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

Sully on Sports

Welcome to Sully’s World of Sports!

I’m Jimmy Sullivan, and I am an aspiring sports journalist from New Jersey. I’m passionate about all sports, but particularly baseball, basketball, and college and professional football. On this blog, I will give my opinions on certain things happening in sports, as well as occasional articles that you might not see coming. I’m not always right, and I did think Kristaps Porzingis would struggle mightily in the NBA (hey, I admit it). But I have strong opinions, and I’m excited to share them with you.

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Jimmy Sullivan