The Thunder Fired Scott Brooks, and That’s Wrong

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that they had fired head coach Scott Brooks after seven season with the team.  In a statement, GM Sam Presti said: “”Therefore, it is very important to state that this decision is not a reflection of this past season, but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain.”  However, the Thunder have done all of these things with Brooks at the helm, and and it may be hard do do these things with the uncertainty of bringing in a new head coach.

Over his tenure at the helm of the Thunder, Brooks led the team to a 338-207 record, which comes out to a .620 winning percentage.  In his first season, after taking over for deposed head coach P.J. Carlesimo, Brooks went 22-47 over the course of 69 games.  In the next season, the Thunder won 50 games and were bounced in the first round of the Playoffs; 50 games symbolized a 26-win improvement over the year before.  In 2011, the team made it to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Mavericks, who would then become NBA champions.  The next year, Oklahoma City made the NBA finals, losing to the clearly superior Heat in five games.  The next year the team lost in the conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies; in fairness, the team was crippled after a key knee injury to star Russell Westbrook in game 2 of the team’s first round series against the Houston Rockets.  Last year, the team lost to the eventual champion Spurs in 6 games in the conference finals, and this year the team missed the playoffs after a rash of injuries, particularly to key stars Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant.

Two names that have been brought up as replacements fro Brooks are college coaches; UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Florida’s Billy Donovan.  Neither have any NBA head coaching experience (although Donovan almost became coach of the Magic after the 2007 season), but Ollie has a very tight kinship with Kevin Durant.  As an aside, Durant is set to become a free agent after this season.  However, we must ask ourselves an important question of both these people: would they actually take the job?  Donovan makes $3.7 million per year at Florida and Ollie makes up to $3 million per year at UConn.  Why would either leave their cushy environments in college and go to the NBA to deal with the more trying task of dealing with pro players?  They also would have to deal with more blame and scrutiny in the pros than in college, as we just saw with Brooks.  In college, the coaches get none of the blame and all of the credit (this is another article for a later time).

We know what this is all about.  The Thunder have to find a way to keep Durant after next season, with rumors swirling about his future with the team and a potential “homecoming” with the Washington Wizards.  However, how can they keep Durant by firing the coach that he really likes? Said Durant of Brooks after the season: “He made sure everybody was emotionally stable. It was a lot of guys in and out the lineup and he kept everybody together. So that’s what your head coach is supposed to do. We can’t really say nothing about it because he did his job. He kept us together. That’s what the main thing was … So it’s kind of tough. But he did his best job he can do and I’m proud of him.”  Said Russell Westbrook of Brooks:“I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does behind the scenes. Obviously, a lot of people that’s not in (the practice facility) want him to do other things, want to see other things from him. But as a coach and as a friend, I think he does an amazing job of communicating what he wants out of the players.”   Serge Ibaka also endorsed Brooks and implored the team not to fire him, saying: What has he done? Injuries were not his fault. Why would he go? He has not done anything. He’s not responsible for the injuries. He did his best with the team he had. Would (another) coach do better with a team with so many injuries? What could he possibly do about it? The team is with him. You can’t blame him for what has happened.”

Sure, the Thunder want to evolve, progress and sustain.  But what if evolving, progressing, and sustaining can be done without firing your former coach of the year, one of which your team’s three best players all gave ringing endorsements to?  And what if doing this alienates Durant into leaving the team next summer?  Is that, evolution, progress, and sustainability?

Or is that unrest, insustainability, and going backwards?

Firing one of the best head coaches in the game certainly doesn’t help the team’s chances of evolving, sustaining, and progressing.

Why I Would Take Marcus Mariota Over Jameis Winston in This Year’s NFL Draft

 

 

jameis-winston-fumble

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are widely regarded as the two best players in this upcoming NFL Draft. However, even though both play quarterback, they are two very different players.  Mariota is more of a scrambling QB who is not as good throwing from the pocket but is much more adapt at using his feet to make plays.  Winston is the better “pro-style” quarterback of the two, but did not perform as well for his team last season, Florida State, as Mariota did for his, Oregon.  For these reasons, I would take Mariota before I would Winston.  There are other reasons too.

Over the course of Mariota’s collegiate career, he threw for 105 TDs and 14 interceptions; for perspective, that’s a 7.5:1 INT-TD ratio.  Throw in another 29 rushing touchdowns, and you have a 9.5:1 INT: (total) TD ratio.  Winston, on the other hand, threw 65 TDs and 28 INTs in his college career, and also only had 7 rushing TDs, albeit in two years to Mariota’s three.  The ability to progress through reads is something that is incredibly important for an NFL quarterback.  And while Winston is likely better in this regard, he is more prone to make poor decisions, as his statistics show.  Also, Mariota played four teams that were ranked at the end of last season; Winston played none. However, Jameis’ off-the-field issues present a completely different issue in and of themselves.

Winston’s track record of issues started in 2012, when he and FSU teammate Chris Casher were caught shooting squirrels with a pellet gun.  Shortly after, Winston and two other FSU teammates are caught engaging in a pellet and BB gun fight outside an apartment house off-campus.  In December, Winston is accused of rape oat the apartment house.  After the charges were dropped by the Tallahassee Police Department, the state attorney conducts a new investigation.  No charges end up being filed, but the victim is suing Winston civilly.  In one of the more embarrassing heists in recent memory, Winston is charged in April 2014 with stealing roughly $33 in Crab Legs from a store in Tallahassee.  He is forced to perform community service and is suspended from the Florida St. baseball team until that service is completed.  Finally, in September 2014, in the week leading up to the football team’s game against Clemson, Winston is witnessed standing on a table at a student union meeting and yelling an incredibly offensive and obscene phrase about women.  These issues should cast doubt and speculation as to whether he can keep it together in the pros, especially with the lifestyle that being an NFL quarterback brings.

Mariota, on the other hand, has been described as a quiet leader, one who leads by example.  His only off-field trouble was a speeding ticket this past fall.  In my view, Mariota’s ability to make better decisions than Winston both on and off the field are what would make him my number one pick.

NBA Playoff Preview

East First Round

(1)Hawks vs. (8)Nets: Hawks in 4

(4)Raptors vs. (5)Wizards: Raptors in 6

(2)Cavaliers vs. (7) Celtics: Cavaliers in 5

(3)Bulls vs. (6)Bucks: Bulls in 6

Discussion: The Hawks easily dispatch of and sweep the Nets like they have in the regular season.  The Raptors defeat the Wizards in a series of two fairly evenly matched teams.  The Celtics take a game (most likely game 1) from the Cavs, a team greatly lacking in playoff experience who will come out flat and nervous.  But don’t expect the upset here.  Finally, the Bucks outperform expectations but eventually succumb to the superior Bulls.

West First Round

(1)Warriors vs. (8)Pelicans: Warriors in 5

(4)Trail Blazers vs. (5)Grizzlies: Grizzlies in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (7)Mavericks: Rockets in 7

(3)Clippers vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: The Pelicans, fresh off their first playoff berth since 2011, take a game from the Warriors but cannot hang in the series.  In a series of complete attrition, the Grizzlies survive the Trial Blazers; both teams are suffering from critical injuries.  The Rockets-Mavericks series is a toss-up, but the advantage goes to the team with home court.  Finally, the Spurs defeat the Clippers and set up a second-round date with Houston.

East Semifinals

(1)Hawks vs. (4)Raptors: Hawks in 6

(2)Cavaliers vs. (3)Bulls: Cavaliers in 7

Discussion:  The Hawks defeat the Raptors in 6.  The Hawks have not been to a Conference Finals since 1970.  The Cavaliers defeat the Bulls in what could arguably end up as the best series in the playoffs, as both teams are profusely talented and evenly matched.

West Semifinals

(1)Warriors vs. (5)Grizzlies: Warriors in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: The Warriors dispose of a Grizzlies team that will likely be without starting PG Mike Conley for the playoffs.  The Spurs defeat the Rockets.  Crazy guess: the Spurs employ either a Hack-a-Smith strategy (Josh Smith: 49% Free-throw shooter) or play Hack-a-Howard (53% Free-throw shooter).

Conference Finals

(1)Hawks vs. (2)Cavaliers: Cavaliers in 6

(1)Warriors vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: Both road teams prevail here.  The Cavaliers overwhelming talent overtakes the Hawks teamwork and discipline.  The Spurs defeat the Warriors in a battle of the New Guard vs. the Old Guard in the NBA.  This sets up the LeBron vs. the Spurs rematch for a third straight year.

NBA Finals

Cavaliers vs. Spurs: Cavaliers in 7

Cleveland finally gets its title.  This Cavs team is obviously far better than last year’s Cavs team and the play of Kyrie Irving at the point will be the difference.  Bold prediction: Kyrie will win Finals MVP.  The Cavs win this series by the slimmest of margins, in 7 games.

Enjoy the playoffs everybody!

Can Any of the NBA’s Eight Seeds Compete in the Playoffs?

Four teams are vying for two spots left in the NBA playoffs:  The Pelicans and Thunder in the West and the Nets and Pacers in the East.  But can any of these teams make noise in the playoffs? Let’s take a look.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans boast that they have the best big man in the NBA: Anthony Davis.  If they defeat the Spurs tonight, they are in the playoffs.  Beside him, Omer Asik plays center, Quincy Pondexter plays the 3 and Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon man the backcourt.  If they are going to upset the Warriors (who they would face in the first round if they make it), they need Ryan Anderson to play well off the bench.  Other players off the bench are rejuvenated center Alexis Ajinca, former Heat PG Norris Cole, ex-BYU stud and 3-point shooter Jimmer Fredette, energy big Dante Cunningham, three-point shooter Luke Babbitt, and newly-returned former starting ponit guard Jrue Holiday.  Overall, this team would not defeat the Warriors or any of the other teams in the West in a 7-game series.

Oklahoma City Thunder

We all know this team is ravaged by injury, and 2 of its 3 best players are out right now.  Reigning MVP Kevin Durant is out for the playoffs after having bone graft surgery on his foot at the end of March.  Serge Ibaka had a knee scope procedure and as labeled as being out four to six weeks.  It’s a little over four weeks now.  Russell Westbrook and Dion Waiters take a lot, a lot, a lot of shots in the backcourt, and physical Steven Adams and offensively gifted Enes Kanter start in the frontcourt.  Kyle Singler was acquired from the Pistons at the trade deadline, and has been pressed into starting duty after the Durant injury.  Important bench players include backup PG D.J. Augustin, energy big man Mitch McGary, PF Nick Collison, 3-point shooter Anthony Morrow, and defensive star Andre Roberson.  Honestly, after the Durant injury, this team may be able to compete with the West, but it’s unlikely.

Indiana Pacers

Team leader Paul George came back from his disgustingly gruesome and horrible leg injury on April 5, and the team has made a late push for the playoffs.  Bigs Roy Hibbert and mid-range-savvy David West man their inside, and career-year owning George Hill and perimeter threat C.J. Miles lead the backcourt.  George has not yet started a game at the 3, but that will probably change if the team makes the playoffs.  For now, Solomon Hill mans that position.  Rodney Stuckey helps the team as its sixth man and has the ability to create his own shot.  Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen get some minutes as bigs who can stretch the floor from mid-range.  Ian Mahinmi is another important big who provides physicality, and C.J Watson and Donald Sloan are the team’s back-up point guards.  This team can compete because it brings back most of its important players from last season’s Conference Finals team.  Experience counts, especially in the, uh, weak Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn Nets

This team, on paper, has tons of talent.  But… they’ve underachieved this season, 7 games under .500 at 37-44.  Deron Williams, oft-injured and overpaid, has disappointed at the point (just ask Paul Pierce), but can provide shooting and shot creation.  Same of Joe Johnson, who is an expert of making his own space.  Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee start in the frontcourt, and the athletic Markel Brown starts at Shooting guard.  Important back-ups include shot creator and athletically-inclined PF Thaddeus Young, 3-point shooter and shot-maker Alan Anderson, perimeter option Bojan Bogdanovic, and back-up big Cory Jefferson.  If all of the players on this team perform to their potential, this team could make noise.  But that won’t happen, so they will most likely be a quick out.

Thank You, NBA, for Pulling Russell Westbrook’s Technical

Russell Westbrook had 54 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists last night in the Thunder’s 116-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers.  The team is fighting and tied in the standings with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference, and even though the Pels lost last night as well, New Orleans still owns the tiebreaker between the two teams.  Something else about Westbrook’s performance?  He received his 16th technical foul of the season for arguing with referee Ed Malloy after running over Luis Scola on a screen.  The 16th technical automatically would have resulted in a 1-game suspension for Westbrook for tonight’s all-important game against Portland.  However, the NBA announced that they reviewed the play and decided to rescind the technical today.  Westbrook is playing tonight.

What’s most important to understand about Westbrook getting to 16 technicals is that he knew that going into the game.  When Malloy gave the T to Westbrook, he seemed to almost be pleading with the referee, repeatedly pulling his uniform over his jersey and even putting his arm around Malloy at one point.  Putting Westbrook out of his team’s biggest game of their season would give Oklahoma City little to no chance to win the game, thus almost deciding the game before it was even played.  If the Thunder lose tonight and the Pelicans win, the Thunder are eliminated.  The league should not be allowing referees decide games; college basketball has shown us that the refs can be just as important as the players sometimes.  Just like referees always “swallow the whistle” at the ends of games, they should also be judicious with their technicals as games become more important.

All this being said, Westbrook is super lucky.  Had the league not rescinded his tech, he would’ve likely cost his team a chance at the playoffs.  We would all be talking about how “crazy” and “over-aggressive” he plays the game.  But with the Thunder injuries recently, they wouldn’t be in this position if he didn’t play that way.

Let’s thank the NBA for allowing him to play this way, and for letting these two teams decide their own fates.

Chief Spieth: What Jordan’s Win Means for Golf

So Jordan Spieth didn’t self-destruct on Sunday.  With his second straight 70, Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters scoring record with an -18, 270.  Every time it seemed competitors Justin Rose or Phil Mickelson got within 3 or 4, it seemed Spieth would always respond.  At 21 years and about 8 1/2 months, Spieth became the second-youngest winner in Masters history.  Last year, Spieth was tied with Bubba Watson for the lead on the eighth hole on Sunday; he would lose his share of the lead after a bogey on the ninth hole.  Using those experiences, Spieth ran away with this year’s tournament by four strokes.

With this win, Spieth catapults himself to second in the world.  Number 1 in the world is Rory McIlroy, and this could become one of the great rivalries in golf.  Who wouldn’t love to see a scenario like the 1977 British Open at Turnberry where Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson sped away from the field and dueled until the final hole?  Watson carried a one-shot lead into the final hole.  Both birdied, and Watson walked away with a Claret Jug.  Watson finished at -12, while Nicklaus was -11.  The next lowest competitor was Hubert Green; he was -1.  Who wouldn’t love to see Rory and Jordan lap the field and duel for major titles in the future?  If Spieth can avoid the Bubba Watson distinction of not having the same amount of success at other courses as he does at Augusta, he and McIlroy will be the world’s two best golfers for a long, long time.  Spieth’s all-around game seems to suggest that he can be that kind of golfer, and can compete at many different courses.  He doesn’t have any real flaws in his game, and he seemed to have complete control of his short game, and, particularly, his putting.  He doesn’t kill his drives, but his short game is so strong that that doesn’t really matter.

In conclusion, the game of golf is in really good hands, and specifically in the four hands of Spieth and McIlroy.  Get ready to enjoy golf’s next great rivalry, as these two continue to develop and flourish as they mature throughout their careers.

James Harden is the NBA MVP, and Here’s Why

As the NBA season concludes, we are left to the all-important debate of who will win the NBA MVP award.  Four contenders have emerged: Stephen Curry (PG, Warriors), LeBron James (SF, Cavaliers), Russell Westbrook (PG, Thunder), and, in my opinion, the real MVP, Rockets’ SG James Harden.  There are many reasons to choose one of the other players on this list; for example, choose Curry for his electrifying display of shooting, passing and circus shots; choose James for how his team has played since he returned from myriad injuries in mid-January; or, you could choose Westbrook for his practically putting the entire OKC team on his back due to injuries to stars Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.  But Harden is the best choice here.

Harden leads the league in points per game at 27.6.  Part of this is that Harden leads the league in free throw attempts per game; this shows his aggression and ingenuity in crafting offense for his team.  Before you go ahead and make the assumption that Harden is a selfish player, the Beard is also 9th in the league in assists per game at 6.9.  Also, the supporting cast of Harden is not nearly as good as Curry’s: 3 of Curry’s four teammates in the starting lineup are having the best years of their careers, and Curry comprises only half of the league’s best backcourt, alongside Klay Thompson.  Harden’s supporting cast? Jason Terry, filling in for injured defensive presence Patrick Beverley at the point, Trevor Ariza, who has been forced to emerge as a “second option” to Harden in the offense; Trevor is much better defensively.  One of the players the Rockets depended on going into the season was Dwight Howard, but he has missed around half of the Rockets’ games this year with back injuries.  And at power forward the Rockets use both Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith, who have both stepped up this year, but largely because of the attention opposing defenses have paid to Harden.  However, Motiejunas is out for the season with a back injury.

This article is not meant to state that the Rockets will definitely win in the playoffs or that Harden will step up in those games.  Out of the teams mentioned (GS, HOU, OKC, CLE) the Cavs are best suited for playoff success in my opinion.  But Harden has displayed the best individual performance throughout this season, and I think he should be the league MVP.

NCAA Title Game Preview

Duke and Wisconsin played a highly-anticipated game on December 3.  Duke won 80-70, shooting 65 percent and limiting Wisconsin to just 40 percent from the floor.  But that can now be thrown out the window.  Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 points in that game; he’s not playing Monday night due to his dismissal from the team on allegations of sexual assault.  Also, a banged-up Sam Dekker struggled for just five points in the first game; that probably won’t happen again either. Here, we’ll examine how both teams win and make a prediction on the game.

How Wisconsin Wins

Sam Dekker plays amazing and exploits a potential mismatch against Duke’ Matt Jones.  Frank Kaminsky pulls Duke’s dominant dig man Jahlil Okafor out of the paint and forces Duke’s defense to extend outside.  Wisconsin extends its own defense to stop Duke’s three-point shooting and bites the bullet allowing Okafor to have what he wants.  Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ X-factor, also stretches out the Duke defense and is active on the offensive glass, like he was against Kentucky.  Traevon Jackson, who scored 25 points against Duke in December, and Zak Showalter, give Wisconsin a spark off the bench, and Duje Dukan gives Wisconsin another 3-point shooting threat.

How Duke Wins

Jahlil Okafor wreaks havoc on Wisconsin’s front line in the paint, drawing both Hayes and Kaminsky into foul trouble and exposing Bucky’s lack of depth.  Justise Winslow wins the battle of wing forwards with Dekker, and Duke’s guards stretch out Wisconsin with their three-point shooting.  Matt Jones hits a couple of threes and plays solid perimeter defense, possibly being matched up with Dekker.  Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen give Duke energy and rebounding off the bench, and Marhsall Plumlee helps give Okafor rest or helps spell Okafor if he is in fould trouble.

This is a very evenly matched game, but the way Sam Dekker is playing right now in addition to the match-up nightmare Kaminsky presents will be the difference.

Prediction: Wisconsin 74, Duke 67

MLB Season Preview

NL East

Team W L
Washington Nationals 96 66
Miami Marlins 86 76
New York Mets 84 78
Atlanta Braves 78 84
Philadelphia Phillies 64 98

 

Discussion: The Nats win this division easily due to the ridiculous starting rotation and their above-average line-up.  The Marlins take a leap forward as Jose Fernandez returns from his Tommy John surgery to put forth a solid second-half of the season.  The Mets improve over last year with the solid addition of Michael Cuddyer and improvements to the bullpen as well.  The Braves stay around the same as they finished last year because their key gains match their key losses.  They are very similar to how they were last year.  And the Phillies are just going to be really, really bad and that’s that.  Their rotation, lineup, and bullpen are all terrible.  They will be the worst team in baseball.

NL Central

Team W L
Pittsburgh Pirates 89 73
St. Louis Cardinals 87 75
Chicago Cubs 81 81
Milwaukee Brewers 81 81
Cincinnati Reds 69 93

 

Discussion: The Pirates bring back many of the same players from last year, but the addition of Francisco Cervelli behind the plate will help its pitching staff take the next step.  Pedro Alvarez rebounds from a poor season in 2014, leading the Bucs to their first division title since 1992.  The Cardinals will be there; they always are.  They haven’t gotten much better, however, and the division around them has.  They will fall slightly.  The Cubs had a very solid offseason, and look for prospects Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant (when he comes up) to have good campaigns.  The Brewers stay where they were last season, and Jonathan Lucroy has an MVP-caliber season.  Finally, the Reds have a poor season, suffering as the division pushes forward around them.

NL West

Team W L
San Diego Padres 88 74
Los Angeles Dodgers 84 78
San Francisco Giants 81 81
Colorado Rockies 72 90
Arizona Diamondbacks 69 93

 

Discussion:  The Padres take a leap forward this season, as the additions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, James Shields and others catapult the Pods to the division pennant.  The Dodgers take a step back with the losses of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Haren.  The Giants, in an odd-numbered year, take a step back as they lose Pablo Sandoval and, for the beginning of the season, Hunter Pence.  The Rockies and Diamondbacks, two rebuilding teams, round out the division basement, each losing at least 90 games.

AL East

Team W L
Baltimore Orioles 85 77
New York Yankees 82 80
Toronto Blue Jays 81 81
Boston Red Sox 80 82
Tampa Bay Rays 69 93

 

Discussion: This division only features one sure-fire basement team (the Rays).  The Red Sox improve off of last year, but weaknesses at pitcher and catcher will serve to hold them back.  The Blue Jays, besides the addition of Russell Martin, are not as strong as last year with the losses of Juan Francisco and Melky Cabrera.  The Yankees; who knows?  They could be anywhere from 60 to 90 wins, but on paper, they are an around .500 team.  And the Orioles, this year’s weakest division winner, will have just enough to win the division, along with the comeback of Manny Machado.

AL Central

Team W L
Cleveland Indians 89 73
Detroit Tigers 87 75
Kansas City Royals 83 79
Chicago White Sox 81 81
Minnesota Twins 69 93

 

Discussion: The Twins carry the bottom of this division, as they are still awaiting the development of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, who are starting the season at class AA.  The White Sox improve off of last year’s showing with additions of Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija help improve the team, but they are still weak at second base, right field and in the bullpen.  The Royals lose pieces from last year’s team, namely DH Billy Butler and ace James Shields; they take a small step back.  Finally, the Indians take a leap of faith to the top of the division, needing all-around solid seasons from Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn to do so.  The Tigers finish second, and have to be concerned over the plight of Justin Verlander.

AL West

Team W L
Seattle Mariners 95 67
Oakland A’s 86 76
Los Angeles Angels 84 78
Houston Astros 83 79
Texas Rangers 67 95

 

Discussion: The Mariners lead this division, as the addition of Nelson Cruz helps alleviate the pressure of Robinson Cano to produce.  Also, Felix Hernandez wins his second Cy Young leading one of baseball’s best pitching staffs.  The A’s are a mystery, but they will most likely be good enough for second in this division.  The Angels are also a mystery, but I have them behind the A’s because it remains to be seen if Josh Hamilton can figure himself out and if Albert Pujols can have another good season.  The Astros will be a surprise; they take a leap forward this year with the additions of Jed Lowrie and Evan Gattis.  Finally, the Rangers will easily finish last in the division after the season-ending injury to Yu Darvish.

Playoffs

NL

(1)Nationals

(2)Pirates

(3)Padres

Wild Card Game: Cardinals over Marlins

AL

(1)Mariners

(2)Indians

(3)Orioles

Wild Card Game: Tigers over A’s

NL:

(2)Pirates vs (3)Padres: Pirates in 5

(1)Nationals vs (4)Cardinals: Nationals in 4

(1)Nationals) vs (2)Pirates: Pirates in 7

Explanation: The Nationals easily dispose of the Cardinals in the first round, and the Pirates and Padres play a tightly contested series that goes the distance.  In a  7-game series, the pitching of the Pirates catches up to that of the Nats.  Also, their outfield (Marte, Polanco, and McCutchen) will be this year’s version of the Royals’ outfield last year.  The Pirates win the NL.

AL:

(1)Mariners vs (4)Tigers: Mariners in 4

(2)Indians vs (3)Orioles: Orioles in 5

(1)Mariners vs (3)Orioles: Mariners in 6

Explanation: The Mariners’ pitching coupled with enough offense gets them past the experienced Tigers.  The experience of the Orioles, along with the return of Manny Machado, leads them past the Indians.  Then, the Mariners defeat the Orioles in a solid championship series.  They take the pennant.

World Series: (2)Pirates vs (1)Mariners: This series will be tight.  However, the Mariners’ pitching, especially in a three or four-man rotation, allows few runs.  Also, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano have sold series, and the talent on each side in too much for the Bucs.  Mariners win in 6.

Most importantly, this season will be fun.  Your guess is as good as mine as to who wins.

 

Final Four Preview

25 Final Fours. 6 national titles. And nearly 3,000 wins. Those are some of the accomplishments attained by the head coaches of the teams in this year’s Final Four.  Bo Ryan, a 4-time Division III tournament champion with small-school Wisconsin-Platteville, is the only coach in this field to have never won a Division I title.  Tom Izzo, in his 20th year as head coach at Michigan St., served as author to the Spartans’ title run in 2000, which spawned NBAers Jason Richardson, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Andre Hutson.  Kentucky’s John Calipari is looking to win his second national title, winning one with the ‘Cats in 2012 in New Orleans.  And Mike Krzyzewski, one of the greatest basketball coaches to ever live, will be seeking his 5th national title in his record-tying 12th Final Four, tying John Wooden for most all-time.  Here, I break down the bracket and see how each team wins and divulge my predictions. Michigan St. vs. Duke, April 4, 6:09 PM, TBS How Michigan St. Wins They get out and run.  In their four tournament games thus far, Sparty is +13 in fast break points.  They scored more fast break points than their opponents in each game they played in every game except for their Elite 8 tilt against Louisville, where they were -6.  Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine combine for 40 points, like they have in each of their tournament wins so far.  Sparty’s bigs are too much for Duke’s small starting lineup, and Dawson is able to get whatever he wants offensively.  Bryn Forbes and Marvin Clark Jr. help spread the floor with 3-point shooting, opening up room for springy bigs Matt Costello, Dawson and Gavin Schilling to run the baseline and get easy baskets.  Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn provides energy and solid defense at the point, guarding Tyus Jones and/or Quinn Cook. In alignment with my first point, they score more than 70 points; they are 19-4 when scoring as such this season. How Duke Wins They slow down the pace and allow their offense to run time off the clock; the game is in the mid-60s.  Justise Winslow leads the team in scoring as he has the last two games.  Matt Jones shoots with the same level of effectiveness as he did against Gonzaga; he is also able to effectively guard Denzel Valentine on the perimeter.  Duke wins the battle of guard play, as Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones outplay Trice and Nairn on both ends.  Michigan St. overcompensates for the impact of Jahlil Okafor, leaving perimeter shooters Jones, Jones, Cook, Winslow, and Grayson Allen open to make plenty of threes (long-held opinion of mine: defenses should let Okafor get whatever he wants inside.  It’s harder to guard Duke’s three-point shooters than its one dominant post player.).  Finally, big man Amile Jefferson gives the Blue Devils a spark off the bench, causing foul trouble for the Spartans, and Marshall Plumlee comes off the bench to give Okafor a blow at certain junctures.   Michigan St. comes to play, but Duke defends the transition game well enough to survive. Prediction: Duke 67, Michigan St. 61 Kentucky vs. Wisconsin, April 4, 40 Minutes After Conclusion of First Game, TBS How Wisconsin Wins They allow their methodical, uberefficient offense to slice and dice Kentucky for 40 minutes.  Sam Dekker and likely Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky each score 20 points.  This allows more open shots for Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser, and Bronson Koenig.  Bucky’s myriad of three-point shooters (literally, everyone) spreads Kentucky’s dominant big men outside the paint, allowing for easier drives to the basket and points inside.  Wisconsin shoots over 50% from three, and they make at least ten baskets from deep.  Defensively, they don’t allow Kentucky to get open, perimeter shots.  Hayes and Kaminsky are able to hold their own against Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.  All-world glue player and defender Gasser defends either Harrison brother solidly, not allowing for alley-oops at the rim.  Finally, Duje Dukan provides three-point shooting off the pine and Traevon Jackson and Zac Showalter provide spurts of energy for the Badgers. How Kentucky Wins They play about as well as they possibly can.  Their depth and energy tires out the relatively thin Badgers, and they even run the floor for a few easy baskets in transition.  Karl-Anthony Towns plays with the same down-low effectiveness as he did in the last game against Notre Dame, and Willie Cauley-Stein plays with energy and effort on both ends.  Off the bench, Devin Booker provides shot-making and shot-creating ability and Tyler Ulis gives the ‘Cats energy on defense.  Ancillary big men Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee provide spring and energy, making Kaminsky and Hayes work for rebounds inside.  Andrew Harrison creates drive/kick-out action for, potentially, his brother Aaron, creating open threes and easy shots.  Kentucky even runs out in transition, and this sets up more easy baskets against the slower-playing Badgers. This game comes down to the wire, with the feeling of a national title game.  To use hoops terminology, this game is a jump ball.  It will be very similar to Duke-UNLV in 1991, but with a different final outcome. Prediction: Kentucky 72. Wisconsin 70