2018 NCAA Bracket regional analysis and Final Four picks

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The after Selection Sunday is utter madness and insanity. Pundits are declaring their final four picks and fans are frantically researching to try to find that one sleeper team that is poised for a run. Now I’m not saying I am an expert or anything, simply an average Joe who nailed three of the Final Four teams, the title game match-up and the champion last season.

What I am saying is if you want to know the ins and outs of each region and the eventual regional champ, keep reading below. Let’s get to it!

South Region

The South region starts and ends with the most dominant team in college basketball this season: Virginia. The two-loss Cavaliers steamrolled their way to an ACC regular season and tournament championship. Coach Tony Bennett’s crew, buoyed by their impenetrable pack line defense, led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Virginia forces opponents into contested looks better than anyone in the nation and rarely gives up transition buckets.

With that being said, Bennett will not have a cake walk to San Antonio this season. Assuming Virginia can make it into the Sweet Sixteen, they will most likely draw either No. 4 Arizona or No. 5 Kentucky. Both teams are peaking at the right moment as they each won their respective conference tournament championships.

Arizona seems to be a trendy pick in this region. Anchored by DeAndre Ayton, who is arguably the nation’s best player at the moment, the Wildcats dismantled opponents in the second half during the PAC-12 Tournament. Ayton scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in Arizona’s 75-61 victory over USC in the PAC-12 title game. Ayton is nearly unguardable when he receives the ball in the post and Coach Sean Miller will look to exploit this advantage nearly every possession.

The bottom half of the bracket features more defensive teams in Cincinnati, Tennessee, Miami and Texas. A potential upset pick could be Loyola-Chicago over Miami. Miami will be without Bruce Brown Jr. for the length of the Tournament after sustaining a foot injury. Brown’s injury weakens Miami’s offensive consistency as he averaged 11.4 points per game, one of only three players to do so for the Hurricanes.

This may be Tony Bennett’s best shot at reaching a Final Four (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports).

Cincinnati has ranked highly on basically every metric available, but has played relatively weak teams throughout the season. The Bearcats nonconference schedule featured numerous mid-major teams aside from Xavier and Florida (both of whom defeated Cincinnati). Cincinnati is a great defensive team, but is prone to stagnation on the offensive end.

When it is all said and done, I believe the Sweet Sixteen match-up between Arizona and Virginia will decide who comes out of this region. Arizona was a preseason favorite to reach San Antonio and compete for a national title, but they have failed to live up to expectations. That game will feature a battle of the pack line defenses (Arizona plays this style as well) and while the Wildcats have more talent, I’m riding with the team whose defense has not been solved yet.

Add in the fact that people are riding Arizona based on the fact that they won the PAC-12 in a season where only three teams reached the big dance (and the other two needed a play-in game to make it). Arizona’s defense is shaky and their guards struggle to consistenty feature Ayton in the offense. Give me a Cavalier team that dismantled the ACC this season.

West Region

Here is where things get tricky. Xavier, the fourth number one seed in the Tournament this season, is by far the weakest top seed in the Tournament this season. According to KenPom, the Musketeers were the ninth luckiest team in the nation this season. Pundits make Trevon Blueitt out to be the next coming of Kemba Walker, but Blueitt has been prone to shooting slumps throughout the season.

Blueitt has averaged 19.5 points per game this season on 44.2 percent shooting from the field and 42.3 percent from three. However, in Xavier’s 75-72 Big East semifinal overtime loss to Providence, Blueitt was limited to 13 points on 14 percent shooting from the field. Xavier has the offensive firepower to survive the first weekend if Blueitt has an off-game, but after that, the Musketeers need Blueitt to be on to make it to San Antonio.

With that being said, watch out for the No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs. This Gonzaga team may not have the hype of last year’s squad that lost to UNC in the national title, but these Bulldogs have even more versatility than that team. This team is long, athletic and well-rounded. Johnathan Williams lead the Zags with 13.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but sophomore Rui Hachimura is the key for the Zags this year. If Hachimura can provide consistent low-post scoring and rebounding, the Zags will be a tough out.

Killian Tillie is poised for stardom in the big dance (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review).

The bottom half of this region has explosive potential. Headlined by the defending national champion North Carolina and scorching hot Michigan. North Carolina looked shaky throughout the year, but behind the offensive development of Theo Pinson, the Tar Heels look poised to make some noise once again.

Michigan roared its way to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles behind its defense. This is easily the best defensive team of the John Beilein era and the Wolverines are looking to take care of unfinished business this year. Avoiding foul trouble and free throw shooting are weaknesses for Michigan though. Star center Moe Wagner is prone to early fouls. If opponents can force him onto the bench early, Michigan will lose a serious offensive weapon.

Both Michigan and UNC should draw difficult Round of 32 opponents. UNC could be dealing with a dangerous Providence team that knocked off Xavier and pushed Villanova to overtime in the Big East Tournament. Michigan will either play a Houston team that defeated Wichita State and lost to Cincinnati by one point in the AAC title game or a streaking San Diego State.

When it’s all said and done, expect the top four seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. In a rematch of last year’s Western Regional Elite Eight, Gonzaga will eliminate Xavier behind strong performances from Killian Tillie, Zach Norvell and Williams. Michigan’s defensive pressure will force UNC out of its comfort zone on offense and Wagner will outduel Luke Maye to send the Wolverines to the Elite Eight.

I like Gonzaga to sneak by Michigan in the Elite Eight behind a strong game from Killian Tillie, who will force Wagner into foul trouble. Gonzaga has the length to handle ball screens and switching assignments. Tillie is versatile enough to check Wagner on the perimeter as well. The Zags will ride him back to the Final Four.

East REgion

Villanova has run college basketball for the past three seasons. Coach Jay Wright’s player development is nothing short of extraordinary, as he has turned Jalen Brunson into the frontrunner for the Wooden Award and Mikal Bridges into a lottery pick candidate.

This Wildcat team has the capability to run you off the court. They are relentless and disciplined and force you to play the full 40 minutes if you want to send them home with a loss. If Villanova has one weakness, it is that they are heavily reliant on the three ball. Six players on this team shoot over 38 percent from three, but this style of play lacks consistency at times.

When Villanova’s three pointers are not falling, this team can be beaten. In Villanova’s 76-71 loss to Providence in the regular season, the Wildcats only shot 15 percent from three. In their 89-83 overtime loss to Creighton, Villanova took 39 three pointers and only made 12. If Villanova struggles from behind the arc against any of the top teams in this region, watch out.

West Virginia is Villanova’s biggest threat in the top half of this region. The Mountaineers have looked dominant at times this season behind the play of senior guard Jevon Carter. West Virginia’s press defense can be difficult to prepare for in short notice and in single elimination tournaments. Press Virginia feasts on tired legs.

However, West Virginia’s defense can be susceptible to transition buckets if the opposing to team looks to score while breaking the press. That’s a big reason West Virginia struggled to contain Kansas in their three meetings. Villanova has the offensive capability to capitalize on offense after beating the press.

The bottom of the bracket is headlined by Texas Tech and Purdue. Purdue has had an extra week off after the Big Ten Tournament and was one of the hottest teams in the nation for most of the season. Purdue, much like Villanova, feasts off the three ball with the likes of Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards.

Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges can send the Wildcats to their second Final Four in three seasons (Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

Texas Tech suffocates teams with their half court defense. Their versatility allows them to switch through ball screens and guard multiple positions. Keenan Evans appears to be returning to normalcy after his turf toe injury later in the season. Tech’s offense can stagnate at times and relies on Evans’s play-making ability to bail them out. If the Red Raiders want to make some noise, they will need Zhaire Smith, Jared Culver and Tommy Hamilton to step up on offense.

A darkhorse in this region could be the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas rolls out two incredibly talented guards in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. Barford and Macon average 18 and 16.9 points per game respectively while each shooting 43 percent from three. Daniel Gafford, who stands a 6-foot-11, can go toe-to-toe with Purdue’s Isaac Haas if they end up squaring off in the Round of 32.

When it comes down to it, I expect mostly chalk as Villanova will square off against West Virginia and Purdue will take on Texas Tech. Villanova-West Virginia is set up to be an absolute war as Press Virginia will have some early success against the Wildcats. I was tempted to go with the Mountaineers, but the big question is whether they can get enough offense to catapult them into the next round. I don’t think so.

Purdue-Texas Tech is clash of styles. Tech is a defensive juggernaut and Purdue can score with the best of them. Purdue’s biggest weakness is defending the pick and roll, as Haas struggles with lateral quickness on the perimeter. Look for Tech to utilize high ball screens to scramble Purdue’s defense and have some success. Tech will advance in a nail-biter.

Tech will look to slow down the pace against Villanova in the Elite Eight, work their defense through off-ball screens and run the Wildcats off of the three point line. However, Tech’s offense will stall during the final ten minutes of the game and Mikal “Big Shot” Bridges will send the Wildcats to the Final Four with his clutch play down the stretch.

Midwest Region

The Midwest is most certainly the region of death. At the one spot, we have Kansas led by Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham. Graham’s development has been nothing short of breathtaking. Graham has anchored this Jayhawk unit by scoring 17.3 points and dishing out 7.5 assists per game. Graham has the ability to lead Coach Bill Self past the Elite Eight this season.

There are two big factors for this Kansas squad. The first lies in the health of Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike sprained his left MCL in practice before the Big 12 Tournament. Azubuike has been a dominant force in the paint for the Jayhawks, averaging 13.7 points on 77.4 percent shooting and grabbing 7.1 rebounds. Silvio De Sousa, Azubuike’s replacement, showed Self that he can provide strong rebounding and post scoring off of the bench. De Sousa torched West Virginia in the Big 12 title game with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman’s offensive consistency is critical as well. Newman lit the lamp throughout the Big 12 Tournament from beyond the arc, relieving Svi Mykhailiuk and Graham of some of the offensive burden. Newman averaged 24 points throughout the Big 12 Tournament. If Newman continues this hotstreak, watch out.

Duke and Michigan State appear to be on a crash course for a Sweet Sixteen clash. Michigan State has been the most popular pick to emerge out of this region. Michigan State is a deep team that has a dangerous front court in Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward. Miles Bridges runs the show in East Lansing, averaging 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Bridges is an incredible athlete, but struggles to create off of the dribble against press defense and falls in love with his jump shot from time to time.

Duke’s season turned around ever since Coach K implemented the 2-3 zone. According to KenPom, Duke is ranked seventh in the nation in defensive efficiency, a stunning turnaround for a team that was putrid on the defensive end early on. Duke can score with any team in the nation most nights. Duke’s frontcourt, featuring ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley and lottery pick Wendell Carter, is a fearsome duo that can be difficult to slow down. Grayson Allen is a marksman from deep, too.

Malik Newman’s offensive consistency is key for Kansas (Shane Keyser/The Kansas City Star).

Duke bowed out of the ACC Tournament with an ugly loss to UNC 74-69. Many people expected Duke to storm past an inferior Tar Heel team (including myself). Theo Pinson and Luke Maye shredded Duke’s 2-3 zone by finding the soft spot in the middle. If Duke runs into a team that solves the 2-3, they could be going home early.

The team most susceptible to an upset in this region is Auburn. Auburn squares off against an underrated Charleston team. Auburn got outclassed by Collin Sexton and Alabama in the SEC quarterfinals. The Tigers got outscored by 28 points in the second half and looked atrocious on defense. If Auburn’s three pointers are not falling, don’t be surprised if they bow out early.

My Sweet Sixteen consists of Kansas-Clemson and Duke-MSU. Kansas will squeak by a tough match-up against either NC State or Seton Hall (I have NC State in my bracket) and then breeze through an outmatched Clemson to Self’s third straight Elite Eight.

Duke-Michigan State could be one of the best games of the Tournament and will have a Final Four atmosphere to it. Fun fact: Tom Izzo is a mere 1-11 against Coach K during his career. This game feels like a toss-up, but I’m sending Duke to the Elite Eight. Duke has faced superior competition all year and has more talent. Michigan State will look to attack the 2-3 utilizing Jaren Jackson, so look out for him to have a big game. Duke will get hot from three and ride Bagley to the Elite Eight.

The ride will end their for the Blue Devils. It seems that pundits across America have implicitly agreed to send the winner of Duke-MSU to the Final Four. Kansas has the tools to shred Duke’s 2-3 zone. Look for Self to work the zone inside-out with either Legerald Vick or Mykhailiuk manning the high post. Newman, Graham and Mykhailiuk are three point assassins and could light Duke up from beyond the arc. De Sousa will be the X-factor and will contain Bagley enough to send Self to an unlikely Final Four.

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Recapping the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament

What a day of basketball! With big games occurring all around the nation, most college basketball fans had their eyes fixated on the Big Ten semifinals. While both games lacked the explosiveness and drama of the quarterfinals, fans will be in for a treat as Michigan and Purdue will square off for all the glory in the title game. Let’s look back and recap how it all went down.

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Michigan

Recapping the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament

Moe Wagner’s big second half helped Michigan topple Michigan State (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports).

The Wolverines ended the Spartans 13-game winning streak with a 75-64 victory. Michigan came out of the gates firing as they jumped out to a quick 13-4 lead behind two three-pointers from Charles Matthews. However, the Spartans quickly responded and took a 16-14 lead. For the remainder of the first half, the teams played each other evenly as the Spartans took a 29-26 lead at the intermission.

The story of the first half was Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines had two long scoring droughts and Moe Wagner went into the break with one point on zero-for-eight shooting. If Michigan were to keep pace with the Spartans, they would need some offensive spark from their versatile big man.

Michigan Coach Beilein recognized this and ran multiple set plays for Wagner coming out of the gate. Eventually Zavier Simpson threw a picture-perfect pass leading the big man to an open lay-up and that opened the flood gates. Wagner ended the game with 15 points on 28.5 percent shooting and eight rebounds.

The key to Michigan’s offensive development have been the recent play of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson. Abdur-Rahkman’s ability to either take his man off of the dribble or knock down shots from beyond the arc forces his defender to play him honestly. Simpson, effectively Michigan’s point guard, has steadied the offense and worked to create opportunities for his teammates in favorable situations.

As for Michigan State, this loss eliminates any hope for a potential one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Miles Bridges struggled for most of the game, only finding his jumper late. One knock on Bridges has been that he falls in love with the jump shot. Rather than capitalize on a smaller Michigan team guarding him, he kept pulling up from outside. Bridges ended up with 17 points and 7 rebounds.

One strategy that seemed to work for the Spartans was utilizing Jaren Jackson Jr. underneath the basket. Early on, the Wolverines had difficulty preventing Jackson from obtaining offensive rebounds. However, especially in the second half, Jackson received limited playing time and the Spartans offense stagnated.

Michigan will now have the opportunity to defend their 2017 Big Ten championship and significantly boost its stock heading into Selection Sunday.

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 7 Penn State

Recapping the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament

Carsen Edwards steered Purdue to a dominant second half (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports).

This match-up created a lot of intrigue heading into the semifinals. Could the upstart Nittany Lions stun a top-10 Boilermaker team loaded with offensive play-makers? It was not meant to be for Penn State, as Purdue took care of business in the second half to win by a score of 78-70.

The early goings of this game was a defensive slugfest as neither team could find any rhythm on the offensive end. Both Tony Carr of Penn State and Carsen Edwards of Purdue had difficulty finding space and creating scoring opportunities. However, the play of Shep Garner, who poured in 33 points by the end of the contest, vaulted Penn State to a seven point lead near the end of the half. However, Purdue stole a two point lead going into halftime thanks to a couple of big shots from Edwards and a technical foul on Penn State Coach Pat Chambers.

Carsen Edwards took over this game in the second half. Edwards was unconscious from three-point range, shooting six of nine from deep. Edwards poured in 27 points on 50 percent shooting, hauled in four rebounds and dished out two assists. Edwards creates mismatches on offense thanks to his versatility. His range is unlimited and his ball handling skills allow him to blow past defenders that solely play the shot.

The smaller Penn State had difficulty handling seven-foot-two Isaac Haas. Without Michael Watkins, the Nittany Lions were outmatched in the post and Haas manhandled them down low. Haas scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots.

Penn States’ MVP, Tony Carr, struggled all afternoon. P.J. Thompson did a masterful job of slowing down Carr, who was arguably the Tournament’s MVP up to date. Carr ended the game with 12 points on 22.2 percent shooting. Thompson crowded Carr, forcing him to beat Thompson off of the dribble. Carr, a more methodical player, was ineffective at blowing past Thompson and struggled to create space.

Purdue can enhance its Tournament resume and make a case for a top seed in the Tournament by defeating Michigan in the title game.

 

Featured image by Brad Fedie/247Sports.

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Big Ten Tournament Semifinal predictions

After an exciting quarterfinals in Madison Square Garden, the Big Ten Tournament semifinals looks to put forth some exhilarating basketball. Both games feature rematches from earlier this season as the Michigan State Spartans look to avenge their home loss to the upstart Michigan Wolverines back on Jan. 13. Meanwhile, the Penn State Nittany Lions look to lock down an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament by sending Purdue packing early.

Who will advance to the title game? Let’s dive in and make some predictions!

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Michigan

Big Ten Tournament Semifinal Predictions

Moe Wagner and the Wolverines may be the hottest team in NCAAB (Kirtmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press).

This is the match-up everyone around the Big Ten hoped for. Back on Jan. 13, the Wolverines invaded East Lansing and knocked out Michigan State 82-72. Moe Wagner put up a career-best 27 points on 61.5 percent shooting. Zavier Simpson also demonized the Spartans with 16 points and five assists.

One of the big reasons the Wolverines walked out of East Lansing with a victory was their ability to limit the Spartans from beyond the arc. As a team, Michigan State averages shooting 41.8 percent from deep. However, Michigan’s top 10 defense limited them to only 23.1 percent from three.

For both teams heading into this match-up avoiding foul trouble will be critical. Opposing teams understand that the best way to defeat Michigan is to lure them into foul trouble. As great as the Wolverine defense is, it can be undisciplined at times. Moe Wagner, in particular, averages three personal fouls per game. Michigan State should go to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward early to try to bait Wagner into early fouls.

Look for Michigan State to utilize Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson on offense heavily throughout the day. Bridges and Jackson each scored 19 points, with Jackson shooting 13 free throws, in their previous meeting. Bridges thrives when playing in space as he can properly use his athleticism to create an advantage over his defenders. Michigan needs to play tight, physical defense all afternoon on Bridges and force him to become a distributor rather than a scorer.

Prediction: This could end up being the most entertaining game of the Tournament. Look for Spartan Coach Tom Izzo to have his team on razor-edge heading into this rematch after a disappointing showing against Wisconsin. Michigan State should have success working through Jackson on the block as his athleticism and physicality will create a mismatch for the Wolverines.

However, Michigan is playing its best basketball of the year. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will create problems for the Spartans on the wing and Wagner’s versatility will be difficult to handle. When the game is on the line though, the Wolverine defense will come through and send Coach John Beilein back to the Big Ten title game. Michigan 72, Michigan State 69.

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 7 Penn State

Big Ten Tournament Semifinal Predictions

Tony Carr has been unstoppable in the Big Ten Tournament (Abbie Parr/Getty Images).

Penn State entered the Tournament as a dark horse candidate that could make a run to the title game. However, No. 8 Purdue represents a more daunting challenge than an Ohio State team that they had defeated twice this year. Purdue got the better of Penn State on Feb. 18 at the Mackey Arena by a score of 76-73. In that game, Purdue was without Vincent Edwards, who scored 26 points against Rutgers last night.

The story of this game is the match-up between Big Ten All-American first team selections Tony Carr and Carsen Edwards. Carr went toe-to-toe with Keita Bates-Diop last night and emerged victorious. Carr is undeniably the hottest player in the Big Ten at the moment, averaging 25 points, six rebounds and four and a half assists. Carr is at his best in an iso set where he can lull his defender to sleep and create opportunities for himself or his teammates.

However, Purdue is ranked third in offensive efficiency according to KenPom. The Boilermakers are lethal from three point range, as Rutgers can attest to. They started off the game only one for eight, but caught fire down the stretch. Carsen Edwards can beat opponents in numerous different ways. He averaged 18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists during the season.

The key to this match-up lies in how the Nittany Lions will slow down Isaac Haas and how Purdue keeps Penn State off of the offensive glass. Without Michael Watkins, Coach Pat Chambers will have his work cut out for him in devising a way to slow down Haas. Purdue surrender 17 offensive rebounds to Rutgers, allowing them to stay within striking distance for much of the second half. They have to do a better job at rebounding as a team if they want a chance to play for a championship.

Prediction: Much like Michigan State, Purdue did not have the best showing last night against Rutgers. Coach Matt Painter needs to have his team focused and locked in from the get-go. This Penn State team understands the stakes at play. A win would lock them into the big dance, but a loss leaves things up for chance.

Penn State will rely on Carr to continue befuddling opponents along with strong three point shooting from Shep Garner and Josh Reaves. However, Purdue has the weapons to force Penn State into foul trouble early. Look for the Nittany Lions to put a scare into Purdue and keep things close, but the Boilermakers will ultimately move on to play in the championship. Purdue 78, Penn State, 73.

 

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Recapping the early games of the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals

The Big Ten Tournament is heating up. On a snowy Friday in New York, the eight remaining teams in the tournament provided fans with an exciting spectacle of drama and offensive firepower. Both teams reigning from Michigan proved superior and are set up for an epic rematch in the world’s most famous arena tomorrow. Let’s dive right in and see what happened today.

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Wisconsin

Recapping the Early Games of Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals

Miles Bridges is a big reason why Michigan State is moving on to the Semi-Finals (Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports).

In a surprisingly exhilarating, back-and-forth affair, the Spartans escaped by the skin of their teeth against Wisconsin by a score of 63-60. Wisconsin came into this game playing with house money while the lofty expectations seemed to weigh down on Michigan State. Every time Michigan State tried to pull away, Wisconsin would counter with a run of their own.

The story of the game for Michigan State was the play of sophomore phenomenon Miles Bridges. Bridges, after struggling in the early goings of the second half, caught fire in the remaining 10 minutes. Bridges poured in 20 points on 47 percent shooting and hauled in nine rebounds.

Critics have knocked Bridges throughout the year, claiming that he was purely athletic and lacked the skill necessary to lead a team in March. Bridges had the last laugh this afternoon, however, as he showcased his consistent three-point shooting ability, knocking down three of four attempts from beyond the arc. While his ability to consistently knock down mid-range and three-point jumpers really carried Michigan State today, Bridges still has difficulty creating opportunities off the dribble, especially when facing the double team.

Ethan Happ was magnificent for the Badgers all afternoon. Despite picking up two early fouls, Happ schooled Michigan State’s post defense all game. He scored 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson struggled to contain Happ in single coverage.

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State’s dynamic freshman, spent the majority of the game on the bench as he fell into early foul trouble. He only played a total of 15 minutes which is not a recipe for success for the Spartans. However, in the final four minutes, Jackson, in his final two minutes of playing time, came up big with an and-one opportunity.

Poor free throw shooting proved to be the dagger for Wisconsin. The Badgers had numerous opportunities from the line down the stretch to pull even with the Spartans, but they could not convert. Khalil Iverson and Ethan Happ each missed two huge free throws with under two minutes to play.

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo has to be pleased to escape with a win, but the Spartans will need their A-game if they want to avenge their regular season loss to Michigan in the semifinals. In particular, Joshua Langford needs to assert himself more on offense. Langford looked confused and unsure of himself on offense, either with or without the ball. Langford averages 12.2 points for the Spartans, but only scored four against Wisconsin.

No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Michigan

Recapping the Early Games of Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s vesratile play helped boost Michigan to the Semi-Finals (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY).

In a game that Nebraska had to have to boost its NCAA Tournament stock, the Cornhuskers got outclassed by a superior, hungry Wolverine team. Michigan defeated Nebraska 77-58 in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

Michigan came out of the gates blazing hot. They scorched Nebraska from beyond the arc and their defense devoured the Cornhuskers on defense, forcing them into contested shots. After a sluggish performance against Iowa, Coach Beilein was riding his team from the get-go. The energy and tempo of the Wolverines overwhelmed the Cornhuskers in the first half.

There was not a single Wolverine player that completely dominated as it was a team effort on both ends of the court. Michigan was lights out from three, with Moe Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all making two. Quick, decisive ball movement torched the Cornhusker man-to-man defense for the first 15 minutes in the first half. Michigan increased their lead up to 18 in the first.

The tide shifted when Nebraska Coach Tim Miles switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense. This movement stagnated a Michigan offense that was clicking all first half. Big Ten All American first team player James Palmer slowly began to find his groove on offense. He methodically worked the Michigan defense inside and out, resulting in numerous trips to the free throw line.

Palmer’s play continued to carry Nebraska’s offense in the second half, as the Cornhuskers slowly crawled their way to a seven point deficit. However, Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman slammed the door on Nebraska’s comeback. Wagner tortured the Cornhuskers’ defense all afternoon with his inside-outside motion playing style. Abdur-Rahkman’s senior experience and leadership steadied the ship for the Wolverines.

Abdur-Rahkman poured in a game-high 21 points while Wagner added a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Big 10 sixth player of the year Duncan Robinson knocked in four three-pointers while scoring 16 points. This Wolverine team is peaking at the right time. Check in later tonight for the second half of the quarterfinal recap and tomorrow morning for a semifinal preview.

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March Madness conference tournaments

Bring on the conference tournaments

It’s almost March and almost conference tournament play. Conference tournament play is where teams stock both rises and falls. Teams can play their way into the NCAA tournament field with either an automatic bid or by improving their resume. They also could fall off the radar completely.

A loss in a conference tournament could end a team’s NCAA tournament hopes once and for all. Here are a few teams that have the most on the line moving into conference tournament play.

Conference play

Conference play is a preview of the NCAA tournament. It’s a time where teams in power conference play can play three to five games in as many days. Conference play is sometimes more competitive than the NCAA tournament due to the familiarity teams have with each other.

In some cases, teams are seeing each other for the third time this season. Seeing a team three times makes it very competitive cause teams know each other so well. Conference play is important for teams trying to find an identity and for gaining momentum.

Teams like UConn led by Kemba Walker come to mind. Not only did they play their way into the tournament by winning the Big East that season, they ended up running the table and winning the NCAA tournament. They won 11 straight games and became the hottest team in college basketball at the perfect time.

Needing some help

St. Bonaventure: Well the Bonnies need a little help. They are 22-6 overall and 12-4 in conference and are second to only Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10. The Bonnies need to at least advance to the A-10 championship game, if not win the conference tournament.

The loss that hurt them the most so far was against 19-12 Niagara on opening night. The team is led by Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who are two of the top scorers in the conference. They are +7.7 this season in point differential and allow less than 70 points per game this season.

UCLA: The Bruins need to do some work in the Pac-12 tournament. Right now the Bruins resume is lacking a ton of wow factor. Two bad loses that they have are against the same team, Colorado.

The one impressive thing for UCLA is they are 3-0 against the top two teams in the conference in Arizona and Oregon. If UCLA can find a way to get to their conference tournament championship, win or lose, they could build a good enough resume through that and find themselves on the right side of the bubble come selection Sunday.

Playing to the top

March Madness conference tournaments

(Photo from CSmonitor.com)

Ohio State: The Buckeyes have been in and out of the top 25 all season. They are the No. 2 team in a very solid Big Ten. The Buckeyes have a very solid resume and only have two average loses to the Penn State. With the Big Ten getting stronger top to bottom, there is a chance that the Buckeyes could run the table and possibly contend for a one seed in a region.

All they need to do is win games against Purdue and Michigan State and even Michigan (they have beaten all of these teams already), and the committee has to take the Buckeyes seriously.

Auburn: Maybe the biggest surprise this season has been Auburn. They have six wins against the RPI top 50 and are the one seed heading into the SEC tournament. The Tigers are 3-0 against the RPI top 25 and have a 17-5 record against the RPI top 150 overall. They have a record of 24-5 overall and only have one bad loss to South Carolina.

They continue to lead the way in a very balanced conference that could get as many as eight teams into the NCAA tournament. If the Tigers can run through the gauntlet that is the SEC and win the entire conference tournament as well as the regular season, it would be hard to put them anywhere but in a one seed position.

March is almost here

Well it’s almost tournament time. Whether it’s conference tournaments or the NCAA tournament, the best time of year for college basketball fans is finally here. March is a time for teams to rise and other teams to fall. Pretenders fade and the true contenders emerge.

March is a magical time where cinderellas dance and the tougher teams find a way to win. The most exciting time for college basketball is almost among us, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

Featured image from USA Today.

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NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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Early season review: the ACC is loaded

Preview:

Well college basketball just kicked off and the Atlantic Coast Conference is shaping up to be one of if not the toughest in college basketball. Currently there are five top 15 teams, four undefeated teams and every team in the conference is .500 or above.

The conference overall is 95-21 and won the ACC vs Big Ten: 11-2. Although that is no feat for the ACC because they have won the last 10 meetings of that challenge, it shows the strength of the conference. They are 6-4 as a whole against top 25 teams, 5-2 if you don’t count Michigan State who has beaten Notre Dame and UNC.

The conference also holds 10 of the 50 Wooden Watch players this season. So just how good is the ACC and will they prove to be top heavy as the season goes on?

Ranked:

Atlantic Coast Conference

Matt Farrell, (Usa Today Sports).

Duke: Duke has struggled at times on the defensive end. They had to take a Texas team to overtime and looked defeated on the road at Indiana. They have an unbelievable offense with tons of weapons, but defensively they have let teams score on them at high rates. The Blue Devils seem to lock down on defense when it matters, but they are allowing lesser teams to hang around with them in the early going.

Miami: Miami beat Minnesota pretty handily in their own place and have looked extremely balanced. As of right now it looks like they need another potent scorer. They allow just the fourth most points against in the country and look to have a winning formula moving forward.

Notre Dame: The Irish are interesting. Matt Farrell, Tj Gibbs and Bonzie Colson lead the charge for the Fighting Irish. They are a relatively undersized team that can shoot the ball at all positions. If one of the three listed above struggle to score the Irish struggle. They do have a strong win against Wichita State which makes up for their somewhat blowout loss against Michigan State.

North Carolina: Speaking of blowout losses to Michigan State, the Tar Heels have been led by Luke Maye who has three Double- Doubles and is dominating the glass. They are the seventh best rebounding team in the country which has made up for their struggles from behind the arch.

Virginia: The Cavaliers win their games like they always do, in low scoring fashion. Opponents are scoring 50.6 points per game which is the lowest against any team in all of Division 1 basketball. Unfortunately like most Virginia teams in years past they struggle to score. Thus, giving opponents opportunities to hang around in games late.

The Middle Tier with Potential:

Florida State: The undefeated Seminoles haven’t played a very hard schedule thus far. Their toughest game is a road win at Rutgers who hasn’t been very good in recent years. They are in the top 20 in points per game and have many different scorers who can hit you in waves. They have five players who average 11 point a game or more and are led by Terance Mann.

Clemson: The Tigers have been playing solid basketball. They have a great win against Ohio State on the road. They are a much better defensive team then they are on offense but are very athletic and can beat teams out in transition if you let them.

Virginia Tech: Justin Bibbs helps lead the way for Buzz Wiliams and the Hokies. The Hokies are the opposite of the Tigers. They average 97 points a game and have five guys that are above 10 points per game. They aren’t extremely efficient on defense and struggle rebounding the ball. Making it tough for them to hold off teams with bigger front courts.

Syracuse: Well the final contestant is the Orange. Defense wins championships and the Orange have rebounded and defended at a high level this season. They are in the top 24 in both of those categories and have proven that the zone can lock down. The length in the zone will cause problems for teams like North Carolina who haven’t shot the ball as well to kick off the season.

Prediction:

9-10 teams have the potential to make the NCAA tournament. As of right now it is safe to assume 6 of them get in. With the strength in conference being so high, ACC teams have a chance to make it come March.

There are quite a few teams in this conference with deep run potential and I would even be surprised if Duke ran the table. Only time will tell but for now, what we do know? The ACC is the deepest conference in college basketball.

 

Featured Image ESPN.com.

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Duke Basketball

This Duke team is scary good

I know what you’re going to say. How can you judge a prestigious team like Duke when they play schools like Elon and Utah Valley? Of course they are supposed to blow them out because they are the Duke Blue Devils with one of the best coaches in the history of the sport and a top recruiting class year after year.

However, with just two games under their belt, this team looks poised for a National Championship.

How are these Blue Devils different from last year’s team?

Although Duke became the first ACC team to win four games in four days on their way to winning the ACC Tournament, the season was a disappointment, as they fell to South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Duke basketball

As talented as the 2016-17 Duke team was, the season was a disappointment (Photo from News and Observer)

Going into the year, according to ESPN.com, Duke had the No. 2 recruiting class, highlighted by players like Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson, who were all drafted in this past NBA Draft. They also returned Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson.

Despite these big names, injuries and lack of consistency haunted this Duke team throughout the season. Allen was constantly in the headlines for tripping people, and Harry Giles was never able to be a real factor.

Fast forward to this season and in walks a fresh new breed of elite talent. Because of the one-and-done era, the best players attend a school for one season before departing to the NBA. If you watched the first two games, make sure to not fall in love with some of the players because a few of their names will be called in next year’s NBA Draft.

 

Big Men on Campus

According to ESPN’s Top 100, a list that complies the top 100 incoming freshmen for this season, Duke owns the first, fifth, sixth and eighth ranked players. The No. 1 ranked player, Marvin Bagley III, is a 6-foot-11, athletic freak. Bagley, who is originally from Phoenix, reclassified this August so that he could graduate high school and attend Duke this fall.

Duke basketball

The possible first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Marvin Bagley III (Zagsblog)

This past season for Sierra Canyon High School, Bagley averaged 24.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. This kid can do it all, and NBA stars like Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, and Lamar Odom had a front-row seat to his dominance, as they all attended Sierra Canyon games while Bagley was playing.

Over the summer, Bagley spent time in the Drew League, competing against players like DeMar DeRozan, JaVale McGee, Julius Randle and Baron Davis. In a game against a team led by DeRozan, Bagley erupted for 32 points and 11 boards. He also participated in the league’s All-Star game, knocking down 18 points and corralled 20 rebounds.

In his first two collegiate games, Bagley has been nothing short of impressive. His 49 points are tied with Jabari Parker for most points by a freshman over the first two games of their Duke career. He is also averaging 10 rebounds a game. Bagley has a real shot to be the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Another big man, Wendell Carter Jr., the fifth ranked player in his recruiting class, is projected to be a top-10 pick in the draft. Because of Bagley, Carter’s talent may be swept under the rug in the public eye, but Duke knows the 6-foot-10, 260 pound freshman is a stud. Carter is a mobile big man, who can score with both hands in traffic and has no problem going hard to draw fouls. He is an exceptional rebounder, as he has tallied up 13 boards in his two games.

Exceptional Guard Play

The other two big names in this recruiting class, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, have both found immediate success at the collegiate level. Trent Jr. is the son of former NBA player, Gary Trent. He appears to be lights out from deep, as he has started the season 7-for-13 from three. Through two games, Trent Jr. is averaging 17 points per game.

Duke basketball

Tricky Tre! (Photo from KSL.com)

The reason for Duke’s struggles last season was mostly due to the fact that they were without a true ball handler. If you think back to their past two championships, both teams had a dominant ball handler. They had Nolan Smith in 2010 and Tyus Jones in 2015. Insert “Tricky” Trevon Duval.

Duval, a super athletic point guard, has exceptional handles and is as quick as they come. “Tricky” looks like a a combination of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, as he flies around the floor and has already shown his freakish athleticism. Duval does not shy away from contact, and defends well. His 20 assists in his first two games is the new Duke freshman record, eclipsing Chris Duhon’s 12 from the 2001 season. Duval has also only turned the ball over just one time.

The four freshman scored 58 of Duke’s 97 points against Elon. In their last matchup against Utah Valley, Duke’s first 40 points were scored by freshmen, as well as every single point during their 27-8 run in the middle of the first half.

 

What about the rest?

Somehow, we have managed to go this far into an article without mentioning the great Grayson Allen. Allen, who had somewhat of a down season last year, is determined to put up big numbers in his senior year. In the home opener, Allen lit it up, scoring 22 points, including 6-for-9 from deep. He kept the momentum going against Utah Valley, scoring 18 on 7-for-11 shooting.

In 2009-10, seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas all played crucial parts in the championship run. In 2014-15, we saw Quinn Cook show exceptional leadership, as he kept the team focused on their way to the title. Allen, who played a pivotal part in the 2015 National Championship, is ready to lead this young group of stars.

This team reminds me a lot of the 2014-15 team. That team, led by the three exceptional freshmen, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, was a young, talented team like this year’s squad. Based off the first two games, this Duke freshman class could be the best we have ever seen.

Players like Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell, Marques Bolden and Jordan Goldwire will all play vital roles in helping this team accomplish their goals.

Tonight, Duke will square off against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago in the Champions Classic.

 

Featured image by Naples Herald

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College basketball Tuesday

Previewing the first Tuesday of college basketball

College basketball is back and not a moment too soon. The first Tuesday of the season has four of the top five teams in the country squaring off. Many see the Duke and Michigan State game as a possible National Championship preview.

The second game features Kentucky and Kansas, who are almost always title contenders. All four of these teams are looking at this season as a championship or bust.

Duke and Michigan State

This first matchup is the one that everyone wants to see. Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils take on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans in Chicago on Tuesday night. This is a matchup between the two best college basketball teams as of right now. This features two of the greatest coaches that college basketball has to offer, as well as four of the best players in college basketball this season.

College basketball Tuesday

Tom Izzo (Photo from Sportingnews.com)

Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley are all players who are on the Wooden watch list. More than likely, two of them will matchup against each other head-to-head. Both Bridges and Allen have been stars throughout their college careers, and Bagley and Jackson come in as some of the hottest freshmen in the sport. Bridges and Bagley will probably draw a matchup in which everyone wants to see on opening night.

Ultimately, this will be a battle of youth (and Allen) against the strong Spartan sophomore class. Duke has the best freshman class, maybe in the history of college basketball. However, Michigan State is getting Jaren Jackson as well as bringing back their entire sophomore class that was one of the best recruiting classes last season.

This also spotlights a great coaching matchup. Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo are two tremendous coaches. Even though the season just started, I’m sure there are still sets they want to run and matchups they are looking to exploit.

I think that Michigan State comes out with a seven-point win here. Duke is extremely young and has only gotten to mesh for two games. The majority of Michigan State’s players were together last season, so they are more familiar with each other. Duke hasn’t experienced a game like this yet as a whole.

Either way, this will be a very entertaining game, and one that many of us college basketball fans are looking to see come early April.

Kansas and Kentucky

This is another great game. Kansas and Kentucky are always in the hunt for a National Championship every year. This season is no different. Both teams are extremely young and look to be led in different ways.

Kansas is led by Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick, who are both returning guards. Both can shoot the basketball and are versatile defenders.

Kentucky doesn’t really have a ton of experience. They bring back Wenyen Gabriel, but are extremely young from a production category. They have been led by freshman guard Hamidou Diallo and don’t have a single senior on their roster. Kentucky’s youth probably doesn’t surprise you if you’ve watched them the last several seasons, but they are young and talented.

I think this one is similar to the first game. Kentucky always seems to struggle right out of the gates just enough for every analyst to say that they aren’t a team that will mesh well, and then they turn it on in mid-February and make some serious noise in March. I think this Kentucky team as of now lacks a leader, and that’s the only thing separating Kentucky from the other teams.

In the end, I have the Jayhawks over big blue by 11. Why double digits? I really think that the key to winning in college basketball is having multiple scorers and strong guard play. At this point, Kansas for a fact has that. Kentucky does as well, but it’s not as certain. Kentucky’s guards are also freshmen who don’t have big game experience. Devonte’ Graham, their primary ball handler, has dealt with power conference guards for the past few seasons.

Experience trumps youth to start the season almost always, and I think this season is more the same.

 

Featured Image from USAtoday.com.

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Watch out for the Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. They have built their team through previous drafts and now have added All-Star forward, Paul Millsap.

If the Nuggets were in the Eastern Conference, they would be getting a lot of attention. However in a loaded Western Conference they are overshadowed by already established talented teams.

What we have here is a team full of talent with an established leader looking to make it in a stacked Western Conference.

Emerging Talent

Denver Nuggets

Emmanuel Mudiay, Photo Courtesy of NBA.com.

As of this week, former Michigan State guard Gary Harris signed a four-year, $84 million contract extension. Harris has jumped into the starting shooting guard role for the Nuggets. He’s coming off his most efficient season in the league shooting 42 percent from three and 59 percent from the field overall. Averaging 14.9 points for the Nuggets, he is quickly turning into a consistent and lethal perimeter threat.

Nikola Jokic averaged nearly a double-double in 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in 73 games for the Nuggets. His most interesting statistic is that he averages 4.9 assists showing that he can set the table for others as well as create for himself.

Emmanuel Mudiay has matured his game in the two years of him being in the NBA. He has dropped his turnovers per game from 3.2 to 2.2 in just a year. He has also increased his assists per game from 3.9 to 4.8 as well. These two statistics show that he isn’t forcing things and adapting to the speed of the NBA. He also managed to shoot 11.4 percent better from the free throw line. This makes him more valuable because he can be on the floor in close games without hurting the team.

Jamal Murray provided instant offense for the Nuggets. In 22 minutes a game, he averaged 9.9 points and shot 33 percent from three. As a combo guard he can help give some rest to both Mudiay and Harris if they need it without skipping a beat.

Incoming Help

Paul Millsap decided to join the Denver Nuggets this offseason. Millsap adds versatility, the ability to stretch the floor as well as handle the ball when he needs to.

Millsap provides a leader and a proven All-Star to a young team filled with talent. For his career, he is a near double-double player who thrives in pick and pop situations.

The Nuggets have lost their highest scorer from last season in Danilo Galinari and as they look to transition into a legitimate playoff team they are looking for a new leading scorer. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic look to take back courts by storm and lead this young Nuggets team deep into the playoffs.

Previous Performances

There’s no doubt that the Nuggets have gotten better this summer. Paul Millsap helps a team that drastically needed a leader. The young talent has another year under their belt and the biggest strength of the Nuggets has proven to be their depth at power forward and center.

The Nuggets went 8-22 against Western Conference playoff teams last season. Last season they finished third in the NBA in scoring at 111 points per game.

However the problem came on the defensive end where it matters most. The Nuggets landed at 27th in the NBA in defensive points allowed.

They allowed 111.2 points per game which is less than their points for average. The Nuggets finished above the Lakers, Nets and Suns who all had much worse records than the Nuggets finished with. They were the third worst in defending the 3-point line and in an league where there are so many prolific shooters it could cost them important games down the stretch.

The solution here is Paul Millsap. Defending the paint and pick and rolls are vital to winning games in the NBA. Paul Millsap is very well known for doing both of those things. On a team that needs defensive help, Millsap will fit in seamlessly and pick the Nuggets up when they need it most.

The Denver Nuggets will be in a dogfight for what looks like the last few spots in the Western Conference. I like them to surprise some people and finish in the sixth spot coming out of the West. I think they have the talent and now have the leadership with Millsap. Look for the Nuggets to win around 48 wins and give a team a run for their money come playoff time.

 

Featured Image from Nugglove.com.

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