It’s Tanking SZN!

With the All-Star break in the rearview, it’s time for every NBA diehard’s favorite time of the year. While the rest of the plebes closely monitor the race for better playoff seeding, the real basketball nerds get to geek out over how great the NBA’s worst teams are at losing games. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s tanking SZN! This is one of the tightest races to the bottom we’ve ever had, as the bottom eight teams in the league are separated by a mere two and a half games. Here’s the breakdown of how all eight are fighting for those ever-so important ping-pong balls.

Chicago Bulls (20-41): The Bulls have merely scratched the surface of their tanking potential. Despite being an actual NBA team, they only have like six actual NBA players on the active roster. Going to the bench early and often will keep them out of striking distance in most games. Chicago has three key matchups over the next couple weeks, with two games against Memphis and one against Atlanta. Losing all three will solidify their place in the hunt for the first pick.

Brooklyn Nets (20-42): Someone should tell the Nets that they don’t even have their first round pick in the upcoming draft, because with the way they’re tanking Cleveland is going to end up in the top-5. Brooklyn has lost nine of their last ten, with the only win coming against the aforementioned Bulls. The only upside I can see to being this bad without a pick is so they can deter free agents from coming in the offseason and tank again next year?

Dallas Mavericks (19-42): The Mavericks were losing at a remarkable rate until Mark Cuban broke the first rule of tanking: don’t talk about tanking. They were forced to beat the playoff bound Indiana Pacers to appease Adam Silver, and every game counts when the stakes are this high.

Memphis Grizzlies (18-41): Memphis is one of the hottest teams in basketball, as they have lost their last ten games in a row and have yet to win a game in the month of February. Plus, they were able to lose four of those games by single digits, keeping the commissioner’s office off the scent. If they keep playing like this, the Grizzlies will have as good a chance as any at securing a top-three pick.

Orlando Magic (18-42): The Magic have done a phenomenal job assembling a group of players that all deserve to be in the league without adding any that would actually help them win games. They should really consider a coaching change, as Frank Vogel has this group winning far more often than they should (which is never). I’m sure Byron Scott or another tank friendly replacement is available.

Atlanta Hawks (18-43): Just three short years ago, four Atlanta Hawks were selected to the All-Star team. Now, all four are gone and the best thing you can say about this team is that John Collins III can clearly dunk at the NBA level. Life comes at you fast. The Hawks have taken it in stride though, and have somehow tanked their way to last place in the East, no small feat. It’s their race to lose and they certainly have the talent (or lack thereof) to get it done.

Sacramento Kings (18-43): Vivek Ranadive is my favorite owner in the NBA, because his very ideas about basketball are tanking. The guy traded DeMarcus Cousins, a four time all-star and the best center in the league, for Buddy Hield, a couple picks, 74 cents in pennies and nickels, and a half eaten bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. His reasoning? “Buddy has Steph Curry potential.” Holy crap. I want Ranadive to become the GM and coach too just to see what insanity the man comes up with next. Their leading scorer is thirty-six year old Zach Randolph, who’s averaging a whopping 14.9 PPG, and they play Vince Carter SEVENTEEN MINUTES A GAME. HE’S FORTY-ONE YEARS OLD. In other words, the Kings are tanking just fine and look primed to draft another young star to put next to De’Aaron Fox. That is, unless Ranadive decides Grayson Allen is the second coming of Jerry West.

Phoenix Suns (18-44): The owners of the NBA’s worst record are almost unfathomably bad. The Suns have lost ten straight, peaking with a forty-six point loss to Golden State while the PLAYERS COACHED THE TEAM. The sheer incompetence of his teammates has left Devin Booker looking like a looter in a riot. It really seems like Phoenix had a meeting to implement their tanking strategy and forget to invite Booker. This team has the potential to lose every game remaining on their schedule, and they probably should, as it would secure the highest odds to get the number one pick.

Honorable Mention

New York Knicks (24-38): Since losing Kristaps Porzingis to injury on February 6th, the Knicks are 0-7 and appear to have entered full tank mode. They’ve got some catching up to do, but key matchups against the Kings, Mavericks, and Bulls in March will give them a chance to get back in the hunt.

Draft Overview: Denver Broncos

After a 5-11 2017 season filled with terrible quarterback play, the Denver Broncos hold the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Coach Vance Joseph was thought to be on the hot seat, but general manager John Elway is keeping him around for at least another year.

Joseph is a defensive-minded coach, but he should probably turn his scouting focus (at least in the first round) to quarterback.

Denver started three different quarterbacks last season. Trevor Siemian was the only one of those to win a game. He went 5-5 as a starter, throwing for 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Elway was said to be impressed by Wyoming’s Josh Allen at the Senior Bowl, but there are many questions surrounding him.

Allen had average, at best, senior season. He threw for 16 touchdowns, which was significantly less than the 28 he tossed in 2016. Not only did he drop off statistically, he only brought home Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors. A quarterback slated as a top ten NFL Draft pick shouldn’t be the third best quarterback in that conference.

Allen does have a lot of qualities, and with some time to develop, could turn into a reliable NFL starter. But who will he learn from? Definitely not Trevor Siemian.

Von Miller said earlier this offseason that he had spoken to free agent Kirk Cousins about coming to Denver, but that was before the Jets said they would shell out a lot for Cousins. Unless the Broncos can match that, they might want to start looking elsewhere for a veteran.

Journeyman Case Keenum is coming off of a career year, in which he led the Vikings to a 13-3 record and an NFC Championship appearance. He’s expected to hit the open market next month. Keenum is the perfect short-term, veteran guy to mentor Allen for a year or two.

If Keenum ends up being awful, the Broncos can toss Allen in, but the approach makes sense as they could potentially set themselves up to win now and in the future.

Anatomy of a Dynasty

A dynasty can simply be described as a team or individual that dominates their sport for an extended period of time.

In the beginning stages of a dynasty, it is hard to see if a team may become something better than just the average, but there are teams currently in basketball who have become dynasties.

At the beginning of the college basketball season it always seems you know the teams that will be good; Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina are always ranked in college basketball preseason polls. How do teams each year compile a star roster, that wins games, and reaches the national championship game season after season? The simple answer is recruiting.

Creating and displaying the fact that your team can win games is enough for a recruit to picture himself at center court holding up the trophy in March.

Confetti only rains down on one champion and everyone wants to be part of that team. The key? You’re a team, compiled of many players with various skill sets all working together to win each game.

How do you become that team? These four schools have the answer.

Kansas

Last Saturday, Kansas proved its dominate track by securing at least a share of the Big 12 title. With Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia last night, Kansas once again will be the lone Big 12 regular season champion, a title they are used to. The Jayhawks have won their league 14 years in a row, setting a new NCAA record.

Kansas always has strong guard play from a shorter than average guy who runs the team, as well as a strong inside presence. This year those two spots are filled by Graham and Azubuike.

The Jayhawks are currently a projected number one seed and have a real chance to win the tournament this year, if they fit all the pieces together come March.

Duke

Coach K can do many things well, but his top skill is recruiting. Duke has the number one, two and three recruits coming to their court next season.

At the beginning of the season Duke’s hope of remaining a top contender in the ACC was starting to slip away, just like many other teams on this list. By the time conference play was upon them the Blue Devils had come to play.

Duke is a team full of one-and-done players, those who play to their fullest potential in college for one season before moving onto the draft. This style of play would normally not work for a basketball team, unless you became such a contender in the national championship game each season top recruits dream of playing on your team. That is exactly what has happened at Duke. Call it reputation but Duke has secured themselves as a dynasty. If you’re a big-time player, you want to have an offer to play at Duke, and that is exactly what Duke wants you to think or else their game plan would fail.

Kentucky

You love to hate Kentucky for many reasons but a main one is the platoon style play. First coined and used effectively by coach Calipari, the Wildcats implement a style of play that is hard to prepare for and makes matchups difficult.

It is called platoon style, a simple yet difficult way to play basketball. Other teams in the NCAA have developed their own version of platoon play on a smaller scale but none compare to Kentucky. Platoon play is players are divided into two “platoons” these platoons are made up of five players who play each of the five positions and work well with each other. When the first platoon is tired the second will come in. A group of five completely different players all fully rested coming off the bench to supply a spark for the team.

The platoon style makes Kentucky a tough team to game plan for because you are taking on ten players that alternate at position. To perfectly execute this style of play you must have skilled players and a determination to win.

North Carolina

One of the common things all of these teams have, besides being a dynasty, is their coaches have seen it all, and Roy Williams is no exception. Leaving his post at Kansas to join the Tar heels left a hole in many Kansas fans hearts, later to be filled by current coach Bill Self, Williams has experience coaching winning teams.

His style of play is similar to that of Kansas with talented guards and a quality rebounding team. Second chance baskets can help any good team be great.

North Carolina this season looks to do what they did last year, bring home the trophy. This year that path is more tangled with many talented teams this year it is hard to predict who will win.

Any of these dynasty teams are a safe bet to bring home the trophy this year.

The #LakeShow is Back

The Lakers aren’t good, nor have they been good since injuries preemptively ended Kobe Bryant’s prime. While being 11th in the West and seven games back of the eight seed isn’t  exactly showing promise, the Lakers youth movement is growing up. Luke Walton’s ball movement offense isn’t prone to producing great individual nights, all the talent Magic Johnson has assembled is finally coming into its own. Brandon Ingram looks like a future 25-a-game scorer, though the twenty year old still has a lot of work to do in the weight room. With his incredible length, surprising burst, and a butter jump shot, Ingram has all the tools to be a perennial all-star. With Lonzo Ball out, Ingram moved to point guard and proved to be an excellent passer, as capable of initiating offense for the team as creating it for himself.

Speaking of Ball, despite all the buzz created by his dad and the hullabaloo around his unconventional shot, the rookie is quietly living up to expectations. Rookie point guards don’t just struggle in the NBA, they suffer. Night after night of being tortured by stars at the league’s deepest position is enough to shake anyone’s confidence, let alone a nineteen year old. Countless lottery picks have shattered under the pressure of being forced to run the show against insurmountable odds. Ball, though he’s had his fair share of struggles, has shown flashes of the all-star potential that caused him to be drafted second overall. He has the pure speed and athleticism to match up with any guard in the league, and his vision and passing is uncanny. He even rebounds terrifically for his position. Despite being put under the microscope the second he checked into his first game, Ball has played exceptionally well for a rookie guard. The biggest knock on Lonzo since day one has been his funky jumper. However, it would be smart to remember that nearly every rookie struggles adjusting their shot to the NBA level. Close-outs are much faster and by longer players than in college. What was an open shot less than a year ago for most rookies is now heavily contested. Plus, the three point line is flat out farther away. For example, the aforementioned Ingram shot just 29% from three as a rookie, which is actually two percent worse than Ball shoots right now. Nobody is asking Brandon Ingram to retool his jumper, because just one year later, he’s shooting 38% from beyond the arc. Instead of demanding Ball conform to a more traditional jump shot, let’s let him get comfortable playing NBA basketball first.

While Ball and Ingram get most of the spotlight as the future of the franchise, the Lakers also have a few other promising young pieces. Kyle Kuzma has proven to be the steal of the draft. Long, athletic, three-point shooting forwards have become the trend of the league, and Kuzma is all of those things. He’ll be a valuable starter at either forward spot for a long time in this league. Josh Hart, overlooked for his lack of NBA measurables, has proven to be a nice guard option off the bench, capable of knocking down open shots and driving to the rim when a lane presents itself.

Then, there’s Julius Randle, a complete enigma in the modern NBA. On one hand, he’s an undersized big that can’t protect the rim or stretch the floor. On the other hand, he’s a walking bucket with great vision, handle, strength, and athleticism. He’s shooting a whopping 56% from the field this season. To put that in perspective, LeBron’s career high shooting percentage is 54%. Randle is unstoppable going to the basket, and he uses his strength to push weaker bigs around on the boards, as shown by his three straight double-doubles the past three games. He’s too quick for fours and fives and too strong for threes. However, he’s utterly useless off the ball on offense, making it hard to use him properly. You almost have to force feed him the rock just to make it worth having him on the court, which is an issue in the movement heavy Walton offense. I see his ideal role as a sixth-man, able to completely take over against weaker reserve lineups and still able to get you a bucket when he’s mixed in with the starters. The Lakers definitely need more shooters around him though, which is a problem on a team with so much youth. He’s been involved in several trade talks, but his obvious talent for putting the ball in the basket makes him worth keeping around.

Lonzo-Ball-Kyle-Kuzma-Brandon-Ingram

The Lakers young stars are incredibly fun to watch, and this team has a very bright future, even if they don’t land Paul George (or LeBron) in free agency. The only thing keeping LAL from being the best league pass team is the veterans. I have basically no use for Brook Lopez or Isaiah Thomas on this team. IT is dominating the ball every chance he gets, still chasing the max deal that no one is ever going to give him. Every pick and roll or iso he calls for is a wasted opportunity to give Ball and Ingram much needed experience. I really enjoyed watching Thomas play in Boston, and it’s hard to believe he could go from scoring 28 a game to essentially an expiring contract in just one year, but honestly I think it would be best for the Lakers if he showed up to the rest of the games in a suit. Don’t even get me started on Brook Lopez. The only things more painful than watching Brook Lopez play basketball are giving birth and breaking your femur. Honestly, given the choice, I might do either one of those things rather than watch Brook freaking Lopez use the entire shot clock on a two dribble drive to the basket. Brook Lopez runs like the middle school band kids. How do you even make it to the NBA if you’re flat footed? The most irritating part about this is that somehow, someway, Brook Lopez has the best plus/minus on the Lakers. I already can’t wait until next season when he’s ruining the watchability of someone else’s favorite team. Seriously how do you run like you’re one fall away from spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair when you’re only 29?!?

The Lakers have finally turned it around from the dark, dark days of the Byron Scott era. Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson have done an excellent job of managing the salary cap and already have one great draft under their belt. While the Lakers don’t have their 2018 pick, LA is a booming free agent destination, and they have the cap room to add multiple all-stars either this or next offseason. In a perfect world, Los Angeles would sit on their cap space for a year, allowing Ingram and Ball to develop and getting a decent pick in the Zion Williamson lottery that is the 2019 draft. While the “win now” mentality permeates the franchise, I’m hoping wiser minds will see the value in being patient (and getting a shot at Zion. Have you seen that kid dunk?!?). Until then, I finally have a fun team to watch again, and here’s to the Clippers being irrelevant for another forty years!

The First Line Feb. 18-25

Another week, another bunch of great performances by players all around the league, but only three can make the first line. Here are three forwards that had goalies and defenders alike reaching to get the puck from the back of the net.

Left Wing: Vikor Arvidsson- Nashville Preditors

Narrowly beating out Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals with his +/- rating of 3 (Ovechkin has a -1), Arvidsson is on his way to another career year.

After setting a high in goals (31) and assists (30), Arvidsson has not skipped a beat and is leading the defending Western Conference champions in goals (22). He also has not forgotten his teammates ranking fifth on the Preds with 20 helpers.

This past week was no different for the winger who picked up five points on four goals and one assists. Fresh of a 7 year, $29.75 million dollar extension signed in July of 2017, Arvidsson is certainly earning his money.

Center: Claude Giroux- Philadelphia Flyers

It hasn’t just been a great week for the Flyer captian, it has been a great year as he is 13 assists and 19 points away from matching career highs in those categories.

Giroux is also in the Hart Trophy conversation, as he is fourth in the league when it comes to assists (52) and points (74).

He, along with the rest of his Flyer teammates, have put together one of the most successful seasons in recent memory as Philly is six wins shy of surpassing their total from last year.

Over the past week, Giroux has really stepped up his play tallying eight points on three goals and five assists with a +/- of six.

Right Wing: Blake Wheeler- Winnipeg Jets

Since relocating from Atlanta, the Jets have had a tough go of things only making the playoffs once in the 2014-15 season where they were promptly swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

However, Wheeler and the rest of his Jets teammates are doing their best to change that trend this year. The right winger has set a new career high in assists (54) and is seven points away from setting a new high there as well.

He ranks sixth in the league with 72 points and is two assists away from leading the league in that category.

Like Giroux, Wheeler has placed himself into the Hart Trophy conversation and they were the only players to score eight points from week of Feb. 18 to Feb. 25.

NHL Trade Deadline recap

There were a lot of moving pieces ahead of, and up until the trade deadline today, and sometimes it is not easy to sort out what was important and what doesn’t really matter with so many moves in such a short time.

This is a list of the five biggest trades that took place on the trading deadline.

Number Five: Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets

For the Jets, this trade means that they are going all in.

The Jets gave up two picks and a player just to have Stastny on their team for the next month and a half (plus however far the Jets go in the playoffs), so it is clear that Winnipeg thinks they can win the cup.

That is not to say this move is a mistake, Winnipeg is only three points behind Vegas for the top spot in the West, and is tied with Toronto for the fourth most points in the league.

This move makes the Jets a legitimate threat to reach, and maybe even win the cup, especially if Stastny is sniping like this.

For Saint Louis this moves seems to have a couple of layers. At first glace this is a move of a team who is about to tear it all down. Trading away a good player as his deal is set to expire to acquire some future picks is an earmark of teams getting ready to tank.

Yet maybe that is not what the Blues are thinking. When trading Stastny they received a first round pick in 2018, a fourth round pick in 2020 and Erik Foley who could be a key piece in the future of the Blues.

The Blues might have just wanted to reload quickly for the near future and moving Stastny (a player who might have just left after this year anyway) was a great way to do it.

 

Number Four: Erik Karlsson to No one

One of the biggest non moves this trade deadline day was that Karlsson stayed put on a Senators team which is the second worst in the Eastern Conference and the third worst in the NHL.

While the Senators still have another year to deal Karlsson, the fact that no team was able to put together an offer that impressed the Senators says a lot about the price on the defender.

Karlsson could have done a lot for a team in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race but his modified no trade clause might have been a roadblock in the Senators ability to make a deal.

Unless there is a drastic turnaround for Ottawa, Karlsson will be on the trading block again next year and will probably be moved at it is the last year of his contract.

Number Three: Tomas Tatar to Vegas Golden Knights

Tatar has been a productive forward for the Red Wings over his seven years with the Red Wings, averaging 32 points per year. He also has not dipped below 40 points since 2013-14, his first season of extended playing time for the Wings.

Tatar is also a GM’s dream as he is only 27 years old and is under team control until 2021 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

This all added up to a blockbuster deal where Tatar was dealt to the Golden Knights as the NHL’s newest franchise looked to improve their squad before heading into a cup run as well as one up the Jets in their move for Stastny.

Tatar makes the Knights even better and puts them in the conversation for Cup favorite heading into the playoffs, however it cost them a lot down the road.

More the Knights had to give up a first (2018), second (2019) and third (2021) round pick to land the forward and make the deal worthwhile for the Red Wings.

While it is never a good idea to give up young controllable talent like Tatar, it made sense for the Red Wings who will be hitting the height of their rebuild, right when Tatar hits the peak of his career.

These picks will allow the Red Wings to add some great talent into their rebuild and help launch the team’s next dynasty.

Number Two: Evander Kane to San Jose Sharks

With Kane in the final year of his contract, and the Sabers nowhere near a playoff spot, Buffalo knew that they had to get rid of Kane now or be forced to watch him walk in free agency.

The Sharks, knew this was Buffalo’s situation and used it as leverage to land Kane for what might wind up being a bargain.

As far as picks are concerned, the Sharks only had to give up a conditional first (2019) round pick and a conditional fourth (2019) round pick.

The Sabers will get the Shark’s 2019 first round pick if Kane resigns with the Sharks, which according to Sportsnet’s On Point podcast, he has not discussed doing.

For the fourth round pick, the Sharks have an option to push it back one year (to the 2020 draft) but if San Jose elects to do that it will become a third round pick.

The Sharks will also give up 24 year old forward Daniel O’Regan, who was name the AHL rookie of the year in the 2016-17 season.

This trade gives the Sharks a boost in their hunt for a playoff spot in the West as they currently sit in fifth place, 11 points back of the Golden Knights.

For the Sabers, it allows to club who last qualified for the playoffs during the 2010-2011 season to continue their rebuilding process.

Number One: Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning

The Rangers appear to be in full rebuild mode as they continue to dismantle their team (other than Henrik Lundqvist) and acquire young players and draft picks.

The Rangers gave up McDonagh, and 24 year old center J.T. Miller.

Tampa Bay gave up a 2018 first round pick, a conditional 2019 second round pick (it becomes a first round pick if Tampa wins the Cup in 2018 or 2019),  center Vladislav Namestnikov, and two prospects. Defenseman Libor Hajek and center Brett Howden.

This is perhaps one of the boldest trades made today as the Lightning gave up a lot for a chance to win now.

If the Lightning are unable to bring home a Stanley Cup over the next three or four years it will be clear that the Rangers won this deal based on the sheer amount of prospects, players and picks they gained from this transaction.

However just one Cup for the Florida based franchise would be enough to validate the loss of picks and prospects given up.

For the Rangers they have flung themselves into a full rebuild, with four first round picks in 2018 New York is primed for a few bad seasons, followed by another run of playoff appearances.

 

 

 

 

 

The Zaza conundrum

Zaza Pachulia is a dirty player. He’s not clumsy and he’s not dumb. He knew exactly what he was doing when he fell on Russell Westbrook.

Just like he knew exactly what he was doing when he landed under Kawhi Leonard,

or when he punched Iman Shumpert in the groin,

or when he tried to yank Leonard’s arm out of it’s socket,

or the countless other times Zaza has went after the opposition’s best player with the intent to injure.

Zaza’s vile and despicable acts aren’t basketball, they’re something much more heinous. They also harken back to a different time in NBA history, when every roster was equipped with an “enforcer” and any smaller player who dared travel through the lane should expect swift and severe punishment in the form of a forearm to the jaw. And that’s the problem with a player like Pachulia. His actions would’ve fit in perfectly in the 80s or 90s, when he would’ve been able to deliver career altering injuries with aplomb. Instead, players like Pachulia are viewed today in a much different light, a light that speaks to the evolution of the NBA, and our romanticizing of the past.

Objectively the NBA is in a better place today than it has ever been in it’s history. The league is more popular than ever, interest is growing among key demographics, and the talent pool is as deep as we’ve ever seen it. The evolution of basketball strategy has done wonders for the aesthetic portion of the game. Better athletes who are more technically skilled than their predecessors has only allowed the game to grow, and the implementation of the three point shot has led to a more efficient and nuanced brand of basketball. Players are no longer allowed to be truly one dimensional. Even the lowliest of bench warmers today offer unique matchup problems depending on their specific skill sets. With all that being said, players who one might describe as gritty or tough still have a spot in the league today. Players like P.J. Tucker and Jae Crowder have been sought after assets because of their ability to play tough and give their team an edge. What the league should no longer accept are players like Pachulia, who make it a part of their game to try and take the opposing star out of the game.

With all of the research and information that has been developed in the past decade concerning player injury and their long term affects, each league should have a zero tolerance for players intentionally injuring other players. Regardless of the stakes, athletes regardless of the sport have the right to feel safe from malicious attacks. Yet, with news today that the NBA will not punish Pachulia, Adam Silver and the rest of the league office are setting a clear precedent that these sort of actions are still permissible in today’s NBA. While Silver could’ve used this as a teaching moment to the league’s future generations, he instead decided to allow the ugly underbelly of the NBA to flourish. Hopefully, it won’t take an injury to one of the league’s premiere stars for the commissioner’s office to realize the error of their ways.

Sideline Intel Bracketology: Feb. 26

It’s championship week! For a handful of small conferences — and the Big Ten — at least.

Entering the busiest couple of weeks of the college basketball season, there are bound to be surprise teams picking up steam — looking at you, Houston — and others falling off of cliffs.

We already talked about Oklahoma.

But before things get wild, let’s take one more crack at the field of 68 and beyond:

Ed. Note: all-caps denote a current conference leader.

~~~

SOUTH REGIONAL | Atlanta, Ga.

(Charlotte, N.C.)
No. 1 VIRGINIA
No. 16 MONTANA

No. 8 
Alabama
No. 9 Seton Hall

(Boise, Idaho)
No. 5 NEVADA
No. 12 VERMONT

No. 4 Clemson
No. 13 LOYOLA-CHICAGO

(Nashville, Tenn.)
No. 6 Michigan
No. 11 Virginia Tech

No. 3 AUBURN
No. 14 BUCKNELL

(Nashville, Tenn.)
No. 7 Butler
No. 10 MIDDLE TENNESSEE

No. 2 North Carolina
No. 15 CHARLESTON


EAST REGIONAL | Boston, Mass.

(Pittsburgh, Pa.)
No. 1 Villanova
No. 16 FLORIDA GULF COAST / No. 16 BETHUNE-COOKMAN

No. 8 
Florida State
No. 9 Houston

(San Diego, Calif.)
No. 5 GONZAGA
No. 12 USC / No. 12 Baylor

No. 4 Tennessee
No. 13 NEW MEXICO STATE

(Wichita, Kan.)
No. 6 Florida
No. 11 Louisville

No. 3 CINCINNATI
No. 14 NORTHERN KENTUCKY

(Detroit, Mich.)
No. 7 Miami
No. 10 Oklahoma

No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE
No. 15 UC IRVINE


MIDWEST REGIONAL | Omaha, Neb.

(Pittsburgh, Pa.)
No. 1 XAVIER
No. 16 NICHOLLS STATE / No. 16 GRAMBLING

No. 8 
TCU
No. 9 NC State

(Boise, Idaho)
No. 5 West Virginia
No. 12 BUFFALO

No. 4 Ohio State
No. 13 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

(Dallas, Tex.)
No. 6 Texas A&M
No. 11 Kansas State

No. 3 Wichita State
No. 14 UNC GREENSBORO

(Detroit, Mich.)
No. 7 Creighton
No. 10 Arkansas

No. 2 Purdue
No. 15 PENNSYLVANIA


WEST REGIONAL | Los Angeles, Calif.

(Charlotte, N.C.)
No. 1 Duke
No. 16 UNC ASHEVILLE

No. 8 
Saint Mary’s
No. 9 Arizona State

(Dallas, Tex.)
No. 5 RHODE ISLAND
No. 12 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE

No. 4 Texas Tech
No. 13 RIDER

(San Diego, Calif.)
No. 6 Kentucky
No. 11 Texas / No. 11 Providence

No. 3 ARIZONA
No. 14 MURRAY STATE

(Wichita, Kan.)
No. 7 Missouri
No. 10 St. Bonaventure

No. 2 KANSAS
No. 15 WAGNER


Oh, and here’s a look at the bubble:

Last Four Byes
St. Bonaventure
Virginia Tech
Louisville
Kansas State

Last Four In
Providence
Texas
USC
Baylor

First Four Out
Syracuse
Boise State
Washington
Temple

Next Four Out
UCLA
Nebraska
Penn State
Maryland

Four More
Marquette
Western Kentucky
Mississippi State
Georgia

Draft Overview: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans do not have a first or second round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but because they had the fourth-worst record, they are up next on our overview list for the sake of going in order.

The Texans traded Cleveland their first round pick in 2018 for the 12th overall pick last year, which they used to take Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Their second rounder also belongs to the Browns, who acquired the pick in the trade Houston used to take Brock Osweiler off the books.

Unless they trade back up, which is unlikely considering they cannot offer much, the Texans won’t select a player until the 68th overall pick in the third round.

Houston needs an offensive lineman to protect Watson, and they can still draft a reliable one in the third round. Tackles Martinas Rankin (Mississippi St.), Jamarco Jones (Ohio St.)  and Desmond Harrison (West Georgia) could still be available by the time the Texans pick. Of course, there is also the potential that someone else impresses at the Scouting Combine this weekend.

The other big hole for Houston is in the secondary. Safety Ronnie Harrison (Alabama) is a versatile player with good run-stopping ability in the secondary. He’s a safe pick to make and could develop into high-tier safety.

MLB Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

The 2017 Philadelphia Phillies’ season went…just as well as expected. The Fightins ended with a 66-96 record, last in the NL East for the third time in four seasons. After finishing the month of April with a respectable 11-12 record, they went on to drop 22 of their next 28 games. And they never again flirted with being .500.

But there were plenty of bright moments. After prospects like shortstop J.P. Crawford, first baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins, outfielder Nick Williams and catcher Jorge Alfaro came up in the latter part of the season, the Phillies started winning ball games, going 16-13 in the final month (and one day) of the 2017 season.

And now with new, fiery, analytical manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies appear to have turned the corner and can prove in 2018 that the rebuilding era is over. This article will break down the reasons for hope, the reasons for concern and the possible new faces this season.

HOPE

The Phillies’ biggest bright spot on the mound in 2017 was starting pitcher Aaron Nola. The 14-year-old right-hander started 27 games for the Phils going 12-11 (the team’s only starting pitcher with a winning record) and averaging 6.2 innings per outing, the most of the starting staff. He finished with an ERA of 3.54 and 184 total strikeouts.

When Phillies fans struggled through endless opposing offensive onslaughts, they took solace in the fact that every five games there was a great chance for a win. With little improvement expected for the 2018 staff, Nola will have to step up again. But by getting the starting nod for opening day from Gabe Kapler (He started fifth in the rotation to begin the season in 2017), the Phillies have shown their faith in him.

While Nola owned the rubber, 24-year-old Rhys Hoskins was the top story of the season for the Phillies and the biggest storyline in the MLB at the end of the 2017 regular season. After making his debut on Aug. 10, Hoskins hit 18 home runs and had 36 RBI in his first 34 career games, both MLB records. And he set smaller records along the way, becoming the fastest rookie to hit eight, nine and ten home runs — and it took him five games to hit his first.

Hoskins finished with an average of .259, 48 RBI and an OPS of 1.014 in just 50 games. He ended up finishing fourth in votes for the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year award, despite making his debut in the regular season’s penultimate month. The Phillies should not expect these numbers to be sustained for an entire season, but they are hoping for continued success from their rising star

Other call-ups also played well for the 2017 Phillies and can make an impact in 2018. In 83 games, Nick Williams hit .288 and collected 55 RBI and 12 homers as part of an impressive rookie season.

In 29 games, Jorge Alfaro smacked five homers, had 14 RBI and batted .314. His grand slam on Saturday previewed what Phillies fans could see from a catcher ready to take the next step. Meanwhile, 27-year old outfielder Aaron Altherr put himself in the running for the third outfield spot with Williams by batting .272 and hitting 19 home runs in 107 games.

 

 

J.P. Crawford, who was No. 37 on MLB.com’s Top-100 prospect list and the seventh-ranked shortstop, struggled at times offensively in 2017 but showed Jimmy Rollins-like speed and defensive skills. With Freddy Galvis traded to San Diego, Crawford will be the Phillies starting shortstop come Opening Day.

And Odubel Herrera, the 26-year-old former All-Star, continued to be the most consistent all-around player for the Phillies, batting .281, knocking in 56 runs and continuing incredible defense in center field. The young guys will make this season exciting.

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CONCERN

The Phillies’ top concern is starting pitching. Besides Aaron Nola, starting pitchers last year were downright atrocious. Nola led all with 11 wins. No other starting pitcher reached double-digits in wins. Nick Pivetta had eight, Jeremy Hellickson (who was traded to Baltimore) had six, Jerad Eickhoff and Ben Lively had four, and Vince Velasquez had two in an injury-filled season.

No starter besides Nola had an ERA below three. No starter besides Nola averaged more than six innings per start. And No starter besides Nola had more than 150 strikeouts.

The Phillies still have time to sign a big-name starting pitcher to aid a young staff that needs it. And guys like Velasquez, Eickhoff and Lively have shown promise. But it’s unlikely that the starting staff will be carrying the load in 2018.

But a way manager Gabe Kapler plans to counteract the shortcomings of the starters is to change the use of the bullpen. The Phillies brought back RHP Pat Neshek, their best reliever and only All-Star in 2017, over the offseason and also signed 31-year-old RHP Tommy Hunter, who posted a 2.61 ERA last season with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Pair that with Phillies relievers Hector Neris and Luis Garcia, who had ERAs of 3.01 and 2.65 respectively, and the Phillies could have a talented bullpen. After seeing the way the Dodgers handled their bullpen last season, Kapler said he may bring in set up men and closing pitchers into games earlier than normal if the game is on the line. And with a roster allowing for an eight-man bullpen, this will be possible.

Another major concern is the play of third baseman Maikel Franco. Franco showed promise in 2015, playing 80 games as a rookie and batting .280 with 14 home runs. He has since struggled as a starter.

In 154 games last season, Franco batted just .230 with 95 strikeouts and 76 RBI. He had an OBP of .280 and slugging percentage of .406, not ideal for an opening-day cleanup hitter in a team lacking power.

Franco needs to step up in 2018, if not for his team then for himself. The Phillies made it clear they were interested in Orioles third baseman Manny Machado over the offseason and could spend big money when he is a free agent after this season.

Plus, adding a consistent, power-hitting Franco to a lineup with Rhys Hoskins and first baseman Carlos Santana could be lethal. Franco’s home run on Saturday was a good sign early in the spring.

 

 

NEW FACES

And that connects to the final section. There are several vital new faces in the Phillies’ clubhouse. First is Carlos Santana. The 31-year-old first baseman was signed from free agency to a three-year, $60 million deal that addressed the Phillies’ need for a power hitter.

Santana is expected to bat fifth and will help keep pitchers from pitching around Hoskins. And if he can match or improve upon last year’s .259 average, 23 home runs and 79 RBI and .818 OPS, they can be a scary duo.   But Santana’s most important job, it seems, is his one-on-one work with Maikel Franco. This spring, he has served as a mentor to the struggling Franco and could be the key to him rediscovering success.

 

 

 

The Phillies could also see the callups of players some other important players for the Phillies future. Expect Cesar Hernandez to start at second base come opening day, as his .294 average, 15 stolen bases and .793 OPS were impressive for an offensively struggling team.

However, Scott Kingery, the 23-year-old third baseman, batted .293 in 63 games after making the transition to AAA Lehigh Valley en route to the Phillies’ Paul Owens Award for the organization’s top prospect. He could see some serious playing time this season, especially if Hernandez’ play allows for a midseason trade.

The most important new face is the one running the show. Manager Gabe Kapler has been quite the character since coming to Philly. The 42-year old, in his first managerial job, has inspired the social media campaign of “Be Bold” with his speeches and clubhouse attitude, played music at all Spring Training practices so far, and found ways to connect with a young team.  

But to Philadelphia fans, all that matters is wins. Kapler has gotten mixed reviews and his youth, inexperience,and embrace of analytics has scared off some of the old-timers. But if his team wins ball games, something he clearly plans to do, the city will love him and the Kapler era like no other.