth games of the year. Most recently in week 12, the same Houston team that was upset by Navy, and was unranked, ended (5) Louisville’s shot at making the playoffs. They upset the Cardinals 36-10.

All these non conference match-ups with top programs facing off gave us excitement. Fans of football rejoiced over how fun it was to watch these teams play their hearts off to win these big time games. These games mean so much more with the rather new playoff system that determines a true champion in college football. Eliminating conferences would not eliminate rivalries because schools would be able to schedule 10-12 games completely how they want. The only thing each school would  have to do is make sure they schedule their rival schools annually.

(MARK ALMOND)

(MARK ALMOND)

These huge games are what the fans want to see. It doesn’t have to be just about the fans either. The college football playoff committee highly values a team’s strength of schedule. Nobody wants to see Alabama playing teams like Chattanooga or Kent State, teams in which they manhandled this year. Ohio State shouldn’t be playing teams like Rutgers, who happens to be in their conference, or Tulsa. Clemson games are boring when they play teams like South Carolina State or Syracuse. Imagine Clemson scheduling Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State. If a team goes undefeated with a non-conference schedule as tough as this, there would be no question they deserve to be in the playoffs.

One of the biggest problems with the state of college football now is that great teams still get snubbed from making the playoffs. We need the best four teams in the country making the playoffs as long as it is a four team format. Maybe one day it will be a six or eight team format to eliminate more doubt, because there will always be a team or two on the bubble.

Currently the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12 and the Big 12 are known as the power five conferences. Most people can agree these are the top five conferences in the country, with each taking turns on where they rank within the power five.

In the current playoff system, one of the power five conferences will not be represented. A champion from one of these conferences will not have the chance to play in the playoffs and prove they are the best team in the country. This doesn’t account for a team without a conference, such as Notre Dame, who could go undefeated and cause two power five conferences to be left out of the playoffs. It also doesn’t account for a year like this one in which Ohio State and Michigan both look like teams capable of winning a national championship.

(http://www.sbnation.com/)

(http://www.sbnation.com/)

The first ever college football playoff left out TCU and/or Baylor in favor of Ohio State. The debate raged on about which of these teams should have gotten in. Ohio State then went on to win the National Championship as a four seed to quiet the debate, but how do we know, without a doubt, that TCU or Baylor would not have done the same? How do we know TCU or Baylor would’t have beat Ohio State? This is the problem with conferences. The Big Ten was assumed to be the better conference which is why the playoff committee chose to take Ohio State over one of the Big 12 teams. It was all because the Big 12 conference doesn’t have a conference championship game.

There is another issue at hand when it comes to conferences and the entire playoff format. There is always a talk of two teams getting into the playoffs from the same conference. If that were to happen, two conference champions from a power five conference would be left out. This was the problem with the BCS system that the playoffs were suppose to fix. The question that should be asked is how can you be a champion of the nation if you weren’t a champion of your conference? Essentially that is what happens if two SEC or two Big Ten teams get into a four team playoff. Eliminating conferences erases all the doubt. It makes teams schedule harder competition and creates more exciting games. If a school didn’t do it, they wouldn’t get into the playoffs.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Conferences started mostly due to how difficult it was to travel when teams were still taking buses. Colleges can afford to fly their teams in today’s sports and traveling is not as hard as it use to be. What is the need for conferences then? The idea of no conferences at all is highly appealing in my eyes, but will not be popular to most. It would be revolutionary to eliminate conferences. The most remarkable changes in the world once were thought to be outlandish. Conferences are a tired idea that is outdated and the sport can become more exciting by eliminating them.

 

 

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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.

 

College Football Week Three Recap

Week three produced some great football for fans nationwide. The combination of non-conference and conference games made the weekend great. Big programs faced off against each other, and rivalries were renewed. Here are five takeaways from the weekend’s action:

1. Louisville/Lamar Jackson are for real.

Louisville did not just beat Florida State, they dismantled them. The Cardinals had played manageable competition in the first two weeks, but had their first test this week against a very talented Seminole team. They still have big games against Clemson and Houston, but they look like they are capable of making the College Football Playoff and possibly doing some damage if they get there.

The man leading the Heisman Trophy race was not even in consideration last year. Lamar Jackson put up ridiculous numbers against the poor competition the first two games of the season. He had thirteen touchdowns by himself in those games. He added to his Heisman campaign, by totaling 362 yards and five touchdowns. His biggest accomplishment this weekend was Michael Vick tweeting and raving about him.

2. Dropping the ball before you reach the goal line isn’t cool.

Courtesy Sportingnews.com.

The trend of dropping the ball as soon as you get into the end zone, or dropping it before you get there in most cases,is the dumbest thing a player can do. Do players really think it is cool to drop the ball that soon and possibly cost their team a crucial score? Even though I would hand the ball to the official and head to the sideline, college football does need some celebrating, but not in this fashion. With these incidents happening to Oklahoma and Cal this week, and Clemson last week, it has occurred too much to ignore. The upside of dropping the ball early is literally nothing, but the downside is a player looking dumb on national television. In the words of Coach Herman Boone from Remember the Titans would say, “Hold onto that ball Petey!”.

3. Talent is more important than schemes/Ohio State is talented.

Courtesy of si.com.

Oklahoma’s backup quarterback Austin Kendall mentioned that he couldn’t wait to see the Sooners’ starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield, light up Ohio State’s basic defense. While it is easy to see that Ohio State’s defense doesn’t do anything mind boggling, they are still an excellent defense with a lot of talent. Their specialty this season has been intercepting passes and Mayfield fell victim to that, throwing two to the Buckeyes. The talent of Ohio State did a great job of slowing the Sooners’ offense. Maybe next time Kendall will think before he says something like this, when he isn’t the one who has to back it up.

4. North Dakota State is better than a lot of FBS teams.

Courtesy latimes.com.

North Dakota State has been a perennial powerhouse at the FCS level and have even beaten plenty of FBS teams. This season they took a step forward by traveling to Iowa and beating the thirteenth best team in the country. The Hawkeyes returned a lot of talent from last year’s team, who went to the Rose Bowl, and were expected to contend for the Big Ten again this season. The Bison just reload, as they have won five straight FCS National Championships, but they showed this week that they can compete well enough to be a solid FBS team. The School doesn’t seem to be considering a move to the FBS, they like dominating the FCS level, but are talented enough nonetheless.

 

Five Non-Power Five Teams to Watch for this Season

Everyone loves an underdog story, a David slaying a Goliath. Yet, there’s few non-power 5 teams that make it to a prestigious bowl, even with a solid record. And it seems that every year, there is at least one team from a non-power five conference that dominates their schedule with one loss or no losses, wins their conference title, and enters an esteemed bowl game with more to prove than any number of District Attorneys.

Cutting to the chase, here are, in my opinion the top five non-power five teams in terms of what they bring to the table — excluding Notre Dame, who is normally the quality of a power five school.

5. Marshall (Conference USA)

non power 5 college football teams

Chase Litton comes out of a stellar freshman season to lead the charge for the Thundering Herd. Thanks to tbo.com for the photo.

Marshall lost a lot and kept a lot from a team that finished 10-3 with a win in the St. Petersburg Bowl last year. Sophomore quarterback Chase Litton, pictured above, comes off a season where he threw for 2,608 yards and 24 touchdowns. Marshall has been a pass-based offense as of late (no one rushed for 600 yards or more for them last year) and they have their gunslinger to continue the aerial attack.

The question is who he will throw the ball to.

Marshall lost their top two receivers in Devonta Allen and Deandre Reaves, who reeled in 715 and 705 yards worth of catches, respectively.

Of course, those two don’t compare to the graduation of stud linebacker Evan McKelvey, who led the team with 121 tackles and was second with 9.0 tackles for loss. Also gone defensively is third leading tackler and starting safety Taj Letman (80 of them) who intercepted three passes. And the starter next to Letman and second leading tackler last year Tiquan Lang (91) faces a possible suspension after being arrested in late April.

Seems like quite a bit to overcome, doesn’t it? Until you hear that four of five starting offensive linemen for Marshall are returning from last year, and the one that isn’t a returning starter missed last year with injury and was first-team all-conference in 2014, Clint Van Horn. Litton will have a lot of time to find an open man.

And on defense stud defensive end Gary Thompson is back, who led the team in two categories defensively in 2015: sacks with 9.0 and tackles for loss with 12.5. At cornerback returning is Corey Tindal, who defended thirteen passes and intercepted two more.

In the end, Marshall needs contributors from two position groups to step forward: receivers and linebackers. Two starters are gone from both groups. The receiving corps gets some help from returning 400 yard receiving tight end Ryan Yurachek, but will need wideout production from a group that contains no one ever to have a season of at least 350 at that specific position. Justin Hunt, who has progressed steadily each year at Marshall and enters as a senior in 2016, and converted former tight end Deon-Tay McManus could look to try and get some production. And at linebacker the names appear to be Devontre’a Tyler and Shawn Petty.

My prediction: Marshall gets cake games against Morgan State and Akron, then wins one of their two tougher non-conferences either against Louisville or at Pitt. I see them tripping up against Western Kentucky and missing out on the conference championship, coming out mad in their bowl game and finishing 11-2 with a win in the New Mexico Bowl.

4. Appalachian State (Sun Belt)

non power 5 college football teams

The Mountaineers return the talent to climb to the top of the Sun Belt conference. Photo courtesy of 247sports.com.

Appalachian State used a balanced offensive attack and solid defense to earn an 11-2 record and a victory in the Camellia Bowl with a Sun Belt title. They bring back a lot of impact players from a team that was top-25 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Those impact players include 2,300 yard passer Taylor Lamb, 1,400 yard rusher Marcus Cox, three starting offensive linemen, their top two tacklers on defense Eric Boggs and John Law with 104 and 72 tackles last year, respectively, and interception leader Latrell Gibbs who picked off seven passes — returning two of them for touchdowns.

Wow.

The only detrimental loss seems to be stud defensive end Ronald Blair, who led the team in TFLs and sacks while coming in third for total tackles.

One spot of bother for the Mountaineers could be the tough opening to their schedule, they head to Tennessee in the opening week and then have to host Miami (FL) following their week two match-up with Old Dominion. Get out of those two brawls healthy, and it could turn into another ten win season with a bowl win for the Mountaineers.

My prediction: Someone important goes down in either the Tennessee or Miami game, and Appalachian State drops one during their conference play. They manage to get out with title in the Sun Belt though, or at least a share of one, as no team runs the table in the conference. The finish is 9-4, the aforementioned Sun Belt title, and a loss in the New Orleans Bowl.

3. Western Kentucky (Conference USA)

non power 5 college football teams

Taywan Taylor is the featured player in this year’s Western Kentucky attack. Photo courtesy of youtube.com.

Losing a 5,000 yard passer (that number led the nation) is never going to be easy. But when you have two receivers who were both over 950 yards last season back, one of which is 1,400 yard man Taywan Taylor, it makes the adaptation for your knew starter a bit less demanding. That replacement will likely be one of three players: Junior USF transfer Mike White, who threw for 1,639 yards and 8 touchdowns with the Bulls last year, senior Nelson Fishback, who has attempted 8 passes in his Hilltopper career, or senior Louisville transfer Tyler Ferguson.

The rushing attack will have no issue complementing whomever is under center, however. Anthony Wales returns off a 1,000 yard season, behind an offensive line totalling 130 combined starts of experience. That line includes first-team all-conference left tackle Forrest Lamp. New O-line coach Dale Williams has been given the keys to a Porsche and told not to crash it.

A mid-tier defense last year for Western Kentucky will look to improve for this season, as they return leading tackler and backfield plug in linebacker T.J. McCollum (106 tackles, 12.0 TFLs) and second leading tackler Branden Leston (96). Top defensive lineman Derik Overstreet also returns.

But if that defense wants to make the necessary jump, and in turn bring this team from a conference leader to potential contender for a New Year’s Six bowl, they will need a boost in the secondary, specifically at corner. Both starters are gone, including the only player with more than three interceptions for that Hilltopper defensive backfield in Prince Iworah.

The most experienced pair are juniors Joe Brown and De’andre Simmons. Both intercepted one pass last year, and Brown may have asserted his role as the primary cornerback with 9 PBUs. Both will have assistance from senior safeties, the aforementioned Branden Leston and Marcus Ward. The pair combine for 291 tackles and four interceptions on their respective careers.

My prediction: In the end, I think it could really come together for the Hilltoppers, one of three teams on this list (the top three, of couse) that I think finishes ranked nationally. They open with a win over Florida International before falling by no more than 20 to Alabama, a moral victory that will allow them to run the table… including wins over Vanderbilt, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, their opponent in the Conference USA title game, and their opponent in the Boca Raton bowl.

That’s 13-1, for those of you counting at home.

2. San Diego State (Mountain West Conference)

non power 5 college football teams

The Aztecs’ defense makes them a force to be reckoned with in 2016. Photo form sandiegouniontribune.com.

San Diego State is going to defend their conference title from 2015.

Literally.

The biggest loss from a defense that was top ten nationally last year in scoring is fifth leading tackler Jake Fely (75, 8.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks). They return stud linebacker Calvin Munson, who led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks (98, 15.0, 10.5). Damontae Kazee (pictured above), returns and brings 8 interceptions with him. Defensive end Kyle Kelley, who had 7.5 sacks last year, will lead the defensive line. They return third leading tackler and second leading interceptor safety Malik Smith. And they return the centerpiece of their 3-3-5 defense, all-conference nose guard Alex Barrett. In other words, the offense won’t have to score all that much.

But they bring back the firepower to score a lot.

Sure they lost their leading passer. But when that quarterback barely cleared 1,500 yards, it doesn’t matter that much. Why? Because San Diego State is a running offense. And you know what they do return? A rusher of 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns named Donnel Pumphrey. He runs behind three returning starters on his line, including all-conference offensive guard Nico Siragusa.

Needless to say, the Aztecs look incredible entering this season.

My prediction: SDSU upsets Cal early in the season and goes on a rampage. It is tough to go undefeated, but easier with a Mountain West schedule. They do it, win the conference title game, and head to the Cotton Bowl as the “group of five” representative. From there I can’t tell, depends on who faces them there.

So either 14-0 or 13-1 is what I predict dependant on who they play in that bowl game.

1. Houston (American Athletic)

non power 5 college football teams

Second-year coach Tom Herman looks to repeat the success of 2015. Photo from al.com.

Notice I put above that I believe San Diego State becomes the “group of five” representative that receives a berth into the Cotton Bowl. I think Houston is the better team, but they run into Oklahoma week one… a game I don’t see them winning. Hence, number one team but not the number one finish.

Why is Houston the number one team? They come off a Peach Bowl win and return their star player, leading passer and rusher (he and Deshaun Watson are the only two quarterbacks ever to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000) Greg Ward. While his favorite target in Demarcus Ayers left early for the NFL, man number, two Chance Allen, does return off a season of over 750 yards. The ground game will have to replace second leading rusher and top running back Kenneth Farrow, which they were looking to do with junior Javin Webb.

Until he was dismissed from the team in February.

With that and the graduation of Ryan Jackson, Houston has lost its next three rushers after Ward. No other running back posted even 100 yards last season, the only one even to gain positive yardage being upcoming sophomore Kaliq Kokuma, who ran 18 times for 92 yards. He should compete with fellow sophomore Tyreik Gray.

At the very least they do have four returning starters up front to pave the way for the inexperienced backs.

Flipping the coin to the defensive side, Houston’s 3-4 defense returns all-conference nose guard B.J. Singleton, backed by linebacker Steven Taylor who had 92 tackles with 18.5 TFLs and 10.0 sacks.

Houston should be able to cope fine with the loss of their leading takedown getter Elandon Roberts, as Taylor returns with fellow linebackers Tyus Bowser (35 games experience) and Matthew Adams (49 tackles in 2015). The real worry is the departures at safety, where the Cougars lost both starters in 2016. That includes Adrian Mcdonald, who intercepted 17 passes in a career that also included 299 tackles. The most senior player remaining is junior Khalil Williams, who registered 18 tackles and intercepted a pass last year.

The rest are a group of inexperienced sophomores including Garrett Davis, Michael Eke, and Darius Gilbert. One of them needs to fill some shoes.

As said at the beginning, Houston loses week one in a moderately close bout with Oklahoma, but wins out and goes to dominate the conference championship game and a dominating win in either the Hawaii Bowl or Armed Forces Bowl.

 

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ACC 2016 Preview

It has been a pretty good few weeks for the ACC. First, they land the mega TV deal with ESPN. Also ACC Media Day went well, and all teams were represented in Charlotte, N.C. Here is what I see happening in the ACC this season.

Courtesy of isportsweb.com

Courtesy of isportsweb.com

ACC Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson

It is a no-brainer. Deshaun Watson will be the conference player of the year again. After a year like he had last year, he is poised for another one. This year it seems like Watson will have one of his favorite targets back on the field in receiver Mike Williams. He hurt his neck last year early in the season and couldn’t finish the season. Now he is back and the Clemson offense is back to full strength.

It is hard to believe that the offense we saw for most of 2015 was not at full strength. But, behind Watson, are some great talents in the ACC race for ACC Player of the Year. There is FSU’s running back Dalvin Cook, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, and Notre Dame’s quarterback DeShone Kizer. Even with all of that talent in the ACC, Watson just seems to always standout.

Courtesy of Miami Herald

Courtesy of Miami Herald

ACC Coastal Winner: Miami

Miami should be a very interesting team this year. Their ceiling is one of the highest in the conference. They could definitely play themselves into a 11-1/10-2 season or be as low as 8-5.

Miami has one of the nation’s best signal callers in Brad Kaaya. He threw for 3238 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. One of his favorite targets Stacy Coley returned for another year of football at UM. Miami also returns Joseph Yearby, who ran for 1002 yards.

And with all of this talent returning on the offensive side, they mix it with a new coach in Mark Richt. Richt made the move from UGA to Miami after last season and he inherited a very good offense. But, on the defensive side, they are changing to a 4-3 defense and may have to start two true freshmen in Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pickeney.

I really think Miami is in their own class when it comes to the ACC Coastal Division. I can’t really see too many other teams taking too much of the first place votes from Miami. The only other team could be Virginia Tech, but the Hokies are working with possibly a new transfer quarterback Jerod Evans and a new coach.

Streeter Lecka: Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images

ACC Atlantic Winner: Clemson

In the ACC Atlantic, there are only two real choices when it comes to a winner. It is either Clemson or Florida State. And I think it is Clemson.

They return most of their important players on offense from a year ago. Deshaun Watson, Wayne Galloman, Hunter Renfroe, and they also get receiver Mike Williams back from his neck injury early in the year.

On defense, the Tigers are anchored in the middle by senior linebacker Ben Boulaware and in the secondary with senior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley.

And in the Atlantic the most important game year and year out is the annual Florida State-Clemson game. This year it is back in Tallahasse, a place the Tigers and Dabo have trouble winning at from time-to-time. Coming into the game, Clemson will bring a great offense, but the Seminoles have their own workhorse in Dalvin Cook.

Cook is FSU’s everything. He is able to be useful in the running and passing game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles will highlight sophomore cornerback Derwin James and defensive end Josh Sweat. It should be a good game when Clemson travels to Tallahassee on October 29th.

Another interesting team in the Atlantic is Louisville. They might get some first place Coastal division votes from the media this week. Returning is true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson and 16 others from a year ago. Also they have linebacker Devonte Fields returning for his second season with the Cardinals, after transferring from TCU before the 2015 season. But after these three teams, i can’t see any other teams competing for first place votes in Charlotte this week.

Clemson is the new kid on the college football block. It will be interesting to see how Dabo gets his team ready for the season ahead.

ACC Champions: Clemson

The championship game will most likely not be decided in Charlotte in early December. It will be decided on October 29th, when Clemson and Florida State play in Tallahassee. That is just how the ACC is nowadays. Just like how in the SEC it used to be between LSU and Alabama every year. Miami should be a good team from the Coastal but they are no match for either Clemson or Florida State. I think Clemson will make it back to Charlotte to try and capture the National Championship that slipped out of their grasp in 2015.

 

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NCAA Baseball: Super Regionals Preview

Regional Picks: 10 for 16

Gainesville Super Regional: Florida St Seminoles at Florida Gators

For the second consecutive year, these bitter rivals will meet with a spot in Omaha on the line. The Gators have had the edge lately, eliminating the Seminoles last season and sweeping a three game series this year. They also have plenty of momentum after blowing out Georgia Tech in the regional final. In case this team didn’t look dangerous enough, they are now fully healthy as first baseman Peter Alonso returned from a broken hand to hit 8-14 with three home runs in the regional. Florida St rolled through the Tallahassee Regional, capping it off with an 18-6 blowout of South Alabama. The Noles have one of the hottest, most dynamic offenses in the country, led by Dylan Busby who is batting .500 with 6 home runs in the last 7 games. This certainly has the potential to be a great series with two elite offenses, but I think Logan Shore and AJ Puk on the mound will be the difference, and the Gators will prevail.

Louisville Super Regional: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Louisville Cardinals

Louisville has been a complete juggernaut at home, now with a 36-1 record after three easy wins over Western Michigan, Ohio St. and Wright St. They head into their fourth consecutive super regional with tons of confidence, especially in starting pitchers Kyle Funkhouser and Brendan McKay, who only gave up a combined one run in the regional. They will be a tough test for the young Gauchos, who appear to have put it all together after a rocky finish to the regular season. UCSB will need a strong start from ace Shane Bieber, who shut out Washington in game 1 to have a shot against Louisville’s top 10 offense. The Gauchos pitching should give them a chance, but Louisville has a much better offense, and when you add in the home field advantage, the Cardinals should advance.

Coral Gables Super Regional: Boston College Eagles at Miami Hurricanes

This is a matchup of ACC schools, but that’s about all they have in common. The Hurricanes are amongst the baseball blue bloods, with a four National Titles and an NCAA Tournament streak that dates back to 1973, while the Eagles haven’t been to Omaha since 1967, and before this season hadn’t had a winning record since 2010. Miami got a test in their regional, but defeated Long Beach St in an 8-7 walk off win. Miami didn’t get their usual production from star Zack Collins, who had more strikeouts than hits in the regional, but saw Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward (Jason’s brother) step up. Boston College is probably the closest thing to a Cinderella in this year’s tournament, but after beating Utah and Tulane twice, are done flying under the radar. They’ll need their pitching to stay hot, as the Eagles only gave up eight runs in three games. However, Miami is on another level from the teams BC eliminated, and will likely have too much offensive firepower.

College Station Super Regional: TCU Horned Frogs at Texas A&M Aggies

An in-state battle between the past and the present in the Big 12, TCU is looking to make it back to back super regional wins over the Aggies. However, this time, the road to Omaha will have to go through College Station, where A&M is coming off of an easy regional win, having blown out Binghamton, Minnesota and Wake Forest. They scored 30 runs in the last two games, in large part because of Boomer White, a TCU transfer, who is batting .398 on the year. His old team is also high on confidence, entering their third consecutive super regional. Coach Jim Schlossnagle has this team playing as well as anyone in the country, after three wins over Oral Roberts, Arizona St and Gonzaga. The Frogs dominated all three aspects of the game, hitting .318, posting a 1.33 ERA and not committing a single error in the regional. Texas A&M can get hot at the plate, especially at home, but I like TCU’s well-rounded and experienced team to advance.

Lubbock Super Regional: East Carolina Pirates at Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech survived a scare against Dallas Baptist in the regional final, largely due to Hayden Howard’s work out of the bullpen, and three clutch RBIs from Orlando Garcia. The bullpen also pitched four shutout innings earlier in the weekend, which allowed Tech to come back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat New Mexico. They will meet the East Carolina Pirates, the last remaining team from North Carolina, who are arguably the most surprising team still in the field. The Pirates stunned defending National Champs Virginia on a walk off in the second game, before taking care of William & Mary to advance. The Pirates offense was on full display, as they scored at least eight runs in all three wins. The Pirates proved that they can play with anyone in the country, but I think Texas Tech in Lubbock will be too much for them.

Starkville Super Regional: Arizona Wildcats at Mississippi St Bulldogs

Mississippi St. may have come from nowhere to win the SEC title, but they are certainly in the national spotlight now. Their improved pitching was on full display in the regional final win over Louisiana Tech, where State shut out the other Bulldogs, allowing only two hits while striking out 14. They also have the advantage of playing at one of the most hostile venues, where they boast the biggest crowd in the country, and the cowbells don’t stop all game. The lone representatives of the Pac 12, Arizona came out of the losers bracket to knock off Lafayette twice and advance. The Wildcats showed off their pitching, particularly their bullpen, which the Cajuns had no success against. This pitching should be enough to keep things interesting, but the Bulldogs are a better team, and should take it at home.

Columbia Super Regional: Oklahoma St Cowboys at South Carolina Gamecocks

It was a great weekend for Gamecocks fans, as the team advanced through the Columbia Regional, and watched archrival Clemson get knocked out, opening the door to host a super regional. Carolina had a rough start, losing to Rhode Island and winning ugly against Duke, but turned it around to outscore their final three opponents by a combined 43-8. Oklahoma St. was the only team to knock off a national seed, and absolutely dominated Clemson twice to advance. The Cowboys hit .385 in the regional, and never trailed at any point. They come in hot, and also have the advantage of staying in South Carolina for an additional week, cutting out much of the travel. This is probably the most even match-up of the round, but I think Oklahoma St will score just enough to get it done.

Baton Rouge Super Regional: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at LSU Tigers

After a series of rain delays, on Tuesday LSU became the fifth SEC team to qualify for super regionals. The Tigers got a great performance from Jared Poche, who threw six scoreless innings out of the bullpen just three days after starting against Utah Valley. The bats came alive, spurred by a go ahead home run from Greg Deichmann, and LSU was able to knock off Rice. This weekend, they will get a visit from Coastal Carolina, fresh off upsetting NC State in the Raleigh Regional. The Chants loaded the bases with one out in the ninth down by two, but because of a bizarre rain delay, had to finish off the game the next day. Coastal eventually took the lead, and held on thanks to All-American closer Mike Morrison. The Chanticleers are a team that simply finds ways to win, and has some of the best pitching in the country. However, LSU has pitching to match and should advance at home.

 

Three Takeaways From the 2015-2016 College Basketball Season

This year’s college basketball season was one of the most interesting in recent memory.  Story lines poured out of the action on and off the court. Here’s what I consider the main themes of the 2015-2016 season:

  1. Senior Rebirth

Some of this year’s best teams featured multiple seniors. Many of the Naismith and Associated Press Player of the Year candidates were seniors, unlike in previous seasons. The star power was held by many players who have developed over their years at their respective schools. People still question why these players did not develop faster or declare for the draft earlier. Recent trends have shown, however, that perhaps it is better for players to delay the jump to the pros. No one would say that Buddy Hield is not a complete player at this point, yet many people can pick out the weaknesses in Ben Simmons’ game namely his inability to shoot the jumper.

Buddy Hield and Ryan Arcidiacono were two of this season’s most prolific seniors. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

This year, there was a plethora of entertaining seniors to watch. The more notable players included Denzel Valentine, Marcus Paige, and Jake Layman. The final four teams featured line-ups riddled with seniors. The Oklahoma Sooners had several seniors that saw the floor in addition to their Naismith Candidate in Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. National Champion Villanova had two prominent seniors in Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono. Syracuse had an excellent example in player development with former Duke transfer Michael Gbinije. The Tar Heels had a number of seniors on the team in addition to Paige, the most entertaining being Brice Johnson.

The fact that these players stayed for their whole careers shows that the NBA is not completely killing the amateur game. While some players will still make the jump too early and many top recruits will make the obligated year long trip to play school before leaving to make their money, the landscape of college basketball still shows growth and life which is something we saw this year.

  1. Scandal

Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals missed the postseason due to scandal. (Photo courtesy of the LA Times)

Scandal is wreaking havoc on the game. Several schools were under the gloomy cloud of sanctions this year and some will carry this problem into the following season. An SMU team that started hot missed the tournament due to academic fraud. Likewise, two final four teams have dealt with their own problems. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse are still in muddy waters and North Carolina could be facing some loss of scholarships and postseason bans due to their school infractions.

The king of kings, however, is Louisville.  Rick Pitino’s future remains uncertain as does the team’s season to come. At this point it seems that academic progress failure and scandal are normal parts of NCAA culture. While the NCAA has gotten many things wrong in the past two decades, it does appear that these schools will face harsh discipline at the expense of the student-athletes.

  1. Parity

Many people indicated that this year’s domination of the final four, elite eight, and sweet sixteen by power conference teams was an indication of the lack of the so called “parity” in college basketball. Even ESPN’s Jay Bilas was in agreement with this train of thought. While I recognize the fact that the numbers show an inordinate amount of teams in the latter stages of the tournament, looking at the topic of parity from this one perspective oversimplifies the subject.

It is difficult to look at the season and tournament as a whole and not see the parity available in college basketball. In early season match-ups, Monmouth took down Notre Dame, an elite eight team, and Northern Iowa defeated North Carolina, the national runner-up. There was even a cry for Monmouth and St. Mary’s to make the tournament. Dick Vitale mentioned in his post season summary that there was no respect for the little guy.

Northern Iowa lost in a devastating manner when Texas A&M rallied from down double digits in the final minute of the second round (Photo courtesy of thegazette.com)

We saw, for the first time in history, a 12, 13, 14, and 15 seed win in the same weekend. Northern Iowa was 35 seconds from the sweet sixteen and Stephen F. Austin was a tip in away as well. We saw Middle Tennessee State take out a team that caused many brackets to be busted.  We saw Hawaii take down a very talented Cal team, Purdue get beat by Arkansas-Little Rock, and Yale take down Baylor. That being said, there was very little representation of the small conferences in the sweet sixteen. However, no one would say that just because Butler made the championship that this was an indication of parity. The opposite indication is represented here. The whole story is more complex and we were a few points away from having a year dominated by the little guy in the end chapters of March Madness, and the overall story includes this change in the winds of college basketball  that should continue to make the opening rounds of the tournament interesting for years to come.

Now as we put a wrap on 2015-2016 we look ahead. There are a few final commitments, a few loose ends to tie up and then it is on to the following season. Every indication is that it should be fantastic, with a host of powerful recruits coming in but some of the tale of this season could bleed into the next. At this point it is very difficult to see what is to come in the vastly changing arena of college basketball.