Coastin’ to the Sweet 16: FGCU and The Rest.

Coastin’ to the Sweet 16, Your Preview and Can’t Miss Match ups:

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Sherwood Brown and the Eagles are the talk of the tourney, can they ride the wave to the Elite 8?

This NCAA Tournament has lived up to it’s billing. If you believe in foreshadowing and logical thought sequences, then the presence of teams like Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle and Wichita State this far in the tournament shouldn’t really surprise you.  This season has been a crapshoot if there has ever been one. Out of the 16 teams still remaining in the tournament, I correctly predicted 11 of them (stealth brag), but guess what, FGCU, La Salle, Wichita State (hell, even Oregon) are understandably absent this deep in my bracket.

Aside from this, we have a full slate of great games this Thursday/Friday, and like the teams themselves, we have the luxury of over-analyzing every matchup and trying to gauge the strengths/weaknesses of said matchups.

1).The Game You Can’t Miss: Alright, admittedly you shouldn’t miss any of these games if you have ever called yourself a “college basketball fan”. This time of year is what you live for. Smack talk, ripping up your bracket, then cooling down and re-printing it, sending menacing texts to your friends when you know their pick is going down the drain, it’s a great time to be anyone who cares about college hoops.

Its only obligatory to start with Florida Gulf Coast. If you miss Florida Gulf Coast v. Florida, I am inclined to question your dedication to March Madness, or whether you are aware of it’s existence. For those who haven’t climbed on the Eagles Bandwagon yet, get on it now, unless you’re a diehard Hoya or Aztec (honestly, don’t be mad, you were outplayed by a team that has a motor while you road your tricycle around the block). FGCU shouldn’t just be “happy to be here”, they have legitimate talent. That, mixed with their seemingly endless amount of energy and conditioning makes them a huge threat.  

Sherwood Brown is a complete and utter badass, and Reggie Miller loves shaking his hand at the end (well almost the end) of every game. The Eagles have beaten two teams that are honestly better than them by 10 points each time. This isn’t your typical Cinderella team that won on a half court heave from the heavens, or by some bad call, or had one good showing and fizzled. They got better versus San Diego State. They punched them in the mouth and as good as Jamaal Franklin is, he had no response but to go up to Brown after the game and basically tell him “this is your show, don’t let up”.

I won’t sit here and say FGCU is the favorite, because they aren’t. If I could redo my bracket and have this matchup printed on paper, I would pick the Gators. Florida Gulf Coast is going to lose.  I think the Eagles are a great team (I even picked them to give Gtown a huge battle, I just didn’t know they would come out victorious) but everything good comes to an end in life.  Florida provides plenty of matchup problems for the Eagles. Patric Young should have probably 20 points and 20 rebounds. Kenny Boynton is going to run all over them and throw alley-oops for days. The magic of Florida Gulf Coast is over (that being said, I really want them to win).

The Eagles are no doubt going to give the Gators a shot, but if you think the Gators are going to come out flat and unprepared, then maybe you haven’t watched them enough this year. With that being said, if Florida comes out still thinking this is a joke and an easy win, then I’ll be writing a column about “Florida Gulf Coastin to the Elite 8”, that’s how good they are.

2).Can we please talk about Oregon? Or maybe the fact that they were given a 12-seed, and how this could even be possible for a team once ranked in the top 25? Or the fact that you probably can’t name more than zero players on their team? Or the fact that you most likely forgot they were in the sweet 16? Ok yes, they are playing Louisville, who has been completely destroying teams (albeit NC A&T, and an unmatched Colorado St. squad) but we’ve seen our share of upsets (see above). Arsalan Kazemi and E.J. Singler are huge factors for this team’s success but without Dominic Artis, this team gets a 12 seed. Oh wait, that’s why got a 12 seed, he was out for a while and they sputtered. He hasn’t done much in the tourney, but he provides energy and a spark that makes them dangerous.

You will know Damyean Dotson’s name after the Louisville game. The freshman has put together two gargantuan efforts in the tournament, dropping  17 and 23 points against OK State and St. Louis, respectively (including 5-6 from three point range versus the Billikens).  Just watch the game, sure it could be a romp for the Cardinals, but if the Ducks can force Siva and Smith to operate a half-court offense, Oregon could keep it close, and with their 3-point shooting ability, they could earn a trip to the Elite 8.

3).Favored Team Most Likely to Lose:  I’m going with Miami here. I picked them to win it all, but after watching them last night, I’m not too thrilled for them to play Marquette. The Golden Eagles have been battle-tested early in the tournament. Sure, that means they aren’t blowing opponents out, but that also has taken the shock of being in a close win-or-go-home game out of the equation. I would say the same thing about Miami, except I truly expected them to dismantle the Illini.  A gracious call late in the game pretty much punched their Sweet 16 tickets, and Shane Larkin had his hands full all game. I hope I’m wrong and that Miami will have time to get their game under control, but be weary of Vander Blue, as he is quickly becoming the player to watch in this tournament.

4).Wichita State Will Win: I love the way the Shockers play, I’ve watched them all season, they should advance, no real reasoning except that they are the “Shockers” and like to eat Bull Dogs for breakfast (not literally, PETA).

5). The Allure of the Big Ten: 1/4th of all teams remaining hail from the Big 10. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State all beat the living you know what out of each other during the regular season, and it’s paying mad dividends right now. Michigan and Michigan State look like Final Four Teams, and Ohio State, backed by the resurgence of Aaron Craft look like juggernauts. Indiana has all the tools to blow teams out, but at times they play down to the levels of their opponents. They’re getting the most flack from me because they have the number “1” beside their name, and they should have disposed of Temple far easier than they did. Look for all four Big 10 Teams to advance this weekend.

A).Michigan is too fast for Kansas, and Elijah Johnson couldn’t guard Trey Burke if he had rockets attached to his shoes. The Burke/Hardaway Jr./Robinson III combo is too much for Kansas. The only issue is how to handle Jeff Withey. Mitch McGary had a huge outing versus VCU, but Withey is as dominant a shot blocker as I’ve seen in a long time, and honestly will dominate McGary. It’s funny I’m not mentioning Ben McLemore because I don’t think he will show up (again). Look for Michigan to dictate the tempo of the game and advance.

B).Michigan State will beat Duke. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are too  big and strong, and Mason Plumlee will be overmatched. Keith Appling needs to show up, and if he does, Quinn Cook will have a long day at the point. I love the way the Spartans are playing and think that Duke needed a better showing versus the Doug McDermott’s last night to convince me they stand a chance to advance (unintentional rhyme).

C). Ohio State is probably the most complete team left in the tournament. Aaron Craft is hitting game winning 3’s. Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are monsters. Mark Lyons from UofA is going to have a rude awakening versus the on-ball defense of Craft, lets hope this one is still watchable by halftime.

D). Indiana and Syracuse is probably the best matchup of all the Sweet 16 games. Syracuse possesses length and athleticism that can match Indiana’s energy and tenacity. Syracuse has a real chance to upset the Hoosiers if Michael Carter-Williams shows up, handles the pressure and does not make arrant throws and commit turnovers. When he plays well, so do the Orange. The amount of talent in this game is overwhelming. Oladipo, Zeller, Watford, and the shooting of Hulls, matched up against MCW, Triche, Fair, and Southerland’s unlimited range. I have the Hoosiers, but it could be a one-possession game with the ball in Oladipo’s hands for the win.

As always, enjoy the madness  this Thursday and Friday. Good luck to your teams, and if they lose, tear up the bracket if you haven’t already done so.

 

 

 

TLN’s March Madness Preview Round 2, and a Note on Kansas Basketball

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With only 2 losses thus far, Kelly Olynyk and the Zags looked poised to make a deep run this March.

TLN’s March Madness Preview:  (Number 2 Seeds)

Today, I want to take a look at the four possible number two seeds in the upcoming tournament, primarily because this season, there is not a huge talent margin between the number one and two seeds (with the exception, possibly of Indiana). Sports writers could, for the most part make cases for these four teams being included in the conversation for number one seeds. Come tournament, time, however, we will get to see who was truly deserving of the top spots.

Duke: I’m starting with the Blue Devils because I still feel that out of all the teams mentioned here, they are the best. I struggled deciding if they were a number one seed when I wrote the first installment of the March Madness Preview, but their recent loss to Maryland on Saturday night was a huge deterrent from honoring them with a top seed. Although they have the top overall RPI, their losses to NC State, the drudging at Miami, and a huge missed opportunity at Maryland make them a strong number two seed in my opinion. The loss of Ryan Kelly has proved disastrous; they lack an X-factor at this point in the season. Kelly provided Duke with a strong option inside to back up Mason Plumlee, while giving the Blue Devils an extra shot-maker. Kelly gave energy and experience to a Duke squad that lacks a true leader. Seth Curry has been coming up huge lately with clutch performances, but despite his 25 points on Saturday night versus the Terrapins, a big “L” fills the result column. Their game at Miami on January 23rd was the worst I have ever seen a number 1 ranked team play, but hats off to Miami, they showed why they are the team to beat in the ACC. Close games versus an average Wake Forest team, and a one-point victory at Boston College (a team with a 138 RPI), show me that their confidence is waning, and they do not have a true identity. All of this negativity is actually a pretty good sign for a team with a projected number 2 seed in the tournament.

Mason Plumlee needs to re-establish himself as a dominant player in the post. 4 points and 3 rebounds in 33 minutes versus Maryland is not what a former POY candidate should produce this late into the season. He was dominated by Maryland big Alex Len (19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks). Plumlee has the tools, he just needs to regain his confidence and re-assert himself. If Duke hopes to fare better in this year’s tourney, Plumlee must get back to playing strong basketball (much like he did versus North Carolina on February 13th). Overall, Duke is a tough team to beat no matter where you play them. Coach K provides the experience and toughness to get the Blue Devils ready to play, and if they can start dominating some “shoe-in” games and make a run in the ACC tournament, they could possibly play themselves into a number one seed, I just don’t see that happening. The first step is tonight at Virginia Tech. Duke has to right the ship, but containing the nation’s leading scorer in Erick Green (25.3 PPG) will not be an easy task. Duke should dominate the 11-14 Hokies easily, but as we have seen with this Blue Devils squad, “should win” games often turn into dogfights. Time will tell if Duke will be able to make a run in the tournament, but as of today, I see them as a tough number 2 seed to go up against. When it comes time to make a selection, the committee will end up looking at this current Duke team, that is, without Ryan Kelly. Giving them a top seed while going 8-3 in that span seems a daunting task for the Blue Devils, and they might just have to accept a #2 seed.

Michigan: All seemed to be going right for the Wolverines. They started the season 16-0, and reached the top of the weekly polls since 1992 (under current San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, go Aztecs). Their four losses have come in conference play, and the Big 10 is currently without a doubt the best conference in the nation. They lost to Ohio State (then ranked #15) by three on the road, to Indiana (then #3) on the road by eight, to Wisconsin on the road by three in overtime (you can thank Ben Brust for that), and finally getting manhandled by Michigan State on the road by 23. All of these losses came on the road in very tough environments to top-tier teams. Winning in the Big 10 is a feat in itself, it is clear, however, that both Indiana and Michigan St. are better teams, which is why I have no problem giving a single conference two number one seeds. Had they beaten Indiana and put up a better fight versus the Spartans, things may be different for the Wolverines, but as it stands, they look like a strong number two seed and a team that no one wants to play in the tournament. Trey Burke’s outstanding play this season has him in the POY mix (see my Naismith POY Watch for further analysis). Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glen Robinson III, along with Burke, provide a strong 3-way tandem of scoring, energy, and athleticism that makes the Wolverines a tough team to beat. They are 8-4 in their last 12 games, but if they can peak again at the right time and make a deep run in the Big 10 tournament, they also could steal a number one ranking, most likely from Florida after their loss at Missouri on Monday. Michigan is often a tough team to read. Their team possesses a fair amount of athleticism, but their lack of a strong inside game hurts the Wolverines when going up against conference foes such as Indiana and Michigan State. Going far in the tournament depends on having a couple solid scorers, multiple athletes, and size down low. Without that well-rounded combination, it just takes a team that may not be as talented, but has a good day, to beat you in the tournament. I grew up a Michigan fan and was excited to see them at the top of the rankings, but it’s a long season and maintaining the number one spot looks more and more like the Madden curse each and every week. Overall, I like the Wolverines chances to go fairly deep in the tournament. Final Four caliber? Not currently. Only time will tell.

Gonzaga: The Zags currently sit number 3 in the AP polls and have been playing consistently the entire season. They are 11-1 in their last 12 games and are 25-2 overall. Both losses have come to teams with top 30 RPI’s (@ Butler, and Illinois). They are 13-0 in WCC play and swept the season series with arch-rival Saint Mary’s, including a 17-point victory (which felt like more if you watched the game) at McKeon Pavilion on Valentine’s Day. Their one-point loss at Butler was a game that they should have won, and if it wasn’t for a late miscue followed by a miracle floater at the buzzer, they would have. The Zags have good wins versus Oklahoma and Kansas State, and won on the road in Sweetwater versus Oklahoma State (a win that keeps looking more and more impressive). They have also defeated Baylor and Clemson. The Clemson win is interesting in my eyes because, despite the Tigers’ lowly 132 RPI, they nearly beat projected number 1 seed Miami this past week. I read into these games more with Gonzaga because of the argument that since they play in the WCC and face considerably less competition on a consistent basis, that a number two seed may be too high for them. This argument has a fair amount of credence due to the fact they lost to Illinois (then ranked #13) at home. Illinois is 18-8 but in addition to their wins versus the Zags, they have beaten Butler (another Zags loss), Ohio State, Minnesota, and who can forget that incredible last second victory that sent Illinois fans into a frenzy versus #1 Indiana. This loss is a perplexing benchmark for how Gonzaga may fair versus power conference competition in the tournament. The Zags played the Illini on December 8th, very early in the college basketball season. Gonzaga has improved tremendously and if the two had a rematch today I could see the Zags wining by double-digits. Coach Mark Few has built a powerhouse out west that produces consistent play, star athletes that have fundamental skills and tremendous athleticism, while giving momentum to the notion that non-power conferences deserve higher tournament seeds.

The Zags have plenty of talent to merit a number 2 seed. POY candidate Kelly Olynyk provides the base down low and can step out and hit a 20-25 footer if he needs to. Elias Harris is also a star, providing the Zags with another big body down low (he averages almost 15-points a game, but has 25-point potential). Guard Kevin Pangos has developed nicely, averaging almost 12 points and 3.4 assists per contest while playing 32 minutes a game. Sophomore Gary Bell Jr. is also turning into a go-to player, he scored 20-points in the Valentine’s Day rout of the Gaels, while hitting 4-5 from 3-point range. The Zags have 3 consistent scorers and a floor general in Pangos. They have talent at every position on the floor, size, athleticism, energy, and most importantly, they play like a cohesive unit. Olynyk was not even on the court for the Zags last season and has become the talk of the WCC (he scored 30+ in two consecutive games this season). I really like Gonzaga going into this year’s tournament for those reasons. I honestly believe that they should get consideration for a number 1 seed if they win out in the regular season and go on to win the WCC tournament. In my opinion, a two-loss team should get a number one seed, especially if they are playing as well as the Zags are at the moment (They beat a top 100 RPI Santa Clara team by 43 last night, Kelly Olynyk only played 18 minutes and had 14 points). This is definitely a team to watch out for come March.

Syracuse: I’m putting Syracuse as a number two seed because of their resume’ and their overall potential to dominate opponents. They have an RPI of 7, and are 9-3 in their last 12 games. With a 10-3 Big East record, and 22-4 overall, the Orange have had yet another successful season. They have strong victories versus teams in the RPI top 50 including versus San Diego State, at Louisville, versus Cincy, and versus Notre Dame. Their lone bad loss would be Villanova. They also lost to Temple (neutral site) and at Pitt and UConn. All of their four losses have come on the road or at a neutral site. So obviously they are a strong team at home, but what top-tier team isn’t? They thrashed conference opponent Providence by 25 last night, the game was over mid-way through the first half. Syracuse has a very dominant starting five, and with James Southerland coming off of his suspension for academic issues the Orange are looking like be contenders. Michael Carter-Williams could probably play in an NBA game tonight and be effective. The 6-6 guard is explosive, averaging 12.7 PPG, nearly 5 RPG, a whopping 8.2 APG, and 3.0 SPG in just over 34 minutes per contest. His statistics and play on the court are a key reason why the Orange are putting themselves in a solid position to make a deep run come March. Brandon Triche has evolved into the leader that Jim Boeheim has always envisioned for the guard. He leads the team in scoring at just under 15 a game, and contributes 3.6 apg. He has big time scoring potential, as evident by his much needed 29 point explosion versus Seton Hall last Saturday. Not stopping there, junior forward C.J. Fair has been a stud as well, dropping 14.3 PPG, 7.3 boards, while shooting 42.9 % from 3-point range and 83.5% from the foul line. James Southerland also provides a strong 6th man presence as his 13.8 points per contest, 5 boards, 1.4 steals clearly indicate. He also provides a long-ball option to back up Triche and Fair, as he shoots nearly 40 % beyond the arc. Lastly, big man Rakeen Christmas can provide some momentum dunks and boards while being the big body down low to clog up the lane. Christmas also contributes over 2 blocks a game. The Orange have a solid front line and continue to impress with their athletic back court. Definitely look for Syracuse to make a run at the Big East title. Their talent and diversity of weapons bodes well for them come March, they have the looks of a final four team if they can peak at the right time. One of the biggest games of the season for the Orange is this Saturday at 4:00 PM when #11 Georgetown visits the Carrier Dome for a potential Big East Championship game preview. Tune in, it has the makings for a classic Big East shootout.

 

Food For Thought: A Note on the Jayhawks and Travis Releford

Sticking with the college basketball theme going on here recently…

I’m having a difficult time figuring out how good Kansas actually is. Are they the team that lost to TCU (then winless in Big 12 play), or are they the team that recently thrashed rival Kansas State , then Texas, and beat Oklahoma State on the road in 2 OT’s last night? Could they be both? Could a team have that large of a disparity? It sure seems like their 3-game losing streak has energized them, and if anything, got them extremely angry. I like watching Kansas play, especially at home. Phog Allen Fieldhouse is a place to behold and if you like college basketball, then make it a rite of passage as a fan to try and make it out there once. No doubt that the Jayhawks are a good team. I admit it feels weird not to have them included thus far in a tournament preview. The fact of the matter is that they have been shaky, and need to play more consistently if they hope to play deep into March. They have looked good their past three games but still face Iowa State and Baylor on the road, none of those games should be taken lightly.

Lastly, shout out to a guy who doesn’t get enough love; Kansas swing-man Travis Releford played excellent last night. His 18 points and 8 rebounds propelled the Jayhawks to a huge victory on the road in Stillwater. He has consistently been one of my favorite players in the Big 12 for the past couple of seasons. This has been his break out year, averaging a little over 12 points and 4 rebounds a game. Stats don’t tell the story for Releford. He is a team player, who plays incredibly smart on the floor, is unselfish, and does the little things that give guys like McLemore, Withey, and Thomas Robinson/Tyshawn Taylor from last season opportunities to succeed. Here’s a stat for you KU fans. All four losses for the Jayhawks have come in games where Releford has scored in single-digits; he has only scored in single-digits in six games this season (talk about a model of consistency). During Kansas’ 3 game losing streak, he only averaged 5.7 points per game, and in their recent 3-game winning streak, he has poured in 14.3 points a contest. I’m not saying Releford is the key to the Jayhawks success, but when he scores in double-figures, it sure helps.

Kudos to you, Travis and good to see you finally getting a chance to shine.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Thursday, friends. Comments or thoughts? Message me on facebook, send me an e-mail at addisoncocoli@gmail.com, or tweet me @Addisoncocoli. 

TLN’s Naismith Player of the Year Watch: Warning, Its a Toss-Up.

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Super Freshman Ben McLemore might just be the best player in the nation, but does he deserve POY honors?

Ranked 1-5 (Yes, the Order Matters).

1). Victor Oladipo (G/F, Junior, Indiana): 14 PPG, 6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 63.9 FG%.

I have Oladipo as the frontrunner for a couple of reasons. He has been relatively consistent this season, despite the fact that he has another POY candidate in Cody Zeller on the same team as him. Having Zeller has been a blessing for Victor, as teams put so much effort into stopping the 7 foot Sophomore that Oladipo gets more open looks at times. This is not to take away from the skill set that Oladipo brings to the floor. He is athletic, smart, and is will be a first team All-American come season’s end. Last night in East Lansing, he willed the Hoosiers to a huge win over Michigan State by scoring 19 points, adding 8 rebounds and 5 steals. He played like a lottery pick on the road against #10 Ohio State, shooting 80 % from the floor while scoring a career-high 26 points. He steps up in big time games and seems to thrive in the moment, meaning come March, he and the Hoosiers will most likely to be the team to beat. With Oladipo playing at this level, they will be extremely difficult to beat, which is why if voting occurred today, I would have to give him the Naismith POY award.

2). Ben McLemore (G, Freshman, Kansas):  16.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 51.1 FG%.

McLemore is not only the clear favorite for freshman of the year, and a potential number one overall draft pick come this summer, but he also might be the best player in the nation. The Jayhawks endured a tough 3 game losing streak, and that had nothing to do with McLemore’ play. He scored 23, 15, and 15 during that stretch, and aside from some bad turnovers, played extremely well. While many will argue that the POY should go to the best player on the best team, I can’t ignore what McLemore has done and the skill set that he brings to the floor. Sure, the Jayhawks do not have a clear dominant player on the offensive end, which is why McLemore is so important. Coach Bill Self has told McLemore that he must be more aggressive and even selfish on the offensive end and I couldn’t agree more. He scored 33 points on 12 shots in an overtime victory versus Iowa State in early January. He is a dominant athlete who is incredible mature and unselfish for his lack of experience at the collegiate level. When the pressure was on for Kansas when rival Kansas State came to Phog Allen, McLemore dominated, scoring 30 points (9-13 FG) while making 6 (yes, 6) 3-pointers (6-10 for the game). Side note, one difference between the Naismith POY award and the Heisman that I never liked was that the Heisman is typically not given to the best player if he is a freshman because proponents of the award like to consider the full body of work and legacy that a player has left behind (I guess Johnny Football broke that curse), I have always felt the best player that year deserves the award despite class standing or legacy. I don’t know if McLemore is a better player than Oladipo, or will win it over him due to the Hoosier’s success and tough wins but he definitely deserves a closer look. 

3). Kelly Olynyk (F/C, Junior, Gonzaga): 18 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 64.9 FG%.

Olynyk is hands down the most improved player in college basketball this season. He did not even play for the Zags last season. He might be the best big man in the game as of right now. He scored 30+ points in two straight games, one versus WCC rival Saint Mary’s, he helped the Zags sweep the season series against the Gales by providing size, athleticism, energy, and a big body in the middle to help block and alter shots/possessions. The best part about Olynyk’s game is his versatility. He has an outstanding post game with “soft hands” that rarely lose control of the ball, he finishes at the rim with relative ease, making shots off the glass a la Tim Duncan. He also has the ability to step out and consistently hit the 15-20 footer, including 3 pointers. He is the ultimate threat that must be accounted for at all times. The only knock on his game is that he starts strong but at times fades away. For the most part, however, he is the clutch performer that the Zags need to go deep into the NCAA tournament. They are a team deserving of a number one seed, but their lack of a power conference-like schedule definitely hurts them. I can guarantee, however, that no team wants to play Gonzaga right now. With so much attention being given to Olynyk, he opens up the floor for star Elias Harris and guard Kevin Pangos. Olynyk is usually double or even triple teamed due to his 7 foot frame, yet he still finds ways to corral points and rebounds while being an effective defensive presence. His improvement this season, versatility and effectiveness at the rim makes him a POY candidate and I look forward to seeing what he brings in both the WCC and NCAA Tournaments.

4). Trey Burke (G, Sophomore, Michigan): 18.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.9 APG, 39.1 3P%

Burke’s stock may have fallen recently due to the setbacks that the Wolverines have faced , but he should definitely still be in the conversation for this season’s Naismith award. Averaging almost 19 points and 7 assists a game in the Big 10 is no easy feat, and he is the floor general for one of the best teams in the country. Burke is the energizer for the Wolverines, he sets the pace, and like most point guards, his play often dictates the outcome of the game for Michigan. He played very well versus Indiana, scoring 25 and dishing out 8 assists, but the Hoosiers simply had too many weapons that the Wolverines (and the Spartans of last night) did not have. I feel relatively confident that Burke will have an outstanding showing in both the Big 10 and NCAA Tournament’s. He is very poised and calm for just a sophomore and he does not let the moment get to him. Often a POY candidate cannot just be a pure point scorer on an average team, they have to possess attributes that make them valuable to their team other than the box score. Burke has that quality. He is tenacious and fiercely competitive. Those attributes coupled with incredible athleticism and strength make him a player to keep your eye on.

5). Cody Zeller (C, Sophomore, Indiana): 16.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 58.8 FG%.

Zeller’s numbers are slightly better than last year (minus his FG%) but for due to Victor Oladipo’s success this season, it seems that his momentum for the POY has dipped tremendously. Some might think his #5 ranking is a tad low, but if you cannot be the best player on your own team, then I cannot in good faith give you this award. It’s honestly a toss-up but I feel that Oladipo provides more energy and positive traits to the Hoosiers than Zeller does. I am not discrediting his 24 point, 8 rebound performance at Ohio State, or the 17 points he had last night against the Spartans, but I just feel Oladipo is a better player and athlete. Zeller has proven that he is not a victim of the Sophomore slump, and he may be having statistically a better season if it wasn’t for the rise of Oladipo. He is without a doubt, a lottery pick, but I would be interested to see how good he could be if he stayed all four years. I doubt that will happen, but just interested as always. I would give the award to Zeller if he started dominated again during the Big 10 and NCAA tournament’s with Oladipo fading a little bit, but to be honest I just don’t see that happening. Zeller is a first team All-American, just not this season’s POY.

A Dark Horse: Marcus Smart (G, Freshman, Oklahoma State): 15 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.5 APG

Marcus Smart is a stud, if you haven’t tuned in to see this freshman guard for OK ST play, then tune in to ESPN tonight to see the Cowboys take on Kansas, it has the makings for a classic Big 12 matchup. Smart is the key to a Cowboys victory tonight, and if he can elevate his play even just a little bit, you might see him climb into the POY race with a vengeance. Smart has scored over 20 points seven times this year, he is only a freshman. He can rebound, pass, and shoot, and is the pacemaker for the Cowboys. He is averaging 20 PPG in the month of February, including a 25 point explosion in OK ST’s win versus then #2 Kansas. A solid performance tonight can give him some serious credence in the POY discussion.

 Those are my picks as of right now. As always send comment, or send any feedback to addisoncocoli@gmail.com or tweet me: AddisonCocoli.

Indiana @ Michigan State: “Live Stream” Style

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If he keeps this up, Victor Oladipo may just take home this year’s POY honors.

Seeing how I gave both teams a pretty respectable pre-March Madness review, I thought I’d take some notes on two potential final four teams as they went head-to-head in a marquee matchup on Tuesday night. It was a phenomenal game, the energy in the Breslin Center was electric and it felt like a final four game. Cheers.

7:02 PM- Just tuned in, great to see Magic Johnson on the commentating crew with Dick and Mike. Energy is already hyped up and fans are looking sufficiently sauced and ready for a potential classic.

7:05- Tipoff, house is rocking. I miss college, these kids look inebriated and loving life. At UCSB we had the Thunderdome, these guys have Magic Johnson calling the game, a little disparity there.

7:08-Strong start for both teams, I can already tell that Indiana has come to play. ESPN has correspondents all over the place, definitely a hyped matchup.

7:14- Spartans up early 11-10 with 15 minutes left in the half. Watford hits a three, sound familiar Kentucky fans? If Watford can consistently make that shot I see Indiana going to the final four, cutting down the nets down in Atlanta also a strong possibility.

7:16- Yogi Ferrell’s step-back jumper from 15 feet out makes me think the same as well.

7:16- Adreian Payne with a wide open 3-ball? Please and thank you. He is NBA material. Always loved his toughness. He has the physical frame that could take him far and provide him with a steady career if he stays healthy.

7:17- I predicted 65-53 (Michigan St), and this feels like an offensive slugfest at the moment. Most Big 10 super matchups either start out insanely fast-paced offensively or at a snails pace. This is the former. I have a feeling scoring will take a back seat in the second half and the game will tighten up and become a good old fashioned Big 10, deep into the shot clock, half court set dogfight.

7:34- More of the same for the last few minutes. These are definitely two number one seeds. Good transition defense, guard play is outstanding, a slugfest in the making. IU 25, MSU 20

7:37- Oladipo with the slam. Showing why he is a frontrunner for POY, pure athleticism and has incredible decision making skills. With 5:05 left in the half he’s accrued 7 points (3-3 fg), 3 rebs, and a steal. He had a bad turnover right after the slam, showing he still has some holes, but who doesn’t.

7:46- Valentine’s no look dump off to Nix was supreme sauce.

7:52- Good no call by the officials. Letting the boys play a little bit, I am a fan. IU 36, MSU 30.

At the half some comments. Many missed shots by both teams, started hot but IU’s defense held MSU down a little bit. Fast paced half that was exciting to watch. Quality shots taken by both teams, overall very solid defense by the Hoosiers.

Some adjustments,

Indiana: Zeller needs to get the ball on the block but Michigan State’s two big man combo of Nix and Payne has proved effective for the most part. Oladipo is going to have his game, taking Hulls out of the equation and keeping Watford from being the X-factor are musts if the Spartans want to get win.

Michigan State: Payne needs more touches, so does Nix. They have some size down low and they need to exploit that. Keith Appling has been a no-show thus far, he needs to step up or this could get ugly in the second half. Payne is the key here, he is too big and too strong for Zeller, getting him involved (and I don’t mean three pointers) is a must. Like the way Valentine has been involved thus far, and Nix is competing down low. Make some shots and play smart with limited turnovers while containing Oladipo/Zeller combo and the Spartans have a chance.

8:09- 2nd half starting, laughing at how drunk the older guys (alumni probably) are sitting directly behind Dick, Mike, and Magic are. Pretty excited.

8:10- What a pass from Payne, that will be there all day with IU having to double Nix on the left block

8:11- Wide open Zeller, a #1 seed cannot give up that shot to a POY player with any sort of consistency and expect to win.

8:18- Harris with the huge steal and dunk, saved the easy lay-up, shifted momentum, a huge play by the freshman stand out.

8:25- Whistles have gotten tight after this Oladipo foul.

8:28- Harris for a 3, followed by an IU turnover, transition lay-up by Dawson finally gives the Spartans the lead. MSU 49, IU 48

8:30- Zeller gives Costello a taste of his shoulder yet they call it a blocking foul on Costello. A foul plus the bucket gives IU the lead. IU 51, MSU 49.

8:31- Magic says Zeller is the most complete player in college basketball, I don’t think I have a problem with that, except that Victor Oladipo is on the same team and is a better player IMO.

8:35- Ref’s really need to ease up on the whistle, this isn’t twitter but, #lettheboysplay

8:39- 2 shots for sophomore Remy Abell. Magic makes a great point, IU pushes the ball relentlessly, giving the Spartans little time to set up defensively. Abell makes both. IU 57, MSU 51.

8:40- Adreian Payne slams home the monster dunk and gets the crowd on it’s feet once again. Showing why he is a lottery pick IMO. IU-57, MSU 55.

8:42- Oladipo crosses up the defending from 20 feet out, goes down the middle and switches hands mid-air for the acrobatic lay-up. Dick says “Jordan baby”, Magic says “A Jordan and D-Wade comb). Easy there guys, I know he is exciting right now, but, easy…

IU 59, MSU 55.

8:43- Payne with a huge 3 pointer. Good lord he is coming up huge tonight. If the Spartans pull out the win he is definitely player of the game (although Gary Harris is making a strong case, this kid has some talent).

8:47- Yogi at the line for 2, misses them both! Huge misses by Ferrell. IU 59, MSU 58.

8:48- Payne is an absolute beast right now, down the lane for 2, giving MSU the lead. MSU 60, IU 59.

8:48- Moving screen called on IU, but MSU turns it over quickly, stolen by Oladipo with a monster slam on the other end, this looks like it could be a momentum shifting play. Oladipo has 5 steals currently, IU back on top, after the MSU miscue.

8:51 Victor shoots a pretty bad 3-ball, unnecessary, don’t try and do too much man, be patient. This bad shot leads to 2 FT for the Spartans. As they say, a bad shot is the first pass on a fast break. 4:26 left to go in the contest. Valentine hits both for the Spartans, giving them the lead again. MSU 62, IU 61.

8:56- Turnover by Watford after a bad pass by Zeller out from the low block. A POY candidate like Zeller should not make a pass like that in the final 5 minutes of a huge, huge game.

8:57- Nix with the work down low, following his misses and the basketball gods reward him on his fourth attempt. Spartans up one.

8:57- Nix again down low! What a beast. MSU 66, IU 63 with 2:19 left.

9:05- 2 Shots for Gary Harris, he has had a huge game, missed the first. Huge FT coming and he calmly drains it. 4 Point lead for the Spartans

9:06- Watford down the middle and converts, plus the foul. Loving Watford’s skill set, strong and physical with a nice shot to back it up. That’s 4 fouls on Adreian Payne, have to be smart if you are him right now. Watford connects on the FT, cutting MSU’s lead to one with 1:20 left.

9:07- Bad foul on Zeller at half-court going after the steal on Appling. 1-1 for Keith with 1:09 left. IU making offense-defense substitutions, (Jordan Hulls for Sheehey). Appling where the hell have you been tonight?

9:08- Bad-set up by the Hoosiers right now. 54.1 seconds left, wise timeout called by Tom Crean. They go right to Oladipo, Ferrell misses the shot but Oladipo is there for the tip-in with 39.5 seconds to go! IU 68, MSU 67.

9:10- Timeout Spartans, this is getting intense, this game, without a doubt has a tournament vibe to it. The Breslin Center has got to be one of the best places to be in the country right now (maybe except Vegas, just because its Vegas, I want to go with my girlfriend again, soon perhaps!).

9:11- Nothing going for the Spartans, Timeout Izzo and his crew. 21.8 seconds left (11 on the shot clock).

9:13- Clock did not start!!! Official review, get comfy kids.

9:15- 13.8 left, IU ball, MSU needed to foul yesterday.

9:18- Oladipo gets free, beats Gary Harris down the court ending in a dunk to give the Hoosiers a 3 point lead.

9:19- 7.0 seconds left, timeout Spartans. IU 70, MSU 67.

9:20- Gary Harris is fouled on the 3-point attempt!! Talk about pressure for the freshman. He missed the first, wow speechless. I feel bad for the kid. He makes the second, and the Spartans definitely need a forced missed with a desperation tip-in (Virginia Tech this weekend, if saw/remembers). Harris misses the 3rd, no play on the ball, Oladipo careens ahead for 2 more.

9:21- Game is over. IU wins 72-68. A very hard fought victory for IU. Very impressed, with this win they definitely are solidifying themselves as the overall number 1 seed for the tournament. Time will only tell, however.

Player of the Game: Definitely giving this to Victor Oladipo, 18 points, 8 rebounds, and added 5 steals to go with that. Controlled the tempo of the game and provided huge momentum shifting plays while staying solid defensively. He played better than Zeller and was able to will his team forward, something a POY has to do. Loving the energy this kid provides. My kid brother said, “if he were bigger physically, I’d say his game is modeling after Lebron’s”, what a huge compliment but scary bold claim to dish out.

Hope you enjoyed, I look forward to watching these teams play again, very entertaining and interested to see where they fall in the brackets, if anything two Big 10 teams are deserving of number one seeds. Take it easy, readers.

TLN’s March Madness Preview: Round 1 (Number One Seeds)

TLN’s March Madness Preview and Food For Thought

Looking at the college basketball landscape this year, it seems clear that there is not a team to beat. As I have mention in other posts, there is a power vacuum at the top of the rankings that seems to paralyze top teams from performing well. The rankings haven’t made much sense to me, I guess Indiana staying atop the Top 25 is acceptable despite their gaff of a loss at Illinois due to overall lack of appeal from other teams. Duke, however, remaining ahead of Miami, for as long as they did was as laughable as Lance Armstrong denying PED use the way he did.

Let’s take a look at the four potential number 1 seeds as it stands right now.

(Potential #1 Seeds)

Miami: The Hurricanes cut it close this weekend by having a pretty awful showing up at Clemson. Before the game my brother asked me if I thought it would be a good game and I clearly indicated that this was a trap game for the Canes’. We always see it, a highly ranked team versus a team on the other end of the spectrum that should be an easy “W”. The fact that Miami came back and was able to pull that game up will definitely be a plus come tournament time, winning close games is a necessity. A win is a win, and they shouldn’t be penalized, getting “W”s in  a power conference is no tough task. Miami is a clear number one seed, the most entertaining team in the country, they possess a certain swagger (it was not there on Saturday night), and they play like a team. Their 12 game winning streak in the ACC is remarkable for a program that does not have a strong national reputation, and is simply impressive no matter what team it is. Coach Jim Larranaga has the Canes’ playing like true national title contenders, and at this point, I would consider them the overall number 1 seed in the tournament. Despite bad losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana St, Miami has not lost since Christmas Day (almost 2 months). This is a team that beat Duke and North Carolina by 25+ points in the same season, albeit these are not the classic Blue Devil and Tar Heel teams. The Hurricanes are the best team in the ACC and when they get out in transition and can hit the 3-pointer, they are almost impossible to beat due to their smothering defense and athleticism all over the court. Many will still consider the Hoosiers to be the overall number 1 seed, and I see where you all are coming from. All I know that Miami versus Indiana in the title game would be a sight for sore eyes, a true dog fight, and a most likely, an instant classic.

Indiana/Michigan State: In honor of their impending matchup, I give both of these two teams a shared analysis. I see them both as number one seeds, and have been shocked that the Spartans weren’t give serious consideration until recently. The Hoosiers could most likely change my mind about not being the overall number 1 seed with a solid showing at East Lansing versus the Spartans tonight (a Kona 6-pack, some buffalo wings, and the flat screen are in my future). Indiana has no real bad losses thus far, and a loss at Michigan State won’t take their number one seed away, it just might give the Spartans a shot at a top seed. I don’t think there is much argument that Indiana is a top seed. They have probably the most complete team in the nation, and if not for the last minute blunder at Illinois, they would be a consensus overall number one. The Spartans however, are far more interesting, their last loss was at Assembly Hall versus these same Hoosiers 3 and a half weeks ago. They blew out Michigan completely and have no bad losses. Losing on the road to Miami, Minnesota (eh, questionable), and Indiana aren’t bad whatsoever. Miami and Indiana are 2 number one seeds, and Minnesota is a solid team that lost its way (what happened Tubby?!). Sold wins versus Kansas, Ohio State, at Wisconsin (a very difficult feat), and a drudging of Michigan give the Spartans-deserve-a-number-one seed claim a fair amount of credence. Beating Indiana tonight, in my mind, gives the Spartans this number one seed wrapped up in a Wonka Factory Golden Ticket on a silver platter. It won’t be easy, Indiana has the best starting five in the nation with two legitimate POY candidates in Zeller and Oladipo. Time will tell, but I think tonight’s showing can only solidify Michigan State’s potential number one seed. A loss wont terribly hurt either team, and a win can only boost Indiana higher into the conversation for the top, overall seed. Essentially we have two top teams, going at it in the biggest Big 10 matchup of the season (since last week)

Florida: Florida is the final number one seed in my mind because they have a strong RPI, a well-rounded team, and sensational guard play. Losing to Arizona and Kansas State a couple of months ago are not bad losses by any stretch, while Arkansas is pretty rough on the eyes. They can blow out teams and are 11-1 in their last 12. Since losing at Arkansas on February 5th, they have won their games by an average of 24.6 points per game including a 17-point beat down of Kentucky (thoughts and prayers out to the Nerlens and his family). Kenny Boynton is the floor general and sets the pace for the rest of the team, and I am a huge Patric Young fan. Young brings a level of tenacity and toughness to the Gators that makes me believe that they have the ability to win the entire thing. Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy give an extra 10-12 points per game while providing the same type of toughness that a Billy Donovan coached team prides itself on. Going back to Patric Young for a second, its clear that this guy has NBA potential. He scores 10.5 points a game while grabbing nearly 7 rebounds, he also adds a steal and a block per contest. He is 6-9, weighing 250 lbs, and he is built like a freight train. His stats are solid, but his play on the court is what makes him stand out. He is the X-factor for this Gators squad. If he can come up in clutch time during the tournament, the Gators may very well be the team cutting down the nets in Atlanta.

Food For Thought 

Duke is not a number one team, you don’t lose by 27 to an then unranked team. Yes, Miami is a very good team, but 27 points? Yes it was the biggest rout I had ever seen and yes it is in the past. But they struggled against an average Boston College team, and lost to a Terrapin squad with an RPI of 63. With the way the four teams up top have been playing, I cannot with a clear mind give the Blue Devils a number one seed, luckily for them, I do not possess a vote.

Maryland should get into the tournament with their showing on Saturday night. At 18-7, and 6-6 in the ACC they are definitely on the bubble. Perhaps Maryland can put a little streak together and finish the conference schedule out strong before the ACC tournament. The win versus Duke has given this team new life, and hopefully their big man, Alex Len who had been slumping their previous 5 games. They still have a shot against North Carolina, but they cannot afford losses at Boston College and Virginia. If they want to play in the tournament, they have to pick up these should win games.

Steve Lavin is one of the toughest guys in college basketball hands down, and one of the most genuine guys in the game. My prayers are with you and your family.

Kentucky is reeling after the loss of Nerlens Noel. For this reason, they are not a tournament team. That might be hard to hear, John, but the fact is that you just got destroyed by the Volunteers by 30 points. 30 point losses while being on the bubble this late in the season surely aren’t helping your case. Tell your freshmen to stay a couple more years and develop, this one and done routine is getting pretty old. What if Draymond Green had left early? He stayed and developed into one of the best players to ever don a Spartan uniform, better yet he developed into a man and now has a solid NBA career going. Guys like Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein would get demolished in the NBA today, the only reason Noel would be able to make an impact is because of his length and shot-blocking ability. He is still raw offensively, and needs a new haircut, he is no Anthony Davis.

Speaking of Anthony Davis, remember when Larry Brown said whatever team drafted Anthony Davis would be a 50 win team? Really? The hornets got Davis and Austin Rivers and haven’t cracked 20 wins at the All-Star Break. Come on Larry, I respect you as a coach and that you are a hall of famer, but that had to be the most ignorant comment I have heard in a long time.

Cal coach Mike Montgomery needs a reality check. So do Allen Crabbe’s teammates. Crabbe got pushed, probably said some not so nice things to the out of line coach, and they started pushing him to “calm him down”. You don’t put your hands on a player ever, as a coach, you are trusted with a certain level of authority over players, physical abuse is not one of them. I don’t care what the intent was, its simply unacceptable. His lack of suspension, however, shows a clear lack of caring for the safety of players, maybe if Crabbe’s father was an employee at ESPN, then this action would bear an appropriate reaction.

Indiana Vs. Michigan State Prediction (7:05 PM): Michigan State 65 Indiana 63.

Thanks for reading, as always, send feedback to addisoncocoli@gmail.com or tweet me: AddisonCocoli. Take it easy, all.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Could Lebron Average 40 Points a Game?

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game SixIF you would, flashback to Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Miami Heat were on the brink of playoff elimination, and were facing a second consecutive season where they “failed”. Personally,  not winning a championship in professional sports doesn’t deem the word “failure” be attached. Winning a championship in any sport is extremely difficult, let alone the NBA, where, like most professional organizations, the talent gap is marginal at best.

Lebron James put on an absolute clinic, dominating in every single facet of the game. Saying he had 45 points (on 19-26 shooting), 15 rebounds, and 5 assists would suggest he had a monster game; watching it suggests more. Saying James was a man possessed doesn’t do it justice. He played like the exorcist on steroids; he was unstoppable. As I sit here with a French Roast in my UCSB mug (go Gauchos), I wonder, could Lebron average 40 points a game? Forget about what that entails every single night. Is Lebron James talented enough to score 40 points a game?

This season James is averaging 26.9 points per game, while shooting 56.9 % from the field. He also shoots a remarkable 42 % from beyond the arc.  Although we are discussing scoring, he dishes out nearly 7 assists a game while corralling 8.1 rebounds per contest. Another MVP award is in James’ grasp. Winning games and scoring tons of points don’t always go hand in hand (Kobe Bryant was not available for comment). This season, James is averaging 10.3 fg/game, on only 18.4 attempts. Additionally, he makes 1.4 3’s a game while only attempting 3.3. I’ll say it again, shooting 42 percent  from 3 point range is ridiculous, especially for a player who is as physically big as James. He also shoots 73.7 % from the foul line (4.9 FTM-6.6FTA/game).

Alright, so what do these statistics have to do with James averaging 40 a game? In 2007, Lebron averaged 30 points a game, these were his stats with regards to shooting.

PPG FGM-FGA 3PM-3PA FTM-FTA APG
30.0 10.6-21.9 (48.4%) 1.5-4.8 (31.5%) 7.3-10.3  (71.2) 7.2

James is shooting 6.6% better from the field in this current season, 10.5% better from long range, and 2.5% better from the foul line during the current 2012-2013 NBA season. He is averaging only 3.1 ppg less during this campaign, but all of his other statistics suggest that he could  be scoring at least 32-34 a game if he attempted only a couple of shots more. His assists per game differ only by 0.3 from his 2007 MVP season to this year. If Lebron wanted to, he could simply dominate offensively, I honestly don’t know of anyone who would dispute that. These statistics were simply a landmark for his improvements offensively in the wide world of numbers and quantitative data. Watching Lebron James play a game of basketball is like seeing an Albrecht Dürer woodcut for the first time. You don’t really know how he does it, but you know that it ‘s like nothing you have seen before.

Admittedly I was not a Lebron James fan growing up, not even really for the past couple of years. “The Decision” turned me off immensely. I didn’t care that he left Cleveland, “The Decision” just irked me, plain and simple. It’s like your boss broadcasting your firing on YouTube, it already hurts to get burned, but don’t televise my pain to the entire nation. Probably more so, however, is the fact that I was raised a Lakers fan and always saw Kobe Bryant as the top guy in the league. Even I knew Lebron would overtake him. Growing up these past couple of years and maturing has taught me to truly appreciate the gift that James has.

So I got off  point, whatever. Lebron has gotten far better, he can make jump shots that he couldn’t before. He finishes at the rim with ferocious tenacity. He initiates contact, something all great players do. This season he has a higher percentage in every shooting category,  sure he shoots less, but his shots are intelligent, and there is no reason that if he attempted more shots or free throws that these statistics would vary by much. This is the area of sports that is not about the box score or stat line. If Lebron James wanted to, he could average 40 points in an 82-game NBA season. If you don’t think so, ask yourself, in a game where Lebron just scored 30 points on only 11 field goal attempts, what is stopping him? Defenders? No, the only thing holding Lebron back from scoring more is the fact that he is on a championship team. Sharing the ball with Wade, Bosh, Allen, Chalmers is part of the game plan (hence is nearly 7 assists a game). James has been asked several times what he thinks about scoring more, his response clearly indicates that he knows, just like everyone else that he could score at will. Erik Spoelstra even commented that he could probably average 35 a game if he wanted to. Lets just call it 40, Erik, what’s 5 points when you’re the best basketball player on the planet?

Why does this even matter? His stats have the Heat atop the Eastern Conference as of now, and the Heat are looking to repeat as NBA champions. Everything is seemingly going according to plan, why change it? Heavens no, don’t change what works. Everyone ponders these potential gargantuan athletic achievements that would leave a human being breathless. Seeing someone average 40 a game is simply a selfish desire that probably would be a detriment to the Heat. James thrives off making his teammates better, him trying to get a little over 13 more points a game would require that he hold onto the ball, work for his shot more, and take away from the offensive prowess of Wade, Bosh, Allen, Chalmers, etc. The Heat are so dangerous because they have tons of weapons other than James. When the game is in the balance, give the ball to James. Remember when writers and commentators alike crucified James for not being “clutch”, can you find someone to make that argument now? No. Sports change with the times, athletes change, some get better and some fade into darkness. Some fans want to see tough, grind them out games (a la Big 10 basketball), others want to see offensive shootouts, I prefer the latter. I would love to see Lebron James score 40 points a game, just for the sheer fact of how impossible that achievement seems to be.

It probably won’t happen, but it would be a sight to see.

Enjoy your coffee, friends, and may your Sunday be filled with positive vibes.

A Hurricane is Brewing, Just in Time for March

Rion Brown

Miami is taking the basketball world by storm

Don’t look now, but Coral Gables might just be the home of the best college hoops team in the country. The University of Miami is a paradise for football and baseball lovers. If someone told you at the beginning of the college basketball season that Miami would be in contention for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, you most likely would ask that the person making such a claim be subjected to a mental evaluation.

Quietly, however, first-year coach Jim Larranaga has taken the Hurricanes from the outhouse, to the penthouse. The Canes’ are riding an 11 game winning streak after simply crushing the North Carolina Tar Heels at home today (they won by 26, but it felt like much, much more). Success runs in Larranaga’s coaching blood. He took a George Mason squad from relative (no, total) obscurity and led them to the Final Four, creating a national theme that mid-majors could play with the power conferences. Watching the Patriots run in 2006 was a source of pride, as I grew up just minutes from the university.

Larranaga knows how to win. He utilizes quality control  and like all quality coaches he pays attention to the details. As a young middle school basketball player I watched him run through practices and attended his summer camps at George Mason; there is something about Larranaga that resonates with players. He runs efficient practices and gains his players trust, an invaluable aspect of coaching top-level collegiate basketball.

If the season ended today, Miami should be the top ranked basketball team in the country. Early in the season they beat a tough Michigan State team when no one gave them a chance. They then took on the heavily favored #1 Duke Blue Devils in Miami and routed them by 27, at times being up by 35. The game was a complete display of athletic prowess that created a certain buzz about Miami. PG Shane Larkin demonstrated pinpoint precision in his passes, rarely turned the ball over against a smothering Duke defense, and got the ball in the lane at will. Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji were unstoppable, making then Naismith Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee look like a junior varsity player. Julian Gamble was the x-factor and Reggie Johnson gave pure energy and effort, a true blue-collar worker in the paint. All of these aspects together created a memorable performance that launched the Hurricanes into the upper-echelon of college basketball.

During their 11 game winning streak, Miami has defeated their opponents by an average of 13.27 point per game, an impressive feat in any conference, let alone the ACC. They are 10-0 in conference play; possessing the only undefeated conference record in any of the power conference record. Early losses to Florida Gulf Coast, then #4 Arizona, and Indiana State have suggested that maybe the Hurricanes aren’t worthy of a top ranking. FGCU, and Indiana State are almost unacceptable losses for a top team to accrue, and Arizona is not as good as previously thought. In the last five weeks, however, all five number 1 ranked teams have lost. This suggests that there are no truly great teams in the nation this year, much like last year and the year before that. Instead, we find ourselves watching a plethora of good teams and a handful of pretty-good teams. Miami’s consistency in a tough conference and their “peaking at the right time” perpetuates that maybe they are the team to beat. Larkin, Kadji, and Scott are all star players and have potential at the next level. Watching the Hurricanes play is like watching The Departed for the first time. Throughout the game you’re sitting there wondering what the hell is going on, and afterwards all you can do is say “wow”. They are for real.

Are they a great team? No. But this college basketball season has no great teams, so make due with Miami. They can make shots, pass the ball well, and when they get out in transition, look out, not much help is coming your way. Miami can blow out a team, then win close games, something national title contenders must be comfortable with, because in the tournament no wins come easily.

Miami still has to play at Cameron Indoor on March 2nd against Duke. The Blue Devils will be ready, and they will not forget the national embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Hurricanes, if Miami is not ready to play, Duke could beat them by 20. That game will truly reveal what kind of team Miami is; whether they are deserving of a number one seed, whether or not they are a legitimate title contender. For now, however, let Jim Larranaga and the canes’  enjoy, they’ve taken Miami and transformed it into a basketball school, even for just a moment.

Whether you agree or not, one thing is for certain, nobody wants to play Miami right now; not in Coral Gables, not in the tournament, not even in the Atlantic Ocean.