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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Players That Can Lead Their Team to an Upset Victory in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

The best part of the NCAA Tournament year in and year out are the upsets. The unheralded team knocks off the national powerhouse and goes down in history. Every team that pulls off the upset has a player that leads them to victory. C.J. McCollum scored 30 points on Duke in Lehigh’s upset. Sherwood Brown dropped a total of 41 points in Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16.

Not all upsets have to be extreme as a 15 seed beating a two seed, like the ones previously mentioned, but every upset needs a star. Here are some players that can be that catalyst for their team:

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Musketeers

The Xavier Musketeers are a popular pick to beat Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers will be without point guard Edmond Sumner, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. If they do pull off the upset it will be in no doubt because of Bluiett.

Bluiett is averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 44% from the floor. He has the ability to get hot in an instant and can go from no points to 20 within minutes as a classic shooter, who hardly ever drives to the basket. Bluiett has been in the NCAA Tournament before, but has yet to score more than 10 points in a game in five career tournament games.

His crowning moment this year was his performance against cross-town rival Cincinnati. He scored 40 points on 12 of 15 shooting. He made nine of 11 three pointers in that game, in an unbelievable shooting night. Xavier ended up losing the game, but had he gotten more shots up, things could’ve been different.

With not having scored a lot in the NCAA Tournament, Bluiett is going to have all the motivation he needs to have a good game and lead his team to victory.

Chris Flemmings, UNC Wilmington

Flemmings has one of the best backstories in college basketball. He had to email UNC Wilmington to get a chance to play for them after playing at nearby Barton College, a division II school. Last season he came close to helping the Seahawks pull off an upset over Duke with 18 points.

Chris Flemmings

Photo courtesy: foxsports.com

UNC Wilmington has made it back to the dance and Flemmings has had another good season. He has averaged 15.8 points per game on 47% shooting. He hasn’t been as good at defense, as last year, but that is because he is tasked with guarding bigger players all the time. The Seahawks lack height and Flemmings usually has to pick up the slack by guarding power forwards.

The first round match-up for UNC Wilmington will be tough as they play an elite defensive team in Virginia. Flemmings will need to score a lot (which may not be as much as usual against such a good defensive team), and guard players bigger than him well.

JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee

After starting his career at Arkansas, Williams has played his last year of eligibility at Middle Tennessee. He didn’t do much with The Razorbacks, playing behind Bobby Portis and only averaging 4.8 points per game his junior season.

Williams sat out last season because of the NCAA transfer rules, but has been lighting up the scoreboard for the Blue Raiders this season. He is averaging 17.3 points per game and has given them another big presence in the paint, averaging 7.3 rebounds. He is shooting 54 percent on the season, which is about the percentage that will be needed for Middle Tennessee to advance.

The Blue Raiders will need him to be at his best, as they are playing a Minnesota team that has a lot of size. He may not need to score every basket, but does need to find the open man, if the Golden Gophers choose to double him in the post.

Keon Johnson, Winthrop

Johnson is one of the shortest players in college basketball at 5 feet 7 inches tall, but can score with the best of them. He is by far the most important player for the Eagles.

Keon Johnson

Photo courtesy: whri.com

His average of 22.5 points per game is good enough for 10th in the country. He steps up in big games, scoring 38 at Illinois and 24 at Dayton. Johnson is shooting 40% from behind the arc, but also does his part getting to the basket to amass his points.

Butler is an above average defensive team, but Johnson should be able to get his shots up. If he converts, Winthrop can take Butler to the wire.

Marcus Marshall, Nevada

Nevada has been a trendy pick to pick Iowa State and Marshall is the reason why. Marshall played his first three seasons at Missouri State before transferring to Nevada.

Marshall averages 19.8 points per game and hits 3.3 three point field goals per game. He scored 32 points at Washington, against future top draft pick Markelle Fultz. He can score against premier talent and will have to do so against Iowa State.

He will be matched up against Monte Morris, one of the best point guards in the country. If he can match him shot for shot, Nevada has a chance to win.

 

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology 3/12/17

MARCH 12, 2017 BRACKETOLOGY

The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching. March Madness is here. This NCAA Tournament bracketology is an outlook of what the bracket could look like on selection Sunday. Click on the picture to zoom.

 

 

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology 3/11/17

March 11, 2017 Bracketology

The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching. March Madness is here. This NCAA Tournament bracketology is an outlook of what the bracket could look like in a few days. Click on the picture to zoom.

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NFL Free Agency

Early NFL Free Agency: Sneaky Good Moves

The game of quarterback musical chairs is snagging the headlines early in NFL free agency like every year. If you do not have a quarterback who is at least competent, you have no chance in this league. However, every position matters. Here is a look at some sneaky good moves in the beginnings of the free agent frenzy.

Phil Dawson: Arizona Cardinals

Phil Dawson

Photo: sportsoutwest.com

Yes folks, a kicker. Arizona lost five games by one possession and tied another during last year’s seven-win campaign. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 11 combined field goals and extra points. These things are not entirely unrelated.

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Phil Dawson missed just four total kicks for the 49ers. As crazy as it sounds, this may be a pivotal move in Arizona’s quest to return to the postseason in 2017.

 

 

 

Ronald Leary: Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary

Photo: hngn.com

Whoever winds up taking snaps for the Broncos next year will have much more protection. This is a heck of a start. Leary did not allow a sack while starting 13 games in Dallas last year. He has been a stalwart on the best offensive line in football since 2014.

Denver’s ability to sack the opposing quarterback in recent years is well documented. In 2016, the Broncos had just two more total sacks than their opponents. That is crazy considering the Broncos have both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Poor offensive line play is also one of the reasons Denver struggled to break 50 rushing yards in a game for parts of 2016. Do not be surprised if center Matt Paradis is the only starting offensive lineman that returns in 2017. Last year’s free agent offensive line signings of Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung proved to be disastrous for Denver.

To become legitimate Super Bowl contenders again, the Leary signing needs to be the first step in another massive offensive line overhaul in Denver. The Broncos have also added former Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson to the fold.

A.J. Klein: New Orleans Saints

A.J .Klein

Photo: zambio.com

As long as Drew Brees is in town, the Saints will always be able to score. However, they have finished outside the top 25 in total defense for three straight years. While a single player will not change that, Klein is a step in the right direction.

Playing behind Luke Kuechly limited Klein’s snaps in Carolina. When he did see the field, he was reasonably productive. Klein took part in 137 tackles in Carolina despite starting just 23 games in four seasons. Additionally, three years and $15 million is a fairly cheap price to pay a 25-year-old contributor from a division rival.

           

 

Kevin Zietler: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler

Photo: stripehype.com

It is no secret that the Browns need work everywhere, and the offensive line is no exception. Zietler was one of three early moves the Browns made up front. The former Bengal is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

While the contract numbers are eye-popping and the Browns have an alarming tendency to screw things up, signing a guard from a division rival who has given up just 11 total sacks in five seasons is never a bad move.

March is all about basketball. However, the NFL’s version of March Madness is certainly worth continuing to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology 3/10/17

March 10, 2017 Bracketology

The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching. March Madness is here. This bracketology is an outlook of what the bracket could look like in a few days. Click on the picture to zoom.

 

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology 3/8/17

March 8, 2017 Bracketology

 

The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching. March Madness is here. This bracketology is an outlook of what the bracket could look like in a few days. Click on the picture to zoom.

 

 

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How to Win A National Championship: Gonzaga Edition

There is no question that the Gonzaga basketball program has been outright dominate in the past ten years. They have appeared in 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments and 19 total dating back to 1995. In those 18 tournaments, they have been a top-five seed six times and a one seed once. This year they will most likely be a number one seed again.

They have made the NCAA championship round of 32 15 times, the sweet 16 seven times and the elite eight twice. They have not gotten past the elite eight in their 19 tournament appearances.

What’s the problem? How come a team so consistent and so dominate cannot even put themselves in a position to truly compete for a national championship?

The answer is actually pretty simple and it doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re doing on the court. In order to compete for a national championship and put themselves in a position to have a real chance year after year, they need to switch conferences.

Gonzaga Basketball

Sophomore guard Nick Emery reacts to handing Gonzaga their first lost of the season (Photo: Sports Ilustrated)

Changing conferences sounds simple, but it’s actually not. If we have learned anything from the major changes in teams going to different conferences these past few years, it’s that football is the dominant force in these decisions. College football is a massive industry in the United States and for most schools is the biggest sport and makes the school the most money.

Unfortunately for Gonzaga, they do not have a football team. The last time Gonzaga’s football team played a game was in 1941. If history truly repeats itself, then there are no signs of the program coming back anytime soon.

The problem with Gonzaga’s conference (West Coast Conference) is that it is not competitive. Since 1995, Gonzaga has won the regular season conference championship 19 times, including this year. They have also won the conference tournament 15 times since 1995, and are the heavy favorite to win it again this year.

Their success in their conference can be compared to the likes of Kansas. They have won an absurd 13 straight regular season conference championships, including one this year. The main difference is that Kansas has three national championships, six runner-up finishes and 14 final four appearances.

Granted, Kansas is a bigger school than Gonzaga, which does help them with things like recruiting and scholarships. What Kansas mainly has that Gonzaga doesn’t is regular season competition.

San Francisco does have two national championships but haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1998. Another notable team would be BYU, who makes the tournament pretty consistently. However, BYU has never made a final four and hasn’t made an elite eight since 1981. The last team, St. Mary’s, has only gotten as far as the elite eight once in 1959.

If Gonzaga wants to compete for a national championship, they need consistent competition throughout the entire regular season. Every now and then they will play a decent team from a power five conference like Arizona, who they played earlier t

Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski (24) drives against Southern Utah (AP Photo/Jed Conklin) ORG XMIT: WAJC109

his year and beat 69-62. After that, the competition stops.

We have seen it time and time again how big of favorites the Bulldogs are when it comes to tournament time. Yet, they always fall flat and one must assume it’s because they aren’t ready. Gonzaga has had some really great teams recently. Teams that probably could have made a late tournament run and maybe even have won the national championship.

Duke, UNC and Kansas all win national championships because they play big games every year throughout the season. They know how to handle the magnitude of what March Madness brings.

If Gonzaga wants to ever win a national championship, they need to do the same. That doesn’t come with waiting for the WCC to become a stronger conference. It comes with switching to a power five conference.

In this upcoming tournament, the Bulldogs will most likely earn another number one seed and be a heavy favorite in every one of its games. Watch for yourself, and see what happens.

 

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BNP Paribas Open

What to Watch for in Indian Wells

College basketball is not the only sport in America that features “March Madness.” The best tennis players in the world spend the month playing back-to-back tournaments on the hard courts in Indian Wells and Miami. After the four majors, these two events are widely considered the most prestigious in the sport.

The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, kicks off Monday. All 32 seeded players in both singles draws receive first-round byes. We will not see them until the middle of next week. Here are a few storylines to watch for in the California desert.

Can Djokovic Get Right?

Novak Djokovic Nick Kyrgios

Photo: bbc.co.uk

As hard as it is to believe, Novak Djokovic has been flat out ordinary for the last six months. His struggles continued with a quarterfinal loss to inspired Aussie Nick Kyrgios after taking a late entry into Acapulco this week.

 

The world number two has won a combined 11 titles in Indian Wells and Miami. His recent struggles are becoming harder to explain and ignore. He has become increasingly testy with the media.

Even with all the questions surrounding him, it is not time for the Serbian to truly panic, unless he fails to win at least one of these next two events.

 

Del Potro Still Dangerous

The good news for the other top players is that former U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro is seeded at this event. He will not play another seed until round three. The bad news is he is seeded 32nd. That means he will likely play someone seeded in the top eight in the third round. Given the way the Argentine has played recently in limited action, none of the big guns want to see him that early in this event.

The favorites in Indian Wells are Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in that order. Del Potro is just half a notch below this fearsome foursome of all-timers when it comes to winning this tournament.

Ladies Top Ranking Up For Grabs

Serena Williams Kerber

Photo: edition.cnn.com

Angelique Kerber started 2017 as world No. 1, but has only reached one semifinal in five events.

As poorly as she has played, the WTA’s complicated rankings system allows her a chance to regain the top spot from Serena Williams in Indian Wells. Rather than bore you all with numbers, the simplest thing that can be said is that Serena must reach at least the semis to keep the top ranking.

Given her tendency to sleepwalk at the non-majors, the semis are not a lock for Williams. Tuesday’s singles main draw and the matchups will be key.

Keys Returns

New mom Victoria Azarenka will not be back to defend her Indian Wells and Miami titles as she continues to get into post-pregnancy shape. However, talented young American Madison Keys is back in the fold after missing four months with a wrist injury.

Madison Keys

Photo: tennisworldusa.org

Seeded ninth, rust is a concern for the 22-year-old. However, anyone who serves as hard as Serena Williams and has an average groundstroke speed that tops most of the men is worth keeping an eye on.

Television coverage of the BNP Paribas Open starts Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET on Tennis Channel. Both men’s and women’s matches will be featured along with some doubles. Several online platforms are also available. The ESPN family of networks will become more prominent as the event progresses.

 

 

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The Best Player in College Basketball: Josh Hart

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

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

Offense

 

Josh Hart

Josh Hart (vuhoops.com)

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

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

Defense

 

Josh Hart

Josh Hart and Jay Wright (cbssports.com)

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

 

Clutch

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

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

 

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