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2017 NCAA Tournament Picks: East Region

This year’s tournament is likely to be characterized by two things: early upsets by high seeds and dominant runs by major programs.  The teams seeded 1-3 seem unstoppable this season without much strength on the 4, 5, and 6 lines; however, the mid majors stashed at the 11 and 12 seeds are talented and tough with little pressure and a lot of glory to play for.  Keep your eyes and ears open for teams such as Middle Tennessee, Road Island, and UNC Wilmington making runs toward the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

With Villanova shedding its curse and winning the National Title a season ago, the Braintrust has prepped itself for similar type runs from teams with similar historical failure; therefore, keep your attention on Kansas, Gonzaga, and Virginia who seem to lose at the oddest and most inopportune times throughout the seasons.  Villanova also makes its home in the East region, so we might as well get started on all the information you need to know.

What the Selection Committee Got Wrong

It’s also possible to split hairs and criticize the work of the NCAA Tournament Committee and people will occasionally tell you its unnecessary and the cost of time isn’t worth the satisfaction of people agreeing with you in comment sections, BUT those people are entirely wrong.

First, you’ll notice Wisconsin is in the East Region as a #8 seed.  The Badgers finished the season at 25-9 including a run to the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan.  Wisconsin finished #2 over the course of the season in the Big Ten; however, the Badgers are the fifth highest seed from the conference in the tournament where Purdue, Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan all were seeded higher.  Northwestern also attained the standing of 8 seed while Michigan State was given a #9 seed for its 19-14 season.  Wisconsin is incredibly under-seeded (should’ve hovered between the 5-6 line where Minnesota ended up) and this might be Villanova’s loss as the Badgers look like the likely opponent for the Wildcats in the second round.  Wisconsin is physical and talented and a terrible match-up for the fast-paced and guard-heavy #1 seed.

Also, Duke being on the #2 line compared to North Carolina OR Gonzaga makes little sense; after all, the Blue Devils beat North Carolina twice (and won the ACC Tournament) while racking up the most Top 50 wins in the country and finishing only a single loss behind North Carolina on the season.  Gonzaga defeated a hobbled Arizona team and St. Mary’s twice.  We’ve seen it play out with the Zags and Wichita State at the one line and it is never worthwhile for either the mid majors OR the tournament with those teams losing in the second round to 8 seeds both seasons.

Finally, I would have liked to see UNC Wilmington put in the same half of the bracket as Duke.  UNC-W did not deserve a seed low enough to play Duke in the first round, but having a possible Sweet Sixteen game between the two would have made a great storyline, but even we admit this is nitpicky since the Seahawks are not likely to advance to the second weekend even at an 11 seed.

What the Selection Committee Got Right

Putting USC in the field was the proper call over a 14 loss Syracuse team which lost all but two game played outside of the Carrier Dome.  The Orange were almost given the ACC-benefit-of-the-doubt which they received last season and ran to the Final Four, but history doesn’t mandate repetition and Syracuse’s resume simply was not good enough to demand entry.

Also, Florida getting a #4 is also proper.  The Gators slumped at season’s end and many knocked them to the 5 or even the 6 line, but the teams below them are simply not worthy of being lifted to the 4 line over Florida.  The Gators have immense talent and should be a Sweet Sixteen team over flailing Virginia OR UNC-Wilington in the second round.

The Favorite -#2 Duke Blue Devils

Duke’s incredible run through the ACC Tournament is nothing to sneeze at and the Dukies are looking like a potential National Champion at the proper time.  As stated above, the Blue Devils could have been a a #1 seed (in my Barack-o-tology or whatever, Duke was the #3 overall team in the field behind Villanova and Kansas).  Luke Kennard, Greyson Allen, and Jayson Tatumn are not only the nation’s best trio of players on any given team (with apologies to UCLA), but all can create for teammates as Tatum has become an very capable and willing passer over the past few weeks.  If Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson, Frank Jackson, and Matt Jones produce as the capable role players they are alongside the trio of wing players then Duke is formidable as the nation’s preseason #1 team.

The Dark Horse – #6 Southern Methodist Mustangs

SMU is fresh off an American Conference Championship which apparently means just as little as their 29-4 record to the tournament committee.  The Stangs were placed below such upstarts as Virginia, Purdue, Butler, Baylor, and Florida who won a combined 1 game in their respective conference tournaments.  SMU has six players who play large minutes and any injuries or foul trouble will severely hamper advancement, but those talented players match SMU against any of the teams in the region outside of Duke.

Game Most Likely To Bust Your Bracket – #8 Wisconsin vs #1 Villanova, Round 2

The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten this season and, despite the conference being down, this means they are capable of winning games in tough environments with high-intensity and NCAA Tournament feel.  The Badgers might have fallen to Michigan in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament, but Wisconsin finished the regular season on a high note and showed its suffocating defense and aptitude for winning over tournament team and #8 seed Northwestern in the semi-finals of the aforementioned tournament.  Villanova and those high on the Wildcats to repeat in 2017 must be weary of the Badgers.

Double Digit Seed Capable of Making the SWEET SIXTEEN – #12 UNC Wilmington

The Seahawks played Duke very tough last season despite the referees continuously calling phantom fouls on UNC-W, which is normally not a surprise for superstar programs, but the 33 fouls on the Seahawks trumped all other mockeries of officiating for teams against the Blue Devils in 2016.  Playing a physical and methodical Virginia team might be a tough match-up for UNC-W, but it should lead to less foul calls on the Hawks which should give more opportunities for its high-scoring and aggressive team to trump the patience of UVA.  Florida is a great team for UNC-W to play in Round 2 as the Gators will keep the game fast-paced and the opportunistic and turn-over hungry defense to make plays.

Second Round Games:

#1 Villanova OVER #8 Wisconsin

The under-seeded Badgers bounce Va-Tech on the backs of clutch Bronson Koenig, trusty Nigel Hayes, and talented Ethan Happ while Villanova easily downs the #16 seed.  Wisconsin is a horrible team for Villanova to have to play in round 2, but the Wildcats will make enough threes to keep the Badgers defense from suffocating them out of the gym and Villanova advances to the Elite Eight.

#4 Florida OVER #12 UNC Wilimington

The Seahawks nearly toppled Duke last season as a 13 seed AND follow up with more success against the ACC this season by downing Tony Bennett and Virginia in the first round as the Hoo’s simply cannot remember how to score late in the season.  Florida out runs East Tennessee State a with a potpourri of solid wing players and three-pointers.  This leads to a high-scoring and high-octane track meet where Florida simply has too much talent and earns another weekend in the tournament to play #1 seeded Villanova keeping the top half’s Sweet Sixteen game as a chalk in the East.

#6 Southern Methodist OVER #3 Baylor

A great game played in Tulsa which the Braintrust nailed (but as a 4-5 game in our Barack-O-tology) holds to chalk in the bottom of the region.  Baylor’s inside game is strong, but the Bears can never seem to put everything together in March and Scott Drew one again fails to see the second weekend in a minor upset.

#2 Duke OVER #7 South Carolina

A Marquette team which snaked into the tournament is kept away from the Second Round by a talented and under-hyped Gamecocks team which will give Duke all it can handle in round 2 until the Blue Devils get hot midway through the second half and South Carolina simply cannot keep pace with the high-scoring Dukies.

Sweet Sixteen Games:

#1 Villanova OVER #4 Florida

Too much scoring and experience on Villanova as the Wildcats are able to secure another Elite Eight bid.  Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart outplay Florida’s wingers and score over 40 combined in order to out-pace a Florida team capable of getting into the high-80’s.

#2 Duke OVER #6 Southern Methodist

The Mustangs benefit from the time off after the two weekend games, but its six studs are simply not as good as those in blue.  The Devils sink SMU thanks to talent able to score points on the vaunted Mustang defense.  A storyline for this game is American Conference POY and SMU forward Semi Ojeleye attended and transferred from Duke after the school simply did not feel like home for him.  The Mustangs have certainly welcomed his 20 points per and talent, but Ojeleye and company cannot stack up with Kennard, Allen, Tatum, Giles, and Jackson.

ELITE EIGHT Game:

#2 Duke OVER #1 Villanova

The Blue Devils are able to defend Villanova on the perimeter in a game promising to be a showcase as both these teams are extremely capable of hoisting a banner to the rafters as National Champions.  The over/under should be hovering around 170 as both these teams shoot and run efficiently, but Duke’s length and athleticism should be problematic inside the paint for a Villanova program consistently lacking in the frontcourt department.  Kennard is the most consistent shooter in the nation and Greyson Allen has become a threat as a bench-scorer for Duke who has embraced a revamped lineup and rotation late in the season en route to the ACC Tournament title.  This game just may end as the best in the tournament.

The Bracket:

2017 East

 

 

2017 Big East Tournament Preview

With respect to the current Big East, I still pour out just a bit of red wine each time I have to type “Big East” these days.  The destruction of America’s scientifically-proven “Best Conference Of All Time + South Florida/DePaul” at the hands of money crushed my heart, but luckily the non-BCS football, religiously-affiliated schools of today’s Big East have done a fine job filling the void left by the its past predecessor.  The Big East faced less surprise than the rest of the Power Conferences; however, Butler’s continued success and Xavier’s fall highlight the season where Marquette returned to the national picture and no one is sure what to make of Creighton/Providence.

Player of the Year – Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

Kris Dunn’s monopoly on Big East P.O.Y. (not to mention being the conference’s best overall player) had to come to an end because…you know…graduation.  This year, I believed Xavier’s Edmond Sumner would take over both titles entering a sophomore season with so much promise; however, the Seton Hall center from the Dominican Republic quickly stole the show in Big East play and helped the pirates to NCAA relevance and the fifth seed in the Big East tournament.

Coach of the Year – Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette

The famous hire of Wojo by Marquette bolstered to both Coach K’s unparalleled coaching tree and the hopes of Golden Eagle fans across the country after the mysterious betrayal of Buzz Williams.  Marquette quietly sustained success under Tom Crean and Williams in the 2000’s and early 2010’s,  but Wojo needed an additional year to recover from Buzz’s bolting to Virginia Tech before Marquette was back in the NCAA Tournament.  The Eagles have surprised and beaten the big boys of the Big East to earn the #4 seed in the conference tournament and look like locks to earn an NCAA bid (especially if it beats Seton Hall in round 1 of the Big East tournament).

The Favorite – #1 Villanova, 28-3 (15-3)

As long as the Wildcats don’t play Butler, its odds of winning the Big East tournament skyrocket.  Nova is 0-2 against Butler in 2017 with its only other loss coming in Marquette in what felt like a classic upset scenario.  Villanova has dominated Big East play since reorganization of the conference (winning all three regular season titles), but the Wildcats only won the conference tournament in 2015 sandwiched between Providence and Seton Hall upsets titles.  Villanova returned many of its players from last year’s National Title winner and its has shown in the Wildcats storming to 28-3.  Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson are unarguably the conference’s best backcourt and Nova will ride its high-scoring guards the rest of the way.

The Dark Horse – #7 Xavier 19-12 (9-9)

There’s a reason the Musketeers were considered a top-15 team for the early part of the season; they’re superbly talented with scorers and shooters aplenty.  The loss of Edmond Sumner for the season hurts (even more than losing six in a row late in the season) and Xavier showed it cannot play without Sumner throughout this season, but if the shooters get hot and the inside play of Gaston and Goodin continues then the Muskies can compete on a large-scale in the Big East.  Whether you attribute he rise of Marquette, Seton Hall, and Providence in conference play this season to overall weakness or overall depth in the Big East; both of those start with the play of Xavier and Butler who are the flagships outside of Villanova in this conference.  Butler proved the “depth” portion of the equation with two wins against Villanova but stunning losses to lesser quality opponents.  Xavier’s play would lead you to believe the conference is weaker than outside perception dictates, but if the Musketeers can find itself for the stretch run through the Big East tournament, the rest of the country can keep its faith that the Big East’s teams are scary in March.

Team With the Best Chance to Run Deep in March – Villanova

It’s less question and more assumption here for the Big East.  Last season I put my faith in Xavier and got burned by Wisconsin in the second round.  Villanova will be a one seed in the NCAA Tournament this season and its no secret this is a gigantic advantage for seeing the second weekend of the tournament.

Team Which Will Take an Early Exit from the Big Dance – Any Not Named Villanova/Butler

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American Conference Tournament Preview

If there is one thing we know about the American Conference Tournament, it’s that Connecticut will beat Cincinnati at some point.  This is only the fourth edition of the American Conference Tournament, but it is still uncanny that each of the first three the Huskies have eliminated the Bearcats; furthermore, each season Cincinnati has been ranked higher than UConn in the tournament AND each game has come before the championship.  Last year’s classic set a new bar for the ferocity and unfathomable nature of this postseason rivalry…but Bearcats beware.  The out-manned and twice-beaten Huskies lurk in the bottom half of bracket where #2 seeded Cincinnati should slide through to the semifinals without much issue.

Player of the Year – Rob Gray Jr., Houston

Gray and Houston surprised by finishing third in a conference expected to be dominated by three teams (SMU, Cincy, and UConn).  Instead, the Cougars stormed out of the gate and soon became one of the top contenders in the American. The biggest problem for the Cougars was an inability to compete with Cincinnati and Southern Methodist (0-4 against the conference’s two big dogs), but Gray was phenomenal throughout the season and his ability to affect the game in many ways (above all, scoring) place him at the top of the heap in the three-way race between Gray, Memphis big man Dedric Lawson, and UConn guard Jalen Adams.

Coach of the Year – Tim Jankovich, Southern Methodist

Inheriting a talented team from Larry Brown, Jankovich managed to outshine his predecessor and lead SMU to its second American Conference regular season title.  The Mustangs were far from the preseason favorites, but lurked behind UConn and Cincy for just long enough to secure its position as the dark horse candidate out of the American.  While some may not laud Jankovich for “winning with another coach’s players”, the ability to keep the team organized and focused after the departure of a coach of Brown’s stature shows Timmy will maintain a solid program for years to come in Dallas, Texas.

The Favorite – #2 Cincinnati, 27-4 (16-2)

Southern Methodist won the regular season title, but the Bearcats (once again) are the league’s favorites to win the conference tournament.  For the second straight year, I pronounced it necessary for Mick Cronin to push to either a regular season or American Conference Championship to remain in good faith in the Queen City. The success of 2016-2017 cannot be overlooked; however, the Bearcats are the conference’s best team from top to bottom with size, athleticism, and effective role players off the bench.  The biggest question mark is scoring; moreover, the Bearcats have still failed to lure a pure-shooter onto campus since…hard to say…Kenny Satterfield?  Either way, Cincy can use its mind-numbing defensive intensity to win the American, but will need more to run deeper into the NCAA Tournament.

BRACKET FORM:

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South Eastern Conference Tournament Preview

The SEX-iest Conference in America isn’t the behemoth on the basketball court its known to be on the football field, but two of the conference’s teams are Final Four capable and three other teams appear poised for NCAA Tournament appearances (which Vanderbilt, why?  Why so much mediocrity accepted from Power Confernece teams in the tournament?).  The SEX-iest Conference in America often turns into only a few horses and this season is no different.

Player of the Year – Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

The standout South Carolina guard deserves the bulk of the credit for lifting Cocky to the level it reached nationally this season.  South Carolina managed a 6-5 record against the RPI top 50, and its worst loss came came on the road against a very okay Memphis team.  Thornwell tied Kentucky’s Malik Monk for the conference lead in points per game and added seven boards and three assists each effort out.  Thornwell is the type of senior leader each coach wishes to have on his team and Frank Martin would indubitably admit having Thornwell is an honest blessing.

Coach of the Year – Mike Anderson, Arkansas

You’ve likely noticed over the week (if not the years) we enjoy rewarding coaches and players who exceed expectation rather than meet them.  A player like Thornwell who lifts his team and reaches both personal and team improvement deserves to be reward; similarly, Mike Anderson taking his Hoges and rolling to a 12-6 SEC record, a third-place finish, and a no-doubt NCAA tournament bid deserves to be recognized.  Ar-Kansas has had strong and talented players (more talented than this year’s unit) including current NBA and former Braintrust SEC POY Bobby Portis, but Anderson is having his best season as a coach and getting the most out of his Hoges this season compared to his best finish (2014-2015).

The Favorite – #1 Kentucky 26-5 (16-2)

The Wildcats are another easy filler for the favorite roll in its Power Conference Tournament thanks to the immediate impact (once again) of its (one again) marvelous freshman class.  Unlike the powerhouses of the past, this year’s Kentucky team has its flaws, but watching this less-talented and more team-oriented Kentucky is as entertaining as those great teams of the past.  De’Aaron Fox and Ivan Briscoe are a phenomenal backcourt which dominates through all phases of the game; added to and pure-scorer Malik Monk gives Kentucky one of the more enviable three-guard units in the nation.  Bam Adebayo gives the Wildcats a physical inside presence reminiscent of Julius Randle and the rest of the team isn’t even close to chopped liver.  I’ve just ran out of compliments.  It’s no surprise this was a preseason top-3 team in many circuits and its dominance of the SEC (again) proves it’ll be the team to beat (again).

The Dark Horse – #8 Georgia, 18-13 (9-9)

The Bulldogs were a crowd favorite to acquire an NCAA bid when the season opened, but have gone somewhat quiet of late which is odd considering the substantial ability cornered by the Georgia basketball team.  The success of the Dawgs will rely heavily on all-SEC point guard (hopefully) J.J. Frazier who has sneakily has that Kemba Walker feel to him.  The hardest part of Georgia making an SEC tournament run is playing Kentucky in round 2 (nevermind upset-minded Tennessee in round 1); however, the Dawgs competed with the Wildcats both in Rupp Arena and at home in Athens this season.

Team With the Best Chance to Run Deep in March – Florida

For a plethora of reasons, but one less tangible reason is the committee seems to love drawing up interesting early round games for Kentucky.  Last season the Wildcats had Big Ten regular season champion (in a much better Big Ten) Indiana as the FIVE SEED in its region.  It’s not out of the question that Kentucky garners a two or three and sees an uber-tasty matchup in the second round simply because the committee enjoys the drama of blue blood teams playing each other.  This aside, Florida is a fast-paced, high-scoring, and well-coached ball club (much like Kentucky) who has shown an aptitude for forcing turnovers.  This pesky and high-turnover-forcing style teams are always dangerous come dancing season.  The Gators, like most dangerous teams, can play inside and out AND have a star who is capable of taking the game over when the team needs it.

Team Which Will Take an Early Exit from the Big Dance – Vanderbilt

The Commodores seem a lock to make the tournament despite sporting a 17-14 regular season record and only a seventh place finish in the somewhat-soft SEC (soft as in “not as talented’…not like physically soft).  Vandy played an extremely tough schedule and is being rewarded for that.  We are keen on seeing more scheduling like Vanderbilt’s; however, performing well against such a schedule would be even more ideal (Vandy is only 10-13 against the RPI top 100).

Picks in BRACKET FORM

SEC

2017 Pacific 12 Tournament Preview

The Pacific 12, Bill Walton’s heralded “Conference of Champions”, felt a new breath of air quench the hearts and souls of fans across the western United States after a couple of years of irrelevance.  Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA are all Final Four threats and each would be worthy of a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament should they romp through the Pac-12’s own tournament.  No conference features such a hydra and the dominance of the three programs against the rest of the conference (45-3) epitomizes the dominance.  Oregon claimed the 1-seed in the conference, but few picture the Ducks as the favorite as the conference tourney starts today.

Player of the Year – Lonzo Ball, UCLA

He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned on the blog contentiously claims Lonzo to be better than Steph Curry; while this claim is silly, Ball is a magnificent piece to add in the upcoming draft and the young star must be brimming knowing the horrific Brooklyn Nets lottery selection rests in the hands of Boston.  Professional prospects aside, Lonzo has dominated the college game with aptitude and arrogance aplenty, but this is far from criticism as the point guard’s fire and demeanor are two of the more attractive aspects as a player.  Statistically, Ball is the best assist-er this season and he has shown an aptitude for making shots in key and clutch situations, especially from three-point range.  While Markelle Fultz is as talented and the favorite for the #1 overall selection come NBA Draft time; Washington’s terrible season keeps him out of the discussion and keeps the award in Ball’s hands.

Coach of the Year – Steve Alford, UCLA

While Oregon and Arizona saw equally impressive seasons, Alford managed to turn around UCLA’s fortunes from a mediocre 2016.  Recruiting Ball and fellow freshman were a massive help, but many key contributors are longer-tenured players such as seniors Bryce Alford, Issac Hamilton, and Thomas Welsh.  UCLA’s ability to stay the course and stick with Alford paid dividends this season and the turnaround from 15-17 to a potential Final Four team is more than simple recruiting victories.

The Favorite – #3 UCLA, 28-3 (15-3)

The Bruins are dominating the headlines for our Pac-12 preview including taking the role of “favorite” into the tournament.  Oregon tops the chances according to ESPN’s heralded “Basketball Power Index”, but UCLA’s current 9-game winning streak epitomizes the Bruins’ unparalleled ability to break the scoreboard and drown out the opposition.  No team in the country (ACC, Big 12, or other) can match the Bruins’ firepower on the offensive side and UCLA has decided at times to play surprising and suffocating defense to keep the line in its favor.  UCLA is by no means a great or even good defensive team, but its length and athleticism allow it to force tough shots and keep opponents off-balance.  Any defensive effort erupts into fast-paced, secondary breaks and relentless scoring.

The Dark Horse – #4 Utah, 20-10 (11-7)

The Utes garnering the #4 seed in the Pac-12 surprised everyone involved in the Braintrust since not a single word has been mentioned about Utah all season.  Admittedly, our knowledge of Utah, its players, and how it won 11 games in the Pac-12 is a complete mystery as we never saw the Utes on television and the team repeatedly denied requests for game film and audited financial statements.  As far as a dark horse is concerned, no team fits the bill better than Utah because who knows anything about this team?  It’s best conference win was against USC in Salt Lake City and 0-4 against UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona.  The Utes supplied Oregon State with its only conference win of the season, for the love of a salmon filet.  Ask me once or ask me a thousand times what Utah’s chances are to win the entire tournament OR to lose its first game to (most likely) California and I’d answer the same: “Only God knows”.

Team with the Best Chance to Run Deep in March – UCLA

The Bruins couldn’t be both the favorite and the dark horse, but as proven by Kansas already in this publication they can be a favorite for both a conference tournament and a March Madness sprint.  The Bruins offensive firepower is reminiscent of Iowa State in 2014; however, the Bruins are more well-rounded and less predictable than those DeAndre Kane led Cyclones.  So long as UCLA avoids a blizzard-esque cold-spell and avoids too many turnovers, they’ll compete with any team in the country.  UCLA’s biggest problem will be on the defensive side, but only if they are lazy and apathetic.  Expect the Bruins to scintillate during the Big Dance.

Team Which Will Take an Early Big Dance Exit – Southern California

Barring a major upset, only four teams from the Pac-12 look primed to make the NCAA Tournament and three of them will be seeing the second weekend.  Only the Trojans will face possible elimination before the Sweet Sixteen (Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona are too immensely talented, well-coached, and hungry to fall victim to the classic #8/9 or #7/10 upset).  USC needs to play its way into a better seed (they look destined for a #10 or even the play-in game) and beating UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 Tourney would go a long way to making this prediction null.

Predicted Outcome IN BRACKET FORM

Pac-12

2017 Big 12 Tournament Preview

With midterm exams loom in the near future, I write this preview in the spirit of the bell curve.  Back in 2014, I picked a perfect Big 12 Conference Tournament complete with Iowa State (led by P.O.Y. snub DeAndre Kane) upsetting perennial #1 seed Kansas and Baylor making the Championship Game.  Since, I’ve watched my Big 12 success slip; although, I managed to return to form slightly in 2016.  This season, the Big 12 has been heavily featured on the ESPN once more and this has kept my head in the game and I vow a successful selection of the Big 12’s tournament this season.

Player of the Year – Frank Mason III, Kansas

I elected to make Mason my P.O.Y. in the Big 12 waaaaaay back in 2015 and haven’t regretted the decision since.  In 2015 I said Mason’s development into a leader and scoring threat is what sparked Kansas’s success; related is Mason’s development as a leader on the floor and unrivaled scoring proclivity in 2017.  Mason is the league’s most dangerous shooter after shooting 37.9% for his first three seasons (not horrible, but he’s hovered around and even eclipsed 50% most of 2017).  The assist numbers are up along with free throw shooting and overall usage.  Mason’s increase in minutes and usage from 2015 (when picked as Big 12 POY by this publication) to now shows how valuable he is to the Kansas Jaybirds and why the nation’s current #1 ranked team needs its point guard more than any other team planning on a national title run needs any other player this March.

Coach of the Year – Bob Huggins, West Virginia

Most think Baylor over-achieved in 2016-2017 and certainly Scott Drew deserves much credit for his team’s standing; however, the 2016-2017 West Virginia campaign reminds me so much of the 2014-2015 season I cannot help but be swayed back to Huggins.  Also, the famous Collapse on the Court shows Huggins time in the game is limited and as one of the nation’s most underrated coaches, the Huggy Bear deserves one last lauding by the conference before he goes out screaming at officials and ranting about fickle fans.

The Favorite – #1 Kansas, 28-3 (16-2)

The record is broken (pun intended) as Kansas once again dominated the Big-12 regular season taking its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.  The Jaybirds haven’t survived the Big 12 tourney quite as well, winning 7 of the 12 tournaments during the current streak AND only(?) two of the previous five tournaments (with Iowa State taking the crown in 2014 and 2015).  Kansas is the league’s most talented team (again) with an outstanding point guard (still) and the ability to play both inside and outside (once more).  The dominance of Kansas is unfathomable in an era of high-parody across college basketball.

The Dark Horse – #4 Iowa State 20-10 (12-6)

The Cyclones rallied to a great finish in the Big 12 this season after a bumpy non-conference, but they have been the forgotten and often ignored player in the Big 12’s season.  Naz Mitrou-Long, Monte Morris, and Deonte Burton are all capable of lighting up the scoreboard for 30 on a given night; furthermore, Morris is a top-tier point guard whose pure passing and ball-handling ability is actually better than Mason (Morris has a 6.2 A/TO ratio, best in the Power 5).  The Cyclones are fast and furious, but will face the toughest road in the tournament (facing Oklahoma State and Kansas) which is expected with tie-breakers leaving the Cyclones at the 4 line.

Team With the Best Chance to Run Deep in March – Kansas

Last season’s Big 12 disappoint outside of Oklahoma’s Final Four run (ended by North Carolina) with Iowa State, West Virginia, and Baylor all bowing out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  It’s unlikely that tried-and-tested trio faces the same defacing elimination in 2017; however, the safe decision from the Big 12 in 2017 is a Kansas team which scores and defends well enough to beat anyone AND fails to lose to bad teams.  The Jaybirds have disappointed annually after the 2008 National Championship team, but this year the Braintrust expects a different result similar to Villanova’s conquering of expectation last year.

Team Which Will Take an Early Exit from the Big Dance – Iowa State

The Cyclones simply don’t have the size and strength to survive March Madness.  Iowa State beat many good teams in 2017, but its final game against West Virginia showed what happens when teams deny Monte Morris the ball and force other members of the Cyclones to control the offensive rhythm.  Iowa State scored 76 points, but the defense is not good enough to win an up-tempo game against tournament teams playing turnover-seeking defense.  Unless Morris is in-control of the ball (which any coach worth his weight in copper won’t allow), the Cyclone are an offensive mess that will score (thanks to three-pointers and fast-pace), but surrenders far too much to opposing teams.

Predicted Result IN BRACKET FORM

Big 12

 

 

2017 Big Ten Tournament Preview

Them messiest, sloppiest conference in America is entrenched in a season of disappointment and irrelevance following multiple years of hope.  Last season, many tried to argue the Big Ten for the best conference in America.  Michigan State entered the NCAA Tournament as the Vegas favorite, Maryland had a star-studded cast hungry for a late-March run, Purdue had the best inside game in the country (double-double machine Caleb Swanigan was a role playing afterthought), Indiana scored as well as any other team in the nation, and Iowa/Wisconsin were the tall, white, three-point shooting teams Iowa/Wisconsin always were.  Then Michigan State lost to Middle Tennessee in round one (after being snubbed a #1 seed) and Purdue faltered to Arkansas Little-Rock, but the good news was Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin all survived into the Sweet Sixteen to give rays of hope for the conference.  Well, North Carolina, Kansas, and Notre Dame dispatched those three respectively and the “wait til next year” mantra of the Big Ten sounded once more.  Well, 2017 was nothing to wait for as teams scrambled to find an identity and the conference’s standard bearers collapsed into a heap of disappointment opening the door for ZERO Big Ten teams to receive a 4 seed or better.

Player of the Year – Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

Commonly called “Biggie” on ESPN, the former Clydesdale shed weight like Ron McDonald (the Sunny character) before conquering the Big Ten in amazing fashion.  Swanigan double-doubled his way into the hearts of fans across the nation and even added a three-point shot this season to tell NBA scouts, “I’m worth the risk”.  The dominance on the court, leading of Purdue to the regular season crown in the conference, earns Swanigan the P.O.Y. award for the Big Ten.  Caleb and Company also appear to be the only viable threat for the Big Ten to dance deep into March on the backs of a ferocious frontcourt surrounded by talented shooters.

Coach of the Year – Matt Painter, Purdue

People will be clamoring for Northwestern’s Chris Collins to win the award as the Wildcats are assured the school’s first ever bid to the NCAA Tournament, but Purdue winning the conference this season is even more surprising than Northwestern’s success.  Painter helped to turn Swanigan into the star that he is and navigated the sticky Big Ten for the first regular season title for Purdue since 2010 (the last before that coming in 1996).  The Boilermakers lacked the preseason prestige of Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin; nonetheless, they were the last ones standing this season.  With Collins, Painter, and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino all viable candidates, we default to the man who reached the summit comes season’s end.

The Favorite – #2 Wisconsin, 23-8 (12-6)

Despite Purdue looking like the only team capable of making an NCAA Tournament run, the Boilermakers are not the team to beat in the Big Ten tournament.  That honor belongs to gritty and horrible-to-watch-as-always Wisconsin with stars Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig.  With a nice bench and a belief in its own system, Wisconsin will tirelessly wear down opponents and allow the talent of Happ and Hayes to win on the low-scoring board.  Wisconsin finished horrendously this season (losing 5 of the last 7 to cough up the regular season crown), but for the bulk of the season the Badgers were unequivocally atop the Big Ten.  The biggest qualm is Wisconsin’s 0-1 record against Purdue this regular season, but only played the Boilermakers on the road early in Big Ten play.

The Dark Horse – #11 Ohio State, 17-14 (7-11)

With no clear favorite, its hard to think of seeds 1-5 being “Dark Horses” and Northwestern’s cinderella status en route to its first NCAA tournament bid has everyone thinking purple, so where else do we turn?  The Buckeyes are by no means a threat to win this tournament and to suggest so would be heinous; however, Ohio State has a very, very favorable draw to make this tournament interesting University of Milwaukee style.  Ohio State should easily slide into a game against #6 Northwestern who will be less talented than the Buckeyes and already riding high on its locked-in NCAA tournament bid.  Add in Thad Matta seeming to only care about this tournament and nothing else that happens all season and it smells funny for the Wildcats.  Ohio State would then play Maryland which even your little brother understands is a wobbly three-seed at best.  The Buckeyes have played every team close (including losing to Purdue by an point in the teams’ only meeting, have beaten Wisconsin/Michigan State/Minnesota, and can play with the reckless abandon a team with no dancing hopes possesses.  If the talent comes full-circle at the right time, Ohio State has the ability to beat anyone in the Big Ten…which is sad…because Ohio State stinks.

Team With the Best Chance to Run Deep in March – Purdue

As stated, the Boilermakers seem to have that inside-outside game tantalizingly common among stud college basketball teams.  Caleb Swanigan and Issac Haas are surrounded by three-point launching guards and this offers both scoring opportunities on the outside (because you can’t focus on running shooters off the three-point line with those bodies inside) and offensive rebounding (guards can’t crash the glass to leave shooters open).  It’s a dynamite strategy and a phenomenal cast of characters to fill the roles; however, Purdue has not always shown an ability to take advantage of this repertoire.  In the right match-up Purdue can thrive, but its biggest challenges have come against teams which can light up the scoreboard through hard-nosed, turnover-heavy defense and great guard play (Villanova, Louisville, Minnesota).

Team Which Will Take an Early Exit from the Big Dance – Wisconsin

The favorites to win the Big Ten tournament?  Maybe, but the Badgers are a team reeling and its flaws are beginning to loom large as March approaches.  Happ, Hayes, and Koenig are talented players; however, they are not the big time scorers who can push a team through the NCAA Tournament.  Wisconsin is looking like a six or seven seed and the team will need an immense effort just to slide by especially if they face the challenge of a play-in team at the eleven line.  Wisconsin simply cannot score enough points to sustain an NCAA Tournament run against the level of competition it will eventually face AND may even face come Round 1.

Predicted Result IN BRACKET FORM:

Big Ten

2017 ACC Tournament Preview

A conference which is arguably the deepest and most fearsome in the country could produce an absolute bloodbath of a tournament; however, the ACC still features different tiers of teams with obvious big dogs and underdoges throughout the bracket (unlike the mediocre-heavy Big Ten).  The ACC has the best coaches in the country and the plethora of blue blood programs always makes this a popular tournament to watch; however, no ACC tournament in recent memory has looked as murky as the 2017 edition; after all, a 10-8 Miami (FL) team which beat #1 seed North Carolina by 15 in the teams’ only meeting this regular season looks primed to re-visit the Tar Heels in the Quarterfinals, Duke plays in the second round for the second straight year (and Clemson’s star Jaron Blossomgame is thirsty for an NCAA bid), and the six-seed is Virginia.

Player of the Year – Bonzi Colson F, Notre Dame

Colson is the classic under-sized Notre Dame forward who out-hustles and out-plays opponents on a game-ly basis en route to double-doubles and Irish victories.  Each season, Notre Dame loses its all-hustle, all-conference stud, but none has made the impact that Colson has this season.  Without Bonzi, Notre Dame is a hodgepodge of outside shooters unable to rebound using stick’em.  Colson is by no means the sexy pick here (UNC’s Justin Jackson and Duke’s Luke Kennard immediately leap to mind), but Colson would have it no other way than to slide in against all normal thought and grab away the P.O.Y. title from the “norm”.

Coach of the Year – Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Somewhat mysteriously, Brey has never won ACC Coach of the Year, but Notre Dame has only been hustling ACC blue bloods for the last four seasons.  Indubitably, 2017 is Brey’s finest job in-conference with the Irish (and Notre Dame racked up a 11-2 non-conference record), finishing second in the tough-as-nails conference.  Many think the ACC is unrivaled and will conquer March Madness, but Notre Dame surprised en route to the second place finish and Brey deserves credit for getting players such as Colson to play at a level none imagined entering 2017.

The Favorite – #1 North Carolina, 26-6 (14-4)

North Carolina raced to the ACC title this season ahead of preseason favorite Duke and the upstarts Florida State and Notre Dame.  Its a fantastic accomplishment; however, Roy Williams  and the Heels know the value of winning the ACC Tournament to jump-start an NCAA Tournament run (2008 and 2016 Final Four runs were preceded by tournament championships).  North Carolina is the nation’s best offensive-rebounding team and finally added three-point shooting to its offensive repertoire.  We watched the Heels get stopped a few times this season, but this is far and away the ACC’s best offensive team.

The Dark Horse – #6 Virginia 21-9 (11-7)

Virginia faded into the background during ACC play.  Most have forgotten about the Hoo’s, but Virginia faces a nice draw in the bottom-half of the ACC Tournament bracket to remind people just how good this team is.  Virginia can run itself into a four or three seed this Championship Season.  Virginia and Louisville are the defensive counterparts to Duke and North Carolina’s offensive explosiveness, but the latter three teams are all sitting on the opposite side of the bracket.  Virginia will face talented Florida State and gritty Notre Dame (most likely) to reach the finals, but those names lack the prestige and firepower of others in the ACC.

Team With the Best Chance to Run Deep in March – Duke

It pains to admit this.  There are two types of people in this world and both of them hate Duke…okay, so Duke is likely one of the nation’s more beloved teams and throughout he country you can find both Duke lovers and haters…the braintrust just happens to be the latter.  Despite this, we hesitantly admit Duke is talented and will enter March Madness with an enormous chip after failing to even sniff the expectations placed on its shoulders entering the 2016-2017 season.  Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard are not just those white guys you have to hate on Duke.  They’re superbly talented guards both capable of scoring 25 any given night AND the Blue Devils have added inside muscle to bolster its outside flair.  Any team capable of playing both inside and outside AND with Duke’s infamous defensive intensity is dangerous; furthermore, we know Mike Krzyzewski (no spellcheck) knows how to motivate come March.

Team Which Will Take an Early Big Dance Exit- Florida State

The Seminoles are a mysterious team (much like Mike Brey’s C.O.Y. emptiness) as they seem to have size, talent, and an inside-outside game.  Dwayne Bacon, Johnathon Issac, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, etc….the absurd gifts possessed by this team might have been hidden by the incredibly tough ACC, but the Seminoles did finish tied for second in the conference; therefore, its hard to say they didn’t play good basketball.  Florida State has the feel of a team prepped to be upset by a #13 seed when the NCAA Tournament rolls in.

Predicted Result IN BRACKET FORM:

ACC.jpg

Our Top 25 Most Anticipated College Football Games of 2017

With College Basketball in full swing, the Braintrust is excited for the best days of the year (Championship Week and March Madness), but in order to keep from shifting all our attention to basketball prematurely, we needed to discuss something college football related to distract ourselves momentarily from college basketball.  With preseason polls being absurd and silly, we developed a list of the games we are personally looking forward to the most.

DISCLAIMER: This list compiles the games we are most excited for in 2017.  By no means are we implying these will be the best or the most important games of the season.

#25 Northern Iowa @ Iowa State (September 2nd)

Northern Iowa is consistently near the top of FCS standings, but this factoid meets little criteria for a game being interesting or excellent; however, the Panthers have beaten Iowa State (yes, just the Cyclones) three times since 2007 including last season.  This game is an early opportunity for an FCS victory over an FBS opponent and the lower subdivision doesn’t have its automatic North Dakota State win this season as the Bison lack an FBS opponent on the schedule.  Iowa State is returning its biggest playmakers on offense, but the Cyclones will be vulnerable on defense under second year coach Matt Campbell.

#24 Maine @ Massachusetts (November 11th)

The Black Bears visiting the University of Massachusetts not only represents another opportunity for an FCS victory (with little knowledge of Maine’s abilities as a football program), but even more important for a man whose entire NCAA 2014 career is built around the UMass program it represents the opportunity for the Minutemen to steal a late season victory!  UMass also plays Coastal Carolina from the FCS level, but it takes more than a nice matchup for UMass to come away with a victory.

#23 Texas @ Southern California (September 16th)

The Rose Bowl between Penn State and Southern California lurks in my memory as the finest bowl game over the winter and Quarterback Sam Darnold should enter the season as the immediate Heisman Trophy favorite (with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner returning in Louisville’s Lamar Jackson).  This non-conference game comes only one week after Southern California must play recently christened rival Stanford.  Every new head coach prays for this type of opportunity to down a highly-ranked, high-prestige opponent early in his career at his destination job.  Tom Herman found instant success at Houston and playing the Trojans close or even managing a week 3 victory would go a long way in proving he can reach instant success with more talent, money, and attention at Texas.

#22 Maryland @ Texas (September 2nd)

Similar to the above game, I’m extremely excited for a competitive Texas team with Tom Herman at the helm.  The offensive mind became a favorite of mine both during his time steering Ohio State and Zeke to the National Championship and letting Greg Ward Jr. run wild for two seasons in Houston.  Herman opens his Texas career with a winnable game against an annual bowl team in Maryland AT HOME.  The Herman years in Austin could be off to a shaky start, but it should be one of the bigger headlines opening weekend.

#21 Washington @ Stanford (November 10th)

A game which figures to decide the Pac-12 North (unless we see dramatic improvement from Oregon or continued success for Washington State) when the Huskies make a trip to Palo Alto in a game David Shaw should have boldeditalicized, and underlined on Stanford’s schedule after the horrifying contest this past season.  The domination by Washington’s front seven is the only game in recent memory where the Cardinal were physically dominated by a Pac-12 opponent and that’s something Shaw and company will be harping on going into 2017.

#20 Oklahoma vs Texas (October 14th)

Despite Oklahoma’s seasonal results being head and shoulders over its longtime rival (Texas hasn’t entered the Red River Rivlary as a ranked team since 2012), this game has maintained a level of competitiveness unfathomable at first thought.  The Longhorns and Sooners have split the four contests since 2012 despite Oklahoma’s lowest ranking being #20 (after losses to Houston and Ohio State this past season).  Charlie Strong might have pitched this as Texas’s National Championship each season in his tenure at Texas, but Tom Herman and the new regime need to balance the importance of a high-profile rivalry and the expectation of a Texas-sized program.  Experience with Urban Meyer at Ohio State should help.  Either way, the Triple-R has not disappointed in recent years and you all already know we’re excited for Tom Herman at Texas.

#19 Boise State @ Washington State (September 9th)

Washington State watched its chances to sneak into a New Year’s Six game disappear before even lurching from the starting gates last season with back-to-back losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State.  Now, no one is expecting Montana State to ride into Pullman on the upset train, but we here never recommend underestimating men of the Rocky Mountains (and NEVER underestimate women of the Rocky Mountains); however, Boise State shows up a week later to give Wazzu an opportunity to snag a nice non-conference win; furthermore, a Boise State victory should leap the Broncs right into the midst of the Group of Five conversation for a New Year’s Six.

#18 Washington @ Colorado (September 23rd)

The first conference game for Washington and Colorado could doom the season of either of last season’s Pac-12 division champions…oh, right, this is a rematch from the 2017 conference championship game!  Colorado is by no means the favorite in the South entering 2017 (USC takes the cake by leagues), but Colorado returns talent and skill to compete with anyone in the conference.  The Huskies might be a little surprised when trying to run-around in Boulder at the speed, athleticism, and conditioning of its opponent.  ALWAYS REMEMBER THE ADVANTAGE OF ALTITUDE.

#17 Navy @ Notre Dame (November 18th)

One of the most annually underrated games of the college football season, Navy’s end-of-the-season trip to South Bend, Indiana might be the difference between the Midshipmen riding toward a New Year’s Six Bowl (unlikely) and Notre Dame’s own bowl-eligibility.  The Irish’s disastrous 2016 leaves Brian Kelly on a very hot seat and losing to Navy at year’s end might end up being a make-or-break moment for the head coach.

#16 Utah @ Brigham Young (September 9th)

The Holy War restarted last season after the 2015 bowl game meeting (finally, the NCAA did something right) and a classic 20-19 game ensued with Taysom Hill leading BYU to a score with only 18 seconds left and the Cougars failed on a two-point conversion to leave the score at the aforementioned 20-19 game.  One source close to the game relayed no “pure hatred between rivals exists like BYU and Utah”; whether this is true or not is debatable and lack of Braintrust experience with football culture in the state of Utah leaves us less than experts on the argument…they always play one helluva a game, though.  Someone remind the Cougars they haven’t picked up a victory since 2009.

#15 Michigan @ Penn State (October 21st)

Michigan dominated the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor in 2016, so James Franklin needs to add little fuel to the fire welling in the bellies of his optimistic 2017 program.  Penn State was, almost indubitably, the most surprisingly successful team of last season, but the mauling at the hands of Michigan is the worst blemish on an otherwise great season for the 2016 Big Ten Champions.  The Big Ten East will once again be a bloodbath with Michigan and Ohio State dealing with, yes hard to admit, Penn State as the much-hyped preseason favorite with returning starters SaQuon Barkley and Trace McSorely.  The contest between the Wolvs and Lions will be one that decides the country’s toughest division.

#14 Stanford @ Southern California (September 9th)

One of the blossoming rivalries of the Pac-12 has been a hotspot for upsets and close games since 2007.  Stanford has become the kingpin in the formerly Trojan-dominated rivalry; winning 8 of the last 11, 7 of the last 9, and 3 in a row.  Southern Cal is looking to emerge into the playoff picture as the Pac-12’s first legitimate threat to the National Title since Oregon in 2014.

#13 Iowa @ Iowa State (September 9th)

The most underrated rivalry in college football (debatable subject matter) watched its last two games be settled in an ugly fashion with Iowa wins of 31-17 and 42-3 in 2015 and 2016 respectively.  Before that, Iowa State had won three of the four meetings by a field goal (the other an Iowa win by 6).  The Cyclones return talent and Iowa will likely take a couple of steps back from last year’s team which maintained a lode of talent from the Big Ten West Champion Hawkeyes of 2015.  Ames is “Upset City”, USA and the cyclones will look to prove that early with an offense returning over 90% of its total offensive yardage from 2016.

#10 Florida – Georgia (October 28th)

Both teams come off the bye week to play in the World’s Largest Celebration of Friendship and Political Correctness in Jacksonville.  Phenomenally, Georgia’s entire team stormed the field after a touchdown in this game back in 2007 and the moment is engraved in my mind.  Trading three-game winning streaks since 2007 (Florida three, Georgia three, Florida three), it looks like Georgia is primed to return to the top of the eastern division and Florida is the most obvious team looming in its path.

#11 Tennessee @ Florida (September 16th)

Tennessee stormed through the second half in Neyland this past season to end an 11 game drought against Florida.  With the embarrassing losing streak behind it, Tennessee looks to regain the SEC East title which it hasn’t held since 2007 (Tennessee hasn’t been SEC champs since 1998 or one year after Peyton Manning was Quarterback).  Florida has won back-to-back titles in the laughable SEC East, but fooled no one with blowout losses to Alabama.  This rivalry game may settle the conference’s weaker division once more giving the hallowed opportunity to dethrone the west (most likely Alabama as always).

#10 Oklahoma @ Kansas (November 18th)

Unlike most games on this list, this is pure entertainment value as the nation’s highest touted offensive unit travels to Lawrence against the a team finishing in the bottom 99th percentile in total defense the last three seasons.  While Kansas has flashed against top ranked teams in upset situations before, no one should tune into this game expecting anything less than Oklahoma by 56+ and Baker Mayfield padding stats against the nation’s kindest secondary.

#9 Washington State @ Washington (November 25th)

The Apple Cup might not garner the national attention of 2017 where both teams vied for a Pac-12 North title, but the World’s Worst Pirate should have his team in a position to win again in 2017 and Washington is the unanimous favorite (likely) in the north with Jake Browning returning to toss the pigskin around the field.  The Braintrust admits a bias for this game with an overwhelming love for apples and the Puget Sound, but

#8 Kansas @ Iowa State (October 14th)

Train collisions, explosions, orcas tricking seals…lists of things seemingly gruesome and horrifying which cannot help but be beautiful and tantalizing.  Kansas or Iowa State has finished last in the Big 12 every year since 2005 and have finished last and second to last each of the past five seasons.  The last time they avoided the cellar together, Texas A&M was still a Big 12 member and Donald Trump belonged to the Democratic Party (probably).  This season the duo have been written into the bottom two slots once more; although, Baylor represents a hope for finishing in the basement with NCAA sanctions lurking, a new head coach, and a lack of returning firepower.  Either way, this beautiful disaster will please despite Wikipedia having no article for the “Iowa State – Kansas football rivalry”.

#7 Cincinnati @ Michigan (September 9th)

A Cincinnati-born leader in the Braintrust forced our hand with incessant talking of how Luke Fickell could immediately take advantage of talent on the Bearcats’ roster and test Michigan early in 2017 unlike the Wolverines saw in 2016.  The Wolverines lose a boatload of talent (17 total starters) even though Wilton Speight returns.  Cincinnati was the nation’s most disappointing Mid-major in 2016 (supposedly) and Tommy Tuberville deserves metric tonnes of blame for that.  The Bearcats can plant themselves directly in the Group of Five discussion by testing Michigan in the Big House, even if the Cats cannot pull out the win.  It offers a rare opportunity for the city of Cincinnati to care about college football post-Brian Kelly.

#6 Florida State @ Clemson (November 11th)

Last year, the Seminoles tested the Tigers to the brink as Clemson eventually marched to a National Championship on the arm of DeShaun Watson; meanwhile, it will be Florida State entering the year with National Title hopes following a successful 2016 and the return of Quarterback Deondre Francois who threw for 3,350 yards in his freshman season.  A game which has had playoff implications each year of the mini-tournament will be spotlighted on a weekend promising for marquee games (starting with the aforementioned Stanford-Washington game on Friday the 10th)

 

#5 Oklahoma @ Ohio State (September 9th)

The rematch of a fantastic non-conference contest last season promises to have playoff implications as the preseason favorites for the Big 12 and Big Ten square off in Columbus to highlight what promises to be a majestic second week of the college football season.  Ohio State enter amid disdain for its placement in the playoff last season and Oklahoma finished undefeated in-conference, but missed the playoff thanks to early season losses to Ohio State and Houston.  After a rough week 1 road trip to Bloomington, Indiana; Ohio State has no rest for wear with Baker Mayfield coming to Columbus.  The Oklahoma offense will need playmakers to replace Semaje, Mixon, and Dede Westbrook, but Ohio State lost three of four secondary studs.  New faces will have to step up on both sides to prove who takes an early leap toward the playoff in 2017.

#4 Ohio State @ Michigan (November 25th)

The Game will have high stakes once more as Michigan and Ohio State figure to factor into both the playoff and Big Ten Championship pictures once more in 2016.  With Penn State taking the crown in 2016, it left a sour taste in the mouth of both teams after the epic contest in Columbus which likely settled a playoff spot.  Michigan hasn’t won The Game since Urban Meyer began coaching Ohio State and has only a three wins since the turn of the century (two since 2001).  The lopsidedness of the rivalry is of the past with Jim Harbaugh ushering in a new era in Ann Arbor.  With the mentioned talent leaving Michigan, this doesn’t look to be Harbaugh’s most talented team; however, the reloading nature of both these programs figures to keep it a pivotal matchup for as long as these two premiere coaches roam the sideline.

#3 Alabama vs Florida State (September 2nd)

Since the AP Poll’s inception in 1938, the #1 and #2 ranked teams have never met on opening weekend.  This could change if the polls hold true to expectation with Alabama and Florida State representing the nation’s top two preseason squads.  In 2006, Ohio State and Texas met as 1 and 2 respectively on September 9th (see, a great football weekend) in the earliest meeting between top ranked AP teams in history.  Buhmuh loses a proverbial shitload of defensive talent and the offense might take a step backward with the departures of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.  The Tide will certainly be vulnerable in Week 1 where the Seminoles rallied for a comeback against another SEC West foe in Ole Miss only one season ago.

#2 Clemson @ Louisville (September 16th)

One of the better games of 2016, Louisville and star Quarterback Lamar Jackson are on the outskirts of the public eye to start 2017 (much like last season), but should have an opportunity to prove everyone wrong early (much like last season) when the now DeShaun Watson-less Tigers travel north to the bluegrass for an early season showdown.  The loaded ACC Atlantic will be a three horse race and Louisville continues to have the finest thoroughbred of the trio with Jackson, but the Cardinals folded late in the season last year against Houston and Kentucky to keep out of the New Year’s Six.  Bobby Petrino should have his team eager to ameliorate the late season faux pas and nothing brings a bigger opportunity than the game against the defending champions in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

#1 Penn State @ Ohio State (October 28th)

Speaking of opportunities for vengeance, Ohio State watched its national reputation and Big Ten title hopes disappear against the Penn State Nittany Lions on two special teams bloopers (spectacular plays from the Penn State POV).  This season, Ohio State and Penn State return bundles of talent (including the team’s starting running back and quarterback) on the offensive side which favored Penn State late in the season; however, the Lions managed only 17 offensive points against Ohio State in Happy Valley last season, but with the departure of three uber-talented defensive backs, Ohio State looks more vulnerable to the Penn State downfield attack.  If both teams skate through early season tests unscathed, this October 28th contest promises fireworks between reinvigorated rivals.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

During Robert Frost’s golden era as America’s foremost authority on thought-provoking poems in early education, Las Vegas’s world famous strip existed on only a smaller scale as the first of the massive casinos, The Mirage, open its doors on November 22nd, 1989; that is to say, 9,794 days following Frost’s January 29th, 1963 death.  What does one man’s death have to do with the Las Vegas Strip?  Very little when you’re considering Frost since the word “Las Vegas” appears in a “ctrl+F” zero times on Frost’s Wikipedia, the unrivaled godsend on degrees of separation; however, here we are connecting Frost’s poem’s climax of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” with the infamous tagline of Sin City “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”.  In other words, the SFW stories from a six-man Royal Rumble trip to Vegas will be discussed here.  Disclaimer: No horror stories were made in the timeline of last weekend.

Friday February 3rd

We’ll begin with a bullet run down of trivial events leading to Friday evening:

  • Boarding the plane I find myself sitting next to mother from Kentucky who I’d engage romantically if predisposed to such fetishes.  She and I engage in quality conversation for all minutes of the flight outside of her 2 hour and 3 minutes of the disappointment known colloquially as Suicide Squad.
  • Arrival at McCarron International Airport leads to six hours of solitude as the next Image result for spongebob milk gifarrival of savages was 2:30 in the afternoon.  I repeatedly watch Bo Burnham’s “Make Happy” and consider homework on multiple occasions.  Also, watched three Carrot Top videos and can claim with certainty the enigma known as Patrick Star’s mind is ceaselessly funnier than the self-deprecating prop king.  Finally, listened to Penn Jillette yell “American potato” three times in a YouTube video after intrigue set in on the height difference between the aforementioned Penn and his silent partner.
  • $30 cab ride instead of $10 Uber
  • Immediately joke made about “Cowgirls Welcome” next to entrance of restaurant.
  • Twenty-five minutes of Steve learning how to work his far-too-expensive belt
  • Hunt for Gilley’s for barbecue.
  • Walk by “Cowgirl’s Welcome” sign into Gilley’s
  • Dan arrives
  • Watches Rocky and Rocky II
  • Teddy arrives

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