College Football

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Joe Smeltzer's 2018 NFL Mock Draft

By Joe Smeltzer

1. Cleveland- Sam Darnold, QB USC
Although the number one pick is arguably less certain than it has been in a long time, I think a consensus is growing that Darnold is going to be the guy. The Trojan's QB is probably the safest one to take, as unlike Josh Rosen or Josh Allen, Darnold has big-game experience. He's a winner, and Cleveland needs winners.

2. New York Giants- Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
Some have Barkley going as high as No. 1, while others see him falling toward the bottom half of the Top 10. While I can't see the Browns going anywhere other than QB, the Giants have an established one in Eli Manning. Knowing that they don't necessarily need a quarterback, it's hard to see the G-Men passing on the most gifted athlete in the draft.

3. New York Jets- Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
In my opinion, Rosen is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. He's more physically gifted than Darnold, and unlike Allen, has proved himself at a high level in college. At 6'4 and 218 pounds, Rosen looks like a quarterback, and the Jets will see first hand if he has what it takes to atone for not picking DeShaun Watson last year.

4. Cleveland- Bradley Chubb, DE Cleveland 
Imagine Cleveland landing the best defensive player in the draft for the second straight year. Now picture both of those players playing opposite each other at defensive end. Chubb pared with Myles Garrett would be terrifying, and barring a surprise, there's nothing stopping Cleveland from making that happen with their second first-round pick.

5. Denver- Quenton Nelson, RG Notre Dame
Denver needs help up front. Last season, the Broncos allowed 32 sacks, good for second-most in the NFL. They have a chance to bolster that line by picking unquestionably the best offensive lineman in the class. At 6'5 and 325 pounds, Nelson does his job both in pass blocking and run blocking. It's rare for an offensive guard to be taken so high in the first round, but Nelson is the type of player who would be worthy of such a high selection.

6. Indianapolis- Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB Alabama 
The Colts need everything, and when you're a team that needs everything, it's logical to go with the best player available. If Fitzpatrick drops to six, he will be far and away the best one left on the board. The safety can do it all, from pass coverage to practically playing the linebacker position. He's a beast, and him being paired with Malik Hooker could make for a solid secondary.

7. Tampa Bay- Derwin James, DB Florida State
Tampa had a respectable defensive backfield in 2017. But Brent Grimes isn't getting any younger, and Vernon Hargraves still has some work to do. The prospect of James and Hargraves being in the same defensive backfield could turn Tampa's secondary from average to one of the better ones in the league. James is a beast who can defend, and return kicks. Add that to him being local, and this seems like a perfect fit.

8. Chicago- Tremaine Edmunds, LB Virginia Tech 
Edmunds is not your typical inside linebacker. He's 6'5, yet plays in the middle His combination of height, speed and quickness makes him the best linebacker in the draft, and in my opinion, Chicago would be foolish to not draft either him or Roquan Smith. While Edmunds' instincts might not be as strong as Smith's, those can come with time, and I think his upside will be too much for the Bears to pass up.

9. San Francisco- Denzel Ward, CB Ohio State 
Yes, Ward is a little undersized at 5'11. But that didn't stop him from dominating in the Big 10. His 4.32 40 time at the combined speaks for itself, and while his ability to match up with tall wide receivers is worth questioning, there's little doubt that Ward is the best cornerback in the draft. Oh, and he can learn a little from Richard Sherman.

10. Oakland- Roquan Smith, LB Georgia 
Edmunds and Smith are 1a and 1b as far as linebackers go, and whatever team is lucky enough to nab one of them can consider its first round a success. Anybody who at least somewhat followed Georgia's magical run to the national championship game knows that Smith is sharp as a knife and can run from sideline to sideline with the best of them. The guy is a winner, and in my opinion, has what it takes to quarterback a defense at the next level.

11. Miami - Vita Vea, DT Washington
He's 6'4 and 347, and he can run a 5.1 40. Miami could use a defensive tackle after the departure of Ndamukong Suh, and Vea is the best option of the bunch beach.

12. Buffalo - Josh Allen, QB Wyoming
Is he a bust? Maybe. But hey, teams love tall guys that wow at the combine, and Allen is that guy. The Bills need a QB, and Allen might just be what they're looking for.

13. Washington - D'Ron Payne, DT Alabama
The 'Skins number one priority is a defensive lineman. Next to Vea, Payne is the best one.  He's slightly quicker than Vea, but is more than 30 pounds lighter. He established himself as one of the best players in the SEC, and there's no reason he can't fill Washington's void up front.

14. Greene Bay - Josh Jackson, CB Iowa
When Jackson finally got a chance to play regularly for Iowa this season, he was awesome. He had seven interceptions, and also has upside as a kick returner. The two best corners in this years draft are in the Big 10, and Jackson can help a secondary in a lot of ways.

15. Arizona- Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma 
I don't see him going to Cleveland, but Baker is first round material. He's short, but he's a winner.

16. Baltimore- Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama 
This draft class is low on receivers, so the Ravens should have a good chance of filling their biggest need by drafting the highest rated one in the class. Ridley has speed,and knows how to run a perfect route which is part of what made him to go-to-guy on this year's national champions. While it wouldn't be the most shocking thing in the world for Baltimore to go with Christian Kirk or Courtland Sutton, if the Ravens want a receiver, Ridley should be their guy.
17. Los Angelous: Maurice Hurst, DT Michigan 
The Chargers are set on the edges with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but getting a tackle wouldn't hurt. Hurst was a hoss in the Big 10, and could well be the same in the NFL. If he pans out, LA could have one of footballs best defensive fronts pretty soon.

18. Seattle- Mike McGlinchey, OT Notre Dame 
Some might be surprised if McGlinchey drops this low. But I'm afraid he has bust potential. Yes, the man is a giant at 6'8, 309, but he leans into blocks, and might not be able to cut it against NFL defensive ends. There's no doubt McGlinchey is going in the first round, but whoever takes him could be in for a disappointment.

19. Dallas- Christian Kirk, WR Texas A&M
With Dez Bryant gone, the Cowboys could use a receiver, and Kirk is thought to be the second best one in this class. Kirk is not only a deep-ball threat with speed, but he can also help out in special teams. "America's Team," is starting life without Dez, and taking Kirk would signal that.

20. Detroit: Ronald Jones III, RB USC
The Lions have no running game, and common wisdom tells me that Darius Guice would be their guy in the first round. But my gut tells me that Detroit will take Jones instead. So that's what I'm going with. We'll see how it turns out.


21. Cincinnati- Will Hernandez, OT UTEP
Cincy's line has been a mess ever since it foolishly let Andrew Whitworth walk. Drafting Hernandez would be a step in the healing process. Yes, he's from a small school, but Hernandez is a big guy who knows how to sustain a block. He has quick feet and a strong upper body, so don't be surprised to hear his name called by the end of the night.

22. Buffalo- Leighton Vander Esch, LB Boise State
The Bills focused on their offense with their first pick, and now its time to further improve the defense. At 6'4 256 pounds, Vander Esch has an excellent physical build, and if he can stay healthy, he'll have an excellent pro career.

23. New England- Jaire Alexander, CB Louisville 
After the Malcolm Butler debacle, don't be surprised if New England focuses on a corner. Like Ward, Alexander is undersized. But he's fast, and a beast in press coverage. Anybody who is drafted into the Patriots organization has a great chance for success, so Alexander should be licking his chops

24.  Carolina- Justin Reed, S Stanford
His brother Eric has made a name for himself with the 49ers, and Justin will soon have his chance to follow. The younger Reid is versatile, well built, and got better and better as time went on at Stanford. Having watched a few Pac-12 games, I know what Reid can do. This guy is a gamer.

25. Tennessee- Marcus Davenport, DE UTSA
Davenport is polarizing. This is a guy who could either go in the top 10 or could drop all the way out of the first round. To me, Davenport's upside (i.e., his size and athleticism) is too great for him not to go on the first day. Don't be surprised to see him so higher than 25, either.

26. Atlanta Falcons- Courtland Sutton, WR SMU
The Falcons offense struggled last season, so they may want to give Matty Ice another capable option. Sutton is, in my eyes, the second best receiver in the draft, and the lack of interest in the position this season could benefit Atlanta. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in the fold, Sutton won't have to worry about being a superstar right away. So this pick could be the best thing for both sides.

27. New Orleans Saints- Mason Rudolph, QB Oklahoma State
Drew Brees is still the man. He's also old. So it might be time for the Saints to start thinking about his successor. I don't like Air-Raid Quarterbacks (See Smith, Geno, Weeden, Brandon, Ware, Andre), but Rudolph is still intriguing, and he won't be thrown into the fire right away, so he'd have time to figure himself out before possibly succeeding one of the greatest to ever do it.

28. Pittsburgh- Rashaan Evans, LB Alabama 
The Steelers taking a linebacker? What a rarity!

29. Jacksonville- Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
Hey, why not? The Jags are hardly sitting pretty at quarterback (yes, I know how much Blake Bortles is making,) and Jackson might be the most intriguing one in the whole class because of how athletic he is. Unlike Darnold, Allen, Rosen or Rudolph, Jackson can have a successful NFL career even if he flops at quarterback. So Jackson's versatility might lead to him sneaking into the first round.

30. Minnesota- Mike Gesiscki, TE Penn State 
We are...

31. New England - Orlando Brown, OT Oklahoma 
The Patriots need help up front, and Brown is so big (6'8, 345) that he can seal off blocks practically just by standing there. The Pats could get a steal late in the first round, which would be fitting for the team that always knows who can cut it and who can't.

32. Philadelphia-  DJ Moore, WR Maryland
Depth at running back/receiver was a big reason why the Eagles won the super bowl, and I would expect them to further bolster one of those positions. Either Moore or Georgia running back Sony Michel could well be the first rounds last pick.

Donny Chedrick's 2018 NFL Mock Draft

By Donny Chedrick
1.    Cleveland (0-16) – Sam Darnold, QB (USC)
It appears at this point that Darnold is the clear-cut top quarterback in the draft and as always, the Browns need one after trading DeShone Kizer, who they drafted last season. Darnold seems to be the fit. Big, athletic, can make big throws. He goes No. 1.
2.    New York Giants (3-13) – Saquon Barkley, RB (Penn State)
And at pick No. 2  we already start the guessing game. The Giants need to revamp the offensive backfield after a dismal season. Eli Manning still has at least a year left so the Giants could take a chance with taking a QB later in the draft. Saquon Barkley has a chance to change a whole team, and he could do that in New York if the Giants take him at No. 2
3.   New York Jets, from Ind. (4-12) – Josh Rosen, QB (UCLA)
This pick will probably be one of the Josh’s in the draft that play quarterback. Josh Rosen out of UCLA seems to be more likely to the Jets than Josh Allen from Wyoming. The Jets traded up from pick No. 6, I think QB is the obvious choice here unless they throw a major curveball.
4.    Cleveland, from Hou. (4-12) – Bradley Chubb, DE (N.C. State)
If Saquon Barkley gets selected by the Giants, expect the Browns to continue working on that defensive line. Last season Cleveland selected the top defensive end in the form of Myles Garrett. This year Cleveland could do the same thing at No. 4
5.    Denver (5-11) – Quenton Nelson, OG (Notre Dame)
The first offensive linemen in the draft could go in the top five picks if the Broncos don't fall in love with taking a quarterback. There is also a shot that this isn’t Denver picking at No. 5 after John Elway explained that the pick was for sale. If the Broncos want to be safe, Nelson could be the selection.
6.    Indianapolis, from NYJ (5-11) – Tremaine Edmunds, LB (Virginia Tech)
The Colts need help defensively, which is why they could go in plenty of different directions with the sixth pick. The Colts pretty much need everything besides a starting quarterback so this pick is somewhat a shot in the dark.
7.    Tampa Bay (5-11) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB (Alabama)
The Bucs need secondary help and drafting Fitzpatrick would create some stability and versatility in that area as Fitzpatrick would join a unit containing Vernon Hargreaves.
8.    Chicago (5-11) – Denzel Ward, CB (Ohio State)
This could be a “best player available” type of pick because right off the bat Ward wouldn’t step into a starting position. The Bears have Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller at both corner spots, but Ward could see time as a slot corner or find himself in a starting role if an injury occurs.
9.    San Francisco (6-10) – Marcus Davenport, DE (UT-San Antonio)
Out of a small school, there is no denying Marcus Davenport’s dominance in the conference, but it is a big question mark if he can do it in the pros. Having John Lynch as GM in San Francisco, the 49ers can spot defensive talent. Davenport might be a risk worth taking.
10.    Oakland/Las Vegas (6-10) – Derwin James, S (Florida State)
If Denzel Ward isn’t selected a few picks before, the Raiders could grab him. If that option isn’t there, however, Oakland could be looking at Roquan Smith out of Georgia or Derwin James out of Florida State. The Raiders have Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson, but a guy like James can sit behind for a year or two before taking over if the team feels it can fill the linebacker void later in the draft.
11.    Miami (6-10) – Roquan Smith, ILB (Georgia)
The Dolphins would love to add a stud linebacker to join Kiko Alonso and that guy could be Roquan Smith from Georgia. He was the Bulldogs defensive leader last season in one that got them to the National Championship game. Smith can be a player to change a defense as a whole.
12.    *Buffalo, from Cin. (7-9) – Josh Allen, QB (Wyoming)
Don’t be shocked if Buffalo uses its leverage to move up into the top ten or top five picks if the intention is to select Allen. If Allen is still available with the Bills staying at No. 12, he will be gone after that because there isn’t much sense in Buffalo passing on him.
13.    Washington (7-9) – Vita Vea, DT (Washington)
With Ziggy Hood slated as the starting nose tackle for the Redskins,  Vea could be the first round selection. Comparable to a guy like Haloti Ngata, Vea can really bolster a defensive line that needs him.
14.    Green Bay (7-9) – Calvin Ridley, WR (Alabama)
With the departure of Jordy Nelson, the Packers could get Aaron Rodgers another target by taking the wide receiver out of Alabama.
15.    Arizona (8-8) – Baker Mayfield, QB (Oklahoma)
I like this fit for Mayfield because this could be the ideal mix of sitting back and learning as well as stepping up and playing. Weather-wise, Arizona and the NFC West would fit right into what Mayfield was used to at Oklahoma.
16.    Baltimore (9-7) – Mike McGlinchey, OT (Notre Dame)
The Ravens continue to spot issues up front, which means they could be taking what most consider to be the top tackle in the draft. Baltimore may try to find a guy that can play opposite of Ronnie Stanley on the offensive line, and that guy could be McGlinchey.
17.    Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) – Da’Ron Payne, DT (Alabama)
Not many are more brute up front than Payne. This was a guy with another power to bench press over 400 pounds in high school before going on   to terrorize offensive linemen in the SEC. Payne could join a defensive line with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and really solidify the middle of that line if the Chargers make the pick.
18.    Seattle (9-7) – Josh Jackson, CB (Iowa)
The Seahawks let go of Richard Sherman this offseason so this pick makes sense to fill that void if the Seahawks want to target it early in the draft.
19.    Dallas (9-7) – Christian Kirk, WR (Texas A&M)
This selection could be a few different guys, but it will likely be a wide receiver. After Dallas parted ways with Dez Bryant, the receiver position could be targeted for the Cowboys to a fill the open spot at WR unless they want to throw Allen Hurns into the fire.
20.    Detroit (9-7) – Derrius Guice, RB (LSU)
Although the Lions have Ameer Abdullah and now LeGarrette Blount, selecting another young running back could help out that backfield, especially since Abdullah hasn’t quite developed into a homerun hitting RB.
21.    Cincinnati, from Buf. (9-7) – Isaiah Wynn, OG/OT (Georgia)
There isn’t a lot of depth on the Bengals' offensive line, which is why Wynn's versatility Isaiah Wynn is so attractive to them. His ability to play guard, tackle or even center in a pinch could land him on a roster in the first round. A team like the Cincinnati would be a fit.
22.    *Buffalo, from KC (9-7) – Maurice Hurst, DT (Michigan)
After the Bills collect their QB, they may target the defensive front by going with big block eater out of Michigan – Maurice Hurst. With Kyle Williams likely not having many years left for Buffalo, Hurst can find himself getting his feet wet for a few years before sliding into a starting spot.
23.    *New England, from LAR (11-5) – Jaire Alexander, CB (Louisville)
Malcom Butler had an ugly exit from New England after not playing in the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. The Patriots could use this to fill the position gap Thursday night.
24.    *Carolina (11-5) – Justin Reid, S (Stanford)
This pick may not seem like it makes a lot of sense, but the Panthers could make somewhat of a surprise pick by going with the safety out of Stanford. Reid could pretty much step right into a backup role with the potential to get starts in his rookie season.
25.    *Tennessee (9-7) – Harold Landry, EDGE (Boston College)
Harold Landry could be a guy to set the edge for Tennessee if the pick is made in the first round to be a potential upgrade from DaQuan Jones. It would bolster a line that features Jurrell Casey in the middle.
26.    *Atlanta (10-6) – Mike Gesicki, TE (Penn State)
Gesicki could find himself going anywhere from the middle of the opening round to not in the first round at all. One team that could find interest in the big target the Atlanta Falcons. With Austin Hooper as the team’s top tight end on the depth chart, Gesicki could end up going to Atlanta
27.    *New Orleans (11-5) – Billy Price, C (Ohio State)
Although Max Unger is the center right now in New Orleans, Billy Price could get picked here to be a utility guy along the Saints offensive line. New Orleans went with an OL last year in the first round of the draft, and it could look to do it again. Drew Brees needs all the protection he can get.
28.    *Pittsburgh (13-3) – Rashaan Evans, LB (Alabama)
After the injury to Ryan Shazier late last season, selecting a linebacker would help fill the major void left by the crushing injury. The only way the Steelers don’t go with Evans is if one of the top defensive backs are on the board is left that Pittsburgh feels it can't pass up.
29.    *Jacksonville (10-6) – Leighton Vander Esch, LB (Boise State)
With how good the Jacksonville defense was last season, there isn’t much depth behind the current starters, which is how Vander Esch could fill into the rotation.
30.    *Minnesota (13-3) – Will Hernandez, OG (UTEP)
The Vikings could really improve the offensive line if they go with the huge guard from UTEP. Hernandez at over 340 pounds would bring back the days of monster offensive linemen. Although he played both guard and tackle in college, expect a guy with his build to stay on the interior of the offensive line.
31.    NYG, from NE (13-3) – Mason Rudolph, QB (Oklahoma State)
The only trade I have in the 1st round is a big one between the Giants and the Patriots that could potentially involve Odell Beckham Jr. This will also open the chance for New York to take the big QB they want to learn from Eli Manning for a few years – Mason Rudolph. That would allow the Giants to draft their future RB and QB in the opening round.
32.    *Philadelphia (13-3) – Sony Michel, RB (Georgia)
The Eagles love having a plethora of running backs in the system, but also lost LaGarrette Blount. Jay Ajayi is the starting back at the moment, but Michel could join a backfield with already a good tandem of runners.

Monday, April 2, 2018

National Championship Game: Three keys to victory for both teams


By Joe Smeltzer
Photo creds to vstvhd.com

It started with 68, and now it's down to two. Tonight is national title night. We all know about the two teams that have made it to the show, and here is what they can do to come away with a national title.

Villanova 
Key #1: Shoot
It's been the Wildcats' bread and butter all season and it was on full display Saturday against Kansas when the 'Nova shot 55 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond-the-arc. If the Wildcats' shots are falling, they have a great chance to win the game. But if they aren't...

Key #2: Offensive rebounding
Before the tournament, I wrote that Villanova's unproven offensive rebounding ability could cost it on a night where its shots weren't falling. The 'Cats' Elite Eight win over Texas Tech was one of those games. Nova shot just 33 percent, but thanks in large part to 20 offensive rebounds, the Wildcats pulled through and advanced to the Final Four. Michigan's defense won't make it easy for Villanova to score, so crashing the offensive glass could play a vital part for the 'Cats to win their second national title in three seasons.

Key #3: Contain Moe Wagner
He's the heart and soul of the Wolverines, and Loyola-Chicago found out how good he is Saturday when the German posted 24 points and 15 rebounds. The 6'11 Wagner can score down low, and his shooting isn't too bad either. He's a weapon that can hurt Villanova in a lot of ways, so if the 'Cats can limit him from going off too much, they'll be in good shape. It will be up to Omari Spellman to hold his own in the post against big Moe.


Michigan 
Key #1: Keep the shots from falling
Michigan had the top scoring defense in the Big 10 and was third in the conference in opposing field goal percentage, so the Wolverines know how to defend. They haven't encountered a test quite like Villanova, so to come away with a national title, the D is going to have to be on point.

Key #2: Defensive rebounding 
It's essential for Michigan that when Villanova misses a shot, that's the end of the possession. No second chances. It would be pretty crappy for the Wolverines if they do their job in limiting Villanova's shooting but still lose because they didn't box out.

Key #3: Slow the game down
If Michigan gets into a shootout with the Wildcats, it won't go well. For the Wolverines to pull an upset, they must slow the game down, and make it a "first-to-60" or a least a "first-to-70" type of deal. Just because Big Blue scored 99 points against Texas A&M doesn't mean that they should expect to do that again against Nova. The offense must slow things down, and keep the ball out of Jalen Brunson's hands as often as possible. The less time Villanova has the ball, the better.

Prediction
Every bracket I turned in had Villanova winning, and nothing that's happened over the past two weeks has changed my mind. The Wildcats are the best of the best, and its their time to spark a debate as to where they rank among college basketball's greatest four-year stretches. Rejoice, Philly.

Villanova 78, Michigan 66

Saturday, March 31, 2018

NCAA Tournament thus far: Where I've been right, and where I've been wrong

By Joe Smeltzer

Another NCAA tournament is nearing its end. With the field narrowed from 68 teams to just four, I've decided to reflect on my predictions. While I picked multiple brackets with multiple different outcomes, I always knew who I would go with if I could only fill out one. As always, there was plenty that I got right, and plenty I didn't get right. Let's get into it, starting with the East Region.

East
Where I was right
Villanova, Marshall
Jon Elmore's 27 points led Marshall to its first ever NCAA tournament win (photo creds to officialsportsbetting.com)

Coming into the tournament, I thought that the Wildcats were not only the team to beat in the East but the entire field as well. So far, Jay Wright's team has lived up to that.

While West Virginia and Texas Tech tested Villanova last weekend, the 'Cats have mowed through March without too much of a scare, and I think if AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson can lead 'Nova to a win over Kansas Saturday night, a second championship in three years is on the way.


While Marshall's run in March lasted just a weekend, the Thundering Herd made me look pretty good when they gave the fourth-seeded Wichita State Shockers a shock (sorry.) I thought that Wichita State's inability to defend would cause an early exit, and thanks to Jon Elmore hitting shots from the concession stand, I was right.

Where I was wrong
Murray State, St. Bonaventure
Stark, an All-American, was 1-12 from the field against West Virginia (photo creds to dailyegyptian.com)

I thought that fifth-seeded West Virginia was due to crash out in the first round, and the Racers had what it took to pull an upset. Since I had the fourth and fifth seeds going down in the East, I also picked Murray State to beat Marshall and go to the Sweet 16. But Jonathan Stark never got going, and the Racers couldn't get past the Mountaineers and their full-court press.

Since the Bonnies had one of the best backcourts in the country, I felt that as long as Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley got hot, Bonaventure could go places. But Adams and Mobley combined to go just 5-19 from the field against Florida, and Bona was out two rounds before I thought they would be eliminated.

West
Where I was right
North Carolina, Michigan
Mo Wagner is awesome. Can he lead the Maize and Blue to a national title?

While I didn't see UNC crashing out as early as it did, I wasn't surprised when Texas A&M upset the Tar Heels in the second round. Giving up 86 points to the Aggies was fitting for a defense that couldn't defend. I knew that Carolina was too one-dimensional to go anywhere past the Sweet 16, and A&M exposed it for what it was.

I was pretty confident picking Michigan to win the West Region as a three seed. While things were looking pretty bleak in the second round against Houston, the Wolverines pulled that one out and won their next two games to keep up their hot streak that started towards the end of the regular season.

Where I was wrong
Florida State, Gonzaga
I've always liked Leonard Hamilton, but never thought he'd get so close to the Final Four (photo creds to stltoday.com)

Not only didn't I predict the Seminoles to upset Xavier or Gonzaga; I didn't even see them making it past the first round. But Leonard Hamilton's squad proved me and most others wrong and came within five points of getting to the Final Four.

I thought that since Xavier was a pretty weak one seed, that would open the door for either Gonzaga or Ohio State to have an Elite Eight run. I missed on that, too.

South
Where I was right 
Loyola, Nevada
Add caption

Did any of your brackets have an 11 vs. 7 Sweet 16 matchup? Well, mine did.

I was high on Loyola from the beginning of the tournament, and while I didn't ever think the Ramblers would get to the Final Four, I had them surviving the first weekend, before losing to Nevada in the Sweet 16. I knew the South was a crapshoot, and while I didn't realize how wild it would be, I still went outside the box with my Sweet 16, and it worked.

Where I was wrong 
Everywhere else
Tony Bennett still deserved Coach of the Year. Do not @ me (Photo creds to heraldandnews.com)

Well, I didn't get either UBMC-Virginia game or the Arizona-Buffalo game right, and I'm willing to bet that I wasn't alone in that regard. I thought that Kentucky's late-season surge would it to the Final Four, but big Bruce Weber slaughtered that dream. Speaking of the other Wildcats, I had them losing in the first round. So aside from the Sweet 16, my picks could have been better.


Midwest
Where I was right 
Clemson, URI 
Danny Hurley's last win at URI was one that I predicted (Photo creds to elitesportsny.com)

Auburn was a pretty crappy four seed, eh? While I didn't expect a 31-point pummeling in the second round, I figured Clemson would make it to the Sweet 16, and I was right.

It might have seemed like a risk to pick the A10  over the Big 12 in the first round, but I knew that Oklahoma had no place in the NCAA Tournament. Although the Sooners put up a fight, mighty URI moved on, just as I knew it would.

Where I was wrong 
Syracuse, Michigan State
After the field was announced, I thought that neither the Orange or Sparty got what they deserved. 

I felt that Syracuse with 13 losses, had no place in the Big Dance, while the Spartans, with four losses, deserved better than a three-seed, and were my pick to go to the Final Four out of the Midwest. While I still defend my thought process, the fact that Syracuse knocked out Michigan State in the second round wasn't something I expected. So while my pre-bracket observations weren't wrong, my bracket was. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Syracuse has validated nothing


Photo creds to orangefizz.net
By Joe Smeltzer Seven years ago, Jay Bilas looked like a fool.

After expressing his displeasure with the NCAA selection committee's decision to put Virginia Commonwealth in the tournament as an at-large, the 11th seeded Rams made a Cinderella run to the Final Four. Naturally, Bilas received criticism because of course, VCU's deep run justified its place in the tournament. As a 13-year-old, I remember agreeing with the world and thinking Bilas had to be some clown who missed the mark. Now, as a grown man, I've discovered that the Bilas's opinion of the Rams wasn't any more or less valid due to what ended up happening in the tournament.

The 2016 Syracuse Orange pulled a VCU. Despite going 9-9 in the ACC and losing three times to Jamie Dixon's last Pitt team, Syracuse not only made it to the tournament as a 10 seed, but it somehow found its way to the Final Four. Two years later, Jim Boeheim's squad--an 11 seed, amazingly enough--received a surprising at-large bid and is making the most of it, still alive after the tournament's first weekend.
To give credit where it's due, the Orange have earned their wins over the past week, especially Sunday when they knocked off third-seeded Michigan State, who many felt was a Final Four team in the Midwest region.

It would be easy to look at this and say that Syracuse-- who has lost 13 games and finished 8-10 in the ACC--  is proving that it belongs in the tournament, and showing that the committee was right and virtually everybody else was wrong. But the truth is that even if the Orange beat Duke Friday night, if they get to the Final Four and even if they win the national championship, it would be no more than a case of them making the most of an opportunity that they didn't deserve.

For the first 33 games of the season, Syracuse was nothing more than an average team with a big name in a big conference. They didn't deserve to be in the tournament, certainly not over teams like conference foe Notre Dame, Big 12 giant killers Oklahoma State and 29-5 St. Mary's. Who's to say none of those teams would in the Sweet 16 if they were given the chance?

To those who feel the Orange have proven their worth over the past week, I say take a look at St. John's. They beat two of the best teams in the country this season in Duke and Villanova, so theoretically, the Red Flash could be in the Sweet 16 if they were given an at-large bid. But 16-17 St. John's didn't get in because it wasn't good enough in the regular season. Neither was Syracuse.

Every decision the committee made this March is as right or wrong today as it was Selection Sunday. The fact that Syracuse has won a few games doesn't mean it belongs, and the fact that St. Bonaventure crapped the bed against Florida doesn't mean it didn't belong. But at the end of the day, none of this will matter when Duke smacks the Orange by double digits.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region

By Joe Smeltzer
Hello all. Due to time constraints, I didn't get to do an in-depth preview of all four regions like I had planned. The good news is, I do have some things to say about the Midwest, stating what I feel are the teams that can go far, and one team that could disappoint. Let's get into it.

Best Team: Michigan State
Don't let the three-seed fool you. With just four losses, it's a mystery to me how the selection committee felt there were eight teams with a better body of work than Sparty. With future lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, along with the shooting of Cassius Winston, the Spartans are every bit as good as a number one seed, and in my opinion, the best team in the Midwest.

Biggest Disappointment: Kansas 
It's not that I see the Jayhawks losing early. It's just that when you're a number one seed, expectations are through the roof, and anything less than a Final Four appearance will be thought of by many as a letdown. I see KU as the third most likely team in this region to get to the Final Four, and for a school with that pedigree, having a result like that would upset a lot of people.

Sleeper: Clemson 
Hey, why not? Brad Brownell's team was one of the surprises of the ACC this year, and with players like Marcquise Reed and Dante Grantham, there's no reason the Tigers can't win a few games. Of course, they could also lose to New Mexico State in the first round.

Cinderella: NC State
The Wolfpack has busted brackets before, most recently with their upset of top-seeded Villanova in 2015, and they have the tools to do it again. I don't expect them to get past Kansas in the second round, but with State's history of upsets and Kansas' history of letdowns, it's not out of the realm of possibility

Champion: Michigan State
The best team in the region isn't always the one that gets to the Final Four, but that won't be the case here. Tom Izzo's crew will be ready to roll, and I don't think their balance of size and guard play will be stopped.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region

By Joe Smeltzer 

March Madness is here, and to celebrate, I will be previewing all four regions. We kicked things off with the east region, continued with the west, and now its on to the south. To whom it may concern, I will not be talking about the 16 seeds in any of my previews, as it is a waste of time. I will also not go too in-depth on seeds 13-15, as those teams hardly have any luck. Let's get into it.

#1 Virginia
Leaders
Scoring: Kyle Guy (SO, G) (14.1)
Rebounding: Isaiah Wilkins (SR, F) (6.3)
Assists: Ty Jerome (SO, G) (3.9)
Others
Devon Hall (SR, G) (12 PPG)
De'Andre Hunter (FR, G) (9.2 PPG)
What they do well
Since Tony Bennett put UVA back on the map, the Wahoos have established themselves as a defensive basketball team. This season, the "Pack Line" might be the best it's ever been, with Cavs allowing a stellar 53 points per game. Nobody plays D like UVA, and that's why they are the number one overall seed.

What could be their downfall?
History is not on Virginia's side. Tony Bennett has yet to reach the Final Four, and many feel that UVA's style of play doesn't allow them to go far in March. It's up to the Cavs to finally prove those skeptics wrong.

#2 Cincinnati 
Leaders
Scoring: Gary Clark (SR, F) (13.0)
Rebounding: Gary Clark (8.5)
Assists: Jacob Evans (JR, G) (3.2)
Others
Kyle Washington (SR, F) (11.3 PPG)
Jordan Cumberland (SO, G) (10.9 PPG)
Cane Broome (JR, G) (8.2 PPG)
What they do well
Cincy's defense is almost as good as Virginia's. The Bearcats are known to hold teams under 60, so like UVA, if UC wins a national title, it will be because of its D.

What could be their downfall?
Also similar to UVA, Cincinnati hasn't been to a Final Four in ages, having failed to get past the Sweet 16 since 1996. With teams seeded as highly as Cincinnati, the experience becomes a factor, and since the Bearcats haven't proven themselves capable of making it to a Final Four, a lot of people won't believe it until they see it. 

#3 Tennessee 
Leaders 
Scoring: Grant Williams (SO, F) (15.3)
Rebounding: Admiral Schofield (JR, F) (6.3)
Assists: Jordan Bone (SO, G) (3.6)
Others
Lamonte Turner (SO, G) (10.7 PPG)
Jordan Bowden (SO, G) (9.3 PPG)
What they do well
Rick Barnes has done a fantastic job getting the Vols back on the map, and a big reason why Rocky Top is dancing is their ball movement. Although Tennessee ranked just eighth of 14 SEC teams in scoring offense, they led the conference in assists per game. The Vols play solid, unselfish basketball, and that could pay dividends when it matters most.

What could be their downfall?
Tennessee is undersized, so unsurprisingly, it isn't a great rebounding team, ranking just ninth in its conference in that department. The Vols don't have a starter over 6 ft. 7, and if they run into a squad with a dominant big, that will be a problem. 

#4 Arizona
Leaders 
Scoring: Deandre Ayton (FR, C) (20.3)
Rebounding: Deandre Ayton (11.5)
Assists: Parker-Jackson Cartwright (SR, G) (4.6)
Others
Allonzo Trier (JR, G) (18.4 PPG)
Rawle Alkins (SO, G) (13.4 PPG)
Dusan Ristic (SR, C) (12.1 PPG)
What they do well
Anytime you have a player like Ayton, big things are possible. Fortunately for 'Zona, the big fella isn't all there is. Trier, Ristic (another big hoss) bring a ton of talent, while Jackson-Cartwright brings a solid senior leader. Sean Miller has yet to get to the Final Four, and while this team isn't as celebrated as some of his past Arizona squads, don't think that a Final Four is out of the question. 

What could be their downfall
The Wildcats tied for eighth in the PAC 12 in three-point defense, so that is their kryptonite. 

#6 Miami 
Leaders
Scoring: Lonnie Walker IV (FR, G) (11.5)
Rebounding: Bruce Brown Jr. (SO, G) (7.1 RPG)
Assists: Bruce Brown Jr. (4.0 APG)
Others 
Dewan Hall (SO, F) (11.4 PPG)
Chris Lykes (FR, G) (9.6 PPG)
Dejan Vasiljevic (SO, G) (9.0 PPG)
What they do well
The U doesn't excel in any particular area, but they rank in the top half of the ACC in most a categories. The best way I can describe Miami is that they are what they are; a middle-of-the-road ACC team. 

What could be their downfall?
The 'Canes rank 10th in the ACC in rebounding. Since Miami is a better shooting team than Loyola, it will likely have its fair share of chances to pound the glass. If the Hurricanes don't take advantage of those chances, it could cost them right off the bat.

#7 Nevada 
Leaders 
Scoring: Caleb Martin (JR, F) (19.1)
Rebounding: Jordan Caroline (JR, G) (8.8)
Assists: Cody Martin (JR, F) (4.6)
Others 
Kendal Stephens (SR, G) (13.2 PPG)
Lindsey Drew (JR, G) (8.1 PPG)
What they do well
The Wolfpack dominated the Mountain West in most categories on both sides of the ball. In particular, Nevada topped the conference in defending the three-pointer as well as shooting it. Led by Caleb Martin, the Wolfpack is for real, and they will be a lot to handle for any team they come across.  

What could be their downfall?
Nevada was ninth of 11 conference teams in rebounding. Guys just need to box out. 

#8 Creighton 
Leaders
Scoring: Marcus Foster (20.3)
Rebounding: Martin Krampeij
Assists: Davon Mintz (3.1)
Others
Khyri Thomas (15.3 PPG)
Toby Hegner (8.3 PPG)
What they do well
Led by Foster and Thomas, the Blue Jays tied with Xavier for second in the Big East in scoring at 84.3 points per game. Any team that has weapons like those two on offense is a handful for any opposing team, and Kansas State will find that out.

What could be their downfall
It's hard to find a team that is equally effective on both sides of the ball. Creighton ranked seventh of 10 conference teams in defense. So if the Blue Jays get past Kansas State, expect it to be a shootout.

#9: Kansas State
Leaders
Scoring: Dean Wade (16.5)
Rebounds: Dean Wade (6.3)
Assists: Kamau Stokes (3.5)
Others
Barry Brown (16.0 PPG)
Xavier Sneed (10.8 PPG)
Cartier Diarra (7.2 PPG)
What they do well
Unlike their first-round opponent, the Wildcats are known mainly for their defense. Kansas State ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, and fifth in defending the three-pointer. So the matchup with Creighton will be somewhat of a difference in styles.

What could be their downfall?
The Wildcats were next to last in the Big 12 in both scoring offense and three-point shooting. 

#10 Texas 
Leaders 
Scoring: Dylan Osetkowski (JR, F) (13.6)
Rebounding: Mo Bamba (FR, F) (10.4)
Assists: Matt Coleman (FR, G) (4.1)
Others
Andrew Jones (SO, G) (13.5 PPG)
Kerwin Roach II (JR, G) (11.9 PPG)
What they do well?
Uh, they have Mo Bamba and they play in the Big 12. That's all I can think of.

What could be their downfall?
Playing Nevada. 

#11 Loyola Illinois 
Leaders
Scoring: Clayton Custer (13.4)
Rebounding: Donte Ingram (6.5)
Assists: Clayton Custer (4.3)
Others
Marques Townes (11.2 PPG)
Aundre Jackson (10.9 PPG)
Cameron Kurtwig (10.5 PPG)
What they do well
With five players averaging in double figures, the Ramblers can, uh, Ramble. Loyola can also defend, leading the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding and finishing second in scoring defense. This is a dangerous mid-major school and could make some noise in the south region. 

What could be their downfall?
They haven't played the best competition in the Missouri Valley. Aside from that, it's hard to find a category where the Ramblers fall short.

#12 Davidson 
I know 12-5 upsets are frequent, but Kentucky is on fire, and I don't see any way Peyton Aldridge and Davidson can pull it off

#13 Buffalo 
They're not beating Arizona.

#14 Wright State 
They're not beating Tennessee.

#15 Georgia State 
Sorry, coach Hunter.