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.

Sportz Assassin's West Region Preview

TEAM TO BEAT: Gonzaga. The Zags have spent the bulk of the season at or near the top of the rankings. They had a bad week back in December when they lost to Tennessee and North Carolina but then cruised through the WCC season punishing opponents. We all were believing in them until a surprising loss to Saint Mary's in the WCC championship game has people skeptical again. . 

TEAM THAT WILL WIN THE REGION: Gonzaga. I'm not big on "a loss may actually help" thinking but this should put the Zags on notice. This is one of the most talented teams in the nation and if they weren't in out west then maybe people would treat them as such.  There are landmines in their way but I think the Bulldogs get it donw. 

TEAM TO WATCH FOR (LESS THAN A NO. 3 SEED): Florida State. The Seminoles beat Gonzaga in last year's tournament and could have a chance to pop them in the Sweet 16 this time around. They are a very deep team that seemingly is stocked with athletic 6'7 guys. They are big, they are quick and they've been the fourth best team in an ACC that produced three No. 1 seeds.  

YOUR CINDERELLA: Syracuse. Okay, so I just sang the praises of Gonzaga and told you to watch our for Florida State, but Syracuse is a possible Cinderella. They've done well in their last two tournaments and they could match up well with Gonzaga. That zone is hard to prepare for so it could cause opponents some trouble..   

WORST SEEDING ERROR: Nevada. Honestly I don't see any errors in this region, so I'm just going to say that Nevada was a top ten team all year long, lost to San Diego State twice and at Utah State and then become a No. 7 seed?. Just nitpicking    

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Gonzaga. With games in Salt Lake City and then Anaheim, the Zags should have a good fan advantage. Only Montana, Arizona State and Nevada are true western teams in this bracket. 

MUST WATCH GAME: Marquette vs Murray State. What a treat it will be to see Murray State's Ja Morant go up against Marquette's Markus Howard. It is rare to get two guys going at it like this in the opening round. Both are an enormous part of their school's offenses and should have big games in this one.

MUST WATCH (POTENTIAL) SECOND ROUND GAME: Gonzaga vs Syracuse.  As mentioned before, Gonzaga's outstanding offense against Jim Boeheim's zone. The Zags have the guys who can beat it but it is an adjustment. Syracuse beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium when Zion Williamson was playing so they aren't afraid of playing a big time team..

Friday, March 15, 2019

ESPN Just Doesn't Care If You Know They Have a Crush On Duke

This was the graphic ESPN used to advertise the Duke-Syracuse ACC Tournament quarterfinal game. During the first ACC game of the day, Virginia vs NC State, ESPN showed a promo of Zion Williamson dunking and dunking some more ... and dunking ... shouting ... and dunking.  Then closed with this.

Um ... I guess Duke was the only team playing in that game.

Sorry Syracuse.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Why Do We Need To Name a G.O.A.T.?

For whatever reason, we are stuck in that age old tradition or having to determine who the greatest player is.  Sports is all about debating players, teams and eras so it stands to reason that arguing over who's the greatest has become a sport of its own.

It has been a big topic of late. In February, Tom Brady and his New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl championship -- two more than any other quarterback. He owns a slew of records and certainly finds his name among the NFL greats. The more he does, the more the conversation happens.

In basketball, here we go with the LeBron James-Michael Jordan argument again. LeBron has been climbing the all-time rankings in assists and points (just passing Jordan for fourth place) which strengthen LeBron's fans' arguments and makes Jordan fans dig in a little more. This isn't a new debate (it seems we've been having it a lot since the Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals) and will likely be going on as long as there is an NBA ... or until the next guy approaches that level of excellence and joins the argument.

Again, this isn't new. Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams. Mantle or Ruth. The pound for pound greatest boxer. Gretzky or Howe. Wilt or Russell. The only thing that has changed is our ability to view those great exploits due to video tape and YouTube and the myriad of statistics and analytics we now use to determine who is more valuable. Staples like batting average, points per game and touchdown runs just tell the whole story anymore.

There in-lies the other issue about these kinds of debates. We all want to hold on to our era.  Our guy. What we saw and how we felt when we saw it. Most people -- not all -- that say LeBron is the greatest NBA player ever tend to be in their 30s or younger. Jordan defenders tend to be in their 40s or older. You also have those older school guys who will still say Russell, Wilt or Kareem. For a 50 year old, it is near sacrilege to say that anyone is better than Jordan and dismisses today's NBA. For a younger fan, they may not appreciate the magnitude of what Jordan did in the era where he played.

The problem is that we miss out on greatness. While it is fine to celebrate Jordan's legacy, sometimes we squash the accomplishments of another. We miss out on witnessing (no pun intended) LeBron's era of basketball. And those who just wave off what Jordan was are missing out on their history.

I'll soon be 44 years old and the memories and feelings of watching Magic Johnson will probably never be duplicated. Magic is one of the greats but is rarely considered the greatest. That's fine with me because he's my favorite athlete in any sport. And that doesn't stop me from admiring what Jordan was doing or what LeBron is doing now.

While you are spending all your energy fighting an impossible fight and missing out on life, there could be another guy in twenty years that will get that fan base ready to proclaim him as the greatest of all time.