2018 NCAA Tournament bracketology 1/22/18

Conference play is now in session, which means a lot is known about college basketball teams already. There is still more to be known throughout conference play, as a lot of teams have already been upset in the first few weeks. The NCAA Tournament is just over two months away. Here is the latest NCAA Tournament bracketology. Click to zoom.

First four out: Syracuse, Maryland, Georgia, Washington

Next four out: Western Kentucky, Baylor, UCLA, St. Bonaventure

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The Hottest Team in College Basketball

College basketball has been impossible to predict as of late. Duke lost by 11 to a 10-5 North Carolina State team. Michigan State got steam rolled at Ohio State and then followed that up by barely beating Rutgers at home in overtime.

Last week every team in the top 10 lost besides two. The inconsistency of teams has fans grasping for some sort of certainty as we hit the middle of the college basketball season.

The number two ranked Mountaineers:

The West Virginia Mountaineers are now 15-1 this season. They are 3-0 in conference play and have rattled off 15 in a row after their opening night loss to Texas A&M. They are 2-1 against the top 25 and 2-0 against the top 15. The Mountaineers outscore teams by an average of 18 points a game.

As of January 13th they will be getting their second leading scorer from last season back. Esa Ahmad has been cleared by the NCAA to play. He had eligibility problems that cost him the first half of the 2017-2018 season, however he will make a return for the Mountaineers. Ahmad averaged just over 11 points a game last season and can help contribute to an already solid offense.

Press Virginia:

College Basketball

Jevon Carter, (Fansided.com).

Many teams struggle with West Virginia due to their grind it out press. The team presses every single defensive possession and gives no easy baskets. Opposing teams have to work for every single point they score, and that wears on a team. They give up the eighth most two point field goals in the country. Which if it wasn’t already obvious, nothing comes easy against this terrific defense.

The Mountaineers press forces nearly 22 turnovers a game which is good for 4th in the country. They themselves turn it over just 13 times a game which is 58th in the country on the other side. One of their major strengths is the way they dictate the pace. West Virginia doesn’t get tired when they play teams.

The backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles not only pick you up full court, but they also push the pace on offense. The team is eighth in the country in steals (10.9 per) and 10th in the country in offensive rebounds (14.7 per).

These two statistics in particular show just how well the backcourt dictates pace. Due to the speed of the guards the offensive rebounds are high, because the guards push it they create lots of space in the lane to crash the offensive boards.

When playing the number one ranked defense in college basketball the Mountaineers not only won the game but also won the defensive battle. They out shot the Virginia Cavaliers from the free throw line as well as from the three point line. They out rebounded the Cavaliers, and turned them over at a clip of 14 to the Mountaineers 10. The Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the country in protecting the ball, and the Mountaineers got a big win against a tough defense.

Jevon Carter:

It seems like Jevon Carter has been at West Virginia for forever. Well in today’s college basketball, he has been. He’s a four year senior who has increased his scoring every season he has been at West Virginia.

Carter is averaging 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds as well as 3.6 steals a game. He is the teams best defender and their leader. He does a little bit of everything for the Mountaineers but what he truly brings is both experience and structure.

Jevon is the go to guy for this West Virginia team. When they need a big basket, he’s the one to take it. When they need a defensive stop, he seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He contributes time and time again to making winning plays that keep this team afloat.

The Big 12:

West Virginia is leading the way in the best conference in college basketball. The Big 12 has more then half their teams inside the top 20. They have four teams in the top 12 and three in the top nine. A conference that used to be dominated by Kansas has now been the deepest and most competitive in college basketball.

With all the unpredictability in college basketball this season West Virginia has quietly sat back and executed. It hasn’t always been pretty or high scoring, but the Mountaineers have rattled off a fifteen game winning streak.

Experience in the backcourt, good coaching and great defense is always a good combination come both conference play and NCAA tournament play. Look for the Mountaineers to make a deep run and make people remember just how tough the “Press” Virginia defense is.

Featured image from ESPN.com.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

2018 NCAA Tournament bracketology 1/8/18

Conference play is now in session, which means a lot is known about college basketball teams already. There is still more to be known throughout conference play, as a lot of teams have already been upset in the first few weeks. The NCAA Tournament is just over two months away. Here is the latest NCAA Tournament bracketology. Click to zoom.

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl

Virginia and Navy will play in the 2017 Military Bowl. These two teams don’t usually produce NFL talent, but this season there are some quality players who are worth looking at. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl:

Virginia Cavaliers

Micah Kiser, LB

Kiser is a senior who has been producing for Virginia for the past three seasons. He has 397 total tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in his illustrious career. This season Kiser has impressed yet again with 132 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He is a big reason Virginia has been able to get to a bowl.

He has good size for the NFL at 6’2″ and 240 pounds. His run stopping and pass rushing is good for an inside linebacker, but he will need to prove he can cover. Kiser is probable to play in this game with a thumb injury.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Kurt Benkert, QB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl

Kurt Benkert (Photo by zimbio.com)

While Kiser is a great player, Benkert’s great season has put Virginia over the top. Benkert transferred to Virginia after not seeing the field at East Carolina and has made the most of his opportunity. In his two seasons at Virginia, Benkert has thrown for 5,672 yards, 46 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. This season he has 3,062 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Benkert needs to add some weight to prevent injury, but has a good frame to build off of at 6’4″ and 215 pounds. Accuracy will be an issue, as he completes less than 60% of his passes throughout his career. He has seen his stock rise a lot this season and will be drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 4th round-6th round

Navy Midshipmen

Micah Thomas, LB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Military Bowl

Micah Thomas (Photo by twitter.com)

Thomas has been really good for Navy the past two seasons. He has 263 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his career. This seasons Thomas has 81 total tackles with four tackles for loss. He is the best player on Navy’s defense and if given a shot, could make an NFL team.

He is 6’1″ and 240 pounds and looks the part of NFL linebacker. With players at the service academies it is always tough if they want to take a shot at professional sports because of their prior commitments to serve the country. Being that he is likely not going to get drafted, he may not be able to sign with a team because of this situation.

Projected draft range: undrafted free agent

 

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2017 Military Bowl preview

Virginia and Navy will meet in the 2017 Military Bowl in Anapolis, Maryland. This is a home game for Navy, but Virginia isn’t too far from the action either. With both teams being so close, a lot of fans should be in attendance. Here is the 2017 Military Bowl preview:

Virginia Cavaliers (6-6)

2017 Military Bowl preview

Micah Kiser (Photo by todaysu.com)

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has turned things around for the Cavaliers. They are playing in their first bowl game since 2011 and have a chance to win their first bowl game since 2005. Virginia’s notable wins include Mendenhall’s former team, Boise State, and Duke.

The offense scores a mundane 26 points per game. They really struggle running the football with 98.8 yards on the ground per game. Jordan Ellis leads the team with 799 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He averages only 3.9 yards per carry this season.

Kurt Benkert has stepped up his game this season and has had to carry the offense. He has 3,062 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His completion percentage is just under 60%, but teams usually key on stopping their passing game. Three receivers produce a lot for the Cavaliers including: Olamide Zaccheaus, Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling. Zaccheus stands out with 833 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

The Cavaliers allow 26.9 points per game this season, which is above average. They rank 82nd against the run and 15th against the pass. Linebacker Micah Kiser is the best player on the team. The Campbell Trophy winner has 132 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He is probable to play in this game with an injury.

Navy Midshipmen (6-6)

2017 Military Bowl

Zach Abey (Photo by usatoday.com)

Navy won five straight games to start the year, but were only able to win one game the rest of the season. They beat some solid teams in Florida Atlantic and SMU. It wasn’t Navy’s best season, but they were still able to become bowl eligible.

The triple option offense scores 31.6 points per game. They specialize in running the football with 343 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the country. Quarterback Zach Abey leads the team with 1,325 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Running back Malcolm Perry also picks up a lot of yards on the ground with 1,068 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Perry makes big plays and averages 8.8 yards per carry.

Navy doesn’t throw often, but Abey has 805 passing yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Perry and Tyler Carmona are the leading receivers and both have over 300 receiving yards.

The defense allows 27.9 points per game. They rank 66th against the run and 60th against the pass. Senior linebacker Micah Thomas has 81 total tackles and three interceptions as the leader of the defense.

Prediction

The triple option is tough to stop, but Virginia has had a lot of time to prepare for it. Kiser will play a huge role in slowing down Navy’s offense. Benkert will find time to hit receivers down the field to win the game.

Virginia Cavaliers 29 Navy Midshipmen 24

 

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National Signing Day 2017: ACC and Notre Dame

The ACC had a great year for football, which was capped off by a National Championship for the Clemson Tigers. Now it’s time to move over to see how the ACC Signing Day has gone. This will be throughout Signing Day. Here is how the teams rank:

1. Florida State Seminoles

Signees: 21, 5*: 3, 4*: 13, 3*: 5, Other: 0

The Seminoles have a solid class that should remain in the top ten, if not the top five, in the nation. Their class is headed by their two five-stars who are signed. Cam Akers is considered by some to be the best running back in the whole class and Joshua Kaindoh is also considered the number one defensive end in the class by some. Florida State targeted a lot of skill position players with plenty of running backs and wide receivers in the class, as well as secondary players. They are in the running for one more five-star recruit and many more four-star recruits.

Top Prospects Signed: DE Joshua Kaindoh (5*), RB Cam Akers (5*), DT Marvin Wilson (5*)

2. Clemson Tigers

Signees: 14, 5*: 0, 4*: 11, 3*: 3, Other: 0

Dabo Swinney has a championship and now, likely has a top ten recruiting class. Tee Higgins is the best committed player so far and will remind a lot of Tiger fans of Mike Williams at the wide receiver position. With Higgins, comes a very talented quarterback prospect in Hunter Johnson. The two will look to be the future of Clemson’s offense. Behind them, Clemson made sure to get depth for the trenches, on both the offensive and defensive line. While there are no five-star players considering them, the Tigers do have a lot of four-star prospects who could sign with them.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Hunter Johnson (4*), WR Tee Higgins (4*)

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Signees: 21, 5*: 0, 4*: 11, 3*: 10, Other: 0

Notre Dame needs better players after a lackluster 2016 season. They have done a solid job in recruiting so far and are looking to have a top 15 recruiting class. Brock Wright is a very talented tight end and Robert Hainsey is a great offensive guard. Those two recruits are the two best players the Fighting Irish have signed so far. Although the defense was a major problem last year, Notre Dame has a lot of offensive players signed in this class. There are a lot of standout prospects still considering the Irish, so they have a real chance to move up in the recruiting ranks.

Top Prospects Signed: TE Brock Wright (4*), LB Robert Hainsey (4*)

4. Miami Hurricanes

Signees: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 13, 3*: 11, Other: 0

Miami has a good recruiting class, in large part due to the number of commitments they already have. Defensive end D.J. Johnson is one of the best in the class and quarterback N’kosi Perry will provide an athletic quarterback as the two best commitments. Behind these players Miami has a very diversified class, as Mark Richt tries to fill the roster with his types of players. Richt has a chance to make this class even better by getting uncommitted players to choose the Hurricanes today.

Top Prospects Signed: WR Jeff Thomas (4*), DE D.J. Johnson (4*)

5. North Carolina Tar Heels

Signees: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 8, 3*: 11, Other: 0

Larry Fedora should have the recruits to feel good about his team again heading into the 2017 season. Billy Ross and Jonah Melton are two good offensive line prospects, while Jake Lawler is a good defensive line prospect. The Tar Heels have a well-rounded class, with plenty of players who still may choose to go to school their.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Billy Ross (4*), DE Jake Lawler (4*)

6. Virginia Tech Hokies

Signees: 26, 5*: 0, 4*: 5, 3*: 19, Other: 2

Justin Fuente has put together a pretty good crop of players for his first full recruiting class. With 27 commitments, they have a deep class. Nathan Proctor is their top recruit and plays outside linebacker. Devon Hunter is also a talented safety recruit. Even though they have a lot of players committed, they have more considering becoming a Hokie.

Top Prospects Signed: LB Nathan Proctor (4*), S Devon Hunter (4*)

7. Louisville Cardinals

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

The Cardinals had an impressive 2016 campaign and need some more talent to help them cap off a season with an ACC Championship. C.J. Avery is a safety who will help out with all of their departures in the secondary. Justin Marshall will be, yet another good target for Lamar Jackson to throw to.

Top Prospects Signed: S C.J. Avery (4*), WR Justin Marshall (4*)

8. Pittsburgh Panthers

Signees: 25, 5*: 0, 4*: 5, 3*: 16, Other: 4

Pittsburgh has a good class for Pat Narduzzi’s second full year of recruiting. The class is led by a great athlete in Paris Ford and a good running back in Todd Sibley. Running back A.J. Davis is confident he can have an instant impact for the Panthers due to being familiar with their blocking schemes. There is a lot of focus on offense in this class, which will be beneficial for Pitt, due to a lot of players moving on to the next level.

Top Prospects Signed: ATH Paris Ford (4*), RB A.J. Davis (4*)

9. Duke Blue Devils

Signees: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 3, 3*: 19, Other: 1

David Cutcliffe has done wonders with Duke and now has a chance at a top 40 recruiting class to help him in the future. Jake Marwede will be a tight end that may see the field early for the Blue Devils.  Safety Drew Jordan and outside linebacker Damani Neal will also have a chance to play next season as incoming freshmen. With a lot of good offensive players in the class, Duke should have good depth for Cutcliffe on at least one side of the ball.

Top Prospects Signed: TE Jake Marwede (4*), LB Drew Jordan (4*)

10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Signees: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 4, 3*: 18, Other: 2

Georgia Tech is coming off a bowl win over Kentucky and will be looking to become ACC Title contenders again soon. They focused on mostly defense in this class, but their best player is offensive. Running back Bruce-Jordan Swilling will look to get a lot of touches in the triple option attack.

Top Prospects Signed: CB Jaytlin Askew (4*), RB Bruce Jordan-Swilling (4*)

11. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Signees: 22, 5*: 0, 4*: 1, 3*: 18, Other: 3

The Wolfpack had a good season last year, but is still looking to make their recruiting class better. Dual-Threat quarterback Matt McKay is their only four-star commitment so far, but he should be a good player at the college level. NC State has several other decent offensive prospects in the class as well.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Matt McKay (4*), LB Louis Acceus (3*)

12. Virginia Cavaliers

Signees: 27, 5*: 0, 4*: 3, 3*: 19, Other: 5

Bronco Mendenhall has put together a solid first recruiting class for the Cavaliers so far. Two four-star athletes lead the recruiting class in Shawn Smith and Germane Crowell. There are a lot of positions represented, but if the Cavaliers want to compete in the future, they need to get some more players on the offensive line.

Top Prospects Signed: ATH Germane Crowell (4*), ATH Shawn Smith (4*)

13. Syracuse Orange

Signees: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 1, 3*: 19, Other: 4

Syracuse may rank at 13 in the ACC, for now, but they have an average class nationally. Quarterback Tommy Devito is their only four-star, but can be a program changer as a signal caller. He competed in the elite 11 quarterback camp last summer. The Orange have a lot of solid offensive players in the class, as things currently stand.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Tommy Devito (4*), WR Sharod Johnson (3*)

14. Boston College Eagles

Commitments: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 0, 3*: 15, Other: 5

It looks like it will be another year near the bottom of the recruiting ranks for the Eagles. Three-star players C.J. Lewis (QB) and A.J. Dillon (RB) are the best players in the class, but will likely not see the field early on in their careers.

Top Prospects Signed: QB C.J. Lewis (3*), RB A.J. Dillon (3*)

15. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Commitments: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 0, 3*: 17, Other: 3

Wake Forest had a good season on the field in 2016, but that didn’t translate to the recruiting trail. It will be hard to sustain success in the ACC with no four-star players in the class. Michael Allen Jr. has a chance to be a productive player for the Demon Deacons at defensive end.

Top Prospects Signed: DE Michael Allen Jr. (3*), WR Sage Surratt (3*)

 

Big Ten Signing Day- Here

Big 12 Signing Day- Here

Pac-12 Signing Day- Here

SEC Signing Day- Here

Five Lessons from Feast Week 2016

Thanksgiving week is a time for family, food, football and of course basketball! Over the past week, dozens of NCAA teams have made apparent their strengths and weaknesses. Here are the five most important insights that fans can pull from the plethora of Feast Week tournaments:

The Tar Heels are Elite

North Carolina won a not so climactic Maui Invitational and moved to 7-0. They won it with an average margin of victory of 30 points. Granted, one of those games was against Division II opponent Chaminade. Despite that, they obliterated the two Division I teams they faced, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, by 32 and 15 points respectively.

These are not normal, run-of-the-mill teams. Wisconsin was on the preseason top ten list for many behind Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Jawun Evans leads the Oklahoma State Cowboys as an elite scorer at 24.7 points per game. Evans was one of only two Cowboys in double figures against the Tar Heels.

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

North Carolina currently has five players averaging over ten points per game. They can spread the ball well and do not rely on one player to stay above water. Returnees Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks have made it business as usual for Roy Williams. Five star recruit Tony Bradley is a nice addition at 10.7 points per contest and 6.3 rebounds.

This is a very long Tar Heel team that possesses the ability to frustrate defenses by tipping balls away. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks dominate the boards, keeping teams from getting too many second chance points. Each also possesses the ability to protect the rim with good size and length. North Carolina is not one-dimensional.  They are a threat to the two-headed monster of Duke and Kentucky come Phoenix in April. Their next test is Wednesday against Indiana.

Oregon is a Work in Progress

Dana Altman’s team was elite last year, achieving a one seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. With the big three returning for the Ducks, fans and analysts expected much of the same. With the early pre-season injury to Dillon Brooks, that has not been the case.

At the Maui Invitational, the Ducks dropped their first game to the Georgetown Hoyas. Rodney Pryor had 26 points and 10 rebounds for a stellar offensive performance against the Ducks. Despite that, Oregon’s problem has been offense, not defense. With Brooks still not at 100 percent, the team has struggled to put up points while holding every opponent below 70. That is including an overtime game against Tennessee.

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at tghe Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at the Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher is the face of Oregon’s defense. He averages a whopping 3.0 blocks per game so far after setting the school record in 2015-16 with 110. As a side note, Boucher also leads the team with 15.0 points per game. That should change as Brooks transitions back into the line-up. As of now, Brooks has only 18.7 minutes per game. The most he has played all year is 25 against Tennessee which included overtime.

The bright spot in all of this is the development for the Ducks players in Brooks’ absence. Freshman Payton Pritchard has amassed a mountain of minutes, getting used to the collegiate game speed. His 29.7% three point mark is not the best but this should rise. As Pritchard’s role decreases and Brooks gets back into the swing of things, the freshman will see better looks with less defensive attention.

Despite the Ducks dropping a game to Georgetown and struggling against the Volunteers they showed some promise during Feast Week. Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey are each looking like their old selves, Brooks is settling in, and the Ducks have proven the ability to gnash their way to a win in a physical game. As Altman’s boys continue to mesh, watch for them to climb back up in the rankings.

 

Virginia Maintaining Identity without Austin Nichols

Examples of things that are certain in life: death, taxes and the Virginia Cavaliers as a defensive based team. Tony Bennett coaches this team year after year to the same sort of style. This year he has the added stress of doing it without key transfer Austin Nichols. Nichols played in only one game before being released by the team. He had previously violated team rules in October.

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Regardless of the reasons for his dismissal, Virginia still looks like the top tier team that they have been over the past few years. Since Nichol’s discharge, the Cavaliers have been nothing short of brilliant. The team’s Feast Week exploits consisted of a dominating performance at the Emerald Coast Classic. They held their opponents to 42.3 points over the three game span of the tournament. While Grambling State is lesser competition, Iowa and Providence do not operate in the same category.

Better yet for the Emerald Coast champs are the two contests they played outside of Feast Week show their consistency. Virginia held Yale and St. Francis (NY) to under 40 points. Their points allowed average since Nichol’s left is 39.4 points.

The one detriment to the Cavaliers is that they do not score. Their 72.8 points per game through six games ranks them 214th in the NCAA. The only game which holds that average above water is the 90 point showing against Grambling State. Additionally only one player averages double figures in scoring: Darius Thompson at exactly 10.0 points per game. Virginia does play ten players, but they need someone to step up. Balance is great but they have no go-to player at this point. London Parrentes should turn into that player at some point this season.

UCLA is an Offensive Juggernaut

Okay, so with the exception of Texas A&M, UCLA has not exactly played anyone yet. Still, the offensive accomplishments and efficiency the team has put together is daunting. Putting up the numbers they have against anyone is impressive.

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball is the major recruit of this class for Steve Alford and he has not disappointed. Nothing short of brilliant, he averages 16.0 points, 9.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.  Nearly averaging a double-double as a freshman is impressive. What about having two freshman nearly averaging a double-double on the same team? T.J. Leaf was the other stellar recruit for the Bruins and he sits at  17.1 points (leading the team), 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Additionally, four other players are averaging double-digit scoring figures totaling six for the team as a whole. Bryce Alford is second on the team with 17.0 points per game. He also is first in shots made from behind the arc with 19 and is shooting at 44.2%.

There is a laundry list of personal accomplishments, but the team’s overall statistics are the most astounding. Through six games the team is second in the nation in field goal percentage, sixth in three point percentage and first in total assists. They average 96.9 points per game. UCLA has 249 made field goals and 169 assists meaning they assist on 67.8% of their baskets. Not only are they extremely efficient, but they also share the ball well.  That should be more than apparent with the aforementioned six players in double figures.

NCAA Champions Points Per Game
Year Team Points Forced Points Allowed
2015-16 Villanova 78.0 63.6
2014-15 Duke 79.3 64.2
2013-14 UConn 71.8 63.2
2012-13 Louisville 74.5 58.8
2011-12 Kentucky 77.4 60.6
*UCLA 96.9 Forced, 75.3 Allowed

The one caveat would be the lack of defensive efficiency. Sure, the team does not rely on one player for its scoring. However, they currently allow 75.3 points per game. They may have a high powered offense, but their defense needs to improve when they do hit the tougher schedule. Generally, championship teams do not allow that many points.

The Bruins won a lackluster Wooden Legacy tournament during Feast Week. The only game that caused them any trouble was the grind-it-out match-up Texas A&M. The Aggies have some surprising new faces contributing, but are not of the same caliber as the Bruins. December 3rd they will face Kentucky in Lexington. This will be the first true test for Alford and company.

Michigan State is Still Difficult to Trust

Tom Izzo’s teams are the epitome of March basketball. Right now they are searching for a legitimate identity. Between a rough early schedule and some early individual struggles the Spartans they have yet to establish consistency.

Michigan State started off the year 0-2 after a last second loss to Arizona and a less than stellar performance against Kentucky. After a 100 point performance against Mississippi Valley State, the Spartans won a controversial game against Florida Gulf Coast 78-77.

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Tom Izzo’s squad spent their Feast Week at the Battle 4 Atlantis. They took down St. John’s 73-62 to start. They were then dominated by Baylor 73-58. Miles Bridges was the only player in double figures for the Spartans with 15 points. Bridges is the highest rated member of a stellar Spartan recruiting class. Bridges has had some up and down games, including struggles against Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast, but is still the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. His dynamic athleticism has him averaging 1.7 blocks per game and defensive win shares. Bridges decision making is still a point of weakness with 3.4 turnovers per contest, also leading the team.

Michigan State finished up with a 77-72 win against Wichita State, but the Shockers nearly willed their way to a win in this one. Bridges led the team with 21 points, but this time four other players also achieved double figures. Senior Eron Harris, a West Virginia transfer, has had the most inconsistent year. In the contests against Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor this year he averaged 4.0 points. On the flip side he had 31 against FGCU. The Spartans will need Harris this year to have a deep tournament run and find some sort of team identity.

Who Should Be Considered For The Postseason AP All-American Teams?

There is a lot of talent dispersed throughout the NCAA this year. Knowing that, it is difficult to call anyone a “snub” for not making the AP Preseason All-American team. The guys that did not make it are simply non-selections.  Composed of Grayson Allen, Ivan Rabb, Josh Hart, Monte Morris and Dillon Brooks there is not much room to debate the merit of these picks. There are still plenty of players out there that could be All-Americans by season’s end.  The AP will name a 2nd and 3rd team at the end of the year leaving space for ten more players.  So who will make those teams? Which players have the possibility of slipping into the first team, replacing one of the current five?

London Perrantes, Virginia, (G)

London Perrantes is a very complete ball player.  He is the perfect guy to be at the helm for Tony Bennett’s Cavalier squad. Perrantes is the only returning double digit scorer from the 2015-16 Elite Eight team. While there were notable losses, Austin Nichols is an excellent gain. He provides some scoring while being the defensive specialist that is key to Bennett’s teams. He was 6th in the AAC in defensive rating in 2014-15 before sitting out last season as a transfer.

Being a deep threat is just one of the things that London Perrantes brings to the table. (Photo courtesy of cbssports.com)

Being a deep threat is just one of the things that London Perrantes brings to the table. (Photo courtesy of cbssports.com)

Nichols and the rest of the Cavalier roster is full of talented rebounders and defenders meaning that yet again they will only need to score 65 points to win a game. Perrantes went from 6.4 points per game to 11.0 in 2015-16. Additionally his PER escalated from 12.3 in his first two seasons to 18.2, so he can be quite efficient. Without any other returning elite scorers there should be another jump in the scoring element of his game. That is not all that Perrantes does for his team, however. He also provides 4.4 assists per game coupled with 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and a three point average of nearly 49%. Between his efficiency, magnitude of importance on his team and his all-around ability the senior is a lock for a great season.

Melo Trimble, Maryland (G)

Melo Trimble is Coach Mark Turgeon’s guy this year.  The junior is the one saving grace from the mass exodus of Terp talent. He needs to prove that he has NBA ability so it behooved him to remain at school. Trimble’s numbers dropped across the board. Especially prevalent was a 10% decrease in his three point shooting mark from 41% to 31%. This is just a pure lack of precision but his overall field goal percentage dropped as well. Some of that can be attributed to the additional talent on the team inside meaning some of his easy baskets were taken away in favor of Diamond Stone. However his usage percentage was nearly identical to his freshman mark of 25%, but his win shares dropped, mirroring the drop in efficiency seen across the board.

This year, he is the big man on campus and must show that he is worthy of a first round pick. That is exactly why he should be on the All-American watch list: that is what his team needs him to be. He can accomplish this by creating shots for himself, actually hitting those shots that he creates and by assisting others in opportunities for scoring. The Terrapins have a five player freshman class coming in including marksman Kevin Huerter. Huerter’s deep threat should open up the spacing on the floor for Trimble to create for himself or he can run some pick-and-roll in a two man game with Damonte Dodd. Trimble was good last year, but with improved efficiency he can catapult himself into the All-American race.

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson (F)

Jaron Blossomgame decided to return for his senior campaign at Clemson. (Photo courtesy of tigernet.com)

Jaron Blossomgame decided to return for his senior campaign at Clemson. (Photo courtesy of tigernet.com)

The Clemson Tigers did not experience much roster change this offseason. The three leading scorers and three of the top four rebounders are returning. As it so happens, Jaron Blossomgame led the team in both categories and was rumored to skip his senior season to go pro.

At 18.7 points per game and 6.7 rebounds (which was actually a lower number than previous years), Blossomgame was statistically near the top of the ACC in several categories. He was third in the conference in scoring, shooting 51% from the field, he hit a 27.1 PER, good for second in the conference, showing his ability to be efficient with his touches.

Blossomgame finished the year with 5.6 win shares in the 31 games that Clemson played. His presence is critical to his team and will be the deciding factor in Clemson’s season. Blossomgame’s talent will shine through and put him on a fast track to cracking the All-American team.

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas (F)

The senior tripled his minutes for the Razorbacks last year. Simply put: he filled the stat sheet. Nearly averaging a double-double with 15.9 points per game and 9.3 rebounds, Kingsley showed a multi-faceted attack. He also tacked on a steal and an assist per game. He was third in the SEC in PER with a whopping 27.4 in 2015-16.

Despite all the offensive numbers, Kingsley actually is also statistically efficient on the defensive end. He rebounded on 23.3% of the opportunities he had on defense which was good enough to be third in the conference. Kingsley also was fourth in the SEC in defensive box plus minus and eighth in defensive rating, allowing 97.1 points per 100 possessions. It is also no small detail that his 76 blocks were good enough for second in the conference.

As a junior, his program asked him to step up and he did just that. This year should be no exception for the stat-stuffer.

Freshman Candidates

An interesting factor this year is age. Even with a very talented freshman class, there are still plenty of players that made the decision to remain at school. Despite the overwhelming amount of talented upperclassmen, the freshman star power cannot be ignored. In past years, the end of season team has featured freshman. 2015-16 saw only Ben Simmons (2nd) and Jamal Murray (3rd). The AP selected two freshman, Jahlil Okafor and D’Angelo Russell, to the first team in 2014-15. Karl Anthony-Towns earned second team honors. Since 2006-07 a freshman has made either the AP voted a freshman to either the first or second team. Between their prevalence in the past and the depth of this class we really should consider them as a legitimate threat to overtake the upperclassmen on these lists.

There is a plethora of guys that could make this list: Josh Jackson is the best player in the class in the eyes of some and a freak athlete. Lonzo Ball is a prolific passer and can score the ball well. Harry Giles Jr., if healthy, could put up both scoring and rebounding numbers. D’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are both freakish athletes for Kentucky. Markelle Fultz is a player that seems to be moving up scouts and analysts draft boards. He is a good lead ball-handler and can create his own shot. Fultz is an NBA talent and will likely be one of the best players in college, undoubtedly considered for the All-American team.

 

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“From Our House to Yours”

NCAA Baseball Tournament Preview

Gainesville Regional

The Florida Gators earned the top overall seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament after finishing with the best RPI and reaching the SEC Championship in Hoover last weekend. They feature a balanced offense, where all nine starters bat at least .260 and an elite bullpen anchored by Shaun Anderson who has only given up 5 runs in 41.1 innings. They could see a dangerous two seed in the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who boast ten top 25 wins led by one of the best outfields in the country. The Connecticut Huskies come in hot having won 13 of 14 and winning the AAC Tournament. The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats are the four seed after upsetting Florida A&M in the MEAC Tournament, but they are in way over their heads here. This is certainly an intriguing regional with UConn coming in hot, and Georgia Tech having their share of big wins, but Florida is the most talented team here, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t advance.

Tallahassee Regional  

The Florida St Seminoles locked up a hosting bid by beating Miami and NC State to advance to the ACC Championship in Durham. They have an impressive .405 OPS as a team, but will need to have improved starting pitching to make a run. The Southern Miss Golden Eagles were very close to hosting after winning 40 games and the C-USA Tournament, but instead will travel to the Sunshine State. The Golden Eagles have a solid ace in Kirk McCarty, but will need to find consistency in the rotation behind him. They will first meet the South Alabama Jaguars who beat USM twice early this season. The Alabama St Hornets are the only team in the country with a perfect conference record, going 24-0 in the SWAC, but the only NCAA Tournament opponent they faced was South Alabama, who they split a pair of games with. This is probably the favorite for the highest scoring regional, and I like Southern Miss to come out of it as long as their pitching can hold up.

Baton Rouge Regional  

The #RallyPossum propelled the LSU Tigers to a hot finish and the final national seed. They proved they can beat anyone in the country with a series win over Florida and wins over Florida and Mississippi St in Hoover. They appear to have a pretty favorable draw as both the Rice Owls and the Southeastern Louisiana Lions enter the tournament pretty cold. Rice has lost 8 of their last 12 games, and SELA lost series to New Orleans and Central Arkansas to close out the regular season. The Utah Valley Wolverines will join them in Baton Rouge, after winning the WAC Tournament for their first NCAA Tournament appearance. LSU is certainly the hottest team in this regional, and with the home field advantage of baseball’s Death Valley, it’s hard to imagine them getting knocked off here.

Raleigh Regional

It was certainly a great weekend in Raleigh, with the North Carolina St Wolfpack being selected to host, and their bitter rivals North Carolina being left out of the tournament entirely. NC State certainly deserved the one seed with a top ten RPI and 19 top 50 wins, but got a tough draw with the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The Big South champs have the best RPI of any non-host at 12, and have an elite pitching staff led by ace Andrew Beckwith (1.79 ERA) and closer Mike Morrison (0.87). Coastal first has a date with the WCC Tournament champion St Mary’s Gaels, who are in their first NCAA Tournament. The Gaels cooled off down the stretch, but had an impressive week in Stockton, beating Gonzaga twice. The Navy Midshipmen are certainly the underdogs here, but have excellent starting pitching, and could very well pull off an upset. This looks like the toughest regional to pick. St Mary’s has the talent to advance, but the travel from the Bay Area to Raleigh makes it tough to pick them. NC State and Coastal Carolina are very evenly matched, but I lean towards Coastal because of their pitching.

Lubbock Regional

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have the distinction of being the only national seed outside of the SEC and ACC. They dominated the Big 12 all season, winning 19 of 24 conference games, including series wins on the road at both Oklahoma St and TCU. They have the best pitching in the regional to pair with a solid lineup led by star first baseman Eric Gutierrez. The Missouri Valley champion Dallas Baptist Patriots earned the two seed here, and have a solid rotation led by Colin Poche and Darick Hall who are a combined 17-3 on the season. The New Mexico Lobos won the MWC Tournament, and most likely needed the win to enter the field of 64. They struggled against the other teams in the regional, losing 2 of 3 to Texas Tech and getting swept by Dallas Baptist. The Fairfield Stags have quite the road trip traveling from Connecticut to West Texas. They’re led by the hard hitting Jake Salpietro, but lack the depth of the other teams in this regional. Texas Tech is probably the most under the radar national seed, but they are consistent and well rounded. They shouldn’t have too many problems at home here.

Charlottesville Regional

You can tell it is officially springtime when the Virginia Cavaliers start to heat up again. The defending champs won their last five series to earn a host spot, and are led by two of the hottest pitchers in the country in Adam Haseley and Tyler Shambora. The East Carolina Pirates already won a series in Charlottesville, but will need to rebound after losing a late series to South Florida and going two and out in the AAC Tournament. The Bryant Bulldogs are very interesting team who jumped on the national radar with an incredible 47-10 record. However, they only played one at large team, and got thumped 16-2 by UC Santa Barbara. We’ll see how they handle the step up in competition. The William & Mary Tribe are one of the most unlikely tournament teams. After losing the first game of their conference tournament, the Tribe looked to be finished when they went down 8 runs in the ninth inning against top 25 mainstay UNC-Wilmington. However, an 8 run inning led to a 12 inning win, propelling William & Mary into the NCAA Tournament. Given their recent history and hot run down the stretch, it’s difficult to imagine Virginia not coming out of this regional.

Fort Worth Regional

The TCU Horned Frogs made their statement to host by winning the Big 12 Tournament in a thriller over West Virginia. They have one of the most talented players in the country in Luken Baker, who has a 1.70 ERA in ten starts, and bats .376 while playing DH on his off days. The Arizona State Sun Devils played very well in the nonconference, sweeping tournament teams New Mexico, Cal St Fullerton and Xavier, but couldn’t find any consistency in conference. They’ll look to rebound from an ugly loss to USC where they gave up 31 runs in the regular-season finale. The Gonzaga Bulldogs made their case to be the best team in the west, winning a share of the WCC and going 7-1 against the Pac-12. The Oral Roberts Golden Eagles are arguably the most dangerous four seed in the tournament, and proved it with a series win at Dallas Baptist and a two game sweep at Oklahoma St. They play well on the road, and won’t be intimidated. This is perhaps the only regional where I feel that all four teams have a genuine shot at advancing. However, the safe bet is TCU as they have more offensive firepower than the other 3 teams.

College Station Regional

The Texas A&M Aggies have been a staple in the top five all year, and are as talented as any team in the country. They have arguably the best infield in the country led by Boomer White, Austin Homan and Hunter Melton, as well as a pitcher in Kyle Simonds, who no hit Vanderbilt. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are one of the best stories of the season, as they rallied to win the Big Ten as pitching coach Todd Oakes battled cancer. However, the Gophers feel like a real reach as a 2 seed as they didn’t win a series against any NCAA Tournament teams. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons are one of 10 ACC teams in the field, and cemented their place with wins over Duke and Virginia in Durham. Wake can hit with anyone, especially when 3B Will Craig gets going, but their pitching was very inconsistent all year. The Binghamton Bearcats shook off a 2-13 start to finish 30-23 and win the America East. This is definitely Texas A&M’s regional to lose, as they are just much more balanced and deep than the other 3 teams here.

Louisville Regional

The Louisville Cardinals have been possibly the most consistent team all season, and are the only team nationally in the top ten for both batting average and ERA. They also have the advantage of playing at home, where they are 33-1 on the year. The Ohio St Buckeyes ride a hot finish complete with a Big Ten Tournament title into the NCAA. They have a dynamic offense, but will need much better pitching, especially out of the bullpen. The Wright St Raiders are back in the NCAA Tournament after once again dominating the Horizon League, going 23-6. They took care of business in conference, but were easily beat in their two series against top 50 opponents against NC State and Georgia. The Western Michigan Broncos struggled for most of the season, finishing 22-32, but stunned the heavily favored Kent St in the MAC Tournament. They can score runs, but their pitching isn’t nearly at the level to compete with the other three teams. This appears to be the easiest regional to pick. Louisville is deep and talented, and has been dominant at home against far tougher opponents. It would be a major surprise if they got knocked out at this stage.

Nashville Regional

Tim Corbin’s Vanderbilt Commodores finished as national runners up last year, and won the title the season before. They’ve reloaded every year, and feature one of the best rotations in the country along with a balanced lineup. They also have more big game experience than any other team in the tournament. The Washington Huskies had a chance to win the Pac-12 in their final series, but consecutive losses to Utah gave the title to the Utes. Washington is still a tough opponent with the ability to play up or down to their competition, shown by wins over Arizona, Arizona St and St Mary’s, and losses to Washington St and UC Riverside. The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos looked to be the team to beat out west for most of the season, but faltered down the stretch to finish third in the Big West. They have a gritty team that never lit up the scorebooks, but find ways to win. The Xavier Musketeers are no stranger to Nashville, as they lost to Vanderbilt in the 2014 Tournament and got swept there earlier this season. They enter the field largely due to their 4-1 mark against Creighton. Vanderbilt is a very consistent and well coached team, and seemed to get a favorable draw with two west coast schools traveling to Tennessee. They’re heavy favorites at home here.

Clemson Regional

Monte Lee’s first season managing the Clemson Tigers has been a phenomenal one, as they earned a national seed off of an ACC Tournament championship. Their lineup features the best freshman in the country in Seth Beer, whose .372 average and 63 RBIs certainly make opponents want to drink. The Oklahoma St Cowboys have been a mainstay in the top 25 all season, and are led by a very solid middle infield of Donnie Walton and JR Davis. The Cowboys will first meet up with their old Big Eight opponent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Huskers were very hot down the stretch, winning their last five series before crashing and burning in Omaha at the Big Ten Tournament. Finally, the Western Carolina Catamounts qualified after upsetting Mercer to win the SoCon Tournament. This is a tough regional with Oklahoma St certainly capable of advancing, but given Clemson’s hot streak and home field advantage, the Tigers are the safe pick.

Columbia Regional

Chad Holbrook’s South Carolina Gamecocks have been one of the best turnarounds from last season. They have quality pitching and one of the best pure hitters in the country in Gene Cone. Making a short drive down the coast are the UNC Wilmington Seahawks, one of six teams to qualify from the state of North Carolina. They have a very solid lineup featuring Brian Mims, a power hitting second baseman which is very rare. The Duke Blue Devils are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961 after impressive series wins against Florida St, Clemson and Georgia Tech. The Rhode Island Rams round out the regional, and do have a legit ace in Tyler Wilson, who is 12-1 on the year. While Duke and Rhode Island definitely could win a game or two, I think this regional comes down to the Gamecocks and Seahawks. I lean towards Wilmington because I think their offense is slightly better.

Coral Gables Regional

The Miami Hurricanes look to make it back to back Omaha trips, and certainly have the talent to do so. Jim Morris has led this team to a 45 win season, with an incredible 19 of those coming against the top 25. They have the best catcher in the country in Zack Collins, who has a .540 on base percentage. The Florida Atlantic Owls won Conference USA and beat Miami in a midweek game, but cooled off down the stretch costing them a hosting chance. They have proven that they can play with anyone in the country, boasting a win in Coral Gables and two on the road at Mississippi St. FAU will take on the Long Beach State Dirtbags, who lost a chance at the Big West crown by falling to bitter rival Cal St Fullerton on the last day of the season. They have series wins against Fullerton, Arizona St and Nebraska, but will be leaving the west for the first time all season. The Stetson Hatters are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament, but face an uphill battle in Coral Gables. They finished just 9-12 in the Atlantic Sun, but won 4 games in 4 days to take the conference tournament. This regional should come down to Miami and FAU, and while the Owls can give Miami a run for their money, the Hurricanes will be too much.

Oxford Regional

After making a semifinal run in Hoover, the Ole Miss Rebels came just short of a national seed. The Rebels are a force at home, as LSU and Louisville both learned the hard way this season. They aren’t a team that features a lot of stars, but they are very solid across the board, especially with their pitching. No strangers to SEC matchups, the Tulane Green Wave will head over to Oxford after finishing on top of the AAC standings. They’ve struggled to score at times, but the Tulane pitching is good enough to keep them in just about any game. Another ACC team, the Boston College Eagles, will head down south. They play up or down to their competition as much as anyone in the country, having beaten NC State, Louisville and Virginia, but losing to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. It’s not every year that the Pac-12 champ comes in below .500 and as a 4 seed, but that’s exactly where the Utah Utes stand. They started off 3-11, but kicked into gear once conference play started, holding off Washington for the title. This is a pretty wide open regional, where any of the teams could get hot, but I like Tulane and their pitching.

Starkville Regional

The Mississippi State Bulldogs shocked most of the country by winning the SEC, and it was certainly no fluke. They have a solid lineup with no holes, a deep and talented pitching staff, and have continued to improve as the season has gone on. It wouldn’t be the NCAA Tournament without the Cal State Fullerton Titans in the field. Fullerton had some ups and downs, but finished strong to overtake Long Beach St for the Big West title. The Titans have had some offensive struggles, but have one of the best pitching staffs in the country, and are one of few teams to go 4 deep in their rotation. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs finished very strong to ensure their place in the field, sweeping Northwestern State and Rice. They have a great outfield, where all three bat over .325. The fourth seeded Southeast Missouri State Redhawks also have a chance to be dangerous. They went 22-8 in the OVC and have an ace in Joey Lucchese who will give teams problems. This is probably the toughest regional in the field. Cal State Fullerton would be my pick in many regionals, but Mississippi St has pitching to match them as well as a much better lineup.

Lafayette Regional

The Sun Belt champ UL Lafayette Rajin’ Cajuns were rewarded for their play in conference, as well as their brutal nonconference schedule. Their strengths are primarily defense and pitching, where they have one the best bullpens in the country. The Arizona Wildcats had chances to host, but likely blew them by dropping series to Oregon and Arizona St. They have a solid lineup that gets on base, but will need to find a third starter behind JC Cloney and Nathan Bannister. The Sam Houston State Bearkats will be looking for revenge, as they were swept in Lafayette to start the season. They won 10 of 11 down the stretch, including taking the Southland Tournament. Finally, we have the first team who punched their ticket, the Princeton Tigers. Princeton won the Ivy, going 13-7. This is another balanced regional, but I like Arizona to win a couple of low scoring games here.