NCAA Basketball Conference Championship Preview

Championship Week commences Monday, as most of the major conferences hold their championship tournaments. This allows for another week of March Madness, complete with stunning upsets, amazing individual performances, and crushing defeats. By the end of the week, most of the NCAA tournament bracket will be set. Championship Week is the time for bubble teams to finish off their resumes, national contenders to assert their dominance, and underdogs to shock their conference and earn an automatic bid. Here is a preview of eight major conference tournaments.

ACC:

ACC

The ACC is consistently one of the strongest conferences in the country, and their 2015 conference tournament should only further that point. The conference could send seven teams to the NCAA tournament, so the conference tournament has huge seeding implications. Duke and Virginia are the obvious favorites, but there are at least six teams capable of winning it all. Look for North Carolina to slip by Louisville in the second round to set-up a matchup with Virginia in the semifinals. Additionally, Duke should be wary of NC State, as the Wolfpack beat the Blue Devils on Jan. 11, and also defeated Louisville and UNC in the second half of conference play.

The pick: Virginia

Big 12:
Big 12 - Perry Ellis

The Big 12 also enjoyed a very successful year, finishing with five teams ranked in the top 25. Oklahoma State and Texas are the two teams on the bubble. Texas will have to top Texas Tech and then likely Iowa State to make a strong case for the tournament. Oklahoma State beat Kansas, and Baylor twice, but lost five of their last six. They’ll get a quarterfinal matchup with in-state rival Oklahoma. Look for Baylor and Oklahoma State to make deep runs in the tournament and challenge Kansas for the conference championship.

The pick: Baylor

Big East:

Big East - Darrun Hilliard

The Big East enters its conference tournament with five teams over 20 wins, including #4 Villanova. Xavier is the only team on the bubble, and will likely need to top Butler to solidify their case to the committee. Villanova is one of the most well-rounded teams in college basketball, with six players averaging nine points per game or more. The Wildcats have only been beaten twice all season and their depth is unmatched.

The pick: Villanova

Big Ten:

Big Ten - Frank Kaminsky

The Big Ten could have up to seven teams in the NCAA tournament if the cards fall the right way during the Big Ten tournament. Purdue and Indiana sit squarely on the bubble, with RPIs of 56 and 57 respectively. The Boilermakers hold the four seed in the tournament, and will face Iowa or the winner of the Nebraska-Penn State game. Purdue topped Iowa back in January, but the Hawkeyes won six straight to close out the season. Indiana will have to top Northwestern to get to a matchup with Maryland. The Terrapins boast wins over Wisconsin and Iowa State, but lost to Indiana on Jan. 22. If Maryland can get past Indiana, look for another exciting matchup with Wisconsin in the final.

The pick: Wisconsin

Pac-12:

Pac 12 - Joseph Young

To say that is has been a down year for the Pac-12 might be an understatement. The only two locks in the conference are Utah and Arizona. Oregon looks to be in as well, but the Ducks cannot afford a first round loss in the conference tournament. UCLA won their final three games, but losses to Cal and Arizona State (whom they might face in the first round of the tournament) undermine their body of work. The potential semifinal matchup between Utah and Oregon is intriguing, as the Ducks will fight to not be one of the first four teams to play in the NCAA tournament, and Utah will battle to get a top 3 seed.

The pick: Oregon

SEC:

SEC Kentucky

It is true that the SEC tournament is very important for a couple of bubble teams, like LSU and Texas A&M. But the real reason to watch is Kentucky. The Wildcats completed an unblemished 31-0 regular season, and will look to stretch their record to 34-0 by winning the SEC tournament.  With the country’s most impenetrable defense, Kentucky is the team to beat. LSU or Texas A&M could be a tough second round matchup for the Wildcats, as both teams played Kentucky close during conference play. However, expect Kentucky to run away with the conference title.

The pick: Kentucky

AAC:

AAC - Nic Moore

Cincinnati, Temple, and SMU, appear to have their tickets punched to the big dance, barring particularly bad first round losses. The AAC team with the most to prove is the two seed, Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane swept the season series with Cincinnati, but non-conference losses to sub-par teams like Oral Roberts and Southeast Oklahoma State (yes, you read that right) have hurt their resume. A third win over Cincinnati and a trip to the tournament finals would help Tulsa’s case.

The pick: SMU

Conference USA:

Conference USA has three teams with 20 or more wins, but Old Dominion looks to be the only team with a shot at an at-large bid. The Monarchs own impressive non-conference wins over LSU, VCU, and Richmond. Louisiana Tech is the one seed in the C-USA tournament, but they lost to Old Dominion by 20 points just two weeks ago.

The pick: Old Dominion

MLS Preview

With every season, the MLS gains more and more recognition from across the globe. Let’s preview the 2015 MLS season.

 

New Expansion Teams

 NYC FC logo Orlando City

As the MLS’s reputation grows, so does the size of the league. New York City FC and Orlando City SC are the latest teams to join the MLS, and will begin play this year. NYCFC is co-owned by Manchester City and the New York Yankees, and will host their games at Yankee Stadium. NYCFC already has some big names, with stars of the past Spaniard David Villa and Englishman Frank Lampard set to join the new team. They also signed rising US National Team member Mix Diskerud, who will look to boost his confidence. Orlando City SC signed Brazilian legend Kaká, and they are still looking to make more big moves.

US National Team Members in the MLS

Jurgen K

USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t shy about saying the MLS is inferior to European leagues. However, against Klinsmann’s advice, multiple US players have come to the MLS. Of the 23 players on the 2014 World Cup roster, 13 are currently in the MLS. Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and DaMarcus Beasley all made moves to the US in the middle of last season, and Jozy Altidore and Diskerud left Europe recently to join the MLS. If you want to learn more about the US National Team, tune in to some MLS games.

MLS is a Last Hurrah for Big Names

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The addition of older players like Villa, Lampard, and Kaká supports the notion that the MLS is almost like a retirement package for stars in the twilight of their careers. It’s not just European players either; Jones, Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, and Clint Dempsey all only have a couple years left in them. We also saw it with Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry retiring last season. Even with their age, these players bring a prestige and a high level of play that raises the quality of soccer in the MLS.

NFL Combine

NFL Combine

Analysts, scouts and GMs have different philosophies on how much stock to put in the NFL Combine. Some think the combine can accurately predict the future success of a player others put their faith only in what they see in game film. In any case it is a wonderful opportunity for future NFL players to put some numbers on the amazing athleticism they show on the field. These are Thuuz’s top impact performers of the 2015 NFL combine.

 

Jameis Winston:

Jamis

While Famous Jameis is almost a shoo-in for the first overall selection in the NFL Draft, however, his lackluster NFL Combine performance led to many wanting more. Winston, the Florida State Heisman winner, has won a national championship with his mobility and athleticism, yet that didn’t show up on Saturday. Winston ran a disappointing 4.97 second 40 yard dash, and put up only a 28.5’’ vertical leap. While Winston still is a fantastic quarterback, the Buccaneers are probably not pleased with his being out of shape.

 

Marcus Mariota:

Mariota

Mariota is a stud, it’s as simple as that. The fantastic pocket passer has proven his worth as a dual threat, as he has been able to display his athleticism at the Combine. The Oregon Heisman-winner ran a blazing 4.52 second 40 yard dash, and has an astonishing 36 inch vertical. Mariota’s athleticism and presence has improved his stock, and could possibly allow him to be taken number one overall.

Kevin White:

Kevin White

Most people didn’t know who the wide receiver from West Virginia even was before the Combine. Yet Kevin White has now proven that he should be taken seriously, and could even get drafted in the top five. White is the perfect wide receiver for the NFL—he has great speed, height and physicality. White ran a 4.35 second 40 yard dash, and had a 36.5 inch vertical. With his 6’3” frame, White could be unstoppable at the NFL.

 

Amari Cooper:

Amari

If Amari Cooper can play wide receiver in the NFL like he did at Alabama, then he could be a future hall of famer. Cooper is the ideal athlete in the NFL. Size, speed, strength, awareness, Cooper has it all. This highly-touted prospect backed up his worth at the Combine, with a nice 4.42 second 40 yard dash and a 33” vertical. The 6’1” Cooper should be a top five pick, and if he isn’t, some lucky GM will be pinching themselves when they see that they get to draft him.

 

Chris Conley:

Chris Conley

This year, Nick Chubb and Todd Gurley led a devastating running attack for the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia’s success, however, also is in large part due to Chris Conley, their monstrous wide receiver. The 6’2” Conley has the ability to burn past his defenders and then rise up and snag down hail mary dimes from quarterbacks. Conley is not the biggest receiver, but he showed he can make up for his lack of size with his 45” vertical (the highest in the 2015 Combine). Additionally, scouts are still in awe over Conley’s 4.35 second 40 yard dash, and are now raising Conley on their draft boards.

 

Phillip Dorsett:

 

While the hot item this offseason has been giant wide receivers, every team has a use for a small, speedy slot receiver. Phillip Dorsett, the wide receiver out of Miami, fits this profile perfectly. Dorsett’s explosive 4.33 second 40 yard dash has made many GMs eager for a chance to grab this guy. Even though he is 5’10”, Dorsett’s 37” vertical makes him able to be a major asset in the deep ball game as well. NFL teams are alway looking for reliable players like Dorsett.

 

Danny Shelton:

 

Anyone who watched Danny Shelton play at University of Washington knew exactly what what to expect at the combine. The massive 6’2”, 339 lb nose tackle has used brute force and surprising agility to eviscerate offenses throughout his college career. Shelton’s strength was evident with a fantastic 34 reps at the bench press. Even though Shelton is big, his 5.64 second 40 yard dash showed that he is still in shape for his size. Shelton should be nabbed fairly early in the draft especially after such a strong showing at the Combine.

 

Vic Beasley:

 

Vic Beasley has all the makings of a great NFL player. The 6’3” Clemson Linebacker has a dazzling mix of size and speed, and can use his strength to stop and offensive player in their tracks. Beasley had one of the most impressive 40 yard dash times for defensive players, with 4.53 seconds. Beasley also added a strong 41 inch vertical and 35 reps at the bench press. This multi-tool player has GM’s chomping at the bit for the chance to draft him.

 

Trae Waynes:

 

As there is an influx of great wide receivers this draft, NFL teams need great cornerbacks to buff up their defenses. This means that Michigan State’s Trae Waynes is going to be a hot commodity at the NFL Draft. Waynes led cornerbacks with a 4.31 second 40 yard dash, and added a solid 38” vertical. Waynes can keep up with any deep threat, and is strong and big enough to break up passes. This is a prime example of a player’s Combine performance helping them greatly in the eyes of NFL GMs.

NBA Trade Deadline: Winners & Losers

Winners:

Goran Dragic and the Heat

It’s safe to say that Dragic and the Miami Heat were the blue-ribbon winners at the trade deadline. Dragic wanted out of Phoenix, and realizing that they would need to pay their third point guard this summer, the Suns front office obliged. The Heat acquire the point guard they desperately needed to go along with Dwayne Wade, Hassan Whiteside, and Chris Bosh (who is hopefully OK). Dragic’s stats have dropped this year but that is attributed more to splitting time with Isiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe as opposed to a drop in performance. Expect big things from the Slovenian slasher over the final thirty games of the season. He could be what the Heat need to rise up to fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder obtained some much needed front court depth. They acquired Enes Kanter along with D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, and Steve Novak at the net cost of Reggie Jackson, Kendrick Perkins and a future first round pick (Grant Jerrett too, but I’ve never heard of him). Kanter provides some offensive firepower in the front court, an area where Nick Collison, Steven Adams, and Mitch McGary have struggled. I also like the acquisition of D.J. Augustin, who is a good fit to backup Russell Westbrook. With all of their new pieces and the Suns shooting themselves in the foot, the Thunder look poised to make some noise in the playoffs.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland got the second-unit scorer they needed in Arron Affalo at the cost of NBA scraps and a  2016 protected first round pick. Affalo will boost a bench that has little to no scoring potential, and take some pressure off Nicolas Batum, who has been absolutely dreadful this season. This is a sneaky good move for a team that is very well put together. Though they don’t get much attention, but come playoff time we could very well be seeing Portland in the conference finals.

 

Losers:

Phoenix Suns

Ryan McDonough blew it up. I have no problem with GMs blowing their teams up. But blowing your team up while tied for the last spot in the playoffs is very questionable. Yes, Thomas and Dragic both wanted out of town and could have been cancerous in the locker room. But the Suns are mortgaging their present for their future, which isn’t a great move in the heat of a playoff race. They got three first round picks, but won’t see any until 2016 at the earliest. That leaves nearly a season and a half for coach Jeff Hornacek to figure out how this team is going to mesh, which will be a tall task. Phoenix took themselves out of the playoff hunt on deadline day this year.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

From an economical perspective the Sixers pre-deadline moves have their merits. Michael Carter-Williams was probably going to get overpaid in the next couple of years and K.J. McDaniels was due to leave this year anyway. But at some point you’ve got to keep some of the players that are going to win you games . What gets lost in valuing all these players as assets and not people is that with every move it becomes harder and harder to build team chemistry. Continuity is important for the development of young players, and Sam Hinkie seems to care nothing for it. Developing young players like Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel becomes more difficult when every player is on the chopping block. It will be interesting to see when Sam Hinkie finally decides which Sixers aren’t expendable, and starts to try and actually build a team.

 

Brandon Knight

Poor guy. Knight was having a career year on a Bucks team that was the feel-good story in the East. He’s now second banana on a Phoenix team that likely will miss the playoffs. At least the weather is better in Arizona.

2014/2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Preview

The 2014 NCAA men’s basketball season is already underway, and it is full of exciting storylines. Here is a comprehensive overview of the top conferences this season, and a prediction for the March Madness tournament.

ACC

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Powerhouses: Duke has the perfect recipe for success this year, and will be the favorite to win the ACC, and maybe even the national championship. Start with the leadership of Coach K, add the experience of Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon and the freshman talent of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, and Duke will be a force to be reckoned with this year. Additionally, North Carolina is looking very strong behind veteran coach Roy Williams. Marcus Paige is easily one of the best players in the nation, and UNC’s strong rookie class consists of Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson. Expect a very strong season from the Tar Heels.

Contenders: Louisville will step into its first year in the ACC ready to fight. Coach Rick Pitino has lost players from his last championship run, but will have a strong core left to begin the year with. The Cardinals will be stacked with Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. Add the team’s freshman talent, and they will be looking at success leading up to March. Virginia exploded onto the national spotlight last year when they won the ACC, and they should be looking to carry over their success into this season. Malcolm Brogdon remains the key piece for this Cavalier team, and will be joined by London Perrantes, Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson. Expect a good season, but a rough time against the top ACC teams for Virginia.

Pretenders: Boston College is in for a rough season under a new coach. The team finished second to last last season, and should expect the same this season. The lone bright spot for this struggling squad is one of the best players in the country, junior Olivier Hanlan. Virginia Tech will round out the bottom of the ACC this season, as they did last season. Don’t expect great things from new coach Buzz Williams as he tries to salvage the wreckage of this team.

Big Ten

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Powerhouses: Wisconsin might be the absolute best team in the country, and will easily sweep the Big Ten. Led by Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, this squad is potent and fully loaded. Nigel Hayes rounds out the rest of the starting five, and each player will be producing at a high level. The Badgers have a legitimate shot at the championship this year. Michigan State surprises nobody with yet another top season. Tom Izzo is a fantastic coach, and should be able to lead a group of youngsters to glory. Additionally, the key weapon for the Spartans is Dawson, who will explode this season.

Contenders: Ohio State had a rough year, losing to Dayton in the first round of the tournament, and losing star point guard Aaron Craft. However, the Buckeyes once again have a great recruiting class, and D’Angelo Russell will mix well with the returning seniors to make a lethal combination on the court. Michigan will be another deep team, even though they lost their star Nik Stauskas. The Wolverines have brought in the touted recruit Kameron Chatman, who should be able to dominate no matter where he is on the court, due to his large frame. Additionally, guard Caris Levert should be watched as he will hope to lead this team to success this season.

Pretenders: Northwestern no longer has Drew Crawford, who was their only good player last season. Now this team will struggle to find a point-producer, and with little defense as well, the Wildcats will sink to the bottom of the Big Ten this season. Don’t expect much from Penn State either this season, as the Nittany Lions have little to no depth. The only bright spot for this struggling squad is Brandon Taylor, but he is the only good thing going for this team.

Big 12

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Powerhouses: Kansas is one of the absolute best teams in the country, and will no doubt win the Big 12. The main concern for the Jayhawks is their loss of several key players, such as Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But Bill Self has assembled a young new squad, anchored by veteran Perry Ellis. The youngsters consist of Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Devonte Graham, and will be dominating the court. Expect a very strong showing from Kansas this season. Also a top performer is Texas. Texas had a fantastic season last year, and they will be losing no key players. Instead, the Longhorns are adding one of the best freshmen in the country in Myles Turner. Expect Turner to inject a shot of energy into this squad to propel them to a high ranking this year.

Contenders: Iowa State lost a few key players in the offseason, yet gained a much more important transfer in Dejean Jones from UNLV. While the team has to replace some stars, they still have talented players from last year in Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader. Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang will round out this talented squad in what looks like a very successful season for the Cyclones. Oklahoma will have a solid season no matter what, yet one player will decide if it will be very successful, or not so much. Transfer TaShawn Thomas is a force to be reckoned with, and will round out a great Sooner team filled with the likes of Dante Buford and Buddy Hield. Watch for the Sooners’ season to go one of two ways.

Pretenders: Texas Christian is looking shoddy in the upcoming season, after a no-win season last year. Incoming freshman Trey Ziegler is literally the only thing the team has going for it. In dead last in the Big 12 will be Texas Tech, after losing four top players to graduation and transfers. Justin Jamison and Devaugntah Williams will be arriving, and will hopefully add some talent to this lacking team.

Pac 12

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Powerhouses: Arizona already has a lot to prove this season after a disappointing overtime loss in the Elite 8 last year. It will be even more difficult for the Wildcats this year, after having lost stars Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. Luckily for Arizona fans, the team still has a very strong team centered around the core of Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell. Additionally, the Wildcats recruited very well, and were able to grab an elite recruit in Stanley Johnson. Look for this deep Arizona team to easily win the Pac 12. Utah is another strong team in the conference, who will be once again led by point guard Delon Wright. This team will be making an all-out effort to win the Pac 12, as they brought back four starters from last year. The Utes’ schedule is tougher this year, but this team should be able to handle their opponents.

Contenders: Colorado is fired up and ready to get back to winning after a frustrating blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the tournament. Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Scott are back and ready for action as they hope to lead this young squad to another successful season. UCLA won the Pac 12 tournament last year, but will be taking a huge hit after losing several key players. Only senior Norman Powell remains, and he and coach Steve Alford must lead a team of youngsters to the promised land. Look for UCLA to be just on the brink of success this season.

Pretenders: Washington State has coach Ernie Kent and guard Davonte Lacy and not much else. This Cougar team better hope for solid production from its freshmen if it hopes to not have a complete disappointment of a season. Oregon State is also in the same boat, as it has only one returning starter in Langston Morris-Walker. This team will have an abysmal season, and the only other bright spot is the transfer of Gary Payton II.

SEC

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Powerhouses: Kentucky is an absolutely dominant team, and will have an easy time winning the SEC. Coach Calipari has a great class of freshmen with Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. These youngsters will be joining the already proven talent in the Harrison twins, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Expect the Wildcats to have a dominant season, and get to the NCAA Championship Game. The SEC is also stacked with several other great teams, like Florida. The Gators have quite a few players to replace, yet their core remains in tact. Hill and Walker will get good movement of the ball going from the arch to the paint, and this team will dominate most of their games.

Contenders: Arkansas is another solid team with a great coach, Mike Anderson. Although the Razorbacks are not very deep, they have good stars in Rashad Madden, Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. Expect this team to put up a solid fight this year, and even make surprises with upsets. Louisiana State also has lots of potential this year, even if they have lost players at the point. On the other hand, the LSU paint is absolutely dominant with Jordan Mickey, Jarrell Martin and Elbert Robinson III. Watch for a good season from the Tigers.

Pretenders: Tennessee has a fantastic player in Josh Richardson, and not much else. Richardson is the team’s only returning starter, and cannot produce enough to keep an entire team afloat. It will be an interesting and disappointing season for the Volunteers. Mississippi State has had an excellent football season, but that success will not transfer over to the basketball season. The Bulldogs haven’t recruited well enough to get talent to be able to compete with the SEC elite, so don’t expect much from them.

Other Top Teams

Wichita State should be expected to have another great year, and is ranked 11 in the AP preseason poll. Gonzaga, VCU, San Diego State and Connecticut are ranked 13, 15, 16 and 17, respectively. These squads come from non-major conferences, yet should all be looked out for as they will all post successful seasons and interesting performances in March.

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National Championship Winner:

The title game will pit two top teams against each other, with Kentucky facing Duke. While the Blue Devils have produced some fantastic regular seasons, they have stumbled recently in the tournament. This year, however, will be different with Coach K’s leadership guiding an elite group of veterans and eager youngsters. Look for the Blue Devils to steal this one from Coach Calipari and his Wildcats.

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