College Football

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why UCLA will win it all: How the Bruins look against other top seeds

It's March Madness. Here is what I think

Why UCLA will win it all, and who they will take out to do it. 
By: Joe Smeltzer
Photo creds to UCLA.edu

The strengths of the UCLA Bruins are evident. They are the best offensive team in college basketball, possibly in the past decade, and feature some of the best players in the land, those being Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Bryce Alford. That is the main reason why I love them. That is the main reason why I think they will win it all. However, there is a reason that they, in spite of being the most offensivley gifted team in the country, are a #3 seed and not a #1 seed, and that is their defense.

Defensively, the Bruins are pedestrian at best, horrendous at worst. They allow 75.3 points per contest, which is good for 256th in the country, and 9th in the PAC 12. There have been occasions this season in which the Bruins allowed 89, 92 and 96 points, and two of those games resulted in defeat. So, UCLA's defensive concerns are legitimate, and they could well cost them a national title. However, let's look at some of UCLA's likely tournament opponents, assuming they get past the first two rounds,  as they may have some similar issues that the Bruins can exploit.

Kentucky
Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) is trouble for any defense he comes across (photo creds to NCAA.COM

If all goes according to plan, Steve Alford's men will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16. A simple way to say that UCLA can beat Kentucky is that they've done it before, as they pulled out a 97-92 thriller (at Rupp Arena, mind you) on December 3. Another reason involves Kentucky, like UCLA, struggling on the defensive end.

Like the Bruins, the Wildcats know how to put the ball in the basket, as only four teams in the country score more than Kentucky, UCLA, of course, being one of those teams. On defense, however, the Bruins allow 71.8 points per game, good for just 8th in the SEC and 162nd in America. UCLA has proven that they can carve up Kentucky's defense, and it's not like the Bruins have forgotten how to score over the past three months.

As a fan, I would love to see this matchup take place, as it would be a Final Four quality contest in the Sweet 16. This game would be almost guaranteed to be a shootout, and as proven on December 3, UCLA can win those things.

UNC
#2 Joel Berry is a stud. But are his temmates well-rounded enough to get to the Final Four? (Photo creds to The Daily Tar Heel)

I'll be blunt for a minute; North Carolina is the most overrated team in this tournament. They are poorly disciplined. They are reckless at times. They are inconsistent, and oh yeah, they can't play defense! (8th in the ACC in opponent PPG)

Having said all of that, UNC is still among the nation's most talented offensive teams, and yes, they would be likely to score a lot against UCLA. However, I cannot trust this North Carolina team to be smart enough. If UNC makes dumb mistakes, and UCLA takes advantage of those careless mistakes, a Final Four could well be in their future for the boys of Westwood.


Kansas
Landen Lucas (#33) is the only big man that could play a big factor for KU.

In some ways, Kansas is similar to both Kentucky and UCLA. High scoring, poor defending. However, although Kansas is a #1 seed and Kentucky a #2, I think the Jayhawks would, in fact, be a better matchup for UCLA than the Wildcats would be.

The reason for this is that while both UK and KU struggle defensively, Kentucky has an advantage in size, as six of their players are 6'10 and above. Kansas, on the other hand, does not have a legitimate inside presence aside from the 6'10 Landen Lucas. Although UCLA is not known for pounding the ball in the paint, if and when these two teams meet, don't be surprised if big Thomas Welsh has a field day.

Kansas will score their fair share of deuces and treys, just as everybody else does against this Bruins team. However, like Kentucky, the Jayhawks are vulnerable on the other side, so much so, that I would not be surprised if UCLA were to win this game by 10-15 points. Ralk Chalk, no championship.

The Dukies/Wildcats
In my eyes, UCLA will either play
A. The Duke Blue Devils
B. The Arizona Wildcats
Both of these teams are excellent, and therefore, this match-up would be a tricky one for the Bruins. However, it is one that they could win. First, I'll talk about Arizona.

The Wildcats have a decent shot to get to the Final Four, as either they or mighty Gonzaga will come out of that West region. Arizona is a familiar foe for these Bruins, as the two teams have had three meetings with each other, with Zona having a 2-1 edge. On the surface, it seems like a tough chore to pick UCLA in this game, as Arizona defeated the Bruins just five days ago and looked pretty good doing it. However, there are a few reasons why I do not expect that to happen again.

The first is that, in my heart of hearts, I do not expect Arizona to get to the Final Four, as Gonzaga has their most balanced attack ever. The second is that I don't see the Duke Blue Devils beating UCLA either. I will not argue that Duke is the most talented team in the East region, and I will admit that the Dukies might well be the hottest team in the country. However, one thing separates UCLA from Duke, and that is consistency.

This is a Duke team that is on fire. But this is also a Duke team that has lost eight games. This is also a Duke team that, albeit partly due to injury, has lost games to Syracuse, NC State and Virgina Tech this season. This is also a Duke team that was 11-7 in the ACC. So, who's to say that inconsistency wouldn't appear if these men faced off with the Bruins? UCLA is not perfect. But they are pretty damn good on most nights, and I would expect this young Dukie team to fall off the rainbow if they were to face Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, and Bryce Alford.

Now, let's say UCLA is to face Arizona. It would be so easy to pick the Wildcats, especially considering that they, unlike Duke, Kansas or Kentucky, can play defense. However, I believe life has a way of evening itself out, meaning that this UCLA team is too good to lose three times to a single opponent.

So, because of their offense, and because many of their big matchups can't play defense, I like the ultra-talented Bruins to score and score in bunches, so much so, that they will win their 12th National Title. Somewhere, John Wooden will be smiling.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Don’t Feed the Birds

By: Alex Gordon
It finally happened.  After seven absurd seasons in Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins finally got out, and he escaped to a situation that many didn’t expect him to end up in. February 20th the most talented center in the league was traded to the New Orleans for Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, and 2017 first and second round draft picks.  Hield is the only real “upside” player among these three.  Even if the Pelicans don’t drastically improve with the acquisition of Cousins, they will most likely find that the picks don’t turn into much either (especially considering that Cousins and Isaiah Thomas are the only impact players the Kings have managed to draft in the last seven years).  
 The Pelicans managed to acquire one of the most sought after players in the league for cheap, and in doing so most likely turned around their middling franchise.  The knock on the Pelicans since they drafted Anthony Davis is that they have never been able to surround him with the right pieces, and they waffled between having him play center or power forward. Insisting, in the last few seasons, that he be paired with an Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca for a significant portion of the game. Many argued that this made him less effective. Judging by the fact that the Pelicans played their best with him at Center over the last few years, and with the league going smaller anyway, that the pounding he might take playing center wouldn’t be as significant as it would have 5 years ago. 
   What’s fascinating about this pairing is that it was never a question of whether Davis could be productive as a power forward, but if you could get a center talented enough to warrant playing him there.  Realistically that had never been a possibility; it’s much easier to acquire skilled power forwards than skilled centers.  Cousins is the best hypothetical partner for Davis in the front court.  He’s bruisingly physical, the center that people were referencing when they would say “Davis is too skinny to match up with.” At the same time, Cousins has range, and the ability to handle the ball on the perimeter, so there’s no need to worry about them sticking up the lane for each other.  We legitimately have never seen a front court like this in recent NBA history.  It’s terrifying, their skill sets complement each other, and if they’re able to get a competent point guard and some shooters around them they will give every team in the league fits. 
The idea that the Pelicans gave up too much to get him is ridiculous,
Cousins is a first team all-NBA center, and they gave up two middling  NBA players and an intriguing young talent for him.  Considering the Celtics were willing to lay out the war chest for him, they got Boogie on an absolute steal.  They still have Jrue Holiday, who, if he can get back to his past form, could be the solid top 15 point guard that they need to run the offense. All the other pieces can be filled in from there. Essentially none of the other Pelicans players need to be protected this offseason, they just need to fill out the roster around those three this coming season and they could be a top four team next year.  
Going back to the Celtics, it's  unfortunate that they weren’t able to take advantage of this situation.  If they were confident that Cousins and Thomas could work together (there was some talk that their relationship is what caused Thomas to be traded away from the Kings originally) , they probably should have gone for it. This is the type of player that the Celts have been “acquiring assets” for, and they missed the chance. They’re already the second or third best team in a conference, so it’s not the end of the world, but Cousins fits what they have. Horford would have fit easily next to him as a power forward, Thomas would have been great as a secondary scorer/closer.  Considering how deep they are they most likely could have held onto a good piece of their own core and wouldn’t have needed to piece much together around those three. Time will tell, but if the Celtics can never get over the hump in the East, this could a painful what if for them.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Boogie trade may not work out for either side

Two Titans. But how much good will this trade do New Orleans? (Photo creds to ProBasketballTalk.com)
Hello, all
Joe Smeltzer and Alex Gordon both have conflicting views on the recent trade of DeMarcus  "Boogie" Cousins from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans. Here, we will both state our cases in seperate blog entries, starting with Joseph. 

DeMarcus Cousins is pretty good at basketball
In fact, he is one of the best in the world at what he does. Therefore, he is an asset to any team lucky enough to land his services. However, the New Orleans Pelicans might not be as lucky as you would think in landing the big man

On the surface, this deal to send Cousins and small forward Omri Casspi to Bourbon Street made all the sense in the world for New Orleans. They received an elite basketball player, and now have what is without question the best front-court in the league with Cousins and Anthony Davis. However, a key question is, how much does this do for the Pelicans in the long term? 

New Orleans is currently 24-38. That's not good. In fact, only two teams in the entire Western Conference are currently in a worse position. Ordinarily, teams that make these types of deals are in position to win a championship or at least make a deep playoff run. Not here. If the Pelicans are lucky, they will sneak into the playoffs as a #8 seed, and even that might seem like a stretch. New Orleans is currently behind Jamir Nelson and the Denver Nuggets for the #8 spot, and according to ESPN's BPI Playoff odds, the probability of the Pelicans getting in is at 0.5%. Yikes.

Even if New Orleans somehow does make it to the dance, in all likelihood, the Golden State Warriors or San Antiono Spurs will await them. Uh, good luck with that.

There is a way that this trade could work out for the Pelicans. Sure there is. While there might not be a huge benefit to the Pelicans as far as the rest of this season goes, and honestly, probably next season as well,  the future might be a different story; if New Orleans is able to resign Cousins in his free agent year of 2018.

If the Pelicans progress next season, that will be a start to convincing Boggie to stay, and playing with a stud like Anthony Davis (who, like Cousins attended the University of Kentucky), is a tempting option. However, every team in the league with a need for an inside presence is going to want DeMarcus Cousins, and if it comes down to the Pelicans vs. the field, I would bet my money on the field.

We know what the Pelicans received. But what about what they lost? On the surface, New Orleans didn't give up very much as far as getting a top-ten player in the world goes. The most notable piece that went to Sacramento was Buddy Hield, a rookie out of Oklahoma University. Hield's stats are modest, but there is a reason that he was selected #6 overall in this past June's draft. The man has great potential, and hopefully he can showcase that in Cali.

Also, the Kings received guards Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway, neither of which are notable, as well as New Orleans' first and second round draft choices for 2017. Does this seem like a steep price to give up for an elite player? In my opinion, it does not. Aside from Hield, none of the players that the Pelicans gave up are noteworthy. However, what might hurt New Orleans is the draft picks. As I mentioned earlier, the Pelicans are not a team that should be in "win now" mode, and if the Cousins trade does not work out as planned, losing those draft choices could come back to bite. Building for the future is important for a team like New Orleans, and trading picks is not a good way to do that.

Sacramento did not exactly make out like bandits in this deal, either. They could have gotten a (no pun intended) king's ransom. Instead, all they received was two draft picks, a promising player, and a couple of scrubs. Congrats. There isn't a lot more to say about the Sacremento Kings aside from that they have been in shambles since the days of Chirs Weber, and it does not look like things are getting any better.

So, the biggest trade of the 2016-17 NBA season could very well end up being a big waste of time for all parties involved. That, my friends, is something you do not see everyday. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Brad-ketology 2-27-17


Brad-ketology
By: Bradley Stewart


I can hardly believe it is here folks!  This is the final week of the Regular Season and here is my third  bracket of the season.  Most teams only have two games remaining before their conference tournaments  and for teams on the bubble, they are must wins.  Here is an in-depth look of my bracket (I am picking who will make the NCAA Tournament and what seed they will get):  

Number One Seeds: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, and Gonzaga are on the top line of this bracket.  Another loss will bump Gonzaga to a two seed, but for now they remain safely a one. Aside from Monday night, UNC has been dominant as of late and as long as no other top ACC team can beat them, they will remain a one. However, the Duke game on Saturday is crucial. Villanova and Kansas are both safely on the one line, but a bad stretch could knock them off.  

Teams that could still receive a one seed: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, and Louisville

Butler: Butler was able to upset Villanova for the second time this season last week.  The win gave them 5 RPI Top-25 wins.  The Bulldogs have a Top-10 RPI and a Top-15 Strength of Schedule to go along with a 22-6 record.  With their strong resume and more potential opportunities to strengthen it, the Bulldogs could rise to a two seed.

Butler’s Seed Range: 2-4

Bubble Watch: The Vanderbilt Commodores have rejoined the conversation of a potential Tournament spot and I have them currently playing in a play-in game.  Vanderbilt has a Top-3 Strength of Schedule, which can only get better as they play at Kentucky and vs Florida, four top-50 wins, and wins against ranked Florida and South Carolina teams.  The Dores’ find themselves in a good spot, benefiting from a weak bubble.  Should they defeat Florida or Kentucky and win a couple games in the SEC Tournament, they should be in the field of 68.

Teams that are currently on the Bubble (Could fall out of field or climb into field): Arkansas, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, California, Marquette, Vanderbilt, Wichita State/Illinois State (whoever does not win the Missouri Valley), USC, Seton Hall, Michigan, Providence, Rhode Island, TCU, Kansas State Ole Miss, and Wake Forest




To Look at the FULL BRACKET CLICK HERE





To Look at the FULL BRACKET CLICK HERE

Saturday, February 25, 2017

So Far: The 8 best things about the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-17

Hello, all. The NHL Regular Season is reaching its climax. So, since I have not written about the Pittsburgh Penguins since October, I think it's only fair to discuss some of the good, and eventually, bad, about the franchise. So, here they are, starting with the best.

#8: The rise of Justin Schultz
Schultz has come a long way since being traded from Edmonton (Photo creds to NHL.com)

Remember this offseason, when Schultz, as one of the Penguins few unrestricted free agents, looked set to depart elsewhere? Well, thank god he resigned. The defenseman has been excellent, particularly on the offensive end, as he is fourth on the team with 39 points, 30 of them being via the assist. Not bad for a defensman on the third set, eh?

#7: The rise of Connor Sheary


For years, Pittsburgh was praying for Sidney Crosby to have a perfect compliment. In 2017, Connor Sheary emarged as that guy. In his first full season, Sheary has 35 points in just 42 games played. Although Sheary is currently on the shelf, The kid has been outstanding when healthy, and every Penguin is longing for the day when Sheary and Crosby can make that magic again.

#6: Jake Guntzel's Debut

NHL Debut. Parents in attendance. Two goals. Awesome.

#5: Murray proves that he is no flash in the pan.
Photo creds to Pittsburgh-Post Gazette

This entry could also tie into my "worst thing about the Penguins" list, as seeing Marc-Andre Flury in a backup role is a little tricky. However, it is a joy to watch young Murray continue to blossom.

Murray is currently #8 in the NHL in goals against average and has a record of 22-7-3 in 32 starts. Not bad for a 22-year old who is still by definition a rookie, eh?

#4: Raising the banner

This may be a surprise, so I'll explain. Yes, a banner is a tarp with words on it. But, out of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League, only one gets to raise a Stanley Cup banner on opening night. So in my view, the Penguins being that one team was pretty sweet. The banner raising was also complimented by a thrilling shootout victory over the hated Capitals. Mark it 8, dude.

#3: Phil Kessel
I don't have to explain this one, do I?

#2: 1,000 for Sid

We all knew that this milestone was coming for Crosby, but it's still a thrill to have it come into fruition. Just wish he did it at the game that your's truly attended earlier this month.

#1: Sidney Crosby
He's the best player in the world. He's healthy. He's scoring. He's dominating. He's Sidney Crosby, and don't you forget that.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Processing

By Alex Gordon and Joe Smeltzer
Alex
2011-12: It seems so long ago…  


Only six seasons ago the Philadelphia 76ers went to the conference semi-finals and battled the Lebron era Heat. Most will point out it was a fluke that they were there in the first place. They were the eighth seed, going up against a prime Derrick Rose Bull’s team, and if not for an untimely injury to the Bull’s star, they probably would have been quickly dismissed. That’s inconsequential in the scope of the process. Point being the Sixers were, relatively recently, a qualified NBA team. In the context of past playoff droughts, the Sixers ineptitude over the last few years are a blip on the radar. Granted they will most likely pass their franchise record of seven years without a playoff berth next season, but the longest time a franchise has gone without making the playoffs is the Clippers with 15 seasons. The Timberwolves have an active 12 season streak; the Warriors have two separate 12 and 9 season stretches of playoff virginity within the last 35 years.  Failure for an NBA team over this extended period is almost always due to faulty management.  Questionable signings missed draft picks, and “win now” deals that salvage the future for making a bleak present slightly brighter, are what cause these periods of prolonged underperformance. This isn’t Philadelphia's problem. However, management throughout has known what they’re doing. Because of this, the valleys of the process have been some of the lowest ever. What we are beginning to see, though, is the peaks might be just as high. 

Alex
2012-13: The Bynasty

   
Never forget

The Sixers were supposed to be a team on the rise before all of this started. Despite Iguodala leaving in free agency, Philadelphia's front office was attempting to form a young core around Andrew Bynum, their marquee acquisition that off-season. What’s funny is at the time this was feasible.  The season prior, Bynum was playing like the best center in the league with the Lakers, Jrue Holliday seemed like an up-and-coming star point guard.  Forces outside their control derailed this dream before it even had a chance, though. Bynum never played a game for the Sixers; his knees failed him over and over again, it was absurd to the point of managing to aggravate them while bowling.  He had season-ending surgery on both knees March 19th, and almost every other significant Sixer missed time as well.  This strange, faded, the season is what laid the groundwork for the team to tank as egregiously as any organization in league history.  What’s odd is that it came out of an aggressive, and at the time, reasonable attempt to change the course of the franchise for the better. Odder still is it may have done just that in an incredibly roundabout way.         
Joe: 2013-14: MCW to the rescue
After that 34-48 finish in 2012-13, the Sixers began their run as a laughing stock. It started on June 27th, 2013. Here, Philidelphia made a controversial decision to trade away one of their few star players, point guard Jrue Holliday, for the draft rights of Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel. As talented as Noel was, he was equally prone to get hurt, and we have yet to see what he can become in the NBA. With the Sixers other first round pick, they took a point guard from Syracuse named Michael-Carter Williams. It’s not often that a first-round pick gets traded less than two years after his arrival. It’s even rarer that the said first-round pick gets the boot after winning Rookie of the Year. Well, both of those things happened to MCW. 

Carter-Williams was about the only good thing about the Sixers in 2013-14. The rest is self-explanatory; 19-63. A 15 win drop off. So, considering that, the eventual trade of Michael Carter-Williams seems like a horrible, horrible idea. But as it turns out, it was a wise decision by the Sixers front office. In exchange, the Sixers would receive a future draft pick, and MCW has since gone somewhat down the tubes. 
 As many experts agree, it’s better to be awful than mediocre, and to me, this season was where the “process” began. 
Still Joe: 2014-15: Embiid is here!
Well, not really. Joel Embiid was the Sixers #1 overall draft choice. But he was hurt for all of what would have been his rookie season, so Philly had to wait. The process was in full swing, as tthe Sixers went 18-64.  By now, everybody who follows the game of basketball knew what this team's agenda was; lose, and lose a lot. Philidelphia was so awful that many speculated that 2015’s best college team, the Kentucky Wildcats, could whip them is the two teams were to meet. As bad as Philidelphia was, there was still hope, as although he was injured, Embiid was still a member of the organization, and fans could not wait to see what would happen once he was healthy enough to hit the floor. Not only was Embiid now (hopefully) in the fold, another crappy year meant that the Sixers would get another top 5 draft choice..

It's still Joe: 2015-16: Ja Rules
With the second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor. Okafor got off to a rocky start, beat up some guys, and again, the Sixers stunk. However, as bad as the Sixers seemed to be, it felt as if the fewer games they won, the more optimistic their outlook was. 
Yes, the Sixers finished the year at 10-72. But young, scrappy players like T.J. McConnel, Ish Smith, Robert Covington, and, when his head was on straight, Jahlil Okafor, were reasons to get excited about the future. Another thing 2015-16 showed was that Brett Brown was the right man for the job, as with every loss, it seemed the head man stayed optimistic. 
The native of Portland, Oregon, had gone from cutting his teeth with Greg Popovich and the Spurs, and winning a lot, to running a ship that some thought was sinking. But Brown kept at it, and now we are starting to see, at least the effort of the squad, come to fruition.
Also, the big man's debut was just around the corner. 


Alex

Alex: 2016-17: The year of Embiid

At the All-Star break, the Sixers already have eleven more wins than they did all last season. Brian Colangelo made smart moves after replacing Sam Hinkie, bringing in veterans like Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, and Sergio Rodriguez to provide some wisdom in a locker room full of early twenty-somethings. The obvious reason for their improvement is Joel Embiid. Finally healthy, the big fella is evolving into a superstar. They have a bunch of interesting pieces around him. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are probably the most intriguing, not because of what they could do for the Sixers, but what they could get in return for them. Noel and Okafor are still young, and even though they both have flaws in their game, there are teams that would love to get their hands on these guys. If Philly can get the right pieces in return for them, then you could see the beginnings of a dangerous nucleus around Embiid and Ben Simmons (who is yet to play this season). All this on top of the fact that they will, in all likelihood, be near the top of this year's draft again.  Could this backfire still? Of course. Embiid’s injury history is seriously concerning, especially for a young center. Simmons is yet to show he can make shots reliably from the outside, which will be critical if he’s paired with Embiid.  What’s incredible to me is, for all the argument over the audacity of what the Sixers were doing (an opposition so loud it cost the plan’s architect his job), watching the Sixers now, as cheers of “trust the process” rain down on Embiid at the line, a bright future seems just as likely as a dark one, and potentially sooner than anyone thought.  


Back to Joe: Things are looking up. The franchise that was the subject of dinner-table humor less than a year ago is now looking to turn the corner. The Sixers are not the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. Far from it, in fact. But they have a strong work ethic, at least one budding superstar, and a head coach that has learned how to weather the storm. There is still work to be done, but there is no question that Philidelphia is headed up. Take notes, New York Knicks.