One For The Ages

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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.

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.

Let The Madness Begin!

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By Stefan Anderson

It’s that time of year of again, where many legends are born and brackets are shredded from heartbreaking defeats and unexpected challengers, The 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. The 64 teams have been chosen and now it’s time for the big dance bay-bee (in my best Dick Vitale voice). The play in game between the Albany Great Danes and the Mount St. Mary Mountaineers will have the opening game as they play for one the final four spots, against the #1 overall seed Florida Gators. The best time of the year for die hard basketball fans, March Madness.

After all the teams were selected on Sunday, the big dance is set for a great tournament in these upcoming weeks. The 4 #1 seed’s in this year’s bracket include Florida in the south, Arizona in the west, and Wichita State in the Midwest and Virginia in the East. In most cases seeding can play a great but in this case it has nothing to do with it. For instance, Wichita State had an impressive undefeated season but play in a section that features Kentucky, Duke, last year’s runner up Michigan and the eventual champion Louisville.  But it doesn’t matter about what teams you have to face , the most important thing to do is to win. With that there is always room for underdog to sneak up and make a name for themselves and becomes this year “Cinderella team” during the tournament.

These following teams are on the Upset Alert Watch:

#5 in the Eastern Bracket: Cincinnati

The Bearcats had an impressive year, winning 27 games this season including 15 wins in the newly formed American Athletic Conference. Led by the well rounded scorer in Sean Kilpatrick, Cincy has been very efficient thus far playing great defense, ranking in the top 10 in Steals and Points Allowed. But I do believe that they will be the first big upset in the first round of the tournament when they face off against Harvard. The Crimson’s high scoring offense and great coaching by Tommy Amaker will ultimately be too much for the Bearcats to handle and will certainly be a bracket buster.

#5 in the South Bracket: VCU

After making their impact in college basketball two seasons ago, making it to the Final Four and becoming America’s Cinderella team, the Rams are bound to get a taste of their own medicine this year. Coming off a great season finishing 31-2, Stephen F. Austin can serve the VCU their first dose of upset medicine.  Averaging over 16 assist per game the Lumberjacks can share the pumpkin well. Nearly 5 players on their roster average double digits this season which can cause trouble for the Rams. The Lumberjacks will shock, Shaka Smart and send the Rams back to Shockoe Bottom.

#2 in the Midwest Bracket: Wisconsin

The Badgers led by legendary coach Bo Ryan, have had a great season this year, with wins over Michigan State, Florida, Michigan, and Iowa. But they are on the upset alert due to 5 of 7 losses this year coming from unranked opponents. They have played well against great competition but struggle with the games they are supposed to win. Which means the American and their efficient offense that is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, 7th in the nation, along with their lockdown defense that is ranked 8th in Points Allowed, can give Wisconsin a run for their money.

With so many games to choose from and so many selections for your bracket, always beware of the upset that can help win the pool or take you completely out of it. The indecisiveness along with constant guessing is one the reasons I love the NCAA Tournament. Let the Madness Begin!