Monday, April 6, 2020

UNC Has Had the Toughest NCAA Championship Wins

Tonight would have been the NCAA tournament championship game. Most Tar Heel fans (like me) knew there would be zero chance Carolina would have been playing tonight but that doesn't keep any of us from reminiscing about the six times they won the title. I have no problem saying that North Carolina's haul of championship wins are better than anyone else's. 

UCLA has that incredible run during the 1960s and 1970s. Kentucky has a couple more championships. Duke did win back to back titles. But no one has had tougher national championship games than North Carolina ... and it isn't even close.

The Tar Heels have won six NCAA tournaments -- 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017. Each of those teams had a unique national championship game hurdle and usually it was an equally outstanding opponent. A couple of those times it wasn't just the opponent but where the game was played. And it all but the 2009 game, each one of those title tilts came down to the final seconds.


1957

What that '57 team accomplished is just simply amazing. The Heels spent the national semifinals playing Michigan State into triple-overtime before finally beating the Spartans. The very next day the Heels would have to face Wilt Chamberlain and the Kansas Jayhawks in nearby Kansas City, Missouri.  Carolina was the top ranked team in the nation; Kansas was ranked No. 2. As any true blue Carolina fan knows the Heels took Wilt and Co. to another triple overtime game before winning in the closing moments. In my biased mind, no team had ever faced a title challenge like this: two triple overtime games on consecutive days in the Final Four against a school who was playing a virtual home game and against one of the greatest players of all time. Chamberlain was picked before the 1959 NBA Draft as a territorial pick by the Philadelphia Warriors.



1982

The 1982 Tar Heels are iconic in school lore. Their opponent in New Orleans for the title game had their legend grow over the years as well. The Georgetown Hoyas were led by freshman Patrick Ewing and immediately had high hopes to bring championships back to the nation's capital. The Hoyas season was up and down but they were playing their absolute best heading into the championship game. Again, we all know the story: Ewing goaltends early on, the game goes back and forth and a kid named Michael Jordan hits the game winning jumper. Ewing and the Hoyas would go to two more national championship games during this four year stretch in one of the most impressive runs for a program since the UCLA dynasty. In this tournament, the Hoyas were a No. 1 seed in the West Region and had won 16 of their last 17 heading into the game. Ewing would go on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.


1993

Many people forget that the 1990 incoming recruiting class for North Carolina was one of the best in the nation, featuring Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Kevin Salvadori and Brian Reese. While Tar Heel fans love those guys, they don't look as good on paper as Michigan's freshman class the following year. We know them as the Fab Five of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard. The two met in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii earlier in the season when a Rose shot won the game in the closing seconds. Michigan lost the national championship game in 1992 to Duke and came into this game as a No. 1 seed.  While the 1957 and 1982 title games were tight throughout, the 1993 game had wild swings where each team went on dominant runs to take control of the game. It came down the final moments when Webber (who wasn't called for a traveling violation) would call a timeout that Michigan didn't have which cost the Wolverines -- who were down by two at the time -- a shot at winning the game. This was the final game the Fab Five ever played together (Webber would be the No. 1 overall pick that summer which makes it three title wins the Heels have beaten a team who had a top overall draft pick).


2005

This Heels team was built on a great 2002 recruiting class but had no real success to speak of heading into their title tilt with Illinois. Just three years removed from a dreadful 8-20 season, the Heels had won only two NCAA tournament games over the previous four years before making the run to the championship game. There they faced Illinois, who had lost only one game all season -- a one-point loss to Ohio State in Columbus in the regular season finale.  UNC had a comfortable lead for much of the game before a 10-0 run by Illinois late tied the game (the Illini made an sensational comeback against Arizona in the regional final which left Heels fans uneasy in this one). The game would be knotted up at 70 before Carolina took the lead on a Marvin Williams putback and the Illini couldn't cash in on some open looks. The championship game was Illinois' second loss on the season.


2009

This game was never in doubt. North Carolina dominated this game as they dominated every game in this tournament with lightning quick spurts and enough talent to overwhelm any opponent. Michigan State was a No. 2 seed in this one but the game was being played at Ford Field in Detroit. It didn't matter as the Heels jumped all over the Spartans, setting first half scoring records and sailing to an easy win. What makes this difficult is the opponent's proximity to the host site ... though when the two met earlier in the season (at Ford Field, no less) the Heels stomped them then as well.


2017

Like in 2005, the Heels would play a school that had lost only one game all season long. Gonzaga began the season before losing to BYU in the regular season finale. The Zags blew through the WCC tournament and would end up in the program's first Final Four in the NCAA tournament's first championship game out west in over 20 years. This particular Carolina team was out for "Redemption" after losing the title game to Villanova on a three pointer at the buzzer. It was an ugly game which was to be expected from two teams that loved to bang around in the paint and were rabid rebounders. Similar to all the other UNC championship wins (save 2009) this was a back and forth affair with Gonzaga leading with under two minutes left. But big buckets by Justin Jackson and Isiah Hicks along with a monster blocked shot by Kennedy Meeks sealed the win and finally gave Carolina the redemption they craved.

Six championship games where UNC ended with the trophy. All were against highly touted teams and five were against a No. 1 seed (in Kansas' case an equivalent of a No. 1 seed). They faced off against the eventual No. 1 overall draft pick three times (Chamberlain, Ewing, Webber) while playing three of the games in a relative geographical disadvantage (Kansas in Kansas City, Illinois in St. Louis, Michigan State in Detroit). They beat two centers who were revolutionizing college basketball, the most celebrated recruiting class ever and two teams that lost just one game all season long.

So when you look back at North Carolina's championship past ... which admittedly has two of the most notorious errors in sports history ... you can be proud that they beat the best to be the best.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Looking Back At My NFL Predictions

Looking back at my NFL predictions I made back in August, I didn't do too bad.

I picked 5 of the 6 NFC playoff teams correctly. Um, too bad the one I missed was the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.

I did get the Kansas City Chiefs as the Super Bowl champions ... though I had them beating the Rams. I also had 3 of the 4 AFC division winners correct (I had the Steelers winning the North) but missed both wildcard teams.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

54 Stops to Super Bowl LIV

Every year since Super Bowl XL, I have used this blog for my "Stops To Super Bowl" list.  Every year, I create a list of smart, dumb, inane and chat worthy items for you to use in any banter leading up to and during the Super Bowl.

This year, it is 54 Stops to Super Bowl LIV and I'm back with some more (and some of the same) little items for you about the upcoming big game.

#54-NFL'S CHAMPIONS OVER 100 YEARS:  If you haven't heard, the NFL is celebrating its 100th season this year so it would be neat to look at some of the NFL champions over the years. This includes all NFL champs, including the pre-Super Bowl years.

MOST NFL TITLES
13-Packers
9-Bears
8-Giants
6-Patriots, Steelers
5-49ers, Cowboys, Redskins
4-Browns, Colts, Eagles, Lions

MOST NFL TITLE APPEARANCES
22-Giants
19-Bears
18-Packers
11-Patriots, Redskins
9-Browns, Rams
8-Broncos, Cowboys, Steelers

MOST NFL TITLE GAME LOSSES
14-Giants
10-Bears
6-Rams, Redskins
5-Broncos, Browns, Packers, Patriots
4-Bills, Vikings
3-Colts, Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles

MOST NFL TITLE LOSSES WITHOUT A WIN
4-Vikings, Bills
2-Bengals, Falcons, Panthers
1-Chargers, Titans, Buffalo All-Americans, Pottsville Maroons

*The Jaguars and Texans are the only current NFL franchises to have never played in an NFL championship game.
.

#53-MAHOMES IS YOUNGPatrick Mahomes will be the 5th youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Mahomes will be 24 years and 138 days old when he takes the field for Super Bowl LIV.
Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger were both 23 years old when they started Super Bowls. Neither had great games -- Marino's Dolphins were manhandled by the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX while Roethlisberger completed just 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards. Big Ben would actually win Super Bowl XL over the Seahawks with his controversial rushing touchdown coming up big.

David Woodley was 24 years old when he went 4-of-14 passing against the Redskins in Super Bowl XVII. He threw just five touchdowns for the Dolphins all season long heading into the game (it was the strike-shortened 1982 season) which led Miami to draft Marino the next spring.

The Rams' Jared Goff was 24 when he put up a stinker in Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots. This is quite an interesting list. Only one of the QBs younger than Mahomes would ever win a Super Bowl (Roethlisberger would win two) and two of them are or will be Hall of Famers (Roethlisberger, Marino).



Sunday, January 26, 2020

Kobe Bryant: 1978-2020



I am so stunned by what has happened that I cannot post some story biographical about it. Since you'll hear a lot about Kobe from news sources, fans and people who know him, I'll try to keep this to my favorite moments.

I've been a Lakers fan since I knew there was an NBA (early to mid 1980s) so Kobe is one of my favorite players of all time (likely second to Magic Johnson). My favorite in-person moment in sports was seeing Kobe Bryant hit a game winning shot with 0.3 seconds left to beat the Charlotte Hornets in 2002. I also saw him dump 58 points on the Charlotte Bobcats live a few years later.

Of course, I watched him win five NBA championships with the Lakers. He won them as the overconfident sidekick in 2000 and as the Black Mamba in 2010.

Again, you can find all kinds of places that will talk about his work ethic, his passion for the game, his legendary status and his outstanding start to his second act all over the internet and TV so I will spare regurgitating that here. You can see with the outpouring of emotion on and off basketball courts what Kobe Bryant meant to the world. I am shocked that his life was cut so short. I'm also gutted that three teenage girls had their lives end much, much, much, much too soon. I haven't felt this kind of sorrow in a very long time.

Rest in peace

Alyssa Altobelli
John Altobelli
Keri Altobelli
Gianna Bryant
Kobe Bryant
Payton Chester
Sarah Chester
Christina Mauser
Ara Zobayan

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Sportz' 2019 NFL Predictions

AFC EAST
1-Patriots*
2-Jets
3-Bills
4-Dolphins

Is there really any debate other than the order the Jets and Bills finish? The Patriots are clearly the class of this division and will be in the mix for a record 7th Super Bowl title. The Dolphins are all-in on a complete rebuild. So it comes down to the Jets and the Bills who will likely win around 6 to 8 games.

AFC SOUTH
1-Texans*
2-Colts
3-Titans
4-Jaguars

The QBs are the question in this division. Can Deshaun Watson stay healthy enough to lead Houston to the division crown? Is Jacoby Brissett good enough to take a talented Colts team to the postseason? What's happening with Marcus Mariota? And was it really Blake Bortles that was the problem in Jacksonville and Nick Foles the answer?

AFC NORTH
1-Steelers*
2-Browns*
3-Ravens
4-Bengals

Not yet, Cleveland. They will be a playoff team this year but not winning the AFC North quite yet. Pittsburgh hangs on despite the losses of Bell and Brown. Ravens will fight for a playoff spot while the Bengals will have to decide whether Andy Dalton is the future or not.

AFC WEST
1-Chiefs*
2-Chargers*
3-Broncos
4-Raiders

KC's offense is still insane ... and their defense is still bad. The Chargers will miss Gordon but have enough to get back to the playoffs. Denver continues to be in this holding pattern and Oakland will continue to be fun to watch from afar -- both in a good and bad way.

NFC EAST
1-Eagles*
2-Cowboys
3-Giants
4-Redskins

Philly will win the division again while Dallas will be right there to challenge them. The Giants and Redskins are on another plan where they are trying to build with new quarterbacks. New York has Barkley while Washington doesn't.

NFC SOUTH
1-Saints*
2-Falcons
3-Panthers
4-Buccaneers

This could be Drew Brees' final hurrah as a legit contender. I just don't trust Atlanta at all despite all the talent they have. Cam Newton's shoulder won't be strong enough to carry Carolina. Tampa Bay has too many questions to figure out.

NFC NORTH
1-Vikings*
2-Packers*
3-Bears
4-Lions

The Vikings eek this out with good Kirk Cousins having a big year. The Packers will take too long to get rolling so they'll be more of a wildcard team than anything. Chicago takes a bit of a step back with the defense not so suffocating. The Lions are doing Lions things.

NFC WEST
1-Rams*
2-Seahawks*
3-49ers
4-Cardinals

The Rams attempt to get back to the Super Bowl and actually show up for the game. Seattle's in a bit of a transition but are good enough to nab the final playoff spot. The 49ers and Cardinals will be trying to build some more with San Francisco a more likely candidate to compete for a playoff spot.

SUPER BOWL:
CHIEFS over RAMS

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ranking the last 32 NBA Finals

Where will the only 3-1 comeback in Finals history be ranked?


#32 - LAKERS VS NETS (2002):  To me, this was the worst Finals.  It wasn't just that this was a sweep (though it factors), it is just that this series felt like a formality while you were watching it.  Sure, three of the games were close, but it just didn't feel like the Lakers even took this series seriously.  

#31 - PISTONS VS LAKERS (1989):  This should have been epic.  The Lakers surged into the Finals after sweeping their first three series.  The Pistons had the best record in the league and we were staring at a rematch of one of the greatest Finals in history.  Well, that crashed when Byron Scott missed the entire series with a hamstring injury, then Magic Johnson getting hurt early in Game 2 and missed the rest of the series.  The Lakers were game, but with just Michael Cooper as their backcourt veteran, they were no match for that Isiah Thomas-Joe Dumars-Vinny Johnson backcourt.

#30 - SPURS VS CAVALIERS (2007):   Neither team was great (Spurs finished 3rd in the West; Cavs won just 50 games) but this was a three-time champion Spurs against soon-to-be-legend LeBron James and his Cavaliers.  The Spurs handled the Cavs in the first two games, then eeked out the final two games in Cleveland. This was a ratings nightmare.  Despite having King James in it, nobody watched.

#29 - WARRIORS VS CAVALIERS (2017): This series felt like a formality even though it marked the rubber match for the rivalry. Golden State shot out to a fairly easy 3-0 series lead before the Cavs shot insanely to salvage Game 4. It was a gentlemen's sweep as new Warrior Kevin Durant dominated this series.

#28 - WARRIORS VS CAVALIERS (2018): Golden State swept Cleveland but there were two great games mixed in there. LeBron James poured 51 points in a Game 1 overtime loss that will be remembered for J.R. Smith's late game gaffe and Kevin Durant was throwing daggers in a backbreaking Game 3 win. . 


#27 - PISTONS VS LAKERS (2004):  This felt like a "5-game sweep" as the Pistons dominated the heavily favored Lakers and let Game 2 get away on a Kobe Bryant three-pointer with two seconds left.  The Pistons were a bland, hardworking bunch with no superstars.  The Lakers, however, were a complete spectacle all season long (the addition of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, Kobe's rape trial, Shaq's threats to leave) and it all crumbled during and following this series.  That's what people remember.  

#26 - SPURS VS KNICKS (1999):  The Asterisk Championship for the Spurs.  The NBA's lockout meant the season was only 50 games long.  It was the year after Michael Jordan retired.  And the Spurs played the Knicks in the Finals ... the only #8 seed to make it to the Finals.  The Knicks were bad, not scoring more than 89 points during the series and scoring 77 points or fewer in three of the games.  San Antonio wasn't much better, scoring over 89 just once.  Other than the closeout game, none of these games were particularly close.  

#25 - LAKERS VS MAGIC (2009):  This was a close series of sorts, though the Lakers won it in five.  Game 4 was the classic.  The Lakers made a huge comeback which included a huge Derek Fisher three-pointer to send the game into OT.  There, the Lakers dominated and took a commanding 3-1 series lead.  The Lakers cruised to a title three days later.

#24 - RAPTORS VS WARRIORS (2019): This series was filled with drama but most of it wasn't positive. Kevin Durant missed all bu 12 minutes of the series due to a calf injury and then tore his Achilles in Game 5. Klay Thompson had a hamstring injury then tore his ACL. The Warriors were banged up from five years of making it to the Finals and didn't give Toronto the battle it could have.


#23 - SPURS VS NETS (2003):  This was kind of like the Spurs-Knicks series four years earlier, except that the Nets gave a good fight.  Hard to believe, but Game 4 in New Jersey wasn't even a sellout.  Unreal.  Just like fans in the Garden State, fans at home didn't feel like watching this either.  It was the lowest rated Finals until the Spurs/Cavaliers series in 2007.  

#22 - LAKERS VS SIXERS (2001):  The Lakers went 15-1 in this postseason, though their only loss was in Game 1 to Philadelphia.  That Game 1 was epic, as Allen Iverson scored 48 pts and Shaq scoring 44.  Both Shaq and Iverson had big series, but the Lakers pretty much skated to their second straight championship.  

#21 - BULLS VS SUPERSONICS (1996):  This was the 72-win Bulls with the new Jordan dynasty.  I thought this would've been a great series, but the Bulls blew out to a 3-0 series lead.  Seattle did salvage the next two at home before the Bulls finally put the Sonics out of their misery.  

#20 - ROCKETS VS MAGIC (1995):  Shaq vs Hakeem in the Finals.  Wow.  Nick Anderson's missed free throws kept open a window for Hakeem to tip in the game winner of Game 1.  Anderson was mud after that.  This series was a sweep, but three of the games were very close.  Hakeem's tip in, Horry's three to win Game 3 and a huge fourth quarter run to close out the series.

#19 - SPURS VS HEAT (2014): A year after the Spurs watched the Heat steal a championship from them, San Antonio dominated the regular season and these Finals. Aside for Miami squeaking out a Game 2 win in San Antonio, the Spurs dominated the other four games. Kawhi Leonard broke out in this series as a scorer and as a great defender on LeBron James. LeBron would leave Miami after this series.

#18 - HEAT VS THUNDER (2012):  What was billed as the future of the Finals, LeBron James and Kevin Durant met on the biggest stage with a title on the line.  After an impressive Game 1 win, the Thunder would go on to lose every game the rest of the way.  The Big Three got their championship together ... so haters would have to hate harder and LeBron fans felt validated.

#17 - SPURS VS PISTONS (2005):  This, along with the Lakers-Celtics series in 2010, is the only matchup of teams on this list that had won a championship recently.  This did go 7 games, though this was filled with bad games.  There was a 31-pt win, a 21-pt win, a 17-pt win, a 15-pt win and a 9-pt win.  There was that great Game 5 -- a swing game with the series tied 2-2 -- when Robert Horry willed an overtime win and the series lead.  Game 7 was close, with the game tied heading into the 4th quarter.  

#16 -  LAKERS VS PACERS (2000):  This was the Lakers first championship in the post-Magic Johnson era.  Of their three-peat, this was the best series, though uneven.  Games 1, 3 and 5 were blowouts (the Lakers lost Game 5, where they could've won the title, by 33 points).  The memorable game was pivotal Game 4.  The game went into overtime with 21-year old Kobe Bryant hitting clutch shots (Shaq had fouled out) to give the Lakers a big 3-1 series lead.  The Pacers nearly sent it to a 7th game, but the Lakers made a late run to clinch the title.  

#15 - BULLS VS LAKERS (1991):  The changing of the guard.  After Sam Perkins stunned the Bulls in Game 1 at Chicago Stadium, Michael Jordan (and that "impossible move") took over from there.  In Game 3 at the Forum, Jordan and the Bulls dominated in overtime to win Game 3 and would coast to their first NBA title.

#14 - MAVERICKS VS HEAT (2011):  This series will be best remembered as the one where LeBron James just didn't show up for the Heat late in games.  It was a 2-2 series before Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry carried the Mavs the rest of the way.  

#13 - PISTONS VS BLAZERS (1990):  While only a five-game series, four of them were nail biters.  After a Pistons win in Game 1, Portland stole an overtime game to even the series.  After blowing out Portland in Game 3, the Pistons eeked out a 3 and 2 point win the capture their second title.  This was also sad as this was the last game with the NBA of CBS, which I personally grew up on. 

#12 - WARRIORS VS CAVALIERS (2015): The first of four straight Warriors-Cavs Finals. The Cavs were depleted with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving out, yet LeBron played one of the best playoff series of his career (I felt he should have been awarded MVP). The Cavs actually held a 2-1 series lead before Golden State's talent persevered.  


#11 - CELTICS VS LAKERS (2008):  This was a both a surprise and pleasant matchup of the two NBA glamor franchises.  The Celtics were back from the dead after getting their Big 3 together.  The Lakers made a steal of a trade for Pau Gasol to get back.  But the Celtics were ready.  A hard fought series that saw Paul Pierce wheelchaired off the court only to come back two minutes later and hit a couple of threes.  And then the Celtics clincher happened: a 39 point beatdown of the Lakers.  

#10 - HEAT VS MAVERICKS (2006):  This was the first non-Lakers/Spurs Finals since 1998 and the first to see new blood in the Finals since 1971.  A weird series.  The Maverics owned the first two games in Dallas.  Miami ... namely Dwyane Wade ... owned the rest of the series.  Games 3, 5 and 6 were nail biters that featured phantom fouls, an illegal timeout and a parade of Wade free throws.  Oh, and Dirk Nowitzki kicking the ball into the stands.  It was great theater and Miami's first NBA Championship.

#9 - HEAT VS SPURS (2013): The first five games weren't very fun to watch, even as the two teams alternated victories. The Spurs held a late lead on the Heat in a clinching Game 6 (even the Heat fans left the arena early) when an unlikely series of events led to Ray Allen nailing a game-tying three to send the game to overtime (fans tried to get back in the arena). Miami would sent the series to a Game 7 where the two teams traded blows all game long until Tim Duncan missed a couple of close shots and LeBron James hit a huge jumper to win Miami their second consecutive championship.

#8 - BULLS VS JAZZ (1998):  This series is always remembered for Jordan's final shot.  It was also a series filled with close games.  Game 1 went into overtime, Game 2 was won by the Bulls by 5 and Games 4 through 6 were won by 4, 2 and 1, respectively.  But this also had the dud of Chicago's 96-54 blowout of Game 3.  That was one of the ugliest Finals game I had ever witnessed.  The Jazz set a record for lowest point total for any NBA game since the shot clock (the record has since been broken).  The Bulls also held a 3-1 series lead before Utah saved face in Chicago.  Then Jordan's shot in Game 6.  

#7 - BULLS VS BLAZERS (1992):  People remember Jordan shrugging off those six first half three-pointers.  But this was a good series.  It was tied 2-2 when Jordan erupted for 46 points in Game 5 to take control of the series.  

#6 - BULLS VS JAZZ (1997):  I am actually ranking this series higher than the 1998 edition.  The teams had better regular season records, both teams cruised into the Finals and the series was closer.  In this one, the Bulls won the first two games in Chicago while the Jazz won the next two in Utah.  With the series tied 2-2, Chicago won Game 5 ... aka the Jordan Flu Game ... to take the series lead back to Chicago.  The Jazz had a big lead late in Game 6 before Steve Kerr hit the go ahead shot late and Scottie Pippen made a key defensive play to seal the deal.

#5 - ROCKETS VS KNICKS (1994):  This was a very defensive Finals that may be best remembered for a weird Game 5 that saw NBC cut to coverage of O.J. Simpson in his white Ford Bronco.  This was billed as the Hakeem vs Ewing series (these two met in the 1984 NCAA Tournament Final), but Olajawon totally outplayed his counterpart.  It all ended with a wild Game 7 that saw John Starks go 2-of-18 from the field.  As an aside, this series had a weird feel.  It was the first NBA Finals that didn't have the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons or Bulls in it since 1979.

#4 - LAKERS VS CELTICS (2010):   This, along with the 2005 Spurs/Pistons series, is the only on this list to feature the last two champions facing off.  This one was wild.  Though no game outside of Game 7 to be a nail-biter, this was a physical, chippy series.  We saw Ray Allen hit an NBA Finals record 8 three-pointers in Game 2 ... and then couldn't drop it in the ocean over the next few games.  Boston actually held a 3-2 lead before losing the series in 7.  

#3 - BULLS VS SUNS (1993):  Jordan vs Barkley.  That epic triple-OT Game 3.  Jordan going for 55 in one game.  John Paxson's game winner.  Epic series.  By the way, Michael Jordan averaged 41 points per game for this series. Unreal.

#2 - CAVALIERS VS WARRIORS (2016): The 73-win Warriors were up 3-1 in the NBA Finals yet would lose the final three games to Cleveland. LeBron James was insane in that series and made a championship winning block (and Kyrie Irving made a championship winning shot). Only time a team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a title..





#1 - LAKERS VS PISTONS (1988):  The oldest series on this list was also the best.  It went the full 7 games.  The Lakers would get the NBA's first repeat since the Celtics of the 1960s.  Game 5 at the Pontiac Silverdome had over 40,000 fans there.  And the classic Game 6 where Thomas scored 25 points in the 3rd quarter, Magic had 19 assists and about 100 scuffles.  A classic series ended with a tough as nails closeout Game 7 with the Lakers holding on for the title.

UConn, Big East and the AAC

UConn is back in the Big East.


UConn is reportedly leaving the American Athletic Conference and heading back to the Big East. With all of the conference realignment over the last 20 years this doesn't seem like a major shakeup in collegiate sports but it is an interesting moment in the second and third tier of conference movement. Let's look at how this move impacts these three parties involved:

UCONN

The Huskies have had a tough time of things since 2013 when the Big East broke up. Despite being one of the original members of the Big East, when the league blew up they didn't get an invite to the new Big East nor did they go into the ACC with several of their other former members. UConn got relegated to the AAC and has taken a huge hit. The athletic department has been losing money and the men's basketball team ... despite winning a national championship ... has taken a big step back in relevancy.

The move get UConn back with old Big East foes Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence (as well as "newer" old Big East foes Marquette and DePaul). That's great for them and their brand but also a big move geographically. In the AAC, UConn's closest basketball rival was Temple ... then East Carolina and Cincinnati. In the Big East there will be those shorter trips to their true rivals in the northeast. Yes, they still have Creighton, Butler, Marquette and DePaul but that's still a better deal than Tulsa, Houston, SMU, Wichita State, Tulane and the Florida schools UCF and South Florida every year.

It seems like a great fit for UConn. There are some loose ends to deal with, like a television deal that could be problematic and, most notably, where their football program will land. The AAC doesn't want to keep them in football (understandable) so the Huskies need to find a new home. They could declassify to a FBS program like several of the other Big East programs do. They could just be a independent in football with Notre Dame, BYU, Army, Liberty, New Mexico State and UMass. It isn't the most ideal situation, but it is an option.

Another option is to attempt to find a league that will take them in. This may take some time and, ironically, waiting for the AAC to find its football replacement for them. If the AAC dips into another league to get another 12th member then UConn could be able to plug right in ... or end up finalizing the domino effect that could ensue. That means the most likely landing spot for the Huskies football program will be the Conference USA, Mid American Conference or Sun Belt. Honestly, UConn may want to stay independent than go into the Sun Belt.

BIG EAST

Since the Big East doesn't have football, this really isn't a difficult move for the league. UConn gives the league an 11th member ... albeit the only one that isn't a Catholic institution.  While UConn has fallen back a bit, the name still matters (they've won four NCAA Tournament championships since 1999) and the geographic fit is obvious. Plus having UConn in the Big East just feels right. It makes sense.

Also, the Big East is inheriting the preeminent women's college basketball program which is a huge win for them ... and the Lady Huskies who have been toiling away in a subpar league since the Big East split up. While the Big East women's league hasn't been elite, both Marquette and DePaul had solid seasons last year and the league as a whole should provide better competition for UConn.

Going back to the men for a moment, adding an 11th member means the league can have a true round-robin schedule with 20 league games. They have no rush to add a 12th member (they don't need to) but have some prime candidates should they choose to. They could raid the AAC again and bring in Wichita State (which adds a non-football school in with the western side of the league). The could look at the Atlantic 10 which is ripe with good non-football athletic programs like Saint Louis or Dayton (both Catholic universities) or maybe Dayton or VCU. Being a non-football league means there is no reason for the Big East to be a 12 team league so they have no pressure to further expand.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

The AAC does have some pressure, however. The AAC has a quirky membership as it is. Including UConn, they have 12 members with the Naval Academy as a football-only member and Wichita State as a non-football member. Knowing that could lead to what comes next for the AAC.

They could stay at 11 schools. With the new college football format that you can have a league championship game despite not having 12 members ... or divisions for that matter ... means the league doesn't have to have a 12-team league to keep their football title game. The Big 12 has just ten members and no divisions with the top two teams in the standings at the end of the regular season playing for the title game. Of course, the Big 12 plays a true round robin schedule which could be difficult for the AAC. Ten conference games is a bad idea for the AAC so they would have to accept not having a true round robin in determining their regular season.  The Sun Belt has just ten members but they do split into two divisions with the winners facing off in a title game. The AAC could stay in their current division format and even move Navy to the East and have uneven divisions.

As far as basketball, having just 11 members isn't a problem as they could play a true round robin for a 20-game conference season.

Of course, adding a 12th football school would be ideal. But who?  Let's look:

Army: This seems like a great move. Army would be another football-only member like Navy and would fit nicely into the opening UConn left. It is a program on the rise and makes the AAC the spot for the service academies. The biggest problem is the logistical nightmare of the Army-Navy game. As of now, the Army-Navy game is the final game of the season and one of the most important games on college football's calendar. If Army joins the AAC, then it turns into a conference game. So how can you have a conference game that is played the week after your conference holds their championship game?  How?

My solution is easy: Don't make the Army-Navy game an official conference game. Sure, they both belong to the AAC but when they play it is considered a non-conference game. This isn't stupid since it is already a thing. This year in the ACC, North Carolina will play fellow ACC member Wake Forest in a non-conference game. It is weird, but it solves the problem. Navy is in the Western Division of the AAC so put Army in UConn's old slot in the Eastern Division. Work the scheduling out where those two never have to play in an official conference game.

Of course, Army didn't enjoy its time in the Conference USA as a football school several years back and their scheduling freedom could be a problem. Under my proposal, Army would now have an 8-game AAC schedule, a non-conference game against Navy, a non-conference game against Air Force. That would leave Army with just two slots each year to play with.

BYU: This would be a enormous stretch to think BYU would want to join. Their closest geographical neighbor in the AAC would be Wichita State. Honestly, they could probably call the Big 12 right now and ask to get in and it would probably happen. At the very least they could head to the Mountain West with fellow independent New Mexico State (or North Texas, UTEP or Rice) to form a 14-team league.

Boise State: See BYU above. And they are further west. They're good. In fact, they could try to package up with BYU to see if the Pac 12 was interested in becoming the Pac 14.

Air Force: Another service academy but the AFA would leave some nice rivalries for what exactly? They're good.

UAB: For a school that killed the football program for a year, they've been showing up well. Adding UAB would solidify that southern area with Memphis and Tulane.

North Texas: This could be a sleeping ... well, not giant. But this is a big school in the heart of Texas who has been doing well in football. Of course, SMU may not like sharing the Dallas area with another program so this could be a problem.

Florida International or Florida Atlantic: FIU and FAU have huge enrollments. FAU has been a good football program and currently has Lane Kiffin as their head coach. That could change in the drop of a hat but they are still an aggressive program. And while the AAC is well represented in Florida with UCF (Orlando) and South Florida (Tampa), they don't possess the Miami area.

Marshall: Great history who feel like they've taken a step back by leaving the MAC for CUSA. Huntington would bring in that western Pennsylvania area as well as a proud West Virginia fan base with them.

Charlotte: The 49ers football program is less than 10 years old and its basketball program has been blowing in the wind since the Conference USA restructured after a mass exodus to the Big East in the mid-2000s. Still, Charlotte is the biggest city in the Carolinas and is a fertile recruiting area that is somewhat being served by East Carolina.  The AAC is made up of metro areas so Charlotte makes a ton of sense there.

Buffalo: After all these CUSA schools, let's look at the MAC. Buffalo has been great on the football field as well as the basketball court. They are hot. Geographically the Bulls are a bit of an outlier in the MAC though joining the AAC wouldn't do much to help that. Still, the AAC is viewed in a better light than the MAC.

UMass:
Right now UMass is an independent in football and an A10 member in other sports. They could neatly fit in the AAC. They'd keep a presence in the New England area that UConn left and bring more of a Boston feel to the league. UMass has been irrelevant in both football and basketball for quite some time so this would be a marriage of convenience more than an advancement of the league.

Georgia State: This would be a strictly business decision for the AAC. Don't get me wrong: Georgia State has had basketball success but has been pretty bad at the football playing. But it brings in Atlanta and the AAC has no members in Georgia.

There are a lot of options on the table for the AAC though none of them are earth shattering. It will be difficult to replace UConn's basketball value -- or even come close to it. Football-wise, they should be able to upgrade since UConn hasn't exactly mattered on the gridiron and Storrs isn't a preferred destination. So adding in Miami, Buffalo, Charlotte, Atlanta, Birmingham or the New York City area fits with much of the AAC mold (they have members in Cincinnati, Orlando, Tampa, Memphis, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans, Tulsa and Wichita) and will probably be what they look for in a new member.

I think they look at Army to join as a football-only member and may look to add another school to play in the other sports (Davidson? VCU?).



Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Please Move The Astros Back to the National League



Last fall I was sitting here watching the ALCS with the Boston Red Sox taking on the Houston Astros.

Yeah, I hate the Astros are in the American League.

In 2013, the Astros made their debut in the AL. Major League Baseball decided to have 15 teams in both the NL and AL so they moved one National League team to the Junior Circuit. When the Astros were being sold, part of the deal was Houston would move from the six-team NL Central to the previously four team AL West. Sure, it made six five-team divisions but it was very unpopular with Houston fans and baseball purists in general.

It was the first time a team switched leagues since 1998 when the Milwaukee Brewers left the AL Central for the NL Central when baseball expanded to Arizona and Tampa Bay. And there is my point.

If baseball wanted to move a team to the American League, it should have been the Brewers. Milwaukee spent just 15 seasons as a National League team as opposed to over 50 for the Astros. The Brewers were off the table since Commissioner Bud Selig's family owned the franchise and the Brewers loved their rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. Still, it would've been the right thing to do.

With Milwaukee moving back to the AL, I would place them in the Central and move Kansas City to the West. I'm sure Royals fans wouldn't love that, but they were an AL West team for many years before realignment in 1994 and the Rangers would sort of be their geographic partner.

BREWERS MOVE BACK TO AMERICAN LEAGUE

NL EAST: Atlanta, Miami, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Washington
NL CENTRAL: Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Houston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis
NL WEST: Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego, San Francisco

AL EAST: Baltimore, Boston, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay, Toronto
AL CENTRAL: Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota
AL WEST: Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland, Seattle, Texas

If not Milwaukee, since Selig didn't want it and moving the Royals to the AL West seems a bit mean, then it should have been Colorado or Arizona. The Rockies would give a nice bridge to the baseball island that is Seattle. But, at the time, they had spent 20 years in the NL while Arizona spent just 15. Arizona would also be a better bridge for the Texas Rangers and has regularly rebranded the franchise while the Rockies have pretty much stayed the course.

The damage would be that the Astros would move to the NL West. It isn't the worst idea since Houston was in the old NL West with the Dodgers, Giants and Padres ... but they would be in a worse situation than pairing with the Rangers in the AL West.

DIAMONDBACKS MOVE TO AMERICAN LEAGUE

NL EAST: Atlanta, Miami, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Washington
NL CENTRAL: Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis
NL WEST: Colorado, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego, San Francisco

AL EAST: Baltimore, Boston, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay, Toronto
AL CENTRAL: Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota
AL WEST: Arizona, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland, Seattle, Texas

Sportz' 2019 NBA Mock Draft



Mock drafts usually are futile. Trades happen and all it takes is one weird move that completely changes the complexity of what happens. Still, mock drafts can provide a guide to where your favorite players can expect to be selected and the kind of talent your favorite NBA team could be looking at drafting.

So, here we go:

1-PELICANS: Zion Williamson, Duke

There's no way this won't happen.

2-GRIZZLIES: Ja Morant, Murray State

Trading away Mike Conley all but puts the lock on this one.

3-KNICKS: RJ Barrett, Duke

I honestly think he'll be the best player to come out of this draft.

4-LAKERS: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

Pelicans will get this pick and Garland has been compared to Dame Lillard.

5-CAVALIERS: DeAndre Hunter, Virginia


A do-it-all kind of player that adds that glue guy to a team that's rebuilding

6-SUNS: Coby White, North Carolina

Suns used to hold the market on point guards but need a guy like White to run their fast attack.

7-BULLS: Cam Reddish, Duke

If he is engaged, he has the sweetest stroke in the draft.

8-HAWKS: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

Hawks have three 1st rounders so they should take a solid player (who is the best on the board) here.

9-WIZARDS: Nassir Little, North Carolina

Wizards have a ton of work to do and if Little reaches his potential he will be a steal.

10-HAWKS: Jaxson Hayes, Texas

A lanky big man who can run alongside Trey Young and the youngsters.

11-TIMBERWOLVES: Sekou Doumbouya, France

Wolves have a lot of questions heading into the offseason. Doumbouya would be one less one.

12-HORNETS: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

Hornets have been more miss than hit on drafting big men. Hopefully that changes now.

13-HEAT: Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

The Heat needs to add more scoring to the perimeter and Johnson can do that.

14-CELTICS: PJ Washington, Kentucky

With Al Horford likely gone, the C's will need some bigs who can provide scoring and defense.

15-PISTONS: Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Clarke is that kind of dawg that Pistons fans love.

16-MAGIC: Kevin Porter, USC

Some scouts say Porter could be the breakout star of this draft.

17-NETS: Tyler Herro, Kentucky
Herro is known as a shooter and the Nets seem to want to play a style that loves shooting.

18-PACERS: Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Local guy and someone you can put in the backcourt alongside Oladipo.

19-SPURS: Goga Bitadze, Georgia

San Antonio loves versatile big men and Bitadze is very skilled for a guy his size.

20-CELTICS: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

A two way player who could be an Avery Bradley type for Boston.

21-THUNDER: Cam Johnson, North Carolina

Great shooter and a solid defender who is 23 and can help a contender right away.

22-CELTICS: Bol Bol, Oregon

With three 1st rounders, Boston can take a chance on a guy like Bol Bol.

23-GRIZZLIES: Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Jazz got Conley in this trade and the Grizz take a very talented big man who plays a bit old school.

24-SIXERS: Ty Jerome, Virginia

Philly could lose a lot of backcourt guys in free agency and could use a backup combo guard.

25-TRAIL BLAZERS: Romeo Langford, Indiana

This skilled guard is just too good too pass this late in the draft.

26-CAVALIERS: Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State

A big guy who can stretch the floor.  Again, the Cavs are just trying to get talent.

27-NETS: Grant Williams, Tennessee

A tough guy who is just a winner. Good for a team that is adding depth.

28-WARRIORS: Nicolas Claxton, Georgia


A big guy and a bit of a project. With the 2019-2020 as a sort of rest season, he could be a perfect fit.

29-SPURS: Chuma Okeke, Auburn

Tore his ACL during the NCAA Tournament but is exactly the kind of cat the Spurs love.

30-BUCKS: Dylan Windler, Belmont

If Milwaukee loses Malcolm Brogden in free agency, Windler could be a nice replacement.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sportz Assassin's Sweet 16 Preview



Let's just jump into it ...

CHALK CHALK: This Sweet 16 still has all four No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds and two No. 4 seeds. The only surprises would be No. 5 seeded Auburn and No. 12 seeded Oregon. Still, all sixteen teams who were favored to win in the round of 32 did so. The only other year that all the 1s, 2s and 3s made it this far was 2009.

COULD THE ACC DO THE IMPOSSIBLE: The ACC has five teams still alive and has a legitimate shot to have four teams in the Final Four. Now, that would buck every trend imaginable and involve beating a lot of really good teams but it is plausible. Duke, Virginia and North Carolina are No. 1 seeds are arguably the three best teams in the tournament. Florida State sits in the West Region with Gonzaga in their sites ... a Zags team they beat in the Sweet 16 last year.  Again, this isn't a likely scenario but the conference has already achieved some big things already.

IS IT TIME FOR THE SEC TO GAIN ITS RESPECT: The SEC is usually looked down upon as a league that isn't a major power in basketball. Yeah, they have Kentucky and there is always a team or two that makes noise but it no one takes it seriously. Maybe we should. Kentucky is back in the Sweet 16, Auburn just spanked Kansas and is as hot as anybody and LSU has played well despite all the smoke around their program. All three could get to the Final Four and could make a title run.

CAN THE BIG TEN FINALLY WIN A TITLE:  It is amazing to think that the Big Ten hasn't won a national championship since Michigan State did in 2000. In fact, that Spartans title is the only championship that league has won over the last 30 years. Stunning. That doesn't mean they haven't been close -- three times over the last six years a Big Ten team has played in the national championship game and seven times since that Michigan State title. Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue are still in the thick of the race.

PJ WASHINGTON'S FOOT:  Every tournament seemingly has an injury we're watching and this year it is Kentucky's Washington. He missed the Wildcats' first two tournament games with a bum foot and has been on the bench in a cast. Getting past Abilene Christian and Wofford is one thing, but dealing with Houston and North Carolina or Auburn is another. Even if he can play, how effective will he be? It is the difference between getting to the Final Four or not.

WHO DOES THE NATION LOOK TO: There is no Cinderella story here. Sure, Oregon is a double-digit seed but they were in the Final Four two years ago and won the Pac 12 tournament. Everyone else in the Sweet 16 were favored in both their games. With big, bad blue bloods like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky still around while Michigan State, Michigan, Gonzaga and Virginia are back again. Houston, to me, seems like the team to latch on to if you want to root for an underdog. They will play Kentucky on Friday with (possibly) North Carolina on Sunday if they win. This is their first Sweet 16 since the Akeem Olajuwon days of the early 1980s (1984, to be exact) and they represent the American Athletic Conference.

CAN VIRGINIA KEEP IT GOING: No program has had the kind of skepticism as Virginia the last few years. They have been winning ACC championships over the last four years but have no Final Fours to show for it. They were the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed ever in 2018. They exorcised that demon a bit just by getting to the Sweet 16 this year. Still, they need to at least get to a Final Four before we can get off their back. Of all the top seeds, they have the easiest game in the next round (Oregon). Lose that and we lose some more faith in them.

WHERE IS DUKE'S HEAD AT?:  Everyone just saw Duke nearly lose to UCF on Sunday and suddenly all these red flags were raised. Those flags were always there. They are mainly a two-man team, they are not a great three point shooting team and they aren't deep. That isn't new. Also, just because they nearly lost to UCF doesn't mean they can't win the championship. We've seen plenty of instances where a team won a very close game and gone on to win the whole thing. This could be the punch in the face that keeps them on their toes.

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT GONZAGA: Speaking of lacking respect yet having a ton of talent is the Zags. They very well could be the most talented team in the nation and no one is noticing. Sure, they've spent their last ten weeks playing West Coast Conference games and the last time anyone noticed them they put up an epic dud in a loss to Saint Mary's in the WCC tournament championship game, but this team is loaded. The Zags spent those weeks in WCC play just destroying conference foes and, lest you forget, the only team to have beaten Duke at full strength. While the other title contenders had some hiccups during the first weekend, the Bulldogs punished their opponents. Yet no one is talking about them. Hardly at all. That may be what they want.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sportz Assassin's East Region Preview



TEAM TO BEAT: Duke. They have Zion Williams and you don't. 

TEAM THAT WILL WIN THE REGION: Duke. The Blue Devils should cruise to the regional final where they'd likely play Michigan State. Duke is the worst shooting three point team in the field but their athleticism gets them past Sparty. 

TEAM TO WATCH FOR (LESS THAN A NO. 3 SEED): Virginia Tech. They beat Duke already (albeit without Zion Williamson) and are getting Justin Robinson back for the tournament. 

YOUR CINDERELLA: Belmont. Their offense is relentless. They run, fire up threes make tons of passes and try to wear you down. They get Maryland up first who are talented, but young. They then could get an LSU team that is going through a lot lately before hitting the Sweet 16.  They're really, really good.   

WORST SEEDING ERROR: Michigan State. They certainly deserved a No. 2 seed, but they shouldn't have been placed in Duke's region. The selection committee explained they wanted to reward the Spartans by keeping them closer to home. But you gave them the region with the top overall seed. That's not right. I'm sure they rather have been in Louisville or Kansas City instead.    

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Maryland. If the Terps can get past their first weekend matchups in Jacksonville, they'll get to play right near home in Washington DC. Really, there are a variety of teams that like being in the DC region (VCU, Duke, Liberty, Virginia Tech). 

MUST WATCH GAME: Maryland vs Belmont. Maryland has NBA talent, but they are also very young. No one in their primary rotation has ever won a college tournament game of any kind. Belmont, as mentioned above, is legit. They are unafraid and have an offense that constantly attacks. With the Terps' size bother the Bruins?

MUST WATCH (POTENTIAL) SECOND ROUND GAME: LSU vs Maryland.  If the Terps can get past Belmont, they'll likely get an LSU team that won the SEC regular season title. Both teams are talented in different ways (big Bruno Fernando and guard Tremont Waters going at it).

Sportz Assassin's South Region Preview



TEAM TO BEAT: Virginia. Here we are again. The Cavaliers have are back as a No. 1 seed yet again and the last time we saw them they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. We all know that the pressure is on for Virginia. They need to show us that they aren't the ... for the lack of a better word ... chokers many feel they are. 

TEAM THAT WILL WIN THE REGION: Tennessee. This Vols team is very good and very experienced. They spend several weeks as the No. 1 team in the country before a sound defeat to Kentucky derailed them. They've beaten Kentucky twice since then and haven't lost a bad game all year. They can take down Virginia. 

TEAM TO WATCH FOR (LESS THAN A NO. 3 SEED): Villanova. Never underestimate the heart of a champion. The Wildcats are notoriously a boom-or-bust proposition. They either win it all or get knocked out early in the tournament. Hard to believe that this 'Nova team is being slept on. They won the Big East regular season title and the Big East tournament. They can do some damage if the threes go in.  

YOUR CINDERELLA: Oregon. The Ducks were supposed to be really good this year but things didn't pan out that way. Still, they are coached by the grossly underrated Dana Altman and have guys who were part of their Final Four run of 2017. They won the Pac-12 tournament championship and now get a Wisconsin team that just hasn't been sharp of late. Pull off a patented 5-12 upset here and they could get a dinged up Kansas State squad.   

WORST SEEDING ERROR: Wisconsin. I'm just not that big on Wisconsin. They get a No. 5 seed ahead of Villanova won won the Big East regular season and tournament titles and over Cincinnati who just dismantled Houston in the AAC championship game and hasn't had a bad loss all year.    

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Cincinnati. Bearcats fans have to love that they play their first weekend in Columbus and the a second weekend down the river in Louisville. 

MUST WATCH GAME: Cincinnati vs Iowa. Cincinnati pays tough nosed defense and goes up against Iowa who is all about their offense. I love watching two strengths go at each other. On the other side, Iowa's defense is horrible and will be tasked with stopping Jarron Cumberland.

MUST WATCH (POTENTIAL) SECOND ROUND GAME: Tennessee vs Cincinnati.  If the Bearcats can get past Iowa, they'll get a great game with Tennessee. That would be a tough, physical game.

Sportz Assassin's Midwest Region Preview



TEAM TO BEAT: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the nation. They've beaten Duke twice and nearly beat a Zion-led Blue Devils a third time. They check all the boxes -- they are experienced, have one and done talent, a Hall of Fame coach, pound the boards, nail threes and are near the top of the nation in assists. 

TEAM THAT WILL WIN THE REGION: North Carolina. To me, this region comes down to the probable North Carolina-Kentucky game in the regional final. When they first met, Kentucky took advantage of Carolina's young point guard and actually outrebounded the Heels. Both teams are much improved but I give the edge to UNC.. 

TEAM TO WATCH FOR (LESS THAN A NO. 3 SEED): Auburn. The Tigers are hot right now, beating Tennessee in their season finale and then blowing through the SEC tournament (beating the Vols again). Their guards are playing confident and they've got the horses to stick with Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.  

YOUR CINDERELLA: Wofford. They will sneak up on no one, but this is a darn good team. They are smart with the ball and hit an insane amount of threes. They have that Cinderella star in Fletcher Magee who is afraid of no one. If the Terriers can shock Kentucky, they could go along way..   

WORST SEEDING ERROR: Kansas. Two things here. Kansas doesn't deserve to be a No. 4 seed with Auburn ... who won the SEC tournament ... a No. 5. Iowa State is a No. 6 and then spanked Kansas in the Big 12 title games. Then how did they get put in the Kansas City region? The Jayhawks were overseeded.    

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Kansas. If Kansas can get past Northeastern and Auburn, they will play the second weekend in their backyard. That is a huge advantage against North Carolina and Kentucky if they were their opponents. 

MUST WATCH GAME: Wofford vs Seton Hall. Wofford's threes against Seton Hall's Myles Powell. The Pirates defense will be tested against the Terriers relentless perimeter offense. Should be a fun one to watch.

MUST WATCH (POTENTIAL) SECOND ROUND GAME: Houston vs Iowa State.  Nearly every likely matchup in the second round should be fun to watch, Houston going up against the Big 12 champion should be the best. The Cyclones were limping into the conference tournament when they caught fire. Houston was coasting along until they looked off against Cincinnati in the AAC final. There's NBA talent on the floor in this one and should be a knock 'em out kind of game.