One For The Ages

national chip

By Stefan Anderson

The 2015 NCAA Men’s basketball final was the most compelling final that I have seen since the infamous Memphis meltdown/Kansas comeback in 2008, for many reasons as the game showcased this evening.

Who’s the best big man in the Country? Frank Kaminsky versus Jahlil Okafor Part II, went in favor of “the Tank” similar to the Player of the Year award.  Kaminsky lived up to the praise that has been given to the upperclassmen finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds against the Chicago native.  The Wisconsin senior exposed the holes in the potential lottery pick’s game by drawing him out to the perimeter while using his array of post moves to keep Okafor off the floor with foul trouble and controlling the paint throughout the night.

Guard Play: Although Wisconsin got his win in the post, their guard play could not contain the play of the blossoming Grayson Allen and the poised Tyus Jones. The Apple Valley, Minnesota product put together another tough outing against Wisconsin again. In the previous meeting, Jones exploded for 22 points, 4 assists and six rebounds and concluded his freshman season with 23 points that included 2 huge three pointers and a perfect 7-7 from behind the stripe. Duke’s guards combined to outscore Wisconsin guards 45-12.

One Shining Moment: After the departure of senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon ,due to disciplinary actions, Duke went on an astonishing 18 out of 19 en route to sweeping up the National Championship. The loss of Sulaimon also made Coach K and company transition to a 8-man rotation that offered Matt Jones, Marshall Plumee and Grayson Allen to have more defiant roles on the roster.  Allen made the most of his opportunity showing that the future of Duke will be secure with him at the helm. Down 9 with no offensive output from his Blue Devils teamates, the freshman engineered an 8-0 run that brought Duke within 4 for fellow diaper dandy Tyus Jones to take over.

The Glue Guys: With Okafor and Winslow on the bench with foul trouble players like Matt Jones and the unsung hero Amile Jefferson , who stats will not show on the box score, made all the glue plays that gave Duke their first championship since 2010.The defensive pressure of the Blue Devils were the cause of holding one of the 2015 tournament’s invigorating players Sam Dekker to 12 points on a tough 6-15 attempts.

Fairy Tale Ending: Fresh off a first round exit to Mercer in the 2014 tournament, Coach K went and coached a group of players for the USA’s World Championship team that have propelled MVP candidates Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis, while inspiring the progression of players like Klay Thompson, Demar Derozan and Demarcus Cousins. Then following with the challenge of coaching a youthful roster that included four new freshmen and combine them with the leadership of Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson.  On the way to introducing to conquering the 1,000 win accolade, the Duke Head Coach had to face a lot of great opponents in non-conference play and in ACC play, which set the Blue Devils to be poised when facing adversity come tournament time. Now that Coach K has received his fifth national championship, he has put himself of a class of his own as the only NCAA Men’s head coach with 5 titles only trailing the great John Wooden, who has ten.  The Army grad has now made his already impressive resume look better as he finished his 2015 season in the way possible.

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Duke and Wisconsin in the National Championship a Worthy Sequel

Duke v Wisconsin

By Aaron Hampton

Saturday’s Final Four match-ups have come and gone, and the field of 68 has finally been whittled down to just two as Duke and Wisconsin square off to decide a national champion on Monday night.  While certainly not the marquee match-up of Duke and Kentucky that most were clamoring for, Monday’s championship game promises to an exciting match-up between two of the best and most efficient teams college basketball has to offer this season.  Look no further than the December clash between the teams in the Big 10/ACC Challenge for evidence of what Monday night promises to be.

That winter night saw Duke hand Wisconsin their first loss of the season 80-70 on the strength of a herculean effort by Tyus Jones, who went for 22 in that meeting. Both teams knew back then that there was a chance they could meet late in March when the stakes are much higher, whoever neither would have predicted an April rematch in the national championship, which poses an entirely unique perspective on this match-up.

“It’s the national championship game, so you can’t look at it as we’ve played them already,” spoke Jones.  “Both teams have grown a lot.. They’re a better team than they were in December and I feel that we’re a better team as well,” he would go on to add.

The sentiment is the same for Badgers as well, who openly admit that they were not playing their best basketball in December, but will walk into Indianapolis on Monday just as battle-tested as their ACC counterparts.

“That was our first loss, so it was in a moment to where we’re like, we’ve been in those moments more now,” remarked Nigel Hayes after the Badgers stunned then-undefeated Kentucky. “We’ve been in games where we’ve been down.  We’ve been in pressure environments against great teams, so it’s going to be exciting.”

But just how different are current iterations of Duke and Wisconsin?  Back when both these teams met in December, the since dismissed Rasheed Sulamion was still a valuable contributor to the Blue Devils, and Traveon Jackson was still getting the starters share of minutes for the Badgers.  So while some of the cast and their roles on each team may have change,  What has remained constant is the efficient, cerebral, and ultimately unselfish way both teams go about their business on the court.

“Both offenses are geared to anybody stepping up. We both have very unselfish teams,” described Mike Krzyzewski, who will look to notch his fifth national championship on Monday night. “I think we’re both geared that if someone’s having a night, we’ll go to that guy.”

That equal opportunity approach has led to guys like Sam Dekker and Justise Winslow becoming household names outside of the shadows of names like Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor. Both have seen their stocks rise tremendously with their performances in the tournament,  with Winslow averaging 15.1 points per game and a shade under 10 rebounds, and Dekker averaging 20.1 points per game and boasting late game heroics described as “phenomenal” by Mike Krzyzewski.

Curiously enough, when they played each other in December each underwhelmed by scoring only five points.  While it certainly won’t be the determining factor in Monday’s game, whoever is closer to their current run of form than the model they displayed during the winter, that match-up should be a good barometer of which way the match swings.

All in all, Monday night’s championship game is shaping up to be one of the better title games in recent memory with so many plot lines to choose from.  Two all-time great coaches matching wits against each other in Bo Ryan and Mike Krzyzewski, two of the games best big man battling it out against each other in Kaminsky and Okafor, and two teams who endured the gauntlet of March Madness and stand one win away from history.

“We both have earned it to get here.  Their road and our road has been a difficult one,” said Coach K.  After a brief pit stop in December, the road ends Monday night in Indianapolis.

And Then There Were Four

final fourBy Stefan Anderson

The coaching quartet of Ryan, Izzo, Calipari and Krzyzewski. The best post players in the country with Anthony-Towns, Okafor and POY Kaminsky.  So many storylines, but only two games to play as Michigan State faces Duke and Wisconsin goes up against Kentucky.

In the first matchup, you will see the coaching likes of Izzo and Coach K face off the tenth time and Duke remaining victorious eight of the nine times including 2 wins in the NCAA tournament and the more recent one in November. In previous tournament meetings, the team who won took the advantage with the rebounding battle or the one behind the 3-pt line.  I believe that will be the key as well for tonight with Duke being the best FG shooting team remaining at 50 %, it will the take the great equalizer to take them out their game. The small ball lineup that Duke has been playing makes it easier for Michigan State to combat their play.  Key matchups that will make a difference is how Dawson plays against Winslow and tries to take away his ability make some plays because he always finds a way to make an impact on each Duke game. The two senior guards Trice and Cook will have to control the game and bring the leadership and poise to what will be a rattling, intensity filled game.

On the other hand, you have two teams looking to make a real statement with both UK and Wisconsin. Kentucky as we all know is chasing history and wants to be a game away from accomplishing the first undefeated season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Wisconsin is doing the same also, but in a different context, the Badgers has been a part of the big picture in men’s basketball for the past under the leadership of Bo Ryan, but have not had the opportunity to make that next step to establish their program amongst the elite.  Ryan can stand amongst the greats if completes the mission of defeating Kentucky. The key for this game is who is going to have the better second half out of the two, Kentucky like they have done all season,  found a way to pull off a big win against Notre Dame with their hot shooting, the Wildcats completed the game with an astonishing 9-9 on the final minutes of the second half. Wisconsin in their bout with Arizona went lights out during the second shooting 8-9 from 3-point land to counter the size of Arizona. So whoever wins tonight’s matchup will have to close the game properly or perfectly as the illustrated before.

Who Wins? I have Duke over MSU and Kentucky over Wisconsin, giving the heavyweight National Championship we are all anticipating.

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

uab

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.

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.

cbs-sports-2015

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.

Back Like I Never Left

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By Stefan Anderson

The stage was set and the two teams who were set to make the final dance in this year’s NCAA Men’s National Championship. Paired up together were Kentucky and Connecticut, after all the Cinderella’s and top seeds were eliminated the two teams were set for a championship to remember. After making history, becoming the two lowest seeds to compete for the National Championship, the teams were on a path to make more than history.

The teams were both on their roads to redemption.

Along the road to the national championship, the Kentucky Wildcats have been their fair share adversity this season. After compiling the most talented roster since the Fab 5, Coach Cal and the Wildcats were on path to regain their confidence they held when they hoisted the trophy in 2012. With a #1 preseason ranking this year, Kentucky had a bulls-eye on their chest from the start. Shortly after the rankings were released Kentucky was knocked off of their high horse and were on brink of repeating the previous years success and be considered to be a failure. While the entire country was writing the Wildcats off and putting Coach Cal on the hot seat, the tam were growing through the growing pains at the right time to learn more about their team, and forming into the team they were poised to be. After defeating this year’s only undefeated in Wichita State, then beating last year’s Championship team, and finishing their run to beat a talented Wisconsin team, returning to the National Championship on a run that would complete one of the greatest runs in NCAA.

As far as UConn, their road to the big dance was similar but provided the same amount redemption. After winning the National Championship in 2011, UConn has not seen the brightest days since. Losing the infamous Coach Calhoun, facing suspension from the NCAA and leaving their home for 40 years the Big East, the Huskies have seen their fair share of challenges in the years. UConn coming off their championship in 2011, have yet reach their success they needed to in years. Reminiscent of their championship run that year, the Huskies have stepped into the roles that were lost to various reasons.  They are now led by Shabazz Napier, who was Kemba Walker’s sidekick at the time, Ryan Boatright, who is now Napier companion and Coach Kevin Ollie, who replaced his coach and mentor Coach Calhoun. The Huskies were set to complete on those magical runs as well.

From the opening tip UConn looked as if they wanted to win the championship, by showing their experience with their guard play of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Jumping out to an early 10 point lead in the first half, the Huskies put the young Kentucky team on their heels. Kentucky then responded after a barrage of 3 pointers to cut the lead down 4 at half time, led by the playmaking skills of Julius Randle.

But when the Wildcats returned from halftime they were unable to close the gap and take over the lead that UConn held. Their youth and inexperience was on full display as they were unable to break a 1 point lead after holding the Huskies on check for nearly 5 minutes in the final half, also missing 11 free throws including 8 in the 2nd half. The Wildcats finished their season similar to Fab 5 and showed that all talent cannot lead to a championship; you need some kind of experience, leadership and chemistry.  In a game where you want to get you best player involved as UConn did, Julius Randle only touched the ball 7 times in the game. Out of all the players from their team James Young was the only one to show any heart out there, especially with the ferocious slam over a few Huskies defenders.

As far the Huskies, they finished their road to by winning this year’s National Championship after their years of struggling. Kevin Ollie went on to become the first coach since Steve Fischer to win a national championship in his second season. Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier went on to conclude by saying “”You’re looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you ban us.”