Way too early 2018-19 college basketball rankings

The college basketball season has just ended, which means it is time to look ahead to next season. Who are the teams that will be looking to cut down the nets in the 2019 NCAA Tournament?

25. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

The Ramblers do lose Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson, but return a lot of key players. This includes their two leading scorers, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes. Custer won MWC Player of the Year and will be a frontrunner to win the award again next season. The Ramblers have also been able to keep their head coach Porter Moser for the time being, who should keep the ball rolling.

24. Clemson Tigers

Clemson outdid expectations this year to earn a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. Mark Donnal, Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham are headed out the door, but they were successful after Grantham went down with an injury. Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas will lead the team next season as seniors. Reed led the team in scoring and looks like he could break out next season.

23. Cincinnati Bearcats

Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are lost to graduation, but to add insult to injury Jacob Evans has declared for the draft and doesn’t plan on returning. The Bearcats still have talent and should be the favorites to win the AAC again. The backcourt play will be great with Jarron Cumberland, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome returning. Cincinnati will have to find productive frontcourt players to really be a threat to great teams, but they are solid as is.

Way too early 2018-19 college basketball rankings

Mike Brey (photo by cbssports.com)

22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame seems to lose about two or three key players a year and do fine anyways. This year’s departing class will be a little harder to replace though, as the Fighting Irish lose point guard Matt Farrell and star Bonzie Colson. They do however have T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger and Martinas Geben returning, along with a solid recruiting class, which should help them compete in the ACC.

21. TCU Horned Frogs

The guard play should be good for the Horned Frogs next season as Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher return. Their two leading scorers, Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky, are both graduating and other players will need to step up to help make Jaime Dixon’s third year at TCU successful.

20. UCLA Bruins

Thomas Welsh graduates and Aaron Holiday has declared for the NBA draft. They do have a good incoming recruiting class, ranked third in the country by 247 sports, and some returning talent on the roster to work with. Holiday should be the only player who keeps his name in the NBA Draft, meaning Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands will be returning leaders.

19. LSU Tigers

Will Wade did an admirable job in his first season as LSU’s head coach. It was a program that wasn’t in the best shape and they finished with 18 wins. Tremont Waters and Skylar Myers will make the backcourt really good and they have the fourth best recruiting class (247sports). With two five-star big men coming in, they have a chance to compete again in the SEC.

18. Maryland Tigers

Maryland didn’t have their best season in 2017-2018 but have their top five leading scorers returning. This team will be headlined by Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando. Assuming they all return to school, Maryland can make some noise.

17. Mississippi State Bulldogs

The Bulldogs had a nice run in the NIT and will return all key players from the team. To go with that, they have the ninth-best recruiting class, which should help push them into the NCAA Tournament. Ben Howland has plenty of experience of winning at UCLA and now has the players to do so at Mississippi State.

way too early college basketball rankings 2018-19

Terance Mann (Photo by news-press.org)

16. Florida State Seminoles

Leonard Hamilton led the Seminoles on a dream run to the Elite Eight. They used their length and athleticism well and created havoc. Phil Cofer and Braian Angola are moving on, but their best player, Terance Mann returns. With a lot of key players and length returning, the Seminoles should have a better regular season than this past season.

15. Virginia Tech Hokies

Justin Bibbs is gone, but the rest of the notable Hokies will return. Virginia Tech had a really good offense and should be able to fill the void left by Bibbs. Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. will be senior leaders who will be able to lead the team to a lot of wins after being two of the three top leading scorers from last season.

14. Kansas State Wildcats

Kansas State surprised some by making the NCAA Tournament, then surprised everyone by making the Elite Eight. They don’t lose any key players either, which should lead them to compete in the Big 12, although it will be tough to beat out their in-state rival. Dean Wade and Barry Brown will be starring in the conference next season.

13. Oregon Ducks

Troy Brown is reportedly leaving for the NBA Draft. He could still return, but they will lose MiKyle McIntosh to graduation. Other than that the Ducks should return everyone from a 23 win team. They have the second-best recruiting class in the country, which includes a unique talent in Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol. Payton Pritchard took a huge step from year one to year two and should take another step forward in year three.

12. Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers had a young team this year and will return everyone. Rick Barnes has done a fantastic job early in his tenure at Tennessee. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will lead the team again with their great physical play. They are not expected to add anything special in the recruiting class because they aren’t losing anyone.

11. Michigan State Spartans

A lot has to be figured out with the situation at Michigan State, but as of now, they look like a good team heading into next season. Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges are going to the NBA. Gavin Schilling and “Tum Tum” Nairn will graduate, but a lot of talent should be returning to East Lansing. Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford should all be returning to school and will work with the 11th best recruiting class.

way too early 2018-29 college basketball rankings

Caleb and Cody Martin (Photo by twitter.com)

10. Nevada Wolfpack 

Nevada has five of their six key players who could potentially be coming back for next season. Caleb and Cody Martin could leave for the NBA, but the smart decision would be to come back to school. With those two, head coach Eric Musselman and Jordan Caroline returning and teaming up with some new recruits should make the team even better next season.

9. Auburn Tigers

The FBI investigation could have derailed Auburn’s season, but they outdid expectations. They return all key players and should have Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley returning at some point next season. If the FBI investigation doesn’t progress too much further Auburn is a contender to cut down the nets at the end of the season. Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown will create a great backcourt.

*Heron has since declared for the NBA Draft and hired an agent.

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson are both graduating. If Killian Tillie returns, Gonzaga is in store for another successful season. Four of their top five leading scorers would return and Mark Few can get another top seed. Making the Final Four isn’t out of the picture again for Gonzaga.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels

Losing Joel Berry and Theo Pinson is going to be tough to deal with early in the season, but UNC has a lot of returning talent. Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams all averaged double figures and will have a chance to be leaders of the team next season. The Tar Heels will also have two five star recruits coming in with Nassir Little and Coby White.

6. Michigan Wolverines

This ranking depends on Moritz Wagner coming back to school. He isn’t projected to be a lottery pick and could go back to school as he loves playing for Coach Beilein. With Wagner, Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson back, they have the necessary pieces to be good again. Jordan Poole will take on a bigger role and the 16th best recruiting class is coming in.

5. Virginia Cavaliers

The sting of being the first one seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament will be there for a while, but they only lost three games all season. Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall leaving will hurt, but Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter should be able to lead Virginia to success.

4. Villanova Wildcats

Villanova is now a perennial contender and will be back next year. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will likely be in the NBA next season, but there is so much talent returning outside of them. Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman will be stars next season. They also have the 12th best-recruiting class in the country including a five-star point guard in Jahvon Quinerly, who should be able to take over point guard duties from Brunson.

3. Kentucky Wildcats

The majority of Kentucky’s team should be back next season after securing a five seed and reaching the Sweet 16. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox should probably go to the NBA but are reportedly torn on what to do. Even if they leave, the Wildcats will have a great team next season. They have the sixth-best recruiting class in the country to pair with the vast returning talent.

way too early 2018-19 college basketball rankings

R.J. Barrett (photo by espn.com)

2. Duke Blue Devils

While most, if not all, their starters leaving, Duke will have a lot to replace. Fortunately, they have the top three recruits in the class coming in. All three were highly coveted and hyped. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish will have NBA scouts going to Cameron Indoor Stadium often. Five-star Tre Jones was also signed to play point guard. Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell are the leading returning players and need to grow up fast.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas will feel some growing pains while trying to replace Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. If Malik Newman, Udoka Azabuike and/or Lagerald Vick decide to go pro, Kansas will fall down these rankings a bit. Assuming they all return, Kansas should be one of the best teams in the country. They have those key players returning and the fifth-best recruiting class. To add to it, they have the Lawson twins, who were highly productive at Memphis, transferring in.

 

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Previewing Friday’s Sweet Sixteen games

What a difference Thursday and Friday is. Thursday? A rather unpredictable slate of games of teams that weren’t necessarily the experts picks to have moved on. Friday is exactly what most people assumed. Both the one seeds play on Friday and only Syracuse falls in the outlier category when on thursday more than half of the teams are seeded 7th or higher.

With a trip to the Elite Eight on the line Fridays slate of Sweet Sixteen games will be intense battles between historic coaches. Coach K, Bill Self and Jay Wright all headline an impressive friday slate. Who will make it to the Elite Eight and who will get their dreams crushed? Lets take our shot at predicting the unpredictable.

Kansas and Clemson:

Clemson is recently coming off a very strong win against the SEC regular season champions in Auburn. They face a Kansas team under Bill Self that has come on strong as of late and is getting a minutes restriction lift off of Udoka Azubuike. The difference is this game is just that.

While Clemson scores well and is balanced throughout their team, they lack a big man. With Udoka Azubuike on the floor, as well as the emergence of freshman Silvio De Sousa, the Clemson Tigers will have a tough time locking down the paint. As soon as they struggle with that, the lethal shooters on Kansas will get going.

Kansas will win this game 71-62 due to their ability to control the paint as well as the backboards.

West Virginia and Villanova:

Two of the very best college basketball coaches square off in this one. Jay Wright is leading a Villanova team that is looking very good in the NCAA tournament so far and West Virginia is coming off a dominant win against Marshall on Sunday. West Virginia or “Press” Virginia is a difficult team to prep for for some. Marshall had just two days to prep for them and it ended up costing them 18 turnovers which is a season high for them.

The Wildcats are different though. They have two guards in Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVencenzo who have been fantastic all season. They refuse to turn it over or speed up their games. This will be a game that questions if West Virginia can score in bunches offensively to keep up with the number one scoring offense in Villanova.

The best matchup in this game will be Jevon Carter drawing Jalen Brunson. Carter is nothing but productive and seems to make the game go however he and the press dictate. Jalen Brunson is exactly the same type of leader for Villanova. He never gets outside of himself and never does things to hurt their teams chances of winning the game.

Whoever wins that matchup will probably be on the winning side at the end of the 40 minutes. I think Nova takes this one 74-67 due to their tremendous offense and tremendous guards.

Duke and Syracuse:

Mens College basketball

Syracuse and Duke matching up.

Ah the battle of the zones. Duke has been much better offensively throughout this tournament. Instead of letting mediocre teams hang around they are taking big leads early and not looking back.

Syracuse is coming off an upset victory against Michigan State that has people thinking their zone just throws teams all out of sorts. Syracuse has the potential to be a zone killer because well one they practice against it every single day, and two because they have a guy in Marek Dolezaj who makes great decisions at the high post. Syracuse is not a particularly spectacular shooting team and needs Frank Howard and Tyus Battle to step up their scoring.

On the otherside we have a team that could potentially struggle against a good zone. Syracuse is a long zone and could make things tough for Duke. Duke has two tremendous three point shooters in Gary Trent jr and Grayson Allen. After that they don’t shoot it particularly great. Duke will struggle offensively and in turn we will see just how good their defense is.

Duke will win a very close one here. I have Duke winning this one 68-63 in a game that is close almost the whole time. If Syracuse can score well enough, they could even sneak out a huge upset win.

Texas Tech and Purdue:

I can’t imagine Isaac Haas playing in this game which could be a huge loss for the Boilermakers. The Red Raiders have dominated the defensive end all season. The stifle your offense and make you grind out long defensive possessions on the other end. They are effectively exactly what Virgina does. Keenan Evans has been very good scoring the basketball and will need to be in this game.

Purdue will struggle from the outside even though they have 4-5 guys that shoot it well and Texas tech will win this game 67-60 and absolutely shut down the Boliermakers’ offense.

 

Featured image from USA Today.

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A recap of Selection Sunday

Well Selection Sunday has finally hit for college basketball fans. Selection Sunday is when the 68 teams that compete for a National Championship get announced. Whether you were comfortably in like Virginia and North Carolina or had to sweat it out like UCLA and Arizona State the field has officially been set.

Surprises: Arizona State:

Few people thought that Arizona State was going to make the big dance but they managed to do enough to grab an at-large bid. A record of 5-2 against other teams that made the NCAA tournament field was key here.

Although Arizona State has lost some games to lesser opponents they have key wins against Kansas, Kansas State, UCLA and Xavier that were too good to pass up to the selection committee.

Oklahoma:

The committee wasn’t judging the Sooners based on their whole body of work this season. Even worse is they didn’t think that Oklahoma well in the “last four in” category. Oklahoma has won just six games in all of 2018.

Yes you read that right, they have a 7-9 record against other teams that made it into this years field but have been trending in the wrong direction of late. Like Arizona State, a team that was once a top 10 team mid-season fell off drastically and almost missed out on one of the 32 at-large bids.

Syracuse:

This ones just completely shocking. I really did not think that Syracuse did enough to make the NCAA tournament. They were 5-9 against the field this season and had some “quadrant 3” or even worse loses. They did not fair well against the bottom of the ACC and finished 9-12 overall in conference, which includes conference tournament play.

The Fives and Sixes:

(KUhoops.com).

Notoriously a spot where there are a plethora of upsets the five and six seeds are locked in. One of the best match ups has to be Clemson and New Mexico State. New Mexico State is 2-0 against this year’s tournament teams.

They have back to back wins this season against Miami and Davidson and are 27-5 this season. They are lead by Zach Lofton ad have five guys that average eight or more points this season. The Aggies have some senior leadership and have the ability to shut down the incredible backcourt of Gabe DeVoe and Marcquise Reed.

Another solid matchup is West Virginia and Murray State. Now both these teams have very fast paced games which make this game interesting. West Virginia is the better team at forcing turnovers but Murray State both scores and allows less points. I think this game will be closer than many think and if Jonathan Stark, who averages just under 22 points per game shows up to play, this could be a big 5-12 upset.

The One seed with the toughest road:

This falls to either Villanova or Kansas. Even though Kansas has both Duke and Michigan State in their bracket they only have to play one of them in the Elite Eight.

With the best seeds in their bracket they would have to face Penn, Seton Hall, Auburn and then Duke. Auburn has slumped lately, Seton Hall they match up well against and then Duke will ideally be a toss up depending on the health of Udoka Azubuike.

Ultimately Virginia got rewarded this season by getting a gauntlet for a bracket. Seeds 2-8 have all been ranked at least once this season. They draw the SEC champion in Kentucky, SEC runner up in Tennessee, AAC champion in Cincinnati and a team that they have seen twice already this season in Miami. A team that has dominated all season will get tested throughout each game if they wish to win the National Championship.

Outside the top 2 seeds:

Michigan is blazing hot and comes in as a three seed. They fall in a region with North Carolina and Xavier who are all built similarly. They typically play with four guards who can handle the ball and play with one big. Ultimately teams clicking at the right time are dangerous in March.

This is one of the best brackets in recent memory. Lots of good matchups throughout the tournament as well as many teams who can win on any given day. The NCAA tournament is set and the Madness is set to begin.

Hitting your stride at the right time can lead to a deep NCAA tournament run. If you don’t believe me? You can ask Kemba Walker.

 

Featured image from Basketballscores.com.

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2018 SEC Tournament preview

The SEC arguably boosted its stock the most during the 2017 NCAA Tournament with three teams reaching the Elite Eight. This trend continued in the 2018 season as an Auburn program riddled in scandal claimed a share of the SEC regular season title for the first time since 1999. A Kentucky team that reeled in six five-star recruits only finished fourth in league standings. This shows how deep this conference is and how unforgiving the schedule and competition can be.

Which team will scratch and claw their way to the top? Let’s dive in and find out.

overview

This SEC season was defined by Auburn and Tennessee. The Tigers jumped out to a blazing 10-1 conference record before cooling down substantially. Bryce Brown and his streaky jump shot led the way all season for Auburn. The Vols settled down after a rocky start to conference play and have won four straight entering the SEC Tournament. The SEC preseason media poll projected Tennessee to finish in 13th out of 14 teams.

Florida and Kentucky, the two favorites heading into the season, endured a season maligned by inconsistencies. Florida’s offense appeared unstoppable when its three point shooting was on point, but lost and confused when it was not. Kentucky, a preseason season national title favorite, never seemed to fully come together as so many John Calipari coached teams do down the stretch of the season.

Missouri’s conference championship hopes were dashed when top-three recruit Michael Porter Jr. went down in the first game of the season with a back injury. However, Missouri still battled its way to a fifth place finish. Alabama drew preseason intrigue due to the presence of flashy, confident freshman Collin Sexton. Sexton, along with freshman John Petty, could not vault the Crimson Tide into serious contention at any point during the season.

favorites

Admiral Schofield led Tennessee to a share of the SEC regular season title (Wade Payne/Associated Press).

Auburn dominated the SEC for about three quarters of the season. Coach Bruce Pearl’s blistering and relentless attack often left opponents dazed and confused. Pearl encouraged aggressively pushing the ball on offense, often seeking an early three point shot attempt in transition. Bryce Brown spearheaded the Tigers’s attack, averaging 16.4 points on 41 percent shooting.

Mustapha Heron added 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Tigers. Heron’s ability to create plays off the dribble helped create space for Auburn’s shooters on the wings.

Tennessee was led by the two-headed of Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams all season long. Schfield averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds while Williams added 15.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. Tennessee, winners of four straight to end the season, will look to continue to build off of that momentum in the SEC Tournament. Schofield, in particular, has been hot, pouring in 25, 24, and 23 points respectively in each of his last three games.

darkhorse: Arkansas

2018 SEC Tournament Preview

Daryl Macon has Arkansas primed to shock the SEC world (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports).

Many pundits are clamoring about how the possible return of Michael Porter Jr. will magically vault Missouri into a dangerous darkhorse role both in this tournament and the NCAA Tournament. However, there is not guarentee Porter will play this tournament, and if he does, no one knows how effective he will be. Porter is returning from back surgery and will most likely struggle in his first few games back.

Meanwhile, the Razorbacks are seemingly rounding into shape as the SEC Tournament begins. Arkansas will enter the tournament winners of six of their past eight games. Led by two dynamic scorers in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, the Razorbacks are capable of shooting any opponent out of the gym.

Both Macon and Barford each average over 17 points per game and shoot 43.8 and 43.4 percent from three-point range as well. Arkansas, as a team, shoots at a 48.1 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three.

Arkansas can be derailed by poor free throw shooting. As a team, the Razorbacks only shoot 67 percent from the pinstripe. Poor fundamentals such as missing free throws can lead to blown late leads and disappointing exits in single-elimination tournaments.

The Champion: Auburn

2018 SEC Tournament Preview

Bryce Brown is capable of shooting Auburn to an SEC Tournament title (Adam Sparks/Scout.com).

Auburn seemingly found its offensive legs once again in its much-needed 79-70 victory over South Carolina. Down by eight points early in the match, Bryce Brown awoke out of hibernation to score 29 points on 60 percent shooting. Brown’s primary offensive game stems from his ability to hit open three pointers in transition. Brown could not buy a bucket during Auburn’s brutal stretch of losing three of four before defeating South Carolina.

In its first game, Auburn will take on either Texas A&M or Alabama. A&M defeated Alabama in its final game to end the season. Even though both of these teams found a way to take down Auburn during the regular season, Auburn’s offense is clicking at the right time and this should be enough to outlast any push from these teams.

Auburn would then take on Kentucky and then Tennessee in the final. If Auburn’s shooting begins to falter, a team like the Vols could take advantage by controlling the pace of play and pounding the rock inside. Look for Brown and Heron to take over in this tournament on the offensive end and lead Auburn to a title.

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Two teams that need to right the ship heading into postseason play

As Selection Sunday and the ensuing madness that occurs afterwards draws closer, nerves and excitement have slowly begun to reach a boiling point. Pundits and experts have already started predicting contenders and sleepers for the big dance. Meanwhile, struggling teams have less than three weeks to determine how to break out of their respective funks.

So much is made of momentum in sports, especially for March Madness. While momentum is not the deciding factor of a possible tournament run (see South Carolina and Oregon last season), it certainly does not hurt to establish a sense of urgency by making a run in conference tournament play.

There are several teams across the country that need to right the ship during conference tournament play. Let’s take a look at a couple of teams that need to see an improvement of play in order to avoid an early exit during March Madness.

Texas Tech

Two Teams that need to right the ship heading into postseason play

Keenan Evans’s health is key for Texas Tech this postseason (John Weast/Getty Images).

Coach Chris Beard has done a marvelous job in turning this Texas Tech team into a contender this season. He rightfully deserves to be in contention for Coach of the year. However, with that being said, Beard has the unenviable task of getting the Red Raiders back on track. Tech has lost four straight games, blowing their opportunity to capture the program’s first Big 12 regular season title.

The Red Raiders seemingly lost their way in their 59-57 loss at Baylor. Keenan Evans, Tech’s star senior guard, did not play in the second half as he left the game with turf toe. Without Evans running the offense, Beard’s squad lacked a consistent scoring threat at the end of the game. Texas Tech’s blueprint for winning games all season long as been to play tough, gritty defense while scoring through Evans.

Much to the horror of Tech fans across the nation, the play of Evans was severely affected by his turf toe. Evans’s productivity dropped off significantly while playing through the turf toe. In Tech’s 79-71 loss to Oklahoma State, Evans was limited to 2 points on 14 percent shooting from the field. In Tech’s biggest game of the season, a 74-72 loss to Kansas, Evans struggled again, only scoring 6 points on 17 percent shooting.

It may seem illogical to place so much weight on the shoulders of one player, but Evans is a semi-finalist for the Naismith award. A healthy offense entirely alters the method opposing teams approach defending this Tech offense. With turf toe, Evans has to wear a different shoe size to increase support and that has limited his explosiveness and ability to create separation off the ball. While other Tech players such as freshmen Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith, Beard needs Evans healthy if Texas Tech wants to make a run in March Madness.

Auburn

Much like Chris Beard, Coach Bruce Pearl has masterfully crafted Auburn into a surprise contender this season. Despite losing Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, Pearl has coached Auburn to an impressive 12-5 SEC record and 24-6 non-conference mark. However, after Auburn’s 76-66 win over Kentucky, Auburn has dropped three of four.

Auburn lost sophomore Anfernee McLemore to a season-ending injury in their 84-75 loss at South Carolina. This was a crucial blow to a team that lacked front court depth before the injury. McLemore, a 6-foot-7 forward, played a crucial role in defending the rim for Auburn. While he was not an offensive juggernaut, his size, strength and athleticism on defense allowed Pearl to play small ball.

This injury has forced Pearl to turn to freshman Chuma Okeke for increased playing time. Okeke played well in Auburn’s 72-66 loss to Florida, scoring 12 points and hauling in 10 rebounds. However, he struggled to efficiently put the ball in the basket against Arkansas, scoring 5 points on 25 percent shooting.

The biggest problem Auburn has encountered of late has been the shooting inefficiency of Bryce Brown. In Auburn’s 91-82 loss to Arkansas, Brown only scored 12 points on 31 percent shooting. Brown struggled in Auburn’s loss to Florida as well, scoring 6 points on 25 percent shooting. Brown averages 15.9 points per game. If Auburn wants to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Brown needs to snap out of this shooting slump.

 

Featured image by Butch Dill/AP.

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March Madness conference tournaments

Bring on the conference tournaments

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

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

Conference play

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

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

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

Needing some help

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

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

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

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

Playing to the top

March Madness conference tournaments

(Photo from CSmonitor.com)

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

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

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

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

March is almost here

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

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

 

Featured image from USA Today.

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2018 NCAA Tournament bracketology February 12

The NCAA selection committee released their top 16 seeds this Saturday to give a look into how they would seed the teams right now. This can officially put everyone in the mindset for March Madness. Here is the latest NCAA Tournament bracketology. Click to zoom.

 

First four out: SMU, Nebraska, St. Bonaventure, Utah

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Auburn ready to silence doubters

The No. 11 Auburn Tigers have not captured a victory at the Pavilion in nearly ten years. After a strong second half from junior guard Bryce Brown, the Tigers stormed out of Oxford, Mississippi with a 79-70 comeback win over rival Ole Miss. Coach Bruce Pearl’s team now sits at 8-1 in SEC conference play, holding a two game lead over second place Kentucky. Let’s take a look at why the Tigers have defied expectations this season, and why they are equipped to continue to defy doubters come March.

 

Second Half Dominance

 

Mustapha Heron soars in for a basket (Crystal LoGiudice/Associated Press).

A common theme for Pearl’s Tigers this season has been breaking away from inferior competition in the second half of games. In Auburn’s 79-65 victory over Georgia, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 40-26 lead at halftime, holding Auburn to 25 percent shooting from the field. Pearl, as he has done all season, engineered the necessary adjustments on both offense and defense during the break. This led to an offensive explosion by the Tigers, with Brown pouring in 25 of his 28 points in the second half and sophomore guard Mustapha Heron adding 14 points.

Auburn has scored 50 points in the second half eight times this season with five of them coming against SEC opponents. Pearl has credited his players for having the willpower and resiliency to close out games. Brown has consistently shown the ability to turn on a second gear on both ends of the floor at will this season. Auburn has the unique blend of calmness, intensity and belief in one another which allows them to climb out of significant deficits in any situation and slam the door on any comeback it faces.

 

Nine Man Rotation

Unlike some of the other top contenders in the nation, Pearl has the ability to roll out a nine man rotation every game. This depth allows Pearl to create mismatches against any line-up. All nine players average at least 13 minutes per game and this allows Pearl to wear down opponents as each game progresses. It also allows Auburn to ramp up the on and off ball pressure on defense, understanding that they can withstand foul trouble to any certain player.

 

Come postseason play, teams that roll out primarily six or seven man rotations feel the effect of tired legs. Pearl is unafraid to ride the players who produce for him on a game-by-game basis. This depth provides Pearl with versatility in both creating game plans and adjusting match-ups mid-game.

 

The Emergence of Bryce Brown 

 

 

Bryce Brown silences the crowd (Samantha Baker/AP Photo)

After Auburn suspended both Austin Wiley, a former five-star recruit, and Danjel Purifoy indefinitely for their potential involvement in a federal court investigation against former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person. Most pundits wrote off Pearl’s squad as both Wiley and Purifoy were potential starters for Auburn this season. In order to have a successful season, Pearl needed one of his upperclassmen to step up and lead his team.

Brown has averaged 16.6 points per game, more than double than his average last season. He has been lethal from behind the arc as well, shooting 40.3 percent from three point range this season. In addition to his dominance of the stat sheet, Brown has been the heart and soul of this Tiger team, sparking second half runs with his play-making ability on and off the ball.

 

Defense Wins Championships

Perhaps Pearl’s most impressive accomplishment on the season is the turnaround of Auburn’s defense. According to KenPom rankings, Auburn’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 25th in the nation. Pearl’s defense is predicated on heavy on ball pressure with the intention of forcing turnovers. This style of play allows Auburn to rattle its opponents while slowly burning out their energy.

This is where Auburn’s depth plays to its advantage. Pearl can utilize all nine of his rotational players to maintain this intensity for all 40 minutes of playing time. He can continually send in fresh legs to stabilize the pressure as Auburn’s opponents slowly burn out.

Verdict

Auburn has defied expectations all season long by taking care of business against inferior opposition. However, with games against Kentucky, Alabama, and at Florida remaining, the Tigers must figure out how to consistently show up for all 40 minutes. Pearl’s squad has a chance to solidify a number two seed in the big dance if they continue to manhandle SEC competition. Based on the way the Tigers have rallied around each other this season, anything is possible.

 

Featured image by Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Alabama had a thrilling comeback to win yet another title. It included putting in a freshman quarterback, who hadn’t played a meaningful snap all season long. The game just goes to show that college football is unique and great. While the 2017 season is now over it is time to look ahead to the 2018 season. Here is the early college football top 25 for the 2018 season:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

While they always lose talent to the NFL, Alabama can replace it. Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa will lead the offense alongside any of the talented running backs that decide to return to school. Najee Harris found some daylight in the title game and will also be back. The defense will lose a lot more talent to the NFL, but they always step up. A lot of players got experience this season due to injuries.

2. Clemson Tigers

Clemson made a third straight College Football Playoff and will compete for another next season. Kelly Bryant and the talented running backs will be back. Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow need to make their decisions still, but Clemson can replace them. The defense always reloads and will at the very least have stud defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence to build around.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

J.K. Dobbins (Photo by cleveland.com)

J.T. Barrett may be leaving, but Dwayne Haskins looked good in relief against Michigan. Add him with J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and the majority of the offensive line returning and it has the makings of a good offense. The defense will still have Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones, which will help make up a good defensive line.

4. Washington Huskies

The Huskies had a young team this season that saw them replace a lot of NFL talent on defense. Jake Browning should return to school to lead the team at quarterback. Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis could both be lost to the NFL, but if Gaskin elects to return to school, the offense will be solid. The majority of the defense will return, but will have to fill holes left by Vita Vea and some very good linebackers.

5. Miami Hurricanes

Is Malik Rosier the answer at quarterback? Only time will tell. The Hurricanes should have him, Mark Walton and Ahmmon Richards back to make plays. They do lose a lot on the offensive line, but should be able to replace it. Miami should also get most of their defense back, which includes a great back seven of talented linebackers and a good secondary.

6. Michigan State Spartans

L.J. Scott decided to return to school, giving Michigan State almost all their starters back for next year. After winning ten games this season, they should be expected to compete even more next season. Brian Lewerke is a dual-threat that is expected to improve this offseason. The defense was very young and should also get a lot better next season.

7. Georgia Bulldogs

The Bulldogs just played in the National Championship, but are going to lose a lot of talent, especially on their defense. They could lose up to nine or ten players from the defense, which will not be easy to replace. Georgia has some playmakers on offense returning in Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Riley Ridley. Most of their offensive line also returns.

8. Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin got a huge win when linebacker T.J. Edwards said he was returning for his senior season. He will give the defense some stability, as they lose a lot this offseason. The offense will be expected to pick up the slack, as Jonathan Taylor had a fantastic freshman season and most of his offensive line will return. The question is: How well can Alex Hornibrook play?

9. Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley did a fantastic job in his first year as head coach, but now has to move on without Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray was a highly-touted recruit that Riley can mold. Freshman running back Rodney Anderson also returns after having a great season and Rose Bowl. Add those two to wide receiver “Hollywood” Brown and the offense should be set. Defensively, some talent will move on, but the offense is the strength of the team.

10. Virginia Tech Hokies

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Josh Jackson (Photo by cjonline.com)

Josh Jackson had a fantastic freshman season that resulted in nine wins. His progression is what carries this ranking. Travon McMillan and Cam Phillips, his two offensive weapons at running back and wide receiver, are gone. Young receivers will need to step up and they will also need to replace a few offensive linemen. The Hokies will return about six or seven starters on defense, but will need to replace some NFL-level talent.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions 

Saquon Barkley is gone, but Trace McSorley is back again. He will now have to be the focal point of the offense with a new offensive coordinator. Most of the offensive line returns, but a lot of new faces will have to step up on defense, as they had a lot of seniors getting significant playing time.

12. Auburn Tigers

The Tigers had a great season that resulted with them playing in the Cotton Bowl. Auburn gets quarterback Jarrett Stidham back, while Kerryon Johnson is leaving for the NFL. They will lose some quality players on defense, but will get the majority back for 2018.

13. Stanford Cardinal

Bryce Love is likely going to the NFL. The good news for Stanford is they can seemingly plug in a lot of running backs into their system to be productive. K.J. Costello also showed some flashes of being a very good quarterback. They lose more than half of their defense to seniors, but the returning players are solid.

14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Both Josh Adams and Equanimeous St. are trying to make it at the next level. Losing Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson deals a significant blow to the offense of Notre Dame. They still have some good offensive linemen, running backs and wide receivers who will step up next season. That only leaves the matter of quarterback. Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush will battle it out in the offseason for the starting role. The seniors leaving the defense will leave a mark, but a lot of players returning have gotten significant playing time due to injuries over the previous few seasons.

15. Boise State Broncos

Boise State has a chance to be in the national spotlight again this year, after fading in the past few seasons. Quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison return, which should help keep the offense rolling. Losing wide receiver Cedrick Wilson and some offensive linemen will hurt, but they will manage. The defense is young and pretty much all returning next season, meaning they should be dominant.

16. LSU Tigers

The Tigers will have to replace a lot of their offense, but they have some talented recruits waiting to take the team to the next level. Myles Brennan looks to take over at quarterback after seeing action in six games this season. He was a highly-touted recruit that should be able to make plays with another year under his belt. A lot of good players from LSU’s defense will be missing as well, so they’re recruits will need to step up.

17. Michigan Wolverines

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Shea Patterson (Photo by freep.com)

Michigan won the Shea Patterson sweepstakes and the quarterback transfer from Ole Miss. Brandon Peters also showed potential at the position this season. They’ll need skill position players to step up next season. Donovan Peoples-Jones is in store for a big year at wide receiver if the quarterback play is good enough. The defense returns most of its key players. A player to watch is linebacker Devin Bush, who is one of the best in the country.

18. USC Trojans

Sam Darnold helped lead USC back to prominence, but now he is gone. Gone too are running back Ronald Jones and wide receiver Deontay Burnett. Two offensive linemen also graduate, so they will have some big shoes to fill in Los Angeles. A lot of their players on the defensive side of the ball will be testing the NFL Draft waters, so sophomore corner Jack Jones will have to step up and be a leader.

19. West Virginia Mountaineers

Will Grier had a great season for West Virginia and has decided to return to school. With most of his weapons back, Grier should have the Mountaineers in good position to have one of the best offenses in the country once again. While the defense isn’t the strength of the team, a lot of returning players will be good to work with.

20. Florida Atlantic Owls

Florida Atlantic hit a home run when they hired Lane Kiffin. He took a team that was supposed to be very bad and made them a conference championship team. Running back Devin Singletary was one of the most productive running backs in the country this season and will be back for his junior year. A young defense should also improve as a lot more people hop on the “Lane Train”.

21. Kansas State Wildcats

Bill Snyder is back for another season. They won nine games in 2016 and eight games this season with young teams. Now, with a bunch of veterans, the Wildcats are looking to compete more in the Big 12. Wide receiver Byron Pringle will be asked to do a lot for this team, but they will mainly try to run the football. If D.J. Reed decides to return at corner, it should be another solid year for the Wildcats.

22. Northwestern Wildcats

They won ten games this season and will be back for more next season. While their career leading rusher, Justin Jackson, is graduating, they seem to believe freshman Jeremy Larkin can be a workhorse back in his sophomore year. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is also back for next season, but is recovering from a torn ACL in the Music City Bowl. Freshman linebacker Paddy Fisher looks like he will be on of their all-time greats.

23. Florida State Seminoles

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Deondre Francois (photo by gridironnow.com)

Willie Taggart did a good job of turning around Oregon in his one season in Eugene. He is a solid coach who will get some talent returning. With Deondre Francois back at quarterback, Cam Akers at running back and a lot of good receivers, they should be solid on offense. The offensive line has struggled in the last few years, they are young and shold improve. A lot might need to be replaced on defense, but they have recruited well.

24. Mississippi State Bulldogs

If Nick Fitzgerald can recover from a gruesome leg injury, the Bulldogs have the makings of a good team. They get most of their team back, which is encouraging, but Dan Mullen left for Florida. Joe Moorehead will try to make Mississippi State’s offense a lot better, just like he did at Penn State.

25. Texas A&M Aggies

Jimbo Fisher is a great haul for Texas A&M. He will have to work with quarterbacks Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel, but they can be successful. Trayveon Willliams returns at running back, along with a lot of the offensive line, but they will have to replace Christian Kirk. A lot of their best defensive players will be playing on Sundays next year, so Fisher has a little bit of work cut out for him on that side of the ball.

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl has a three loss team and a team from a group of five conference, but there will be a lot of talent on the field. Both UCF and Auburn have a lot of players who can make it in the NFL. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl:

UCF Golden Knights

Mike Hughes, CB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Mike Hughes (Photo by twitter.com)

Hughes is in his first year with UCF after transferring from UNC and has produced. The junior has had a great season with 44 total tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defended. He was able to play against some great offenses in the American in Memphis and USF.

He is 5’11” and 185 pounds, which is a good enough start for the NFL, but he’ll need to add some strength. Hughes will likely get selected on day two or early on day three in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Shaquem Griffin, LB

Griffin’s brother, Shaquill, is already an NFL corner back with the Seahawks. Shaquem has been an impact player for UCF for the past two seasons. In his career he has 183 total tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 17 sacks. Griffin only has one hand, which could give some NFL teams some questions, but he has played well and deserves some NFL Draft consideration.

At 6’1″ and 221 pounds, he is a little undersized for a linebacker. He has produced really well for the Golden Knights and should be expected to do so again in the Peach Bowl.

Projected draft range: 6th round-undrafted free agent

Auburn Tigers

Carlton Davis, CB

Davis is a junior who has gotten significant playing time since his first season at Auburn. He has 136 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions in his career. NFL scouts like the fact that he is a lanky corner who has athleticism to match up with good receivers.

He is 6’1″ and 203 pounds, which is solid size for an NFL corner. Davis will be picked in the early rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 1st round-2nd round

Kerryon Johnson, RB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Kerryon Johnson (Photo by al.com)

Johnson battled early in his career for more playing time, but shined this season as the SEC’s leading rusher. He has 2,423 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns in his career. Most of his production is from this season, but it has averaged 4.9 yards per carry throughout his career.

At 6’0″ and 212 pounds, Johnson is a decent size for an NFL running back. He will be appealing to teams for his ability to run physically and also catch passes out of the backfield. He won’t go in the first round, but shouldn’t have to wait too long to hear his name after that.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Dontavius Russell, DT

Russell is just a junior and because he isn’t a top-tier prospect, might choose to go back to school. This season he has 41 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. As with most defensive tackles, their impact on the game is more than what shows up on the stat sheet.

He has great size at 6’3″ and 310 pounds. Russell will fit best as a 4-3 defensive tackle and should be good at stopping the run for an NFL team.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Other notable Auburn prospects: QB Jarrett Stidham (3rd round-5th round), G Braden Smith (3rd round-5th round), G Will Bell (7th round-undrafted free agent), C Austin Golson (4th round-6th round), LB Jeff Holland (3rd round-5th round), LB Tre’ Williams (4th round-6th round)