NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0: 4/27/17

It’s here! Months of anticipation, and the 2017 NFL Draft will finally take place from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous in the Rocky movies. The Draft will kickoff in just under three hours, and I am here with your 1st Round primer just in the nick of time!

This is less a mock draft, and more a look at what I believe teams will do tonight. I have it broken into three sections. First, what the team is most likely to do. Second, an alternative option that is probably also very likely. Third and finally, a sleeper option that a lot of people may not expect, but options that make a lot of sense for the teams involved.

Keep this pulled up as you watch the Draft tonight, see how many I hit on and ridicule me when I’m dead wrong! We’ll start with the Cleveland Browns and the #1 overall pick. The Browns are on the clock!

 

1 – Cleveland Browns

Most Likely: I cannot stress this enough Cleveland, please take Myles Garrett with this pick and STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! This is as slam dunk a pick at #1 overall as there has been in recent memory, probably since Andrew Luck to the Colts. This would be the Brownsiest thing the Browns have ever done if they take anyone other than Garrett.

Alternative Option: While I know I said they have to take Garrett or else face the mightiest of ridicule from just about everybody in football, it’s no secret that this league is driven by the quarterback position, so if the Browns convince themselves that Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson are going to be the QB that can turn this franchise around, then I guess it’s possible that they go quarterback with this pick.

Sleeper: There’s no way this pick is anything other than Garrett or Trubisky, but I think the Browns will stay open to a possible trade up until they make their selection. If some team makes them an offer they can’t refuse, I could see them making that move.

 

2 – San Francisco 49ers

Most Likely: This will be the first pick of the John Lynch era, and being a defensive player himself, I think it’s likely that the Niners will address the defense. Solomon Thomas is the player getting the most buzz for this pick, and Jamal Adams, who a lot of people believe is the second best player in this class behind Garrett, is also a possibility.

Alternative Option: Based on what I’ve read, it is looking like the 49ers will keep this pick, but they have been very much open to trading down, and I still believe that getting out of the #2 spot is their ideal scenario. If a team is in love with somebody not named Myles Garrett, I think the talent-starved Niners would be wise to accumulate some extra picks.

Sleeper: Leonard Fournette has been mocked to the Niners by some people, but I’m not sure if there are many in the know who believe this is a real possibility. Carlos Hyde is a talented back, but he has dealt with a ton of injuries during his time in San Francisco. If Lynch wants to make a splash with his first draft pick, Fournette could be that pick.

 

3 – Chicago Bears

Most Likely: Like the Niners, most expect the Bears to go defense with this pick, and there are a number of ways they could go. Whoever they would take here defensively would be an upgrade over what they have on their roster going into the Draft. I think the secondary is the area they are most likely to address with this pick, with safeties Adams and Malik Hooker or cornerback Marshon Lattimore the guys most likely to go off the board here.

Alternative Option: If they don’t go with a defensive back, improving along the D-Line is the next best option. If Thomas would slip past San Fran, I could see the Bears scooping him up. If he’s not available, Alabama DT Jonathan Allen would probably be next on their board. He’s versatile, and can really get after the quarterback. He’d be a fine pick.

Sleeper: You’re going to see me discuss a lot of trade scenarios here, and while the Bears have not been discussed heavily as a team likely to trade back, there could be a team looking to move up ahead of Jacksonville to grab Fournette or a quarterback.

 

4 – Jacksonville Jaguars

Most Likely: The Jags spent a lot of money this offseason to improve their defense, so the overwhelming belief is that they will go offense with this first pick, but I believe that’s only true if Leonard Fournette is available. If the Niners don’t take Fournette, the Jags will just have to hope a team doesn’t move ahead of them, and they’ll add Fournette to take some pressure off of Blake Bortles.

Alternative Option: Despite a free agency spending spree that focused on defense, they could certainly stand to add some more talent on that side of the ball. Jonathan Allen would be a great addition to the D-Line, while they are also rumored to really like Solomon Thomas if he would be available here.

Sleeper: I mentioned Blake Bortles before, and the jury is still out on whether he can be the QB to lead the next successful Jaguar team. The team has yet to pick up the 5th year option on his contract, meaning that they could be prepared to move on from him after this year. If that’s where they stand, I could see them shocking a lot of people and taking Trubisky or Watson with this pick.

 

5 – Tennessee Titans (from LA Rams)

Most Likely: I truly believe that the most likely option here for the Titans, who acquired this pick for the #1 overall pick last season, is to trade back with a team looking to jump ahead of the Jets to take either Trubisky or Watson (I’m looking at you Cleveland). They have two 1st Round picks, and have made it well known that they’d love to trade down and get back into the 2nd Round, after giving up their 2nd Rounder this year during the 2016 Draft.

Alternative Option: If they stay put at #5, they will probably look to go defense, as it’s possible that at least two of Allen, Lattimore, Adams and Hooker will be available to them. They could really use an upgrade at the cornerback position after cutting Jason McCourty, so I think Lattimore is the guy that would make the most sense.

Sleeper: With Marcus Mariota at the helm, the Titans’ offense is ready to join the ranks of the elite offenses in this league. For that reason, they could look to add another weapon with this pick. Early on in the pre-draft process, it was looking like Mike Williams or Corey Davis would be the ones the Titans could take here, but don’t be surprised if Alabama TE O.J. Howard comes off the board at #5 to Tennessee.

 

6 – New York Jets

Most Likely: The Jets are a team very far away from playoff contention in my opinion, and I think they are actually in a good spot to go with the best player available, regardless of position. In the middle of the Top-10, it’s looking like that’s likely to be a defensive player, with Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore, and Malik Hooker the players that have a chance to be available here. That would be fine with the Jets, as their secondary needs a ton of improvement.

Alternative Option: This could be a spot for a team to move up to get the player they covet, and the Jets have made it no secret that they are willing to field offers for this pick. If they aren’t in love with any of the players available, they’d be wise to trade back and accumulate some extra picks.

Sleeper: The Jets obviously think Bryce Petty could be their starting quarterback, and they took Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd Round last year, so they could be looking to give him a shot, but I think there’s a chance they could take a quarterback with this pick. I think Trubisky could be off the board by this point, but they could look at Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes as well.

 

7 – Los Angeles Chargers

Most Likely: The Chargers are another team that should be looking to improve their defense with this pick, and the secondary is the weakest unit on that side of the ball. I think the Chargers would sprint to the podium if Jamal Adams falls this far, but they’d be okay with Malik Hooker as well. They really missed Eric Weddle last year, so the best case scenario would be to get one of the two top safeties in this class.

Alternative Option: The defensive line had its struggles last season as well, outside of last year’s #3 overall pick Joey Bosa. There’s a chance Jonathan Allen could fall here, and I’d expect the Chargers to heavily consider him if that happens. Solomon Thomas is more of a pipe dream, but I’d fully expect him to be the pick if he’s available at #7.

Sleeper: Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger, so this is another potential landing spot for a QB. If they really love the potential of a Mahomes, Watson or Kizer, they could use this pick to grab them and have them learn the system for a season or two behind Rivers.

 

8 – Carolina Panthers

Most Likely: If you would have asked me about what I thought the Panthers would do here as recent as a couple weeks ago, I would have told you something way different than what I’m about to. Christian McCaffrey to the Panthers is the popular pick as we inch closer and closer to the Draft, and I think it has gotten to the point where I’ll be shocked if anything else happens here.

Alternative Option: Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman loves his linemen, so making an addition to their depth on the defensive line is certainly another way they could go. If Allen or Thomas would fall to here, I’d expect the Panthers to heavily consider either of those guys. Derek Barnett is another potential D-Lineman that they could go with here.

Sleeper: It is unlikely that Leonard Fournette will be available at #8, but if he is, I believe they would choose him over McCaffrey or a defensive player. I could also see them making the move to go up and get Fournette in the Top-5, because he fits their offense perfectly.

 

9 – Cincinnati Bengals

Most Likely: It’s looking more and more like this is the spot where we’re going to see our first linebacker come off the board. Haason Reddick is gaining a lot of steam in draft circles, and he would fill a need perfectly for the Bengals. Reuben Foster is another option, as long as they are okay with his medicals and his attitude.

Alternative Option: If not a linebacker, defensive end would be the spot I’d expect them to look, with Derek Barnett being the most likely option. I doubt Solomon Thomas gets here, but I believe they’d take him if he did. Taco Charlton could be another option, but they would probably look to trade down if they coveted him.

Sleeper: The Bengals spent a 2nd Round pick on Tyler Boyd last season, but when A.J. Green was hurt, wide receiver became a weak position for them. They are likely to have their pick of the litter if they go receiver here, with Mike Williams and Corey Davis being the probable targets.

 

10 – Buffalo Bills

Most Likely: Speaking of pass catchers, I get the feeling that the Bills are most likely to address that part of their offense with this selection. Williams and Davis are again likely choices, but I think tight end O.J. Howard would bring the most to this Bills offense, and I think he’s the guy they will probably choose if they keep this pick.

Alternative Option: I could see the Bills trading up or down from this pick, but they’ve made it known that they would like to move down and get an extra pick or two later in the draft. I’m not sure what team would move up to here, but the Bills will be motivated to trade this pick if possible.

Sleeper: They brought back Tyrod Taylor, but I could see this as another landing spot for one of the top quarterbacks. Bills’ brass is rumored to love Deshaun Watson, so if that’s true, I could easily see them going that route.

 

11 – New Orleans Saints

Most Likely: With Drew Brees still under center, the Saints are again going to have a terrific offense. That is why they are most likely to go defense with this pick, and I think they will go front seven with this pick. Derek Barnett, Haason Reddick and Reuben Foster are the guys I would expect them to be choosing from if available

Alternative Option: They have needs all over their defense though, so secondary is certainly an option as well, more specifically at cornerback. If Lattimore would fall, the Saints could scoop him up. I believe they’ll also consider guys like Tre’Davious White, Marlon Humphrey and Gareon Conley (as long as they are comfortable with his potential off-field issues) are possibilities.

Sleeper: There are a lot of teams who could take a quarterback in the 1st Round this year either due to struggles or aging. The Saints fall under the latter category. They could very easily draft a developmental quarterback to learn under a sure-fire Hall of Famer like Drew Brees.

 

12 – Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

Most Likely: The Browns got this pick as part of the package for the #2 overall pick last year. That pick was Carson Wentz, and I think the Browns will try to use this pick to go back up into the Top-10 and get Mitchell Trubisky. It is rumored that they’ve had discussions with at least four teams in the Top-10 about potentially trading up, and it makes all the sense in the world.

Alternative Option: If they keep this pick, I am to assume that they would have taken Myles Garrett #1 overall, which would lead me to believe they go offense here. Mike Williams, Corey Davis or O.J. Howard would be the most likely choices, with John Ross or a falling Christian McCaffrey also possibilities.

Sleeper: Joe Haden really struggled last season, and opposing offenses had a field day throwing against the Browns’ secondary. They could double down on 1st Round defenders and go with a Lattimore, Adams or Hooker if they fell. I don’t think they’d do it unless one of those three were available though.

 

13 – Arizona Cardinals

Most Likely: The early teens seems like the linebacker sweet spot, as everything I’m seeing leads me to believe the Cardinals are most likely to go linebacker in this spot. Reddick or Foster are the usual suspects, with Jarrad Davis being a reach, but a possibility. They could also look for an edge rusher like Charlton or Takkarist McKinley.

Alternative Option: If they want to make one last run at a title with Carson Palmer at QB, getting him a receiver to play opposite Larry Fitzgerald would be a smart move. Williams, Davis or John Ross would all be solid picks at this spot.

Sleeper: Another team with an aging quarterback, I’ve felt all along that DeShone Kizer and Bruce Arians are a match made in heaven, and if the Cards go quarterback here, I still, despite evidence to the contrary, believe Kizer is the one they’d go for.

 

14 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Most Likely: There are a number of ways the Eagles could go with this pick, but I think addressing the cornerback position appears to be the best bet. If they are comfortable with Gareon Conley’s off-field issues, it has been said that they really like him as far as on-field goes, so I could see them taking him. Marlon Humphrey is another likely choice.

Alternative Option: Their pipe dream would be for Christian McCaffrey to fall here, and I could see them entertaining the idea of moving up to get him, but I think they stay put, and getting an offensive playmaker is an option. They are known to like John Ross and Dalvin Cook, while Corey Davis and Mike Williams are also certainly potential picks for the Eagles.

Sleeper: Connor Barwin struggled at times last year, so I could see the Eagles trying to improve their pass rush with this pick. Derek Barnett is the most likely choice, but I could see them taking a guy like Taco Charlton as well if available. I won’t rule out Haason Reddick either if he falls to them.

 

15 – Indianapolis Colts

Most Likely: It’s a very weak offensive line class, but the Colts need to do a better job protecting their franchise quarterback, so being able to potentially grab one of the top offensive linemen in this class should be too good to pass up. Some think it’s Cam Robinson, others Ryan Ramczyk. Some like Garret Bolles, while Forrest Lamp has gotten some buzz as well. Regardless, I think it’s most likely one of those guys ends up in Indianapolis.

Alternative Option: If they don’t go offensive line, I would expect them to move to the other side of the ball and make an addition to their front seven. Haason Reddick is again a possibility, as are pass rushers Derek Barnett and Takkarist McKinley.

Sleeper: There is word today that the Colts are talking to teams in an attempt to move up into the Top-10, and their reported target if they do that would be Christian McCaffrey. Frank Gore won’t play much longer, so it makes sense that they would covet a player like McCaffrey.

 

16 – Baltimore Ravens

Most Likely: I had trouble trying to figure out what this team is most likely to look for with the 16th pick in the 1st Round, but I settled on getting Joe Flacco some help offensively with a playmaker. I think Mike Williams would be their ideal pick, but John Ross would be another good option.

Alternative Option: They have plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball too, so I could easily see them going that route. Infusing some youth on the edge is where I think they’d go, with Barnett and McKinley, as well as Taco Charlton and Charles Harris being potential targets there.

Sleeper: While I mentioned that it is a weak offensive line class, Ravens’ GM Ozzie Newsome loves to draft linemen, and they lost Ricky Wagner and Jeremy Zuttah this offseason. Cam Robinson to the Ravens has been mocked by a few experts, so don’t be surprised if that happens on Thursday night.

 

17 – Washington Redskins

Most Likely: The Redskins are mostly set on offense, so I expect them to focus on defense early in this draft. Linebacker is their weakest position on defense, so I think that would be their main focus with this pick. I doubt Haason Reddick would get past them here, and Reuben Foster is another option if he is falling. If those two are taken, Jarrad Davis could be the pick. There’s another rumor floating around that they are enamored with the potential that Jabrill Peppers has. That could be an option as well.

Alternative Option: There’s been a lot of talk about the Skins looking to trade back in the 1st Round, and that makes sense for a team very talent starved on the defensive side. If a QB is falling, maybe a team jumps up into this range to grab them.

Sleeper: I said they are mostly set on offense, but they could use an upgrade in the backfield to take some pressure off of Kirk Cousins. If Christian McCaffrey slips to them, I believe they would think long and hard about him. Dalvin Cook is another possibility, and he is likely to be available.

 

18 – Tennessee Titans

Most Likely: The Titans are a good team that could move into great team territory with two 1st Round picks this year. I mentioned that their most likely option at #5 is to trade back into the early teens, so if that happens, it all depends what they do with that pick in order to determine what they do here. I think this ends up being the offensive pick for them, with players like Mike Williams, John Ross, Corey Davis and tight end David Njoku likely being the selection.

Alternative Option: If they would go offense with their first pick, I’d expect them to address the secondary with this pick. Marlon Humphrey and Tre’Davious White are a couple corners that I believe they’d be interested in here, and it wouldn’t shock me to see them take a versatile weapon like Jabrill Peppers.

Sleeper: There’s a good chance the Titans move back from #5, and they moved back from the #1 overall pick last year, so why not move back again? They could go from no 2nd Round picks to two or three 2nd Rounders with another trade back.

 

19 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Most Likely: Dalvin Cook. It’s as simple as that. Some teams are concerned about Cook off the field, specifically the people that he surrounds himself with, but his college coach Jimbo Fisher says that Cook is one of the hardest working players he’s ever coached. The talent is evident as well. The Bucs’ running back situation is very cloudy, so Cook makes a whole lot of sense. It might be concerning to keep him in Florida, but for a team ready to fight for a playoff spot, it’s worth the risk.

Alternative Option: If they don’t go running back, I think their next best option is to get Jameis Winston another talented pass catcher. David Njoku would be who I believe best fits what they need, as he would immediately be an upgrade over Cameron Brate. If Mike Williams is still available though, I could definitely see them taking him to line up on the opposite side of Mike Evans. That would be a heck of a 1-2 punch at wide receiver. Who do you double-team?

Sleeper: Most experts believe the Bucs will go offense in the 1st Round, but they could use some upgrades on the other side of the ball as well. Grabbing a linebacker like Reddick or Foster is a possibility, and Derek Barnett would be a great pick if he fell to #19.

 

20 – Denver Broncos

Most Likely: Denver really needs to upgrade their offensive line, and they are in a good spot to do that here at #20, as they can take an offensive lineman and not be reaching for it. They’ve had a few of the top prospects in for visits, including Garret Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk. Cam Robinson could be enticing as well. I don’t think they take Forrest Lamp, only because he projects as a guard, and they really need the help at left and right tackle.

Alternative Option: With DeMarcus Ware’s retirement, the Broncos need to address the pass rush opposite Von Miller at some point in this draft. There are a number of talented pass rushers, including Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Derek Barnett and Takkarist McKinley that could be potential choices at #20.

Sleeper: There have been reports today leading up to the start of the Draft that the Broncos are a team looking to trade up. Their likely target is unknown, but the speculation is that they love Christian McCaffrey, and besides the fact that he’s an extremely talented player, the family connection is right there, as his dad Ed won a couple Super Bowls with the Broncos.

 

21 – Detroit Lions

Most Likely: This 1st Round could be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, but one team that appears to be taking one of a few specific players, rather than a position, is the Lions. I believe they are most likely to take Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis with this pick. The Lions struggled at linebacker last season, and they released their best one, DeAndre Levy, this offseason. Davis makes sense for the Lions for a whole lot of reason.

Alternative Option: Those that don’t have the Lions taking Jarrad Davis have them going offense and taking Miami tight end David Njoku. The Lions drafted Eric Ebron #10 overall a few years back with the idea that he would become one of the top pass catching tight ends in the league. It’s safe to say that Ebron has been a bust thus far, so adding a tight end who plays a similar style to Ebron coming out of college would be the Lions hitting the reset button and trying again. And if you’ve watched Ebron play, you certainly wouldn’t blame them.

Sleeper: It’s not a pressing need, but I could definitely see the Lions adding to their depth at the cornerback position. Their top two played extremely well last season, but if they get hurt, there is next-to-nothing behind them. Quincy Wilson makes a lot of sense, as he has the ability to play inside or outside. This would probably be a slight reach if they took him, but he fits what they’re looking for.

 

22 – Miami Dolphins

Most Likely: I fully expect the Dolphins to upgrade their offensive line with this pick, and Forrest Lamp is the guy that I believe they would target. They’re most pressing need on the line is inside at guard, and that is where Lamp, who many experts believe is the most talented offensive lineman in this class, projects best in the pros. If the Dolphins prefer a tackle prospect, Cam Robinson or Garret Bolles make sense.

Alternative Option: The weakest position on the defensive side of the ball for the Fins last year was linebacker, so it’s certainly possible that they’d look for an upgrade there with this pick. Jarrad Davis makes sense, as does Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt.

Sleeper: I haven’t seen many mocks with the Dolphins taking a cornerback or safety, but I believe they could stand to improve at both of those positions. Marlon Humphrey is like a better Byron Maxwell, so that appears to be a fit. I think they could consider UConn safety Obi Melifonwu or Jabrill Peppers in this spot as well.

 

23 – New York Giants

Most Likely: This is another team that is likely to address their poor offensive line. The Giants would love to see one of Garret Bolles, Cam Robinson and Ryan Ramczyk available with this pick. I truly believe they would take any of those three guys if available.

Alternative Option: Another popular pick among mock drafts for the Giants is David Njoku. Will Tye is not a starting tight end in this league, and a threat at tight end is exactly what this offense needs to become nearly unstoppable after adding Brandon Marshall in free agency. Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram has been gaining some 1st Round buzz, and I think this is a spot where he could go.

Sleeper: Eli Manning is not only getting older, but he’s dealing with some off-field issues as well right now (alleged to be part of a fake memorabilia scheme). Don’t be surprised if the Giants snatch a QB like Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson if they see a Draft Day slide.

 

24 – Oakland Raiders

Most Likely: The Raiders got their man in Marshawn Lynch, so they can really focus on defense early and often in this draft. Linebacker is the weakest position on the roster, and even though GM Reggie McKenzie has not drafted a linebacker before the 4th Round during his tenure with the Raiders, now is the time to get a potential star at that position. I believe this is the floor for Reuben Foster if he slides, while Jarrad Davis and Zach Cunningham are the other two guys I would expect the Raiders to take if available.

Alternative Option: There are lots of holes in the Raiders’ defense, so if they choose not to go linebacker, getting a cornerback or defensive tackle are options as well. Kevin King or Gareon Conley (if they are okay with his off-field issues) would be good picks at corner, and Malik McDowell, while a risk, could turn out to be a great defensive tackle in this league.

Sleeper: If any of the top quarterbacks fall in the 1st Round, the Raiders could be sitting in the sweet spot for a trade back. The Texans are expected to take a QB early, and they pick next. There are no shortage of teams picking late in the 1st (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New Orleans) or early in the 2nd (San Francisco, Chicago, NY Jets, Jacksonville) who could look to move ahead of the Texans to grab a Mahomes or Watson.

 

25 – Houston Texans

Most Likely: The most likely scenario for the Texans is to take a quarterback. This team is ready to compete for a Super Bowl, and the only thing they are missing is a QB. They will probably pray that Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson is available here, but I could see them taking DeShone Kizer as well.

Alternative Option: If the top QB’s are all off the board, the Texans could look to improve their offensive line while drafting a developmental quarterback in one of the next couple rounds. Forrest Lamp or Garret Bolles would be great picks here late in the 1st Round.

Sleeper: The Texans lost A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville in free agency, so I could see them using their 1st Round pick to replace him. I think they would target a guy like Quincy Wilson or Kevin King if they go that route.

 

26 – Seattle Seahawks

Most Likely: There’s a common theme among teams picking in the 20’s, and that is their need to upgrade along the offensive line. Unfortunately, there are only four offensive linemen in this class that are worthy of being 1st Round picks. I believe the Seahawks would pounce if Cam Robinson lasts this long, but Garret Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk would be good picks for them as well.

Alternative Option: Seattle would love to trade out of this spot, and there are already rumors that they are planning a swap with the Atlanta Falcons that would give Seattle an additional 4th Round pick. So look for the Seahawks to trade out of this pick.

Sleeper: The Seahawks have been shopping Richard Sherman this offseason, so they could look to add his potential replacement at corner with this pick. Kevin King is a hometown guy, and he fits their defense perfectly.

 

27 – Kansas City Chiefs

Most Likely: Derrick Johnson suffered an achilles injury near the end of last season, and their defense suffered mightily without him. He could never be the same guy, and he’s getting up there in age anyway, so I expect the Chiefs to go linebacker with this pick. I think they’d love if Jarrad Davis fell this far, but Zach Cunningham is the more likely selection.

Alternative Option: Can Alex Smith be a Super Bowl winning quarterback? I don’t think so, and I think there are people within the Chiefs’ organization who feel the same way. If Patrick Mahomes is available here, I think the Chiefs take him.

Sleeper: Marcus Peters is one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but they could use an upgrade on the other side of the field. Kevin King, Marlon Humphrey and Tre’Davious White are all potential picks for KC.

 

28 – Dallas Cowboys

Most Likely: The Cowboys always seem to be tough to predict, and that is even more difficult this year given the uncertainty all across the 1st Round. I think Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett will look to upgrade the secondary, and it might be a reach, but USC corner Adoree’ Jackson just seems like the type of prospect the Cowboys would take here.

Alternative Option: If they don’t address the secondary, I think they’ll look to upgrade the pass rush, and Taco Charlton would be a slam dunk pick if he lasts this long.

Sleeper: I said that Dallas was most likely to upgrade their secondary, and a player that hasn’t been mocked to them by many, but that I believe they would love to have, is Jabrill Peppers. I think Garrett and D-Coordinator Rod Marinelli would figure out exactly how to use him.

 

29 – Green Bay Packers

Most Likely: T.J. Watt. This is another player-team combo that I feel really good about happening. The Packers need to improve on the edge, and Watt played at Wisconsin, just like brother J.J. It almost seems to perfect to actually happen, but I think it does.

Alternative Option: I like the idea of the Packers improving in the secondary, especially after losing Micah Hyde in free agency. Tre’Davious White and Adoree’ Jackson make a lot of sense for Green Bay if they are available.

Sleeper: They can’t really go into the season with Ty Montgomery as their starting running back, can they? If Dalvin Cook slides, I could see the Packers being a nice landing spot for him. Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara are getting some 1st Round buzz, so they could be options as well.

 

30 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Most Likely: For a second consecutive season, I expect the Steelers to use their 1st Round pick to upgrade their secondary. I think safety makes the most sense, with Jabrill Peppers being a fantastic pick if he’s available. Obi Melifonwu and Budda Baker are options as well.

Alternative Option: The Steelers would like to upgrade their pass rush as well, as James Harrison can’t possibly play very much longer, and Jarvis Jones left in free agency this past offseason. Taco or Takkarist could be options, as could T.J. Watt if he gets past the Packers.

Sleeper: Ben Roethlisberger contemplated retirement this offseason, so it’s definitely possible that they could look to draft his eventual successor. DeShone Kizer has drawn comparisons to Roethlisberger, so I like that pick a lot.

 

31 – Atlanta Falcons

Most Likely: I mentioned that the Falcons have had discussions with the Seahawks already about moving up in the draft, so I think it’s very likely that they make that move. They’ve made it known that they want to improve their pass rush, and it’s believed that Missouri outside linebacker Charles Harris is their target.

Alternative Option: I believe they could stay put and still have a chance to get Harris. Another pick that has been popular in mock drafts is Jordan Willis from Kansas State. Most scouts have him as a 2nd-3rd Round talent, but he has been gaining steam as a potential 1st Rounder.

Sleeper: I could see the Falcons adding an offensive lineman here as well if any of the top four guys (Bolles, Ramczyk, Robinson or Lamp) falls to them here.

 

32 – New Orleans Saints (from New England)

Rather than tell you what the Saints might do with their second pick in the 1st Round in the fashion I have with the other picks, I’ll tell you what I think they’ll do based on what they might do with their first pick.

D-Line at #11: If the Saints go with an edge player at #11, I think they’ll look to upgrade their secondary here, with a number of talented safeties likely to be available here. Tre’Davious White or Quincy Wilson at corner are options as well. They could also go wide receiver here if John Ross or Corey Davis would fall.

Linebacker at #11: Same as above, but throw in edge rushers like Takkarist McKinley, Taco Charlton and Jordan Willis as possibilities.

Secondary at #11: They will likely go edge rusher or wide receiver here if they grab a corner or safety with their first pick.

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NFL Mock Draft Version 2.0: 4/25/17

As I type this, we are less than 48 hours away from the start of the 2017 NFL Draft! The schedule for next season was released last week, and now all attention will be focused on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for this year’s highly anticipated draft!

Last week I revealed the first version of my mock draft, which was a look at who I believe the teams should take in the 1st Round on Thursday. For this, Version 2.0, I have THREE rounds of picks, looking at what I think will transpire come Thursday and Friday. First, some specifics:

  • Picks are listed in a “Round.Overall Pick” fashion. For example, when you see “1.14” that means it is the 1st Round, overall pick #14.
  • I have decided to include trades in this mock. Trying to predict trades is nearly impossible, but trades will happen, they always do, so I gave it a shot to see which teams could look to move up or down, and what they’ll be doing with their new picks if/when the trades occur.
  • This mock was done over the course of a few days, so some picks were made prior to some news being released about some players. I have provided additional insight where those players fell in my mock.

I will have one more version of my mock draft that will be posted Thursday morning in advance of the start of the draft, and that edition will be less like a mock draft, and more like a draft primer, looking at each team in the first round, what they are most likely to do, as well as some alternative options.

Without any further delay, here is Version 2.0 of We Love Sportz’s 2017 NFL Mock Draft!

Round 1 

 

1.1 – Cleveland Browns

Pick: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Do the smart thing Cleveland, please, do the smart thing for once and just take Garrett here. Quit messing around with the idea of taking Trubisky here, and don’t be stupid just this one time. You might still have a chance to get your quarterback, so stick to your board and take the top player. That player is Garrett.

 

1.2 – San Francisco 49ers

Pick: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

It is well known that the Niners would love to trade back from this spot, but I struggle to see them getting an offer that they feel is worth the #2 overall pick. Because of that, I think they will stay put and draft a defensive lineman in the 1st Round for the third straight season (2015-Arik Armstead 1.17, 2016-DeForest Buckner 1.7). If a team would trade up here, I see Carolina, Arizona or Buffalo as the teams interested.

 

1.3 – Carolina Panthers (from Chicago)

Trade Details: Carolina gets 1.3; Chicago gets 1.8, 2.40, 2.64, Future 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

There are two players that the Jaguars, picking next, covet most according to rumors, and they are Thomas and Fournette. I believe that these two players are likely at the top of the Panthers’ board as well. This is a big price to pay, as the Panthers will now be without another pick until the end of the 3rd Round, but I think it’s worth it to get the best running back in the class, one that fits what the Panthers want to do perfectly. An alternative trade package would be 1.8, 2.40 and next year’s 2nd Round pick, but the Panthers are already without a 4th next year, so I don’t see them wanting to already be down to five picks in next year’s draft.

 

1.4 – Jacksonville Jaguars

Pick: Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama

The Jags get stuck here, as their top two options go off the board. They’ll listen to trade offers, but won’t get one to their liking, so they’ll stay put and grab another versatile defensive lineman to go with Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell. I feel you can never have too many talented players in the trenches. Allen would give the Jags one of, if not the, best defensive lines in the NFL.

 

1.5 – Cleveland Browns (from Tennessee via LA Rams)

Trade Details: Cleveland gets 1.5, 3.100, 2018 4th Rd Pick; Tennessee gets 1.12, 2.52, 3.65, 2018 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Remember earlier when I said the Browns might be able to still get their quarterback? I’m not convinced that the Jets will go quarterback at 1.6, but I think most teams will operate under that assumption. The Browns have a bevy of picks with which to make the Titans an offer they can’t refuse. Tennessee is able to get back into the 2nd Round and move up to the top of the 3rd Round with this trade, while still having two 1st Round picks. Everybody wins here.

 

1.6 – New York Jets

Pick: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

This may come as a surprise to people who have been following the draft process, but word on the street is that Conley’s stock is skyrocketing. A guy who early in the process was expected to be a 2nd or 3rd Round pick now has the potential to be the first defensive back drafted. The injury concerns with his former teammate Marshon Lattimore and a clearer need at corner than safety are the reasons I think the Jets go with Conley.

*Update: Conley has been accused of sexual assault, news that came to light on Tuesday 4/25, just two days before the draft. The alleged crime took place a few weeks ago, but it is still terrible timing. That likely means there’s no way he goes this high, and he will likely slide at least to late in the 1st Round. Conley has yet to talk to police, and likely will not do so until after the draft. That makes him a major risk.

 

1.7 – Los Angeles Chargers

Pick: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

The Chargers’ war room would be absolutely ecstatic if the board fell this way. They have a huge need at safety, and they’d get their pick of the litter. Most mocks have them landing Hooker because Jamal Adams would be off the board, but I think Hooker is a better fit for what they want to do anyway.

 

1.8 – Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Pick: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Yes, I do realize this would make three straight members of Ohio State’s secondary going in the Top-10, but these guys are that good. A lot of people believe the Bears would go with Lattimore at 1.3, so to acquire a couple 2nd Round picks and still get their guy, a brilliant move by the Bears.

 

1.9 – Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Is this the biggest need for the Bengals? No, and I’d argue that it’s not a need at all. But the Bengals have made it known that they would like to improve at the running back position, and many experts believe that McCaffrey could go in the Top-10. The likely landing spot would be Carolina if they stay at 1.8, but after going up to get Fournette, McCaffrey drops right into the Bengals’ laps.

 

1.10 – Buffalo Bills

Pick: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

As far as value goes, this is a clear reach. The O-Line class this year is not very strong, but it is a consensus among scouts that Robinson has the highest ceiling, and there are rumblings that some teams will be comfortable reaching for OL help in the 1st Round. Enter the Bills, who could use an upgrade at tackle. They had Robinson in for a visit, so the interest is there.

 

1.11 – New Orleans Saints

Pick: Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

The Saints’ linebacking corps was among the weakest in the league last season. They signed Manti Te’o, but he is not the answer. With Foster falling out of the Top-10, I’d expect the Saints to pounce, as he will be a difference-maker in their defense from day one. They are wasting some great seasons from Drew Brees due to a lackluster defense. The improvement of said defense would continue with this pick.

*Update: I was at this point in the mock prior to the news of Foster’s diluted drug test at the Combine. I do believe this could cause him to slide, but I still expect him to go in the 1st Round.

 

1.12 – Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland via Philadelphia)

Pick: Jamal Adams, S, LSU

The Bears moved down and still got their guy, and the Titans do the same thing here. I think they might prefer to get one of the top corners, but almost every mock I’ve seen has Adams going in the Top-10, so for him to be available at 1.12, I think the Titans would sprint to the podium with this pick. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. has Adams rated as the #2 overall prospect in this year’s class. Incredible value for the Titans.

 

1.13 – Arizona Cardinals

Pick: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

You can call this a hunch, but I’ve felt all along that Kizer is the quarterback that Bruce Arians wants, and I don’t think he’ll be able to wait until the 2nd Round to get him. It makes the most sense for the Cards to get Carson Palmer’s eventual replacement, and Kizer will benefit greatly from getting to watch from the sidelines for at least one season.

 

1.14 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Pick: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Do I think the Eagles should go wide receiver with this pick? No, but I get the feeling that if Williams falls to them and Reuben Foster doesn’t, then Williams will be the pick. I would also expect them to shop Jordan Matthews if they take Williams. I think their biggest weakness is in the secondary, but it’s a deep class there, so they can address it later on.

 

1.15 – Indianapolis Colts

Pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

As with Cam Robinson earlier, this is probably much too early for Ramczyk, but teams are going to reach for help along the offensive line, and the Colts need that more than maybe any team outside of Seattle. They need to do a better job protecting Andrew Luck, and Ramczyk can start at RT from the get-go.

 

1.16 – Baltimore Ravens

Pick: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

After trading Timmy Jernigan to Philadelphia, the Ravens have a gaping hole in their roster on the defensive line. They can choose to go with an edge rusher to eventually replace Terrell Suggs, but Barnett, who is more a power rusher that can play on the edge or inside, is a much better fit. Position versatility is the key here, but in addition, the analytics crowd LOVES Barnett. If he can produce like they believe he will, he’s an absolute steal at 1.16.

 

1.17 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Washington)

Trade Details: Tampa Bay gets 1.17; Washington gets 1.19, 4.125, 2018 4th Rd Pick

Pick: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

There are rumblings that O.J. Howard could be a Top-5 pick, but I think that’s the media overblowing his stock. I think it’s certainly possible that he goes earlier than this, but if he falls, I think the Bucs would love to add him to their offense. They give up a couple 4th Round picks to jump ahead of Tennessee and give Jameis Winston another huge weapon.

 

1.18 – Tennessee Titans

Pick: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Double down on 1st Round defensive backs? Only because the Bucs jumped them to grab Howard. The Titans major weakness last year was their secondary, and they did sign Logan Ryan in free agency, but he is best suited playing in the slot. For that reason, they get Humphrey here, a guy who has the skill set necessary for a #1 cornerback. The secondary is well on its way to becoming a strength for this team.

 

1.19 – Washington Redskins (from Tampa Bay)

Pick: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

The Redskins are able to move back, acquire a couple 4th Round picks, and still get a player they’d have been happy taking at 1.17. Reddick has been a workout warrior in the pre-draft process, boosting his stock big time at the Senior Bowl and the Combine. He played defensive end at Temple, but he projects as a three-down linebacker in the league. The Redskins certainly could use one of those.

 

1.20 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Garret Bolles, OT, Utah

The Broncos had Bolles in for a visit, and as long as they are comfortable with his attitude, this pick makes too much sense for it not to happen. Regardless who’s playing quarterback, they need to do a better job protecting him. Bolles has the potential to be one of the best left tackles in the league.

 

1.21 – Detroit Lions

Pick: Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

There are some durability concerns with Davis, but after cutting DeAndre Levy, the Lions need to look to improve their linebacking corps early in this draft. I think Haason Reddick would be a dream scenario for them, but he went two picks earlier, so they go with Davis, who has the ability to play inside or outside, but he is one of the best run stoppers in this linebacker class.

 

1.22 – Miami Dolphins

Pick: Forrest Lamp, OG/OT, Western Kentucky

This is another team that I would think would be all over Reddick if he got to this point, but with both Reddick and Davis now off the board, I think the Dolphins would move to another position and improve their interior offensive line. Some scouts think Lamp is the most talented offensive lineman in this class, but they also think he is best suited at the guard position. Miami got their left tackle last year in Laremy Tunsil, and they might get their left guard this year.

 

1.23 – New York Giants

Pick: Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

There are no shortage of places for the Giants to go here if the draft would fall this way. Many expect them to go linebacker, but they haven’t taken one in the 1st Round since the mid-80’s. With Davis and Reddick off the board, it’s even less likely than usual. They could also draft their quarterback of the future, but I think they are built to win now, and I think they’ll lean towards getting Eli Manning another weapon. Engram’ stock is gaining a lot of momentum, and many think he’ll go in the 1st Round. Add him to the Giants’ pass catchers and that offense becomes that much scarier.

 

1.24 – New York Jets (from Oakland)

Trade Details: NY Jets get 1.24; Oakland gets 2.39, 3.70

Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Call this a hunch, but I get the feeling that the Raiders really would love to trade out of this spot to acquire another pick in a deep draft class. With only two quarterbacks off the board so far, the Jets make a move to go get Watson, knowing there’s no way he lasts to 2.39. I think they personally favor Watson to Mahomes, and decide to jump the Texans to get him. Watson isn’t ready to start right away, but he’s a winner, and the Jets haven’t been doing much winning lately.

 

1.25 – Houston Texans

Pick: Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech

Even though the Jets jumped them to get Watson, Bill O’Brien happily takes Patrick Mahomes here. Mahomes said that he feels the Texans really like him, and I have a hard time seeing him fall past this pick come Thursday night. Mahomes has the strongest arm in this class, but he’ll have a lot of adjustments coming from an Air Raid offense at Texas Tech. I would think they’ll give him a shot to win the starting job, but he’ll ultimately sit out this year, which will benefit himself and the Texans in the long run.

 

1.26 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Kevin King, CB, Washington

This pick just screams Seahawks. They are actively shopping Richard Sherman, so they obviously are looking to switch it up in the secondary. King is tall (6-3), big (200 lbs) and extremely physical. He will fit in perfectly in Seattle.

 

1.27 – Kansas City Chiefs

Pick: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

There are lots of varying opinions in the draft community on Cunningham, but he has the potential to become a standout inside linebacker for whichever team takes him. He’s extremely rangy and shows terrific instincts. He’s an inconsistent tackler, but with Derrick Johnson coming off an injury and not getting any younger, the Chiefs would be wise to draft his eventual successor here.

 

1.28 – Dallas Cowboys

Pick: Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan

Another prospect with a lot of question marks, but also an extremely high upside, I just feel like Jabrill Peppers is meant to be drafted by Jerry Jones. Peppers is too small to play linebacker, but he doesn’t have the coverage or ball skills to be a top safety (or so some scouts believe). He is a true tweener, but the other thing his is, is a football player. Peppers will be a special teams dynamo, and Jason Garrett will find a way to utilize him on defense. I think Peppers will be a difference maker in the mold of Tyrann Mathieu, and what team wouldn’t want that?

*Update: Peppers, like Reuben Foster, had a diluted drug test at the NFL Combine. There are varying opinions as to what “diluted” necessarily means, but it’s certainly possible this could cause him to fall out of the 1st Round, which was a possibility before this news anyway.

 

1.29 – Jacksonville Jaguars (from Green Bay Packers)

Trade Details: Jacksonville gets 1.29; Green Bay gets 2.35, 4.110, 2018 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

I could easily see Green Bay making this pick, but I see them more likely to shop the pick to a team wanting to come up to grab either Cook, Corey Davis or John Ross, all falling skill players in my projection. The Jaguars are looking to contend right now, and they could use an improvement in the backfield. Cook is not without his concerns (off-field, inconsistent workouts), but his pure talent makes him a steal at the end of the 1st Round.

 

1.30 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: John Ross, WR, Washington

There is belief that John Ross could drop due to concerns over his durability at the next level. He missed the entire 2015 season due to injury, and there’s a rumor that at least six teams have taken him completely off their boards. I’m not sure if Pittsburgh is one of those teams, and wide receiver is not necessarily a need for the Steelers, but I think the idea of having Ross and Antonio Brown on opposite sides of Big Ben might be too great to pass up.

 

1.31 – Atlanta Falcons

Pick: Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri

Vic Beasley is a star on one side of the defense for the Falcons. Here they have their pick of a few edge rushers to pair with him. I think Harris is the perfect blend of size and speed for a rush linebacker. Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston better be ready to see a couple physical freaks coming at them when they play Atlanta next season.

 

1.32 – New Orleans Saints (from New England)

Pick: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

This would be a fabulous 1st Round for the Saints. Get a potential All-Pro middle linebacker at 1.11, then jump all over Taco Charlton at the end of the round. This would be one of those inexplicable draft slides that occur just about every season. Charlton might be the best pure pass rusher in this class not named Myles Garrett. Put Charlton opposite Cameron Jordan, and with Reuben Foster at middle linebacker, this defense will be transformed.

 

Round 2

 

2.33 – Cleveland Browns

Pick: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

I think Davis is the best wideout in this class, but there are concerns about his ability to stay healthy and his level of competition playing in the MAC. Bologna, I say. Is it possible for the Browns to have this good a draft? It’s possible, but they’ll find a way to screw things up like always.

 

2.34 – Los Angeles Rams (from San Francisco)

Trade Details: LA Rams get 2.34; San Francisco gets 2.37, 5.149

Pick: David Njoku, TE, Miami (FL)

Not a great spot for the Niners, so they move back three spots and pick up an extra 5th Round pick. Njoku is a 1st Round talent who falls here, and the Rams take the opportunity to go up and get Jared Goff a potential big time target at tight end.

 

2.35 – Green Bay Packers (from Jacksonville)

Pick: T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin

The brother of J.J. isn’t quite at the level of his older brother, but he’s a talented rusher off the edge in his own right for sure. He’s getting some 1st Round buzz, especially to Green Bay. If the Packers could trade back, pick up a couple more picks and still get Watt, I think they’d be doing pretty good for themselves.

 

2.36 – Chicago Bears

Pick: Jordan Willis, OLB/DE, Kansas State

After trading back and nabbing a shutdown corner in the 1st Round, the Bears grab a talented edge rusher whose stock is rising in a big way as we get closer and closer to the draft. You can never have too many pass rushers. I think I might have said that earlier. Oh well, it’s still true.

 

2.37 – San Francisco 49ers (from LA Rams)

Pick: Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

I hate the fact that this person is going to be drafted at all, especially this high, but he will, and the 49ers make a lot of sense. The Niners are bad, and when you are bad, you need to take some risks in an effort to get better. This would be a huge risk, but the potential rewards are astronomical.

 

2.38 – Los Angeles Chargers

Pick: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA

The Chargers take a player here that could go as high as the middle of the 1st Round. Joey Bosa needs a partner on the other side of the line, and McKinley is a great pass rusher in a class full of them.

 

2.39 – Oakland Raiders (from NY Jets)

Pick: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

This is someone that I see the Raiders taking in the 1st Round, so to drop back into the 2nd Round and still get him would be fantastic on their part. There are motivation concerns with McDowell, but if anybody can get the most out of him, it’s probably Oakland.

 

2.40 – Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Pick: Obi Melifonwu, S/CB, Connecticut

The Bears picked up this selection by moving back in the 1st Round, and they use this pick to grab another defensive back. Melifonwu boosted his stock with an impressive performance at the Combine. He’s likely a safety to start his career, but could shift to corner if he progresses like some believe he will.

 

2.41 – Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: Josh Jones, S, NC State

Reggie Nelson left last season in free agency, and the Bengals subsequently struggled on the back end last season. Jones is great against the run already, and has the potential to become great in coverage as well. He is an extremely physical player, and that will allow him to fit seamlessly into the Bengals’ defense.

 

2.42 – New Orleans Saints

Pick: Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State

One of the best playmakers in this draft, Samuel is flying under the radar a little bit. The Saints had pretty good success with a 2nd Round wideout from Ohio State last season, so they hope lightning strikes twice here. Drew Brees will love having a versatile weapon like Samuel.

 

2.43 – Philadelphia Eagles

Pick: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

In Version 1.0 of my Mock Draft, I had the Eagles taking Wilson in the 1st Round. If they can get Mike Williams AND Quincy Wilson in this draft, boy oh boy, what a coup that would be. Wilson is a ball hawk in the mold of former Eagle corner Asante Samuel.

 

2.44 – Buffalo Bills

Pick: Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado

There are some draft experts who believe Awuzie is one of the most underrated players in this entire draft class. After losing Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots in free agency, the Bills need to address the secondary with an early pick.

 

2.45 – Arizona Cardinals

Pick: DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State

Calais Campbell signed with the Jaguars in free agency, so the Cardinals look for his replacement here in Walker. Like Campbell, Walker is an end that has the ability to slide inside in certain sub packages.

 

2.46 – Indianapolis Colts

Pick: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Frank Gore’s career will end at any moment, so the Colts need to infuse some youth into that position. Kamara has a similar running style to Gore, but he is a much more talented pass catcher out of the backfield. Andrew Luck’s new best friend!

 

2.47 – Baltimore Ravens

Pick: Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Jones is one of my favorite players in this class, and I believe he has the potential to wind up as the best receiver from the 2017 draft class. With Steve Smith’s retirement, the Ravens need to try and replace that production. Jones is a great talent.

 

2.48 – Minnesota Vikings

Pick: Dion Dawkins, OG, Temple

The Vikings finally get a pick, and they immediately address their putrid offensive line. They definitely need help at tackle, but Dawkins is the best O-Lineman on the board here. He played tackle at Temple, but projects as a guard at the next level. Regardless, he’s an improvement over what they have right now.

 

2.49 – Washington Redskins

Pick: Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

It’s clear that the Skins don’t see Kirk Cousins as their QB for the long haul. This is a slight reach, but Dobbs is probably the smartest quarterback in this class, and he will benefit from sitting behind Cousins for a season.

 

2.50 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pick: Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC

As an athlete, there’s nobody better in this class than Jackson. He needs to improve his skills, but the athleticism is there. Jackson will struggle covering the bigger wideouts in the NFC South, but what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his instincts and ball skills.

 

2.51 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland

A virtual unknown prior to the draft process, the small school product is drawing comparisons to Gronk. At 6-6, 278 pounds, Shaheen is a physical freak at the tight end position. This is a popular prediction in mock drafts, but it makes total sense for the Broncos.

 

2.52 – Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland via Tennessee)

Pick: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

The Titans get this pick back from the Browns in the trade for the 5th overall pick, and after doubling up in the secondary in the 1st Round, the Titans get Marcus Mariota a talented pass catcher with the potential to be a #1 receiver down the line.

 

2.53 – Detroit Lions

Pick: Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida

The Lions double up on Florida defensive players, as they have struggled to replace Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Brantley takes some plays off, but when he decides to turn it on, he is dominating on the inside. The Lions will have to make sure Brantley stays motivated.

*Update: Brantley was arrested a few weeks ago for allegedly knocking a female unconscious outside a bar in Gainesville. I can’t remember a time when this many prospects were getting into trouble with drug tests and the law this close to the draft. I think it is very likely that this event causes Brantley to slide, possibly out of the first three rounds.

 

2.54 – Miami Dolphins

Pick: Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan

Speaking of Ndamukong Suh, he needs some help on the interior of the Dolphins’ defensive line, and Wormley is talented enough to be a very good partner for Suh. Wormley is a little smaller than Brantley, but he is also a little quicker. The Dolphins struggled against the run down the stretch, and this pick would help them improve in that department.

 

2.55 – New York Giants

Pick: Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy

The Giants need a left tackle, and while I’m not sure if Garcia is that guy, at this stage of the draft, he’s the best O-Lineman available. He may be best suited at guard, but I think the Giants would be wise to start him at RT, and if he progresses well, possible move him to LT down the line.

 

2.56 – Oakland Raiders

Pick: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

I’ve seen White go as high as 1.11 to New Orleans, but I think teams will be concerned about his size (5-11, 192) and his poor ball skills. I don’t see those things bothering the Raiders, as they need the most help at slot corner, where White can start from the get-go.

 

2.57 – Kansas City Chiefs (from Houston)

Trade Details: Kansas City gets 2.57; Houston gets 2.59, 5.170

Pick: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

The Chiefs give up a 5th Round pick here to shoot for the moon. Prior to getting hurt during the pre-draft process, Jones was considered one of the top defensive backs in this class. He thinks he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but that’s a huge question mark. If he gets healthy and comes even close to his potential, he’ll be the steal of the draft here late in the 2nd Round.

 

2.58 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana

The Seahawks’ offensive line is downright awful, and while their biggest need is at tackle, they could use upgrades all across the line. Some scouts believe Feeney is the best pure guard in this class, so the Hawks would be wise to grab him here.

 

2.59 – Houston Texans (from Kansas City)

Pick: Budda Baker, S, Washington

For a playoff team, the Texans have a ton of needs. After getting their quarterback in the 1st, they grab an undersized, but very talented safety here with the potential to become a pro bowler in the future. Baker has drawn Tyrann Mathieu comparisons.

 

2.60 – Dallas Cowboys

Pick: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama

The Cowboys have never been ones to shy away from taking a troubled prospect, and Williams had his fair share of off-field issues during his time in Tuscaloosa. If he can straighten out his act though, he has the ability to be one of the best edge rushers in this class.

 

2.61 – Green Bay Packers

Pick: D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

It’s pretty simple, the Packers just cannot go into the season with Ty Montgomery as the starting running back. He is great as a change-of-pace back or a 3rd down back, but he’s not a bell cow. Foreman has some fumbling concerns, but he is a violent runner, and has the potential to be a stud.

 

2.62 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston

There’s a real possibility that Bowser could go a lot higher than this, as ESPN has him rated as a Top-30 prospect. The Steelers need an infusion of youth on the edge, as James Harrison can’t possibly play too many more seasons.

 

2.63 – San Francisco 49ers (from Atlanta)

Trade Details: San Francisco gets 2.63; Atlanta gets 3.66, 6.198, 2018 6th Rd Pick

Pick: Davis Webb, QB, California

Matt Barkley is not the long-term answer for the Niners. Neither is Brian Hoyer. Two 6th Round picks is a small price to pay to go up and get the guy that they think can develop into the long-term answer at quarterback. Webb has the prototypical size and arm strength of an NFL quarterback, and Kyle Shanahan is the perfect coach for him to develop under.

 

2.64 – Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Pick: Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

After going defense with their first three picks in this projection, the Bears address the hole in their roster left by Alshon Jeffery departure in free agency. Kupp has the size and the production (broke 15 FCS records), but he did not test well in the pre-draft process.

 

Round 3

 

3.65 – Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland)

Pick: Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova

They addressed their three biggest needs with their first three picks, so with this pick that they acquired from trading down in the 1st, they address another need by grabbing a versatile defensive end.

 

3.66 – Atlanta Falcons (from San Francisco)

Pick: Derek Rivers, OLB/DE, Youngstown State

Deciding that good pass rushers are a premium in this league, the Falcons decide to use a second straight pick on an edge rusher. Picking up an extra 6th Round pick allows them the ability to do this.

 

3.67 – Baltimore Ravens (from Chicago)

Trade Details: Baltimore gets 3.67; Chicago gets 3.78, 4.122

Pick: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

Having already made four picks, the Bears are afforded the luxury of moving back 11 spots and grabbing an additional 4th Round pick. Meanwhile, John takes the advice of his brother Jim and moves up to grab a 1st Round talent that Jim coached at Michigan who has slipped here due to some off-field issues (domestic violence accusations).

 

3.68 – Jacksonville Jaguars

Pick: Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan

The Jaguars’ offensive line was mediocre at best last year, so any improvement has to be considered a good idea. Some think Moton is better suited at guard, but the Jags can put him anywhere on the line and he’ll make that position better.

 

3.69 – Los Angeles Rams

Pick: Desmond King, S/CB, Iowa

After playing mostly cornerback at Iowa, most believe he is best suited at safety in the pros due to his height. That’s fine for the Rams though, as they need to improve on the back end.

 

3.70 – Oakland Raiders (from NY Jets)

Pick: Jake Butt, TE, Michigan

This pick becomes a luxury for the Raiders, as they are able to add a guy that had a chance to be a 1st Round pick prior to a knee injury and the end of last season. With Jared Cook on the roster, along with a hopefully improved Clive Walford, Oakland can afford to let Butt heal properly (that’s hilarious), and reap the benefits when he gets healthy.

 

3.71 – Los Angeles Chargers

Pick: Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh

The Chargers signed Russell Okung in free agency to shore up the left tackle position, but they could use an upgrade just about everywhere else on the line. Johnson has the potential to be one of the best guards in the league.

 

3.72 – New England Patriots (from Carolina)

Pick: Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio

The Patriots finally get to make a pick in this draft. They got this pick along with Kony Ealy from the Panthers, and they decide to make it an end-heavy trade by grabbing Basham here. The Pats don’t have many weaknesses, but the pass rush is something that they are likely to address in this draft.

 

3.73 – Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

When A.J. Green was injured last season, the passing game disappeared for the Bengals. For that reason, they are likely to add a wideout early in the draft, and Godwin has prototypical size for a receiver, and he tested well in the lead-up to the draft.

 

3.74 – Baltimore Ravens (from Philadelphia)

Pick: Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State

After trading away Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens get the #1 center prospect in this draft in the 3rd Round to replace him. That has to be considered a big victory for Baltimore.

 

3.75 – Buffalo Bills

Pick: Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech

After moving to wide receiver last year for the Hokies, Hodges projects as a freakishly athletic tight end in the pros. He struggles with blocking, but he has the size necessary to develop into a good blocker. He’s a big play waiting to happen, and will be a nice addition to the Bills’ passing attack.

 

3.76 – New Orleans Saints

Pick: Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami (FL)

Coming into last season, Kaaya was right up there with the top prospects in this class, but he had an inconsistent season for the Hurricanes. He’s a project, but he’s got great size and a strong arm, and he’ll benefit greatly learning from a guy like Drew Brees.

 

3.77 – Arizona Cardinals

Pick: Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Tabor was a likely 1st Round pick entering the draft process, but off-field concerns coupled with alarmingly low 40-yard dash times have caused his stock to plummet. The Cardinals need somebody opposite Patrick Peterson, and Tabor has the skills to be a top corner in this league.

 

3.78 – Chicago Bears (from Baltimore)

Pick: Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh

The Bears gave Mike Glennon $15 million a year this offseason (mind-blowing, honestly), but that does not mean they should ignore the quarterback position in the draft. Peterman could be the sleeper at QB in this class, and the Bears would have a steal if he reaches his full potential.

 

3.79 – Minnesota Vikings

Pick: Julie’n Davenport, OT, Bucknell

The Vikings double up on offensive lineman with their first two picks in this draft? I know Sam Bradford is on board with that! Their offensive line was putrid last season, it needs to be improved, and they will do so in this draft.

 

3.80 – Indianapolis Colts

Pick: Marcus Maye, S, Florida

It is inevitable with a class this deep that some really good defensive backs are going to fall into the 3rd Round and possibly even further. Maye has a 2nd Round grade from most scouts, and the Colts need a safety after Mike Adams left in free agency.

 

3.81 – Washington Redskins

Pick: Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

While the Redskins have never been ones to invest heavy in the running back position, I just don’t think Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley will be able to get it done. Kareem Hunt is a thumper, and is an immediate improvement over what they have now.

 

3.82 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama

The Broncos lost Malik Jackson in free agency before last season, and they never really replaced him. It showed, as they became one of the worst defenses against the run. Tomlinson is a massive interior presence, and will certainly help against the run and the pass.

 

3.83 – Tennessee Titans

Pick: Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson

Delanie Walker is on the downswing of his career, so the Titans grab Leggett hoping that he can be Walker’s eventual replacement, but in the meantime, they can run some two TE sets and wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

 

3.84 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pick: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

It’s a very unclear situation at running back for the Bucs. Doug Martin will be suspended for three games, Charles Sims can’t stay healthy, and Jacquizz Rodgers certainly is not a feature back. Perine, though, has the potential to be a very productive back at the next level.

 

3.85 – Detroit Lions

Pick: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Ziggy Ansah is a star on one side of the defensive line for the Lions, but he could use some help coming off the other side. Lawson has a ton of durability concerns, but if he can stay healthy at the next level, the Lions will have a steal at this point in the draft.

 

3.86 – Minnesota Vikings (from Miami)

Pick: Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson

The Vikings address the trenches once again, just on the opposite side of the ball. Shariff Floyd played through injury last season and just wasn’t very effective. Watkins helps give the Vikings depth on the defensive line in case Floyd can’t regain his form again this season.

 

3.87 – New York Giants

Pick: Alex Anzalone, ILB, Florida

The only real weakness left at this point for the Giants is at the inside linebacker position, and there are a fair amount of mid-round prospects in this class that could turn out to be quality starters. Anzalone drops due to durability concerns, but he has the skills to be a three-down middle linebacker for the Giants.

 

3.88 – Oakland Raiders

Pick: Marcus Williams, S, Utah

Safety isn’t a need for the Raiders necessarily, but they could use some depth at the position after losing Nate Allen in free agency. Williams could also potentially replace the aging Reggie Nelson, whose contract is up after this season.

 

3.89 – Houston Texans

Pick: Dawaune Smoot, DE, Illinois

J.J. Watt spent most of last season on the sidelines due to injury, so I think the Texans will address the defensive end position early in this year’s draft just in case Watt’s issues linger this season. Smoot was a top prospect before a mediocre 2016 season.

 

3.90 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Zach Banner, OT, USC

The Seahawks have to fix this offensive line eventually, so they use two early round picks on lineman in this year’s draft. Banner is a project, but he is a massive human being, and definitely somebody that O-Line coach Tom Cable can work with.

 

3.91 – Kansas City Chiefs

Pick: Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Charlotte

With Dontari Poe in Atlanta via free agency and the release of Jaye Howard, the Chiefs have a massive hole at the defensive tackle position. They added Bennie Logan, but depth is necessary, and Ogunjobi provides that at the very least.

 

3.92 – Dallas Cowboys

Pick: Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International

Jason Witten’s career has to be coming to a close sooner rather than later, so it’s time to start seeking out his eventual successor. Smith, at this point, is the blend of blocker and receiver that most closely resembles what Witten gives to this Cowboys’ offense.

 

3.93 – Green Bay Packers

Pick: Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA

I’m not sure if Moreau will actually fall this far, but a torn pectoral muscle suffered during a pre-draft workout has caused his stock to tumble. If he properly recovers, the Packers will have a steal near the end of the 3rd Round.

 

3.94 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State

I think the Steelers would much prefer to go safety here if they don’t address that position with their first two picks, but they settle for an undersized, but very talented corner to add some depth at that position.

 

3.95 – Atlanta Falcons

Pick: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The Falcons continue to address their defense, which is no surprise considering they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl (I’m sure they’re tired of hearing it, but it’s not going to stop). Scouts aren’t sure if McMillan can be a three-down linebacker in the pros, but he is improving in coverage and has that potential.

 

3.96 – New England Patriots

Pick: ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama

The Patriots have already addressed the pass rush, so they don’t really have any true needs left. That affords them the luxury of being able to take a versatile offensive weapon like Stewart at this point in the draft. The rich get richer.

 

Round 3 Compensatory Picks

 

3.97 – Miami Dolphins

Pick: Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU

Kiko Alonso played okay last season, but the Fins could really stand to improve the middle of their defense. Beckwith is better suited as an inside linebacker in the pros than his LSU teammate Duke Riley, who is arguably more talented.

 

3.98 – Carolina Panthers

Pick: Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State

The Panthers finally get their second pick after making the move up to get Leonard Fournette, and they use it to continue to try and shore up their protection for Cam Newton.

 

3.99 – Philadelphia Eagles (from Baltimore)

Pick: Ryan Anderson, OLB, Alabama

Connor Barwin really struggled at times last year, so the Eagles should look to improve on the edge. Anderson is much more talented than players typically chosen at the end of the 3rd Round.

 

3.100 – Cleveland Browns (from Tennessee via LA Rams)

Pick: Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama

The Browns attempt to add another weapon to help out Mitchell Trubisky down the line, and Everett is one of the best pure pass catchers in this tight end class. He falls due to his mediocre blocking ability.

 

3.101 – Denver Broncos

Pick: Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida

C.J. Anderson has been a very good back for Denver, but he’s been banged up at times, and they could stand to add some depth at the position.

 

3.102 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M

Myles Garrett got all the attention at Texas A&M, but Hall did a lot of good things on the opposite side. Some are concerned that Garrett made Hall better, but the Seahawks’ defensive scheme should make Hall better too.

 

3.103 – New Orleans Saints (from New England via Cleveland)

Pick: Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado

Another very talented cornerback has slid down the board, and the Saints pounce, potentially adding a Day 1 starter at the end of the 3rd Round. The Saints are having a great draft here.

 

3.104 – Kansas City Chiefs

Pick: Anthony Walker, ILB, Northwestern

There’s a chance 1st Round pick Zach Cunningham will be better suited at outside linebacker, so the Chiefs grab Walker here just in case that happens. Walker is a little undersized for an inside backer, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in talent.

 

3.105 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

Le’Veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the league, but the Steelers do not have a whole lot of depth at the position, so they would be well inclined to add a back fairly early in this draft, just in case anything would happen to Bell.

 

3.106 – Seattle Seahawks

Pick: John Johnson, S, Boston College

There’s a chance that Earl Thomas will leave in free agency after this season, so the Seahawks use an early pick on his potential replacement.

 

3.107 – New York Jets

Pick: Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn

Sheldon Richardson’s time in New York is coming to an end, so the Jets get his potential replacement with the last pick in the 3rd Round. Adams is not as versatile as Richardson, but he’s a disruptor in the middle, just like Richardson.

NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: Midwest Region

The Kansas Jayhawks had a fantastic season led by star guard, and likely National Player of the Year, Frank Mason III, and they have been handsomely rewarded for their success, getting the 1-seed in the Midwest Region, which will see the regional semis and finals take place in Kansas City, Missouri, a virtual home arena for the Jayhawks.

There are a lot of differing views of this region, with most experts giving Kansas the easiest path to the Final Four of any of the 1-seeds, while it is my opinion that the Midwest is the toughest region in this year’s Tournament. Outside of Kansas and the 2-seed Louisville, I believe that every other team has one of the toughest possible First Round games they could have had.

This region is home to three regular season champions of major conferences, and two additional teams who won major conference tournaments (and that doesn’t even include Louisville). Here is my preview of the First Round matchups in the Midwest Region.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Midwest Region

Tulsa, OK
#1 Kansas (28-4) vs #16 NC Central/UC Davis
Friday 3/17, 6:50 pm TNT

Overview: It was an unceremonious exit from the Big 12 Tournament for the Kansas Jayhawks, as they were upset in the quarterfinals by TCU. This came after the Jayhawks won their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, calling into question whether the motivation was truly there in that TCU game. Nevertheless, this is one of the best teams Bill Self has ever had at Kansas, and they will be a popular pick to go all the way and win the National Title.

Key Players: You can go back to my First Four preview post to see who the key players for NCCU and UC Davis are, but for the Jayhawks, I already mentioned Frank Mason III at the beginning of this article. Mason is averaging 20.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a game this season, and he is the type of player that can carry a team to a title almost by himself. He has lots of help though, and the most polarizing player on this team is future NBA lottery pick, 6-8 freshman forward Josh Jackson. Jackson is a talented defender and a freakish athlete, and he was suspended for the TCU loss. If he plays, the Jayhawks almost certainly win, so he’s a definite factor.

Why KU will Win: Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, because a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed. I don’t see it happening here. Kansas is extremely talented, especially on the offensive end of the floor. A lot of times in March, guard play makes the biggest difference. Well, Kansas has one of the best backcourts in the nation. They move on without an issue.

 

Tulsa, OK
#8 Miami FL (21-11) vs #9 Michigan State (19-14)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:20 pm TNT

Overview: Two teams that are trending in the positive direction will battle for the chance to upset the Kansas Jayhawks in the Second Round of the Tournament. You could argue that things aren’t great for Miami right now, having lost three of four entering the Tourney, but all three losses were to Tournament teams, and it was preceded by wins over Virginia and Duke. The Hurricanes are playing well right now. It has been a wacky season for Tom Izzo’s Spartan team, and they have also lost three of four heading into the Big Dance, but they are finally healthy, and it’s hard to bet against a healthy Michigan State team in March, even after what happened last year.

Key Players: Miami has a collection of very talented players, led by a trio of impressive guards in senior Davon Reed (15.0 PPG), junior Ja’Quan Newton (13.4 PPG) and freshman Bruce Brown (11.9 PPG). Those three will have to play well for Miami to have success. On the other side, the Spartans have one of the most talented freshmen in the country in forward Miles Bridges (16.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG), but another freshman who has come on strong as the season has progressed is center Nick Ward, who is averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He has become the most important player for Michigan State.

Why MIA will Win: It’s been a strange season for Michigan State, and I think if you look at these teams from top to bottom, all things considered, you have to consider Miami the better team. Both squads are better on defense than offense, but I believe the Hurricanes have more options offensively, giving them an advantage in this matchup. They won’t let the Spartans get anything easy because MSU really struggles at the free throw line. Miami ends up making the stops when they need to and they get the win.

Why MSU will Win: Are you going to bet against Izzo in March? Me either. I got burned by them last year, picking them to win it all only for 15-seed Middle Tennessee to play a perfect game and end my bracket pool chances from the get-go. This team is fairly inexperienced, but that could actually be a good thing. They’ll play like they have nothing to lose, and the freshmen Bridges and Ward will have huge games, leading the Spartans into the Second Round.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#5 Iowa State (23-10) vs #12 Nevada (28-6)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV

Overview: What a finish to the season for the Iowa State Cyclones. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they had a really good season from the start, including ending Kansas’s 50-plus game home winning streak, but they really turned it on at the end, winning six of their last seven in the regular season, and then winning three games in three days to win the Big 12 Tournament. Iowa State is peaking, and they are a dangerous team. But they can’t get too far ahead of themselves, because Nevada is not going to go down easy. The Wolfpack dominated the Mountain West this season, defeating Colorado State 79-71 in the championship game. This is a trendy upset pick.

Key Players: Iowa State, according to KenPom, is the 2nd most experienced team in this Tournament, and they are led by a talented quartet of senior starters, forwards Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton (combined 30.3 PPG), shooting guard Matt Thomas (44% 3PT) and star point guard Monte Morris (16.3 PPG, 6.1 APG). Morris is capable of taking over any game he is in. Nevada is extremely good as well, led by a couple potential future NBA players in 6-3 senior guard Marcus Marshall (team-leading 19.8 PPG) and 6-8 sophomore forward Cameron Oliver (15.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.6 BPG). If these two play well, Nevada could shock a lot of people.

Why ISU will Win: Nevada is an extremely talented 12-seed, but Iowa State is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, and I simply don’t see them losing this game. The Cyclones do a great job taking care of the basketball, and Nevada really struggles with forcing turnovers. That doesn’t bode well for the Wolfpack. Deonte Burton continues his impressive play (over 18 PPG in the Big 12 Tournament), and the Cyclones get past Nevada and into the Second Round.

Why NEV will Win: It’s no secret that sometimes all it takes in the Tournament is for one player to get hot, and the team just rides the wave of that player. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier single-handedly led UConn to national titles, for just a couple examples. Marcus Marshall is a game-changer in the same mold. Nevada does a fair amount of damage from the perimeter, and Iowa State tends to struggle playing defense out there. The Wolfpack get hot from distance, and win a shootout.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#4 Purdue (25-7) vs #13 Vermont (29-5)
Thursday 3/16, 7:27 pm TruTV

Overview: It was a down year for the Big Ten, but Purdue was clearly the best team in the league from beginning to end. For the Big Ten regular season champs to only get a 4-seed is all you need to know about how poor a season the league had. But don’t let that discourage you from believing in Purdue. They took Villanova and Louisville to the limit early in the season, and they have wins over Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Maryland and Northwestern (twice) to their credit. They are the more talented team in this matchup, but they don’t have the most momentum, as the Vermont Catamounts enter the Tournament on a 21-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the country.

Key Players: Purdue has a Player of the Year candidate in 6-9 sophomore forward Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan. Swanigan had 26 double-doubles this season (!!!!!!!), averaging over 18 points and 12 boards a game. He is an absolute beast in the paint, and he can step out and hit jumpers too. He’s the ultimate weapon. Vermont will have trouble stopping Swanigan, so they’ll need their star point guard, junior Trae Bell-Haynes (11.1 PPG, 3.8 APG) to play well. Freshman forward Anthony Lamb (team-leading 12.6 PPG) might be tasked with defending Swanigan, and while he is an impressive player, he’ll have his hands full.

Why PUR will Win: I mentioned the strong possibility that Vermont won’t be able to defend Swanigan, and it’s because they simply don’t have the size or talent necessary to limit Biggie. Especially when you consider that the Boilermakers have 7-2 Isaac Hass that they can put in there, causing even more matchup problems for the Catamounts. Purdue shoots it extremely well from the outside, but here, they will take advantage of their huge size/strength advantage and overwhelm Vermont.

Why UVM will Win: If you believe in momentum, then you’re probably picking Vermont here. The Catamounts hardly know how to lose, and that can be an invaluable trait for a basketball team. I think Vermont can let Swanigan get his, and focus on limiting the rest of the Boilermakers. That is the way I would attack this game if I were them. Do that, and I think they have a chance to pull the upset.

 

Sacramento, CA
#6 Creighton (25-9) vs #11 Rhode Island (24-9)
Friday 3/17, approx. 4:30 pm TBS

Overview: There are a lot of teams in this year’s field that have basically had two different seasons in one. That might not be more true for a team than it is for Creighton. Star point guard Maurice Watson suffered a season-ending knee injury in a January 16 game against Xavier. Up to and including that game, the Bluejays were 18-1. Without Watson, they are 7-8. They did build some momentum in the Big East Tournament though, reaching the title game, where they fell to Villanova. For Rhode Island, it was a major question if they were going to get into the Tournament as an at-large team. Their profile was shaky at best. Luckily for their fans, Danny Hurley’s squad took it out of the Committee’s hands, defeating VCU 70-63 to win the A-10 and earn the league’s auto-bid. The Rams are finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season.

Key Players: E.C. Matthews is a stud basketball player who has been ravaged by knee injuries in his career. When healthy, he’s been spectacular. He played in every game this season, averaging a team-leading 14.9 points per game. Senior Hassan Martin is another outstanding player for the Rams, but he too has been slowed a tad by injuries in his career. With these two guys healthy, Rhody is a dangerous team. Creighton really misses Maurice Watson, but they still have some great players. Kansas State-transfer Marcus Foster (18.3 PPG) is an extremely talented scorer, and freshman big man Justin Patton (13.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG) has been a revelation this year, coming out of nowhere to become a potential NBA lottery pick.

Why CRE will Win: I would feel really good about the Bluejays if they still had Watson, but I also think they’d be a much higher seed had he not gotten hurt. Creighton is still one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, and they like to play fast. That is a lethal combination if they  are making shots. Rhode Island prefers to slow the game down, so if Creighton can play up-tempo and pour in shots like they normally do when they play well, the Rams don’t stand a chance in this one.

Why URI will Win: As I mentioned before, a healthy Rhode Island team is very dangerous. Don’t forget, they were a Top-25 ranked team coming into the season, so the talent is evident. They showed their potential down the stretch, and they enter this game on an eight-game winning streak. They play really tough defense both inside and outside, and if they can slow the game down and play at their pace, and force Creighton to take tough shots, I like the Rams to get the upset and move on to the Round of 32.

 

Sacramento, CA
#3 Oregon (29-5) vs #14 Iona (22-12)
Friday 3/17, 2:00 pm TBS

Overview: The Ducks have had a fantastic season following their trip to the Elite Eight last season. They won the Pac-12 regular season title, and they reached the Pac-12 title game, barely falling to Arizona. It’s been great, but they will now have to overcome some adversity after senior center Chris Boucher tore his ACL in the Pac-12 semis. He is a terrific rim protector, and they will miss him a lot. The Gaels of Iona are back in the Tournament for the second consecutive season, needing overtime to take down Siena in the MAAC title game. Tim Cluess knows how to coach offense, and believe me, this team can score in bunches. They are fun to watch.

Key Players: The Ducks have a bonafide star in 6-7 junior Dillon Brooks. Brooks just has a knack for this game, and he led the team this season with 16.3 points per game while shooting over 41 percent from distance. I mentioned how this team will miss the interior presence of Chris Boucher, and that means that 6-9 Jordan Bell and 6-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams will need to step up to pick up the slack. I mentioned the Gaels’ great offense, and it is led by senior forward Jordan Washington. He was originally supposed to play at Arizona State, but ended up at Iona, and he has been stellar this season, leading the team with 17.9 points and 7.4 boards a game. Washington will likely benefit from the absence of Boucher protecting the rim.

Why ORE will Win: Many people have Oregon as one of the teams capable of winning a title this year, but some are backtracking off of that with the loss of Boucher. The Ducks should be out to prove that they are still one of the best teams in the country, and in this game, they just have way too much talent for Iona to keep up. The Gaels struggle to defend the perimeter, and Oregon can really shoot it. The Ducks get hot from distance and win this one going away.

Why IONA will Win: Iona is a good enough offensive team that if they can get hot, they will simply outscore teams. If Oregon struggles at all, the Gaels may smell blood in the water and take off en route to a massive upset. Iona will look to speed the game up, something Iowa State kept them from doing for the most part in last year’s 94-81 First Round loss to the Cyclones. If Iona can play their game, they’ll have a shot.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#7 Michigan (24-11) vs #10 Oklahoma State (20-12)
Friday 3/17, 12:15 pm CBS

Overview: What an incredible story this Michigan team is right now. Their plane crashed off the runway last Wednesday, delaying their trip to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament. They were very close to not make the trip, forfeiting their first round game against Illinois. The team decided they wanted to play, and they went on to win four games in four days, defeating Wisconsin on Sunday to win the Big Ten championship. It’s a little different, but this team is starting to remind me of the UConn team that won five games in five days to win the Big East, and then went on to win the National Title. This is a magical story, but it’s one that Oklahoma State would love to end in the First Round of the Tournament. The Cowboys started 0-6 in Big 12 play before winning 10 of their next 11 games. They limp into this game though, having lost their last three games.

Key Players: Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. played out of his mind in the Big Ten Tournament, going for 29 points and 9 assists in the semis against Minnesota, and tallying 22 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in the title game. He has put this team on his back, and they’ll need that to continue if they’re going to make a deep run. However, the best player on the floor in this game, and one of the best players that you know nothing about in this entire Tourney, is Oklahoma State sophomore point guard Jawun Evans. Evans is averaging 19.0 points and 6.2 assists per game this season, and he will be looking to become a household name.

Why UM will Win: This team’s story could be featured in a movie one day, it’s that bizarre and that amazing. But if that’s going to be the case, it can’t end with a loss in the First Round. The Wolverines have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, and that does not bode well for an Oklahoma State team that is downright putrid on defense. They are especially bad on the interior, while Michigan loves to attack the rim. The Wolverines will dominate the paint and move on to another chapter in the story.

Why OSU will Win: For as good as Michigan’s offense is, Oklahoma State’s is better. KenPom says that the Cowboys have the most efficient offense in the nation this year, and they are battle tested having played in the toughest conference in the country. Win or lose, you are going to know the name Jawun Evans after this game. The Cowboys will run Michigan to death, Evans will go off for 30-plus, and Oklahoma State ruins any future movie plans based on this Michigan team.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#2 Louisville (24-8) vs #15 Jacksonville State (20-14)
Friday 3/17, approx. 2:45 pm CBS

Overview: First off, I have a confession to make. It was not until watching the OVC title game that I learned that Jacksonville State is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, not Jacksonville, Florida. And I bet I just taught you all something as well! Anyway, the Gamecocks were able to knock off #1 Belmont and #2 UT Martin to earn their first trip to the Big Dance in school history. They don’t stand much of a chance here against Louisville though. The Cardinals have been a top team all season long, and they will be looking to rebound from a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament.

Key Players: A pair of talented guards do the majority of the damage for Louisville. Their leading scorer is 6-3 sophomore Donovan Mitchell, averaging 15.7 points per game. He is also a fantastic defender, notching 2.1 steals a game. His partner in crime is 6-2 junior Quentin Snider, who averages 12.7 points and a team-leading 4.1 assists per contest. Four different players average double-figures for the Gamecocks, led by junior guard Malcolm Drumwright (12.6 PPG). 7-0 junior Norbertas Giga will be tasked with dealing with the deep Louisville frontcourt, and I believe he is capable, averaging a team-leading 8.1 rebounds per game.

Why LOU will Win: Despite earning a 2-seed in the Tournament, I think Rick Pitino is probably a little disappointed with the regular season, and will look for his team to make up for it with a deep run in the Tournament. The Cardinals aren’t very efficient offensively, but they are balanced, and they will quickly be able to figure out where they are having success, and exploit that against an inferior team.

Why JSU will Win: We have seen 15-seeds beat 2-seeds before, and while it usually comes from out of nowhere, it’s almost always impossible to predict. There is no part of this matchup where I would give JSU the advantage, but they call it March Madness for a reason. Maybe Louisville has a cold shooting night, and the Gamecocks are able to take advantage and steal the game. Stranger things have happened, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: East Region

I started with the West Region, and now we move up the bracket to the East, which is led by the #1 overall seed in this year’s Tournament, the defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright’s squad lost its leader in Ryan Arcidiacono and it’s best interior presence in Daniel Ochefu, yet despite that, this season’s team might actually be better.

Josh Hart is a NPoY candidate, Kris Jenkins can still hit the big shot, and Jalen Brunson has taken a massive leap forward, showing the promise that had many expecting him to be a one-and-done coming out of high school. There hasn’t been a repeat champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007, but the Cats are the team best positioned to get it done since.

They will have their fair share of roadblocks though, including a potential Elite Eight matchup with the hottest team in the country, the ACC Champion Duke Blue Devils. A Second Round meeting with grossly under-seeded Wisconsin could be tricky for Nova as well.

The team that emerges from Madison Square Garden unscathed will head to Phoenix to take on the winner of the previously previewed West Region. Here is a preview of the First Round in the East.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

East Region

Buffalo, NY
#1 Villanova (31-3) vs #16 Mount St. Mary’s/New Orleans
Thursday 3/16, 7:10 pm CBS

Overview: I am on record as saying that I believe this year’s Villanova team is better than the one that won last year’s National Championship game over North Carolina. The Wildcats have an extremely impressive resume, with wins over Purdue, Virginia, Notre Dame and Wake Forest out of conference, and a dominating season in the Big East, winning the regular season and tournament titles. They were beaten twice by Butler, so if they can avoid the Bulldogs, they should be good to go!

Key Players: I mentioned potential National Player of the Year Josh Hart earlier, but he is still the most important player for this team. Hart is averaging 18.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game, while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Hart struggled with his jump shot last season, and it is evident that he has improved in that area this year, turning himself into a potential 1st round NBA Draft pick. You also know about Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson, but another extremely important player for Nova is 6-9 senior forward Darryl Reynolds. The Cats do not have very much depth, especially on the interior, so Reynolds needs to stay out of foul trouble and stay healthy, two things that have been easier said than done at times this season.

Why NOVA will Win: I won’t even put a note here about the potential for MSM or NO to win, because as of this writing we’re not sure who will be facing Villanova, and let’s be real, they won’t beat them anyway. But Villanova will win this game because they are on a mission to prove to everybody that they are every bit as good this year as the team that took home the championship last year. This team has way too much talent to slip up and become the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed.

 

Buffalo, NY
#8 Wisconsin (25-9) vs #9 Virginia Tech (22-10)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:40 pm CBS

Overview: Overall, I was very happy with the job the Selection Committee did this season. All of the teams that most deserved to get in are here, but they did misfire on some seedings. Maybe none more so than Wisconsin as an 8-seed. The Badgers had a rough stretch at the end of the year, losing five of their last seven games in the regular season, and their non-conference strength of schedule left a lot to be desired. They also were able to gain some momentum in the Big Ten Tournament, destroying Northwestern and falling to Michigan in the title game, but they definitely deserved a higher seed. They will not have an easy First Round game though, taking on Buzz Williams’s Virginia Tech team that had a very good season in the tough ACC. The Hokies went an impressive 10-8 in conference play which included wins over Duke and rival Virginia. VT is a very good offensive club, and will challenge the Badgers.

Key Players: Wisconsin is a very experienced squad, with seniors Bronson Koenig (14.1 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) already having 14 NCAA Tourney games under their belts, but the best player on this team is sophomore forward Ethan Happ (13.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG). Happ finished 6th in KenPom’s POTY ranking, and he is a dominant post player that can create problems for any team. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, they lost star forward Chris Clarke to an injury late in the regular season, severely hampering their hopes for a deep Tournament run. They still do have four other players who average double-figures, led by 6-7 senior forward Zach LeDay (16.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG).

Why WISC will Win: The experience factor should play a huge role here. Koenig and Hayes have been to the Final Four twice in their careers already, and this team just seems to up the intensity come Tournament time. The Badgers are great on defense this season, and they’ll be able to force missed shots, clean up on the boards, and do enough on the offensive end to win fairly easily over the Hokies.

Why VT will Win: I don’t think there are many people who believe Virginia Tech can defeat Wisconsin. The Badgers are better than an 8-seed, and the Hokies are kind of getting screwed because of that. Don’t sleep on them though. They are a very good offensive team, in the Top-20 in 2-point and 3-point percentage (according to KenPom). If they get hot, Wisconsin might not have enough on the offensive end to keep up with the Hokies.

 

Orlando, FL
#5 Virginia (22-10) vs #12 UNC Wilmington (29-5)
Thursday 3/16, 12:40 pm TruTV

Overview: Virginia is once again one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Tony Bennett knows how to teach defense, and it is extremely difficult to score against them. They even held North Carolina to 43 points in one of their meetings this year. That is crazy. The issue for the Cavs is that unlike the past few years, they really struggle on offense. They play at a snail’s pace, so if they aren’t making shots, they don’t give themselves enough opportunities. UNC Wilmington opened up last season’s Tournament with a near upset of 4-seed Duke, giving the Blue Devils everything they could handle. They have returned three of the top four scorers from last year’s team, and they will be extremely motivated to finish the deal this year with another shot to upset a top ACC team.

Key Players: Four UNC Wilmington players average double-figures, led by sophomore CJ Bryce (17.6 PPG) and seniors Denzel Ingram (14.5 PPG) and Chris Flemmings (15.8 PPG). The trio scored 51 combined points in the game against Duke in last year’s Tournament. I mentioned Virginia’s struggles on the offensive end, but when they have good games, they get a significant output from freshman guard Kyle Guy. He averages just 7.8 points per game, but he has had some big games down the stretch, including a 19 point output in a 53-43 win over UNC on February 27. They will need Guy to score if they are going to get the win here.

Why UVA will Win: If you can hold North Carolina to 43 points, you should have no issues beating a team like UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks are better on the interior, but that is where Virginia thrives on defense. They will force UNCW into taking bad perimeter shots, and will be able to get enough done on the offensive end of the floor to escape with a victory.

Why UNCW will Win: They really felt like they should have beaten Duke last year, and that will motivate them in their return to the Dance this season. If the Seahawks can make some shots and get an early lead, they can win this game. Virginia doesn’t have the firepower to make a comeback. UNC Wilmington will make some shots early, build a lead, and force Virginia to play a game that they don’t want to play. The Seahawks will hold on down the stretch, and move on to the Second Round.

 

Orlando, FL
#4 Florida (24-8) vs #13 East Tennessee State (27-7)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 3:10 pm TruTV

Overview: Mike White has done a fantastic job in his second season in Gainesville, leading the Gators to an impressive 24-win season, which included multiple 7-plus game winning streaks and victories over Seton Hall, Miami, Arkansas (twice) and Kentucky. Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but they can also shoot the lights out of any gym they play in. They lost three of their last four entering the Tournament, but this is still a team that can make a deep run. On the other side is East Tennessee State, who was a team considered to be very dangerous if they could win the SoCon and reach the Tournament. The Buccaneers are loaded with talented players, most of which have come from other programs. Head Coach Steve Forbes is very well regarded in basketball circles, and could be on his way to a higher-profile job if he can lead his team to a victory or two in this postseason.

Key Players: Florida’s leading scorer is 6-2 sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen, who averages 13.9 points per game, shooting a shade under 40 percent from 3-point range. A very important player off the bench for the Gators is junior point guard Chris Chiozza. He is the only true point guard on this team, and he is capable of a triple-double, going for 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Missouri earlier this season. ETSU has more talent than your typical mid-major team, and they are led by 6-3 junior college-transfer T.J. Cromer, who is averaging 19.1 points per game. In the SoCon semis against Samford, Cromer dropped 43 points, going 9-12 from 3-point range and 10-11 from the free throw stripe. He shot just one 3-pointer in the title game, but still went for 23 points, and was a perfect 11-11 from the FT line.

Why UF will Win: ETSU will not be a pushover, but Florida is a better team than a lot of people realize. The fact that they lost to Vanderbilt three times this year makes people question how good this team is, and they will be without center John Egbunu who was lost for the season to a knee injury, but this is still a talented team that can make a deep run in this Tournament. They will refuse to give the Bucs any clean looks on offense, frustrating them to the point where they force the issue, which is exactly what the Gators want.

Why ETSU will Win: This team has the resume of a 13-seed, but the talent of a 10-seed, or possibly even higher. Cromer is capable of taking over any game that he plays in, and I expect him to be out to become one of the stars of this Tournament. Cromer goes for over 25 points, and the Gators struggle offensively against a sneaky good Bucs defense. ETSU pulls the upset and moves on to the next round.

 

Tulsa, OK
#6 SMU (30-4) vs #11 Providence/USC
Friday 3/17, approx. 3:10 pm TruTV

Overview: I had another seeding gripe here, but not as big as the one with Wisconsin. I know the American Conference had a down year, but this SMU team is scary good, and they go 30-4, and they’re a 6-seed? They should be at least a 5-seed, if not a 4-seed. The regular season and tournament champs in the AAC are one of the best teams that you don’t know very much about. They have won 16 games in a row as they enter the postseason, but they’ll have to sit back and wait until Wednesday night to find out who they’ll be playing on Friday afternoon.

Key Players: You can look back to my First Four preview to see who the key players are for Providence and USC, but for the Mustangs, the best player in Duke-transfer, 6-7 junior Semi Ojeleye, and he is an outstanding basketball player. Ojeleye averages 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game this season, and he is capable of carrying this team to a Final Four. He, and they, are that good, trust me.

Why SMU will Win: I don’t see either Providence or USC stopping an SMU team that is just on an absolute roll right now. Ojeleye and Ben Moore are great interior players, but Ojeleye can shoot the jumper too, and the Mustangs do a lot of damage from the outside. They are 5th in the nation in 3-point percentage according to KenPom. The talent will be too much, and SMU will get hot from the outside en route to an easier victory than some may expect from a 6/11 matchup.

Why PROV/USC will Win: Well, one of SMU’s four losses this season came on Black Friday in Los Angeles, when the Trojans came away with the 78-73 win. That absolutely means that they have a shot to knock out the Mustangs, but this is a different SMU team now than it was back in November. That being said, USC’s size could cause problems for the relatively undersized Mustangs. Providence plays a similar style to SMU, and is a similar team from top-to-bottom, but less talented, so I think it’s less likely that Providence will be able to defeat SMU.

 

Tulsa, OK
#3 Baylor (25-7) vs #14 New Mexico State (28-5)
Friday 3/17, 12:40 pm TruTV

Overview: At one point this season, the Baylor Bears were the #1 ranked team in the country. They started 15-0 with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, Xavier and Iowa State. That is nuts. They were finally defeated by West Virginia, but then won five more games to put them at 20-1. If you look above, you can then figure out that they finished the season 5-6, including a loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 quarterfinals. It was a tale of two seasons for the Bears, and they are limping into the Tournament. There were two good teams in the WAC this year, and it was the #2 team (but the team that KenPom believes is better), New Mexico State, who won the title game over #1 CSU Bakersfield to get into the Field of 68. Head Coach Paul Weir has done a great job in his first year with the Aggies, getting this team to the Tournament for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

Key Players: Baylor is an extremely long and athletic club, and that starts with 6-10 junior Johnathan Motley, who is averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game this season. His frontcourt mate, 7-0 junior Jo Lual-Acuil is one of the best shot blockers in the nation, averaging 2.6 blocks a game. They have talent in the backcourt as well, led by second-leading scorer Manu Lecomte (12.4 PPG). The Aggies best player is 6-0 senior guard Ian Baker, who has been a significant contributor for this team for all four of his seasons in Las Cruces. This year, Baker is averaging a team-leading 16.6 points and 4.1 assists per game.

Why BAY will Win: This is not a great matchup for New Mexico State. They are a good team, and I might have picked them to win against a different 3-seed, but the Aggies do most of their damage in the paint, which is where Baylor has a bunch of large human beings who are very adept at denying chances at the rim. This is mostly a matchup thing, because Baylor has not played well as of late, but they will lock down the interior and get the victory.

Why NMSU will Win: Two years ago, 14-seed Georgia State upset 3-seed Baylor in a First Round game that took place in an early afternoon game. When it comes to the matchup, the Aggies don’t stand a chance. But history tends to repeat itself, and crazy things happen in March.

 

Greenville, SC
#7 South Carolina (22-10) vs #10 Marquette (19-12)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:50 pm TBS

Overview: South Carolina has done the same thing two seasons in a row. They start off really well, and then fade down the stretch. This season, a win over Florida put them at 15-3 and 5-0 in the SEC. They finished 7-7 with two losses to Alabama and a loss to Ole Miss. Frank Martin’s squad is the 3rd most efficient defensive team in the nation (according to KenPom), but they have a heck of a time putting up points. It was an up and down season for Marquette, with some really big highs (a win over #1 Villanova) and some really bad lows (a loss to St. John’s). The Golden Eagles really know how to put the ball through the hoop, but teams tend to have an easy time scoring against them as well. That means this game could come down to SC’s offense versus Marquette’s defense.

Key Players: The best player on the floor in this game will be South Carolina’s 6-5 senior guard Sindarius Thornwell (21.0 PPG). For as bad as the Gamecocks are on offense at times, Thornwell is more than capable of getting hot and taking over a game. The Golden Eagles are very balanced on the offensive end, with five players averaging double-figures. Senior guard JaJuan Johnson wreaks havoc on the defensive end as well (1.9 steals per game), while 6-11 senior Luke Fischer is the team’s best rebounder, grabbing 5.9 boards per contest.

Why SCAR will Win: You cannot ignore the struggles for the Gamecocks down the stretch of the season, but with a player as good as Sindarius Thornwell, you can’t count them out, especially in a 7/10 matchup that equates to a toss-up on most occasions. Marquette wants to play fast, so to win, South Carolina will need to make some shots and play really good defense. They are usually pretty good at one of those two things. Marquette struggles to get into a groove offensively, and Thornwell hits some late free throws to seal the win for the Gamecocks.

Why MARQ will Win: They normally say that defense wins championships, but when it comes to March Madness, it’s usually the teams that get hot offensively who go on to make deep runs. Marquette is a Top-10 offensive team this year, and they have been able to score against some really good defensive teams. According to KenPom, they are the best 3-point shooting team in the nation, and they get hot from distance and blitz South Carolina, moving on to the Second Round.

 

Greenville, SC
#2 Duke (27-8) vs #15 Troy (22-14)
Friday 3/17, 7:20 pm TBS

Overview: About a month and a half ago, the question was how far down the seed-line was Duke going to fall, and will they every realize the potential or live up to the expectations that everybody bestowed upon them heading into the season. Now, after winning four games in four days, including three against Top-25 teams, to win the ACC Championship, and people started talking about this team possibly being a 1-seed. That was a little far fetched, but what isn’t is having the Blue Devils as one of the favorites to win this whole thing. The Troy Trojans made an impressive run in the Sun Belt Tournament, winning four games in five days as the 6-seed. They are very good on the offensive end of the floor, but have their struggles defensively.

Key Players: I could just start listing Duke players here, because they have so many good ones, but the key is Grayson Allen, the most hated player in basketball. He’s a terrible human being (he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt from me), but when he’s right, he is one of the best basketball players in the country. Coach K has Allen coming off the bench right now, and that appears to have helped get him back on track. He was scoreless against Clemson, but scored 18 points each in the games against Louisville and North Carolina. Duke needs Grayson to be Grayson if they are going to win a title. For the Trojans, 6-6 sophomore Jordan Varnado is the one to watch, leading the team with 16.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Why DUKE will Win: They are clicking at the perfect time, showing flashes of what had everyone picking them as the title favorites prior to the season. They are healthy, they are talented, and they are simply winning basketball games. I feel like Troy could play really well, and still lose by double-digits. The Trojans struggle on defense, and you have to play defense to have any prayer of beating the Blue Devils. Duke wins going away.

Why TROY will Win: I just said you have to play defense to beat Duke, but what happens if Duke has an off night? The Blue Devils biggest weakness is their interior defense, and Troy shoots it better inside the 3-point arc. The Trojans do a good job getting to the rim, they get Duke in foul trouble, and they make enough plays down the stretch to pull off one of the biggest shockers in Tourney history!

 

NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: West Region

I’m going to start of my Regional previews with the West Region, and it’s for no other reason than that each of the eight First Round games in this region will take place on Thursday. So it makes sense for me to get this one out there first.

The West Region is led by the #4 overall seed, the 32-1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, who despite what some people may say, more than deserved to be a 1-seed. They did not play in a very difficult conference this season, but they challenged themselves out of conference, and if you go an entire regular season losing just one game, you deserve to be a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In the immediate aftermath of the bracket reveal, the popular opinion was that the West is the weakest region in this year’s Tournament. But just because the region is considered “weak” overall, doesn’t mean that the team to make it out of San Jose didn’t earn their trip to the Final Four just as much as the teams in the other three regions. Without any further delay, here is a preview of the First Round in the West Region.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of KenPom and ESPN*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

West Region

Salt Lake City, UT
#1 Gonzaga (32-1) vs #16 South Dakota State (18-16)
Thursday 3/16, 2:00 pm TBS

Overview: The Zags had a really good shot to enter the Tournament undefeated, but BYU had other ideas, defeating them 79-71 in the Bulldogs’ regular season finale. They rebounded though, winning the conference title beating Saint Mary’s, the WCC’s only other Tourney team, for a third time in the finals. Don’t let the past fool you, this team is legit. South Dakota State is in the Tournament for the second straight year after defeating Omaha in the Summit League title game 79-77. The Jackrabbits enter the Dance as the team with the most losses in the Field.

Key Players: Washington-transfer Nigel Williams-Goss is the leader for the Zags, and not only that, but he’s easily one of the best players in the entire nation. Williams-Goss averages a team-leading 16.9 points and 4.8 assists per game. He has lots of help though, as four teammates also averages double-figures, including senior center Przemek Karnowski (12.6 PPG) and freshman big man, and future NBA’er, Zach Collins (10.2 PPG in just 17.1 MPG). The fact that a probable 1st rounder in the NBA Draft comes off the bench for Mark Few is all you need to know about this team’s talent. South Dakota State does have a star of their own though in 6-9 sophomore Mike Daum. Daum is 2nd in the nation in scoring at 25.3 points per game, and he put up 37 points in the title game victory over Omaha.

Why GONZ will Win: The most simple answer is because no 16-seed has ever beaten a 1-seed. I believe it will happen one day, but I don’t see it happening here. This team is a legit National Title contender. SDSU is an extremely poor defensive team, and Gonzaga just has too much firepower. They are 2nd in the nation in effective FG percentage according to KenPom, and they’ll be too much for the Jackrabbits to handle. Gonzaga easily moves on.

Why SDSU will Win: I just said a 16-seed has to beat a 1-seed at some point, so why not South Dakota State? As a legitimate point, there haven’t been many 16-seeds in history with a player as talented as Mike Daum. He could certainly go off for another huge game, and if that happens, it’s possible that the Jackrabbits could keep it close, and maybe even pull off one of the biggest upsets in history.

 

Salt Lake City, UT
#8 Northwestern (23-11) vs #9 Vanderbilt (19-15)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 4:30 pm TBS

Overview: One of the best stories of this entire basketball season is Northwestern finally reaching the NCAA Tournament. The school that hosted the very first NCAA Tournament is dancing for the very first time. They are the last major conference team to play in an NCAA Tournament, and don’t think just making it here is all they wanted. This team believes they can make a run in this thing, and so do I. They drew a tough First Round matchup though in Vanderbilt, a team much better than their record suggests. 15 losses is the most for an at-large team in Tournament history, but Vandy got in based on their strength of schedule (17th according to KenPom) and a number of big wins, knocking off Big 12 champion Iowa State and defeating Florida three times!

Key Players: The straw that stirs the drink for the Chris Collins’s Wildcats is junior point guard Bryant McIntosh (14.4 PPG, 5.7 APG). McIntosh and fellow junior Scottie Lindsey (14.2 PPG) have been on a mission to get this team into the Tournament, and they’ll be damned if they aren’t going to make sure this team makes a great showing in their first trip. Vanderbilt is an extremely talented team as well, led by a couple upperclassmen in senior big man Luke Kornet (13.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and junior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis (13.6 PPG, 37% 3PT). Fisher-Davis has struggled down the stretch, and he’ll need to play well if they’re going to win this game.

Why NW will Win: The Wildcats have finally gotten here, and I have a hard time believing that they aren’t going to make the most of it, and that means getting at least one victory. This team is extremely balanced, talented in the paint and on the perimeter. Bryant McIntosh is probably the best player on the floor, and he leads a group of guards that I believe has the clear advantage in this game. They will make enough shots down the stretch to win a tight one.

Why VAND will Win: Northwestern is a great story, but it’s certainly possible that Vanderbilt is the better team. The Big Ten had a down year, and Vandy beat Florida three times, a team that is better than just about every team Northwestern played this season. Luke Kornet is a big man that likes to play on the perimeter, and the floor spacing Vandy brings will open up driving lanes, allowing the Commodores to get to the free throw line, where they shoot over 77 percent, and win a close game, ending the dream season for Northwestern.

 

Buffalo, NY
#5 Notre Dame (25-9) vs #12 Princeton (23-6)
Thursday 3/16, 12:15 pm CBS

Overview: The first game of the Tournament this year will pit the only team to reach the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons against the winners of the very first Ivy League Tournament. Coming into the season, Notre Dame was expected to have a drop-off, picked to finish 7th in the ACC. Instead, Mike Brey reminded everyone why he is one of the best coaches in basketball, leading the Irish to the ACC title game. They’re going to be tested here though by a very experienced Princeton team. The Tigers have a little momentum (19-game winning streak, second longest in the nation entering the postseason) and history on their side as well. The Ivy League representative in the Tournament has won a game three out of the last four seasons.

Key Players: Bonzie Colson is one of the best rebounders in the nation (10.2 per game, best in the ACC), and he also leads the Irish in scoring at 17.2 points per game. Oh yeah, and he’s only 6-5. He does have a 7-2 wingspan though, which definitely helps. ND also has one of the most improved players in the country in point guard Matt Farrell. Farrell came on late last season, playing well in the NCAA Tournament. He put a full season of success together this year, and I’m sure that will carry over to the postseason. I mentioned Princeton’s experience earlier, and they are led by seniors Spencer Weisz (team leading 32.9 minutes per game) and Steven Cook (13.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG). Cook shoots over 42 percent from 3-point range, one of three starters who shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc.

Why ND will Win: Once again, the Irish are an overlooked team heading into the Tournament. They feel slighted by Committee giving them a 5-seed, and will play with a chip on their shoulders because of it. I don’t think Princeton has a player that can deal with the matchup problem that is Bonzie Colson. Colson and company have way too much talent, and they will overwhelm the Ivy League champs. Notre Dame wins this one going away.

Why PRIN will Win: 12-seeds over 5-seeds is always a favorite upset pick in the Tourney. Over the last five Tournaments, 12-seeds are 10-10 in the First Round. Only four times since the field expanded to 64-plus teams in 1985 has no 12-seed advanced to the Round of 32. What else does Princeton have going for them? There isn’t science to back this up, but a fair amount of upsets in the Tournament tend to happen in the early afternoon games. This game will lead off the First Round, and the Tigers will be fired up to start the Tourney off with a bang. If they can find a way to pressure the Irish on defense while keeping them off the free throw line (ND is the best FT shooting team in the nation), they can score the upset.

 

Buffalo, NY
#4 West Virginia (26-8) vs #13 Bucknell (26-8)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 2:45 pm CBS

Overview: Early going in the season, I, along with a fair amount of experts, pegged West Virginia as a team that could contend for a National Championship. After that, the season had its ups and downs, with the Mountaineers scoring victories over Virginia, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State twice, but also losing Texas Tech and Oklahoma, and blowing a 12-point lead with less than three minutes left in a game at Kansas. On the other side, we have a Bucknell team that dominated the Patriot League, going 15-3 in conference play, defeating Lehigh in the championship game, the team that was responsible for two of the Bison’s three conference losses. This is a very young team, as out of the nine players who average over 10 minutes a game, zero are seniors.

Key Players: A couple junior forwards are the ones to watch out for on the Bucknell side. 6-7 Zach Thomas (16.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and 6-9 Nana Foulland (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) are the top two scorers and rebounders for the Bison. West Virginia plays a suffocating style of defense, and that is spearheaded by senior Tarik Phillip and junior Jevon Carter, who average 1.8 and 2.6 steals per game respectively. The Mountaineers have a very balanced scoring attack, with just two players averaging double-figures.

Why WVU will Win: A team with good guard play can give West Virginia problems. They thrive on being able to force turnovers and score quickly off of them. Bucknell’s guard play is not the best, and they are in the bottom half of the nation in offensive turnover percentage. That does not bode well for them. “Press Virginia” will do exactly that, and win this game going away.

Why BUCK will Win: The West Virginia team we have seen lately has not been the same one that many pegged as a title contender at the beginning of the season. If the Bison can limit turnovers and be able to set up their offense, they can dominate WVa on the interior. Big games from Thomas and Foulland are enough to fuel Bucknell to the upset.

 

Orlando, FL
#6 Maryland (24-8) vs #11 Xavier (21-13)
Thursday 3/16, 6:50 pm TNT

Overview: It’s been a tale of two seasons for both of the teams in this game. Maryland started an impressive 20-2 this season, but limped down the stretch going 4-6 over their last 10 games, including a quarterfinal loss to N’Western in the Big Ten Tournament. I believe a 6-seed was a little high for them. Xavier started well also, going 15-6 to start their year. Then star point guard Edmond Sumner suffered a season-ending knee injury. They were able to win their first three games after the injury, but then fellow star guard Trevon Bluiett was injured. He missed just two games, but the team ended up losing six of their last seven, before picking up a couple wins in the Big East Tournament.

Key Players: The Musketeers really miss Edmond Sumner, but they do still have junior Trevon Bluiett, who averages a team-leading 18.1 points per game. The only other Xavier player not injured who averages double-figures is guard J.P. Macura at 14.5 points per game. Maryland is lead by one of the most talented guards in the country in junior Melo Trimble (17.0 PPG). He has five NCAA Tournament games to his credit, and that experience could play a major factor for the Terps.

Why MARY will Win: Xavier, despite having very good outside shooters, tend to try to do their most damage on the interior. Maryland has a lot of size, and it is tough to get good looks in the paint against them. Melo Trimble will be the best player on the floor, and he will take over this game and hit a late shot to send Maryland to the Second Round.

Why XAV will Win: They struggled down the stretch, but they picked up some steam in the Big East Tournament, knocking off Butler and nearly beating Creighton. Trevon Bluiett has a penchant for hitting the big shot. I think this will be a very close, low scoring game, and it could come down to which team has the ball last. If it comes down to one shot, I want Bluiett taking the shot. He hits it, and the Musketeers advance.

 

Orlando, FL
#3 Florida State (25-8) vs #14 Florida Gulf Coast (26-7)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:20 pm TNT

Overview: A little in-state Tourney battle, and it’s taking place in their state! I am a fan of this “coincidence.” Florida State earned this high a bid at the beginning of ACC play, going 6-1 to start conference play, with all but the first one against ranked teams (wins over Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville in that span). They had struggles after that, losing to teams like Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Pitt. On the other side, Dunk City is back in the Tournament! You probably remember FGCU from their Sweet 16 run as a 15-seed in 2013, the birth of Dunk City. Believe it or not, they have more dunks this season than they did that year. The Eagles were not playing at full strength for a portion of this season, but they are at their fullest right now, and they are probably better than a typical 14-seed.

Key Players: The Seminoles are one of the most athletic teams in the country, led by star freshman and future 1st round NBA Draft pick, 6-10 Jonathan Isaac (11.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG). He has some fantastic teammates as well in guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10.4 PPG, 4.8 APG) and Dwayne Bacon (team-leading 16.9 PPG). 6-8 senior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia is a beast for FGCU, but he missed 10 games during the season due to personal issues (team was 6-4 in those games, including single-digit losses to Baylor and Michigan State). He is back (which is HUGE for the Eagles), and in his absence, UCF-transfer Brandon Goodwin became a star in his own right, averaging 18.4 points per game.

Why FSU will Win: For as talented as FGCU is, they don’t even come close to what the Seminoles have to offer. Florida State is great on both sides of the floor, and they should have an easy time playing their style against the Eagles. FSU will run the Eagles to death and simply outscore them en route to victory. No fun for Dunk City this year.

Why FGCU will Win: This team will come into this game thinking that they are the better team. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to push a team over the edge. For as talented as Florida State is, they have really struggled at times away from Tallahassee. Orlando isn’t very far, but it’s still not Tallahassee. Dunk City will prove to be alive and well, getting the Florida crowd on their side, rekindling some of the magic from 2013, and pulling off the huge upset.

 

Salt Lake City, UT
#7 Saint Mary’s (28-4) vs #10 VCU (26-8)
Thursday 3/16, 7:20 pm TBS

Overview: When you talk about teams that are flying under the radar, Saint Mary’s is one of the first teams that comes to mind this year. They have just four losses this season, and three of them are to Gonzaga, who as it was noted earlier, is an extremely good team. The Gaels did not play a difficult schedule this year, but they know how to win, and KenPom has them as the 14th best team in the country. VCU has flown under the radar a little bit this year as well, finishing second in the A-10 in both the regular season and the tournament. Will Wade is one of the biggest names in coaching right now in terms of major conference openings, and he has done a great job with this team.

Key Players: Saint Mary’s has a player named Jock Landale, and he is a 6-11 junior who is averaging 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and he finished second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings. So yeah, he’s extremely good. VCU has some talented players as well, with senior JeQuan Lewis (14.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG) and junior Justin Tillman (12.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG) leading the way. They also have a monster in the middle, 6-7 senior Mo Alie-Cox, who I think has been at VCU for 18 years. At least it’s felt like that long.

Why SMC will Win: You can knock the Gaels for playing an easy schedule, but you can’t knock them for losing to Gonzaga three times. They are a much better team than most people realize, led by one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. They are in the Top-15 in the country in both 2-point and 3-point percentage, so it’s not like you can just take one of them away and expect to beat them. They will slow the game down, play their pace, work through their star Landale, and get the victory.

Why VCU will Win: This is going to be a low scoring game, as both teams are better on the defensive side of the ball. Athleticism is going to be a major advantage for the Rams, and I think if they can force some missed shots and get out and run, they can beat Saint Mary’s.

 

Salt Lake City, UT
#2 Arizona (30-4) vs #15 North Dakota (22-9)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:50 pm TBS

Overview: A few weeks ago if you asked people who the best team in the Pac-12 was, most probably said Oregon or UCLA. Arizona laughs at those people now, having beaten the Bruins and the Ducks in consecutive nights to win the Pac-12 Tournament and earn the 2-seed in the West. This team’s strength of schedule was not strong, but here are the four teams they lost to: Butler, Gonzaga, Oregon, UCLA. All teams on the top four seed lines in this Tournament. They are totally healthy right now, and peaking at the perfect time. North Dakota is in the Tournament for the first time in school history, needing overtime to defeat Weber State in the Big Sky title game.

Key Players: Allonzo Trier might be the best player for Arizona, and he missed the first 19 games of the season. Trier is averaging 17.3 points per game, and his return has transformed this team. Lauri Markkanen is another player you should pay attention to on the Wildcats. The 7-0 freshman is drawing Dirk Nowitzki comparisons, and it’s spot on. 6-0 senior guard Quinton Hooker is the man for the Fighting Hawks, averaging 19.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Why AZ will Win: They are playing their best basketball right now, and a lot of times, it’s the teams that get hot down the stretch who go on to make deep runs in the Tournament. North Dakota isn’t great on defense, and they tend to struggle to guard the 3-point arc most of all. Arizona has a bunch of great shooters. They will make more than 10 from behind the 3-point line en route to a huge win.

Why UND will Win: It’s going to be tough for the Hawks to even compete in this game, as Arizona is considered by most to be the favorite to advance to the Final Four out of this region. Arizona likes to slow the pace on offense and set up in the half court, while North Dakota would much rather speed the game up. If they can force some missed shots and push the tempo, maybe North Dakota has a shot to shock the world.

 

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!

Conference Tournament Weekend Preview

This post will be a little longer than most, so I’ll keep the intro short and sweet. If you don’t enjoy watching college basketball this time of year, I’m not sure what is wrong with you. I got called off work yesterday and was able to just sit and watch games all day, and it was fantastic.

So many games, so many exciting finishes. March Madness it was indeed. I’m totally prepared for another day jam-packed with incredible action, and here’s a look at all of the games coming your way today.

America East Championship (Burlington, Vermont)
#3 Albany vs #1 Vermont
11:00 am, ESPN2
Vermont has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation this season. Granted, it has been against mostly poor competition, but you have to play the teams on your schedule, and Vermont has beaten most of them. The Catamounts have won 20 games in a row, and their five losses this season include games against Providence, Butler and South Carolina, all Tournament teams. Vermont beat Albany by double digits in both meetings during the regular season, but don’t sleep on the Great Danes. They have a win at Penn State this year, so they are definitely capable. But on their home floor, I’ll go with Vermont to get the win, their 21st in a row.

Sun Belt Semifinals (New Orleans, Louisiana)
#4 Texas State vs #1 UT Arlington (12:30 pm, ESPN3)
#6 Troy vs #2 Georgia State (approx. 3:00 pm, ESPN3)
Championship Game: Sunday 2:00 pm, ESPN2
The team to know here is the 1-seed, UT Arlington. The Mavericks are one of the better mid-majors in the country this season, boasting wins at Texas and Saint Mary’s, and a near miss at Arkansas. If they can win the Sun Belt, they’ll head to the Tournament likely as a 12-seed, and one that no 5-seed will want to play.

MEAC Championship (Norfolk, Virginia)
#2 Norfolk State vs #1 NC Central
1:00 pm, ESPN2
I won’t spend too much time on this game, mostly because I don’t know much about either of these teams. The winner of this game will almost definitely head to Dayton to play in one of the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday. NC Central is the clear favorite here, as they are the only MEAC team ranked inside of KenPom’s Top-300. They are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, and I believe they will get the job done.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
#9 Davidson vs #4 Rhode Island (1:00 pm, CBSSN)
#3 Richmond vs #2 VCU (approx. 3:30 pm, CBSSN)
Championship Game: Sunday 12:30 pm, CBS
Dayton was the best team in the A-10 all season long, and had pretty much clinched their spot in the Big Dance already, so they didn’t appear to have a whole lot to play for on Friday. It showed, as Jack Gibbs scored 34 points, leading 9-seed Davidson to the upset of Dayton. That leaves Davidson and the 2 through 4-seeds in the conference semifinals Saturday afternoon. Davidson and Richmond need to win the conference to reach the Tournament. VCU is most likely in already like Dayton. Rhode Island is the interesting case. They are squarely on the Bubble, and probably could have used a win over Dayton to improve their resume. I expect them to play as if they think they need to earn the automatic bid, and get to the finals, where I think they will meet VCU.

Big Ten Semifinals (Washington, D.C.)
#8 Michigan vs #4 Minnesota (1:00 pm, CBS)
#6 Northwestern vs #2 Wisconsin (approx. 3:30 pm, CBS)
Championship Game: Sunday 3:00 pm, CBS
Two of the best stories in college basketball right now are both going to be a part of the Big Ten semifinals. Michigan’s plane crashed off the runway on Wednesday, forcing them to fly to D.C. early Thursday morning. They didn’t even have their uniforms because they had to stay on the plane as part of the police investigation. Despite all of that, they defeated Illinois (while wearing practice jerseys), and then knocked out 1-seed Purdue en route to a matchup with Minnesota in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Northwestern, the only original D-I team from a major conference to never reach the NCAA Tournament, has won games against Rutgers and 3-seed Maryland, all but stamping their ticket to the Dance. They are two amazing stories, and it just feels right that they’ll both win their semifinal games and meet up in the title game, which would be a rematch of a game on March 1 that saw Northwestern win on a buzzer-beating layup. I’m all in for that rematch!

SEC Semifinals (Nashville, Tennessee)
#5 Alabama vs #1 Kentucky (1:00 pm, ESPN)
#7 Vanderbilt vs #3 Arkansas (approx. 3:30 pm, ESPN)
Championship Game: Sunday 1:00 pm, ESPN
It’s been a down year overall for the SEC, but the one constant all year has been Kentucky, so it’s no surprise that they are in the semifinals. They’ll take on an Alabama team that is finally starting to live up to expectations. They probably need to win the conference to make it to the Tourney, and I don’t see them getting by the Wildcats. On the other side, Bubble team Vanderbilt defeated Florida for the third time this season in the quarterfinals, making it pretty likely that they will make it to the Field of 68. Arkansas is likely going to the Tournament as well, but Vanderbilt is one of the hotter teams in the country, and I expect them to get another upset en route to the finals.

Ivy League Semifinals (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
#4 Penn vs #1 Princeton (1:30 pm, ESPNU)
#3 Yale vs #2 Harvard (approx. 4:00 pm, ESPNU)
Championship Game: Sunday 12:00 noon, ESPN2
The Ivy League has finally joined the postseason tournament party! Up until this season, the regular season champion in the Ivy would go to the NCAA Tournament, but this year, the league’s four best teams will play a two day tournament at the historic Palestra in Philly. Penn just barely got in, winning their regular season finale to earn the 4-seed, and now they’ll get to host 1-seed Princeton in the semis. Then it’ll be followed by the most historic rivalry in collegiate sports, Yale and Harvard. I think these games are both toss-ups, and I don’t even want to try to predict who will win them.

AAC Semifinals (Hartford, Connecticut)
#4 UCF vs #1 SMU (3:00 pm, ESPN2)
#6 UConn vs #2 Cincinnati (approx. 5:30 pm, ESPN2)
Championship Game: Sunday 3:15 pm, ESPN
The UConn Huskies in March, it’s about as sure a thing as death and taxes. The 6-seed knocked off Houston in the quarterfinals, and will look to keep their Tourney hopes alive with a win over Cincinnati in the semis. I don’t see it happening, though. The Bearcats are just too good. The other team that’s too good is SMU. They survived a late surge from 9-seed East Carolina yesterday, but I think that’ll be a wake-up call for them more than anything. UCF is a great defensive team, but they don’t have the talent to keep up with SMU.

Big East Championship (New York City)
#6 Creighton vs #1 Villanova
5:30 pm, FOX
The defending National Champions are back in the Big East title game for the third straight year. Seton Hall defeated them last year, but they got their revenge last night thanks to a Josh Hart follow of a missed Kris Jenkins shot with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. They didn’t play their best, but they got the job done. Creighton had to squeak out their semifinal as well, with Marcus Foster draining a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds on the clock to defeat 7-seed Xavier 75-72. Both of these teams will make the Tournament, so it comes down to which team will want this game more. I think Villanova will come flying out of the gates and will hang on down the stretch to win their second Big East title in the last three years.

Big 12 Championship (Kansas City, Missouri)
#4 Iowa State vs #2 West Virginia
6:00 pm, ESPN
Iowa State is en fuego right now. After defeating Oklahoma State in the quarters, they blitzed TCU in the semifinals, and they have to be considered the favorites in this game, and they’ll be a very dangerous team in the Tournament. But don’t think for one second that West Virginia won’t at the very least give the Cyclones all they can handle and then some. Kansas State may have been playing for their Tournament lives last night, but the Mountaineers found a way to steal a 51-50 victory. West Virginia’s pressure will give Iowa State some fits, but I just love the way they are playing right now. Monte Morris and Deonte Burton will lead the Cyclones to their third Big 12 title in the last four seasons.

Mountain West Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 Colorado State vs #1 Nevada
6:00 pm, CBS
How the mighty have fallen. Recent history has the Mountain West on the verge of being considered a major conference, sending multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. Not so much in 2017. This has become a one-bid league, and the winner of this game will likely be a 12 or 13-seed in the Dance. At least, for the conference’s sake, they’re going to send one of their best teams, as 1-seed Nevada and 2-seed Colorado State battle for the championship. These teams only played once in the regular season, and it was in the finale just a week ago, with Nevada winning 85-72 on their home floor. Revenge could be a factor for the Rams, but Nevada is the better team, and I think they will get the job done and advance to the Field of 68.

SWAC Championship (Houston, Texas)
#2 Alcorn State vs #1 Texas Southern
6:30 pm, ESPNU
Texas Southern is lead by former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, and he makes sure they are well prepared for this time of year with their non-conference schedule. They played their first 16 games of the season on the road, and that included games against Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, TCU and Baylor. The good thing for them is that they’ve already clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament, as Alcorn State is ineligible for the Tournament this season. That makes this game pretty meaningless, but I think Texas Southern is the better team and will still win this game.

MAC Championship (Cleveland, Ohio)
#6 Kent State vs #1 Akron
7:30 pm, ESPN2
Kent State is the darling of the MAC Tournament, outlasting the country’s leading scorer Marcus Keene and Central Michigan in overtime in the opening round, then upsetting 3-seed Buffalo and 2-seed Ohio to make it to the title game and a shot at reaching the NCAA’s. They’ll have to go through 1-seed Akron, who survived an upset attempt by Ball State yesterday in the semifinals. Akron has easily been the best team in the conference this season, and their height could cause some problems for Kent State. These teams split their regular season meetings, so it’s anyone’s game, but I’ll take Akron to get the victory and move on to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.

Conference USA Championship (Birmingham, Alabama)
#6 Marshall vs #1 Middle Tennessee
8:00 pm, CBSSN
Middle Tennessee is looking to return to the Tournament for the second consecutive season, after picking up probably the biggest upset in last year’s Tourney, dominating 2-seed Michigan State in the First Round as a 15-seed. A lot of people had the Spartans picked to win the whole thing, and Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and the rest of the Blue Raiders went in and ran Michigan State out of the building. They have kept the momentum from the end of last season going into this year as they are 29-4 with wins over UNC Wilmington, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. This is a very good, experienced basketball team that I would not want to face in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall is looking to play Cinderella here, having already knocked off 3-seed Old Dominion and 2-seed Louisiana Tech to get to this point. Can they get it done? I don’t think so. The Blue Raiders should get the victory.

Big Sky Championship (Reno, Nevada)
#3 Weber State vs #1 North Dakota
8:30 pm, ESPNU
The North Dakota Fighting Hawks won the Big Sky regular season title, but they have much loftier goals. The Hawks are looking to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history (they have been playing D-I basketball since the 2009-2010 season). To get there, they’ll have to defeat Weber State for the third time this season, which is a very difficult thing to do. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament last season, knocking North Dakota out of the Big Sky Tournament in overtime in the semifinals along the way. That’s just extra incentive for North Dakota to play well, which I believe they’ll do, reaching their first NCAA Tournament.

ACC Championship (Brooklyn, New York)
#5 Duke vs #3 Notre Dame
9:00 pm, ESPN
I guess it makes sense that the two hottest teams in the conference would end up meeting in the title game, but I have to say that I’m a little shocked at this matchup. Duke came from behind in the second half to defeat rival UNC 93-83. The Blue Devils are finally showing the form that everyone has been waiting to see from them this season. They are arguably the most talented team in the country, and they are starting to live up to expectations. Don’t sleep on the Irish though. Mike Brey has done an amazing job with this team, picked to finish 7th in the ACC in the preseason. Bonzie Colson is the league’s leading rebounder at 6-5, and the team has been shooting the lights out from distance. If the Irish get hot, they can certainly get the win here, but Duke is just playing too well right now. I like the Blue Devils to go into the Tournament with the momentum of an ACC championship.

Southland Championship (Katy, Texas)
#2 Texas A&M-CC vs #1 New Orleans
9:30 pm, ESPN2
Another 16-seed is on the line in this game, and it should be a really good one. New Orleans and Corpus Christi faced each other just once in the regular season, and it was a 73-72 overtime home win for New Orleans. I did not see that game, but based on those facts, I’m sure Corpus Christi easily could have taken it had the ball bounced their way one or two more times. It’s a relative toss-up, and I’ll go with Corpus Christi to pull off the mild upset and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

WAC Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 New Mexico State vs #1 CSU Bakersfield
11:00 pm, ESPNU
It was on really late, and you could only access the broadcast via WatchESPN, but I hope I wasn’t the only one who got to watch the end of CSU Bakersfield’s FOUR OVERTIME thriller with Utah Valley in the semifinals last night. I didn’t catch it until the overtimes had started, but that was clearly the most exciting part of the game. Utah Valley gave the Roadrunners everything they could handle, but Bakersfield was able to survive and advance. They’ll take on a New Mexico State team that routed UMKC in the semis, making them the fresher team if you will. That could be a big advantage, but I’m a believer in momentum, and the momentum from a 4OT victory will put Bakersfield over the top and into the NCAA Tournament.

Pac-12 Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 Arizona vs #1 Oregon
11:00 pm, ESPN
West Coast basketball is back! The top three teams in the Pac 12 have been fantastic this season, and we’ll see the two best do battle for the championship late tonight. Could this game be for a 1-seed in the Tournament? It’s certainly possible, but at the very least, the winner of this game will get to stay in the West Region while the loser will have to travel elsewhere in the Tournament. These teams played just once in the regular season, with Oregon dominating the game in every facet, winning 85-58 in Eugene. Arizona will be out for revenge, but I love this Oregon team. They are extremely balanced, and they have a star in Dillon Brooks that can take over any game. They also have more postseason experience than a young Arizona team. I like the Ducks to win their second consecutive Pac 12 title.

Big West Championship (Anaheim, California)
#2 UC Davis vs #1 UC Irvine
11:30 pm, ESPN2
The final game of conference tournament Saturday will be for the Big West championship between 1-seed UC Irvine and 2-seed UC Davis. Both had difficulties getting to this point. UC Irvine held off Long Beach State 62-57, while UC Davis needed overtime to take out Cal State Fullerton 66-64. These teams split their season series, but the last game was exactly a week ago, and it was a 30-point Irvine victory. You’d think that would make them the easy pick, but Davis beat them in the other meeting, and the wound from that 30-point loss is still fresh. I think revenge will play a bigger role here than in other games, fueling UC Davis to an upset victory and a trip to the Big Dance.