College Football

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Syracuse has validated nothing

Photo creds to
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
Scoring: Kyle Guy (SO, G) (14.1)
Rebounding: Isaiah Wilkins (SR, F) (6.3)
Assists: Ty Jerome (SO, G) (3.9)
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 
Scoring: Gary Clark (SR, F) (13.0)
Rebounding: Gary Clark (8.5)
Assists: Jacob Evans (JR, G) (3.2)
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 
Scoring: Grant Williams (SO, F) (15.3)
Rebounding: Admiral Schofield (JR, F) (6.3)
Assists: Jordan Bone (SO, G) (3.6)
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
Scoring: Deandre Ayton (FR, C) (20.3)
Rebounding: Deandre Ayton (11.5)
Assists: Parker-Jackson Cartwright (SR, G) (4.6)
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 
Scoring: Lonnie Walker IV (FR, G) (11.5)
Rebounding: Bruce Brown Jr. (SO, G) (7.1 RPG)
Assists: Bruce Brown Jr. (4.0 APG)
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 
Scoring: Caleb Martin (JR, F) (19.1)
Rebounding: Jordan Caroline (JR, G) (8.8)
Assists: Cody Martin (JR, F) (4.6)
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 
Scoring: Marcus Foster (20.3)
Rebounding: Martin Krampeij
Assists: Davon Mintz (3.1)
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
Scoring: Dean Wade (16.5)
Rebounds: Dean Wade (6.3)
Assists: Kamau Stokes (3.5)
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 
Scoring: Dylan Osetkowski (JR, F) (13.6)
Rebounding: Mo Bamba (FR, F) (10.4)
Assists: Matt Coleman (FR, G) (4.1)
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 
Scoring: Clayton Custer (13.4)
Rebounding: Donte Ingram (6.5)
Assists: Clayton Custer (4.3)
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. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

NCAA Tournament Breakdown: The West Region

By Joe Smeltzer

March Madness is here, and to celebrate, I will be previewing all four regions, providing a breakdown of all 68 teams. We kicked things off with the east region, and now its on to the west.. 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 hardley have any luckLet's get into it.

#1 Xavier
Scoring: Trevon Bluitt (19.5)
Rebounding: Trevon Bluitt (5.7)
Assists: Quentin Goodin (4.9)
J.P. Macura (12.2 PPG)
Kerem Kanter (10.4 PPG)
Naji Marshall (8.1 PPG)

What they do well
Although I'm not so sure the Musketeers warrant a one seed, this is probably the best team they've ever had. Led by Bluitt, Xavier tied for second in the Big East in scoring average, shooting a tad under 50 percent from the field. With Bluitt gone after this season, now might be the best chance Chris Mack has to reach the Final Four for a while.

What could be their downfall?
The Musketeers can score in bunches, and they can also get scored on easily. Xavier ranked just seventh in the conference in scoring defense. So overall, while the Musketeers are a good team, they are too one-dimensional, in my opinion, to make it as far.

#2: North Carolina 
Scoring: Luke Maye (17.2)
Rebounding: Luke Maye (10.1)
Assists: Theo Pinson (4.8)
Joel Berry (17.1 PPG)
Cameron Johnson (12.7 PPG)
Kenny Williams (11.4 PPG)

What they do well
I mean, look at the scoring averages. As usual, the Tarheels play that "run, baby run," brand of basketball, and it shows with five players averaging in double figures. Any team that has talents like Maybe, Berry and Pinson has a chance to go far. Well, to be honest, any UNC team has a chance to go far.

What they don't do well. 
They don't defend well. At all. In fact, only four teams in the massive ACC are worse at defense than Carolina is, and nobody in the conference is worse at defending the three ball. While the Tarheels might be able to mask their problems for the first weekend, once they play Michigan-- who is known for its defense-- the hopes of getting to a third straight championship game could well be crushed.

#3 Michigan
Scoring: Mo Wagner (14.5)
Rebounding: Mo Wagner (7.1)
Assists: Zavier Simpson (3.6)
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.6 PPG)
Charles Matthews (12.6 PPG)
Duncan Robinson (9.6 PPG)
What they do well
Just like last season, the Wolverines come in as one of the hottest teams in the country having won the Big 10 tournament. Michigan's strength is its defense, which topped the conference by allowing just 63.5 PPG. With players like Wagner and Matthews to score the basketball, the Wolverines have a balance that could get them to the Final Four if all goes well.

What could be their downfall?
Only two teams in the Big Ten were worse at the foul line than the Wolverines this season, with Michigan shooting just 66 percent. Free throws could be the difference between a win and a loss, especially in the NCAA tournament. So if the Maize and Blue can't execute the easiest aspect of the game, they'll be in trouble.

#4 Gonzaga 
Scoring: Johnathan Williams (13.5)
Rebounding: Johnathan Williams (8.3)
Assists: Josh Perkins (5.4)
Killian Tille (13.4 PPG)
Zach Norvell JR (12.2 PPG)
Rui Hachimura (11.3 PPG)
What they do well
Gonzaga is Gonzaga. With five players averaging in double figures, they are, as usual, one of the best teams in the country, and them being in the tournament as a fairly high seed should surprise nobody.

What could be their downfall?
Aside from maybe last season, can anybody think of a time when the 'Zags overachieved in the tournament? Now that they are a four-seed instead of a one or a two, the standard is a little lower, and if the Bulldogs can't meet that standard, it would equal a loss in the Sweet 16, if not before.

#5 Ohio State 
Scoring: Keita Bates-Diop (19.4)
Rebounding: Keith Bates-Diop (8.8)
Assists: C.J. Jackson (3.9)
Jae'Sean Tate (12.5 PPG)
Kaleb Wesson (10.5 PPG)
Kam Williams (8.2 PPG)
What they do well
Aside from Purdue and Michigan State, no team in the Big 10 shoots better than the Buckeyes, who shot over 48 percent from the field. Led by Bates-Diop, the Big 10 player of the year, Chirs Holtmann's team has surprised everyone this season, and if they can shoot, they can hold their own in the West.

What could be their downfall?
Like the rival Wolverines, the Buckeyes struggle with at the line. They were just sixth in the conference in free throw shooting this season. When it comes down to it, you have to make your free throws, fellas.

#6 Houston 
Scoring: Rob Gray (18.5)
Rebounding: Devin Davis (6.2)
Assists: Rob Gray (4.5)
Corey Davis Jr. (13.5 PPG)
Armoni Brooks (9.8 PPG)
Wes VanBeck (6.2 PPG)
What they do well
The Cougars are solid offensively, especially from beyond-the-arc. Led by Corey Davis Jr., who shoots 44 percent from three, the Cougars were the best three-point shooting team in the American Athletic Conference. If they get hot, they can make it rain.

What could be their downfall?
There isn't a lot that Houston doesn't do well. The main thing that could bring them down is inexperience. They've made the tournament just twice since 1992, so they are strangers to the big time. While I think lack of tournament savvy can be overstated, it also could be a deterrent for those who haven't basked in the glory before.

#7 Texas A&M
Scoring: Tyler Davis (14.5)
Rebounding: Robert Williams (9.0)
Assists: Duane Wilson (4.0)
Admon Gilder (12.2 PPG)
D.J. Hogg (11.3 PPG)
What they do well
A&M's biggest strength is its ability to rebound. Led by Williams and Davis, who ranked No. 1 and 2 in the SEC in that department, respectively, the Aggies topped the conference on the glass. If they can force their opponents to miss shots, the Aggies know how to make sure that there will be no second chances.

What could be their downfall?
A&M ranked 12th of 14 SEC teams in three-point shooting. So it's up to the big fellas to score inside for its offense to get going. If not, points will be hard to come by.

#8 Missouri 
Scoring: Kassius Robertson (16.2)
Rebounding: Jontay Porter (6.8)
Assists: Blake Harris (3.1)
Jordan Bennett (13.7 PPG)
Michael Porter Jr.
What they do well

The Tigers were second in the SEC in three-point shooting. Oh, and Michael Porter Jr. is back.

What could be their downfall?
Michael Porter Jr. is back, and that could throw off Missouri's rotation. It's hard for such a drastic change to happen so late in the season, and while Porter's talent could make up for the adjustment, it's still a concern (see Irving, Kyrie, 2011.)

#9 Florida State 
Scoring: Terance Mann (13.2)
Rebounding: Terance Mann (5.7)
Assists: Trent Forrest (4)
Braian Angola (12.9 PPG)
CJ Walker (8.5 PPG)
M.J. Walker (7.6 PPG)
What they do well
FSU was second in the ACC in points per game. So yeah, they can score. However....

What could be their downfall?
Defense. The Seminoles were dead last in the ACC in scoring defense, and 13th in defending the three-pointer. So I'm not quite sure Missouri is a good matchup for Florida State.

#10 Providence 
Scoring: Rodney Bullock (14)
Rebounding: Alpha Diallo (6.6)
Assists: Kyron Cartwright (5.7)
Jalen Lindsey (8.9 PPG)
Isiah Jackson (7.6 PPG)
Nate Watson (6.8 PPG)

What they do well
Providence is on fire and nearly knocked off mighty Villanova in the Big East title game. The Friars are hot, and now is a pretty darn good time to be hot.

What could be their downfall? 
Out of 10 Big East teams, Providence eighth in points per game. This was because of their shooting. Providence was also eighth in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Against a heavy rebounding team like Texas A&M, that could spell trouble.

#11 San Diego State
Scoring: Malik Pope (12.9)
Rebounding: Jalen McDaniels (7.5)
Assists: Trey Kell (4.1)
Devin Watson (12.3 PPG)
Matt Mitchell (10.7 PPG)
What they do well

Brian Dutcher's team is defensive minded, leading the Mountain West in scoring defense. The Aztecs led the league in field-goal percentage defense and were second to Nevada in defending the three. Against a player like Rob Gray, it will be intriguing to see if SDSU's defense can get it into the second round.

What could be their downfall
SDSU is great defensively, but there is a reason they are a double-digit seed; They don't score it too well. The first round against Houston will be a contrast and styles, and those types of games are always fun.

#12 South Dakota State 
Scoring: Mike Daum (23.8)
Rebounding: Mike Daum (10.4)
Assists: Brandon Key (3.3)
David Jenkins Jr. (16.1 PPG)
Reed Tellinghuisen (12 PPG)
What they do well.
They score a ton.

What could be their downfall?
The teams they play against also score a ton. When you place in the bottom three defensively in the Summit League, good luck stopping Ohio State.

#13 UNC Greensburg
They will not beat Gonzaga

#14 Montana 
They will not beat Michigan

#15 Lipscomb
They will not beat North Carolina

Monday, March 12, 2018

NCAA Tournament Breakdown: The East Region

By: Joe Smeltzer
March Madness is here, and to celebrate, I will be previewing all four regions, providing a breakdown of all 68 teams. We'll kick things off with the East region. 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. Let's get into it

#1 Villanova 

Points: Jalen Brunson (19.4)
Rebounds: Omari Spellman (7.9)
Assists: Jalen Brunson (4.7)
Mikal Bridges (18.0 PPG)
Donte DiVincenzo (13.1 PPG)
Phill Booth (10.9 PPG)
Eric Paschall (10.3 PPG)

What they do well
The Wildcats can score it as well as any team in the country. Averaging over 87 points a night, 'Nova leads the nation in points per game, largely propelled by shooting around 40 percent from three-point land. With Brunson, Bridges and DiVincenzo in the backcourt and Spellman and Paschall in the front-court, the Cats have talent across the board. Although 'Nova also bodes the top defense in the Big East, the Wildcats are a scoring team, and they'll go as far as their shooting allows them to.

What could be their downfall?  
Since Villanova is at or near the top of the Big East in most categories, finding a flaw isn't easy. If there's anything the Wildcats haven't excelled in this season, it's offensive rebounding, where they rank seventh of 10 conference teams. Of course, not grabbing a lot of offensive boards could also be looked at as a positive, since it shows that 'Nova doesn't miss a lot of shots. If there's a night where the ball isn't going in, however, the Cats will need to step it up on the offensive glass.

#2 Purdue 
Scoring: Carson Edwards (18.5)
Rebounds: Vincent Edwards (7.3)
Assists: Dakota Mathias (4.1)
Isacc Hass (14.9 PPG)
P.J. Thompson (7.1 PPG)

What they do well
The Boilers can beat their opponents in a lot of ways. Whether it be shooting the long-ball with Carson Edwards, or pounding it down low with Isaac Hass, Purdue's offense was at the top of the Big 10 because of its versatility. Matt Painter's team is hardly one dimensional, and if one aspect of the machine isn't working, another can pick up the slack. Versatility, along with experience--the Boilers start four seniors-- could propel Purdue to it's first Final Four.

What could be their downfall
The main deterrent to picking the Boilers to go to the Final Four is their tournament history. Despite nine appearances in Painter's 12 full seasons, the Boilers have reached the Sweet 16 just three times and twice have fallen to a team seeded 11th or higher With a senior-laden squad, this might be the best chance Purdue has at a championship for a while. So if history repeats itself, who knows when redemption will come.

#3 Texas Tech
Points: Kennan Evans (17.5)
Rebonds: Jarrett Culver (4.8)
APG: Kennan Evans (3.2 APG)

Zhaire Smith (11.2 PPG)
Niem Stevenson (7.5 PPG)
Zach Smith (5.9 PPG)

What they do well
Unlike the top two seeds, the Red Raiders are all about defense. Tech topped the Big 12 in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense and was second in defending the three-ball. They say defense wins championships, and the Raiders will show how much credence that cliche has.

What could be their downfall
As good as Tech is at defending, it is almost equally poor on the other end. Out of ten teams in their conference, the Raiders ranked just seventh in scoring average. While the fact that the Big 12 sent seven teams to the dance makes that stat somewhat deceiving, if the Raiders run into a team that can score, they'll be in trouble. While I love the job Chris Beard has done, I think Tech is too one-dimensional to make a deep tournament run.

#4 Wichita State 
Points: Landry Shamet (15)
Rebounds: Rashard Kelly (7.5)
Assists: Landry Shamet (5.1)
Shaquille Morris (14 PPG)
Darral Willis Jr. (10.4 PPG)
Conner Frankamp (10.1 PPG)
What they do well
The Shockers average 83 points per game,  ranking them in the top 20 nationally and easily the best in the American Athletic Conference. Led by Shamet, Wichita State also topped the conference in field goal percentage and was second to Houston in three-point percentage. So the Shockers can score with any team in the region. Unfortunately, they haven't done their job on the other side of the court.

What could be their downfall
Saturday's conference semifinal loss to Houston was a perfect example of why I don't think the Wichita State will go far in the NCAA Tournament.

The Shockers' shots were falling, for the most part, scoring 74 points, but they couldn't stop Houston on the other end, with the excellent Rob Gray scoring 33 of the Cougars' 77 points. These struggles were nothing new for Greg Marshall, with the Shockers ranking ninth of 12 AAC teams in scoring defense, and 10th in three-point defense (Houston was 8-18 from beyond-the-arc). When Wichita State runs into a team that can shoot, the odds don't look so good. That could well happen in the first weekend.

#5 West Virginia 
Scoring: Jevon Carter (17)
Rebounding: Sagaba Konate (7.6)
Assists: Jevon Carter (6.6)
Daxter Miles Jr. (13.0 PPG)
Esa Ahmad (10.1 PPG)
Lamont West (9.5 PPG)
What they do well
As has become customary in the past few years, the Mountaineers live and die by the full-court press. West Virginia's +5.2 turnover margin is the best in the Big 12, so for a team to get it done against WVU, they must take care of the basketball.

What could be their downfall
Any team that can successfully handle the press spells trouble for Bob Huggins. If and when WVU meets their match, that could spell curtains for their tournament run.

#6 Florida 
Scoring: Jalen Hudson (15.3 PPG)
Rebounding: Egor Koulechov (6.5 RPG)
Assists:  Chris Chiozza (6.1)
KeVaughn Allen (11.3 PPG)
Keith Stone (8.9 PPG)
What they do well 
The Gators are a solid offensive team, and at the heart of that attack is outside shooting. Led by Stone, who shoots over 43 percent from downtown, Florida ranks third in the SEC in three-point shooting and given that their conference sent 10 teams to the dance, that's more than respectable. Any team that can shoot well is dangerous, so if anybody catches the Gators on a good day, look out.

What could be their downfall
Only three of the 14 teams in the SEC are worse at rebounding than Florida is. Yeah, that's not good. Especially when facing a strong offensive team such as St. Bonaventure or UCLA, it's essential for the Gators to take advantage when the other team's shots don't fall. If Florida can't fix its issues on the glass, the Gators' stay in the Big Dance could last a mere two hours.

#7 Arkansas 
Scoring: Jaylen Bradford (18)
Rebounds: Daniel Gafford (6.2)
Assists: Daryl Macon (3.9)
Anton Beard (9.6 PPG)
C.J. Jones (6.4 PPG)
Dustin Thomas (5.0 PPG)
What they do well
Like Florida, the Hogs know how to put the ball in the basket, and do it quite often, ranking second in the SEC. Arkansas leads the conference in field goal percentage, so yeah, they can shoot. Just like with the Gators, whoever catches the Hogs on a good night could be in trouble. Unfortunately, not every similarity that Mike Anderson's team shares with its conference foe is for the better.

What could be their downfall
There are only three teams in the SEC worse at rebounding than Florida. Arkansas is one of them.

#8 Virginia Tech 
Scoring: Justin Robinson (13.8)
Rebounding: Chris Clarke (6.5)
Assists: Justin Robinson (5.6)
Justin Bibs (13.1 PPG)
Kerry Blackshear Jr. (12.6 PPG)
Ahmed Hill (10.8 PPG)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (10.5 PPG)

What they do well
Right behind conference champion Virginia, at the top of the ACC three-point shooting mountain is their in-state rival. The Hokies can score on the inside too, leading the conference in overall field goal percentage. With five players averaging in double figures, this is the most talented team Va Tech has had in quite some time. But will they be able to win a game before their time in the tournament is up?

What could be their downfall
Just like the two teams mentioned above them, the Hokies struggle with rebounding, ranking 12th of 16 ACC teams. You have to box out, fellas.

#9 Alabama 
Scoring: Collin Sexton (19)
Rebounding: Donta Hall (6.8)
Assists: Collin Sexton (3.5)
John Petty (10.1 PPG)
Dazon Ingram (9.9 PPG)
Braxton Key (7.3 PPG)
What they do well
Any team that has a talent like Sexton can make some noise. But the fact that the Tide have 15 losses with Sexton on the roster should tell you something about the talent around him. If Sexton is on, 'Bama has a chance. If he isn't, it probably doesn't.

What could be their downfall
Sexton having an off night.

#10 Butler 
Scoring: Kelan Martin (20.8)
Rebounding: Kelan Martin (6.2)
Assists: Aaron Thompson (3.2)
Kamar Baldwin (15.5 PPG)
Paul Jorgensen (10.5 PPG)
Tyler Wideman (9.4 PPG)
What they do well
Butler is known for playing mistake-free basketball. The Bulldogs won't beat anybody based on physical talent, but they are well disciplined, as evidenced by the fact that they are second in the Big East in turnover margin. Teams that don't make a lot of mistakes are preferable to teams that do, and because of that, Butler is, once again, dancing.

What could be their downfall
Butler isn't the most gifted team in the world. While smart basketball is great, it's hard to beat a team that's loaded with talent, and the Bulldogs aren't that type of team. In particular, Butler ranks near the bottom of the Big East in three-point shooting.

#11 UCLA
Scoring: Aaron Holliday (20.3)
Rebounding: Thomas Welsh (10.7)
Assists: Aaron Holliday (5.8)
Kris Wilkes: 13.8 PPG
Jaylen Hands: 10.1 PPG
Prince Ali: 9.0 PPG
What they do well
Guessing that the Bruins get past St. Bonaventure in Tuesday's play-in game, Florida will have to deal with one of the nation's best point guards in Holliday, as well as a pretty solid bunch of scorers behind him. The Bruins were second in the PAC 12 in scoring, and in a conference with teams like Arizona and Arizona State, that's saying something. The Bruins can score with the best of them, and they will need to do that to make a run.

What could be their downfall
There aren't a lot of PAC 12 teams that score as well as the Bruins, and there aren't a lot that defend as poorly. Being 10th of 12 teams in defense speaks for itself, so if UCLA goes far, it won't be because they won a first-to-50 type of game.

#12 Murray State 
Scoring: Jonathan Stark (21.8)
Rebounding: Terrell Miller Jr. (8.3)
Assists: JA Morant (6.4)
Shaq Buchanan (9.2 PPG)
Byron Hawkins (7.1 PPG)
What they do well
To beat West Virginia, the Racers will need to take care of the basketball. Fortunately, Murray State ranked second in the Ohio Valley Conference with a 1.2 assist/turnover ratio, so they may be in luck. With players like Stark and Miller as offensive weapons, the Racers can score. It's just a matter of if they will have the ball long enough to do so.

What could be their downfall? 
Murray State could find itself in the Sweet 16, or it could lose in the first round. It's hard to see a real weakness with the Racers, except for maybe the fact their conference doesn't provide them with the best competition. If Murray State is on, it could go places, and screw up a few brackets along the way.

#13 Marshall 
They're beating Wichita State. Book it.

#14 Stephen F. Austin 
They're beating Texas Tech. Book it.

#15 Iona
They're not beating Purdue. Book it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Conference Tournament Predictions

Big 10: Michigan (Bonus Points)
Big 12: Kansas
SEC: Tennessee 
PAC 12: Utah
Big East: Villanova 
Mid Major: Bradley

SEC: Florida
Big 12: Kansas 
PAC 12: Arizona
Big East: Villanova 

Big 12: WVU
SEC: Tennessee 
PAC 12: Utah
Big East: Villanova 

By: Joe Smeltzer 
Correction: UCLA is the four seed in the PAC 12, not the three seed as originally written.

The madness is here. It's conference tournament week (except for the Big 10, who had to have theirs a week early), and here are our predictions for who will be cutting down the nets right before the Big Dance.


ACC: Duke over UVA
Marvin Bagley might be the best player in the land, and Duke could be the best team (Photo creds to

Coach K's team is, without question, the most talented in the country. But the Blue Devils haven't quite hit their stride yet, and I think Saturday's dominant second half against North Carolina is a sign that it is happening.

I expect the Dukies to avenge that Feb. 26 loss to Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals, before winning a hard-fought rubber match over Carolina in the semis. In the championship game, Duke will take advantage of top-seeded Virginia's inability to score, and its superior athletes will do enough against the pack line defense. Duke is legit, and its time the nation learns that.

Duke 64, Virginia 51

MVP: Marvin Bagley 

SEC: Tennessee over Auburn
Grant Williams is arguably the best player in the SEC, and he'll have to play like it for the Vols to make a run in March (Photo creds to

The Vols dispatched Mississippi State in Starkville not too long ago, so I wouldn't expect a much different result in the quarterfinal. The semis will be a little more tricky, with Florida being the likely opponent, but if the Vols can hold the Gators to 35 percent shooting like they did Feb. 21, they'll be in good shape. The likely championship game would be a tossup, but Auburn hasn't been playing consistent basketball over the past few weeks, and I think if Big Orange gets a monster performance from Grant Williams, they can take advantage of the undersized Tigers. Rick Barnes and UT are legit, and they'll get some solid momentum heading into the big dance.

Tennesse 75, Auburn 70

MVP: Grant Williams

Big 12: Kansas 
A player of the year canadidate, Devonte' Graham is the heart and soul of the Jayhawks.  (Photo creds to

The Big 12 is a funny conference. Although the league could get eight of its 10 teams in the NCAA tournament, there isn't  a squad that stands out above the rest, so the conference tournament is anybody's ball game. With that said, Kansas is the cream of the crop, so when in doubt, Rock Chalk.

Kansas 73, West Virginia 62 

Tournament MVP: Devonte' Graham

Like his brothers before him, Aaron Holliday can run the point (Photo creds to

Like the Big 12, the PAC 12 doesn't have anybody that has great chance to win a national title. Yes,
the Bruins are undermanned, and even more so if freshman guard Jaylen Hands is still on the shelf this week. But I feel that UCLA has something to prove.

The Bruins are a bubble team, and obviously, that gives them an incentive to win out, and they have the personnel to do just that. UCLA has one of the best point guards in the country in Aaron Holliday, who proved in Saturday's win at USC that he can take over a game. Kris Wilkes is a solid shooter, and Thomas Welch averages a double-double. The Bruins are just behind conference leaders Arizona State in scoring, averaging 82 points per game.

UCLA is the No. 4 in the PAC 12. Ahead of the Bruins are  USC, who they beat on the road this past Saturday, and Arizona, who needed a historic performance from DeAndre Ayton to beat lowly Cal at home that same day. As they showed Saturday, the Bruins can beat anybody in their conference. It's time for Holliday to shine.

UCLA 81, USC 78

Tournament MVP: Aaron Holliday

Big East: Creighton
It's what my gut tells me. Sometimes you have to go with your gut.

Creighton 78, Villanova 73

Tournament MVP: Marcus Foster

American Athletic Conference: Wichita State 
After losing the regular season conference title to Cincinnati this past Sunday, the Shockers look to avenge that by winning the conference tournament. Wichita State to me is the mid-major version of Duke in that they haven't yet come together, and I think Greg Marshall's team will start to do that at the right time. An upset of the top-seeded Bearcats will get Tulsa in the title game, and the Shockers will end that Cinderella story with a double-digit win.

Witchia State 77, Tulsa 57

Tournament MVP: Landry Shamet

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dancing or not: Give Pat Chambers another year.

Photo creds to
Six seasons. Zero NCAA Tournament appearances.

Penn State head men's basketball coach Pat Chambers hasn't reminded anybody of Bobby Knight in his time in Happy Valley. Along with never making it to the Big Dance, the Nittany Lions haven't even reached the NIT under Chambers, and their only postseason appearance was a CBI quarterfinal five years ago. Penn State has had just one winning season in Chambers's tenure--a hardly memorable 18-16 season in 2014-15.

This year's team is by far the best Chambers has had at Penn State, and is probably the most talented one since the days of Joe Crispin, with all five regular starters averaging double figures in scoring. Nonetheless, the squad has been inconsistent, and it's fair to say that it has underachieved. Despite three wins over Ohio State, losses to the likes of Rider, Minnesota and Indiana have put the Nittany Lions squarely on the bubble. If the team had won more of the games they were supposed to win,  Selection Sunday might not be a day of uncertainty, and if the Lions are forced to settle for the Not Important Tournament, Chambers's job status will be called into question by fans and media alike. But if Penn State doesn't go dancing, would getting rid of Chambers solve any problems?

If the Nittany Lions miss the tournament, this season should go down as a missed opportunity. Of course, Chambers will deserve some heat for that. But the future of this team is bright.
Aside from senior guard Shep Garner, the Nittany Lions return the bulk of their production - most importantly Tony Carr, who could turn into the best player in the Big Ten. So with Penn State on the cusp of becoming one of the top teams in the Big 10, would it be wise to do something as drastic as making a coaching change?

Sure, there could be somebody in Penn State's ballpark that might be a better option. But there are plenty of others who wouldn't be, and a transition like this could well be damaging, and hard to justify to Nittany Nation if it doesn't go as planned.
Perhaps the thing that would be the most puzzling about letting Chambers walk would be; why the hell would they fire the guy after what was far and away his best season in State College? Sure, stranger things have happened. But that doesn't mean that getting rid of Chambers would be a wise move.

Penn State basketball is in a good spot right now. Should they have won a few more games this season? Absolutely. But with Tony Carr, Mike Watkins, Josh Reaves and Lamar Stevens back in the picture, there is no reason that Penn State can't be in the tournament- without any speculation-- next season. Although Chambers will never be Dean Smith, he's been in Happy Valley long enough and has endured enough bad basketball to see that happen.