Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs

2018 is a make or break season for the Chiefs

One move that has not gotten enough attention this NFL offseason is Kansas City’s decision to send quarterback Alex Smith to the Redskins. The trade was constructed during Super Bowl week. Maybe that is why it seemed to fly under the radar.

The franchise is now in the hands of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The former Texas Tech gunslinger has a big arm and lots of raw talent, but here are the reasons why he and the entire Kansas City organization are perhaps under the most pressure in the entire league.

Alex Smith was effective in Kansas City

Smith is a prime example of what many fans and even those within the NFL tend to forget these days. The most important thing is winning games, and there is more than one way to go about doing that.

Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo from espn.com)

He was not blessed with a rocket arm, computer like mind or outstanding ability to scramble. This means he has never put up video game numbers like 30 touchdown passes or 5,000 passing yards in a season. Therefore, he has always ended up being replaced for a more eye-catching talent.

However, Kansas City never posted a losing record under the guidance of Smith in five seasons and made the playoffs four times. The former first overall pick never threw more than eight interceptions in a season with the Chiefs. Moreover, last season was his best in many ways. He posted career highs in passer rating, passing yards and touchdown passes.

It is clear that the Chiefs made the choice to replace Smith after their long stretch of playoff heartbreak continued last year. Like any other quarterback, Smith has benefited from being surrounded by some outstanding talent over the years both on the field and on the sidelines. At the end of last year though, some of that supporting cast let Smith down.

Last year’s playoff loss had almost nothing to do with Smith. Only Andy Reid and then offensive coordinator Matt Nagy know why they only ran the ball a handful of times in the second half despite having a 21-3 halftime lead. Throw in a defense that suddenly could not figure out how to stop Tennessee from running the ball down their throat and that is why the playoff heartbreak continued. After a loss like that, changes need to be made, but there is a fine line between that and taking risks that some might call unnecessary.

Smith is being replaced by a total unknown

There is no such thing as a “rebuilding mode” in the NFL. You are either winning or losing. The Chiefs have spent the majority of the last five years winning, but have yet to make a real run at a Lombardi Trophy.

Keeping Smith around would have guaranteed this team being in the mix in December in the upcoming season. Who knows what can happen from there. The rest of the AFC West is not particularly good at the moment.

Instead, the Chiefs chose to replace perhaps the biggest reason why the franchise has won 51 games over the last five years with a guy who has made one career start. When it is spelled out like that, you get a better idea of the magnitude of the gamble Kansas City is taking.

Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo from bleacherreport.com)

We all know what an inexact science evaluating young quarterbacks is. Anyone who tells you that they have any idea if Mahomes can succeed as a long-term starter in this league after a single start is lying.

Some might argue that the only way to see if Mahomes can play is to make him the starter, but Kansas City had a more proven commodity in their building in Smith. If you have a more proven commodity that is still playing reasonably well, it is difficult to replace him with an unproven commodity at any position. To do so at quarterback when Smith was not costing the Chiefs a fortune is almost unheard of. Even the great quarterbacks experience some growing pains early on.

The Chiefs cannot afford growing pains

Mahomes will have the advantage of being surrounded by a deep stable of running backs and two elite pass catchers in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. If new acquisition Sammy Watkins can stay healthy, the Chiefs could have one of the most talented supporting casts in the NFL. The defense will look a little bit different, but should still be pretty good.

This is a team built to win now and should not be trying to develop a young quarterback. For the bold move to be deemed a success, Mahomes needs to lead the Chiefs as far for further than Smith ever did. That means getting to the playoffs and winning a game or two in his first year as a starter. Anything less than that, and some heads could roll in Kansas City.

That is a tough position for Mahomes to be in, even though he has a supporting cast that most quarterbacks around would kill for. The weight of the world is on his shoulders this upcoming season.

 

Featured image from sbnation.com

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2018 NCAA Bracket regional analysis and Final Four picks

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

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

South Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East REgion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midwest Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Surviving on the bubble

As the days to selection sunday dwindle, so do the hopes of many familiar teams.

Conference tournaments are a time for bubble teams to play their way into the NCAA tournament or out depending on the resume. Many teams have helped themselves squarely on the bubble but few have played themselves into it. Here’s how the bubble looks with three days to go before selection sunday.

Assessing the eliminated:

Syracuse: Well it seems like Syracuse is always on the bubble and this season is no different. The Orange beat Wake Forest 73-64 to extend their bubble hopes but dropped their Wednesday night game to North Carolina. Syracuse is 311th in the nation in points per game at 67.5 and have dropped four of their last six. Including conference tournament play, they finished 9-11 in conference.

A red flag is then shown because the committee does not favor under .500 conference records. Losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech killed ‘Cuse’s chances throughout this season as they are the two worst loses on the resume. Syracuse has a lot of things going against them and seem to be a long shot to find an at-large bid.

Oklahoma: It seems like Oklahoma hasn’t gotten a win since they beat Kansas January 23. The reason for that? Well they really haven’t. Since that huge win for the Sooners in Norman they are 3-9. They give up 81.6 points per game which is good for 337th in all of division one basketball. This is the same in conference 9-11 that Syracuse has only it is valued slightly more due to the depth of the Big 12.

Although Oklahoma has some very large wins, they are reeling right now. If a few at-large bids get stolen in the next couple of days, the Sooners, and Trae Young could be on the outside looking in.

The ones in trouble:

Arizona States Bench, (Pac12.com).

Oklahoma State: I find it hard to believe that Oklahoma will get in but Oklahoma State won’t. Oklahoma State is 2-1 against both Kansas and the Sooners themselves this season.

They have wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia and even Florida State. The Cowboys have many wins against teams that are more than likely making it to the NCAA tournament. They finished at the same 9-11 in conference that everyone has so far but has beaten the Sooners twice which is a team valued ahead of them. Oklahoma State is one of the best 68 teams in the country, we will see if they get in.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils wrap up the eliminated teams on the list. The Sun Devils have struggled ever since they were ranked fourth in the country. Since that day they are 8-11. They have lost five of their last six and got bounced in the first round of the Pac 12 tournament by Colorado.

The Sun Devils are 8-11 in conference this season and are trending in the wrong direction. Despite some very solid non conference wins, the Arizona State Sun Devils seem to be on the wrong side of a bubble that’s ready to pop.

The Teams with life:

March Madness

Aaron Holiday, (Pac12.com).

UCLA: The Bruins have really turned on the jets lately. They took care of business in their first Pac 12 tournament and are 8-3 in their last 11. The Bruins have put themselves in great position being that they are 12-7 in conference games this season and have a nice road win against Pac 12 regular season champ Arizona.

They now draw Arizona again and barring an embarrassing loss, look to have played their way into the NCAA tournament.

Boise State: Well Boise State has been very impressive. They are 23-7 this season and are second in the Mountain West only to Nevada. Nevada is arguable an at-large team and looked rather unimpressive against UNLV Thursday afternoon.

It’s hard to beat any basketball team three times and with a possible Nevada and Boise State Mountain West final looming, Boise State could either play their way in, or steal an automatic bid at the same time.

In the best shape:

March Madness

Collin Sexton, (WRUF.com).

This is obviously the teams in the best shape of the ones that have been listed.

Alabama: Yes they have won one of their last six, but Thursday afternoon’s win was a huge one for the Crimson Tide. They now draw a chance to play a reeling Auburn team that they have already beaten once this season. More importantly they live to fight another day and take their shot Friday and further solidifying their spot inside the bubble.

Finally we have Providence: with wins against Xavier and Villanova who both might be one seeds the Friars continue to make noise in the Big East. They knocked off Creighton Thursday and have severely increased their chances. With upperclassmen leadership all over the place, the Friars could be a tough out for any team in March.

Featured image from Syracuse.com.

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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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Unmasking contenders and pretenders of college basketball

As college basketball enters the final week of regular season play, teams on the bubble are scrambling to enhance their resumes and prove to the selection committee that they are worthy of a Tournament bid. Meanwhile, teams at the top of their respective conference are simply focused on winning out and capturing a Conference Tournament championship title.

Conference tournament week is simply a preview to the utter madness of the NCAA Tournament, but how reliable is it in showing the fans which teams are real contenders and pretenders?

Let’s look at last year for example. Heading into the Tournament, no team in the nation was as hot as Duke. The Blue Devils steamrolled their way to an ACC Conference Tournament title and were viewed as heavy favorites by fans to make a Final Four. However, Coach K’s squad bowed out of the Tournament after a shocking upset at the hands of a South Carolina team that looked dead in the water after losing its first game in the SEC Tournament against Alabama.

The moral of story is that while Conference Tournaments create a lot of headlines before the NCAA Tournament, it is not a fool proof way to understand which teams are true contenders heading into the the big dance. Let’s unmask the real contenders and pretenders of the college basketball universe as the regular season comes to a conclusion.

CONTENDER: VILLANOVA

Coach Jay Wright’s crew silenced the doubters in their 95-79 demolition of Big East rival Xavier. Xavier Coach Chris Mack assigned his best defender in Naji Marshall to shadow Jalen Brunson from start to finish. He dared other Wildcats to step up and beat them instead. The end result was the best team in the Big East flexing its offensive muscle power.

Projected lottery pick Mikal Bridges burned the Musketeer defense all night, loading the box score with 25 points on 66.67 percent shooting. Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo stepped up and showcased his ability to run the offense. DiVincenzo nearly recorded a triple double with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

While Brunson is the unquestioned star of this team, DiVincenzo’s consistent offensive production may be the X-factor for Villanova in their quest to return to the Final Four. In Villanova’s 76-71 loss to Providence, DiVincenzo struggled from the field, only connecting on 30 percent of his shots, scoring six points and turning the ball over three times.

After Phil Booth fractured his right hand earlier in the season, Wright had to force freshman Collin Gillespie into more game action earlier than he would have preferred. Gillespie’s production and efficiency have seen exceptional improvement over the past week. In Villanova’s past four games, Gillespie has averaged 9.25 points while shooting 65 percent.

If Villanova can limit turnovers, they accumulated 19 in their loss to Providence, and receive consistent scoring production from DiVincenzo and Gillespie, expect to see the Wildcats make some noise come mid-March.

PRETENDER: XAVIER

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Trevon Blueitt and Xavier have encountered a number of lucky breaks this season (Logan Bowles/USA Today Sports).

Xavier has accumulated numerous victories over quadrant one and two opponents throughout the season. However, their play has been incredibly inconsistent throughout the season as they have struggled against lower quality opponents throughout the season. In Xavier’s 96-91 overtime victory over Georgetown, the Musketeers required a four-point play with under 20 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.

Coach Chris Mack’s squad required help from the officials in their 72-71 win at Creighton. Sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin was fouled attempting a shot with 0.3 seconds remaining. There was contact on the play, but the call was questionable given the context of the play.

To add to this, KenPom ranks Xavier as the fourth luckiest team in the nation with a score of +.129.

Xavier’s offense has been synonymous of a roller coaster ride all season. The Musketeers are heavily reliant on senior forward Trevon Blueitt to provide consistent, high volume production. However, Blueitt has been prone to shooting slumps and inefficiencies. In their 72-71 victory over Creighton, Blueitt was shut down all game, only scoring six points on 33.3 percent shooting. This was a game Creighton should have won and they provided a blueprint to take down Mack’s team.

Xavier’s porous defense could prove to be their downfall come March though. In their biggest game of the season, Xavier allowed Villanova to shoot 60.3 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three point range. This stems from poor defensive close-outs and communication on switching.

CONTENDER: Texas Tech

Coach Chris Beard has Red Raider nation buzzing with optimism. Texas Tech as the opportunity to not only capture its first Big 12 regular season title in school history, but also make some noise once mid-March comes around.

Tech sports one of the most dominant defenses in the nation. Ranked third in adjusted defense by KenPom, Beard has completely altered the culture and playing style of this Red Raider team. Beard prefers to utilize a pack line defense, but also focuses on crisp player rotation and communication. This forces opponents into poor shot selection and passing decisions.

Their offense runs through star point guard Keenan Evans. Evans is averaging 18.2 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. In Tech’s 59-57 loss to Baylor, Evans was sidelined the entire second half with a toe injury. The Red Raiders’ defense kept them in the game, but they had no offensive flow at the end of the game without Evans to handle the rock. Evans is listed as day-to-day, which should be a relief for Tech fans as their match-up with Kansas is on the horizon.

Evans has the defense and the team make-up in place to take on a role similar Kemba Walker this March and lead the surprising Red Raiders to the promised land.

PRETENDER: KANSAS

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Kansas needs Devonte’ Graham to stay hot if they want to go far in March (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World).

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has moved Kansas back up to a No. 1 seed after the Jayhawks defeated West Virginia 77-69 at Allen Fieldhouse. However, Coach Bill Self’s crew required a 19-3 run to end the game to take down West Virginia. There were times during this game where Kansas did not look like they belonged on the same court as their Big 12 counterpart, as West Virginia dictated pace and dominated the offensive end of the court.

This Kansas team lacks the explosive offensive firepower that Coach Bill Self is used to having. The senior tandem of Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk lead the Jayhawks in scoring this season with 17.4 and 15.3 per game respectively. However, much of this scoring is reliant upon outside shooting, in particular the three ball. This ability allows Kansas to pick apart a zone defense, as shown by their 76-60 win over Syracuse.

However, when the three ball is not falling, the Jayhawks’ offense can fall prone to stagnation. Mykhailiuk struggles in taking defenders off the dribble, Graham is a volume scorer who only shoots at 39.8 percent and Udoka Azubuike has difficulty handling double teams down low.

If Kansas falls into a shooting slump against a team that plays strong defense, they could find themselves packing up and heading home early in March.

 

Featured image by Charles Fox/Philly Inquirer).

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NCAA tournament upset teams

2018 NCAA tournament mens basketball giant killers

A giant killer is a team that can knock off a top dog. A giant killer is a team like Western Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast or the George Mason. They are teams that can cause problems in the NCAA tournament, but the average spectator might not necessarily pick them because they are a small school.

The following teams will most likely be ranked as No. 8-16 seeds in the 2018 NCAA tournament. These are teams that might not be from a power conference, but have all the makings to win at least one game come March.

Missouri Tigers

NCAA tournament upset teams

Michael Porter Jr. (Photo from scoopnest.com)

Most killers don’t come from a power conference. Missouri has been a great team all season. As we creep closer and closer to March, Missouri is waiting on Michael Porter Jr., who is one of the top five freshmen in the country. Getting Porter back come tournament time means that a good team that could fall to a No. 7-10 seed could be extremely dangerous.

The Tigers are 18-8 and have won their last five games. They are 3-2 against the top 25 this season and are the No. 3 team in a very loaded SEC. Porter has missed every single game this season, and adding a top five player can only improve a team that is one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season.

Nevada Wolf Pack

Even though Nevada is a ranked team, they are still going to slide on selection Sunday. Nevada’s strength of schedule is 109th in the country, and that will lose them some respect from the committee. They are 22-5 and first in the Mountain West Conference.

One of their best wins is against Rhode Island, a team that is coming on strong as of late. They lost by six and four respectively to Texas Tech and TCU. They are 14-3 in their last 17 and don’t seem to be slowing down.

One of the toughest things for a snub in the seeding is seeing just how hot a team is come tournament time. The Wolf Pack are one of the hottest teams in the country and believe they can play with anyone. Nevada will probably get placed as a very strong No. 9 seed coming into March. They will be a tough second round matchup for almost any No. 1 seed.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

NCAA tournament upset teams

Middle Tennessee in their 2017 run. (Photo from athlonsports.com)

Well well well, welcome back to the Blue Raiders. The Blue Raiders are 13-1 in their last 14 games, have an RPI of 29 and have a 11-1 road record. For most teams come March, road records wouldn’t matter. But depending on how low the seeding comes for the Raiders, an NCAA tournament game could seem like a road game.

They have lost only five games all season. Three of those games are to USC, Miami and Auburn, teams that are inside the RPI top 50. They have also lost those three games by 14 total points.

If Middle Tennessee falls to the same No. 11 or 12 seed that they did last season, they should be a nightmare of a first-round matchup.

Vermont Catamounts

Speaking of hot teams, the Catamounts have won their last 15 games. They are 22-5 overall and don’t have a single loss outside of the top 95 in RPI. Their worst loss was to Bucknell by four points on the road. In all five of their losses, they have lost by 10 or less, and four of the five losses have come on the road or on neutral sites.

The team does lack good wins, being that their best win is probably a one-point home win against Bradley. The Catamounts have a fair amount of NCAA tournament experience and are led by Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes, who make up 42.5 percent of the team’s scoring.

Vermont locks down on defense and can score pretty well also. The Catamounts could be a team advancing to the second weekend in the NCAA tournament.

No. 14-16 seed

Well there’s always one team that comes out of no where to surprise. Here’s an attempt to pick the No. 14-16 seed, if there is one, that can pull off a major upset.

Montana Grizzlies

The Big Sky’s regular season leader gets a shout out. Montana is 20-6 this season and 13-1 in their last 14. Notable loses include a three-point loss at Washington and a 13-point loss at Penn State. They have beaten Pitt and Northern Colorado (probably their best win) and are 8-5 in road games this season.

Montana’s strength of schedule is 329th in the country which isn’t bad, it’s really bad. They lack wins over any possible tournament teams, but have performed well against the nation’s top RPIs. It only takes one top seed to struggle for a lower seed to have a chance.

If we are taking a shot here, Montana and their 68th ranked defense could shut down a top dog and get the Cinderellas dancing.

 

Featured image from College Sports Madness.

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NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

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

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

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

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

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

Loser: Texas tech

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

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

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

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

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

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

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

LOSER: THE PAC-12

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

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

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

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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The life of the home underdog

This college basketball season it is nearly impossible to win on the road. Ranked teams and unranked teams a like, it is tough to go out and grab a win on the road. 36 mens college basketball teams are undefeated at home this season. In the last week, there have been over 35 home underdogs across college basketball that have won games. Many of which have knocked off ranked teams in that time. Just last Saturday, January 20th, five ranked teams lost to unranked teams on the road.

Being an underdog isn’t necessarily a bad thing anymore and during this college basketball season it almost seems like a compliment. Teams are rallying and finding a way to win in their home building.

Newly ranked Nevada fell victim to the home underdog Wednesday night in a one point, double overtime loss. What we’ve learned so far is that it is a nightmare to win on the road in college basketball. Home crowds and the comfort of your own gym propel teams that maybe shouldn’t win and cash it into the win column for the home team.

The Best Home Dogs:

Last season, at this point, only seven teams were undefeated at home and only two of those teams were from the power five conference (Oregon and Florida State). This season the home underdog has been dominant. The most impressive home underdog has been the North Carolina State Wolfpack. They are 3-0 as a home underdog and have knocked off Duke, Clemson and Penn State on their own court.

The other 3-0 home underdog this season is Wyoming, the team who beat Nevada Wednesday night. They are 12-8 this season and have played well in their own building. Of their loses, they have lost to two ranked teams as well as South Carolina but all of those games were road or neutral sites.

College basketball is getting pretty even these days. Being a home team is the great equalizer. It takes a strong team to win conference games on the road and an even stronger team to be a Vegas favorite going into a road conference game.

Predicting this weeks upsets:

Underdogs

Chris Silva, (Thestate.com).

Saturday:

Well here is a chance to take two home underdogs. Iowa State is at home against Tennessee who is number 22 in the country. Iowa State plays good defense and rebounds at a better clip then Tennessee does. To beat Tennessee you have to hit them inside and get close to the basket.

Iowa State has lost just three games at home this season and two of those were two red hot Kansas State and the Kansas Jayhawks. Iowa State is coming off a disappointing road loss to Texas where they lost by 16 and they are due for a good home showing.

The second choice could be an easy one. South Carolina has been playing great basketball as of late. They are much better on offense which had been somewhat of a struggle to start the season. On the other side number 14 Texas Tech is going through the offensive struggles. They just scored 58 in a loss at Texas and scored 52 in a loss at Iowa State. They are struggling to score which opens up doors for a thriving home underdog.

Both teams are extremely good defensively. South Carolina has come on strong offensively but Texas Tech is trending the wrong way. South Carolina is coming off great shooting performances in their last couple games. They went 11-21 from three in their win against Florida and went 10-23 in their loss to Tennessee.

These two teams seem to be trending the wrong way. South Carolina has won three of their last four and have played some of their best basketball as of late. Texas Tech has won two of their last five and is slowly regressing offensively. If South Carolina can get both Chris Silva working as well as their outside shooting game they will beat the Red Raiders.

NCAA Tournament:

Winning in the NCAA tournament means that you can win in hostile environments. The teams that go into hostile environments late in January and throughout February and grab wins are the teams that will be hanging around come April.

South Carolina is starting to turn their season in that direction as well as other teams, but for right now it will be interesting to see how the end of the college basketball season turns out. With all the parody and all the big time wins for teams there is no telling what will happen on any given week.

 

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NCAA Baseball: Super Regionals Preview

Regional Picks: 10 for 16

Gainesville Super Regional: Florida St Seminoles at Florida Gators

For the second consecutive year, these bitter rivals will meet with a spot in Omaha on the line. The Gators have had the edge lately, eliminating the Seminoles last season and sweeping a three game series this year. They also have plenty of momentum after blowing out Georgia Tech in the regional final. In case this team didn’t look dangerous enough, they are now fully healthy as first baseman Peter Alonso returned from a broken hand to hit 8-14 with three home runs in the regional. Florida St rolled through the Tallahassee Regional, capping it off with an 18-6 blowout of South Alabama. The Noles have one of the hottest, most dynamic offenses in the country, led by Dylan Busby who is batting .500 with 6 home runs in the last 7 games. This certainly has the potential to be a great series with two elite offenses, but I think Logan Shore and AJ Puk on the mound will be the difference, and the Gators will prevail.

Louisville Super Regional: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Louisville Cardinals

Louisville has been a complete juggernaut at home, now with a 36-1 record after three easy wins over Western Michigan, Ohio St. and Wright St. They head into their fourth consecutive super regional with tons of confidence, especially in starting pitchers Kyle Funkhouser and Brendan McKay, who only gave up a combined one run in the regional. They will be a tough test for the young Gauchos, who appear to have put it all together after a rocky finish to the regular season. UCSB will need a strong start from ace Shane Bieber, who shut out Washington in game 1 to have a shot against Louisville’s top 10 offense. The Gauchos pitching should give them a chance, but Louisville has a much better offense, and when you add in the home field advantage, the Cardinals should advance.

Coral Gables Super Regional: Boston College Eagles at Miami Hurricanes

This is a matchup of ACC schools, but that’s about all they have in common. The Hurricanes are amongst the baseball blue bloods, with a four National Titles and an NCAA Tournament streak that dates back to 1973, while the Eagles haven’t been to Omaha since 1967, and before this season hadn’t had a winning record since 2010. Miami got a test in their regional, but defeated Long Beach St in an 8-7 walk off win. Miami didn’t get their usual production from star Zack Collins, who had more strikeouts than hits in the regional, but saw Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward (Jason’s brother) step up. Boston College is probably the closest thing to a Cinderella in this year’s tournament, but after beating Utah and Tulane twice, are done flying under the radar. They’ll need their pitching to stay hot, as the Eagles only gave up eight runs in three games. However, Miami is on another level from the teams BC eliminated, and will likely have too much offensive firepower.

College Station Super Regional: TCU Horned Frogs at Texas A&M Aggies

An in-state battle between the past and the present in the Big 12, TCU is looking to make it back to back super regional wins over the Aggies. However, this time, the road to Omaha will have to go through College Station, where A&M is coming off of an easy regional win, having blown out Binghamton, Minnesota and Wake Forest. They scored 30 runs in the last two games, in large part because of Boomer White, a TCU transfer, who is batting .398 on the year. His old team is also high on confidence, entering their third consecutive super regional. Coach Jim Schlossnagle has this team playing as well as anyone in the country, after three wins over Oral Roberts, Arizona St and Gonzaga. The Frogs dominated all three aspects of the game, hitting .318, posting a 1.33 ERA and not committing a single error in the regional. Texas A&M can get hot at the plate, especially at home, but I like TCU’s well-rounded and experienced team to advance.

Lubbock Super Regional: East Carolina Pirates at Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech survived a scare against Dallas Baptist in the regional final, largely due to Hayden Howard’s work out of the bullpen, and three clutch RBIs from Orlando Garcia. The bullpen also pitched four shutout innings earlier in the weekend, which allowed Tech to come back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat New Mexico. They will meet the East Carolina Pirates, the last remaining team from North Carolina, who are arguably the most surprising team still in the field. The Pirates stunned defending National Champs Virginia on a walk off in the second game, before taking care of William & Mary to advance. The Pirates offense was on full display, as they scored at least eight runs in all three wins. The Pirates proved that they can play with anyone in the country, but I think Texas Tech in Lubbock will be too much for them.

Starkville Super Regional: Arizona Wildcats at Mississippi St Bulldogs

Mississippi St. may have come from nowhere to win the SEC title, but they are certainly in the national spotlight now. Their improved pitching was on full display in the regional final win over Louisiana Tech, where State shut out the other Bulldogs, allowing only two hits while striking out 14. They also have the advantage of playing at one of the most hostile venues, where they boast the biggest crowd in the country, and the cowbells don’t stop all game. The lone representatives of the Pac 12, Arizona came out of the losers bracket to knock off Lafayette twice and advance. The Wildcats showed off their pitching, particularly their bullpen, which the Cajuns had no success against. This pitching should be enough to keep things interesting, but the Bulldogs are a better team, and should take it at home.

Columbia Super Regional: Oklahoma St Cowboys at South Carolina Gamecocks

It was a great weekend for Gamecocks fans, as the team advanced through the Columbia Regional, and watched archrival Clemson get knocked out, opening the door to host a super regional. Carolina had a rough start, losing to Rhode Island and winning ugly against Duke, but turned it around to outscore their final three opponents by a combined 43-8. Oklahoma St. was the only team to knock off a national seed, and absolutely dominated Clemson twice to advance. The Cowboys hit .385 in the regional, and never trailed at any point. They come in hot, and also have the advantage of staying in South Carolina for an additional week, cutting out much of the travel. This is probably the most even match-up of the round, but I think Oklahoma St will score just enough to get it done.

Baton Rouge Super Regional: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at LSU Tigers

After a series of rain delays, on Tuesday LSU became the fifth SEC team to qualify for super regionals. The Tigers got a great performance from Jared Poche, who threw six scoreless innings out of the bullpen just three days after starting against Utah Valley. The bats came alive, spurred by a go ahead home run from Greg Deichmann, and LSU was able to knock off Rice. This weekend, they will get a visit from Coastal Carolina, fresh off upsetting NC State in the Raleigh Regional. The Chants loaded the bases with one out in the ninth down by two, but because of a bizarre rain delay, had to finish off the game the next day. Coastal eventually took the lead, and held on thanks to All-American closer Mike Morrison. The Chanticleers are a team that simply finds ways to win, and has some of the best pitching in the country. However, LSU has pitching to match and should advance at home.

 

Dark Horses of the 2016 College Football Seasons

Team 1: This team is a pretty obvious pick but a team most people still overlooking. Rocky Top Tennessee Volunteers. They were a really good team in 2015 and is a team that is trending up. Tennessee has a pretty great backfield of Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. Those two players combined to find the end zone 40 times on offense. Their defense will return pretty much intake if juniors don’t leave early.  This is still the same Tennessee team that almost beat the SEC and National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide and on October 15, 2016 Bama will travel to Knoxville to revisit their rivalry.

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

As far as scheduling goes on paper Tennessee’s only real test is Bama. They play in the weakened SEC East with the departure of former Florida QB Will Grier and former Georgia head coach Mark Richt. But they do have to go to Athens to play the Bulldogs, so that could be a trap game. After the Oct. 15th game against Bama they will have a well deserved bye week and finish the season with Carolina at Williams-Brice, home to Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, and Missouri. They will finish the regular season in Nashville against Vandy on Nov. 29th.

As of January 13th, ESPN has the Vols ranked as the 17th ranked recruiting class for 2016.

The 2016 Vols are posed for great things, most likely a 11-1 regular season. It is very possible that the Vols could end the regular season undefeated. Because after the National Championship, Clemson, in a losing effort, showed the nation Nick Saban can not stop a good spread offense from scoring a bunch a points on his defenses. And with Dobbs and Hurd in the backfield they qualify as a good spread offense.

Team 2: This team was 8-5 in the 2015 season, but they are only remembered for a hellacious beating they took to the hands of Clemson. The 2015 Miami Hurricanes were actually a good team. They have one of the nation’s best signal callers in Brad Kaaya. He threw for 3238 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. Miami also brings back their top rusher, Joseph Yearby, who ran for 1002 yards. Also Stacy Coley, their top receiving threat, just announced he is staying in school. Miami’s 2016 defense will be anchored by the linebacker crew that was blessed by fire in 2015. So Miami is returning their top three offensive weapons, all of their linebackers, and bring in new head coach Mark Richt. All Mark Richt needs is a good backfield and a weapon on the edge and he has that here in Miami

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

And as far as scheduling goes they have their toughest ACC game is at home against bitter rival Florida State. And they draw the short end of the straw having to go to Notre Dame on Oct. 29th, but they might have a bye week the week before that game since it looks like the school’s fall break is on the week of the 22nd. Just like Tennessee, Miami is trending up in the ACC Coastal, a division that is slowly trending down. They play the ACC’s three traditional road trap teams NC State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech, but I really think this Miami team and this Miami coach wants to bring Miami back. And if he does not Warren Sapp will blast him on twitter. Here are some the tweets.

As of January 13th, ESPN has the Canes ranked as the 16th ranked recruiting class for 2016. And they are always on the radar to shake up National Signing Day.

This 2016 Miami seems different. It is very likely Miami can go through the regular season 11-1 or 10-2 but both records resulting in a trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship against either Clemson or rival, Florida State.

Team 3: This team is really really a dark horse. Now unlike the other two teams this team is not championship ready, but this team will definitely get a great bowl game in 2016. They had a losing record but went out with a bang with a win over a rival on the road. The Texas Longhorns were a sub .500 team in 2016; they went 5-7. At one point in the season, Charlie Strong was on the verge of losing his job but with a season-ending win over Baylor he got to keep his job as HC. They return their dual-QB system of Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes. D’Onta Freeman, their top back is going to be in the backfield for them. On the outside, they are returning freshman John Hurt, their top receiver. The Texas defense is expected to bring back 8 starters on defense and will be lead by their strong defensive line.

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

The schedule is pack with some tough opponents like opening week against Notre Dame. Their notable home games are Notre Dame, TCU, and Baylor. Week 2 they have a game against UTEP, which to most is a tune-up before their trip to the West. They go to California to play the Golden Bears in week 3, have a week 4 bye, and then play Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They also have the pleasure of playing Texas Tech and Kansas State on the road. And don’t think I forgot about the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma on October 8th. We all know Oklahoma didn’t forget the 2015 game.

As of January 13th, ESPN has the Longhorns ranked as the 33rd ranked recruiting class for 2016. And don’t expect Texas to finish outside the top 30 maybe even in the top 20.

Now I know I’m probably on a stranded island with the Texas love, but history tells us Texas can’t be down for long. Charlie Strong isn’t a loser, it is not Strong’s blood to be a loser for long. I might be a year too early on this train but I have feeling that Texas will be a team that can win 9 or 10 games.

Stats Courtesy: ESPN

*Team Schedules from FBSchedules.com