NCAA March Madness Preview

It’s that time of the year folks, time to fill out your brackets based on your college basketball knowledge, your favorite mascot, your favorite team color, or however you make your selections. Usually I like to use my knowledge of the field which I consider to be pretty high, but I came near the bottom of my pool last year, so you can take my preview of the tourney with a grain of salt (meanwhile my parents came in 1st and 2nd in my pool of 40 people).

South Region

South Region

The South Region is led by the number one overall seed, Virginia Cavaliers. UVA has been the best team in the country from start to finish this season. They’re the best defensive team in the nation, they don’t turn the ball over, can light it up from 3, hit their free throws, and never seem to lose their composure no matter if they’re up 10 or down 10. Unfortunately breaking news just came down that De’Andre Hunter, the 6th Man of the Year in the ACC has a broken wrist and will miss the NCAA Tournament. This is crippling news to UVA’s national championship aspirations.

The news of Hunter’s wrist injury could open up the door for two teams in the top half of the South Region. This would be the #5 seed Kentucky Wildcats and the #4 Arizona Wildcats. These two teams look likely to meet in the second round in Boise, ID on Saturday. Both teams are filled with NBA potential players and won their conference tournaments, which show they’re peaking at the right time. I already thought their athleticism could be a potential issue for UVA in a Sweet 16 match-up with DeAndre Hunter. Now without Hunter I think UVA is looking at a potential Sweet 16 exit at the hands of Arizona.

In terms of the bottom of this region, it doesn’t have many teams that would strike fear in me if I’m UVA, Kentucky, or Arizona. This is definitely the best team Mick Cronin has ever coached at Cincinnati and they feature many similarities to UVA such as toughness, defense, composure, etc., but I believe UVA is the better team (despite the loss of Hunter). As a matter of fact I think SEC Player of the Year, Grant Williams and Tennessee end up advancing to the Elite 8 over Cincinnati. If you haven’t seen this kid play, you’ll fall in love with his game quickly. He’s 6’7 but plays like he’s 7 feet, with his strength and post game down low on the blocks.

Looking back again at UVA and Arizona, I was on record as saying that the winner of this game would win the national title before the Hunter injury. I think Arizona’s athleticism and the combo of DeAndre Ayton and Alonzo Trier will orchestrate the upset over UVA. Let’s not forget this team was #3 in the Pre-Season AP Top 25. It’s been a very controversial season but it looks like they’ve put all the drama behind them and are coming together at the perfect time. I’m not doubting the fact that even without Hunter, I may be eating these words big time in a week and a half. Senior, Isaiah Wilkins of UVA won Defensive Player of The Year in the ACC and could be the guy who neutralizes the red-hot DeAndre Ayton.

Player to Watch: DeAndre Ayton; Arizona

Sleepers: Kentucky and Arizona

Best potential match-up: Arizona vs. UVA in the Sweet 16

Winner of East Region: Arizona Wildcats

West Region

West Region

The West might be the most wide open region. Personally I have never been a huge believer in the #1 seeded Xavier Musketeers. There’s no doubt they are a great team and if you haven’t seen Trevon Bluiett play, you’re in for a treat because this senior guard can flat out ball. What’s most telling for me,when it comes to Xavier, is they were run out of the gym in their 2 biggest games of the year. The games were a 24 point road loss and a 16 point home loss, both to Villanova. I could give them a pass on one of those, but for it to happen twice leads me to believe they’re ripe for an upset and not truly one of the best teams in the country. Keep an eye on their potential second round match-up against Missouri.

Mizzouri’s top five ranked freshman recruit, Michael Porter Jr., is back from what appeared to be a season ending injury earlier this year. Although he looked rusty against Georgia last week, he still took 17 shots which shows he’s healthy and confident. Missouri has suspended one of their starters for the first round game with Kansas St. and there is now a very good chance Michael Porter Jr. joins the starting lineup. Porter Jr. will most likely be a top 10 pick in June’s NBA Draft.

The 3 most dangerous teams in this region are UNC, Michigan, and Gonzaga. There’s no denying the fact that the Tar Heels are a major threat to get back to the Final 4, but I think it is an extremely daunting feat to make the Final 4 for three consecutive years.

Michigan is everybody’s “darkhorse” right now. In fairness, they are undoubtedly one of the hottest teams in the country. My biggest argument against Michigan is the fact that I believe the Big Ten was very overrated this year. The middle to bottom of the conference was very weak compared to the ACC or Big 12. I will go on record now saying Michigan loses to the winner of the Houston vs. San Diego St game. Houston has been one of the best kept secrets in the country. Meanwhile, San Diego St., while having a down regular season compared to their preseason expectations, is another team peaking at the right time with nine wins in a row. This includes two wins over Nevada, who has been ranked for most of the year and is a 7 seed in the tournament. San Diego St. was up by as many as 37 points against Nevada in their semi-final conference tournament match-up last Friday night!

Last but not least, the Zags feel like they could be ready to make another run to a Final 4. We know head coach Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the country and they have a handful of guys back from last year’s team which lost in the National Championship to UNC. They are also riding the nation’s longest win streak at 14 games. They check off all the boxes that equate to success at this time of the year… coaching, current form, experience, and talent.

Player to Watch: Michael Porter Jr; Missouri

Sleepers: Houston and San Diego St

Best potential match-up: Gonzaga vs. UNC in the Elite 8. This would be a rematch of last year’s national title game.

Winner of West Region: Gonzaga Bulldogs


East Region

East Region

First, for those of you who live in the Boston area, the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games will be played at the TD Garden. The games will be played on Friday, March 23rd and Sunday March 25th.

I think the East is the weakest region of the four. You obviously never know what can happen in March Madness but I would be very surprised if Villanova doesn’t make it out of this region. They are led by Big East Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson. A potential match-up against red hot Colin Sexton of Alabama in the second round could be fun, but I don’t see Bama’ slowing Nova’ down. I think we end up seeing a Villanova vs. West Virginia match-up in the Sweet 16. West Virginia is all about full court press… and Nova’s guard play is among the strongest in the nation, so that shouldn’t be a major concern.

Looking at the bottom half of the region, I see Purdue advancing to the Elite 8. I’m on record as being a huge doubter of the Big Ten, but Purdue got a great draw. A potential matchup with Texas Tech and one of the underrated players in the country, Keenan Evans, could be a toss up, but Texas Tech is coming into the tournament a little banged up with lingering injuries and losing 5 of their last 7 games.

I do see two potential sleepers in this region, but only one of them will be playing come the Round of 64 since they play each other in the First 4 game. The teams, St. Bonaventure and UCLA both have tremendous guard play in Jaylen Adams and Aaron Holiday respectively. I think both of these guards could carry either of their teams to the Sweet 16 and maybe even the Elite 8.

Player to Watch: Colin Sexton; Alabama

Sleepers: St. Bonnies and UCLA

Best potential match-up: Villanova vs. West Virginia in the Sweet 16

Winner of West Region: Villanova Wildcats


Mid-West Region

Mid West Region

Last but not least is the region of death, aka the Mid-West Region. This should be a fun one. Bill Self of Kansas, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, and Tom Izzo of Michigan State are Hall of Fame coaches. They also lead the top 3 seeds in this region. You can make a strong case for any of the three to advance to the Final 4.

I see Kansas having no issue rolling to the Sweet 16 where I think they will meet this year’s Cinderella, #12 seeded New Mexico St. New Mexico St. comes into the tourney with a 28-5 record and have beat some good teams this year in Miami and Davidson, both of whom made the field of 68. I believe their run will come to an end against KU.

The bottom of the region could be very interesting. First let’s talk about my Rhode Island Rams. Rhody’s stock was clearly on the downswing toward the end of the season.  This was highlighted by a 30 point loss at home to a very mediocre St. Joes team. Most sports books have Rhody as a 1 or 2 point favorite against the Oklahoma Sooners and Trae Young. The Sooners have been exposed the last month and a half, losing 11 of their last 15 games. I think this is a great match-up for Rhody. They can have A-10 All Defensive First Team defender Stan Robinson chase Trae Young all game. Robinson’s length and athleticism could help to neutralize Young. Also, Oklahoma is a horrible defensive team and that should play in favor of Rhody who can hopefully take care of the ball better than they did in the A-10 Title game against Davidson. I think Rhody should be able to take care of the Sooners and comfortably cover a small spread of 1 or 2 points.

If Rhody can advance they’d most likely face the Duke Blue Devils and unfortunately I think that’s where their run would end. I’ve said for months that the 3 teams the Rams would match up with the worst are Duke, Arizona, and Michigan State. Odds are if Rhody wants any chance to make a deep run they’d have to get through Michigan St. and Duke in their region. The Rams would just not match up well with Freshmen stud forwards Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Wendell Carter has become my favorite player in the country. The big fella is overshadowed by Marvin Bagley and for good reason, since Bagley has been phenomenal this year and is the better NBA prospect. With that said, Carter simply excels on the court. He can play in the post, constantly runs the floor, rebounds the ball well, and is a strong shot blocker on the defensive end. The size and athleticism of Duke would cause Rhody many issues and I think Duke would win pretty comfortably. Of course I hope I’m wrong and only time will tell.

Getting back to the overall preview of this region, I think the winner of a potential Duke vs. Michigan State game in the Sweet 16, will go on to the Final 4. I know Michigan State is becoming the “sexy” pick to advance to the Final 4, but I don’t see them getting past Duke. Michigan State has had far too many games this year where they sleep walk through the first half or first 10 minutes of a game. Ultimately that usually comes back to “bite a team” come tourney time, no matter how good they are (see Michigan State two years ago against Middle Tennessee State).

A Duke vs. Kansas Elite 8 would have major story lines. The Blue Devils will prevail though if it goes down. Kansas has had a great season, but they’ve overachieved compared to their talent and I think Duke’s 4 ultra talented froshies along with Grayson Allen will prove to be too much for Miles Bridges and his squad.

Player to Watch: Wendell Carter; Duke

Sleeper: New Mexico St.

Best potential match-up: Duke vs. Michigan State in the Sweet 16

Winner of Mid-West Region: Duke Blue Devils

In closing, as I said in my preview of the South Region, I think Arizona will be cutting down the nets as National Champions. They will take down Villanova. DeAndre Ayton is a man on a mission. This is the best team Sean Miller has had in his tenure at Arizona. He’s had many near trips to the Final 4 over the last several seasons and I believe this is FINALLY his year. Now let’s just hope the NCAA doesn’t vacate the title from Zona’ in a few years amid all the allegations they’ve faced this year….

National Title Game: Arizona over Villanova


What if I told you I had 5 Future 30 for 30 ideas?

Everyone loves a good 30 for 30. For those of you who don’t know, ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 is a series that is meant to tell an intimate, compelling story that stands on its own and brings to life the filmmaker’s vision in the sports world.

A few of my favorites over the years, for those who want some recommendations…

  • The U- documented the Miami Hurricanes Football team in the 1980’s
  • Four Days in October – the Red Sox historic comeback against the Yankees in 2004
  • The Fab 5 – The story of the 1991 Michigan Men’s basketball recruiting class which changed college basketball
  • You Don’t Know Bo – The phenomenon that was Bo Jackson, arguably the most gifted multi-sport athlete our country has ever seen
  • This was the XFL – The rise and fall of the XFL led by Vince McMahon

I always love bringing up a little debate with my buddies on future 30 for 30 ideas. I’ve put together a list of 5 ideas that I believe we’ll see (or should see) down the road.

1. Not 1, but only 2 – The story of LeBron James and the Big 3 in South Beach.

Back in the summer of 2010, LeBron James hit free agency for the first time in his career. The million dollar question was, “Will he resign with the Cavs?”. As we know now, he spurned the Cavs and changed the NBA Landscape forever by teaming up with 2 of his best friends, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, via free agency. The group would form “The Big 3.” LeBron made it “normal and acceptable” to team up and form a super team during free agency. Once LeBron’s career finally ends, it’ll be strongly debated whether his 4 years in Miami were a success or failure. He would go on to win 2 titles in 4 years. That total was nowhere near the 6 or 7 he was talking about in his introductory hype night shown in the above YouTube video.

2. JFF… Johnny Frickin Football – The rise and fall of the most entertaining yet controversial College Football player in years.

johnny manziel GIF

In the last several years, the only other college football player in the same media attention stratosphere as Johnny Manziel was Tim Tebow. Johnny was much more controversial than Tebow. On the field, Manziel was a generational talent in college. He became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Anytime he was on TV, it was ”must view” television. Off the field, Manziel was often in the spotlight as well, but for the wrong reasons. He found himself in numerous controversies while at Texas A&M. He was allegedly accepting payments for autographs, presenting a fake ID to cops as a 19 year old, and oversleeping at Peyton Manning’s football camp. JFF was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. His career was a major failure. This was in large part due to growing off field issues. Manziel’s off field issues became so bad that super agent Drew Rosenhaus terminated Johnny as a client. This was the first time Rosenhaus had ever terminated a client in his 27 years as an NFL agent. Out of the limelight the last few years, Manziel is now on record saying that he’s got his life back together and wants to make a comeback. Maybe there will be more to add to this 30 for 30…

3. An era of phonies – The MLB steroid era.

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Photo credit: Chicago Tribune.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable baseball seasons in MLB history. In 1998, Major League Baseball was at the height of popularity. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the midst of chasing the single season home run record of 61, held by Roger Maris. The entire nation was buzzing about the race between Sosa and McGwire. McGwire would finish with 70 HR’s, Sosa with 66. Barry Bonds would go on to break the record again in 2001 by smashing an astonishing 73 dingers. Fast forward several years later and it turns out the era was led by a group of phonies who all took performance enhancing drugs. If you looked at the following list 15 to 20 years ago, there would have been no doubt these guys were Hall of Famers… Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro. All of these players were perennial All Stars back in the day. Now they lead the list of players whose statistics were inflated by performance enhancing drugs and may never make a trip to Cooperstown.

4. The fix is in – The story of an NBA Referee who used his job to fix games he would ref.

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Photo credit: NY Daily News

Tim Donaghy was an NBA referee from 1994-2007. He was involved in one of the most controversial scandals the NBA has ever seen. It seems that most people have forgotten the seriousness of this scandal. In the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 season, it was revealed that Donaghy was betting on games that he officiated during those seasons. It was also discovered that he made calls on the court to affect point spreads and was giving bookies insider information about injuries and player/referee relations. In passing this inside information to bookies, he made $30,000. Donaghy spent 11 months in prison. I cannot recall the last time this black eye for the NBA was discussed, nor do I remember any type of documentary on the scandal.

5. Not so Happy Valley – Joe Paterno’s role in the Jerry Sandusky Scandal.

The most shocking ending to any professional or college sports coaching career was Joe Paterno and his final days at Penn State. Paterno holds the record for most wins in NCAA FBS History. For years he was the most beloved coach in College Football. All of this changed in 2011, when the child sex abuse scandal came out involving his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was charged on 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys from 1994-2009. When the allegations began, everyone asked,  “What did Joe Pa know?” We now know that one of his assistants witnessed Sandusky’s despicable actions back in 2001 and confronted Joe Pa, along with University officials. Evidence pointed to Joe Pa and his assistants knowing about Sandusky’s abuse. Many of the details are still murky and being pieced together to this day. HBO is releasing a movie called “Paterno” which will focus on Joe Paterno and the subsequent outcry, after the allegations against Sandusky became public. You can see the preview in the above YouTube link.

A few other future ideas:

  • Employing a Murderer – The story of Aaron Hernandez and how his life spiraled out of control
  • The Worst Thanksgiving Ever – The night Tiger Woods’ life changed forever and how his career was impacted
  • The Big 3 that never was in RIP City – Injuries derailed the careers of Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. What could have been if these 2 players and Lamarcus Aldridge had stayed healthy and together?
  • Alexander the Great? – Diving into Alexander Ovechkin’s accomplished, yet puzzling career, which has never seen him reach the Conference Finals (to date)
  • Half Diva, Half Amazing – A deeper look into the legendary diva Wide Receivers over the years including T.O., Keyshawn Johnson, Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, and Plaxico Burress

I can go on and on with more ideas… I’d love to hear from my readers about others I may have missed!

5 Burning Questions Heading into the 2018 Red Sox Season

Don’t look now folks, but opening day at Fenway Park is a little more than a month away. There hadn’t been much buzz around the Red Sox this offseason until their signing of JD Martinez, which became official on Monday. Now they’ve added the big power bat they’ve been craving ever since Big Papi retired. There are still a lot of questions surrounding this team as we sit a little over a month away from the start of the season.

1. Can David Price prove to be healthy and finally live up to his huge contract?

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Photo Credit: The Boston Globe

It’s now been over 2 years since David Price signed a 7 year deal worth $217 million with the Sox. I think it’s fair to say Price’s first 2 years in Boston have been rocky. He’s clashed with the media and team broadcasters, battled an elbow injury all of last season, and hasn’t lived up to expectations on the mound. In terms of the elbow injury, it sounds like Price has fully moved past it. A few weeks ago he was quoted saying, “I haven’t had one instance this offseason, whether it was playing catch or doing anything on the field, where I was like, ‘That doesn’t feel right.” This is great news for the Red Sox because Price appeared to have turned a corner on the mound when working out of the bullpen late last season. He looked as dominant as he has since putting on a Red Sox jersey.  He appeared 7 times between September and October throwing a combined 15 and 1/3rd innings, allowing 0 Earned runs, and striking out 19 batters. If Price can carry that momentum into this season, I believe he can make a run at a second career Cy Young Award and form the best 1-2 pitching punch in the MLB, with Chris Sale. Finally, when speaking with the media at Spring Training a few weeks ago, he admitted that he could have handled the media better last year. Let’s hope Price can keep his head on straight both on and off the mound this year.

2. Have Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts already peaked?

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Photo Credit:

If we rewind 3 or 4 years, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley were arguably more highly regarded than Mookie Betts. Now as we approach the 2018 season, the Red Sox are getting close to the point where they need to decide whether they see both players as the future of the organization. The hype around both of them has fizzled out in the last year or so. Xander’s batting average has dropped in consecutive seasons. Although he had 21 home runs back in 2016, that was sandwiched between 7 in 2015 and 10 in 2017. People keep waiting and wanting to see him pop 25+ HR’s year in and year out, but it seems like that’s wishful thinking. Bogaerts was once regarded as an exciting elite shortstop in the MLB, but has now become an afterthought with studs Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor rising as superstars at the SS position. I worry that Bogaerts’ ceiling isn’t quite as high as we envisioned a few years back. Bradley on the other hand continues to be a defensive stud in center field, but proves to be a below-average hitter. He led Red Sox hitters in strikeouts last year, and was below the league average in batting average, and on-base percentage. He just hasn’t made the strides as the solid hitter that Red Sox fans have hoped for. The upcoming season feels like a make or break year for both of them.  If they struggle again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox try and unload one of them next year, since they are both represented by Scott Boras. Boras said it’s likely that neither one will sign a contract extension before they hit free agency in the next 2 years.

3. Can Rick Porcello rebound after his disastrous 2017 season?

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Photo Credit: Over the Monster

There’s no denying that Rick Porcello was horrible last year. Just a year removed from winning the AL Cy Young award, Porcello set a career high for most losses in a season with 17, gave up a league leading 38 HR’s, and had an ERA of 4.65. This was a far cry from his 3.15 ERA back in 2016. Over Porcello’s last 4 seasons he’s alternated between good/great seasons to horrible seasons. During even numbered years 2014 and 2016, Porcello had a WHIP under 1.25, an ERA of under 3.50 and 15+ wins. while of course winning the 2016 Cy Young. In odd numbered years 2015 and 2017, Porcello has had an ERA of 4.92 and 4.65 and a combined 32 Losses. If past history is any indicator, Porcello should be in store for a good season. The thing is the Sox don’t need Porcello to return completely to his Cy Young Form. He’s now the clear #3 starter going into the season, with Chris Sale and a healthy David Price together for the first time. The expectations don’t need to be as high for Ricky. If Porcello can keep the ball in the yard this year, and bring his HR allowed to around 20ish, while keeping up his strong strikeout rate (8th in the AL in 2016 and 9th in 2017 in K’s), then he should easily bring his ERA below 4.00. This would give the Sox one of the best rotations in the MLB.

4. Will JD Martinez fill the David Ortiz void?

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Photo credit: USA Today

In the Red Sox’ first year without David Ortiz (last year), they finished 27th in Home Runs with 168. By comparison, Yankees sluggers Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge combined for 144 Home Runs between the 3 of them. As a fellow Red Sox fan I was very disappointed when they missed out on Stanton this offseason, never-mind the fact that he went to our arch rival the New York Yankees. Thank goodness, they redeemed themselves by signing JD Martinez. JD hit 45 home runs. in only 119 games. The 45 HR’s were a major outlier in JD’s career, as his previous 3 year totals for Home Runs starting in 2014 were 23,38, and 22. The key question now is can Martinez carry over the momentum from last year and provide the Sox the missing power bat they’ve needed since Big Papi retired. Also, one question we always have to ask when someone is coming from a smaller market like Arizona/Detroit (JD’s previous 2 teams) is, can he handle the Boston Media? If JD can come close to replicating last years numbers of 45 dingers with a .303 Batting Average and 104 RBI’s, then they have clearly found their man… at least in the regular season. The Postseason is totally different, as Big Papi displayed year in and year out.

5. Just how much potential does Rafael Devers have?

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Photo Credit: The Boston Globe

Red Sox fans and people in the organization got a glimpse of 20 year old (let that age sink in for a second) 3B Rafael Devers last year. He was highly regarded around baseball as the 2nd best prospect in the organization and had a lot of positive flashes in his brief time in the majors last year. In just 58 games, he had 10 HR’s and batted a very solid .284.  He even batted .400 against lefties in 50 at bats last year, so he probably won’t be losing many starts to Eduardo Nunez when a fellow lefty is on the mound. Does anyone remember his opposite field game tying home run against a 103 MPH fastball from stud closer Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees?


While Devers struggled defensively at 3rd base, committing 14 errors in 56 games, The Red Sox have a great deal of confidence in him at the plate. Early whispers out of spring training are predicting he’ll be batting in the middle of the lineup. Fangraphs, a projection website has a projection of 27 HRs/80 RBI’s and a .275 average for Devers. All which would be more than welcome for a 20 year old kid brimming with potential. If Devers can bring his high strikeout percentage down a little, then the sky is the limit for him.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m slowly getting excited to get back to Fenway to down some Fenway Franks, sing along to Sweet Caroline, and hopefully see the Sox get back to the World Series. Go Sox!

5 Predictions for the Second Half of the NBA Season

The trade deadline and NBA All Star Game have both passed which means the NBA Playoffs are less than 2 months away. The second half starts back up tomorrow. Here are 5 bold predictions I have for the second half…

1.The Oklahoma City Thunder rip off a win streak of 10+ games and finish with the 3rd seed in the Western Conference.

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Photo Credit: Opencourt Basketball

The Thunder have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA this year. They’re a combined 4-1 against the Rockets, Warriors, and Spurs, the top 3 teams in the West. Yet they’re a combined 4-7 against the Mavs, Magic, Nets, and Lakers… some of the worst teams in the league. They’ve clearly shown they play up to their level of competition. Now it’s time to show they no longer will play down to their competition. I’m confident that reigning MVP Russell Westbrook will demand that his teammates bring their full focus every night in the second half of the season. Although they’ve slipped a little in the last month or so, they’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the league and have lost many close games. These types of things usually find a way to balance out and I believe this will happen for OKC, as they end up ripping off a big win streak and finishing 3rd in the West. It won’t be easy though, as they will play the Rockets, Warriors and Spurs two times each.

2.  The race for the #1 seed in the East comes down to the final week of the season… and the Cavs who currently sit 6.5 games behind the Raptors for the 1st seed, make a serious run at it.

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Photo Credit: USA Today

Right now the Raptors sit first in the East with a 2 game lead over the Celtics, followed by LeBron and the Cavs who are 6.5 games out of first. I believe this race is a long way from over and before it’s all said and done, the Cavs could still steal the first seed. I am buying into LeBron’s new supporting cast and believe that the Cavs are a real threat to represent the East in the NBA Finals again. I think the All-Star break has come at a great time for the Celtics, as it appears 2nd year Guard Jaylen Brown and Rookie Forward Jayson Tatum have hit a bit of a wall recently. The time off should do them well and help the Celts gear up for a second half run to the #1 seed. Finally, the Raptors are in the midst of their best season in the franchise’s existence and have been arguably the most consistent team in the conference. The Celts and Raptors play twice between March 31st and the end of the regular season (April 18th). The Raptors and Cavs also square off once in April. I have a feeling these specific match-ups will decide who takes the #1 seed in the East. Don’t underestimate the importance of the #1 seed this year. Two of these teams will have to battle in the 2nd round of the playoffs, while the #1 seed will most likely have a much easier match-up, most likely against the Bucks, Wizards, or Pacers.

3. Isaiah Thomas shines with the Lakers and helps to salvage some of his value as he prepares to hit free agency this summer… but not before Lavar Ball tries to throw IT under the bus for bad shot selection or missing a game winning shot.

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Photo Credit: Slam Magazine

It’s no secret that this has been the “season from hell” for Isaiah Thomas. First, he gets traded from the city and team he loved, the Boston Celtics. Then he misses the first 3 months of the season due to his groin injury. Finally, he gets traded again and as nothing more than a throw-in to a team who won’t be making the playoffs this year. It’s not all negative for IT in his new situation with the Lakers. First, his dad grew up a huge fan of the team and Isaiah actually wanted to sign with the Lakers a few years back. Second, the situation isn’t that unlike the time he was traded from the Suns to the Celtics. The Lakers are a young team with a lot of up and coming talent to support him, combined with low overall expectations. Although, it’s not an entire roster of scrubs. Finally, the team is going to lean on him to score a lot, similar to the Celtics and not what LeBron needed in Cleveland. I think IT will be rejuvenated and shine with the Lakers. It’s a much better situation than people probably realize. It won’t come without some controversy though. Is there any doubt that Lavar Ball doesn’t come out after a game and rip IT? The dialogue will go something like this “Some players on the team are shooting the ball too much man! They’re worried about getting paid in the offseason! Not my boy, he just wants to win and make the team better. He needs to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.”

4. Ben Simmons runs away with Rookie of the Year.

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Photo Credit: FanRag Sports

If I made this prediction back in November, everyone would have said, “wow way to really go out on a limb MJ.” Fast forward a few months and everyone is all aboard the Donovan Mitchell train for Rookie of the Year. While Mitchell has been absolutely phenomenal, the Sixers have a better record than the Jazz and sit inside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Meanwhile the Jazz, led by Mitchell have been on fire, winning 11 games in a row. They still sit outside the playoff picture and I believe this will remain the case at the end of the season. Meanwhile, I think Simmons will come out extremely motivated in the second half, to prove the “haters” wrong in not voting him into the All Star Game. He hit a bit of a rookie slump in January. Some people said, “The league was starting to figure him out.” He seems to be breaking past it in February, as illustrated by his triple-double in the final game before the All-Star Break. He’s also had a few double-doubles and another near triple-double in February.

5. The Sacramento Kings easily coast to the worst record in the league, giving them the best chance at landing the #1 pick in the June Draft.

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Photo Credit: LA Times

I’m going to try and keep this short since no one cares about the Sacramento Kings. I have to sadly admit I’ve actually watched the Kings play twice this year. It’s honestly a miracle that they only have the 5th worst record in the league. They’ve somehow won 18 games. Outside of maybe Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, I’m not sure a casual NBA fan could name one player on the Kings… and unfortunately it’s not 2007 so Vince Carter and Zach Randolph headlining your team isn’t a good thing. They just traded their former starting Point Guard George Hill to Cleveland. They’ve already started resting veterans like Zach Randolph in the second half of back-to-back games, illustrating that they’re fully embracing tanking and going after the worst record in the league. I don’t think the Kings win more than 5 games for the rest of the season, easily giving them the worst record in the league.

The race to the end of the season should be interesting. There are still a lot of unanswered questions this season. Will the Rockets find a way to take the 1st seed in the West? Can LeBron and the Cavs maintain their hot streak and steal the 1st seed in the East? Will the 76ers finally make the playoffs? Will Lonzo Ball comeback soon and have a big 2nd half of his rookie year? Is the MVP award James Harden’s to lose? We’ll have all these answers in the next few months. Be sure to keep your eyes open for my NBA Playoff Preview come April!

If You Haven’t Bought Stock in the Rhode Island Rams, the Time is Now

For those of you who may or may not know me, I’ve gone on rants about how this is “our year” regarding the Rhode Island basketball program multiple times over the last few years. The team finally broke-through last year and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1999 squad which was led by Lamar Odom. Last year’s team upset the 6th seeded Creighton Blue Jays in the big dance. Rhody would go on to lose a heart-breaker to the Oregon Ducks in the next round. The Ducks ended up getting all the way to the Final Four.

Coming into this season, the expectations for the Rams were sky high. They were projected to win the A-10 and numerous analysts had them ranked inside the Top 25. So far they’ve lived up to all the expectations and more.

The Rhode Island Rams are up to #16 in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings and #14 in the USA Today Top 25. Most college basketball analysts have them slotted in around a 5 seed in their projected NCAA field. Their win streak is up to 16 games in a row, tied for longest in the country. They’re one of 6 teams left that are undefeated in conference play at 13-0 in the A-10.

This team is led by a group of close knit seniors and a top 5 backcourt in the nation. There are a few cliches that come to mind when talking about winning formulas in March. Two of the biggest are “great guard play” and “senior leadership/experience.” We’ve seen this come to fruition many times over the last few years. Take for example the 2011 and 2014 UConn national championship teams  which were led by guards Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier respectively. They almost single handily carried their teams to national title. Also, the last 4 “Most Outstanding Players of the Final 4” have been guards as well (Joel Berry – UNC, Ryan Arcidiacono, Senior – Villanova, Tyus Jones – Duke, and Shabazz Napier, Senior – UConn).

URI has arguably the deepest backcourt in the country. They’re led by senior Jared Terrell. Terrell is the odds on favorite to win the A-10 player of the year. He’s top 10 in the conference in points per game, 3P%, Steals, and FT%. After Terrell they’re filled with experience in seniors EC Matthews, Jarvis Garrett and Stan Robinson. Matthews and Robinson are both former top 100 recruits.

They also have sophomore Jeff Dowtin and Freshman Daron “Fatts” Russell in the backcourt. Dowtin is #3 in the country in assist/turnover ratio, averaging 4.58 assist for every turnover he commits. Meanwhile the 5″10 Fatts (5″10 is very generous… I think he’s closer to 5″8) has some people calling him a “young A.I.” and Coach Danny Hurley has said he will be one of the best players in the A-10 in the next few years. As respected college basketball insider Jon Rothstein always says of Fatts…


Beyond that, Coach Danny Hurley is highly regarded as the best coach in the Atlantic-10 and has received more national hype than any of us could have imagined. He is undoubtedly in the running for “Naismith Coach of the Year.”

The truth is that the secret is just about out on URI. If they win out they’ll be a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Dan Hurley within the last few weeks has done interviews on SportsCenter, The Jim Rome Show, Farrell on the Bench radio show, and had a big article written on him on this week. Finally, this past Saturday, even College GameDay on ESPN opened up their show with Jay Williams talking about how Rhody is the best kept secret in college basketball (see below clip).

(Thanks to John Daley for letting me use this)

So here’s a friendly piece of advice to everyone who’s going to be filling out their brackets in a few weeks… make sure to pencil Rhode Island in at the very least advancing to the Sweet 16, because odds are they’ll be favored to get there… and don’t be surprised if they make a run to the Final Four. They have all the key ingredients to get there with great guard play, senior leadership, and top of the line coaching. This finally is the year for the program. RHODY! RHODY! RHODY!


The curious case of Malcolm Butler

There’s a lot to talk about today after last night’s loss, but nothing more noteworthy than the absence of one Malcolm Butler.

Malcolm played 98% of the defensive snaps in the first 18 games of this season. Last night he played zero. He did play one snap on special teams.

So the question is… why didn’t Butler play?  There’s been a few theories on this.

The first is taking Belichick for his word that Butler’s benching wasn’t a disciplinary reason. When asked about it after the game Bill said “We put the best players out there and the game plan out there because we thought it’d be the best to win.”

Personally, I think this is complete BS. I don’t think there’s a single Pats fan who felt this was “the best decision for the team.” It’s also clear that some Patriot players feel that the benching of Butler did not put the team in the best position to win.

Former Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner put up numerous Instagram posts during the game which displayed how he was highly critical of Bill’s decision to bench Malcolm. One of them which can be seen below, was liked by defensive captain and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. It’s pretty eye opening to see a leader on the team like an Instagram post critical of his own coach (his username is boomtower). I can’t imagine Bill is too happy about this.

The other theory is that Belichick lied to everyone and the benching WAS disciplinary related. I think this was more likely. There’s already been some whispers that he missed curfew one night last week and got caught with weed when he came back late to the hotel. There haven’t been any Patriots insiders to report this yet so nothing is official on this front.

The argument against this would be then why didn’t Malcolm come out after the game and say this or hint it in his post-game comments. He knew it was the last time he’d be in the Pats locker room and he won’t be back with the team.

Instead when asked was he given a reason on why he didn’t play, Malcolm said “No.” He also said, “They gave up on me. F*** It is what it is”. He clearly was very emotional and it is interesting looking back at it that he didn’t give the media anything and basically said he doesn’t know why he was benched.

If he was indeed benched for disciplinary reasons and something to do with weed or being intoxicated, then why dress him at all for the game? Why let him play a snap on special teams? Bill should of just sent him home and put him on the inactive list for the game if he really wanted to prove a point. They had 2 corners on their practice squad they could of activated for the game.

I reserve the right to change my opinion on the following take if we get more information that Butler really crossed the line, but if he was benched because Bill really thought the combination of Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, and Jordan Richards were better… or he was benched the entire game because he missed curfew and got caught with some weed, then you could make the argument Bill potentially cost them a Super Bowl victory. Of course he’s still the best coach in NFL history and I want him to come back next year, but this is something I know I won’t ever forget when looking back at this Patriots run/game and I would assume a lot of other people would agree with me as well.

I think we all know Malcolm Butler will never play another down for the Patriots and although he had a down year by his standards, I’ll miss the guy a lot. Nobody will ever forget the interception he made to win Super Bowl 49 but his legacy is more than that in my opinion.

We all know its been a rocky year for him on and off the field but for the majority of his time with the Pats, he had been the ultimate example of the “Patriot way.”

He made the roster as an undrafted free agent. He’s never been the most athletic player, or the fastest (ran a 4.62 at the NFL Combine)… but this guy competed his ass off as much as any corner in the NFL. He became so easy to root for the last few years because of how hard he played, how well he played despite being grossly underpaid, and becoming one of the better cornerbacks in the league as an undrafted free agent.

It definitely hurts to see Malcolm’s career with the Patriots to come to an end like this. I hope he finds a way to get paid this off-season and success with his next team. In the meantime, I’ll try and hold back my tears as well Malcolm.

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Dear Patriots Fans

Every Patriots Super Bowl article/ memory is better with NFL Films Music… Play while reading if you please.

Dear Patriots Fans,

While I don’t think this will be the Patriots’ final playoff appearance with Bill and TB12, there’s no denying the fact that the iconic duo is nearing the end of their record run. Nothing lasts forever and with Brady now 40 and Belichick 65, you have to think they only have a few years left together.

As we gear up to watch our favorite team play in their 8th Super Bowl this century, take a step back for a minute, take it all in and don’t take a second of it for granted.  Honestly, it’s almost easier said than done sometimes. The last time the team played on wildcard weekend was way back in the 2009 season, with a 33-14 home loss to Baltimore. The last time they missed the playoffs was in 2008, when TB12 tore his ACL in week one of the regular season against the Chiefs. The Pats still finished 11-5 and became the first team to have 11 wins and miss the playoffs. The last time they failed to reach double digit wins was 2002. I was 9 years old… today I’m 25. As Patriots fans, we’ve been spoiled to the max by this organization over the last 17 years….17 YEARS!

This isn’t supposed to happen in the NFL. It can maybe happen in the NBA where it’s easy for superstars to team up in free agency, or the MLB where there’s no salary cap and a team like the Yankees or Red Sox can quickly rebuild with their superior financial resources , But this isn’t supposed to happen in the NFL, the ultimate team sport. The salary cap era was supposed to prevent dynasties. Also, injuries occur frequently in the NFL and can catastrophically derail your favorite teams season. The Patriots have defied all those theories – year, after year, after year.

If you’re my age and reading this, talk to your parents about the team before B.B. and TB12 joined the organization. They’ll tell you about how bad the organization was for so many years. They’ll tell you just how much it meant to them to even make the Super Bowl back in 1997 against the Packers, even though they would fall 35-21.

That game was my first sports memory. I remember watching with my dad back when I lived right around the corner from the old Foxboro Stadium in Sharon, Mass. He was getting so angry and intense as he began to watch the game slip away from the Pats.

Now we watch as Patriots fans and expect to be in the Super Bowl and win every year.  Now we watch and a game that would be “slipping away” for the 31 other NFL teams, just feels like another chance for the organization to add to their prestigious history. As fans, we all know the game is far from over and we EXPECT them to pull off a comeback and win.

I remember watching a game against the Redskins during my freshman year of college back in 2011. Brady threw for 350 yards and 3 TDs and the Pats won by 7. This was back when he “only” had 3 Super Bowl ring’s but I recall thinking to myself, “Wow this isn’t going to last forever. This man is absolutely amazing. I need to make sure I appreciate every damn time Tom takes the field and tries to pave his way to become the best QB ever.” Fast forward a little over 7 years later and there’s no longer any doubt on who’s the best QB in NFL history. He’s playing in his 4th Super Bowl since that day and going for his 3rd ring in the last 4 years. Everything he and Bill have accomplished in their careers, remains unfathomable to me.

As fans, we no longer concern ourselves with the naysayers who call the team cheaters, or the Patriots haters who come up with any and every BS excuse on why we win/ why they hate us. At this point, the legacy of B.B., TB12, RKK (Robert Kenneth Kraft), and the entire organization is firmly cemented.  Now they get another chance to add to the accolades and history… and B.B. and Tom get another chance to display why they’re not only the best coach and QB in NFL history – but maybe the best coach and athlete in sports history.


An extremely fortunate and grateful Patriots fan