2016 NFL Mock Draft: Rounds 1-2

It has been a pretty wild couple months in the NFL following the Denver Broncos’ win in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers. Peyton Manning decided to go out on top, Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension was reinstated, the Raiders are getting buzz as a potential playoff team following a spending spree in free agency, and the top two picks in this year’s Draft have already been traded to quarterback-needy teams in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

There is a lot of intrigue with this year’s draft class, after the first two picks anyway. There are top prospects with major character concerns (Robert Nkemdiche, Noah Spence, Mackenzie Alexander), teams that so many holes that it’s nearly impossible to predict what they’ll do, and with quarterbacks likely to go #1 and #2, how far will teams move up to try and get the next batch of QB’s?

For this mock draft, I enlisted the help of my friend Jeff Greco, Tennessee Titans correspondent for Fantasy Pros. For the 1st Round, I took the odd numbered selections, while Jeff took the evens.  We made choices as if we were in the shoes of each team’s general manager. So this necessarily isn’t always the pick we personally would make (sometimes that’s the case), but more it’s the pick that we would make as the team’s GM. We decied to include possible trades as a part of this mock, and we actually ended up with a few that we think would make a lot of sense. After the 1st Round, I took a stab at projecting how the 2nd Round might go.

Without further ado, here is the 1st Round of We Love Sportz’s 2016 NFL Mock Draft!

*Picks that are traded will be listed in “Round-Overall Pick” format. For example, the first overall pick would be “1-1” and the first pick of the 2nd Round would be “2-32.” There are only 31 picks in Round 1 due to the Patriots being stripped of their 1st Round pick as part of their penalties for Deflategate*

1. Los Angeles Rams (from Tennessee): QB Jared Goff, California
Jayson: The Rams have been trying to make teams think that they are still considering both Goff and Carson Wentz, but they wouldn’t have made this massive trade if they didn’t know exactly who they’re taking on Thursday night. Goff is the local prospect, and with the team back in Los Angeles, it makes the most sense to pick the player that will create the most excitement for the fan base. Goff is a very accurate passer, and his game tape is superior to Wentz’s. This is the pick that makes the most sense.

 

2. Philadelphia Eagles (From Cleveland): QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Jeff: I probably wouldn’t have made this trade in the first place, given all of the money they have invested into the quarterback position already, but they made the trade, so they’re taking their QB of the future. Wentz has been compared to Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger, and I think the Eagles would be thrilled if Wentz can be close to what either of those guys are. I have to believe they’re thinking they’ll now have three quarterbacks that they like, and odds are that one of them will stick. Wentz has all the physical tools, he’s big, he can run, and he throws a great deep ball. But he is not nearly as pro-ready as Jared Goff is. He’ll benefit from at least one season on the sidelines.

 

3. San Diego Chargers: CB/S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Jayson: The Chargers have needs on both sides of the ball, but their defense was one of the worst in football last season, and they lost the heart and soul of that defense when safety Eric Weddle signed with the Ravens this offseason. I think they’ll see a chance to replace Weddle while also getting the best player available in Ramsey. He’ll step in at safety from day one, and could eventually transform into one of the league’s top cornerbacks. He has great size and a nose for the football, something San Diego’s defense sorely needs.

 

4. Dallas Cowboys: DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Jeff: You can’t fix interceptions by drafting a running back. Many people believe Jerry Jones will take Ezekiel Elliott here, but I think this team has more glaring needs. They’d consider Ramsey if he fell here, but with injuries and suspensions affecting their defensive line already, they grab this draft’s top defensive end in Bosa. He’s not a pure edge rusher, but he is very good against the run and the pass, and he’ll make the Cowboys defense better right away. There are character issues with him (sources say he loves to party), but when have the Cowboys ever shied away from a player with possible off-field issues?

 

5. Tennessee Titans (from Jacksonville): OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
Trade Details: Tennessee gets 1-5, Jacksonville gets 1-15, 2-43, 3-76
Jayson: Tennessee needs a LT to protect Marcus Mariota, and I think they’d love to see Tunsil fall to this spot. I have Tunsil rated higher than Stanley and Conklin, and I think the next three teams could all take an offensive tackle. Some would argue that Tunsil is the best overall prospect in this class, and he’d be a great get for the Titans. With both Mariota and DeMarco Murray, the Titans need to invest in the O-line. This move makes too much sense for it not to happen.

 

6. Baltimore Ravens: DE/DT DeForest Buckner, Oregon
Jeff: Many mocks have the Ravens taking an offensive lineman here, but John Harbaugh is a defensive coach, and they’ve always been about solidifying their defense. Buckner is extremely versatile. He’s 6-7, just under 300 pounds, can play inside and disrupt the run game, and can slide outside and get after the quarterback. Flacco will be healthy, Steve Smith is back, Breshad Perriman will debut, and they signed Benjamin Watson from the Saints. The Ravens offensive will be fine, they should improve their defense in the 1st Round.

 

7. San Francisco 49ers: OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Jayson: I’d argue that the 49ers have more holes than any team in the NFL, and unfortunately, you can’t fill every hole with this pick. They have Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick on the roster right now, but I don’t think they should reach for Paxton Lynch here. It’s hard for a team to do this, but the 49ers have to admit that this season is going to be a major struggle. They can take Stanley here as their left tackle for the future, and address quarterback early in the draft next season. Brad Kaaya, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer are all better options than Lynch, and at least one of those should be available for the Niners in next year’s draft.

 

8. Miami Dolphins (from Miami through Philadelphia and Cleveland): RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Trade Details: Miami gets 1-8, Cleveland gets 1-13, 2-42
Jeff: I’ve got to think that most draft boards would have Elliott as the best available player at this point, and their might not be a more glaring need in the league than running back for the Dolphins. Some think he could fall to them at 13, but I think they won’t want to take the chance. Only giving up a 2nd Round pick to move up here is worth it for Miami. Elliott projects as a three-down back in the NFL, and he’d be a great replacement for the departed Lamar Miller.

 

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State
Jayson: There are a lot of ways Tampa Bay could go here, and I’d be a little surprised to see them pass on Vernon Hargreaves here, but they just drafted their quarterback of the future last season, and they need to protect him. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bucs offensive line was ranked 23rd in the league in efficiency last season. They have lots of room for improvement, and Conklin can play all over the line. His physicality will probably have him start at guard with the potential to turn into the team’s left tackle down the road.

 

10. New York Giants: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Jeff: This might not be a glaring need after the signing of Janoris Jenkins, but with Elliott and the top three tackles off the board, the Giants see a chance to add another impact player on what figures to be a much improved defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has started to fall off a little, and I think Hargreaves, who is undersized at 5-10, can benefit from playing predominantly in the slot to start his NFL career.

 

11. Chicago Bears: OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Jayson: I think the Bears would sprint to the podium with this pick. They have improved the middle of their defense with free agent signings Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, but they still need a pass-rushing outside linebacker that fits in their 3-4 defense. Leonard Floyd is a raw prospect, and he needs to fill out his wiry frame, but once he does, he could be a lethal pass rusher. Some believe he’s the best pure pass rusher in this draft class. He’s the perfect pick for Chicago.

 

12. New Orleans Saints: CB Eli Apple, Ohio State
Jeff: New Orleans has needs everywhere, especially on defense. Many project them to address the defensive line in the 1st Round, but their secondary is atrocious. Last season, the Saints gave up 4,544 passing yards and 45 passing touchdowns. Quarterbacks had an average rating of 116.2 against them. The next worst team gave up an average QB rating of 102.5! They were really bad against the pass, and a big, physical corner like Eli Apple is a good start in attempting to solve the issue.

 

13. Cleveland Browns (From Philadelphia through Miami): OLB Myles Jack, UCLA
Jayson: It’s well known that the Browns may look to move back again in the 1st Round to collect more picks, and in our mock, they are successful in doing so. I could see them moving back yet again, but instead, I think they’d take the risk on a game-changer like Jack. Some experts say his knee is like a “ticking time-bomb,” but the Browns need to create some excitement, and nabbing a player like Jack could do that. I don’t know if they’d take the risk at 8, but I could see them doing it here at 13. Jack is a sideline-to-sideline, three-down linebacker, and he’d immediately improve the Browns defense.

 

14. Oakland Raiders: DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
Jeff: I fully believe that the Raiders have put themselves in the position to take the best player available here (outside of quarterback). They do have a few needs, one of those being defensive tackle, and Sheldon Rankins could be the best player available here at 14. He is a little undersized for a DT, but they said the same thing about Aaron Donald, and he has become one of the top defensive tackles in the league. Rankins is good against the run and can push the pocket, forcing the QB out towards Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. That’s exactly what Oakland’s front seven needs.

 

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (From Los Angeles through Tennessee): DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
Jayson: Despite an improved defense last season, Jacksonville didn’t record many sacks. They drafted Dante Fowler Jr. third overall last season, and he didn’t play. He’s expected back this year, but there are a lot of good ends in this class, and I think the Jags would be wise to add another. With Shaq Lawson on the opposite side of Fowler and new signing Malik Jackson in the middle, the Jaguars would instantly have one of the top defensive lines in the league. I think Gus Bradley would be extremely pleased with this selection.

 

16. Detroit Lions: DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
Jeff: I think they really need to address their front seven in the 1st Round, and I like Jarran Reed as a good fit for the Lions. They’ve recently lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and while Haloti Ngata is still a quality player, he’s getting up there in age, and probably doesn’t have much left in the tank. Reed can play alongside Ngata for now, and will eventually be his successor.

 

17. Atlanta Falcons: OLB Darron Lee, Ohio State
Jayson: The Falcons need help on defense, and an all-around linebacker is the best fit. They will be thrilled to see Darron Lee available at 17. Lee has prototypical size and above-average speed for the linebacker position. He is very good against the run and is a very good coverage linebacker. Based on talent and need, Lee to the Falcons is perfect.

 

18. Indianapolis Colts: OL Taylor Decker, Ohio State
Jeff: Andrew Luck is their prized possession, and the inability of their offensive line to protect him resulted in him missing much of the 2015 season with a lacerated spleen. In addition, their run game is well below average. The Colts have to go offensive line here, and Taylor Decker is the best available at 18. He may be able to step in at right tackle, but he’ll likely start at center or guard and eventually move outside.

 

19. Buffalo Bills: DE/OLB Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
Jayson: Noah Spence was at Ohio State, but off-field issues led him to FCS Eastern Kentucky. You have to be pretty bad for Ohio State to not want you anymore. Spence might have more ability and potential than any defensive player in this draft, but his issues could push him into the 2nd Round. After losing Mario Williams in free agency, Spence to Rex Ryan and the Bills seems like a match made in heaven. Rex has rarely shied away from a player with character concerns if they can help his team.

 

20. New York Jets: ILB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Jeff: This is the best fit at this point for the Jets. Ragland is a Todd Bowles-type player, and the Jets projected starter at middle linebacker, David Harris, is getting up there in age and down there in ability. Ragland is a high-IQ player, and he is fantastic against the run. He struggles a little bit in pass defense, but I think Bowles will be smart enough to maximize his abilities.

 

21. Washington Redskins: DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
Jayson: Cornerback was a major need for the Skins, but then they went and made Josh Norman the highest-paid corner in the league. I’d say secondary is still in play here, but they have a more glaring need up front, and Andrew Billings would be a great pick. Billings is built like a house. He is capable in pressuring the quarterback, but that’s not his specialty. He’s arguably the best run stopper in this draft class, and he’ll slide right into the spot vacated by Terrance Knighton.

 

22. Houston Texans: WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Jeff: They need somebody to open up the field for DeAndre Hopkins, and the prospect in this class best suited to do that is Fuller. His hands are suspect, but he can absolutely fly down the field. He’ll be a nice little weapon for Brock Osweiler, allowing the new franchise QB to show off his rocket arm. The Texans could use a tight end, but I don’t see one worth taking at 22nd overall.

 

23. Minnesota Vikings: WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Jayson: This seems like a perfect fit to me. They have Stefon Diggs as a speed burner, and they could use a true possession receiver on the opposite side, somebody that Teddy Bridgewater can rely upon. Treadwell ran a very slow 40-yard dash, and that has him dropping on some draft boards. But he has good size and above-average hands. He can win a lot of jump balls, and that should definitely help with Bridgewater’s development.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: WR Josh Doctson, TCU
Jeff: Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones weren’t anything spectacular, but they were very reliable targets for Andy Dalton. Sanu is a Falcon and Jones is in Detroit, so the Bengals have a glaring need at wide receiver. I think Doctson could be the best all-around receiver in this draft class, and Andy Dalton would be very pleased to see this pick become reality. Doctson is tall (6-4), he has a solid frame (around 190-200 pounds), and he has really strong hands. 

 

25. Cleveland Browns (from Pittsburgh): QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Trade Details: Cleveland gets 1-25, Pittsburgh gets 2-32, 3-65, 5-141
Jayson: This might be the most far-fetched scenario in this mock draft, but hear me out. I think Lynch compares favorably to Ben Roethlisberger, and if the Steelers would have had a good backup quarterback last season, they may have reached the Super Bowl. I could easily see the Steelers taking Lynch here. Instead, they get offered 3rd and 5th Round picks from the Browns, and decide they value those picks over Lynch. The Browns, meanwhile, get a quarterback for Hue Jackson to groom into the eventual starter. They have RGIII for now, and Lynch can sit on the sidelines and learn Jackson’s system.

 

26. Seattle Seahawks: DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Jeff: When Robert Nkemdiche signed on to play at Ole Miss, many expected him to be a future #1 overall draft pick. He’s had some off-the-field issues though, and some teams don’t like his personality, but I can easily see a coach like Pete Carroll seeing Nkemdiche’s talent and deciding that it’s worth the risk. Nkemdiche is huge, and he’s fast. That’s a scary combination. He just seems like a typical Seahawks defender.

 

27. Green Bay Packers: DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
Jayson: If you look strictly at talent, Chris Jones is one of the five best defensive players in this draft. The biggest knock is that he takes plays off. He doesn’t show maximum effort on every play, and that can be a huge red flag for a lot of NFL teams. But for a team with a need at defensive tackle, there might not be a better fit for Chris Jones than Green Bay. I think this coaching staff can get the most out of Jones, and if that happens, he could be the steal of this draft.

 

28. Kansas City Chiefs: CB William Jackson III, Houston
Jeff: Marcus Peters was great last season, but I think that had a lot to do with Sean Smith being on the opposite side. With Smith now in Oakland, the Chiefs need to find somebody to play opposite Peters. Mackensie Alexander is probably more talented than Jackson, but he lacks size and has character concerns. Jackson is big like Smith, and he is just a solid cornerback prospect. I think he could help Peters avoid a sophomore slump.

 

29. Arizona Cardinals: OC Ryan Kelly, Alabama
Jayson: This pick makes a whole lot of sense. Carson Palmer needs as much protection as possible as his career winds down, and they don’t have a center right now. The Cardinals would be thrilled to see Kelly fall to them, as there are rumblings that he could go as high as 16 to the Lions. Not only will Kelly protect Palmer, but he’ll open up more running lanes for David Johnson.

 

30. Carolina Panthers: OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
Jeff: GM Dave Gettleman sent a message when he pulled the Franchise Tag off of Josh Norman, and that message is that he does not value the secondary as high as he values the front seven. I’d have a hard time not taking Kevin Dodd here, but ultimately, after the Super Bowl, it’s clear that they need help on the offensive line. Jason Spriggs is tall at 6-7, but he weighs in right around 300 pounds, which is relatively small. He projects as a right tackle in the pros, but his speed could help him develop into a solid left tackle.

 

31. Denver Broncos: DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Jayson: I don’t get the feeling that Broncos are as concerned about the quarterback position as everyone thinks they should be. I could easily see them taking Connor Cook or Christian Hackenberg here, but they lost a lot of key defenders in free agency this year, including Malik Jackson to Jacksonville. Vernon Butler could step right into that slot and start in Week 1. I don’t know if he’s as good as Jackson, or if he’ll ever be that good, but he’s a similar player, and Elway will like that. 

 

Thank you to Jeff for helping me out with mocking the 1st Round of this year’s NFL Draft! Not sure how many of these picks will be correct, but I hope we’ve at least given you an idea on what these teams should be looking at on Thursday. You can follow Jeff on Twitter (@Jeffrey_Greco).

Based on how the 1st Round went in our mock, I decided to take a stab at the 2nd Round as well. I’d say the biggest thing you should take away from this is just a further look at team needs, and the prospects that you can expect to see in the 2nd Round, or possibly even sneak their way into the 1st Round.

32. Pittsburgh (From Cleveland): CB Artie Burns, Miami (FL)
Have needs in the secondary. Raw prospect, but is rising up draft boards.

33. Tennessee: WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
Could go as high as #10 overall. Gives Marcus Mariota another weapon.

34. Dallas: QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Have to find Romo’s heir apparent. Some believe he’s a 1st Round talent, others wouldn’t take him at all.

35. San Diego: OG/OT Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
Need to protect Rivers better. Will start at guard, eventually move to tackle.

36. Baltimore: CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Willing to take the risk in Round 2 considering the glaring need in the secondary.

37. San Francisco: QB Connor Cook, Michigan State
Could easily go in Round 1. Fits what Chip Kelly wants to do on offense.

38. Jacksonville: OG Joshua Garnett, Stanford
Need to protect the future of the franchise.

39. Tampa Bay: DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
Bucs race to the podium with this pick. Likely 1st Rounder, can get after the quarterback.

40. NY Giants: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
Would’ve loved Dodd, but they’ll take Ogbah to play in a rotation with JPP and Olivier Vernon. Can never have too many pass rushers.

41. Chicago: S Vonn Bell, Ohio State
First safety off the board. Bears get a playmaker for the back end of their defense, something they sorely need.

42. Cleveland (From Miami): WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Get this pick as part of a mocked trade. No matter who their QB is, he’ll need weapons.

43. Jacksonville (From Philadelphia through Los Angeles and Tennessee): DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Another pick resulting from a mocked trade. A potential 1st Round pick, would add more youth and talent to Gus Bradley’s D-line.

44. Oakland: OLB/S Su’a Cravens, USC
Tweener prospect, but will help with covering tight ends and running backs, a major weakness for the Raiders last season.

45. Tennessee (From Los Angeles): CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
Coming off a bad knee injury, but worth the risk for a Titans team with a terrible secondary.

46. Detroit: OT Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
They hope he can be their left tackle for a very long time.

47. New Orleans: DE/DT Jonathan Bullard, Florida
Versatility is important for a Saints team with so many holes on defense.

48. Indianapolis: OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Can’t stress enough how important it is for them to protect Andrew Luck.

49. Buffalo: WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Fits right into the spot vacated by Percy Harvin’s retirement.

50. Atlanta: S Keanu Neal, Florida
Could be a bit of a project, but he fills a need for Atlanta.

51. NY Jets: TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas
Not a sexy pick, but they get the top tight end in this class.

52. Houston: DE Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
Could be a steal here, as he’d benefit from playing with J.J. Watt.

53. Washington: S Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Slips a little bit here. Would start for the Redskins immediately.

54. Minnesota: OT Shon Coleman, Auburn
Very raw, but could become a good left tackle if given time to develop.

55. Cincinnati: DT Kenny Clark, UCLA
Has been compared to Domata Peko, so he’s a perfect fit for the Bengals’ scheme.

56. Seattle: OT Jerald Hawkins, LSU
Slight reach maybe, but they need to find some help for Russell Wilson.

57. Green Bay: LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
This seems like the appropriate spot in this draft for a team like Green Bay to swing for the fences. 

58. Pittsburgh: S/CB T.J. Green, Clemson
Continue to retool the secondary. Could go late in Round 1. Oozes potential at both safety and corner.

59. Kansas City: WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Huge upgrade over Albert Wilson. He’s the perfect compliment to Jeremy Maclin.

60. New England: DE/OLB Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
Have to find a way to make up for Chandler Jones’s production.

61. New England (From Arizona): RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
He just simply is a Patriots running back. Belichick will get more out of him than any other coach.

62. Carolina: RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
Slips a little bit in this scenario. Teams could be scared by his heavy workload in college. 

63. Denver: OC/OG Nick Martin, Notre Dame
They have multiple needs on the O-line, and Martin can play guard or center for them.

That does it for We Love Sportz’s 2016 NFL Mock Draft for Rounds 1 and 2, and now you hopefully know what to look out for come Thursday and Friday. Jeff and I will be back next week following the Draft as we give each team a grade for how well they’ve done. Thanks for reading! Enjoy the NFL Draft!

 

Final Four Preview: Syracuse

It has been quite a whirlwind season for the Syracuse Orange. Legendary coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine game due to academic sanctions, and the team struggled mightily without him. Upon his return, they started to turn the corner, and looked like a Tournament team. That was before ending the season losing five of six games, putting their tourney hopes in serious doubt.

In one of a few shockers, Syracuse safely earned a 10-seed in the Big Dance. Many didn’t think Syracuse belonged in the field, and they have clearly been playing with a chip on their shoulder, as they’ve won four games en route to this year’s Final Four. The Orange are the first 10-seed to reach the Final Four, and just the 4th double digit seed to get this far. They’ll match-up with conference foe North Carolina in the National Semis, and they have a legitimate chance to win this whole thing. The following is a look at how Syracuse got here, and why they have a chance to cut down the nets in a few days.

First Round
Def. 7-seed Dayton 70-51
Syracuse made a little bit of a statement in the First Round, quite easily dispatching the 7-seeded Dayton Flyers, winning by 19. Dayton shot just 6-22 from three-point range and 9-19 from the free throw line, helping lead to their downfall. Freshman Malachi Richardson led the way for Syracuse with 21 points, and junior Tyler Roberson notched a double-double with 10 points and 18 rebounds.

Second Round
Def. 15-seed Middle Tennessee 75-50
A fairly large number of people expected Syracuse to defeat Dayton, but just about everyone expected their Second Round opponent to be Michigan State. When the Spartans were upset by Middle Tennessee, Syracuse knew they had a fantastic opportunity to advance to the second weekend of the Tournament, which they did. Senior Michael Gbinije was the catalyst for the Orange, scoring 23 points to lead the way.

Sweet 16
Def. 11-seed Gonzaga 63-60
Syracuse would again benefit from a big upset, meeting 11-seed Gonzaga in the Regional Semis. The Zags controlled most of this game, and looked to have a trip to the Elite Eight all but wrapped up. But a late charge from Syracuse and a few blown opportunities at the end for Gonzaga was enough for the Orange to come away with a 3-point victory and a trip to the Midwest Region final. Freshman Tyler Lydon blocked a Josh Perkins attempt with about 1 second left on the clock to seal the victory.

Elite Eight
Def. 1-seed Virginia 68-62
The friendly match-ups were over for Syracuse, and many expected their magical run to end against 1-seed Virginia. For a second straight game, Syracuse looked dead in the water midway through the second half. But they were able to muster up another late surge, coming back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take the lead with less than five minutes to go. From there they were able to hold off the Cavaliers and advance to the Final Four. It was a very uncharacteristic meltdown from Tony Bennett’s squad, but you have to credit Syracuse for contributing to that meltdown. It was another big game for freshman Malachi Richardson, who scored 23 points to lead the way for the Orange.

How They Got Here: Jim Boeheim
Like him or hate him (most people hate him), Jim Boeheim is an extremely good basketball coach. His players played some really good games, and were able to execute a couple amazing comebacks, but when you look at how they were able to pull this off, you look at the coaching. Boeheim made some genius decisions in the Gonzaga and Virginia games. Syracuse runs a 2-3 zone defense almost religiously, and they rarely pressure in the full court. But down double-digits against both the Zags and Virginia, Boeheim picked the perfect time to dial up the pressure, leading those teams to rush and turn the ball over a ton, helping his team make two incredible comebacks. They players executed the plan, but Boeheim cleary out-coached Mark Few and Tony Bennett, and you have to credit him for it. I don’t think Syracuse would be here if it wasn’t for Boeheim.

Why They’ll be National Champs:
You expect the chip on their shoulder to just disappear? It won’t, especially with some of Jim Boeheim’s recent comments. He has his team thinking that they deserve to be here while nobody else thinks they do. That could be all the motivation that they need to go out and win the National Championship. North Carolina is a tough match-up, and the Tar Heels beat Syracuse twice during the regular season. But the second meeting, which was each team’s second-to-last game of the season, went down to the wire in Chapel Hill, with UNC winning 75-70. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone can give teams fits, and a lot of times, it forces teams to hit perimeter jump shots to beat it. If Syracuse can force UNC to shoot from the perimeter (in a shooting grave of a stadium, as I’ve discussed previously), I think they can win this game, and then do the same thing to either Nova or Oklahoma in the title game. I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all to think that Syracuse can win the National Championship.

Why They Won’t Win the Title:
From a talent perspective, Syracuse is easily the most over-matched team remaining in the field. Michael Gbinije is an extremely good player, Trevor Cooney is experienced and Malachi Richardson is starting to blossom as a star player, but compared to North Carolina, Villanova and Oklahoma, Syracuse is on a much lower level. When it gets to this point, the cream usually rises to the top, and I don’t think Syracuse is the cream here. On the court, North Carolina has the perfect team to attack and win against the Orange’s zone defense. Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson can shoot over the top, and Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson can get to the middle and run the baseline, which could lead to some really easy buckets. Syracuse is going to have a tough time slowing down the Tar Heels, and that could end up meaning the end of this magical run.

Final Four Preview: Oklahoma

Denzel Valentine of Michigan State was just named AP Player of the Year, but many would argue that the man who has almost single-handedly led Oklahoma to the Final Four this year is more deserving of the accolade. That man is Buddy Hield, and I’d imagine you’ve seen him play at least once by this point. But if you haven’t, make sure you tune in on Saturday night to watch the Sooners take on Villanova. Here is a look at how Oklahoma got here, and why they might end up the 2016 National Champions.

First Round
Def. 15-seed CSU Bakersfield 82-68
It was a little bit of a slow start for the Sooners, and their fans had to be worried, as at the same time, fellow 2-seed Michigan State was on their way to losing to 15-seed Middle Tennessee. Thankfully though, Buddy Hield and the Sooners were able to get it going and win this one by 13 points. Hield scored 27 points on 8-14 shooting to lead Oklahoma to the Second Round.

Second Round
Def. 10-seed VCU 85-81
It wasn’t shocking that VCU gave Oklahoma a really good game. It was shocking just how close VCU came to knocking off the Sooners in this one. It’s no secret that this has been the most difficult game in this tournament for Oklahoma, but just like he’s done all season long, Buddy Hield stepped up when his team needed him and got his team to the Sweet 16. Hield scored 36 points on 11-20 shooting, and the Sooners were on their way to Anaheim.

Sweet 16
Def. 3-seed Texas A&M 77-63
Texas A&M had to make a completely improbable comeback in the Second Round against Northern Iowa just to get here, and it was clear that they were over-matched in this contest. Oklahoma cruised to a victory as Buddy Hield kind of took a backseat. He did notch a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Oklahoma was led by Jordan Woodard in this one, who scored 22 points, including 5-6 from three-point range.

Elite Eight
Def. 1-seed Oregon 80-68
It was the Buddy Hield show yet again in the West Regional Final, as the Sooners made pretty easy work of the Oregon Ducks, winning by 12. Hield scored 37 points, which included an amazing 8-13 from three-point range. Oregon was riding high following their Sweet 16 victory over Duke, but they were no match for Buddy Hield and the Sooners, who are now in Houston for the Final Four.

How They Got Here: Buddy-Mania
Now don’t get me wrong, Oklahoma has some really good players. Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, Khadeem Lattin, Ryan Spangler, etc. But the fact of that matter is that Oklahoma has made it this far because of Buddy Hield. It’s the “Year of the Senior” in college basketball, and you could argue that Buddy Hield is the best of the bunch. He has been a productive player his entire career, but he really turned a corner this season, becoming one of, if not the, most lethal scorer in the nation. He hasn’t seen a shot that he can’t make. His patented step-back three ball is probably the best individual move of any player in the country, and it’s that way because I don’t know how you could possibly defend it. He’s averaging just under 30 points a game in the Tournament, and Villanova is going to have their hands full for sure.

Why They’ll Be National Champs:
Refer to the previous paragraph. If Oklahoma wins the National Championship, there’s no doubt in my mind it will be on the back of Buddy Hield. In the first meeting with Villanova this season, Hield scored 18 points on 4-9 shooting from distance. The Sooners won by 23 points in that game, despite that pedestrian performance. If Buddy plays the way he has been playing, Villanova might not stand a chance. Oklahoma is the best shooting team left in the tourney, and they’ve arguably been the best shooting team in the country all season. If they are hitting their shots, I don’t see Nova, Syracuse or North Carolina being able to defeat Oklahoma.

Why They Won’t Win the Title:
All it will take is one bad shooting night, and Oklahoma will be finished. Thankfully for them, they’ve been shooting the ball great through their first four games. Unfortunately for them, NRG Stadium in Houston has been very unkind to shooters in the past. The National Championship game in 2011 was there, and both UConn and Butler struggled mightily to shoot the ball. That gives a team like Villanova, who doesn’t have to rely on their outside shooting, a clear advantage in this match-up with Oklahoma. The Sooners don’t necessarily always rely on their outside shooting, but when they win games, it’s mostly because they’re hitting shots from the outside. They could find tough sledding from the perimeter in Houston, and that could spell the end of Oklahoma’s season.