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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2018 Big East Tournament preview

The Big East Tournament is back! College basketball fans received a glimpse of the madness to come during the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Now, the insanity that is conference title week is about to get underway. The Big East was one of the most competitive conferences in the country this season.

Who will emerge as the champion when the chips fall? Let’s take a look and find out.

overview

Xavier won its first ever regular season Big East title, securing the number one seed in the tournament. Villanova, although they swept Xavier in the regular season, fell to the number two seed due to a slippage of play down the stretch. Both of these teams are projected number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament and are the heavy favorites to go head-to-head in the title game.

The next five teams in the Big East conference are fairly even in regards to record. Seton Hall, Creighton and Providence all sit at 10-8 while Butler and Marquette ended up at 9-9 Big East records. The egalitarian nature of the Big East conference resulted in numerous back-and-forth match-ups and unpredictable upsets.

Georgetown, St. John’s and DePaul make up the bottom of the conference. The Hoyas and the Red Storm each showed flashes of competitiveness throughout the season, with Georgetown losing to Xavier in overtime and St. John’s toppling Villanova at the Pavilion.

The favorites

2018 Big East Tournament Preview

Trevon Blueitt helped Xavier capture its first Big East regular season title (Rob Carr/Getty Images).

Ever since the creation of the new Big East, the conversation has started and ended with Villanova. Coach Jay Wright’s squad has been blowing opponents out of the building all season long. Wooden Award favorite Jalen Brunson has steered Villanova through injuries to be in a position to lock up a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament once again with a strong showing in the Big East Tournament. With Phil Booth returning from a fractured hand, the Wildcats are in prime position to defend their 2017 Big East Tournament title.

Xavier is Villanova’s primary threat to defending their championship. Even though Xavier won the Big East regular season championship, Villanova drubbed the Musketeers twice during the regular season in convincing fashion.

Xavier is led by senior All-Big East first team guard Trevon Blueitt. Blueitt averaged 19.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting per game this season. Streaky shooting plagues Blueitt at times, but when he is on, Blueitt is near impossible to slow down. Surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Quentin Goodin, J.P. Macura and Naji Marshall, it is now or never for the Musketeers.

The darkhorse: Seton Hall

2018 Big East Tournament Preview

Angel Delgado and Myles Powell have Seton Hall primed for a Tournament run (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images).

While Seton Hall is a three seed in this tournament, they have the same record as the four and five seeds. There is also such a drop off between the top two teams record-wise that anyone aside from Xavier and Villanova has to be considered a darkhorse.

Seton Hall is an appealing choice because Coach Kevin Willard always brings out the best of his team during the Big East Tournament. Willard led his team to a Big East Tournament win in 2016 and nearly toppled Villanova in the semifinals last season.

The Pirates, after falling into a four-game losing streak, are peaking at the right time. They have won four of their last five games with their lone loss being a 69-68 overtime defeat at the hands of Villanova. Seniors Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado are capable of taking over any game with their physical style of play. Rodriguez and Delgado average 18.1 and 15.6 points per game respectively. Delagdo also averages 11.6 rebounds per contest.

Khadeen Carrington’s play-making abilities (four and a half assists per game) and Myles Powell’s outside shooting further enhance the offensive capabilities of this Seton Hall team.

The Champion: Villanova

2018 Big East Tournament Preview

Jalen Brunson should propel Villanova to their second straight Big East title (Laurence Kesterson/AP Photo).

If the bracket holds true, Villanova will face an explosive offense in Marquette and then Seton Hall. The Wildcats outgunned Marquette twice this season as they are capable of beating the Golden Eagles at their own game: high volume scoring. Villanova-Seton Hall Big East tournament slugfests are becoming something of a tradition nowadays. The pesky Pirates will push Villanova, but the Wildcats’ experience, solid guard play and crafty defending will be too much for the Pirates to handle.

And then there is Xavier. Although Xavier won the Big East title during the regular season, they will fall to the Wildcats for a third time this season in the title game of the Big East Tournament. No team will be strong enough to derail the inevitable: Villanova-Xavier Round Three. However, the Musketeers’ signature 1-3-1 plays right into Villanova’s strength: three-point shooting. In Villanova’s 95-79 win at Xavier, the Wildcats shot 47.1 percent from beyond the arc.

The x-factor for this Villanova team will be Donte DiVincenzo’s offensive production. If DiVincenzo can find his stroke during this tournament, Villanova will be close to unbeatable. DiVincenzo has been prone to shooting slumps, but when he is on point, his offensive versatility shines through as defenders have to respect his shot.

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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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Big East Conference basketball

Big East bottom feeders show signs of life

As college basketball inches closer towards postseason play, the Big East may be the most intriguing conference in the nation. Villanova has dropped two of its last three games, allowing Xavier to increase its lead. However, two teams sitting in the cellar of the conference have put the remaining conference members on notice with their play as of late.

St. John’s, previously winless in Big East play, has won its last four games. They knocked off then-No. 4 Duke and then-No. 1 Villanova in back-to-back games before defeating Marquette and squeaking past DePaul. Coach Chris Mullin has his team flying high and playing with a high level of confidence.

Meanwhile, the Georgetown Hoyas pushed No. 4 Xavier to its limit in a crushing 96-91 overtime loss. The Hoyas failed to close out the Providence Friars in a 73-69 loss due to a controversial foul call with under five seconds to play. Coach Patrick Ewing’s squad responded with convincing victories over Seton Hall and Butler.

The recent increase of competitiveness in St. John’s and Georgetown certainly raises the parity of play in the Big East down the stretch. The race to avoid falling into the seventh seed and face the prospect of playing St. John’s in the opening round of the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden has opposing coaches nervous. Let’s examine the factors that have allowed both of these teams to secure noticeable upsets of late.

St. John’s: Dominant Guard Play

Big East Conference basketball

Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds silences Villanova. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

During the resurgence of St. John’s, sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds has been unstoppable. During the Red Storm’s four-game winning streak, Ponds has averaged 32.3 points, five assists and 2.3 steals per game.

After sophomore guard Marcus Lovett was ruled out for the season with a left knee injury, Mullin called on Ponds to carry the load even more so than before.

Ponds has always been a talented scorer off the dribble, but he has worked to involve his teammates more during this stretch. To couple this, Ponds has notched up his defensive intensity, harassing opposing guards all night.

Mullin typically rolls out a six-man rotation each game. As a result, Ponds has played all 40 minutes in every game during the Johnnies’ four-game winning streak. Fans of the Red Storm have to be slightly concerned about Ponds developing fatigue come postseason play as his playing rate is not sustainable.

Georgetown: A Big One-Two Punch

Big East Conference basketball

Junior forward Marcus Derrickson celebrates after nailing a game-winning three against Seton Hall. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

Back in November of 2017, Ewing told the media that if Georgetown was going to remain competitive come Big East play, they needed a big season from junior center Jessie Govan. Govan, while having some ups and downs in Big East play, has largely lived up to the hype. Govan has been a reliable rock in the Hoyas offense, averaging 16.7 points while shooting 50.2 percent and grabbing 10 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

However, the player who has brought Georgetown to the next level this season has not been Govan, but junior forward Marcus Derrickson. Derrickson has been the go-to player in the clutch all season, nailing two game-winning 3-pointers from NBA range against St. John’s and Seton Hall. Derrickson served as the offensive catalyst in Georgetown’s 87-83 upset at Butler, scoring 27 points while shooting 84.6 percent.

Govan and Derrickson arguably form the most formidable one-two punch on the block in the Big East. Georgetown has had difficulty in some games properly utilizing both of them as opponents have effectively doubled both big men, forcing the Hoyas into turnovers.

However, Ewing has seen more production from his guards, in particular graduate transfer Trey Dickerson, who scored 18 points off the bench against Butler. This newfound scoring threat has forced opponents off the double, allowing Derrickson and Govan to feast on single coverage.

St. John’s: Scoring by Committee

Outside of Ponds, Mullin lacks a consistent scoring option, which could prove problematic come postseason play. However, the Red Storm have survived by getting key contributions from different players night in and night out based on matchups.

In its 81-77 win over Duke, St. John’s saw senior guard Bashir Ahmed and junior forward Tariq Owens score 19 and 17 points respectively. Ponds and Owens capitalized on Duke’s porous interior defense while Ahmed shot 75 percent from 3-point range.

However, in St. John’s upset win at Villanova, Owens and Ahmed remained relatively quiet on the offensive end. Instead, sophomore guard Justin Simon poured in 16 points along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

While effective, this playing style can be dangerous at times. In St. John’s 86-78 victory over Marquette, the Red Storm required a herculean effort from Ponds to escape with a win. Ponds accounted for more than half of their points with 44. The only other player to reach double-digit scoring for Mullin’s crew was Simon, who scored 16 again. This shows that if opponents are able to limit scoring production outside of Ponds, the Johnnies will have difficulty creating offense in the half-court.

Georgetown: The Kids are Growing Up

Looking beyond Govan and Derrickson, the key to this Hoyas team might be freshmen Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. Pickett was Ewing’s prized recruit this past season after backing out from his commitment to Ole Miss. Early in the season, both freshmen struggled with shot selection and limiting turnovers.

As the season has progressed, both freshmen have progressively increased their level of play. Blair sparked the Hoyas offense in Georgetown’s overtime loss against Xavier, scoring 19 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. Blair only turned the ball over twice in this contest.

Pickett has become more comfortable utilizing his 6-foot-7 frame to shoot over defenders and alter shots on defense. Pickett scored 18 points and blocked two shots in Georgetown’s 83-80 win over Seton Hall.

While Ewing has seen encouraging steps of growth from both players, Blair and Pickett are still freshmen, which means that struggles will not magically disappear. Blair’s shot has seemingly been flat the past two outings, resulting in him forcing shots outside and taking contested attempts off of wild drives to the hoop.

Pickett still has difficulty taking defenders off of the dribble, which is something that Butler took advantage of. Pickett ended up turning the ball over five times in that contest.

 

Featured image by Wendell Cruz/Finish First Photos.

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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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Marquette Golden Eagles backcourt

Marquette’s thriving backcourt

College basketball’s conference play is in full swing. The Big East is one of the most balanced conferences in the whole country.

The Marquette Golden Eagles picked up a road win in Providence Wednesday night. It proved to be a coming out party for their backcourt in a huge conference win in overtime.

The production

Here’s a backcourt that many people around college basketball aren’t talking about. The Golden Eagles are 11-4 this season and lost to all three of its ranked opponents.

Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard are two guards you may never have heard of. They are the two starting guards for the Marquette Golden Eagles.

They are both shooting over 46 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three. They are combining to score 44.6 points a game on a team that averages 83.5 points a game. In other words, the two combine for just over half the team’s points.

On Wednesday night, the two combined for 68 points of the team’s 95. Howard scored 52 by himself on 17-29 shooting. He shot 15-21 in the second half alone and carried the Golden Eagles to a win.

What Rowsey and Howard can both do is carry a team. By no means should the Golden Eagles have won Wednesday night. Howard and Rowsey made key plays to constantly keep their team afloat.

Andrew Rowsey

Rowsey has been Marquette’s most consistent player this season. He has constantly put on big performances in almost all games and has had his biggest performances in loses.

One of his best performances came in a loss against No. 6 Xavier where he had 31 points. He then followed that performance up by scoring 35 in a win against a young and talented Georgetown team.

He has scored under 20 just six times in 15 games this season. In those games, either Howard or Sam Hauser has scored over 25 points. Rowsey is the senior leader in the backcourt.

Markus Howard

Marquette Golden Eagles

Markus Howard, (WRN.com).

Haanif Cheatham has left the team, and Markus Howard is receiving some of those minutes. Since Cheatham has left the team, Howard has three games with over 30 points. He has nine games with 22 or more points this season and is shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He is a guy teams can’t lose in transition and someone who can both catch and shoot as well as bring the ball up and drive to the basket.

He is 45 for 45 from the free throw line this season and is proving that in clutch time, he is the go to guy for the Golden Eagles.

In an age where backcourts dictate success, the two stars for the Marquette backcourt can take the Golden Eagles as far as they want to.

Marquette’s Big East rank

Marquette is in the top tier of the Big East. Do they have enough fire power to compete with Xavier, Villanova or Seton Hall? Probably not. They very easily could finish as high as fourth in the Big East and could possibly fall as low as seventh.

They are an extremely talented team, but if one of their talented backcourt members doesn’t show up to play, they will struggle against good teams. The Golden Eagles will make the NCAA tournament and be a tough out come March.

 

Featured image from anonymouseagles.com.

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2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

The Golden State Warriors are the 2017 NBA champions. Now that the Finals are over, the entire basketball community will be focusing on the upcoming NBA Draft on June 22. This is a prime opportunity for teams to either deepen their roster or build playoff caliber teams. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0.

1: Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson/AP)

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are working on a trade so that the 76ers can select Markelle Fultz. Even if the trade doesn’t get finalized Fultz will be the number one overall pick in this draft.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA

Los Angeles is not going to pass on a player who will make those around him better and has the star power that Lonzo Ball has. These rumors floating around about the Lakers falling out of love with Lonzo is all a smokescreen. The truth of the matter is that the first two picks have been decided and they are just trying to keep people interested and on their toes.

3: Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Jackson, SG/SF, Kansas

This pick is just like the first overall pick. It is likely going to be Boston drafting in the third position and they will take Josh Jackson. This is a sign that the Celtics may put all their faith in Isaiah Thomas as their point guard. Jackson can fit right into the culture they are building in Boston and he will help them get closer to compete for a championship.

4: Phoenix Suns: Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke

The Suns are just unlucky. Phoenix was supposed to have a top three pick but fell to fourth when the lottery took place. Now they are going to miss on Josh Jackson by one pick. Jayson Tatum is flying under the radar but will be a very good NBA player.

Tatum has a polished isolation game and can score from anywhere on the floor. Tatum will be a solid second option to Devin Booker.

5: Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: http://www.zimbio.com)

Reports coming out of Sacramento say that the Kings are absolutely in love with De’Aaron Fox and are even willing to trade both the fifth and tenth pick to move up just one spot to get him.

Fox should be around at five and the Kings can draft their franchise point guard. Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox would be a promising backcourt that would help the Kings get closer to the playoffs.

6: Orlando Magic: Johnathan Issac, F, Florida St.

Orlando has been terrible ever since Dwight Howard left. Johnathan Issac has been recently compared to Kevin Durant, but he is not the scorer that Durant is. Issac will bring tons of athleticism to the Magic. He has proven he can play an all-around game but has been very inconsistent. If developed correctly, Issac can become one of the best two-way players in the NBA and an All-Star.

7: Minnesota Timberwolves: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

The Timberwolves are already loaded with young talent and in a perfect world, Tom Thibodeau would like to acquire more veterans in the locker room. Minnesota might be looking to make a trade in the future and will take the best available player which will be Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring machine capable of going off at any moment. He is the best scorer to come out of college since Kevin Durant and will easily average 20 points per game in the NBA.

8: New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France

New York has always been a city of immigrants. The Knicks are going to follow that mold it seems, as they already have Kristaps Porzingis and are in love with Frank Ntilikina.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit:http://bleacherreport.com)

Dennis Smith is arguably a top five player in this class. The Mavericks have a chance to find their franchise point guard who can help lead them back into the playoffs. Smith can score, pass and rebound with the best of them while in college. He also has the insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

10: Sacramento Kings: Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona

The Kings currently have two core pieces in Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein. If they take Fox earlier in the draft then it becomes an even better core. Lauri Markkanen could then take this team to even better heights.

Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to become a power forward like Dirk Nowitzki. He can stretch the floor or go inside. Markkanen would fit alongside Cauley-Stein because he can stretch the floor.

Getting Fox and Markkanen would make the Kings one of the best young teams in the NBA.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville

Donovan Mitchell was projected to be a late-first round pick around a month ago but has lately been flying up draft boards. Teams who have worked Mitchell out have been really impressed by the 6-foot-3 shooting guard. Mitchell is a shot creator and that is something the Hornets need. Charlotte could create a dangerous backcourt by pairing Mitchell with Kemba Walker.

12: Detroit Pistons: Harry Giles, PF, Duke

Detroit needs a big man alongside Andre Drummond. Picking Harry Giles would be a shock here, but could be a huge steal. Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the No. 1 pick before he began having injury problems.

We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender.

Giles has had a lot of injuries but if he can get healthy he has the skill and potential to be the best player in this draft class.

13: Denver Nuggets: Zach Collins, PF/C, Gonzaga

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: http://www.zimbio.com)

Denver is really close to becoming a playoff team in the tough Western Conference. Their young guards just need more experience and will continue to develop.

Collins is a good rebounder and shot blocker. Pairing him up with Nikola Jokic could create one of the most dangerous frontcourts in the NBA. Collins needs to mold his offensive skills, but because Jokic is so skilled offensively, Collins’ defensive skills would create a perfect combination.

14: Miami Heat: T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA

The Heat were amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need.

T.J. Leaf has a high motor and can play both inside and out. Miami would get a player who could be molded into a star by Erik Spoelstra.

15: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: JOHN COLLINS, PF, WAKE FOREST

John Collins could be a valuable piece around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Collins has a good offensive game that would help take pressure off their guards to score. He has a post-up game that most bigs don’t have. His impressive footwork allows him to beat even the best of defenders. If he develops his defense, he could become a top power forward in the NBA.

16: CHICAGO BULLS: JUSTIN PATTON, C, CREIGHTON

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: Chris Machian- The World Harold)

Building around Jimmy Butler seems to be the top priority for the Chicago Bulls. Robin Lopez is serviceable, but he is not a center that will help a team reach a title.

Justin Patton may be one. He is a 7-foot monster that averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Creighton.

NBA coaching could turn Patton into a dominant center in an era of outside shooting. There will be few players capable of defending him once he grows into his own. The Bulls would be lucky to get Patton.

17: Milwaukee Bucks: Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky

The Milwaukee Bucks are building something special. Giannis Antetokounmpo is looking like a future MVP and Khris Middleton is a stud. Drafting Adebayo will give Milwaukee a presence inside to make the Bucks even more dangerous. The talent they already have and can acquire with Adebayo will allow the Bucks to get closer to the Eastern Conference finals.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke

Luke Kennard fits the new style of the NBA. He is a pure shooter and can be a valuable scorer in the NBA. Kennard isn’t going to be a guy who changes a franchise but as a sidekick to Paul George, he could thrive. George wants the Pacers to add talent so they can compete for a title adding Kennard would help go a long way in the Pacers effort to keep Paul George when he becomes a free agent.

19: Atlanta Hawks: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas

Dwight Howard is aging and no longer a top center in the NBA. The Hawks must prepare for the future and that could be in the form of Jarrett Allen. Allen is a beast on the boards and has the potential to become a solid post-up big man.

20: Portland Trailblazers: Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum need help and Justin Jackson would fit perfectly with this team. Jackson would be the piece to help get the Blazers back into the playoffs.

He has great length and can stretch the floor. Jackson played great for most of the tournament. He had a subpar performance in the title game, but can still become a good NBA starter.

Jackson needs to add weight but is a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple positions. His mid-range jumper is well-polished.

21: Oklahoma City Thunder: OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit:http://hoosierstateofmind.com)

OG Anunoby will improve the Thunder on the defensive end of the floor immediately. In college, Anunoby was able to defend all five positions and that kind of versatility will make him a valuable player.

He also shot 36 percent from three in his career and will help take some pressure off of Russell Westbrook.

22: Brooklyn Nets: Ivan Rabb, C, California

The Nets will not be good for a long time which means they can be patient with the development of Ivan Rabb. He has lots of potential to grow offensively.

Rabb is already a good defender, and even though he only averaged about one block per game in his career, he altered plenty of shots. His inconsistency at Cal is what hurts him, but he has shown flashes of brilliance and that is what the Nets will try and bottle up and turn into a consistent output.

23: Toronto Raptors: Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany

Isaiah Hartenstein is a bit of an unknown but is an old school big man. He plays an extremely physical style and is a great rebounder. Hartenstein is also a great shot blocker and the Raptors really need an inside presence. He has very little experience but the success of Kristaps Porzingis helps Hartenstein.

Isaiah Hartenstein will need a lot of developing on his offensive game but with the Raptors current roster, he can fill the role of rebounder and rim protector without having to rush his offensive development.

24: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN, PF, PURDUE

The Jazz are in almost as good of a position as the Celtics. They finished as the fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks.

Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench. Depth is what the best teams have, and that is what Utah is going to get in picking Swanigan.

25: ORLANDO MAGIC: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia

Terrance Ferguson has been very hyped up as of late. He attacks the basketball and can also be a spot up shooter. Ferguson will need to develop defensively but would be a good fit with the Magic who need some more scoring.

26: Portland Trailblazers: Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU

Semi Ojeleye is an athletic freak. Ojeleye can handle the ball, shoot threes, create his own shot and get to the rim. Semi Ojeleye is going somewhat underrated in this draft because of his lack of perimeter defense. The Blazers have enough picks to take a shot on Ojeleye to continue building the depth needed to compete in the West.

27: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): JORDAN BELL, PF, OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft V 4.0

(Photo Credit: http://247sports.com)

Jordan Bell was a second-round pick before the tournament. Bell was a huge reason Oregon reached their first Final Four since 1939. The Nets would get a solid rebounder who brings in a heavy motor and will give you everything he has. The Nets need these high energy type of players to change the culture in Brooklyn.

28: Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Hart, SG, Villanova

Josh Hart is a leader and a winner, and the Lakers could use some of that in their locker room.

Hart improved his scoring each season at Villanova, and that should translate into the NBA. Hart doesn’t have to be a starting shooting guard to make a big impact. Every team needs a bench scorer and Hart can fill that void for the Lakers as they continue to build towards a championship.

29: San Antonio Spurs: Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana

Any player that the Spurs take should celebrate as if they won the championship. The Spurs will develop Thomas Bryant into a solid NBA starter. Bryant is an excellent rebounder and has a knack for getting offensive boards. He has some decent low post moves and with Gregg Popovich coaching him up he can turn decent into dominant.

30: Utah Jazz: Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse

Tyler Lydon has improved vastly from his freshman season to sophomore season. Lydon improved his points, rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. At 6-foot-9, Lydon can stretch the floor and he would be a great fit in Utah as a solid role player.

Second Round

31: Atlanta Hawks: Dillon Brooks, SF, Oregon

32: Phoenix Suns: Dwayne Bacon, SF, Florida St.

33: Orlando Magic: Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma St.

34: Sacramento Kings: Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia

35: Orlando Magic: DJ Wilson, PF, Michigan

36: Philadelphia 76ers: Tyler Dorsey, G, Oregon

37: Boston Celtics: Johnathan Motley, PF, Baylor

38: Chicago Bulls: Devin Robinson, F, Florida

39: Philadelphia 76ers: Derrick White, G, Colorado

40: New Orleans Pelicans: Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas

41: Charlotte Hornets: Tony Bradley, C, North Carolina

42: Utah Jazz: Mathias Lessort, F/C, France

43: Houston Rockets: Kyle Kuzma, PF, Utah

44: New York Knicks: Frank Jackson, SG, Duke

45: Houston Rockets: Ike Anigbogu, C UCLA

46: Philadelphia 76ers: Anzejs Pasecniks, C, Latvia

47: Indiana Pacers: LJ Peak, SG Georgetown

48: Milwaukee Bucks: Alec Peters, PF, Valparaiso

49: Denver Nuggets: Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson

50: Philadelphia 76ers: Jonah Bolden, PF, Australia

51: Denver Nuggets: Alberto Abalde, SF, Spain

52: Washington Wizards: Cameron Oliver, PF, Nevada

53: Boston Celtics: PJ Dozier, SG, South Carolina

54: Phoenix Suns: Nigel Williams-Goss, PG, Gonzaga

55: Utah Jazz: Sindarius Thornwell, SG, South Carolina

56: Boston Celtics: Aleksandear Vezenkov, F, Bulgaria

57: Brooklyn Nets: Edmund Summer, PG, Xavier

58: New York Knicks: Sterling Brown, SG, SMU

59: San Antonio Spurs: Monte Morris, PG, Iowa St.

60: Atlanta Hawks: Wesley Iwundu, SG, Kansas State

 

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Draft Deadline Decisions: Dropouts and Draftees

The deadline for players to withdraw from the NBA Draft and remain eligible for collegiate competition was Wednesday, May 25th. Some decisions were made that will greatly affect the upcoming season of college basketball. Here is a list of some of the most notable draft decisions and the effects that the player staying or leaving will have on the school:

 

Josh Hart, Villanova

Hart’s return means that Villanova is in excellent shape for the upcoming year. They certainly will miss Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Arcidiacono was the team’s leader in assists as well as the third leading scorer. Ochefu was the team’s leading rebounder as well as fourth leading scorer. What the team brings back with this decision, though is a multi-faceted guard. Hart averaged 15.5 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and also 1.2 steals per game.  He is a very dynamic player on both ends of the floor. He will be complimented by Kris Jenkins decision to return as well as the continual growth of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Top recruit Omari Spellman could also play a role. Villanova is in a good spot for the upcoming season, and with this return, is a top ten team to start the season.

 

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

Isaiah Whitehead is a devastating loss for the Pirates. (Photo courtesy of nytimes.com)

Whitehead’s decision to stay in the draft was the second most important decision in Big East play, next to Josh Hart’s. Last season, Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. He also averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals each contest.  Seton Hall loses one of their most dynamic players and will be a completely different team without the guard returning for his junior season.

 

Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Malik Newman was set to be one of the first one and done players in Starkville.  Now, not only is that no longer a reality, but also ESPN’s Jeff Goodman is reporting that Newman is looking to transfer from Mississippi State.  He came in under Ben Howland as one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation, but had a relatively lackluster, injury plagued freshman season. Newman’s return would bolster the recruiting class that Howland put together along with other returnees Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready. At this point, Newman has asked for a release to transfer.

 

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Much like Villanova, Nigel Hayes’ return completes a prolific off-season for the Badgers. There were a lot of questions about this team last season with the retirement of coach Bo Ryan, but a Sweet 16 run put a stop to those. Wisconsin returns several key players, in addition to Hayes: Bronson Koenig was the second leading scorer on the team and also added shooting range that kept defenses spread out. He demonstrated this in the tournament game against Xavier. Ethan Happ is looking to build on a phenomenal freshman year in which he averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Hayes returns as the clubhouse leader in scoring and assists and he is also the second leading rebounder behind Happ. Wisconsin is a complete team and will be in the top 5 in the preseason rankings due to this return.

 

 

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

Clemson should be ecstatic to return a player the caliber of Jaron Blossomgame. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

The aptly named player had a flourishing junior campaign and will grace the ACC with one last run.  He showed improvements across the board.  Blossomgame averaged 18.7 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds as well as 1.3 blocks. Not to mention that his percentage from behind the arc skyrocketed from 28.8% to above 40%.  Clemson will return three double-digit scorers in Blossomgame, Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes as well as third leading rebounder Sidy Djitte. While the team may not be the most powerful in the ACC, the Tigers will undoubtedly have something to roar about come Tournament time.

Melo Trimble, Maryland

Melo Trimble was not projected to be a first round pick but coming back may not have been the best decision for him. Trimble was the team leader in scoring and assists, but he is the only of the top five scoring options to come back to College Park. After the losses of Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon per eligibility as well as Robert Carter and Diamond Stone to the NBA draft, Mark Turgeon’s squad looks extremely depleted in comparison to the team that began last year at a fiery 15-1. Trimble will attract a significant amount of attention from opposing defenses and it will be left to the incoming freshman class to carry the weight of the team.

 

Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher, Oregon Ducks

There should be some sort of celebration in Eugene because the Oregon Ducks are one off the biggest winners at the Draft Deadline. Their core of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Chris Boucher all three declared and all three have decided to return to school. This immediately makes Dana Altman’s team the team to beat in the PAC-12 for the upcoming season. The team is losing Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin, but this decision gives them three of their top four scorers on a team that already achieved a number one seed. These are also three of their top 5 rebounders, and Boucher was second in the NCAA in blocks this past season. The bar will be set very high for them next season.

Best Remaining College Basketball Games

There is still one month of regular season college basketball to be played before teams get into their conference tournaments. A lot of teams will be fighting for spots in the tournament or for higher seeds, making this next month exciting. Here are some of the games that should be great to watch the rest of the way:

The first game between Kansas and Oklahoma was a close game with some controversy. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

#6 Kansas at #3 Oklahoma, Saturday February 13

The first time these two teams played in Lawrence, Kansas, it was an overtime thriller that many say was the best played game all season. Now the rematch has a chance to be another classic and could result in the winner being the Big 12 regular season champion. Oklahoma should have the edge playing at home and with Buddy Hield on their side.

#15 Texas A&M at LSU, Saturday February 13

Texas A&M dropped a game at home to South Carolina, which has made the SEC wide open. LSU now leads the SEC with an 8-2 record. This game specifically will be a good watch because Ben Simmons will be going up against a great team. If the Tigers can win this game it would help move them off of the bubble.

Alex Caruso has plenty of big game experience, which will be useful down the stretch. Photo courtesy d1nation.com.

#22 Kentucky at #15 Texas A&M, Saturday February 20

Kentucky only has three SEC losses and can win the conference with how wide open it is. Jamal Murray has been on fire and he looks like he is capable of carrying the Wildcats to a championship. Texas A&M has a few key games left and this will be there last big test of the regular season.

#12 Miami at #9 North Carolina, Saturday February 20

Miami is a team that no one is talking about, but is capable of beating anyone in the country. Angel Rodriguez has the potential to lead Miami to big wins down the stretch. North Carolina can really help separate the top of the ACC with a win in this game.

#3 Oklahoma at #10 West Virginia, Saturday February 20

These teams are currently tied at the top of the Big 12. Oklahoma can seal a Big 12 championship with a win over Kansas and West Virginia. West Virginia’s defense should make this a great game to watch. Their press going up against Buddy Hield will make it a very interesting game.

#7 Virginia at #12 Miami,  Monday February 22

The second game in the round robin that will decide the ACC is Virginia at Miami. Virginia’s defense, again, is always great to watch, but their offensive ball control drives some fans crazy. Miami isn’t a great scoring team, so they will have to make the most of each possession.

Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono has led Villanova to a number one ranking this season. Photo courtesy cbssports.com.

#1 Villanova at #5 Xavier, Wednesday February 24

Villanova is number one for the first time in school history and is in the Big East driver’s seat. A win over Xavier in this game could seal it for the Wildcats as well as get them closer to locking up a number one seed. If Xavier is able to win every other game on their schedule and get a help in the form of a Villanova loss, or two, this game would put them at the top of the Big East. This is also a revenge game for Xavier, who lost at Villanova by 31 points earlier this season.

#9 North Carolina at #7 Virginia, Saturday February 27

The last of the ACC round robin features a culture clash. Virginia is going to play great defense and hold the ball on offense, while North Carolina will try to get out on the fast break every chance they get. The winner of this game could be the number one seed in the ACC tournament.

#2 Maryland at #18 Purdue, Saturday February 27

Iowa doesn’t have any marquee games down the stretch, making this the best game left in the Big Ten season. If Iowa slips up this could decide the Big Ten champion. Purdue has plenty of talented big guys making their team a Big Ten throwback. Maryland has enough talent on its roster to make this game interesting, but they will need to be tough to beat Purdue.

Jamal Murray has been heating up lately, making Kentucky a serious threat. Photo courtesy twitter.com.

LSU at #22 Kentucky, Saturday March 5

Another revenge game on the slate. Kentucky lost to LSU in Baton Rouge and now gets them in Rupp Arena. This game is the season finale for both teams and could decide the SEC. With Jamal Murray heating it up, Simmons and Murray will be a great battle of freshmen.

#11 Oregon at #23 USC, Saturday March 5

Oregon is leading the Pac-12 and this game could put the icing on the cake. The Ducks are playing great basketball and are capable of making a deep tournament run. USC has been a surprise this season and could still win the Pac-12.

 

 

 

Mid-Season Final Four Picks

The college basketball season is half way over and there are a lot more games to be played, but it is never too early to start predicting the Final Four. There has been enough games to see which teams are showing signs of being able to make a deep run in March Madness. These are the teams that I predict will be in the Final Four this season.

Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield has all the tools to lead Oklahoma to a Final Four.

 

  1. Oklahoma Sooners- The Sooners have just one loss this season and it was to Kansas. That game went to triple overtime and was well played by both teams. If Oklahoma can go into that environment and battle that well, they have the potential to win it all this April. Oklahoma has a star player who can get points at any time, in Buddy Heild, which will come in handy in highly competitive games in the tournament. The other members of the starting five are also very talented and can score when Heild is being shut down. The guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are both talented and can be useful in the guard-centric game that is March Madness. The post has two good players in Khadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler who can get rebounds and score from the post. The only problem that may come to end the Sooners’ goals of reaching the Final Four are their lack of depth. Against Kansas, their bench had no player play for more than 16 minutes or score more than three points. The bench had a total of five points in the 55 minutes played. If the Sooners can get over their lack of depth they will be in the Final Four.

    If Marcus Paige is fully healthy, North Carolina will be dangerous in March.

  2. North Carolina Tarheels- North Carolina has a very experienced team to work with this season. The most important player is point guard Marcus Paige, who does everything for the Tarheels. He has only played 11 games, but his ability to stay healthy will determine his team’s success this season. He averages 15 points and five assists per game and will get better once he gets 100 percent healthy. Brice Johnson provides North Carolina with an athletic big man who can score and play defense. Their other starting big man, Kennedy Meeks, has also had injury problems, but is a physical presence in the paint. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry average 13 points per game to help with the scoring punch. The Tarheels have talent and depth with nine players averaging over 10 minutes per game. They will need this depth come tournament time in order to reach the Final Four.

    Trevon Bluiett isn’t talked about a lot nationally, but the Musketeers leading scorer is one of the most talented players in the country.

  3. Xavier Musketeers- The Xavier Musketeers have had one bad game all season and that was a loss at Villanova by 31 points. This happened to be under bad circumstances as point guard Ed Sumner had to leave the game with a significant head injury only a few minutes into the game. He still hasn’t returned, but Xavier has won every game since. The Musketeers have great shooters in, Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis and J.P. Macura, who help stretch the defense. When the defense is stretched Jalen Reynolds and James Farr are able to face one on one coverage in the post, which is a match-up they usually win. When Sumner comes back, he and Remy Abell will be able to penetrate defenses and cause them to break down. The Musketers also have depth, so much so that they can’t find minutes for all of their talented players. If they can keep the players happy and playing as a team, they will be able to make their first ever Final Four.

    Tyler Ulis has been the main reason Kentucky has been successful and will be the key to a deep tournament run.

  4. Kentucky Wildcats- Honestly all of the teams in the top 15 are so close in how well they have played that this spot is a toss up.  Kentucky has beaten Duke and Louisville, but has lost to Ohio State, UCLA and LSU. With four trips to the Final Four in the last five years, John Calipari has a knack of getting his teams to peak late in the season. The Wildcats have great guard play, which is always a key to winning in March. Point guard Tyler Ulis has done exactly what his team has needed from him this season, by scoring, passing and defending. Jamal Murray is a great outside shooter, who can fill out a stat sheet within a couple of minutes. He does take some ill-advised shots, but outside of him and Ulis the rest of the team hasn’t scored enough this season for Murray not to shoot the ball a lot. The third starting guard is Isaiah Briscoe. Briscoe can’t shoot well, but does defend well and get to the basket on the offensive end. The big men have been the issue this season for Kentucky. Alex Poythress has been inconsistent, Marcus Lee can only score on dunks and freshman center Skal Labissiere hasn’t been strong enough to pull down rebounds or get his shots off. The inside is a mess, but Calipari will find a way to make Poythress more consistent before the year is finished, while the guards will continue to improve as the season goes on.