Should Patriots fans be a little frustrated with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski?

Let me preface this by saying I obviously love Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski as much as anyone. I will be devastated the day Tom retires. If Gronk isn’t wearing a Pats jersey on week 1 next season, I will be absolutely crushed. Bill better not pull a fast one, by trying to trade him at the draft.

With that said, I have to be honest – I’m starting to get a little frustrated with TB12 and Gronk’s actions this off-season. Hot take I know – to personally call out everybody’s favorite 2 players on the Pats. I make it a point to stay level headed and non-biased on SportsChatterMJD.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to Tom and Gronk this offseason, let me get you up to date.  Both have been extremely active on social media. It’s at the point where it seems that they’re almost taking subtle shots at head coach Bill Belichick.

It all started in February, two days after the Super Bowl, when Malcolm Butler posted a long Instagram defending himself for inaccurate reports about why he didn’t play in the game. He also thanked the Patriots organization. Tom was quick to comment saying, “Love you Malcolm. You are an incredible player and a teammate and friend. Always!!!!!”. Surely Bill couldn’t have been too happy that Tom was quick to chime in on Malcolm’s post. Tom could have just texted or called Butler … if he hadn’t already talked to him. I wasn’t too irked by Tom commenting on the post though, because I think it was genuine.

Gronkowski has taken his jabs at Bill as well. For example, he posted the Instagram below for Danny Amendola. He put an emphasis on “Be FREE and Be HAPPY”.

Gronk Amendola

I don’t think it was a coincidence that he put such an emphasis on “Be FREE and Be HAPPY”.  Multiple reports this off-season indicate that Tom and Gronk are not exactly HAPPY playing under Bill. It seems as if his demanding coaching style has started to take a toll on them.

Tom Brady commented on the Instagram as well saying “well said Gronk!!!!”

It also became clear that Danny Amendola didn’t love Bill by the end of his tenure with the Pats, per this very eye-opening interview with Mike Reiss that was released over the weekend. I strongly recommend checking it out if you haven’t yet.

Yet another Gronk social media statement was made the other day when retweeted a Deion Sanders tweet…

dion sanders

Is Gronk implying that his “contemplating if he’s going to retire” is more of a power play to try and get a new contract? Gronk wanting a new contract is 100% understandable and warranted. He was only the 4th highest paid tight end last year. Everyone knows he’s the best tight end in the league. He should easily be the highest paid player at his position.

The issue is there were reports over the weekend stating that Gronk is skipping the start of the Patriots off-season program (OTAs) because he’s still considering whether to retire before the upcoming 2018 season.

If Gronk does indeed retire, it would be catastrophic to the team. If he’s really serious about it, then I hope he’s been extremely transparent with the team because the upcoming NFL Draft on April 26th-28th is probably one of the most critical for the organization in a long time. They need to once again find their QB of the future, a new left tackle, and fill many holes on defense.

Losing Gronk to retirement would prioritize the tight end position as one of the top needs for the team. With 5 picks in the top 95, the Pats would have a good chance to address this need if Gronk was indeed retiring. This is why it is imperative that he’s being very transparent about his plans with the team. It’ll be very interesting to see if they use a high pick on a tight end next week.

Let’s get back to Brady now because I think he’s the bigger story. ESPN recently reported that TB12 will not be a “regular participant” in the team’s offseason program, even after he returns from his trip to Qatar. The trip was for the “Best Buddies” charity and was his stated reason for originally missing the first few days of OTAs. We know now he’ll be skipping out on the entire first phase. This will be the first time in 8 years Tom is missing the program. He last missed it back in 2008, 2009, and 2010, when he lived in LA.

It sounds like there are 2 big reasons he’ll be missing the entirety of the first phase of OTAs. The first is Tom wants to spend more time with his family. We all saw in Tom vs. Time, that his family is an extremely important priority. He seemed pretty beat up in the final episode and Giselle said, “He just wants to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun”. If you’re connecting the dots, this would seem to correlate with a lot of reports over the last few months indicating that Tom felt underappreciated by Bill and is feeling worn out by him.

The second reason is that this phase of OTAs is led by the strength and conditioning coaches. Tom will instead workout with none other than his own trainer Alex Guerrero. Everyone knows by now that Guerrero has been the source of the Belichick and Brady tension.

It’s not exactly comforting to know that the team’s two best and most important players are going to miss out on the first round of the teams off-season program. I really wonder if Jimmy G was still around, would Tom skip any time? It’s something to ponder… my gut tells me no way. It’s evident that Tom felt threatened by Jimmy G.

The other eye-opening statement in the report from ESPN was the following quote from Jeff Darlington… “I would call it unlikely, at this point, that he is a part of any of the voluntary programs this offseason,” the reporter said Monday. “How far he extends that is a major question, one that I don’t know that even Brady has the answer to.” Some people think he’s implying that Tom won’t be joining the Pats in May and June for the later phases in OTAs. I don’t want to read too much into the statement because I’m not sure Darlington truly knew how that came off to people. If Brady skips out on phase 2 or 3, which are on-field workouts, it’ll be a major red flag with respect to the Brady vs. Bill relationship.

Last month, Gotham Chopra the director of Tom vs. Time, who spent a great deal of time with Tom over the last year, went on record saying the following about Tom…  “This idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons … I mean, this is just me, the guy who’s been around him for a while now. I just have a hard time envisioning that,” Chopra said. “But we’ll see. I do think that these next few weeks and months are a critical time for him.”

Tom has gone on record multiple times over the last 2 years saying he’ll play into his mid 40’s… and maybe even as much as 10 years. If Tom does indeed retire in the next year or so it makes you wonder why he was so adamant about playing for several more years. As a Patriots fan you have to hope that Tom has been transparent as well with Kraft and Bill, telling them how much longer he really has left, so they can continue to plan for the future.

Unfortunately I don’t think the drama in the Patriots offseason is over yet. I’m sure we’ll hear more stories and reports in the coming weeks/months. The bottom line is that the Patriots will need their 2 best players to get on the same page as Bill Belichick, sooner rather than later, so they can finally begin to put all this drama behind them.

 

2018 Masters Preview

The best sports week of the year is finally here. It’s Masters week and I couldn’t be more excited. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning throughout this entire week. Don’t bother trying to reach me between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, unless it’s about the tournament. Per usual, I took off Friday at work to watch all day. That really is “a tradition like no other” for myself.

What makes the Masters so great you may ask? It’s the beautiful course viewed through your HD TV, the birds chirping in the distance, the non-stop coverage on the Masters website through their exceptional shot tracker, featured group coverage, and the coverage of Amen’s corner. It’s the tradition of legends Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer (R.I.P. King) showing up every single year to hit the ceremonial opening tee shot. It’s the memories Tiger Woods has created over the years and the thought of him finally getting a chance to add a new one this week. The list goes on and on.

Let’s talk a little about how golfers succeed at Augusta National. First things first, experience plays a major role at Augusta.  This is true more than any other course/ tournament on the PGA Tour. The last time a first-timer won at the Masters was 1979. It’s only been done 3 times in history. Take note of this when picking guys on your betting list, Masters pools, and DraftKings teams this week.

We constantly see the same names, with years of experience, show up near the top of the leaderboard every year. The Jordan Spieth’s, Tiger Woods’, Paul Casey’s and Bubba Watson’s of the world always seem to play well at Augusta National, due to their knowledge of the track over the years.

Beyond experience, driving distance and Par 5 scoring play a huge factor. This course has four Par 5’s and that’s where you can make a lot of your hay in trying to score. When you look back at some of the winners/guys near the top of the leaderboard over the years, many of them are long hitters. Bubba Watson (who led the field in driving distance when he won back in 2014), Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods, etc. These are some of the longer hitters on tour and all finished around the top 15 in Par 5 scoring in their victories.

The rough off the fairways is short compared to other courses on tour. This helps play in the bombers favor. As long as you’re not wild and hitting your drives into the woods on every tee shot, missing fairways usually aren’t too costly.

Now I’m not saying average to shorter hitters can’t win here. It’s happened over the years (i.e. Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Danny Willet.) All 3 of them have characteristics that help make up for their lack of distance off the tee. They’re phenomenal iron players (Willet was when he won but is trash now), putters, and excel in their short game around the greens. If you’re a strong iron player, this usually means you’re hitting greens in regulation, which means you’re giving yourself birdie looks on the greens instead of trying to scramble around the difficult Augusta greens.

Let’s dig into the field. There are 76 players in the field. The top 50 and ties, along with anyone who’s within 10 shots of the leader will make the cut and play through the weekend. Here’s a list of all 87 players and how they qualified. http://golfweek.com/2018/03/26/2018-masters-field-list-and-how-each-player-qualified/

I’m going to do an in-depth analysis on Tiger, then I’ll give you a quick hit on all the top guns after that. Here we are in 2018 and on most betting websites Tiger Woods is once again the favorite to don the green jacket come Sunday at Augusta National. It would be an absolutely incredible story…it gives me the goosebumps just imagining him winning as I sit here and type this out.

With that said, there’s one huge reason why I won’t be backing Tiger’s betting odds or DraftKings price of $10k this week. Tiger’s success this season has for the large part been at tighter golf courses, that don’t demand you to hit driver off the tee and allow you to club down with a fairway metal or iron. This won’t be the case at Augusta. You’ll pretty much need to pull out driver on every Par 4 or Par 5. The driver has been Tiger’s downfall in his return. He ranks 149th out of 214 golfers in Strokes Gained Off the Tee on tour, which essentially is a statistic displaying how you hit the ball off the tee compared to the rest of the golfers. If Tiger is wayward with his driver this week, and hitting it into the woods forcing himself to constantly scramble around Augusta, then he will have little to no chance to win. I’m not saying I don’t think he can win and fix his driver problem, but I think it’s a lot to combine that along with the pressure of competing at a major on the back 9 on a Sunday. We haven’t seen Tiger do it for almost 10 years and I’m not sure he’s to that point yet.

Let’s talk about the rest of the top tier of the field…

  • Dustin Johnson 10-1 – A forgotten man over the last few months. DJ came into the Masters as the betting favorite last year and then had an incident where he fell down a flight of stairs (nobody believes that’s what actually happened) and had to withdraw before the tournament. Now DJ is not getting a lot of hype going into Thursday but I wouldn’t sleep on him. He’s the longest hitter on tour, ranking #1 in Strokes Gained off the Tee and is quietly having the best putting season of his career. Mix that with the fact that he finished T4 in 2016 and T6 in 2015 at Augusta, I for one am not sleeping on DJ.
  • Justin Thomas 10-1  – The hottest golfer on the tour the last 6-9 months, Justin Thomas is a popular name to win heading into the tournament. Thomas has a few starts at Augusta with his best finish being T22 last year. I think it’s safe to say he’s a much better player today than a year ago. With that said, I have a weird feeling he may not be mentally tough enough to take down a green jacket yet. I could be eating those words big time come Sunday.
  • Rory McIlroy 10-1  – I’m one of those people who just can’t quit Rory. Up until his win at the Arnold Palmer a few weeks ago, Rory had been hot garbage this year… in large part due to his dismal putting. He got some tips prior to the Arnold Palmer from former pro Brad Faxon, one of the best putters the tour has ever seen. Rory went on to have the best putting performance of his career. We know he has the distance, and short game (22nd on tour in scrambling) to pick up the career Grand Slam and finally win the Masters. If he continues his hot putting he could be the one receiving a green jacket from Sergio come Sunday night.
  • Justin Rose 12-1 – I listened to a Masters preview podcast the other day. They asked about 25 people who their pick to win was. About half of them said Justin Rose. Rose is confident too, saying earlier this week, “I’m where I want to be, knowing I’m going in as one of the favorites and it’s my time really to do it.” Rose has come SO close at Augusta over the years. Take a look at his results below…

Justin Rose Masters

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On top of his fantastic past form at the Masters, Rose is coming in to the event in amazing form over the last several months. It would be pretty surprising if he isn’t in the running to win come Sunday afternoon.

  • Jordan Spieth 12-1 – The golden boy Jordan Spieth. How could we ever forget his improbable win as a 21 year old at Augusta back in 2015…or his stunning collapse the next year in which he threw away another green jacket. I was on record saying Spieth would rid all of his demons from the collapse and win last year. He gave himself a chance but had a very stagnant Sunday. Now here we are again. Spieth hasn’t won on tour this year, unlike years past, but his game is in a weird place right now. Statistically speaking he’s basically been the best golfer on tour in Strokes Gained Tee to Green the last several months. At the same time he’s been absolutely atrocious putting this year which is insane considering putting is his forte. If he putts well this week I think Spieth will win. That’s a big IF right now though. This past weekend at the Houston Open, Spieth was once again #1 in the field in SG Tee to Green… but 109th in SG putting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y93wiRllAD0

  • Bubba Watson 14-1 – Well Bubba is back! It was just a few months ago you could bet Bubba 50 or 60 to 1 on many websites. Fast forward a few months later and he’s won 2 events this season and is one of the favorites to win. Bubba always has to be taken seriously at Augusta due to his course history (former 2 time winner), length off the tee, and ability to shape shots around a course that requires some imagination in hitting approach shots. Obviously Bubba needs to be taken as a threat to win and I think we’ll know by the end of Thursday whether he has a real shot to compete. If he gets out to a solid start, then Bubba will be in what us golf fans call “his happy place”… but if he struggles and gets out to a slow start, Bubba has never really been known to grind and fight back.
  • Phil Mickelson 16-1 – What an unbelievable world we live in to see Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson both come into The Masters as favorites to win after all these years. We all know Phil has a great track record at Augusta with 3 Green Jackets, but I can’t see him winning it this year. Yes – he won at WGC Mexico last month, a tournament with many of the best golfers in the world, but this was Phil’s first win since 2013. I just can’t picture him out-dueling the young guns and winning 2 times in a month’s span.
  • Jason Day 16-1 – It wasn’t that long ago that Jason Day was the #1 golfer in the world. He had a down 2017 season due to some off the course issues with his family. He has looked better in 2018 and already won the Farmer’s Insurance Open. Here’s my issue with Jason Day this week/this year. He has been carried by an extremely hot putter. He ranks #1 in Strokes Gained Putting. On the other hand he ranks 185th on tour in Strokes Gained Approach to the Green and has had 5 consecutive tournaments in which he’s lost strokes in this category. This is a good indicator that he’s not hitting his irons well and while he’s a superb player around the greens, it just seems like too much needs to go right for him to have a chance to win this week.
  • Rickie Fowler 18-1 – For the first time in a few years Rickie actually comes into the Masters a little under the radar and not feeling as much pressure as years past. This is in large part due to Tiger’s return and the other top end golfers winning this year. With that said, it’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Rickie. He doesn’t have a top 10 since January and has had a few “blow-up” Saturdays and Sundays to play himself out of contention. It’s hard for me to imagine he’s finally going to put it all together and deal with the pressure of a back 9 at Augusta. After all Rickie has never won a major.w
  • Jon Rahm 18-1 – Rahm is similar to Jason Day. He has a win under his belt but has struggled with his irons for most of the year. He’s ranked 137th in SG Approach and has been a very strong putter throughout the season. The reason I have some optimism for Rahm is he is so dynamic off the tee… ranking second in SG Off the Tee. He is one of the best drivers of the golf ball on tour and could feast on these Par 5’s throughout the week. Rahm is similar to Bubba in the way he wears his emotions on his sleeve. If he starts slow it could spell trouble (see his 2017 US Open), but if he starts out fast, I see him competing on the back 9 on Sunday.
  • Sergio Garcia 25-1 – I can’t recall any golfer going from such a villain to beloved by golf fans like Sergio has. People used to hate him when Tiger was in his prime. Now after finding love in his life and winning the Masters, who doesn’t like Sergio!? He recently had his first child and named her Azalea after the beautiful flowers all around Augusta National and name of the 13th hole on the course. The guy even wore his green jacket in his wedding dance last July which is absolute swag! He’s one of the best ball-strikers on tour from tee to green and has clearly shown he can now win at Augusta. I bet a lot of people think he’ll be content after last years win and won’t compete, but I actually have high hopes for Sergio this year. I’m not sure I would bet on him to win, but at only $8.6k on DraftKings he makes for a great play.
  • Paul Casey 25-1 – Another guy who has a pristine track record at Augusta, finishing T6, T4, and 6th the last 3 years. He’s also of the Sergio mold as one of the best ball-strikes on tour. Casey ranks second on the tour in SG Tee to Green. I can’t look past the fact that Casey has won 1 time (a few weeks ago at Valspar) over the last several years. He’s also never won a major, but if Sergio could do it last year… maybe it’s Casey’s turn this year?

Now for my list of sleepers:

Hideki Matsuyama 35-1: One of my favorite golfers on tour. People who know me well may remember back in 2015 when I attended TPC Boston, I was following Hideki around just yelling “Hidekiiiiii” anytime he’d walk by me. He gave me a puzzled look like why is this random American fan cheering for me… little did he know I’m just a huge fan of his game! This was back when he was far less known by golf fans. Hideki has had a slow start to 2018. Part of this was due to a wrist injury he developed back in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He returned a few weeks ago and while he didn’t have any top finishes in his 2 starts, he’s looked healthy. Hideki’s last 3 finishes at Augusta are T11, 7th, and 5th. His biggest downfall this year has been his off the tee game as he’s currently ranked 133rd on tour in SG Off the Tee.  This is a far cry from his 26th ranking last year. Other then that, all his strengths remain between his exceptional short game and strong iron play. Hideki has long been known for his strong game off the tee and I expect him to find it this week. I’m projecting a top 5 finish for Hideki and will have an outright bet on him to win.  Let’s not forget this is still the 6th ranked golfer in the world. 

Alex Noren 40-1/Tyrell Hatton 55-1: I’m grouping these 2 guys together since they both primarily play on the European Tour (although Noren has played in the US a lot more this year). They’re both of the same mold. Great Tee-to-Green game and can putt lights out if their putters get hot. I expect to see both of these names on the European Ryder Cup team come September. Both made their first appearance at Augusta last year, and missed the cut. Now with a year of experience on the course and good current form, they are worth keeping an very close eye on.

Adam Scott 55-1: A former green jacket winner, Scott has underwhelmed over the last year or so. Scott won the green jacket back in 2013 with an anchored putter (long putter), they have since prohibited these on the tour and Scott’s putting is the source of his downfall over the last year. It is EXTREMELY painful to watch him putt sometimes. I truthfully think I’m better than him standing over a 5 foot putt. Still I look at guys like Rory and Paul Casey who have had their own problems putting, and both found a way to catch a hot putter and win this year. Scott has the length off the tee, ball-striking skills, and is a former winner… if he somehow gets a hot putter this week, then watch out.

Gary Woodland 125-1: Woodland has missed his last 2 cuts at Augusta and never finished better than 22nd at a major. On the reverse side, he’s playing the best golf of his career, winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open back in February, and his best major finish (22nd) came back in August in his last major, the PGA Championship. I do worry about his around the green play, as he’s 167th on tour in Stroke Gained Around the Green. Still all the other aspects of his game are checking out as good-to-great between his driving, putting, and iron play. He’s one of the longer hitters on tour and could do damage on the Par 5’s. At the very least he’s worth some good exposure on DraftKings at a price of $7,200.

My prediction to win the Green Jacket is…

Rory

Photo Credit: USA Totday

Winner: Rory McIlroy

Rory has 4 straight top 10’s at Augusta. Some people would say “he never was truly in contention” but top 10’s at The Masters are nothing to scoff at. I think he really found something in his putting a few weeks ago at The Arnold Palmer Invitational. If he can just have a solid to good putting week, there’s no reason he won’t be in the running come Sunday afternoon. On top of that, if I had to pick one guy to step up and make a birdie at a Par 5 on the tour I’m picking Rory or Dustin Johnson.  Rory will use his distance off the tee to his advantage and feast on the four Par 5’s. Although he hasn’t won a major since 2014, we’ve seen him close on the back 9 at a major before. The only major Rory hasn’t won is The Masters and I think that’s added motivation this week. Rory will be the one to receive the green jacket from Sergio come Sunday night and finally complete the Career Grand Slam in winning all 4 majors!

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?

Image result for jackie bradley jr and xander bogaerts

Photo Credit: Boston.com

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?

DeversHR

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…

Buystock!

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 cbssports.com 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!