Tag Archives: Syracuse Orange

Will ACC Football Continue Its Roll After Last Season?

Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.

With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.

The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.

Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.

On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.

As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.

Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.

Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.

Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.

Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.

The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.

To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.

ACC Atlantic Division:
  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. NC State
  5. Syracuse
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.

 You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

Hoops in the Great White North: Canada’s College Basketball Landscape

This summer, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall made headlines for flipping out after getting ejected from an exhibition game against McGill University and confronting the referees. The Shockers went on to win that game, but it wasn’t so much the contest that meant much (given it being the off-season for Wichita State) as much as it was another in a growing trend of NCAA schools traveling to Canada for summer trips.

As has been a tradition for many NCAA schools, teams, on occasion, travel overseas to face foreign foes. For the Shockers, however, a simple trip north of the border would suffice. And it should come as no surprise, as schools in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, Canada’s version of the NCAA, have proven to be worthy adversaries for their American counterparts.

Then again, American college basketball programs have routinely traveled to Canada to seek out the best talent. And this talent has translated into success in the NBA, as evidenced by, among others, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and, most prominently, Steve Nash.

In spite of the emigration of talent to the United States, basketball teams competing in the CIS have always welcomed schools up to their arenas for the summer not only to see the sites, but also to see how the NCAA school match up.

This was certainly true this past summer, as Wichita State, Morgan State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Stetson made the trek, among others. And one of the stops on the tour, naturally, had to be against the best that Canada has to offer.

And in this case, it was the defending CIS champion, Carleton University in Ottawa. For the Ravens, their dynasty in Canadian college basketball closely resembles that of UCLA in the 1960s and 1970s. Except Carleton, under the tutelage of Dave Smart since 1999, has won 11 of the last 13 national championships.

That includes last season, when Smart’s son, Rob, took the helm and won crown No. 11 as his father served on the Canadian national team’s coaching staff.

With Dave Smart back in charge, the Ravens tuned up with another set of American challengers, much as they had in 2015. And like last year, Carleton took all comers, splitting a pair of games against Baylor, besting Valparaiso and losing a 67-60 decision at the hands of Texas Tech.

2016, however, was a different story. The Ravens vanquished all of their American foes, which also included Division II St. Thomas Aquinas. In the marquee match-up of what’s dubbed the Can-Am Shootout, Carleton decimated the Shockers, 100-75, on the strength of 54.7 percent shooting and four Ravens in double digits.

Ironically, one of the stars of last year’s national championship team, who is also expected to play a significant role in Carleton’s title defense, is a player with a significant NCAA background. That’s Kaza Kajami-Keane, who was named Second Team All-Canadian. The Ajax, Ontario native returned home after stints with Illinois State and Cleveland State.

Even Grantland had to make a stop in Ottawa in 2014 to write about the Ravens’ dominance. It also helped that Carleton had, in the previous summer, provided a scare to Syracuse, led by eventual NBA lottery pick Michael Carter Williams and Canadian Tyler Ennis.

As impressive as the Ravens run has been, they weren’t even the top seed in the 2016 CIS Men’s Basketball Final 8. That honor when to Ryerson University in Toronto. And like Carleton, the Rams were led by an interim coach. And like Keane, the coach, Patrick Tatham, has roots in the NCAA, particularly Cleveland State, where he played four years.

With a 17-2 record in the 2015-16 season, Tatham not only guided Ryerson to the top seed, he garnered honors of his own by being awarded the Stuart W. Aberdeen Memorial Trophy for coach of the year.

Unfortunately, the Rams were bested, 98-87 by the University of Calgary, led by yet another player with a decidedly American influence. In fact, Thomas Cooper, a first-team All-Canadian last season, hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and made stops at the City College of San Francisco and NCAA Division II Nebraska-Kearney before heading to Alberta to play for the Dinos.

The No. 3 seed in last season’s Final 8 also had the country’s top player and top defense player. The University of Ottawa, whose colors, gray and garnet, are the origins of its nickname (The Gee-Gees), were led by CIS Player of the Year Michael L’Africain. The 6-1 guard capped his collegiate career with averaging 20.4 points per game.

His teammate, Caleb Agada, took home defensive player of the year honors. As the first Ottawa player to win the award, the 6-4 Agada pulled down 8.6 rebounds per game, and snatched 2.7 steal per year, and he will be looked on to lead the Gee-Gees this year.

Canadian college basketball does have some differences to the American game, though not as significant as, say the Canadian Football League’s rules versus the NFL. Canada follows along the lines of international rules as set forth by FIBA, which includes four quarters, as opposed to two halves for NCAA games.

Also, since the CIS adopted FIBA rules in 2006, the shot clock in Canada is similar to that of the NBA’s at 24 seconds, as opposed to the NCAA’s most-recently adopted 30-second shot clock. Also, the 6.75-meter (22.15 feet) three-point line is slightly further than the 20.75 feet the American collegiate arc is.

One interesting discussion made in certain circles in Canadian college sports is the potential for CIS teams to potentially make a move to the NCAA. This has been spurred by the fact that Simon Fraser University in British Columbia has been competing in Division II since 2007 and became the first international member school in 2012.

While a school like Carleton would potentially relish the competition the NCAA would have to offer, it appears that there’s no real path to Division I, which would likely be the Ravens’ desired path, as the costs and other requirement are rather prohibitive.

So, for Carleton and the schools of the CIS, they will continue to look forward to the competition that they can provide each other. And, of course, there will be the summer, when their American brethren arrive and see if they can hang with the best that Canada has to offer.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Wikipedia

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Campus Pressbox 58: Lamar Jackson for Heisman

Kristen Botica (@OGKristenB) and Damon Del Rosario (@DamoKnowsSports) revisit some of the action from last weekend’s games, discussing what surprised them most during the first weekend of college football. They also discuss some of the early Heisman candidates after getting a taste for what this season may hold for the best athletes. And looking ahead to this weekend with less marquis matchups, they discuss a few of the games that are most intriguing to them.

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

2016 NCAA Tournament Notebook: Final Four Recap

 

Although it’s always fun for the National Semifinal games to be heart-stoppers; you do have to admire and respect it when teams dominate their opponents with efficiency.  That’s exactly what we got in both Semifinal match-ups on Saturday night at the Final Four in Houston.  While an easy win was predictable for North Carolina over Syracuse; I don’t think that anyone expected Villanova to completely bottle up Buddy Hield, and an Oklahoma offense which had been on fire all tournament.

Defense was the Difference for the Wildcats:

Coming into the game on Saturday, Villanova and Oklahoma appeared to be eerily similar teams, practically mirror images of one another.  Both like to push the pace offensively, and rely heavily perimeter shots.  Both teams start three guards who can all handle the ball, and provide plenty of offense.  And both teams lack a go-to post presence they can truly lean on.  The difference last night, and throughout the tournament for Villanova, has been their defense.

The Wildcats made things very uncomfortable for the Sooner guards right from the start.  Applying pressure beyond the arc forced Oklahoma into attempting a lot of one-on-one drives to the basket, leading to early turnovers.  Too often the Sooners would find themselves caught in the air looking for a teammate to pass to.  This impacted Hield the most, as he had spent the majority of this tournament catching and shooting in rhythm.  Josh Hart being right up in his grill didn’t allow that to happen all night.

Due to the constant pressure, and lack of clean looks at the basket, Oklahoma looked desperate to get out in transition.  This led to a number of sloppy outlet passes where the Sooners were simply trying to force the action.  The Sooners didn’t get anything out of those fast-break attempts, other than additional turnovers of their own.

Villanova did a tremendous job of manufacturing interior scoring in this game.  This is something they’ve keyed on throughout the tournament this year.  Their ability to work inside-out by driving to the basket and kicking out to wide-open shooters like Kris Jenkins facilitated their ridiculous 71-percent field goal percentage for the game.  As expected, there was no glaring big-man advantage for either team.  However, Daniel Ochefu was an efficient 4-5 from the field, while the Sooners big men appeared unwillingly to even look at the basket.  Ryan Spangler passed up a number of lay-up attempts after pulling down offensive rebounds, or receiving passes within a couple of feet of the rim.

I’m not sure there were any adjustments Lon Kruger could’ve made at halftime which would’ve changed the result last night.  Villanova was a well-oiled machine both offensively and defensively.  Give the Wildcats credit for completely derailing one of the best players in the country in Buddy Hield; and shooting the proverbial lights out.  If they can replicate this effort one more time, there’s no reason they can’t be National Champions.

Tar Heels have the Formula to Break the Syracuse Spell:

The run that Syracuse has made to the Final Four has been nothing short of magical.  Despite their shortcomings, and being in some extremely difficult spots, the Orange kept finding ways to come back and win.  Well, North Carolina was having none of it on Saturday night.  The Tar Heels not only cracked the code of the Syracuse zone, they held off the brief run by the Orange in the second half, and cruised to victory.

Roy Williams and crew attacked the Syracuse zone in textbook fashion.   Rotating Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, and Isaiah Hicks into the high post area, the Tar Heels continually found 10-15 foot jump shots available, which they cashed in.  Marcus Paige and Joel Berry did an excellent job of working the perimeter, until the high post flash came open.  Having multiple options to handle the high post who are 6-8 or taller, made breaking down the zone look simple.  It also allowed high-low action for Kennedy Meeks, who took full advantage, shooting 7-9 from the field, finishing with 15 points.

Syracuse did try and institute the full-court pressure which led to Virginia’s meltdown last week in the Elite Eight.  The difference was the way North Carolina handled it.  Rather than attempting to throw long passes over the top of defenders who were fronting the Tar Heels, North Carolina focused on simply getting the ball in-bounds; and then used crisp passing in the backcourt to take apart the press.  The rest was easy.  Getting out in transition is what the Tar Heels want to do, and the Orange gave them the opportunity to do it.  While Virginia flubbed a number of fast-break chances, Carolina finished them off for scores.

When Syracuse did make their one attempt at a comeback with about 12 minutes to go, cutting the lead from 17 down to seven after a Trevor Cooney three; Marcus Paige came right back with a three-pointer of his own, and the Tar Heels were off and running once again.  Syracuse was never able to pose the serious comeback threat that they did against Gonzaga and Virginia.  The Tar Heels will now go head-to-head with a Villanova team which may be clicking even more than they are right now.

Villanova vs. North Carolina: The National Championship:

You couldn’t ask for two teams to be playing better basketball than North Carolina and Villanova are, heading into Monday Night’s National Championship.  There are a couple of key factors that will decide which team captures the Title.

Of most concern for Villanova will be, can they keep North Carolina off of the offensive glass?  The Wildcats frontcourt is significantly undersized compared to the Tar Heels.  Brice Johnson feeds off of put-back dunks and lay-ups.  Unfortunately for Nova, he’s not the only big hitting the glass.  Hicks, Meeks, Jackson, and even Joel James and Theo Pinson will attack the backboards.  Daniel Ochefu can’t do it alone even when healthy, and he’s still a bit hobbled.  Everyone else, including the guards for the Wildcats, will have to be sure to put a body on the crashers.  If they don’t they’ll be overwhelmed.

Villanova can’t be expected to shoot the way they did on Saturday night, but they must have a solid night shooting the ball.  Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono will need to continue driving at the lane; despite the shot-blocking threats which North Carolina will have waiting for them near the rim.  Not only will this present opportunity for some paint touches, but also spring the drive-and-kick shooting options which have worked so well for them this tournament.  If shots continue to fall anywhere near the clip they have thus far for Villanova, they’ll be in position to win at the end of the game.

North Carolina will have to be sound with the ball against the varying defensive schemes Jay Wright will throw at them.  I suspect we’ll see some of the three-quarter court press that Villanova used so effectively against Miami; along with some hybrid zone looks to accompany their aggressive half-court man-to-man.  The Tar Heels have the ability to snap that press, and get transition buckets, but they’ll need to do so without forcing the action so much, that they turn the ball over.

Arcidiacono, Hart, and Jalen Brunson will be able to get right up in the faces of Paige and Berry.  How will the Carolina guards handle it?  If they can withstand the pressure, and find Jackson and Johnson in the free throw line extended areas for 12-15 foot jumpers, the Tar Heels will be in business.

Ultimately I think the size, and depth of talent that North Carolina has, will be the undoing of Villanova.  Too many opportunities for easy baskets from offensive rebounds, and the ability to get out in transition will be the driving force for the Tar Heels.  Villanova hasn’t had a scoring drought all tournament, and it may not happen on Monday.  However the Wildcats can’t expect to shoot 70 percent again; and bottling up the perimeter will only take them so far against Carolina.  The Title game should be much closer than either of the Semifinals, but in the end the Tar Heels should come away with the trophy.  North Carolina 86, Villanova 77.

Email Damon and [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

2016 NCAA Tournament Notebook: The Final Four Preview

The pinnacle of college basketball is here, the Final Four. All the hard work and dedication of four teams will be cemented into college basketball lore. Come Saturday night in Houston, two teams will earn the right to play for a national championship on Monday night. What do we know? Well, all teams have gotten to this point in various ways, some predicted and others a complete surprise. Let’s see how each of these teams got to the coveted Final Four:

No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Defeated No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast 83-67

Defeated No. 9 Providence 85-66

Defeated No. 5 Indiana 101-86

Defeated No. 6 Notre Dame 88-74

A common pick among many brackets before the tournament started, the North Carolina Tar Heels are once again in the Final Four. It seems like they and Duke are switching off every year. Anyway, North Carolina steamrolled all of its opponents and had a cake-walk to Houston. The Tar Heels won all of their games by double digits, and really did not have a real test until meeting Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. Even then, the Tar Heels pulled away in the second half to rout the Irish. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are leading the destruction, both players scoring in double figures in every game of the tournament so far. This team seems like it’s destined to play on Monday night and have a great shot at cutting down the nets that night as well. The only concern is that the Tar Heels haven’t really been tested yet in this tournament. That will change when they see Syracuse in the semifinal game. If North Carolina get past Syracuse, then its biggest test of the season will come facing either Oklahoma or Villanova.

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners

Defeated No. 15 Cal State Bakersfield 82-68

Defeated No. 10 VCU 85-81

Defeated No. 3 Texas A&M 77-63

Defeated No. 1 Oregon 80-68

Another very common pick to get to Houston, the Oklahoma Sooners make it to the Final Four as a two seed. “The Buddy Hield Show” was in full effect this March, his last outing being a 37-point onslaught of the Oregon Ducks. The Sooners got by Bakersfield easily, but they did get a test from the VCU Rams. Hield did score 36 points in that game, but the team as a whole only shot 30 percent from three. Hield made six from behind the arch in that game. The rest of the team made two combined threes. Oklahoma got itself together the next two games by shooting 44 percent and 50 percent from three, respectively. The concern for this team is if Buddy Hield is the only person scoring for the Sooners, then the game could be close. Oklahoma is going to need all hands on deck if they are to take out Villanova.

No. 2 Villanova Wildcats

Defeated No. 15 UNC Asheville 86-56

Defeated No. 7 Iowa 87-68

Defeated No. 3 Miami 92-69

Defeated No. 1 Kansas 64-59

Did anyone give this team a chance to make the Final Four when it was placed in the same region as Kansas? Most likely not, but we should have. Villanova was easily the best team in a good year for the Big East, and they flat out destroyed opponents up to the Elite Eight, including the likes of Iowa and Miami, each of whom were top 10 ranked teams this season. Villanova was overlooked, and it made everyone’s brackets pay. The Wildcats have the most team-oriented style of play among the Final Four teams. They all rely on each other on the court as well as their leader in Ryan Arcidiacono, and they don’t panic under pressure. They needed every bit of that mannerism against mighty Kansas, and it worked to perfection. It may take a squad like Villanova to take out Buddy Hield and the Sooners. The one concern that many have forgotten about is that these two teams actually played earlier this season, and Oklahoma flat out went to town on Villanova, 78-55. Oklahoma had five players score in double figures, making Villanova look silly. Can the Wildcats put that behind them Saturday night?

No. 10 Syracuse Orange

Defeated No. 7 Dayton 70-51

Defeated No. 15 Middle Tennessee 75-50

Defeated No. 11 Gonzaga 63-60

Defeated No. 1 Virginia 68-62

Of course Syracuse found a way to the Final Four. Of course. But hey, they earned it.  They were the underdog in almost every game, except for the second round game. Syracuse was not supposed to be in the tournament, as least that’s what the bracketologists said. Maybe they were right, or maybe they were wrong. The only thing that matters is that thry made it to the Final Four. Syracuse is a prime example of a team that got the right draw, the right match ups, and took care of business in the one that mattered most, against Virginia. There is no real reason to put this team through to Monday night, but there is no real reason to count it out either. The Orange play with heart, have more than one guy who can contribute, and seem to play with a chip on their shoulder. The concern for this team is hard to find because the Orange seem to prove the experts wrong each game. Mainly, Syracuse shoots the three a lot, and if it’s hitting them, watch out. If not, then who knows? This team still finds ways to win. Ask Virginia.

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Villanova

As stated earlier, Oklahoma downed Villanova by a significant margin. That was then. This is now. Villanova is a much different team now than at the beginning of the season. The Wildcats got way better defensively, and also found out a lot more about themselves, mainly key players and role players. A leader has emerged in Ryan Arcidiacono. Josh Hart has stepped up his game and improved throughout the season. And a monster post player has ripened in Daniel Ochefu. With that, you insert some role players like Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, and Mikal Bridges, and you got yourself a complete basketball team. All of these guys got themselves together at the right time, to face Oklahoma again in the Final Four.

Looking at Oklahoma, it has been the same team all season long, but Buddy Hield has improved greatly. Hield is averaging 29 points a game during this season, and has scored over 30 points the past two tournament games, which is very impressive to say the least. Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have contributed nicely next to Hield, and Ryan Spanger has produced some very good games down low. This team is good when Hield scores a ton, but the Sooners are even better when they all contribute and have multiple scorers and let Hield be the dagger in the heart. Nobody can stop Buddy Hield. It’s just not going to happen. If Villanova can stop everyone else, and let Buddy try to do everything, it has a good shot at beating the Sooners on Saturday night.

Prediction: This is a tough call. Both of these teams are playing their best basketball all season. I really like Oklahoma in this one. They have started to play collectively as a team the past few games, and that is with Buddy Hield scoring 30+ points. That’s scary. Villanova keeps it close, but Oklahoma wins by 5.

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Syracuse

On the other side of the bracket, you have the ACC, a conference whose heavyweights and middleweights both crashed the tournament. This matchup has both of those kinds of teams in North Carolina and Syracuse. North Carolina came into this tournament winning the regular season ACC title and the ACC conference tournament. With the ACC clearly being the best conference in college basketball, this team might now be the actual best squad in the country. They rode those championships right into the Final Four, making every one of their opponents look amateur. The Tar Heels are the only number one seed left in the tournament, and they look every part of it, scoring over 80 points a game in each of their four games. Brice Johnson has been a monster down low, and Marcus Paige has been unstoppable from three-point land. North Carolina is just wearing teams down from start to finish, and the Tar Heels don’t look to stop any time soon.

These teams played each other twice this year with North Carolina winning both contests. Both games were close. North Carolina won the first game by 11 and the second by five. Syracuse is not afraid of big, bad North Carolina. In both those games, Syracuse shot below 30 percent from three, and yet the Orange still kept it close. That’s not bad. In order for Syracuse to pull off the upset of the century, they need to get active on the boards. North Carolina thrives on offensive rebounding and second chance opportunities, so if the Tar Heels miss, the Orange better crash the glass, especially with Tyler Roberson. He is a rebounding machine, but he might have met his match in Brice Johnson. That should be a fun matchup to watch.

Prediction: Syracuse has had a magical run, but the fun ends on Saturday night. Out of all the double-digit seeded teams to make the Final Four in the past, none of them have made it to the championship game. I don’t see that happening this time, although this would be the best chance that a double-digit seeded team has had to make the title game. Unfortunately, that chance is against an ACC rival and the best team from that conference. North Carolina wins by 10.

Email Chris at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @chrislvsketchup.

Picture via Wikipedia

Stats provided by ESPN.com

2016 NCAA Tournament Notebook: Elite Eight Recap

West Regional Final: No 1. Oregon 68  – No 2. Oklahoma 80

If you bought a ticket for this game expecting to see a show, you got one. It was called the “Buddy Hield Show”. Hield was nothing short of dominant in this one, taking control of the game from start to finish.  He finished with a astounding 37 points on 13-20 from the field and 8-13 from three.  Hield was just too good, and nobody on the Ducks could stop him.  Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard chipped in nicely, finishing with 11 and 13 points, respectively.

Oklahoma jumped out to an early lead, and lead by 18 points at halftime.  Oregon tried to get back into it, but the Ducks could not get within anymore than 10.  Elgin Cook had a nice game for Oregon, scoring 24 points on 6-13 from the field, and Chris Boucher posted a double-double.  But it was too much Buddy for the Ducks to handle.  The stat of the game was three-point shooting: Oklahoma as a team shot 50 percent while Oregon shot 19 percent. That is not going to win you most ball games. Oklahoma looked like every bit of the team that America saw play early on this season. This team has its eyes on the prize.  Boomer Sooner is headed to the Final Four.

South Regional Final: No 1. Kansas 59  –  No 2. Villanova 64

Do you believe what we just watched? Believe it now, because Kansas is gone. Kansas did not look like the most dominant team in the country in this one.  Give all the credit in the world to Villanova. It played with so much tenacity and so much heart that Kansas really had no plan to overcome it. The first half was primarily controlled by Villanova, with the Wildcats leading at half by seven. The team’s exchanged blows throughout the second half and traded 8-0 and 9-0 runs.  The last five minutes would show both squads trading leads over each other, before Villanova would come up with a huge offensive foul on Devonte Graham that gave him five fouls, taking him out of the game. Kris Jenkins would hit two free throws, Kansas would miss on their following possession, and Jalen Brunson would put the icing on the cake with two more free throws with 3 seconds left.

Bill Self is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the country, but tonight is a night he would like to forget. Anything that Self tried to do, Jay Wright had an answer to it.  This game was not a chance to see whose star player could outperform the opponent’s star player. It was about which team wanted it more. Sure, we can talk all day about stats, where the Wildcats had four starters score in double figures and the Jayhawks had three starters in double figures.  Really, it was the leadership of Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart that kept their team calm and poised every time Kansas looked like it was about to make a run.  And with that, the Villanova Wildcats have a date in the Final Four with Oklahoma.  Plus, it is only fitting that it was Ryan Arcidiacono’s birthday.

Midwest Regional Final: No 1. Virginia 62  –  No 10. Syracuse 68

In what appears to be the biggest upset in the Elite Eight so far, the Syracuse Orange made an epic 15 point comeback to take down yet another number one seed.  The game appeared to be all Virginia, with the Cavaliers flexing their muscles defensively and from the three-point line en route to a 14 point lead at halftime. The rout appeared to be on early in the second half with the Cavaliers up by at least 15 at one point. The magical run by No 10. Syracuse appeared to be over. Then, insert Malachi Richardson.  The freshman shooting guard put the team on his back, helping Syracuse go on a 20-4 run and a couple key three pointers late in the contest. Richardson would finish with 23 points on 3-7 shooting form behind the arch. Syracuse would knock down last second free throws to cement the upset victory. As a result, Virginia lets another Final Four opportunity walk away, and this one will haunt Tony Bennett and the Wahoos for a long time. And for Jim Boeheim, this will be his best coached team yet and his best run in his tenure at Syracuse. From sitting on the bubble to a Final Four birth, the Syracuse Orange can beat anyone and can be considered a legitimate threat to take down two more giants to win a national championship.

East Regional Final: No 1. North Carolina 88  –  No 6. Notre Dame 74

Finally, we have a number one seed that lives up to expectations. North Carolina wore down Notre Dame throughout the second half to a 14 point victory.  Early on, it looked like another giant could possibly be taken down, with the Irish and Tar Heels exchanging leads and runs.  It would be North Carolina, though, to take a five point lead into halftime.  North Carolina would start off with a run in the second half with Notre Dame coming back down 10 to take a lead. The Tar Heels would later lead again by 10, but then a key technical foul called on Brice Johnson would give the Irish some momentum, but clearly not enough, as North Carolina would go on a large run  and never look back. During that run, North Carolina would rack up offensive rebound after offensive rebound to wear down Notre Dame on the glass. In fact, this was the largest detail of the game with North Carolina destroying Notre Dame on the boards 32-15. Offensive rebounds were a big story with the Tar Heels tallying a 13-5 advantage over the Irish.  Demetrius Jackson did all that he could for Notre Dame with 26 points. But it was Brice Johnson that would rack up his 23rd double-double this season, with 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Notre Dame played well, but not well enough to beat mighty North Carolina for a second time this season. Roy Williams had his team ready to go, and they looked all the part of a number one seed Sunday night. With the Tar Heels playing like this, there is no doubt that they will be the favorites to play next Monday night for a national championship. Make no mistake, Roy Williams will make sure his guys do not look past the hot and surging Syracuse Orange; they are too experienced for that. As for Mike Brey, the Irish apparently can lose on Easter Sunday. What a good run for the Irish nonetheless.

 

Stats provided by ESPN.com

Image provided by creativecommons.org

NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen Friday Games Notebook

Syracuse vs. Gonzaga

The battle of these two high seeded teams was the best played game of the night. When it came down the stretch Gonzaga did not make a basket in the last six minutes. While Syracuse was the opposite they were clutch towards the end of the game and Michael Gbinije had the go ahead basket for the game with 22 seconds left in the game . Gbinije was the leading scorer for the Orange tonight scoring 20 points on 8-23 FGs.

This game was full of ebbs and flows all night. Gonzaga started the night hot and playing well but the Syracuse zone finally got to work and slowing down the Zags offense and turned a game that looked like it was going a the way of a blow out for a Bulldog win into a dogfight that Syracuse was able to gut out and hold on in the final seconds to advance to the Elite 8 with a 63-60 win. Syracuse plays No. 1 seed Virginia Sunday March 27th at 3:09 pm pt on TBS.

Iowa State vs. Virginia

Georges Niang of Iowa State had one of the best games on Friday night of any player playing tonight in any game. But his 30 points 8 rebounds 4 assists were not enough to curb the Tony Bennett coached Virginia while they flexed their ACC muscle and showed why they deserved to be a No. 1 seed in this years edition of March Madness.

Virginia did a great job all night sharing the basketball and making sure to the spread the wealth with four guys scoring in double digits. The main difference in tonight’s game was that the Cyclones of Iowa State turned the ball over more and got out rebounded. Virginia was victorious winning by 13 points 84 to 71. The Orange move on in the dance and matchup with Syracuse who is the No. 10 seed game tips off at 3:09 pm pt on March 27th on TBS.

Indiana vs. North Carolina

This was a matching going into Friday that those who are all about tradition had circled on their calendars. The Tar Heels put on a clinic tonight should the nation as to why they are one of the favorites to with this tournament. They made Indiana work for a lot of their points while showcasing what UNC has done all year to some of the best teams in the nation.

Everyone in North Carolina’s starting five have at least 14 points. Both teams came to play tonight but Indiana just could not answer what the Tar Heels kept dialing up all night. North Carolina wins 101 to 86. MVP of this game was was Bryce Johnson  who had a double double for North Carolina with 20 points and 10 rebounds. North Carolina will move on to play Notre Dame on March 27th on TBS at 5:49 pm pt.

Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame

A game that had most on the edge of their seats more of the game had an ending that made Notre Dame fans celebrate and make those who are die hard Wisconsin fans sink to their feet in defeat. Demetrius Johnson of Notre Dame made the play of the game that ended Wisconsin’s season when he stole the ball with 14.7 seconds left in the game for the go-ahead layup. Giving the Fighting Irish a 61- 56 win and a spot in the Elite Eight. Demetrius Johnson was the man of the night all game making plays when he needed dropping 16 points while leading the team with 6 assists.

This matchup of Wisconsin and Notre Dame was so evenly matched going into the game and it showed throughout the night on the court. This along with the Gonzaga-Syracuse game was one of the best games tonight. Notre Dame moves one to play the North Carolina Tar Heels at 5:49 pm pt on TBS March 27th. Another great night of college basketball. Not sure how tonight will be topped this weekend but I’m sure it will happen being that this year’s basketball season has been one of surprises twist and turns.

Email Josh at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLovern87.

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