NBA Draft steals

The best NBA draft prospects outside the lottery

Year after year, NBA front offices look for a diamond in the rough. Drafting is hard enough to pull off as it is, but some draftees fall under the radar.

Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Thomas and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all examples of non-lottery picks that have turned into stars. Some of the biggest steals fall in the draft.

It is up to the front offices to put the right guys in the right systems. Here are some of the best underrated players in the 2018 NBA draft class.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

Projection: Late first round

The NBA loves a guy who can play inside out. Bates-Diop is one of the more offensively complete college players in this draft class. He went from being a good prospect his sophomore year to a great prospect his junior year.

He averaged 19.8 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game his junior season. He will have to be more of a small forward in his transition into the NBA. But with a 6-foot-7 frame and high release, he should have no problem shooting over defenders.

He scored 20 or more points in 15 of the 34 games he played in his junior season and scored under 10 just twice. He recorded 13 double-doubles and shot 48 percent from the field, 35.9 percent from the 3-point line and 79.4 percent from the free-throw line. Bates-Diop’s game transitions extremely well to the NBA.

He has a very polished offensive game and has the ability to guard almost anyone on defense. His draft stock is rising fast, as it should. Bates-Diop has one of the best all-around games in the 2018 draft class.

Omari Spellman, Villanova

Projection: Late first round

We go from a very proven college athlete to a young guy. Omari Spellman is a first-year player out of Villanova. He averaged 10.9 points and eight rebounds in his only season. Spellman also shot 47.6 percent from the field and shot a very impressive 43.3 percent from the 3-point line. His totaled just one less 3-pointer made than Bates-Diop, but shot less of them.

What makes Spellman interesting to NBA scouts is his athletic ability as well as his ceiling. In almost an opposite direction from Bates-Diop, going to the NBA now makes using the unpredictable an advantage. Spellman played so well with a group of stars and was a key part to a National Championship. It was his best move to advance to the NBA.

Spellman’s ceiling really falls within his athleticism. He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan even though he stands at just 6-foot-9. He is very explosive around the rim, but does not necessarily have an above-the-rim game. He has a great nose on the boards despite being undersized for his position.

He does not have a complete game in the sense that he is not a back-to-the-basket player. However, he is very comfortable away from the basket and is also comfortable facing the basket. Those two things translate extremely well to the NBA’s style of play.

Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Projection: Mid-second round

NBA Draft steals

Brandon McCoy (Photo from Review Journal)

Here is a guy that many people might not know of. Brandon McCoy is extremely skilled as a 7-foot-1 traditional center. He is 250 pounds and is a monster on the boards. He has not necessarily had his chances against Power-Five competition. However, against projected No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, he put up 33 points and 10 rebounds.

McCoy averaged 16.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his freshman season. He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.

In a way, he is similar to Dwight Howard when he came into the league. He is extremely strong, but is also offensively raw and does not have too much diversity in his game. He is very good in the pick and roll and is also very good with his back to the basket due to his size.

He does not have a fantastic face-up game. However, he did show he could make a three, he just never had the confidence to shoot in bulk.

McCoy has the ability to dominate the paint given the right system. He is extremely raw, but can still come into his own given some time. After all, he is only 19 years old.

Malik Newman, Kansas

Projection: Late second round

Malik Newman started at Mississippi State and finished at Kansas. If you look at the difference in statistics, he looks like a completely different person.

Since his Mississippi State days, he has improved all his statistics drastically. In one season, he went from shooting 68.7 percent from the free-throw line and improved all the way to 83.5 percent at the end of his sophomore season.

His sophomore year percentages were 46.3 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three and 83.5 percent from the free-throw line. He averaged 14.2 points, five rebounds and 2.1 assists. The thing that makes him most interesting is that during the back half of his sophomore season, his statistics skyrocketed.

Newman can be an important piece to any NBA roster. He reminds many of former Jayhawk Ben McLemore. He has a great jump shot and also has a ton of athletic ability.

 

Featured image from Bleacherfan.com

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Boston Red Sox slump

The fall of the Boston Red Sox

A little over a month ago, the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball. They were sitting over four games ahead of the AL East and rolling on both sides of the ball. But since April 20, they are 11-12 and have fallen a game back of the mighty New York Yankees.

The Red Sox are 5-5 in their last 10 and just cannot seem to beat the Oakland Athletics (1-4 this season). The quality starts and the offense have not slowed down, but the bullpen has had a tough time nailing down close games.

The situation

Prior to April 20, the Boston Red Sox were 17-2, playing some of the best baseball in the league and sitting comfortably atop the AL East. Since then they have free fallen. David Price, Hector Velazquez and Carson Smith have all been in and out of the disabled list, hitters have gone cold and besides Craig Kimbrel, it seems like the back end of the bullpen is more than struggling.

There is not really one true problem to point to with the Red Sox so far. Although it was impossible for them to keep up their early season torrid pace, no one had them going 11-12 following a 17-2 start.

David Price

Boston Red Sox slump

David Price (Photo from Boston Sports Journal).

Well here we are with David Price again. Price has a 4.89 ERA with just two quality starts out of his eight. He is averaging the lowest total amount of pitches thrown per start of any Red Sox starter this season. He is averaging a walk every two strikeouts.

He is on pace to have the highest ERA of his career and is already rapidly approaching his season averages for runs allowed, and he has only pitched 42.1 innings.

Obviously it is early in the season, but Price has yet again struggled for the Boston Red Sox. He is on pace to have his worst statistical season of his career.

Hector Velazquez

One of the best pitchers on the staff might not be one that casual baseball fans have heard of. Hector Velazquez is quietly going about his work and has a 2.10 ERA through 25.2 innings.

He has started two games and appeared in eight others. He has given Boston’s offense a chance to shine. He is 5-0 this season, has kept the ball in the ballpark and also has not handed out free passes. He has quietly been one of the best pitchers on staff, and the Red Sox cannot get him back fast enough.

The top of the lineup: The good

1. Mookie Betts, 2. Andrew Benintendi, 3. Hanley Ramirez, 4. J.D. Martinez, 5. Xander Bogaerts.

The top five of the Red Sox order has been the most consistent thing there is.

Andrew Benintendi is on an eight-game hitting streak where he is hitting over .360. Mookie Betts has hit three leadoff home runs this season and is sitting squarely in the MVP conversation. Hanley Ramirez, outside of his recent woes, has been hitting around .300 and is seemingly knocking a runner in every single night. J.D. Martinez is hitting well over .300 and is proving that he is not just a power hitter, but one of the best overall hitters in all of baseball. Finally, Xander Bogaerts has been the most consistent hitter this season. The five of them account for 130 of the Red Sox 213 RBIs thus far.

The pen

There has been some good in the Red Sox bullpen. However, as the Sox are rotating pitchers in and out, the pitchers have hiccuped. Carson Smith was just recently placed on the 10-day disabled list. He was having a solid first half to the season before hurting his throwing shoulder.

The long relief pitching has struggled for the Red Sox. In 19 1/3 innings, Heath Hembree has given up 11 runs. Brian Johnson, who has been in and out of the bullpen, has given up 14 runs in 21 innings. Steven Wright, who has finally returned from injury, has given up two runs in two 1/3 innings. In other words, when the Red Sox are down in a game, they struggle to get back in it. The long relief pitchers have struggled to pick up the starters when they have struggled.

The Boston Red Sox are not a good come-from-behind team this season. In games that Rick Porcello and Chris Sale start, they have seemingly dominated this season. Due to the fact that the two starters can almost always be counted on, the Red Sox always jump out to an early lead. Just to speak the obvious, everyone is more relaxed when a lead is acquired early in a game.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/Richard Rodriguez

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The 2018 Drafted New England Patriots

The 2018 NFL draft kicked its first round off on Thursday night. The New England Patriots sat in a position to draft two players on both the first round (Thursday) and the second round (Friday).

The Patriots ended up gaining draft picks through the last year or so. The two picks they inherited were the #23 overall pick that was the Los Angeles Rams, and the 43rd overall pick from the 49ers. Those two draft picks were landed in the business transactions that saw Jimmy Garoppolo as well as Brandin Cooks depart from Foxboro.

The Patriots sought out what seemed to be an annual list of “needs”. The usual Offensive Lineman, Cover Linebacker and Cornerback all made appearances in another draft portfolio. That same portfolio that has “quarterback” probably in bold by now. For all of these four picks, it seemed as though the Patriots would attempt to fill the needs with suitable players. Let’s be honest here, if you thought that’s what they were going to do then you’ve never watched Bill Belichick.

The First Round:

#23

Many rumors circulated about the Patriots potentially taking Lamar Jackson at their 23rd selection. After all the smoke cleared the Patriots passed on Lamar not once but twice. The 23rd pick resulted in the University of Georgia Offensive lineman, Isaiah Wynn.

This pick proved to be a very smart move being that they lost Nate Solder this offseason. Wynn proved to be a very solid run blocker as Georgia’s two-back rushing attack was one of the best in the country and showed that he could hold up in pass protection as well. Wynn will be the immediate plug and play to replace Nate Solder and I don’t think too many New England fans are disappointed with that.

#31

This pick was the Patriots original draft selection, and one that surprised most people. After an offseason where they lost one of their lead backs in Dion Lewis, then turned around and signed former Cincinnati Bengal standout in Jeremy Hill, they turned to the draft to pick another back to be in an already crowded backfield. The Patriots shocked some people by taking Sony Michel with the 31st pick. Sony Michel is another Georgia Bulldog and a very good one at that.

Despite being in a dual backfield at Georgia, Michel was one of the stars of college football. He especially seemed to shine in the College Football Playoffs. Against Oklahoma and their subpar defense, Michel managed to get 222 yards on 16 carries. In the National Championship, basically on the opposite side of the spectrum, he got 98 yards on 14 carries against the nations toughest defense in the Alabama Crimson Tide. Michel took over the backfield and outshined Nick Chubb. He could be a possible Jeremy Hill but younger. He joins a backfield that doesn’t have a true running back but has a bunch of pass catching backs.

James White and Rex Burkhead have shown that they are the two heavy load backs, but the Patriots have lacked a true runner. Mike Gillislee is the closest thing the Patriots have to a true running back and he’s the same weight and height as the unproven Michel. Gillislee has proven to not be the guy for the Patriots, so Michel could get the opportunity to shine behind a very solid offensive line and in a great offense.

Second Round:

#56

New England Patriots

Duke Dawson Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What was originally two picks heading into the second round then turned to one. The Patriots, rather classically, traded out of their selection and managed to drop further back into another draft. They did, however, manage to take care of one of the glaring holes on their defense. Duke Dawson is a corner that played for the Florida Gators (Ah yes, SEC defenders). He is coming in trying to be the complement to Stephon Gilmore. He will come in looking to be a solid cover corner to fill in for Malcolm Butler who the Patriots let go this offseason.

Summary:

The Patriots have done a very nice job in the earlier rounds of filling some of the voids they have. Year in and year out it seems like people are worried about who is going to take over for Tom Brady. This season was no different, many people were expecting Lamar Jackson to come off the boards and go with the Patriots. Instead, they are stocking up their assets for Brady to exploit and stashing some picks later in the draft to take a chance on a quarterback for the future. The Patriots have yet again done another solid job on building a roster back up after it seemed to be depleted this offseason.

 

Featured image from The Boston Herald.

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Boston Celtics: Lack of depth

It was approximately five minutes into the season that the Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward for the season. Ever since then they have been shorthanded in the depth category. As the playoffs have gone on, the Celtics have gotten more and more depleted. Marcus Smart, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis have all missed significant time and are all out in this year’s playoffs. As the Celtics head back to Boston, they are looking for a spark in a few aspects to help them defeat the Milwaukee Bucks.

The increased roles of Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris:

For a very long time, Terry Rozier was thrust into a sixth of even seventh man role. He is now the Celtics starting point guard and averaging almost 11 more minutes in the playoffs compared to the regular season.

Marcus Morris is also being used more but also expected to score more. His minutes are up from 26.8 to 30 per game but his scoring has also been up. A guy who has scored over 20 just six times this season has already done it once in the playoffs. Two of the Celtics most important role players have been thrust into crucial and more important roles this postseason.

The Lack of Bench scoring:

The lack of depth is a huge part of this. The Boston Celtics just flat out aren’t getting scoring production from their bench. In game four they got just 15 total bench points, and 13 of those points were from before mentioned Marcus Morris. In game three and four combined the Celtics are getting outscored 81-49. Being that one of their best bench scorers is now their starting point guard, the bench scoring is bound to be lacking. However, the Celtics need someone who doesn’t normally step up to do just that.

The Worst possible draw:

Even though the Celtics are the two seed in the east, they have a very tough matchup. We have seen in previous seasons that different teams are tough to match up with and the Bucks are a difficult matchup for the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have gone with a center in 67 games this season, but the Bucks don’t play the same style.

Aron Baynes has been the starting big man alongside Al Horford. Even though he only averages 18 minutes, Baynes has been less productive in the playoffs. Milwaukee at many different times in a game uses Giannis Antetokounmpo as their center. Obviously, this isn’t a strong matchup for either Aron Baynes or for backup center Greg Monroe. Instead, Greg Monroe has played far less than his season average and Baynes has played more but less effectively.

This is the part of the program where Celtics fans can harp on just how much their team misses Daniel Theis.

Daniel Theis:

Photo Courtesy of USA Today.

Daniel Theis is a 6’9″ undrafted rookie who started to come into his own before he tore his meniscus. In 67 games this season, (3 starts) Daniel Theis averaged 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists. He played 14.3 minutes and seemed to have his best games. In his last three games before injury he averaged 12.3 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes. He was athletic enough to guard a guy like Giannis on the perimeter but could also guard Giannis in the post.

Despite being a role player, Theis could have played a huge role in this series.

No reason to panic:

The phrase is always “A series doesn’t start until a team wins on the road”. The Boston Celtics should not be worried. The role players have all proven to play much better at home compared to on the road. The Celtics still have home court advantage and whether the Celtics end up losing game three by 24 or 1 a loss is a loss. There is no reason for Brad Stevens and company to panic and if the Celtics can get a game 7 in Boston, I think they will be more than happy all things considered.

 

Featured image from NBC SPORTS.

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Dez Bryant

Best destinations for Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys have recently released the 29-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler Dez Bryant. Bryant is now in search of a new team. Whether it is getting revenge on his former team or taking less money for a better shot at winning a Super Bowl, Bryant is moving forward with the next chapter in his football career.

There are a handful of teams that could be good fits for Bryant for many different reasons. Here are a few teams that could help him get back on track.

Dallas statistics

Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo from Wallsdesk.com)

Before we do that, we have to discuss Bryant’s production over the years. In his eight-year career, he has 531 receptions with the Dallas Cowboys that translate into 7,459 yards total and 73 touchdowns. He averages 14 yards per reception and every 7.29 catches he makes goes for a touchdown.

Before Dak Prescott arrived in 2016, he had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He was arguably a top-five wide receiver in all of the NFL and had four of his five best receiving years overall with Tony Romo at the helm. Basically, the Dallas Cowboys are drastically different with Prescott.

In 2012, (Tony Romo’s best statistical season), Bryant had the most receiving yards in his career to date and his third-most touchdowns. Romo threw the ball 648 times that season. In Dak Prescott’s two-year career, he has only thrown it 949 times. Dez’s declining statistics also has to do with a consistent run game. Ezekiel Elliott entered the league with Prescott in 2016. He has yet to have a season with less than 983 rushing yards.

In Bryant’s career season in 2012, DeMarco Murray only rushed for 663 yards and only 4.1 yards per carry. In one of Bryant’s most statistically underwhelming seasons (the first year with Elliott and Prescott), Elliott ran for over 1,600 yards and Prescott only threw for eight yards per attempt. The Dallas Cowboys are trending away from throwing it downfield and utilizing Bryant’s size.

NFC East

Just knowing Bryant’s personality after all these years, he is going to immediately try to get back at the Cowboys for releasing him. The Giants or Redskins may not be the best fit for him, but it could be a place he lands due to scheduling.

The Redskins made a big move this offseason by getting Alex Smith. They have the cap room and are looking for a little help for Jamison Crowder to free him up a little.

The best NFC East fit for Bryant, if he chooses to go that way, would be the Redskins. They have the salary space to afford him, and he could slide right back into a possible No. 1 wide receiver role. And of course, he would get a shot at playing Jerry Jones and the Cowboys twice a year.

San Francisco 49ers

There is plenty of reasons to believe in Jimmy Garoppolo. Marquise Goodwin has shown that he needs a little help at times. With Goodwin’s speed, Bryant could complement him well and play a nice counter role. He would yet again be a No. 1 wide receiver, and he would get a shot at jumping on board with an improving team that is hungry for the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Bryant’s personality matches up well with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags seemingly need a wide receiver to take the reigns and be the guy. Blake Bortles would love throwing to Bryant and his large frame. He would instantly go to a contender and a team that would pay him pretty well. The Jaguars are committed to spreading both the pass and the run out, and Bryant could get back to catching at least 10 touchdowns for the first time since 2014.

Houston Texans

This one is a no-brainer. Bryant would be extremely close to his hometown. He would instantly jump into a No. 2 receiver role and take lots of pressure off of DeAndre Hopkins and draw single coverage. He would have tons of targets and could carve out a great role alongside another great wide receiver. It is one of the rare opportunities where Bryant will get to play in front of his hometown friends and family and could get paid pretty well.

New England Patriots

After an offseason where the Patriots lost multiple offensive starters, including wide receivers in Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, the Patriots would love to add another redzone asset for Josh McDaniels’ offense.

The Patriots are a team that invites different personalities. They gave Randy Moss one of his best statistical seasons and created one of the best offenses in NFL history with Tom Brady at the helm. Even though that feels like a lifetime ago, Brady is still the guy in Foxborough, and he would love to throw passes to Dez Bryant.

Only time will tell where Dez Bryant lands.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated.

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Boston Red Sox: The difference

The 2018 baseball season is just 15 games young, but the Boston Red Sox have the best record in the Major leagues. They have won 13 out of their last 14 and have won their last four in a row. The Red Sox have never jumped out to 10-games above .500 faster than they have this season (14 games). In 15 games they have given up 47 runs which translates to just over three runs a game (3.07 which is fourth in all of baseball).

Their offense is in the top four of baseball in runs (86), batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.445). Their pitching has been equally as impressive. The Red Sox have 11 quality starts in fifteen total games which is the best number in all of baseball. They are also fifth in the league in WHIP at 1.16 and eighth in the league in batting average against at .225. The Boston Red Sox have been the most balanced team in baseball.

The Offense:

It seems as though it’s a different bat every night for the Boston Red Sox. They have 14 players on their roster with at least one run batted in and have seven players so far with at least one home run. Every member of their opening day starting lineup has at least nine hits and no one has more than 18 in Mookie Betts. J.D. Martinez and Hanley Ramirez both have three home runs and over 12 RBIs through 15 games this season. Despite the Red Sox slightly increasing their Homerun total comparatively to last season, they are striking out less and turning in better quality starts on the mound.

The Missing Pieces:

Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, (AP Photo/Steve Nesius).

It’s so easy to forget that the Boston Red Sox are missing some of their most important pieces. Hector Valazquez and Brian Johnson, although extremely talented, are just filling in for Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz to come back from injury. Drew Pomeranz is the biggest missing piece. He is a lefty that all of last season pitched like an ace. He finished the season at 17-7 and have a 3.34 ERA which was good for third among the starting pitchers last season. It was one of his best seasons and he is waiting to join the team again.

The other important missing piece is Dustin Pedroia. Many people forget about the former MVP because he hasn’t played in seemingly ever. Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox everyday second baseman. What will happen when he gets back is a logjam of everyday infielders and one will be on the outside looking in. It might even be Dustin Pedroia who goes from everyday starter and MVP to backup if the lineup stays this hot.

Xander Bogaerts:

There was no one hotter at the beginning of the season than Xander Bogaerts. The shortstop was hitting .368 with two home runs and nine runs batted in in just nine games and 38 at-bats. Half of his 14 hits were doubles and he didn’t make an error in those nine games. Now he has been pushed to the 10-day disabled list and has been seen in a walking boot to protect his injured ankle. Since his injury, however, the Red Sox are 4-1 and Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin have been fantastic since he has left. One thing is for sure, the Red Sox don’t have a bunch of depth in the middle infield on their 40-man roster.

What they can do:

The Boston Red Sox have tons of balance and depth. The pitching staff essentially has four aces on it when healthy and their starting lineup doesn’t have a single easy out in it. Barring a bullpen collapse they would be 14-1. The Boston Red Sox will only go as far as their hitting takes them. The pitching has been there and that has been proven for the last three seasons with the same rotation. J.D. Martinez has been added to an already potent lineup and after scoring 29 more runs than opponents this season, the Boston Red Sox seem to be firing on all cylinders. Despite everyone talking about this new look New York Yankee lineup, the Boston Red Sox have a 3.5 game lead on the AL East, and the Yankees aren’t even the team in second place.

 

Featured image from The Boston Herald.

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A recap of the 2017-2018 college basketball season

The 2017-2018 college basketball season was nothing short of unpredictable. Whether it was crazy upsets or scandals that seemed to drop out of nowhere there could not have been more of an unpredictable season. As the young freshmen were the focal point of many of the preseason polls in September, it was a back-court of upperclassmen that cut down the nets a week ago today in early April.

The Craziness:

This season, many teams struggled. The good teams hiccuped early and the depth of college basketball showed. A lot of teams seemed to be able to beat anyone if they were given their home court. Teams like Arizona State rose to the top five in the AP poll after not being ranked at all in the preseason. Then proceeded to free fall and almost play their way out of the field of 68. Notre Dame lost two home games against Ball State and Indiana and played their way out of the NCAA tournament.

Teams with fantastic freshmen like Duke struggled to defend at times but then would seemingly turn around and win by 30 in the next game they played. In every single game that Duke lost this season, they followed it up with a double-digit victory in that next game. And finally, a team of just three Crimson Tide,  led by standout freshman Collin Sexton, almost knocked off the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Heading into 2018, there wasn’t a single team that was undefeated, which just goes to show the depth and talent in all of division one college basketball.

The college basketball regular season was a roller coaster ride with ups, downs and unpredictability. The draw it had was that any team could win at any given moment. Like anything, college basketball’s unpredictability made it more interesting and in turn made March even more crazy and exciting than it normally is.

NCAA Tournament:

College Basketball

(USA Today).

This is a year that will go down in the history books. First off, in the tournament’s history, there had never been a number one seed losing to a 16 seed. As of this March, college basketball fans were blessed and some cursed, with the first win for a 16 seed over a one. But not only was it just “another one seed” it was THE one seed. A unanimous number one pick, the ACC regular season and tournament champion. A team with the number one ranked defense that although historically disappointing in the NCAA tournament, seemed like a lock to win against a UMBC team that lost to the University of Albany 83-39. The Cavaliers gave up 53 second-half points to the Retrievers (One less than their entire game average) and went into the history books for all the wrong reasons.

Loyola-Chicago emerged as the Cinderella destined to dance after a young Kentucky team couldn’t get out of a bracket that had an 11, seven and nine seed in front of them. Let me repeat that again. An 11, nine, and seven seed all made it to the sweet sixteen, and they were all in the same region. Ultimately the big dance stopped when the Ramblers ran into the sizzling hot Michigan Wolverines who went on to face Villanova for a chance at the throne.

Villanova:

Through all of that was Villanova. Through all the unpredictability and upsets was the 2016 National Champions. A team that dropped just four games all season and the highest scoring offense in the country. A team so balanced that they may have slid under the radar. With six 10+ point scorers, the Wildcats were incredibly balanced. Led by Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson Villanova had the best identity in college basketball.

The Wildcats did everything this season in convincing fashion. Out of their 36 wins this season, only one was by less than eight points and of their four losses never lost by more than eight. Villanova proved themselves as both the most consistent basketball team as well as one of the most explosive ones.

Through all the unpredictably and all of the noise, one thing that ended up making sense was the Villanova Wildcats cutting down the nets last week. Even though the story is that offense wins games and defense wins championships, in the end, defense didn’t win Virginia a game and offense won Villanova a championship.

Featured image from Beinsports.com.

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Boston Red Sox: Aces are dealing

The Boston Red Sox are coming off a rather disappointing ending of their season last year. Although they won the division in 2017, they finished last in the American League in home runs hit. Even though the offense put themselves in good scoring situations it seemed as though they could never get the big hit. Fast forward to the 2018 offseason and the Red Sox add J.D. Martinez to center a very balanced lineup, seemingly solving some of their power struggles.

Now the season is underway, and like the 2017 season, the Red Sox are off to a solid start. At the same time, it looks eerily similar to the Red Sox we saw last season.

The Ace’s:

The Boston Red Sox have had four starting pitchers throw so far this season: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Hector Velazquez (arguably not an ace).

Those four have combined to throw 24 innings, walking just five, giving up just two runs and striking out 23. The total ends up being a 0.75 earned run average. They also combined for a 3-0 record to start and just five total walks and barring an Opening Day meltdown the starters would be 4-0. Although it is against the Tampa Bay Rays, it is the first time in the team’s history that the starting pitchers in the first four games have allowed a run or less in each outing.

The starters have done exactly what the did a vast majority of last season only they have done it more effectively so far. They are giving the offense a chance to hit without putting them in a hole and then having the bullpen close the door.

The Heart Attack Bullpen:

The Boston Red Sox

Joe Kelly, (Fox Sports).

It’s never easy when the ball is handed to the Red Sox bullpen. Although effective, they normally make it much more stressful than it needs to be. Opening Night was a perfect example.

Joe Kelly, coming off a career season, kicked off a nightmare of an eighth by getting just one out and giving up four earned runs. Carson Smith assisted that Eighth by getting two outs and giving up two runs himself, which would end up being the difference in the game in the end.

On Easter Sunday, Joe Kelly had a different outcome but still made Red Sox fans oh so nervous. He came into the ninth up 2-1 in the game and looking for his first save of the season. After getting two quick outs, he gave up back to back singles before finally striking out Dennard Span to end the game.

Waiting on some struggling pieces:

Two of the Red Sox “Killer B’s” have combined for just one hit in 21 plate appearances. Both Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. are important pieces in a very strong offense.

The two hit .271 and .245 respectively last season and Benintendi came in second in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. Although Bradley is known more for his tremendous glove, he is still a streaky hitter and can more than hold his own at the plate. If it’s anything like Mookie Betts’ struggles, they will be just fine. Mookie went 0-17 to start spring training. Despite a struggling bat then, he is hitting .286 now and has been hitting the ball hard in his outs.

Another piece that is somewhat struggling is the newest addition. J.D. Martinez is hitting just .200 to start the year. He five strikeouts compared to just three hits in 15 plate appearances to start the season. He was held hitless until the third game of the season and didn’t look comfortable yet in his new location.

Improvements:

I think that the pressure on J.D. is that he is supposed to be the homerun guy on the Red Sox. It’s not that he’s playing badly, it’s that fans expect him to have the power numbers they thought they paid for this winter.

The Red Sox have two home runs this season so far. One was an inside the park home run on a defensive mistake and the other was by a guy who finished last season with 10 total home runs. The Red Sox offense will need to pick up the pace as the season moves forward because there will be days in the near future where the aces have off nights.

 

Featured image from The Boston Herald.

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Adrian Beltre hall of fame

Adrian Beltre: A Hall Of Fame career

Adrian Beltre is now 38 years old. He has played for four different teams and is now in his 21st season. Beltre is the 31st member of the 3,000 hit club and is an important part of the Texas Rangers organization.

It is very rare that a player continues to have great success without regressing. In 2016, Beltre had the third best RBI and home run production of his career. Despite getting older, Beltre is producing consistently and might even be improving in his most recent seasons.

Beltre is making his case as one of the greatest third basemen of all time. Here is a look at his extremely impressive, and probable Hall of Fame resume.

Statistics

Adrian Beltre is an extremely impressive hitter for a guy who swings as hard as he does. His career batting average is .287 over 10,635 at-bats. Beltre has played in over half the regular season games in every season except his rookie year.

He has 1,642 career RBIs to go with 462 home runs. Beltre averages over a hit per game that he has played in, showing just how good of a hitter he is. He is not just streaky, he is also extremely consistent and has been over his entire career.

One of the best statistics is the fact that Beltre had a career WAR of 23.4 after his age-25 season. Currently, he is quickly approaching 100 WAR for his career. Beltre is not just a tremendous hitter, he is one of the best third basemen in baseball.

Beltre is a four-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger winner and five-time Gold Glove winner. He has hit for the cycle on three separate occasions, which is an MLB record.

Beltre has quietly put together a tremendous first-ballot Hall of Fame resume. He has done so in the last few seasons and is just adding to an already stellar career.

How did he get here

Adrian Beltre hall of fame

Beltre after a homerun. (Photo by Getty Images)

It is no surprise that Beltre is one of the more underrated stars. He does not get talked about often, and when he does, it is more for his swings that take him to one knee or his antics when hanging around Elvis Andrus.

The truth is that Beltre has cemented his Hall of Fame campaign with the Texas Rangers. With the Texas Rangers, he has become both a complete fielder and complete hitter.

In seven seasons with the Rangers, he has five seasons where he has hit above .300. He did that just two other times in his previous 12 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers. Before the Rangers, Beltre was a guy who would be more than just a little up and down. He was a guy who would mix a stellar season into a sea of underperforming ones filled with strikeouts.

He found his home with the Rangers and in turn, found consistency. He has proven that he can play tremendous defense, hit for power and average and has been more than consistent overall in his career.

When it is over

Beltre won’t be playing much longer. If he stays healthy, he will eclipse 3,200 hits, 480 home runs and 1,700 RBIs at the end of this season. Who knows just how long he plays, but if he continues to produce like he has been, he might be the Tom Brady of Major League Baseball and play at a high level longer than we expect.

Beltre is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He is one of the best defensive third basemen to ever play the position, as well as a tremendous all-around hitter. He deserves to find his way into Cooperstown and it is not much of a debate. His WAR says that there is no way he could not get into the Hall of Fame, and at this point, there is no reason for Beltre not to.

 

Featured image from NBC Philadelphia.

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Loyola Chicago Final Four

Loyola Chicago: From underdog to Final Four

A game-winning shot by Donte Ingram put the Ramblers passed the Miami Hurricanes in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Nine days later, the Ramblers punched their ticket to the Final Four with a win over Kansas State in the Elite Eight.

What does the future hold for the most surprising team in the NCAA Tournament? Can they cut down the nets come early April?

Statistics

Loyola has given up 62.4 points per game this season, which is fifth in Division I basketball. They have played less-talented offensive teams, but allowing under 65 points per game is still impressive. They struggle on the glass (326th in rebounds per game in all of Division I), but are sound on both offense and defense.

They also share the ball extremely well. Loyola averages 15.9 assists per game, which means they are not dominated by scoring off the dribble. They pass to get an open shot and are a balanced scoring team.

How they got here

Loyola Chicago Final Four

Victory over the Miami Hurricanes. (Photo by Kion)

The Ramblers have won four games in this NCAA tournament. The first three of them were won by a total of four points before beating Kansas State in the Elite Eight by 16 to get to the Final Four.

They are doing it through balance. Loyola has had six different double-digit scorers in their four wins in the NCAA tournament. They have had just one player over 18 points in any of those four games. The most impressive thing is how efficient they have been on both offense and defense.

In their most recent game against Kansas State, they held the Wildcats to 34.8 percent shooting from the field and just 23.1 percent from behind the arc. They won the rebounding battle by eight against a bigger team. Had they not turned the ball over nine more times than the Wildcats, they could have truly run away with the game in Atlanta.

The Ramblers have shot over 47 percent in each of their four tournament games. Despite a lack of forced turnovers, the Ramblers have battled on the glass, and have made each possession count on both ends of the floor. They have turned in solid performances and made teams grind out possessions. The Ramblers are a team that wears their opponent down and comes up with big plays because they are built to outlast other teams.

Playing Michigan

Michigan is the team that stands between the Ramblers and the championship game. The strength of Michigan is their spacing. They force teams to spread the floor on defense, which makes a team more vulnerable to cutters and to open shooters. Defenses tend to help and tend to leave open players. Michigan has five guys on the floor at all times that can shoot the three and make a team pay for helping too much.

If Loyola can contain dribble penetration to avoid helping and leaving open shooters, they can limit the threes that the Wolverines have poured in. Michigan struggled against a smaller and more athletic Florida State team, shooting just 4-for-22 from behind the arc. The Ramblers are a smaller team that can mimic what the Seminoles have just previously done.

Their team tends to mimic Florida State more than they mimic Texas A&M, a team that Michigan beat by 27 points less than a week ago. Texas A&M uses two big men, which the Ramblers do not have and do not use. The Ramblers match up well and could cause some problems for the Wolverines.

Can a Cinderella to win a National Championship?

At this point, we really cannot call the Ramblers a Cinderella. They are a very balanced team and not one that is just playing out of their element. The Ramblers clearly belong and are proving that to teams like Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. Three of those teams have been ranked at some point this season. Loyola has a balanced attack and continues to prove that they belong.

They are no longer a Cinderella and proved that no matter the team they play, they are going to be a tough out.

 

Featured image from The Star.

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