Fighting For That 8th Spot

8th spotBy Stefan Anderson

The NBA Playoffs are less than ten games away and teams are still fighting for the remaining spots left for postseason, and it makes everything a little more interesting. Let’s take a look at the race for the eighth and final spot in.

In the Western Conference, Oklahoma City appears to have a grip on the final spot with a current three game lead over New Orleans. The Thunder should be able to hold on with the superior play of Russell Westbrook, who has no plans on slowing down anytime soon, especially with the loss of Kevin Durant for the remainder of the season.

But in the East, on the other hand has a real jigsaw, with a game and a half separating four teams; Brooklyn, Charlotte, Indiana and the current 8-seed Boston. With 8 games remaining these four teams will have no choice but to leave everything on the floor.

The road will not be easier for any of the teams as each one of these teams face 5 playoff teams in their remaining 8 games.

However, Charlotte has the best the opportunity to control their own destiny as they have an head to head with Indiana on April 3rd, and face higher seeds like Toronto and Atlanta who can look to rest their starters to gear up for the postseason.

Indiana, despite last night loss to Brooklyn still has a stretch where they have to face Boston, Charlotte, Miami followed by the Knicks and the Pistons. If the Pacers could find a way to take 3 or more wins could play a big part to conquer the 8th seed.

Brooklyn has the toughest schedule out of the four teams where they have the Knicks but then have a gauntlet of games Toronto, Atlanta twice, Portland, Washington, Milwaukee, Chicago and concluding the season versus Orlando.

Boston has the driver seat currently and has to find a way to win games against similar opponents as they see the same teams Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee for 6 of their final 8 and not to mention the head to head with Indiana.

It won’t be easy feat for easy for any of the teams as they fight their way to have the luxury of facing the overwhelming, steady attacking Atlanta Hawks, but that’s what the NBA is no nights off.

It Only Gets Sweeter

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By Stefan Anderson

The Sweet 16 is here and prepare yourself more heartbreaks, more shockers, more dominance and more March Madness. Let’s take a preview at the Sweet 16 matchups set to begin tonight.

  1. Wichita St vs 3. Notre Dame: This could be the most intriguing matchup out of the of all of the Sweet 16 games. With the Shockers continuing another postseason reaching the Sweet 16 after being their undefeated season was ended by Kentucky, the irony, in last year’s 2nd round. The Shockers have played with the mid-major chip on their shoulder but will face a streaking Notre Dame team that is used to adversity fighting off opponents during their rigorous ACC schedule. This has classic written all over it.

Who Wins? Notre Dame moves on to the Elite 8 with the will to win for their coach Mike Brey, who recently lost his mother and has the Fighting Irish playing amongst the top tier of teams in college hoops.

  1. North Carolina vs 1.Wisconsin: Injuries can play a huge part in this game, with UNC losing their big man in Kennedy Meeks and Wisconsin gets their senior guard Traevon Jackson back for the first time in nearly 20 games. It will be tough for the Tar Heels to respond with the size of Wooden POY candidate Frank Kaminsky without the size of Meeks, but Roy Williams along with Bo Ryan will have great adjustments as great coaches like the two do.

Who Wins? I’ve got Carolina in the upset, as Marcus Paige finds a way to hold a grip over the floor and controls the ball for a UNC win.

  1. West Virginia vs 1. Kentucky: With an 8-2 record over his comrade John Calapari, this win would his most appreciated win. To end Kentucky’s streak and advance on would be a dream come true the Mountaineers but it’s going to be a tough feat with Kentucky clicking on all cylinders.  The head to head matchup between Juwan Staten and Andrew Harrison should be a great one.

Who Wins? Kentucky marches along as they continue to dominate the paint with size of Anthony-Towns and Cauley-Stein, who spark the fast break opportunities in which UK excels in.

6.Xavier vs 2. Arizona: Xavier has not had a great contest yet during the tournament and now have the challenge of the Arizona Wildcats, who are in familiar territory returning their fourth regional semifinal. The Musketeers face their first real challenge and have to learn how to contain the size and athleticism of Arizona.

Who Wins? Arizona’s size will be too much for Xavier to contain and will advance to the Elite 8.

  1. Michigan St vs 3. Oklahoma: The Sweet Sixteen, when you think of the regional semifinal, Michigan State has been a lock for the past eight seasons. The Spartans under the leadership of Tom Izzo, have been a major part of the big dance every year and now have to face the lone team of the Big 12 remaining, Oklahoma. The Sooners have a lot on their plate with but can pull off the upset if they can stop Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine.

Who Wins: MSU wins and put themselves in position to chase for another national championship.

  1. NC State vs 4. Louisville:  After shocking the Cardinals earlier this season in Louisville, NC State owns the advantage for the regular season. But Rick Pitino and Louisville have the experience to attack during the big dance and could earn their revenge Friday night.  Trevor Lacey and company pose a real challenge with as you have seen their progression rise steadily throughout the year.

Who Wins ? I’m picking NC State with the upset and I believe that have what it takes and also posses the guard play that can withstand the overwhelming pressure that Louisville plays.

  1. UCLA vs 2. Gonzaga: UCLA continues to defy the odds after many believe that they should have not been selected to the tournament. With their collective effort of five players averaging in double figures equals out to the same game that the Zags’ play spread the ball and play efficiently.  The teams mirror each other and should make a great West coast matchup.

Who Wins? I’ve got UCLA with the upset and the chemistry Steve Alford has built makes them poised for a fight in the tourney.

  1. Utah vs 1. Duke

The Battle of the Coach K’s, but one is looking to cement his legacy while the other is looking to make his name known throughout the nation. Duke has looked impressive in their first two games this tournament and made statements doing it, but the Blue Devils often have a program playing with that same intensity night in and night out. Therefore, the Utes could possible sneak their way into a win if Duke allows them to compete.

Who Wins?

Duke appears to be focused and I expect the same intensity as the freshman trio of Jones, Winslow and Okafor have to make their statements prior to draft time.

Cinderellas March On

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By Aaron Hampton

March Madness is staring wide-eyed at your tattered brackets during the midnight hours of the morning trying to make sense of one of the most anarchic sporting events in the world. Less than 24 hours into this year’s edition of the NCAA Tournament, and madness might just be underselling what a wild first day of the tournament we’ve seen.  So while we brainstorm superlatives to put Thursday’s insanity (hey that’s it) into perspective, let’s take a look at how two of Thursday’s biggest upsets transpired.

2015 marks the third straight year that a 14-seed has advanced over a 3-seed in the opening round of the tournament, and we narrowly missed having 3 straight 14-seeds advance in one day as Northeastern University almost joined shock winners UAB and Georgia State in the second round.

When thinking about what goes into making a great upset, certainly luck has to be listed in there somewhere.  Georgia State made their own luck Thursday, using an aggressive defensive approach to force Baylor into 21 turnovers, and a stifling full-court press to shutout Baylor for nearly the last three minutes of the second half.

It just hasn’t been a good year for Big 12 postseason aspirations in both basketball and football, dating back to the College Football Playoff committee overlooking TCU for a playoff berth due in large part because the conference does not have a postseason tournament.  Having both Baylor and Iowa State, both two of the upper echelon teams in this year’s Big 12, flame out in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament has to rank right beside that disappoint.

Iowa State were seen as many as a dark horse pick to reach the Final Four in this year’s tournament, and played uncharacteristically mediocre against a team that was barely .500 in the Conference USA. Take nothing away from the Blazers, they dominated the glass, kept Georges Niang from having any type of imprint on the game, and forced Iowa State into questionable decisions with the ball that led to have nine turnovers heading into halftime.  Never have I been a fan of the logic that one team wanted a game more than the other, but the Cyclones just could not match the effort and intensity of the Blazers and ultimately it led to the win slipping from their grasp.

At the end of the day, upsets are what make this tournament what it is.  Upsets are the reason over 70 million brackets have been filled out and over $2 billion dollars has been wagered on the tournament.  So grab the tape and put the tattered pieces of your bracket back together, if Thursday’s any indication we’re in for an unforgettable March.

Who Wants It More ??

By Aaron Hampton

As we enter the stretch run of the Premier League season, Manchester United and Liverpool stand within two points of each other in the race for England’s last Champion’s League spot.  With such little to separate these clubs in the standings, Sunday’s match-up at Anfield is the most crucial test for either club yet, and will ultimately prove pivotal in determining the fate of England’s most fierce rivals.

Much has been made about Manchester United and their struggles this season, and yet for every complaint about Louis Van Gaal’s questionable tactics or for every snide about expensive signings not living up to their wage bill, if the season ended today Manchester United would be playing Champion’s League football.  One could also argue that despite losing to Newcastle in the league and Arsenal in the FA Cup in back-to-back weeks, they come into Sunday’s match against Liverpool riding their best from after drubbing Tottenham 3-0 at Old Trafford.

And yet, it would certainly be foolish to read too much into one result given what we’ve seen from Manchester United thus far this season.  The Jekyll and Hyde nature of their form this season gives way to this type of skepticism, even after seeing guys like Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Juan Mata put in there best performances of the season against Tottenham.  Let’s not forget, December also saw United post a 3-0 result against an opponent, only to follow that up with an unremarkable 1-1 away draw to Aston Villa the following week.  That December night saw Manchester United beat Liverpool, who themselves have went on to become the hottest team in England after that loss.

Just how hot have Liverpool since that loss to United?  Not only have they gone unbeaten since losing to United at Old Trafford in December, but a once leaky Liverpool defense has not conceded a goal in the Premier League since Van Persie scored United’s third in their previous meeting.  Liverpool have also looked reinvigorated in attack, not quite matching the SAS level’s of yesteryear, but still look extremely dangerous in attack when their pressing game is working, and they are able to win the ball back high up the pitch and get the ball out quickly to their attackers.  With United’s defense anything but settled, and Johnny Evans missing Sunday’s clash, Liverpool will surely look to push the pace against the visitors in front of a raucous Anfield crowd and put a couple goals through early to push the contest out of reach.

Despite getting the 1-0 result at Swansea, Liverpool showed that wing-back in particular is an area for concern in their coveted 3-4-2-1 system that has given so many fits during their run.  With that, Liverpool will have to be careful in leaving too much space behind in attack, specifically on the wings where guys like Ashley Young or Angel Di Maria can exploit that space quickly.  Even with  Louis Van Gaal’s disdain, United remain extremely partial to the long ball, and can make Liverpool pay on the counter if they are overly ambitious in front of the home faithful.

The sheer intensity and magnitude of any Liverpool-Manchester United clash means the stakes are high whenever these two lock horns.  Both are accustomed to battling it out with the other for titles, and while those circumstances changed, both yearn to return to Europe’s elite and compete in the Champion’s League.  One moves a step closer to those aspirations after Sunday’s result is read, the other left to scramble one of the closest races for Champion’s League qualification in recent memory.

Here We Go Again

By Stefan Anderson

March Madness has begun again and it’s time to ride the rollercoaster that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brings annually.

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Your 4 # 1 Seeds are Duke, Villanova, Wisconsin and the Undefeated Kentucky.

With the tournament beginning tonight, let’s take a look at some of the potential intriguing matchups.

Midwest:

  1. Kansas vs 7.Wichita State: In state rivals could face off in one of the most discussed matchups with the Shockers looking to shock Bill Self and company, who have a lot to prove as well.

6. Butler vs 3. Notre Dame: This second round bout features two of the consistent dark horses in where both teams will leave everything on the line. Notre Dame coming off their ACC championship and Butler staying afloat in the newly formed Big East all season defeating the likes of Seton Hall, UNC, St. Johns and Providence.

East:

  1. UNI vs 4. Louisville: Louisville featuring the great leadership and play Montrezl Harrell  will have to going against the steady and the nation’s 4th best defense of the Northern Iowa who is looking to get their quality win of the season.
  1. Michigan State vs 2. Virginia: MSU has had their battles throughout their season in the Big 10 but this is the time of the year when Tom Izzo teams get hot. With UVA playing with a chip on their shoulder not being selected as a 1 seed, while trying to find their stride once again with the return of Justin Anderson should be a great one to watch.

South

  1. Stephen F. Austin vs 4. Georgetown: One of the best mid major teams in Stephen F. Austin that distributes the ball better than anyone else in the country could go head to head to a battle tested Georgetown team that has point to prove;.
  2. Gonzaga vs 10. Davidson: Two teams that mirror each other’s play only makes for great TV for the viewers. Both Gonzaga and Davidson shoot it well and pass the rock just as good, which could lead to a shootout will be remembered.

West

  1. Arkansas vs 4. North Carolina: 40 Minutes of Hell versus Marcus Paige and company, which should get real interesting for both rosters. How the pressure affects both teams could be key and will determine the winner of that game.
  2. VCU vs 2. Arizona: VCU has been able to protect the rim at a high level and hit glass as well but the size and length Arizona could present a major problem for the Rams. But an upset could help Shaka Smart and the Rams back to their underdog nature against a powerhouse in Arizona.

Cherish The Day

031115-sports-free-agents-Darrelle-RevisNdamukong-Suh-frank-gore

By Stefan Anderson

Many great players hit the free agent market during 2014 offseason, to speculate that this year’s offseason could possess the same activity would seem ridiculous to some. But this past week has been mind boggling for most as we see players shift from team to team and rosters make their best effort to build their teams prior to the draft.

Let’s recap some of the winner and losers of the 2015 FA period:

Indianapolis Colts: With one of the building blocks of the franchise in limbo, Reggie Wayne, the Colts were aggressive in adding talent to be added amongst the AFC’s elite. Signing vets like Andre Johnson, Trent Cole and Frank Gore, Indy has put together the essentials for Andrew Luck to succeed.  Also reassuring their secondary to keeping defensive backs Darius Butler and Mike Adams are in line to dethrone New England.

Seattle Seahawks: After having repeated issues in the Red Zone and infamous no call to Marshawn Lynch,  the two time NFC champs added more weapons to their offense by trading for the dominating Jimmy Graham. Resigning Lynch and adding Graham give Russell Wilson a greater opportunity to expand his game.  Seattle did lose one of its best defenders in Byron Maxwell but have added a great corner in Cary Williams to replace in the Legion of Boom.

New York Jets: Giving up 234 passing yards per game, the Jets went back to their winning formula shown in the past and brought back the tandem of Darrell Revis and Antonio Cromartie to fill the void. Along with “Batman and Robin”, they added defense backs Buster Skrine and Marcus Gilchrist to add to their poor secondary. The offensive side of the ball improved for the Jets as they acquired big time receiver Brandon Marshall, and bolstered up the offensive line by re-signing Willie Colon and adding James Carpenter from the Seahawks.

Losers:

San Francisco 49ers: After having some the best years under Harbaugh regime, the Niners are headed toward darker days once again. The retirement of defensive leader Patrick Willis and Justin Smith was just the beginning, following the loss of workhorse Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree up for grabs there are a lot of holes to be filled for the once powerhouse of the NFC.

New Orleans Saints: The loss of Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills will have a detrimental effect of Drew Brees efficiency this season and give “Who Dat” nation a lot to worry about.  The offense targets departing will have to shoulder a load on their full house of running backs that added C.J. Spiller. It will be tough for the Saints to rebound following the losses suffered.

New England Patriots: The defending champs have lost their top corners in Browner and Revis, running back in Shane Vereen and now the heart of their defense NT Vince Wilfork.  There are holes to be for the Patriots but that is a task Coach Belichick would love to tackle. Following the SB win, that is  a lot of key players to lose heading into a season where each team in the AFC East has improved

Genius or Gone

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By Stefan Anderson

Chip Kelly, known for his coaching tenure at the University of Oregon, was given a five-year contract worth 32.5 million in 2013 to right the ship for the Philadelphia Eagles after the divorce of long time coach Andy Reid. Since then Kelly brought his fast paced offense to the NFL and opened eyes in the league while bringing Philadelphia back to the postseason, and reassuring the future of the City of Brotherly Love.

Since January, Kelly has been given the keys to the organization to make personnel moves and now has traded and released pivotal players to his system. The likes of Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy, Jeremy Macklin and now his first successful experiment in the NFL, Nick Foles have all been removed from the Eagles roster.

Although losing those play makers, the Eagles have now inherited the talents of Sam Bradford and one of Kelly’s former players and 2013 DROY Kiko Alonzo, but what talent does the offense have. With the word of Kelly trading up to get his prized possession Marcus Mariota ,it shows weakness in Kelly’s coaching ability.

Kelly was the mastermind that transformed Nick Foles into a Pro Bowl quarterback and following up with the resurgence of Mark Sanchez, but it was the pieces around Foles that made the system free flowing.

I do not like the fact that Chip Kelly has traded for his former players to run his system, however I disagree with as well, it does not show great versatility as a coach. Great coaches often get maximum potential all players not just the players they are accustomed to coaching.

The former Pac-10 Coach of the Year, has shown his wits once before and has to do so once again. Philadelphia, unlike most cities has one of the hardest fan bases and quickly will ask for Kelly’s exit if he doesn’t show the method to his madness.

Let’s hope this madness works out for the Ducks, I mean the Eagles sake.