NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: South Region

In my fourth and final First Round Preview article for this year’s NCAA Tournament, I’ll now take a look at the South Region, featuring a gauntlet of historic men’s college basketball programs.

The 1-seed in the South is the ACC regular season champion North Carolina Tar Heels, who some believe did not deserve a 1-seed over teams like Duke and Arizona, but here they are. If they can reach the Elite Eight, they could have a really difficult opponent, either 2-seed Kentucky, the SEC regular season and tournament champs, or 3-seed UCLA, who failed to win either Pac-12 titles, but were ranked as high as 3rd in the nation down the stretch.

The popular opinion is that the South Region is the most difficult in this year’s bracket, so the team that gets out of Memphis will have certainly earned their trip to the Final Four. Here is my preview of the First Round in the South Region!

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of KenPom and ESPN*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

South Region

Greenville, SC
#1 North Carolina (27-7) vs #16 Texas Southern (23-11)
Friday 3/17, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Despite seven losses, which ties the most losses ever for a 1-seed, North Carolina has an extremely impressive resume. They dominated Wisconsin and Oklahoma State in non-conference play, and then picked up wins over Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, Duke and Notre Dame in ACC play. For those keeping track at home, those are the teams who finished 2nd through 6th in the league, behind the Tar Heels. Texas Southern, under former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis, has been known to play a brutal out-of-conference schedule, earning money for the athletic department, and preparing the team for the postseason. Since conference play started, the Tigers are 19-2. UNC struggled against 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast last year, and Texas Southern will not be intimidated.

Key Players: Marcus Paige led this Tar Heel team on their run to the National Championship game last year, and junior guard Joel Berry has nicely taken over that role for this year’s team. Berry is averaging 14.8 points, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Fellow junior Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) is another very important player for UNC. The Tigers have one of the shortest players in the Tournament in 5-7 freshman Demontrae Jefferson, and he is second on the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game. The leading scorer for Texas Southern is junior guard Zach Lofton, who averages 17.0 points a contest.

Why UNC will Win: I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but a 16 has never beaten a 1, and it’s not going to happen here. North Carolina is a popular pick to go all the way, and I think that’s because they do everything well. This team does not have a weakness. Good guards, size, speed, shooting ability, they are the total package, and when they are clicking, their isn’t a team in the nation that can beat them.

Why TXSO will Win: I’m getting a little lazy at this point, but they won’t win. If the Tar Heels have a weakness, it’s that they are susceptible to being denied at the rim, and they struggle with fouls. If Texas Southern can attack the rim on the offensive end and defend the rim well on defense, maybe they can keep this game close.

 

Greenville, SC
#8 Arkansas (25-9) vs #9 Seton Hall (21-11)
Friday 3/17, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: I must admit, I did not realize how good a season Arkansas was having until they reached the SEC title game as the 3-seed in the conference. I am still shocked that this team didn’t lose double digit games. Even I, a huge college basketball fan, had to look up their roster because I did not know a single player on their team. That’s about as innocuous a season you can have. Meanwhile, it was another really good season in the Big East for Seton Hall, coming on strong down the stretch winning four in a row to end the regular season before losing by two in the Big East Tournament to Villanova. The Pirates are a dangerous team.

Key Players: One of the biggest reasons Seton Hall is dangerous is their biggest player, 6-10 junior Angel Delgado. He is an absolute load to handle in the paint, averaging 15.3 points and a whopping 13.1 rebounds a game. He is one of the best rebounders in the nation. The Pirates have a couple talented perimeter scorers as well in fellow juniors Khadeen Carrington (16.9 PPG) and Desi Rodriguez (15.9 PPG). I said earlier that I didn’t know any of the Razorback players, but they are talented if the stats are to be believed. It would appear that the key players are a couple seniors, 6-3 guard Dusty Hannahs (14.6 PPG, 90.3 FT%) and 6-10 forward Moses Kingsley (11.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG). A couple juniors, guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, also average double-figures for Arkansas.

Why ARK will Win: Arkansas has a good record, but they have a spotty resume. They only have four wins against teams in the Field, and two of those games are against Vanderbilt, a 9-seed. If they are going to win this game against a hot Seton Hall team, they will need to stick with what they do best, and that is play up-tempo (which Seton Hall is not great at) and get to the free throw line (where they are one of the 25 best teams in the country in free throw percentage). Do that, and the Razorbacks should win.

Why SHU will Win: As you already know if you’ve been reading my preview articles, I am a believer in momentum this time of year. There are a lot of teams in this tournament that are better than Seton Hall, but there aren’t many playing with the momentum that they are. I believe that Seton Hall has better interior players than Arkansas, and they have better guards than Arkansas. If you make that into an equation, that equals a victory here. Run the offense through Angel Delgado and crash the boards, and the Pirates should have no issues moving on.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#5 Minnesota (24-9) vs #12 Middle Tennessee (30-4)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Richard Pitino, son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, has done a fantastic job with this Golden Gopher team. The Pitino’s are now the first father-son duo to coach in the same NCAA Tournament. It’s been a great season for Minnesota, with wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Maryland and Michigan. It’s one of the best seasons in Minneapolis in a very long time. But it could all go for naught considering the draw that they received in the Tournament, facing a Middle Tennessee team that people have been looking forward to seeing back in the Tournament since the season began. If you remember, the Blue Raiders knocked off national title favorite Michigan State last season in the First Round as a 15-seed. The stars from that game are back this year, and this team had an even better season, earning a 12-seed (and I thought they should have been higher). This will be a fun game.

Key Players: The Gophers have a nice blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen, led by junior guard Nate Mason (15.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) and freshman forward Amir Coffey (12.1 PPG). Those are the leading scorers for Minnesota, and they will need to play well for this team to win. I mentioned the stars for Middle Tennessee last year returning. They are senior forward Reggie Upshaw (21 points versus MSU last season) and junior guard Giddy Potts (19 points, 3-5 from 3PT range against MSU). Those guys are happy to be back, but neither of them are the Blue Raiders’ best player. That is senior Arkansas-transfer JaCorey Williams, who averages 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and had to watch the huge victory over Michigan State last year on the sidelines, sitting out a year due to transfer rules. He will be chomping at the bit for this game.

Why MINN will Win: Middle Tennessee is a great story, and a really good team, but it’s been a wonderful season for Minnesota, and with the Blue Raiders being a trendy upset pick, the Gophers will love to bust a few brackets. Minnesota will be one of the best defensive teams that MTSU will have played this season, so who knows how their talented offense will respond. The Gophers will need to play up-tempo and limit good looks from the perimeter (which Michigan State couldn’t do last year), but if they do those things, they’ll come out on top.

Why MTSU will Win: They beat a really good Michigan State team last year, and if nothing else, that experience will have this team believing that they can beat anybody in this Tournament. Potts and Upshaw know what it’s like to win games in this thing, and the addition of JaCorey Williams only makes them better. Minnesota is an over-seeded team in my estimation, and the Blue Raiders are good on both ends of the floor. As long as they don’t get caught playing the game Minnesota wants them to play, meaning they slow the game down and take good shots (and make them of course), I like the Blue Raiders to win a game for the second straight Tournament.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#4 Butler (23-8) vs #13 Winthrop (26-6)
Thursday 3/16, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: Another year, another overachieving Butler team. I’m starting to think that Chris Holtmann is just a fantastic coach. This team was expected to be a fringe-Tournament team, possibly winning a few big games in Big East play. Instead, they finished second in the conference, sweeping the season series with the defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats. Their 8-point win in Philly on February 22 is one of the most impressive wins any team has this season. It was a very good season for the Winthrop Eagles as well, returning to the Tournament for the first time since 2010. Two of their six losses this year came in overtime, and they have a win over a major conference team in Illinois, a better win than a lot of 13-seeds or lower have this year.

Key Players: When it comes to short players in this Tournament, none are better than 5-7 senior guard Keon Johnson for the Eagles. Johnson is extremely talented, averaging 22.5 points a game, shooting better than 86 percent from the free throw line and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He is one of the best scoring guards in this entire Tournament, and he could become a household name when this is all said and done. For Butler, it pretty much comes down to how 6-7 junior guard/forward Kelan Martin plays. He leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and in rebounding with 5.7 boards a game. If he plays well, they usually win. If he struggles, they struggle.

Why BUT will Win: Winthrop is a fun team to watch (trust me, this will be a game you’ll want to tune in to), but Butler is just too much for them. Butler is great at controlling the tempo of the game, protecting the ball, and they are very efficient on offense, especially inside the arc, where Winthrop just doesn’t have the size to compete with the Bulldogs. Some may pick this to be an upset, but I like Butler to advance fairly easily.

Why WU will Win: Crazy things happen in March, and really good players have been known to thrive in the spotlight that the NCAA Tournament provides. Winthrop will try to speed this game up and make Butler uncomfortable. If they can do that, they have a shot. Keon Johnson could also just go off, and there might not be anything Butler can do about it.

 

Sacramento, CA
#6 Cincinnati (29-5) vs #11 Kansas State (21-13)
Friday 3/17, 7:27 pm TruTV

Overview: Mick Cronin has led Cincinnati to the Tournament for the 7th consecutive season, and I honestly believe that this might be his best team yet. It was the Bearcats and SMU at the top of the American, and then it was everybody else. They did beat SMU once this season, and they also scored victories over Iowa State and Xavier along the way. They are a Top-10 defensive team, which gives them a chance in any game. Kansas State was able to get past Wake Forest in the First Four, winning 95-88. Since the start of the First Four in 2011, a team from those games has advanced to at least the Round of 32 every season. Could it be K-State?

Key Players: I cannot believe Troy Caupain is still at Cincinnati, because it feels like he’s been there forever, but he is still one of the most important players to the Bearcats’ success. He does a little bit of everything for the Cats, averaging 10.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, while leading the team in minutes. Junior forward Kyle Washington is another key player for Cincy, averaging 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. K-State has gotten here thanks to the efforts of senior Wesley Iwundu, who scored 24 points to go along with 7 assists and 6 rebounds in the win over Wake Forest. Sophomore guard Kamau Stokes played well also, tallying 22 points on 5-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Why CIN will Win: I mentioned that this is probably the best team Mick Cronin has had in his tenure at Cincinnati, and they will look to buck the trend of the Bearcats underwhelming in the NCAA Tournament. Cronin is due for a deep run in this thing, and this will be his best chance. They will win here if they can take care of the ball and get hot from 3-point range, as K-State really struggles to force turnovers and defend the arc. Cincinnati can win from inside or outside, so I think they focus on getting open perimeter shots, and shoot their way into the Second Round.

Why KSU will Win: History suggests that a First Four team will go onto the First Round and get a victory, and I really don’t like Providence or USC’s chances against SMU, so that leaves Kansas State to be the First Four’s representative in the Round of 32. They have a game under their belt, so the pressure is off. A team playing with no pressure in the Tournament is a dangerous team. The Wildcats had one of the best shooting performances in school history against Wake. If they can come close to that kind of performance here, they’ll get the victory.

 

Sacramento, CA
#3 UCLA (29-4) vs #14 Kent State (22-13)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV

Overview: This UCLA team is probably the most polarizing team in this entire field, and that may or may not be due to the outspokenness of one named LaVar Ball. I wish I could say he’s a player, but he’s actually the father of star freshman guard Lonzo Ball, and for me, his dad is wrongfully taking the attention away from the magnificence that is Lonzo on a basketball court. This is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and they’ll look to shoot their way to a National Title. Kent State came from out of nowhere to win the MAC title as the 6-seed in the conference, winning four games total, three in three days, to earn their trip to the Dance. Despite their finish in the MAC regular season, this is one of the best teams in the conference, and they will not be a pushover for UCLA.

Key Players: Lonzo Ball has a chance to be the 1st overall pick in the NBA Draft, and for good reason. He does it all for the Bruins, averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Fellow freshman T.J. Leaf is important for UCLA as well, averaging a team-leading 16.2 points per game. And don’t forget about the coach’s son, senior shooting guard Bryce Alford (15.8 PPG, 43.5% 3PT). Kent State has a star of their own in 6-8 senior forward Jimmy Hall. Hall leads the team 18.9 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and he’ll need to have a great game if the Golden Flashes have a shot at the upset.

Why UCLA will Win: It’s going to take a really good defensive team to knock off the Bruins, and Kent State is not that team. UCLA likes to play fast, and they are extremely efficient. KenPom has them in the top-6 most efficient offenses inside and outside the arc. A team that plays fast and doesn’t miss is a team that is tough to beat. Way too tough for Kent State at least.

Why KENT will Win: It’s not impossible, believe it or not. 14-seeds have beaten 3-seeds before, and honestly, if UCLA struggles at all on offense, they can lose, because they don’t play a lick of defense. You need to outscore the Bruins to beat them, but Kent State is capable of that. They are a great offensive rebounding team, so if they can attack the offensive boards and get a lot of second chance points, they might be able to pull off the shocker.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#7 Dayton (24-7) vs #10 Wichita State (30-4)
Friday 3/17, 7:10 pm CBS

Overview: I feel so bad for Archie Miller and Dayton. They had a fantastic season, winning the A-10 regular season title while picking up great wins over Alabama, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island (twice) and VCU. They deserved a better draw than this. Wichita State has the resume of a 10-seed. They have just one win over Tournament teams, and that was against South Dakota State, a 16-seed. However, advanced analytics LOVE the Shockers. KenPom has Wichita State as the 8th best team in the nation. This team will fuel the argument for the Committee to use more advanced statistics in choosing the NCAA Tournament Field. Unfortunately, that won’t make Dayton feel any better.

Key Players: Don’t automatically count out the Flyers though. They are a very experienced team, led by a trio of seniors that want to go out on the right foot. Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard are three fantastic players, and they combine for over 43 points a game. They will not be scared of the Shockers. It’s a little strange to see a Wichita State team without Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, but Gregg Marshall has reloaded nicely. The Shockers have five players who average better than nine points a game, and they are led by 6-8 sophomore Markis McDuffie, who averages a team-leading 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He is key to Wichita’s success.

Why DAY will Win: I feel like there isn’t much pressure on Dayton in this game. The majority of people don’t expect them to win, and I think that actually will make them play with a little added motivation. Wichita State does not force many turnovers, so if Dayton can control the ball and play the game at their tempo, they can very easily win this game.

Why WSU will Win: There might be some pressure on the Shockers for the same reason that there isn’t much pressure on Dayton, but this team under Gregg Marshall has rarely buckled under any pressure. This team hasn’t beaten anybody of note, but they are extremely efficient on both ends of the floor. They are extremely good on the perimeter, so if they work the ball and don’t settle for bad shots, they will look like the Wichita State team that everybody expects, and they’ll move on to the next round.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#2 Kentucky (29-5) vs #15 Northern Kentucky (24-10)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:40 pm CBS

Overview: It’s the in-state battle that nobody knew they wanted until now! Okay, I joke a little bit, but maybe a little rivalry can be born from this matchup. John Calipari’s Wildcats went through a lot of growing pains this season, but they are rounding into form at the right time, winning the SEC regular season and tournament titles, and they enter the Dance riding an 11-game winning streak. Northern Kentucky, meanwhile, benefited from some big upsets in the Horizon League Tournament, defeating 5-seed Wright State, 9-seed Youngstown State and 10-seed Milwaukee to earn their spot in the Tournament.

Key Players: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo are the stars of this team, all freshmen, and all likely NBA lottery picks. They are the three leading scorers for this team (20.4, 16.1 and 13.3 PPG respectively), and they will be key to Kentucky’s success in this Tournament. For the Norse, it’s sophomore forward Drew McDonald who makes things go. He leads the team with 16.4 points and 7.7 boards a game, and he is talented inside and outside the arc. His floor spacing could open things up for the rest of the team.

Why UK will Win: Malik Monk is arguably the best pure scorer in this Tournament. When he is on, he scores in bunches, and he is extremely difficult to contain. But he is very streaky, and is just getting out of a really bad funk. As long as he doesn’t revert back to that, he will score at will against Northern Kentucky, and the Norse won’t stand a chance.

Why NKU will Win: 15-seeds beating 2-seeds, as I’ve mentioned before, is not unprecedented. Especially when the 15-seed is as good offensively as Northern Kentucky is. Kentucky will look to get out and run, but they won’t be successful with that if the Norse can make shots. Make some shots early, get Kentucky out of their comfort zone, and we could see a massive upset.

 

NCAA Tournament Preview: First Four

IT’S HERE! IT’S FINALLY HERE! The 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed on Sunday to much fanfare, and thankfully, to very little surprise. The 68 teams that made the field were the 68 teams that most expected, which is a welcome sight. I usually expect the Selection Committee to make a mistake or two, but they did an extremely good job this season.

Although, you could wait to see how it all plays out before you make that decision! The Tournament will kick off, as it has the last few seasons, with the First Four games in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I am here to give you the lowdown on each of those four games. Let’s not waste any more time, here is a preview of this year’s First Four games.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

East Region
#16 Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) vs #16 New Orleans (20-11)
Tuesday 3/14, 6:40 pm TruTV

Overview: The first game of this year’s NCAA Tournament will see the Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary’s take on the Privateers of New Orleans. MSM really challenged themselves in their non-conference schedule this year, taking on teams like West Virginia, Iowa State, Arkansas, Michigan and Minnesota. They lost all of those games, but they’ve played good teams. New Orleans didn’t play quite as difficult a schedule, but they tested themselves a few times with games against USC, Northwestern and Oklahoma State. They also have a win over a power conference team, defeating Washington State 70-54 on December 3. Each of these teams is better on the defensive end, so it could come down to whichever team is able to make more stops.

Key Players: Each of these teams is led by a “mighty mite” if you will, Christavious Gill (5-8, 11.6 PPG) for New Orleans and Junior Robinson (5-5, 14.1 PPG) for MSM. They are two of the four shortest players in the Tournament this season, but they are joined by some really good taller players, guard Elijah Long for the Mountaineers (team leading 15.4 PPG) and forward Erik Thomas for New Orleans (19.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG).

Why MSM will Win: The Mountaineers have been playing great after starting their season playing really good teams on the road. Since Christmas, they are 17-4. They also are one of the better teams at forcing turnovers, while New Orleans can be susceptible to giving the ball away. The Mount forces enough turnovers to get the victory.

Why NO will Win: What a story this program is. Following Hurricane Katrina, monetary issues nearly forced them to leave Division I and head to Division III. Over 10 years later, and the Privateers are back in the Tournament for the first time since 1996. And you know who else is good at forcing turnovers? New Orleans is. In fact, they’re 12th in the country in opponent TO percentage. They win the turnover battle, and end up winning the game as well.

 

South Region
#11 Kansas State (20-13) vs #11 Wake Forest (19-13)
Tuesday 3/14, approx. 9:10 pm TruTV

Overview: Two teams that probably earned their way into the field thanks to big wins at the end of the season will battle it out to see who goes on to face 6-seed Cincinnati in the First Round. Kansas State struggled in Big 12 play, going 8-10, but a quarterfinal win over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament likely pushed the Wildcats over the edge of the Bubble. On the flip-side, Wake Forest lost twice to Clemson and at Syracuse, but their other 10 losses were all to teams who reached the Tournament. The Demon Deacons beat Louisville at home and Virginia Tech on the road in the last week of the regular season, which was enough to earn this at-large bid.

Key Players: Wake is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and they are led by 6-10 sophomore forward John Collins (18.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG), who may have improved his NBA Draft stock more than any player in the country this season. Kansas State is a more balanced offensive team, with five players averaging over 9 points per game. Seniors Wesley Iwundu (6.4 RPG) and D.J. Johnson (1.5 BPG) add a lot on the defensive end as well for the Wildcats.

Why KSU will Win: Kansas State struggled in the Big 12, but it was probably the toughest league top to bottom this season, so they are definitely battle tested. They are a very good defensive team, and they do a terrific job defending the paint. Wake Forest struggles to get good looks on the interior, and K-State does enough offensively to win a more low-scoring battle than many expect.

Why WAKE will Win: I mentioned that the Deacons are really good on the offensive end. KenPom has them rated as the 8th most efficient offensive team in the country. John Collins is the best player on the floor, and he’ll flex his muscle, going for over 20 points, and late success from the free throw line, where Wake shoots over 77 percent (12th in NCAA), keeps K-State from making a comeback. Wake Forest moves on to face Cincinnati.

 

Midwest Region
#16 NC Central (25-8) vs #16 UC Davis (22-12)
Wednesday 3/15, 6:40 pm TruTV

Overview: UC Davis is one of five teams making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament this year, and the Aggies needed to upset UC Irvine in the Big West finals to get here. You might be surprised to see a 25-8 team in the First Four, but NC Central was the only team in the MEAC ranked inside of KenPom’s Top-300. There’s only 351 D-I teams, so the competition Central has faced this season has not been the best, hence their placement here.

Key Players: The best player on the court will be NC Central senior guard Patrick Cole, who does just about everything for the Eagles (19.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 5.7 APG). UC Davis is led by a senior guard as well, 6-4 Brynton Lamar (16.1 PPG). Lamar scored 20 points in the Big West final to get the Aggies to this point.

Why NCCU will Win: Don’t get stuck on the competition that the Eagles have faced this season, this is a pretty good team, and they deserve to be here. Head Coach LeVelle Moton has been discussed as a potential option for NC State’s coaching search, and he’ll have his team ready to go. They are one of the best teams in the nation at defending the 3-point arc (3rd in the nation according to KenPom), which is where UC Davis does most of their damage. Davis has trouble getting open looks from the perimeter, and NC Central is able to outscore them because of that and pick up the victory.

Why UCD will Win: Simply put, the Aggies have faced tougher competition this season, and that experience will do wonders for them here. They tend to struggle on offense, but they have a lot of size, which NC Central really does not. They have some height, but they don’t use it well. That advantage allows UC Davis to win a low-scoring affair.

 

East Region
#11 Providence (20-12) vs #11 USC (24-9)
Wednesday 3/15, approx. 9:10 pm TruTV

Overview: Talk about two teams that had polar opposite seasons. Providence was barely on the Tournament radar as recently as February 8, when they lost to Seton Hall in overtime, dropping them to 14-11 overall, 4-8 in the Big East. The Friars proceeded to rattle off six straight wins to end the regular season, including wins over Butler, Xavier, Marquette and Creighton, all Tournament teams. Meanwhile, it was a fantastic start to the season for the Trojans, going a perfect 13-0 in non-conference play, including wins over Texas A&M, BYU and SMU. However, USC struggled down the stretch, losing four of their last six, and going just 1-5 against the Pac-12’s other three Tourney teams.

Key Players: Providence is led by a pair of juniors with Tournament experience, point guard Kyron Cartwright (11.4 PPG, 6.7 APG) and forward Rodney Bullock (15.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG). The Friars are extremely athletic, but the Trojans might be even more athletic. They are led by a couple really long, talented sophomore forwards, 6-10 Bennie Boatwright and 6-11 Chimeize Metu, who both average over 14.5 PPG. Boatwright missed 17 games this season, but he is healthy now, and that is huge for USC.

Why PROV will Win: Momentum could play a huge factor in this game. It’s no question that Providence is the hotter team in this matchup. The Friars don’t have the size or length that USC has, so they will play this game on the perimeter. A good outside shooting team going up against a poor perimeter defense. Advantage Providence. They make enough shots to get the win and move on to the First Round.

Why USC will Win: You can easily argue that USC is the more talented team, and sometimes, that’s all it takes. But on top of that, the Trojans have a massive size advantage, and if they can post up their big men and attack with their guards, they can dominate Providence on the interior and get the victory.

That does it for my preview of the First Four games in this season’s NCAA Tournament. It’s looking like we may be snowed in here in Southeast PA on Tuesday, so there’s no excuse for you to not tune in to at least the games on Tuesday night. We usually get some pretty exciting games in the First Four, making it a perfect appetizer for the First Round on Thursday and Friday!

Be sure to stay tuned to the Facebook page as I’ll be posting previews for each Region of the Tournament over the next few days in anticipation of the First Round, which will kickoff Thursday at 12:15 pm!

CBB Top-25: 1/30/17

So, it’s not March yet, but damn if this past week didn’t feel like it! What a week it was. It all started on Tuesday with three of the top four teams in the AP Poll going down on the road, two of them against unranked opponents.

#1 Villanova seemed to have things in control against Marquette, but the Golden Eagles made a furious comeback and were able to prevent a last-second layup from Jalen Brunson to secure the massive victory!

That same night, #2 Kansas had their 18-game winning streak snapped in dominating fashion by West Virginia, 85-69. It was a disappointing loss, but the Jayhawks rebounded in a big way with a road win over #4 Kentucky on Saturday.

Speaking of the Wildcats, the loss to Kansas was their second loss of the week, as they went to Knoxville on Tuesday and were upset by the Tennessee Volunteers 82-80. It was a rough week for Kentucky, but I still think they are one of the five best teams in the country.

In addition to the those losses, #6 Florida State suffered two losses last week, losing on the road against Georgia Tech and Syracuse. #8 UCLA and #9 North Carolina also fell this week, to USC and Miami respectively. It was a chaotic week, and that just made me even more excited for March!

My Top-25 this week looks a little different from the AP Poll, but that’s only because these are who I think are the best 25 teams in the country. The teams are actually the same, just in a different order, but that’s to be expected. There’s a lot of parity this season, so my ranking just goes right along with that.

 

  1. Creighton (Prev: 23)

The Bluejays went 18-1 with PG Maurice Watson in the lineup. Since he went down with a season-ending knee injury, they are 1-2 including a 20-point loss to Georgetown last week. Creighton is in danger of slipping down the seed-line if they don’t pick up a few more quality wins, and they get two opportunities this week.

This Week: Tue 1/31 @ Butler (7:00 pm, FS1); Sat 2/4 vs Xavier (3:00 pm, FOX)

 

  1. Duke (Prev: 21)

I was very tempted to drop Duke from my Top-25 this week, but when I looked at the teams I’d have ranked 26-30, I didn’t see one worth replacing them. The Blue Devils needed a late surge and 30 second half points from Luke Kennard to avoid an upset against Wake Forest on Saturday. I don’t think it is crazy to consider tonight’s game at Notre Dame a must win for Duke.

This Week: Mon 1/30 @ Notre Dame (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/4 vs Pittsburgh (1:00 pm, CBS)

 

  1. Florida (Prev: NR)

The Gators got back on the right track this past week with road wins over LSU and Oklahoma, which followed back-to-back losses the previous week. The advanced stats love the Gators, who are ranked 10th in the country by KenPom.com, but the eye test hasn’t been as kind. They have a huge home game this Saturday when they face off with the SEC-leading Kentucky Wildcats. Florida could really use a win in that game.

This Week: Thu 2/2 vs Missouri (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 vs Kentucky (8:15 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Maryland (Prev: NR)

The Terrapins have been flying under the radar this season, so it may be a shock to learn that they are 19-2 and tied with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten. One reason they’ve been quiet is because they’ve played a fairly easy schedule thus far, but this week could be a major turning point for them as they travel to Columbus followed by a home game against Purdue.

This Week: Tue 1/31 @ Ohio State (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/4 vs Purdue (12:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. South Carolina (Prev: 25)

When the Gamecocks have every player at their disposal, they are undefeated this season. They also play one of the easier schedules in the country down the stretch, so they very easily could continue to rise in my rankings. A trip to Gainesville in late February is the only truly tough test remaining for them. If Kentucky slips up at all, they could easily steal the SEC regular season title.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ LSU (9:00 pm, SECN); Sat 2/4 vs Georgia (2:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Northwestern (Prev: 24)

Barring a collapse of epic proportions, Northwestern is going to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. That is a story worth paying attention to. If they can continue at their current pace, they won’t even be on the bubble, and that is awesome. If they can find a way to upset Purdue this week, I think more people will start to take them seriously.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ Purdue (8:30 pm, BTN)

 

  1. Notre Dame (Prev: 11)

The Fighting Irish have now lost three of their last four games heading into a week where they have to take on a desperate Duke team and a North Carolina team that is still trying to establish themselves as a legit championship threat. They’re picking a bad time to start struggling, but I think they are good enough to figure it out and get a couple wins this week.

This Week: Mon 1/30 vs Duke (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/4 @ North Carolina (6:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Saint Mary’s (Prev: 19)

The Gaels continue to take care of business in the weak West Coast Conference, as they are two weeks away from their biggest game of the year, a home game against undefeated Gonzaga. They have two road games this week, and have to avoid getting caught looking ahead to the Bulldogs.

This Week: Thu 2/2 @ Pacific (11:00 pm, ESPNU); Sat 2/4 @ San Diego (7:00 pm)

 

  1. Wisconsin (Prev: 17)

Wisconsin nearly fell in what could have been considered upset of the season. Thankfully for them, sophomore Ethan Happ came to the rescue, and the Badgers were able to fend off Rutgers in overtime. This is a good team with a lot of postseason experience, but they need to play better than they did against Rutgers if they are going to be considered a title contender.

This Week: Tue 1/31 @ Illinois (9:00 pm, BTN); Sun 2/5 vs Indiana (1:00 pm, CBS)

 

  1. Purdue (Prev: 13)

Purdue is a really good team with some really questionable losses, including Saturday to Nebraska. Caleb Swanigan is one of the best players in the country, but the rest of the team needs to step up and help him. They face two Top-25 opponents this week, and wins in both games would go a long way.

This Week: Wed 2/1 vs Northwestern (8:30 pm, BTN); Sat 2/4 @ Maryland (12:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Butler (Prev: 14)

Butler has won a lot of big games this season. They’ve also lost a few bad ones, including this past weekend at home to Georgetown. I have no doubts that they are one of the 20 most talented teams in the country, but these bad losses are forcing them to win all of their big games, and they have another this week as they host Creighton.

This Week: Tue 1/31 vs Creighton (7:00 pm, FS1)

 

  1. Cincinnati (Prev: 18)

Unfortunately for the Bearcats, there just aren’t many quality wins to be had in the American Conference, but a non-conference win over Xavier this past week helps their resume. To secure a top seed in the Tournament, Cincy can’t afford many losses down the stretch. That might not be a worry though, as they are on quite the roll right now.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ Tulsa (9:00 pm, CBSSN); Sat 2/4 vs UConn (4:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Virginia (Prev: 16)

The Cavaliers gave Villanova everything they had and then some, and still couldn’t come out on top. It was the best game they played this season, and it answered some questions that I had about them. KenPom loves them, AP voters love them, I just don’t love them. If they can continue to play like they did Sunday, then maybe they can make a run at an ACC title.

This Week: Wed 2/1 vs Virginia Tech (8:00 pm, ACCN/ESPN3); Sat 2/4 @ Syracuse (12:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. West Virginia (Prev: 15)

A great response from the Mountaineers this past week, following their back-to-back losses with home wins over Kansas and Texas A&M. But in the Big 12, there’s no time to rest on your laurels, as they’ll travel to Ames to take on Iowa State Tuesday, then they’ll host one of the top offensive teams in the nation, Oklahoma State, on Saturday.

This Week: Tue 1/31 @ Iowa State (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 vs Oklahoma State (5:00 pm, ESPNU)

 

  1. UCLA (Prev: 9)

The Bruins had a chance to bounce back from the disappointing loss to Arizona with a trip across LA to take on USC. Unfortunately for them, they suffered yet another disappointing setback. UCLA struggles mightily on the defensive end, and they have become way too dependent on super frosh Lonzo Ball. The rest of the team needs to step up if this team is going to reach their lofty goals.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ Washington State (9:00 pm, P12N); Sat 2/4 @ Washington (10:30 pm, P12N)

 

  1. Oregon (Prev: 10)

The Ducks had their 17-game winning streak snapped by Colorado on Saturday, and it will be extremely important to see how they respond. After surely getting through Arizona State on Thursday, Oregon’s next two games are against Arizona and UCLA, their toughest competition for the Pac 12 crown.

This Week: Thu 2/2 vs Arizona State (11:00 pm, FS1); Sat 2/4 vs Arizona (4:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. North Carolina (Prev: 6)

I don’t think it’s that surprising that North Carolina fell on the road to Miami. However, I do think it’s surprising how they lost. The Hurricanes dominated the whole game, winning by a 77-62 margin. The Tar Heels are still a championship contender in my opinion, but they can help solidify that standing with wins this week over Pitt and Notre Dame.

This Week: Tue 1/31 vs Pittsburgh (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 vs Notre Dame (6:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Florida State (Prev: 5)

Quite a disappointing week for the Seminoles. After going 5-1 against six straight ranked conference foes, Florida State followed it up with back-to-back losses on the road to unranked Georgia Tech and Syracuse. I find it hard to blame them though, as a letdown should have been expected. They need to bounce back with wins over Miami and Clemson this week.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ Miami FL (8:00 pm, ACCN/ESPN3); Sun 2/5 vs Clemson (12:30 pm, ESPNU)

 

  1. Louisville (Prev: 12)

The ACC is stacked this season, and the best team in the conference, at least right now, might be the Louisville Cardinals. Despite the obvious distractions, Rick Pitino has his team focused on the task at hand, which is winning a National Championship. They’ll head to Boston College on Saturday, before a massive game in Charlottesville against Virginia next Monday.

This Week: Sat 2/4 @ Boston College (3:00 pm, ACCN/ESPN3)

 

  1. Arizona (Prev: 8)

Other than the undefeated Zags, I don’t think there’s a hotter team in the country than the Arizona Wildcats, and that’s scary, because they just got back maybe their best player in Allonzo Trier, so conventional wisdom says that they’ll only get better from here. They have a huge game this Saturday in Eugene against Oregon. That game could go a long way in determining who wins the Pac 12.

This Week: Thu 2/2 @ Oregon State (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 @ Oregon (4:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Kentucky (Prev: 4)

Kentucky does not lose at Rupp Arena under John Calipari. That’s just the way it is. And that is why it is extremely surprising that Kansas was able to go in there and come away victorious on Saturday, handing the Wildcats their second home loss of the season. Kentucky will be okay (I think), but some comments that Calipari has made recently give me some pause. They need to go into Gainesville and beat Florida on Saturday.

This Week: Tue 1/31 vs Georgia (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/4 @ Florida (8:15 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Baylor (Prev: 7)

The Bears are far from the most talented team in the country, but it’s hard to deny that they are one of the top five teams in the nation given the results. They are somewhat quietly building what I believe is the best Tournament resume of any team (including Gonzaga), and they have a great chance to add to it with a trip to Lawrence coming on Wednesday. If they can beat Kansas at the Phog, I think that would possibly solidify them as the top team in the country.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ Kansas (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 vs Kansas State (3:00 pm, ESPNNEWS)

 

  1. Villanova (Prev: 1)

A very rare late-game collapse led to Nova being handed their second loss of the season at the hands of Marquette last week. They were able to bounce back thanks to a buzzer-beating tip-in from redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo to defeat Virginia on Sunday. They fell to 4th in the AP Poll this week, but I still think they have a claim to the top spot for sure.

This Week: Wed 2/1 @ Providence (7:00 pm, FS1); Sat 2/4 vs St. John’s (8:00 pm, CBSSN)

 

  1. Kansas (Prev: 2)

Morgantown is one of the toughest places to play this year, so it’s not surprising that Kansas fell there. And when it comes to bouncing back, they did it in a big way by going into Lexington and knocking off Kentucky in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday. That was without question Kansas’s biggest win of the season, and they have a chance to follow it up at home Wednesday when they take on the red-hot Baylor Bears.

This Week: Wed 2/1 vs Baylor (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 vs Iowa State (2:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Gonzaga (Prev: 3)

It took losses from the teams ahead of them, but Gonzaga is finally getting the respect that they deserve, from AP voters, from Ken Pomeroy and from me. It’s hard to deny the Zags the top spot right now, given their undefeated record which includes wins over Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Saint Mary’s. BYU could trip them up at home this week, and a trip to Saint Mary’s is not far off. But if the Bulldogs keep winning, they’ll stay at the top.

This Week: Thu 2/2 @ BYU (11:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/4 vs Santa Clara (11:00 pm, ESPNU)

NFL Week 3

We are two weeks into the season, and only a quarter of the league is undefeated (even less than that now with New England’s win over Houston last night). We still have 15 weeks to go, but there are some things that are starting to take shape. We can see some teams that are going to be major factors at the end of the season, and some other teams that already look like their seasons are over.

This week, I’ll give my Top-10 teams, I’ll look at which hot takes I’m buying into and which ones I’m selling for now, and I’ll finish it off with a look at who you should start and sit in fantasy this week.

Jay’s Top-10 Teams

1 – New England Patriots
An easy win over Miami with Garoppolo at quarterback, and an even easier win over Houston with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. I think every team in the NFL should be scared due to how New England is performing without its future 1st-ballot Hall of Fame QB. If you didn’t think so before last night, now you know that this is the best team in the league right now.

2 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh won a physical, sloppy game over division rival Cincinnati on Sunday. They turned the ball over a few times, but we can chalk that up to the conditions and an above-average Bengals defense. One more week without Le’Veon Bell, but DeAngelo Williams has filled in quite nicely. That will be a hell of a two-headed monster in a couple weeks.

3 – Carolina Panthers
Cam and company took care of business this week in their home opener with a 46-27 win over San Francisco. That’s a lot of points to give up, but when your offense can almost hang 50, you’re going to win most games. A huge matchup with the scary Minnesota Vikings defense comes this week.

4 – Arizona Cardinals
As I expected, Arizona bounced back this week with a statement 40-7 win over the Buccaneers. The entire team was clicking, and with San Fran, Seattle and LA all looking subpar at best, it looks like the Cards could run away with the division this year.

5 – Denver Broncos
We all knew the Broncos defense was good, but, and I know this sounds a little crazy, they might be better than we even thought. They kept Andrew Luck in check and scored twice themselves on Sunday. Von Miller is a machine, and throwing against that secondary cannot be done confidently (I wouldn’t think anyway). With the Chiefs and Raiders having issues, the Broncos appear to be in the AFC West driver’s seat.

6 – Green Bay Packers
The Packers suffered a setback this week in their 17-14 loss to Minnesota, but I wouldn’t worry too much. The offense isn’t really clicking just yet, but it will. Don’t read too much into their struggles through two weeks, they are still a Super Bowl contender.

7 – Minnesota Vikings
It was looking like a great time to get excited about the Vikings’ prospects for this season, and then Adrian Peterson went down with a knee injury. The projected timetable varies anywhere from four days to four weeks to four months, so we’ll have to wait and see on that. But I think this team, even without AP, is a Top-10 team led by their defense, which has looked absolutely fantastic through the first two weeks.

8 – Houston Texans
I’m not ready to give up on the Texans just yet, especially considering the win last Sunday over Kansas City, but my goodness did they look awful in New England last night. I recognize that it was their first road game, but c’mon man. The offense didn’t run a play in NE territory until late in the 3rd quarter, and the defense, which looked so good the first two weeks, couldn’t stop Jacoby Brissett making his first career start. This team isn’t dead yet, but they need to rebound next week.

9 – Kansas City Chiefs
I might have had the Chiefs ranked a little high last week, but I liked what I saw in their comeback against San Diego. That being said, they really flipped the script on me this past week against Houston. Alex Smith looked horrendous, and without a 100% Jamaal Charles, that could spell some trouble for them down the line. They are expected to get Charles back this week against the Jets, but we do not know just how healthy he is yet.

10 – Seattle Seahawks
Alright, now it’s definitely time to panic. The Seahawks offense looks downright anemic, and that’s not to take away from the Rams defense, but man, Pete Carroll has his work cut out for him. The defense is going to have to hold teams to 14 points or less, and that might not even be enough. They are only still in my Top-10 because of their defense.

Next Five Up – New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens

Buy or Sell

We’re only two weeks into the season, but you’ll see a lot of people taking these small sample sizes and making predictions for the rest of the season. Here are some things I’ve heard from experts and the like, which ones I’m buying into and which ones I think we should hold off on for at least a little while longer.

Buying:

Houston Texans as Super Bowl Contenders
Maybe I’m being a bit premature, but based on what I’ve seen through two weeks, I am on the Texans’ bandwagon. Now granted, their first two games were both at home, one against a terrible Bears team and the other against a Chiefs team playing without Jamaal Charles, who is arguably their best player. That being said, these Texans have the look of a team that can compete for a title. Brock Osweiler has started off nicely in Houston, and he has lots of weapons around him. Lamar Miller has been as advertised, DeAndre Hopkins is probably one of the five best receivers in football, and rookie 2nd Round pick Will Fuller just became the first rookie to start his career with two 100-yard games since DeSean Jackson. Add that to one of the best defenses in the league led by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, and I think you have the recipe for a team that could make some serious noise in January.

*So I wrote that little blurb on Tuesday of this week, and as I should have expected, they went and laid an egg against the Patriots. I still believe most of what I wrote, but better to disregard it*

Downfall of Seattle
All I keep hearing is that the Seahawks always seem to struggle in September, but they eventually figure it out, and they will again this year. It just seems different this time around though. Don’t get me wrong, the defense is still elite, but even the best defenses need their offenses to contribute at least a little bit. Right now, the Seahawks offense is atrocious. It all starts in the trenches, and even though the O-line wasn’t great when they went to back-to-back Super Bowls, it has gotten progressively worse. Pro Football Focus ranked Seattle’s O-line dead last in the league entering this season, and it shows. Russell Wilson is running for his life (if he even gets a chance to run) and there are no holes for Thomas Rawls or Christine Michael. Remember, Marshawn Lynch created a lot of the holes on his own. Neither Rawls nor Michael are talented enough to do what Beast Mode could do. This team may be able to figure it out and sneak into the playoffs, but they’ll have some rough sledding ahead, and it’ll take a transformation of sorts to get them there.

Kelvin Benjamin as a Top-10 WR
We saw glimpses of greatness from him as a rookie in 2014 when he totaled 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns. That’s quite a stat line for a rookie. There was lots of buzz for his second season in Carolina, but he proceeded to suffer a torn ACL during training camp, ending his 2015 season before it could start. Many experts ranked him cautiously given the knee injury, and how it is difficult to project how a player will bounce back. If the small sample size is any indication, Benjamin has responded swimmingly. He has 13 grabs for 199 yards and 3 scores in the first two games of the season, and has picked up right where he left off as Cam Newton’s top target. At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Benjamin is a terror for opposing cornerbacks and safeties, and if he can stay healthy, he is on his way to getting back in the conversation as one of the top wideouts in the league.

Selling:

The Wentz Wagon
Before a bunch of Eagles fans show up at my house with torches and pitchforks, just hear me out. I think that Carson Wentz has looked really good through his first two career games. He has showed nice touch, good accuracy and an ability to move in the pocket and create some plays. I think the future could be bright for him. That being said, it cannot be ignored who he is playing against. The Browns and Bears’ secondaries were ranked 25th and 31st in the league respectively by Pro Football Focus entering this season, and the Eagles have dominated these two mediocre teams to the point where Wentz has yet to be put in a high-pressure situation. He has the tools to succeed in those situations, but we won’t know until we see it. That should come as soon as this Sunday when he faces his first true test against perennial Super Bowl contenders, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Again, I think the future is bright for Carson Wentz, and I am impressed by his performance thus far, but I think everyone needs to pump the brakes a little bit on the Wentz Wagon and wait to see how he performs against much stiffer competition.

Todd Gurley’s Struggles
I don’t really have anything statistical to explain my stance on this (other than Gurley’s stats from last season, which were 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games), but I think it’s too early to worry about Todd Gurley. Yes, he’s had a rough start to the season, totaling 98 yards on 36 carries (2.7 YPC) through the first two games of the season. There are a combination of factors that could explain this though. While the 49ers defense is not strong, the strength of it is the front seven. Also, the Rams were down early in that game, and Gurley did not get much run in the second half of that game. In Week 2, the Rams were facing the always stout Seattle run defense, so rough sledding was to be expected for Gurley. LA’s offensive line is not great, but they should improve as the season wears on. I also expect Jeff Fisher to get the passing game going, whether it’s Keenum or Goff, and that should open up some more running room for Gurley. He’s running against 8-man boxes, and that’s not easy for anybody. Todd Gurley is just way too talented a rusher for these struggles to continue. I think he’s just having a tough time getting it going here in the beginning of the season, and with time will come improvement.

An Improved Jaguars Squad
There was a ton of hype entering the season around this supposedly improved Jacksonville Jaguars team. In fact, I recall Jeff and I sitting at the bar one day during training camp, and two NFL Network analysts went through the Jags schedule. They predicted a 10-6 season. Jeff and I laughed hysterically. If memory serves, we agreed that 8-8 was a realistic goal, but 10-6 was a major stretch, and they were still at least another year away from competing for a playoff spot. And here we are, two weeks into the season, and I think the Jags are clearly the weakest team in the AFC South. Their run game is still virtually inexistent (granted Chris Ivory is yet to make his debut, but I think the O-line is the biggest reason for that), Blake Bortles has yet to take the next step in his development and despite a huge focus on defense in the offseason, they just gave up 38 points to a mediocre Chargers team missing Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead, its two biggest playmakers. A home game against Baltimore this week is a good opportunity for Gus Bradley to start to right the ship. The Ravens are 2-0, but haven’t looked overly impressive in getting there. If the Jags fall to 0-3, the season may already be over.

 

Fantasy Start/Sit

As with last week, and as it will be each week moving forward, you won’t start or sit all of these guys depending on who else you have on your roster. This is more just a look at who is playing well or struggling, and which players have good matchups this week and which ones don’t.

Quarterbacks

Start
Matt Ryan
There’s no better streaming option this week at quarterback than Matt Ryan. He just torched the Raiders’ defense last week, and now gets a matchup with what might be an even worse secondary in New Orleans. If you have Matt Ryan, you start him this week.

Philip Rivers
I don’t care that he’s missing his two best playmakers. Playing indoors against the Colts is the perfect recipe for a big game from Mr. Bolo Tie.

Sit
Russell Wilson
Now obviously, depending who else you have on your roster at QB, you’re probably going to start Wilson this week against San Fran. But what I’m telling you is that if you have even a decent second option, start them this week. Until the Seahawks figure out what’s wrong, I wouldn’t feel confident about putting him in my lineup.

Carson Wentz
I know a lot of you are on the hype train, but despite how well he’s played, he hasn’t put up numbers yet to suggest you should be starting him in fantasy. Especially not against the Steelers defense.

Running Backs

Start
Theo Riddick
Ameer Abdullah was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a foot injury, and that makes Riddick the clear #1 back in Detroit. It’s not a fantastic matchup against Green Bay, but Riddick was already the pass catching back, and now he’s probably also the lead runner. He is a solid RB2 this week, and every week after this as long as Abdullah is on the shelf.

Tevin Coleman
I think that both Coleman and starter Devonta Freeman are solid plays this week against the Saints, but take this suggestion as your glimpse into the future. As this season wears on, Coleman will slowly (but surely) continue to eat into Freeman’s usage share. Freeman had more yards last week against Oakland, but Coleman found the end zone. If you have both, I’d consider starting Coleman over Freeman this week (or start both).

Sit
Spencer Ware
Time is running out for those of you who scooped up Ware when it was announced that Jamaal Charles wouldn’t be ready for the season opener. Charles is expected to make his debut this week, and while that alone takes away value from Ware, they also face the Jets’ very good run defense. This combination of factors means you should probably try your best to avoid starting Ware this week.

Asiata/McKinnon/Whittaker/Artis-Payne
This is the collection of backs that are going to be replacing the injured Adrian Peterson and Jonathan Stewart, and let me be the one to tell you not to start any of them. For one thing, we have no clue how the snaps will be split for any of them. Also, the teams are facing each other, and both the Vikings and Panthers have excellent run defenses. You can be excited if you were able to pick up any of these guys, but don’t start them this week.

Wide Receivers

Start
Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb
I know you’re probably starting these guys regardless, but I just want to make you feel a little more comfortable about it. I know Aaron Rodgers is struggling, and the offense looks out of sync, but there’s nothing to cure that faster than a matchup with the Lions. Nelson and Cobb are both great plays this week.

Tajae Sharpe
I like to think that the Raiders are going to figure it out defensively at some point this season, but until they do, it’s a good idea to start any receivers you have facing them. This week, that’s Tajae Sharpe of the Titans. He has yet to break out like people thought he might, but there’s a good chance we could see that breakout game this week.

Sit
Sammy Watkins
Rex Ryan says they need to get the ball in Sammy’s hands more often. That’s all well and good, but a guy by the name of Patrick Peterson is most likely going to be shadowing Watkins for the entire game Sunday. That’s not all well and good. Watkins should be fine for the season, but this week, I’d do whatever I could to avoid putting him in your lineup.

John Brown
Poor John Brown. The guy has so much potential, and for whatever reason, he just can’t seem to put it all together. He’s been targeted just seven times through two games, and it seems like Palmer prefers Jaron Brown as a deep threat. Maybe they’re trying to bring him along slowly due to his preseason head injury, but for right now, you just can’t start this guy.

Tight Ends

Start
Jacob Tamme
Who is the second highest scoring tight end so far this year in PPR leagues? That’s right, it’s Jacob Tamme. Despite the presence of Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper and Freeman/Coleman, Jacob Tamme has put up solid numbers so far this season. He was targeted EIGHT times last week against Oakland, and could see a similar target share this week against New Orleans. I think Tamme is a must-start this week.

Dennis Pitta
Pitta has 12 receptions through two games (tied with Olsen, Reed and Witten for the most among tight ends), and has easily outperformed Maxx Williams and Crockett Gilmore. Joe Flacco loves his tight ends, and it’s another great matchup this week against Jacksonville. You can do much worse than Pitta.

Sit
Coby Fleener
Jeff touched on this last week, but for the love of God, sit Coby Fleener on your bench. Better yet, drop him from your team. There are options on your waiver wire that will produce more consistently for you than Fleener will (Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Kyle Rudolph just to name a few). Fleener is not worth owning, as he and Drew Brees just do not have any chemistry. One catch Week 1, two catches Week 2. Unless he continues to catch the same number of passes as the week of the game, he’s not worth having on your team.

Trey Burton
I know you’ll probably be tempted to add him to your roster after a nice performance Monday night, but I wouldn’t start him this week against Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ linebackers are very good against tight ends (they shut down CJ Uzomah last week and held Jordan Reed somewhat in check Week 1), and I think the entire Eagles’ passing game could struggle. I’m fine if you want to roster Burton until Zach Ertz returns, but don’t start him this week.

NFL Week 2 Preview

Each week, We Love Sportz will give you a look at the upcoming week in the NFL. I will be joined by my friend and writer for FantasyPros, Jeffrey Greco, as we each give you our Top-10 teams, look at which teams are trending up and down, tell you who to start and sit in fantasy football, and tell you which games deserve your attention. We’ll start it off with Jeff’s Top-10 before Week 2.

Jeff’s Top-10 Teams

1 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh made a statement with their 38-16 win in Washington on Monday Night Football without Le’Veon Bell or Markus Wheaton. Their offense will roll all year long.

2 – New England Patriots
The Patriots beat an NFC Super Bowl contender without Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, or Dion Lewis on offense. Holding the Cardinals to 21 points is no easy task, making Palmer look like he still played for Oakland.

3 – Green Bay Packers
The Pack is back. Jordy Nelson looked healthy, Eddie Lacy thinned out, and Davante Adams didn’t look incompetent. If their defense can hold teams back enough, Rodgers and Co. should put up plenty of points per game.

4 – Houston Texans
Houston at 4? That’s right. Osweiler looked good in his debut, and already has a great chemistry with weapons Lamar Miller, Will Fuller, and DeAndre Hopkins. When J.J. Watt is less limited, their defense will also terrorize teams, making them a scary team to play.

5 – Arizona Cardinals
Everybody is already saying that without a botched snap, they Cardinals should have won 24-23. I agree, but there are some minor concerns. Arizona can’t become totally reliant on Larry Fitzgerald to carry the offense every game.

6 – Seattle Seahawks
Seattle did a terrific job on defense, limiting Miami to 250 yards and 10 points. However, with Wilson hobbled and the running game less dominant, they could seemingly struggle to put up points in future weeks.

7 – Carolina Panthers
Without a doubt, Carolina wins the season opener if the referees call the (multiple) illegal contact penalties on Denver. Regardless, Cam didn’t look like himself all game, and the Panthers defense let Trevor Siemian put up 14 points in the 4th quarter.

8 – Denver Broncos
Speaking of Denver, they still deserve to be a Top-10 team. However, they are primarily carried by the defense and C.J. Anderson. This is great, but can they get it done with “average” quarterback play all year in the AFC West?

9 – Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr will have something to say about that. Oakland went all-in Sunday to beat New Orleans and succeeded. They have a potent offense and a great pass rush. The only worry would be their secondary, which looked god awful on Sunday.

10 – Kansas City Chiefs
Without Jamaal Charles, Kansas City stormed back from a 27-10 deficit in the 4th quarter. Alex Smith had a career game and Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West looked great in the backfield. If only they somehow didn’t let San Diego grab a big lead in the first place.

Next 5 Up – Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts

Jay’s Top-10 Teams

1 – New England Patriots
No Gronk, no Brady, no Lewis, no Ninkovich, no problem. Yes, they were one bad snap away from a loss, but I don’t care how you do it, you defeat the Cardinals in Arizona, that is a big deal. Just wait til this team gets Brady back.

2 – Pittsburgh Steelers
I was big on the Steelers offense going into the season, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well their defense played on the road in Washington under the bright lights on the big MNF stage. This team will get a big boost in a couple weeks with the return of Le’Veon Bell.

3 – Carolina Panthers
Yes, they lost on Thursday night. But Cam Newton was beat up (illegally for the most part), and they were still on the road in a hostile environment against one of, if not the, best defenses in the history of the league. The Panthers will be fine.

4 – Green Bay Packers
I’m not surprise that the Packers had to squeak one out in Jacksonville, but they earned the win, and there was a lot of good to take from the game. Jordy Nelson looks like his old self, and that means that Aaron Rodgers should be back to his old self. That’s good news for GB fans.

5 – Kansas City Chiefs
I’m willing to forget all about the 1st half of the game on Sunday. I think this team is a Super Bowl contender, and they stepped up and played that way in the 2nd half and overtime. A big matchup with the Texans looms in week 2.

6 – Houston Texans
The jury remains out on Brock Osweiler, but the Texans looked good on Sunday in their 23-14 win over Chicago. Lamar Miller played well, Will Fuller caught a touchdown (and dropped another), and the defense played as advertised.

7 – Arizona Cardinals
I don’t think it’s time to panic yet, but the Cardinals should have easily handled a depleted Patriots team at home on Sunday night. Bruce Arians got out-coached, simple as that. They get to stay at home this week, but they’ll be tested again by the Buccaneers.

8 – Seattle Seahawks
It could be time to panic for the Seahawks though. The offense looked downright anemic at times during the game against Miami. They played well when they needed too, but Russell Wilson is now hobbled, and the game was at home. They need to play better against a team like the Dolphins in front of the 12th Man.

9 – Oakland Raiders
It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. The Raiders are going to compete for a division title this year, and they will depend big time on Derek Carr. The defense struggled Sunday, but we have to remember that the Saints have one of the most high-powered offenses in the league.

10 – Denver Broncos
Yes, the defense is still elite, and that defense will single-handedly win them some games. That being said, Trevor Siemian is just not a good quarterback. He’s going to single-handedly lose them some games.

Next Five Up – Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens

 

Trending Up/Trending Down

Up:

1 – Detroit Lions
Detroit is a team I had counted out all year long and while their defense is still very bad, their offense functioned very well without Megatron. In fact, it was running backs Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah that thrived in the passing game on Sunday.

2 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is certainly trending up and creeping towards the Top-10. Winston is the real deal, and Evans, Martin and Sims are great targets to have. Their run defense looked great and if they can hold back the passing game, they could compete for the division title.

3 – New York Giants
The Giants are my current favorite to win the NFC East. Now, that isn’t saying much, but their offense is their lifeblood and they have a lot going for them. Beckham Jr. is legitimate, Vereen seems to fit more in the system this year, Victor Cruz looked like his old self, and rookie Shepard is already contributing.

Down:

1 – Los Angeles Rams
Wow are these Rams bad. I mean, I thought they would struggle and post a Jeff Fisher type 6-10 or 7-9, but this week’s final game was hard to watch. Case Keenum couldn’t pass. Todd Gurley couldn’t get past the line of scrimmage. The defense couldn’t stop the predictable Chip Kelly offense. I think they get crushed this week by a hobbled Seattle.

2 – Washington Football Team
“Do you like that” Washington Football Team? I knew you were overrated, but boy did Monday night tell me how much. Kirk Cousins looked awful when he was targeting anybody but Jordan Reed. They didn’t keep Josh Norman on Antonio Brown all night either. Dysfunction and drama will fill the season, and they won’t make the playoffs.

3 – San Diego Chargers
Even without the loss of Keenan Allen for the year, the Chargers always seem to be trending down. Sure, Melvin Gordon looked decent, but they blew a 17-point lead in the 4th quarter. Rivers will focus on elders Woodhead and Gates for the remainder of the year, which doesn’t bode well for this bottom-5 team.

 

Jeff’s Fantasy Start/Sit

*Note from Jayson: Please do not take these literally. These are just players that Jeff thinks will have either good weeks or bad weeks, or have good matchups or bad matchups. I would never suggest you start Joe Flacco over Cam Newton, but I might suggest you start Joe Flacco over Blake Bortles/Philip Rivers/etc.

Quarterbacks

Start:
Eli Manning
Eli plays the depleted Saints secondary in Week 2. If he was drafted as part of a committee, he is your play this week.

Matthew Stafford
Albeit being drafted so late, Stafford has another great matchup versus Tennessee in Week 2. Start him over the likes of Luck (versus Denver) this week.

Joe Flacco
Even without the Perriman, Flacco still has Wallace and Smith to throw to. When he plays Cleveland’s defense in Week 2, you’ll be happy you started him.

Sit:
Andrew Luck
If you have the luxury of a good backup, this is the week to sit Andrew Luck, as he faces off against the terrific Broncos defense.

Kirk Cousins
I am not convinced that he will play well against Dallas. It will be a low scoring game that is run-focused. Don’t force your hand with Cousins.

Alex Smith
Don’t you dare start Alex Smith after his fantastic game 1. Kansas City will be playing Houston in Week 2 and won’t be getting much of anywhere offensively.

Running Back

Start:
Stars
For the love of Harambe, poor Week 1 performances should not make you bench the likes of Adrian Peterson or Todd Gurley

Latavius Murray
Many people don’t like Murray for the remainder of the season. Well, in Week 2 he’s going to play Atlanta and their awful front seven. He’s an RB1 in my eyes.

T.J. Yeldon
With Chris Ivory still potentially out for Week 2, Yeldon should be a solid RB2 in any league, especially against San Diego.

Christine Michael/Thomas Rawls
These are both flex plays, but the Seattle RBs could be leaned on heavily with Wilson hobbled by an ankle injury. Expect them to put up good numbers against Los Angeles.

Super Important PPR Headline: Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead is a must-start in PPR every week that the Chargers don’t play the Broncos. Against Jacksonville, Woodhead should have seven catches and a score.

Sit:
Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman
If you can swing this with other RBs on your team, bench Freeman this week. Oakland has a great front seven that will stop both Freeman and Coleman from getting anywhere this week.

Frank Gore
You’ll be able to use Gore as a Flex/RB2 one day, but not this week. Playing Denver will make Gore an irrelevant part of the game.

Jamaal Charles
Even if he plays, he won’t get the full workload of carries. Keep Charles on your bench until he has a successful game.

Wide Receivers

Start:
Golden Tate
The Lions will take on the subject secondary of the Titans in Week 2, and you’re going to want Tate’s 8 catches, 110 yards and touchdown in your starting lineup.

Willie Snead
Snead is a Flex play every week, and a WR2 this week when he plays the New York Giants, whose secondary hasn’t been good for years. Expect another 80 yards and a score.

Sterling Shepard
Also in the New Orleans/New York game is rookie Shepard, who should see significant work in the passing game against the Saints’ awful secondary.

Sit:
Mike Evans
I know you probably drafted Evans as your WR1, but Patrick Peterson will follow him all over the field this week. He’ll need to score a touchdown to be worth his ranking this week.

TY Hilton
TY Hilton is a boom/bust player who doesn’t get consistent volume. I will go out on a limb and say that his upside for a big game is limited by the Denver defense.

Tyler Lockett
With Wilson injured, I wouldn’t start any receiver but Baldwin for Seattle. Even if they are playing the Rams.

Tight End

Start:
Antonio Gates
Read this now, but Gates is a top-10 tight end for the rest of the season. I don’t care how old he is, but he is a must-start nearly every week.

Gary Barnidge
Barnidge was successful because Josh McCown was present. Now that he’s back, Barnidge should put up Top-10 numbers.

Jason Witten
Witten was a favorite target of Prescott in his debut, and I’d expect that to continue in Week 2 versus Washington.

Sit:
Coby Fleener
I might have to put this guy here every week. He shouldn’t even be on your fantasy team. He shouldn’t have been ranked as a top-8 tight end. He can’t catch. AND is the SIXTH option in the passing game behind Cooks, Snead, Thomas, Ingram and Cadet. Please just don’t. Drop him now and add Clive Walford or Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Add Jacob Tamme for crying out loud. At least he gets targeted! I can not stress enough how useless I think this guy is. Trade him for the Saints defense. They might have more touchdowns by the end of the year.

Martellus Bennett
Bennett was primarily used as a blocker in his first game, and I’d expect that to continue when Gronkowski and Brady both return.

Jimmy Graham
Who? Oh yeah this guy. Don’t be tempted by his name. His quarterback is hurt and he isn’t the player he used to be.

Jay’s Matchups of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals (1-0) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)
Sunday 9/18, 1:00 pm CBS

This game will always be enjoyable to watch. I don’t know if there are any two teams who hate each other more than the Bengals and the Steelers. Add on top that it’s the Steelers’ home opener, and this one should be fun. Reportedly the officials have been put on alert for the game due to the history between these two teams. That’s all I need to hear to make me tune in.

Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) @ Houston Texans (1-0)
Sunday 9/18, 1:00 pm CBS

Two teams I have in my Top-5 will do battle with some early season momentum on the line. The Chiefs come in riding high off of their huge comeback victory over the Chargers, while the Texans had a come-from-behind victory of their own over the Bears. I don’t expect this game to be high scoring, and could come down to which offense can make a big play at the end of the game.

Green Bay Packers (1-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-0)
Sunday 9/18, 8:30 pm NBC

The Vikings will open their brand new stadium as they play host to their bitter rivals, the Green Bay Packers. Could we see the Minnesota debut of Sam Bradford? Potentially, but with Aaron Rodgers in town, this one will probably come down to how good the Vikings defense can play, coming off of a two touchdown performance last week against Tennessee.

That is all for We Love Sportz’s Week 2 NFL preview. Good luck to all you fantasy players this week, and enjoy Week 2 of the football season!

NCAA Tournament Preview: Sweet 16

I hope everybody has recovered from one of the most incredible weekends in the history of sport. Every year, the NCAA Tournament delivers tons of heart-pounding action that even non-basketball fans can’t help but enjoy. This year, it upped the ante. A weekend filled with dramatic, emotional games, capped off by possibly the most improbable comeback in basketball history and a fall-away three from the corner as time expired to send a team to this second weekend of action. Those weren’t the only two amazing finishes though, as there were just too many to list. If you missed out, shame on you, but that’s okay, because there’ll hopefully be more this weekend!

Four games each on Thursday and Friday will decide who advances to the Regional Finals for a shot at reaching the Final Four next Saturday, April 2, in Houston. Here is a preview of the Sweet 16!

South Region
Thursday 3/24, Louisville

#3 Miami FL vs #2 Villanova
7:10 pm CBS
Villanova was finally able to exercise some of its demons, as they have reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, when Scotty Reynolds led the Wildcats to the Final Four. They hope to make it back this year, led by Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono. Nova pretty well dominated 7-seed Iowa in the Second Round, winning 87-68. They look like they are clicking at the right time, but they’re going to have their hands full in this one with the Miami Hurricanes. After squeaking past 14-seed Buffalo in the First Round, Miami came out firing in the Second Round against 11-seed Wichita State, and led big in the first half. The Shockers came roaring back in the second half, but Miami was able to hold them off thanks to a big game from point guard Angel Rodriguez, who scored 28 points in the 65-57 victory. These two teams match up pretty well, with Villanova the better shooting team, and also better on the defensive end, but Miami is more experienced and definitely more athletic. This is a toss-up in my humble opinion, and it could come down to which team makes more shots. As they showed in the Wichita State game, if Miami gets hot, it doesn’t matter how good the defense is. That being said, I think Villanova is the better team, and I think they are on a mission to prove their doubters wrong. I like the Wildcats in a close one here.

#5 Maryland vs #1 Kansas
Approx. 9:40 pm CBS
Kansas is the #1 overall seed in this tournament, and they have proved why through the first two rounds. After easily dispatching 16-seed Austin Peay, the Jayhawks took on a red-hot UConn team, and handled them with relative ease, winning 73-61. This team doesn’t have a true superstar, but they are just solid across the board. Their weakness (if they have one) this year has been the lack of an interior presence, but Landen Lucas has really emerged here at the end of the season for them, giving them that inside presence they’ve been searching for. It hasn’t been quite as easy a trek to this point for the Maryland Terrapins, who were able to outlast 12-seed South Dakota State in the First Round, and then used a late-second half surge to defeat 13-seed Hawaii 73-60. Melo Trimble scored 24 points in that one, and it appears that he has saved his best basketball for the end of the season. Maryland is a really good team, and they could give Kansas some fits with their size, but if Kansas is going to lose, I don’t see it being to a team like Maryland. I think the Terrapins can keep this thing close in the first half, and maybe even into the second half, but Kansas will ultimately be too much, and they’ll advance to the Elite 8.

 

West Region
Thursday 3/24, Anaheim

#3 Texas A&M vs #2 Oklahoma
7:37 pm TBS
Remember that improbable comeback I talked about in the opening? The team that was able to make that comeback was Texas A&M, as they rallied from a 12-point deficit with just 44 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against 11-seed Northern Iowa. The Aggies would eventually win the game 92-88 in double OT to move on to the Sweet 16 and send the Panthers home. As amazing as it is to even just read about, it was one of the most mind-boggling things you could ever watch as a sports fan. Texas A&M will look to ride that momentum all the way to the Final Four, but standing in their way here is the 2-seed Oklahoma Sooners, who were able to fend off a strong performance from 10-seed VCU in the Second Round, winning 85-81. The Sooners gave up 50 second half points to the Rams, and that is definitely cause for concern heading into this match-up. Many people expect Texas A&M to use the momentum from their epic comeback on Sunday to propel them to Houston next weekend, but the fact that they needed a comeback like that against Northern Iowa doesn’t give me much faith that they’ll be able to hang with a team as talented as Oklahoma. It’s obvious that the Sooners have some issues on the defensive end right now, but I think they’re the better team, and they have Buddy Hield. That alone may be enough for them.

#4 Duke vs #1 Oregon
Approx. 10:07 pm TBS
Seed wise, Duke has had the easiest road to the Sweet 16 they could have possibly had. But as far as the games have gone, it has been far from easy. The Blue Devils were tested in the First Round by 13-seed UNC Wilmington, with Duke eventually coming out on top 93-85 in a high-scoring affair. In the Second Round, they’d have a re-match with 12-seed Yale, a team they beat by 19 in November. After trailing by 23 at halftime, the Bulldogs came all the way back in the second half, making the game really interesting. Yale just didn’t have enough though, as Duke was able to pull it out 71-64 and advance to Anaheim. Here they will take on the 1-seed in the West, the Oregon Ducks, who came out on top in a slugfest with 8-seed St. Joseph’s, 69-65. The Hawks had a chance at the end of the game, but DeAndre Bembry turned it over, allowing the Ducks to put the game away at the free throw line. Oregon is one of the most athletic teams in the country, and that can cause problems for anybody, but especially for a team as thin as Duke. Coach K has a very short bench, and I expect the Ducks to play a fast pace with that in mind. Duke is a good team, and they could absolutely win this game, but this is a terrible match-up for them, and I expect Oregon to move on to the Elite 8.

 

Midwest Region
Friday 3/25, Chicago

#4 Iowa State vs #1 Virginia
7:10 pm CBS
Many people believe that Virginia is the best team in the country, despite some questionable results during the regular season. They have looked very good through the first two rounds of this tournament though, as they easily defeated 16-seed Hampton, and then were able to grind out a victory over 9-seed Butler, 77-69. They have the ACC Player of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon, and they are arguably the best defensive team in the land. That defense will be put to the test in the Sweet 16 as they take on the Iowa State Cyclones, who scored a 94-81 win over 13-seed Iona in the First Round, and then were victorious over 12-seed Little Rock in the Second Round by a score of 78-61. The Cyclones are very well-rounded, and they look to be playing some of their best basketball when it matters the most. They like to play fast, and they are very efficient on the offensive end. That could definitely give Virginia some fits. This game could come down to Virginia’s offense and Iowa State’s defense, and which one of those can be stronger. I believe it is Virginia’s offense that will be able to do enough to score the victory here, putting the Cavaliers in the Regional Final.

#11 Gonzaga vs #10 Syracuse
Approx. 9:40 pm CBS
The only two double-digit seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 this year will face each other here in the Midwest Region, meaning we are guaranteed a double-digit seed in the Elite 8. One of these teams, Gonzaga, has looked much better than a double-digit seed so far in this tournament. They dominated one of the hottest teams in the country, Seton Hall, in the First Round, and then wiped 3-seed Utah off of the Pepsi Center floor in the Second Round, 82-59. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis look really motivated to get this Zags team to Houston and the Final Four, something that looked far from realistic just a couple months ago. They’re going to take on the Syracuse Orange, who defeated 7-seed Dayton and 15-seed Middle Tennessee to get to this point. After losing five of six down the stretch, the Orange have looked much better in their two tourney wins, and they have a real shot at the Final Four if they can keep playing well. Their zone defense can give any team fits, but Gonzaga is a team built to do well against it. Sabonis is a force in the middle, and the Zags are shooting the ball really well from the perimeter in this tournament. If they keep playing the way they did last weekend, I like Gonzaga to win this one fairly easily, and move on to the Elite 8.

 

East Region
Friday 3/25, Philadelphia

#7 Wisconsin vs #6 Notre Dame
7:27 pm TBS
Each of these teams advanced to Philly in one of the most dramatic ways possible. The Badgers could barely score in their nail-biting First Round victory over 10-seed Pittsburgh, but in the last 15 seconds of their Second Round game with 2-seed Xavier, they got two three-pointers from point guard Bronson Koenig, including a fall-away in the corner at the buzzer to give them a 66-63 win, advancing them to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame meanwhile came back from a 12-point halftime deficit in the First Round to defeat 11-seed Michigan, and then they got a tip-in from freshman Rex Pflueger, his first field goal since March 5, with 1.2 seconds left to give them 76-75 win over 14-seed Stephen F. Austin in the Second Round. You could say that both of these teams are extremely lucky to be here, but that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. One of these teams is going to have a shot at the Final Four, and I expect it to be Notre Dame. They are the better team, and if they are able to play at least a little bit of defense, their offense should then be able to do enough to push them past the Badgers and into the Regional Finals.

#5 Indiana vs #1 North Carolina
Approx. 9:57 pm TBS
Entering this tournament, North Carolina was a popular pick to cut down the nets in Houston. After the first weekend, that hasn’t changed much. They led 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast by just one point at halftime in the First Round, but routed them in the second half. They used another dominant second half performance to defeat 9-seed Providence 85-66 in the Second Round. They are going to need to have a better first half in their Sweet 16 game, as they take on 5-seed Indiana, who destroyed 12-seed Chattanooga in the First Round, and then outlasted 4-seed Kentucky in the Second Round, winning 73-67 behind 19 points from freshman Thomas Bryant. There aren’t many teams that can match up athletically with the Tar Heels, but Indiana is one of those teams. This might be the game I’m most looking forward to in the Sweet 16, because North Carolina is a title favorite, but Indiana is playing really good basketball right now. The loss to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Hoosiers. If they play like they did against Kentucky, I think they’ll upset North Carolina. And I do believe they’ll play that well again, and you’ll see a lot of brackets busted with North Carolina being the first 1-seed knocked out.

 

I can only hope that this weekend will provide action half as good as last weekend, but rest assured, it will be exciting no matter what. Enjoy it everybody!

NCAA Second Round Preview: Saturday 3/19

I hope some of you are still breathing after these first two days of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. I’m barely hanging on. I apologize for not posting the last couple days, but with all of the amazing action, I think you can understand why. Just last night, we saw one of the favorites to win the whole thing lose to a 15-seed in the First Round, Northern Iowa down Texas on a half-court heave at the buzzer, and Cincinnati lose in heartbreaking fashion as a buzzer-beating dunk was just a hair late.

It was quite a day, and I’m looking forward to another one today! Here is a quick preview of each Second Round game taking place today.

South Region
#11 Wichita State vs #3 Miami (FL)
Providence, 12:10 pm CBS
The Hurricanes are a popular pick to advance deep in this tournament, but it took a very valiant effort for them to hold off 14-seed Buffalo on Thursday, eventually winning 79-72. Angel Rodriguez was great for Miami, tallying 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He could have a lot of trouble in this one though, as they take on Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers, who dominated 6-seed Arizona on Thursday, winning by 10. Van Vleet led the way with 16 points and 5 steals, as the Shockers looked much better than an 11-seed. Wichita State is arguably the best defensive team in the country, and it’s going to take a great game from the Hurricanes for them to advance to Louisville next week. That being said, this Wichita State team looks really good right now, and I think they’ll knock off Miami and advance to the Sweet 16.

West Region
#12 Yale vs #4 Duke
Providence, approx. 2:40 pm CBS
One of the biggest shockers of the First Round was the performance by the Yale Bulldogs, dominating Baylor on the boards and winning 79-75 for their first Tournament win in school history. Makai Mason scored 31 points for Yale, as they held off a late surge by the Bears to pull off the upset. Duke was nearly the victim of a First Round upset as well, but Marshall Plumlee exploded in the second half, and they were able to outlast UNC Wilmington 93-85. Many people had visions of a Yale-Duke rematch when the bracket was revealed, and they’ll get it. The two teams played at Cameron Indoor on November 25, with Duke winning 80-61. Duke was only up two points at half though, and they had Amile Jefferson in that game. Without Jefferson, Duke is a much weaker team inside, and we just saw Yale dominate a good interior team in Baylor. I shudder to think what they may do to Duke on the boards. Yale is a confident team right now, and I like them to pull off the upset.

East Region
#5 Indiana vs #4 Kentucky
Des Moines, 5:15 pm CBS
This is another highly anticipated Second Round match-up, as the Hoosiers and the Wildcats will reignite a rivalry that the two schools refuse to take part in during the regular season (if you didn’t know, Tom Crean and John Calipari are two very stubborn individuals). Both of these teams rolled in the First Round, with Indiana topping Chattanooga 99-74 and Kentucky besting Stony Brook 85-57. This will be one of the best point guard battles you’ll see in this tournament, as Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis will go one-on-one, and it should be highly entertaining. The difference in this game will be in the paint, where Indiana has some talent, led by freshman Thomas Bryant, but where Kentucky overwhelms some teams with the triumvirate of Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere. I think Kentucky will be too much for Indiana down low, and they’ll head to Philly and the East regional semis.

Midwest Region
#12 Little Rock vs #4 Iowa State
Denver, 6:10 pm TNT
Another stunner on Thursday was the Little Rock Trojans taking Purdue to double-overtime before coming away with an improbable 85-83 victory. Purdue had a 12-point lead fairly late and coughed it up when Little Rock started to pressure full-court, bothering the Boilermakers. Iowa State meanwhile was able to outscore the Iona Gaels 94-81, getting a somewhat comfortable win. The Cyclones have very lofty expectations, and they’ll have to play a completely different type of game here in the Second Round. Iona plays very little defense, while Little Rock pressures teams heavily on the defensive end. The Trojans are a nice story, and if they play like they did on Thursday they’ll have a shot, but I think Iowa State is just too talented and too motivated, and they’ll advance to Anaheim.

Midwest Region
#9 Butler vs #1 Virginia
Raleigh, 7:10 pm TBS
Virginia made fairly easy work of 16-seed Hampton in the First Round, winning 81-45 behind 19 points from forward Anthony Gill. Butler was able to come away victorious in a back-and-forth battle with Texas Tech, pulling away at the end and winning 71-61. Kellen Dunham scored 23 points, including 5-9 from three-point range for the Bulldogs. Butler is a very good offensive team, led by seniors Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, who I’m sure will be motivated to keep their careers going. But I just don’t think the Bulldogs have enough firepower to contend with the tenacious defense of the Cavaliers. It’s been a crazy year, and anything can happen here, but I like Virginia to win this one going away.

South Region
#9 UConn vs #1 Kansas
Des Moines, approx. 7:45 pm CBS
Kansas is considered by many to be the best team in this tournament, and they gave us a glimpse as to why in their First Round victory over 16-seed Austin Peay. The Jayhawks put up 105 points, led by 23 off the bench for guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (last name pronunced: mick-hi-look). Devonte Graham didn’t score in the game, which shows you how deep this team is. UConn struggled both early and late in their First Round game, but a good run in the middle of the second half was able to help the Huskies to a 74-67 win over 8-seed Colorado. Based on everything that happened in the First Round, I’d say it wouldn’t be very shocking to see UConn pull off an upset here. Kevin Ollie is a great postseason coach, and UConn is one of the few teams that can actually match-up well with the guard play and depth of Kansas. UConn operates in a similar fashion to the Jayhawks. Kansas will be favored pretty heavily, and for good reason, and I think they will come out on top. But don’t be that surprised if UConn puts together a great performance and moves on to Louisville.

Midwest Region
#11 Gonzaga vs #3 Utah
Denver, approx. 8:40 pm TNT
One of the biggest shockers for me, maybe not for everyone, but for me was how easily Gonzaga dispatched of 6-seed Seton Hall in the First Round. The Pirates won the Big East Tournament and were a trendy pick to advance deep in the tourney. Domantas Sabonis had other ideas, going for 21 points and 16 rebounds, leading the Bulldogs to a 68-52 drubbing of Seton Hall. In the Second Round, they’ll take on a Utah team that got past 14-seed Fresno State 80-69 behind 16 points and 18 rebounds from center Jakob Poeltl. This will be a battle of the big men, as Poeltl, Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga are all very skilled, and will likely be taken in the First Round of this year’s NBA Draft. Utah is the more talented team, but I was really impressed with how Gonzaga played on Thursday, and I think they’ll get the job done here with another upset.

East Region
#9 Providence vs #1 North Carolina
Raleigh, approx. 9:40 pm TBS
Providence is pretty lucky to be here. Reggie Bullock got wide open for a go-ahead layup, and USC’s Julian Jacobs missed a half court heave, giving Providence a 70-69 victory. North Carolina defeated 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 in the First Round, but the final score doesn’t tell the story. The Eagles were right there with UNC for the entire first half, trailing by just a point at halftime. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall of the Tar Heel locker room at halftime, because they came out with a vengeance in the second half, taking the game over and winning fairly easily. Providence has two bonafide studs in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, and I expect them both to play well, but North Carolina has Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson to match up with Dunn and Bentil, and the Tar Heels have a much more talented supporting cast around their two superstars. Providence could absolutely win this game, but I expect UNC to come out on top and head to Philadelphia next week.

I’ll be back tomorrow with preview of Sunday’s Second Round games. Enjoy today’s action everybody!