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Takeaways and observations from the opening weekend of March Madness

The madness is under way and it is as awesome as ever. Nine lower seeded teams won in the first (technically the second) round. Four more upsets occurred en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Here are some takeaways, observations, facts, and figures about the first three rounds of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

  • A No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 seasons and in 22 of the past 24 years. 2013 was no exception; in fact, it was even more extreme than normal. Three No. 12 seeds (Oregon, California, and Ole Miss) pulled off an upset against a No. 5 seed (Oklahoma State, UNLV, and Wisconsin).
  • For the first time ever, a No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 seed in the same region lost in the round of 64. New Mexico, Kansas State, and Wisconsin were defeated in the West Region.
  • The Mountain West, which was the toughest conference in the country in the regular season according to RPI, has been completely eliminated from the tournament after a 2-5 showing for its five teams that made the tourney.
  • The Pac-12 may have been under-seeded and is getting hot at the right time. Two Pac-12 teams with No. 12 seeds (California and Oregon) defeated No. 5 seeds and the conference put two teams (Arizona and Oregon) in the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona defeated No. 11 seed Belmont by 17 points and No. 14 seed Harvard by 23. Oregon topped No. 5 seed Oklahoma State by 13 points and No. 4 seed Saint Louis by 17.
  • Teams from the state of Florida are 6-0 and all three (No. 2 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Florida, and No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast) are in the Sweet Sixteen. Florida and Florida Gulf Coast will face each other on Friday.
  • Big Ten Tournament Champion Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that did not win a game in the tournament. The conference is 10-3 and has a team in the Sweet Sixteen in each region.
  • For the third year in a row, there was a matchup between a No. 12 seed and No. 13 seed in the round of 32. No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle faced off in the West Region. Last year it was No. 12 South Florida and No. 13 Ohio that matched up in the Midwest Region and two years ago No. 12 seed Richmond and No. 13 seed Morehead State played in the Southwest Region.
  • No. 13 seed La Salle is doing its best to model itself after 2011 Virginia Commonwealth, who was a No. 11 seed. The Rams played in the First Four before making a Final Four run, where they lost to No. 8 seed Butler. The La Salle Explorers finished tied for third in the A-10, then defeated No. 13 seed Boise State, No. 4 seed Kansas State, and No. 12 seed Ole Miss to reach the Sweet Sixteen. They will face No. 9 seed Wichita State on Thursday.
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth's footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of www.usatoday.com)
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth’s footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of http://www.usatoday.com)
  • Only two of the four Naismith Award finalists remain in the tournament–Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke. Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. and Creighton’s Doug McDermott did not make it out of the first weekend.
  • The main color of the past nine NCAA Champions was blue. Eight (Duke, La Salle, Arizona, Marquette, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida, Michigan, and Kansas) of the remaining schools have blue as their main color.

Bracketology Report: Xavier Musketeers

Xavier Musketeers—(14-10, 7-4)—5th place in the Atlantic 10

Strength of schedule: 96

RPI: 98

BPI: 87

Good wins:

  • 62-47 vs. Butler
  • 57-52 vs. Temple
  • 70-63 vs. La Salle

Bad losses:

  • 56-55 vs. Wofford
  • 66-59 @ Wake Forest

Remaining schedule:

  • 2/20 @ Rhode Island
  • 2/23 vs. No. 24 VCU
  • 2/26 vs. No. 21 Memphis
  • 3/2 vs. Massachusetts
  • 3/6 vs. Saint Louis
  • 3/9 @ Butler

Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last seven seasons and in 11 of the past 12 but the Musketeers are on pace to miss the Big Dance this year. XU Coach Chris Mack had a difficult challenge ahead of him for the 2012-13 season when senior guard Mark Lyons and sophomore forward Dez Wells left the team. Lyons and Mack disagreed about Lyons’ role on the team, which led to Lyons transferring to Arizona; Wells was expelled from Xavier University after allegedly committing sexual assault but he was never charged. XU Coach Mack had to replace all five starters from last year’s Musketeers team that made the Sweet Sixteen.

Led by freshman sensation Semaj Christon, Xavier has remained in the top third of the A-10 but the Muskies’ résumé needs some major improvement for XU to be chosen by the selection committee on March 17th. The highlight of Xavier’s non-conference schedule and overall résumé is a 15-point victory against Butler on Nov. 13. While XU has also defeated La Salle and Temple, who are fourth and seventh in the A-10, respectively, the Musketeers let too many winnable games slip out of their grasp. Xavier lost by three to Pacific, two to Vanderbilt in overtime, one to Wofford, four to Tennessee, six to Charlotte and two to Richmond.

Freshman point guard Semaj Christon has been one of the few bright spots for Xavier this season. (Image courtesy of www.bannersontheparkway.com)
Freshman point guard Semaj Christon has been one of the few bright spots for Xavier this season. (Image courtesy of http://www.bannersontheparkway.com)

While Xavier is certainly on the outside, looking in on the field of 68 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament, hope remains for the Musketeers. Three of Xavier’s final six games are against ranked opponents, in addition to a matchup against the A-10 leading Saint Louis Billikens. If the Musketeers can win three of those four games, or if they can win the A-10 Tournament, Xavier will be in the Big Dance.

Prediction: Xavier will defeat Rhode Island and Massachusetts but will lose to VCU, Memphis, Saint Louis and Butler. The Musketeers will be the No. 7 seed in the A-10 Tournament. XU will win its first round matchup but lose in the second round. Xavier’s 17-15 record will earn the Musketeers a No. 7 seed in the NIT.

Week 15 NCAA men’s basketball power rankings

During Week 15 of last year’s college basketball season, it was evident that the Kentucky Wildcats were the premier team in college basketball and UK’s freshman center Anthony Davis was the best player in the country. The Wildcats had  a 25-1 record, with their only slip up being a 73-72 loss at Indiana early in December that will forever be remembered for the “Wat Shot.” Kentucky lost only one more game, the SEC Championship, the rest of the season and lived up to expectations by winning last year’s NCAA Tournament.

There is no Kentucky this year. In the past six weeks, the No. 1 team has changed five teams. No one has separated from the pack and any team that enters the top five seems to play hot potato with the No. 1 spot by losing. Last week, four of the top five teams–Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Kansas–in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll lost at least once. Kansas dropped consecutive games for the first time since November 21-22, 2005. Every team in the latest AP Poll has at least two losses, the average number of losses per top 25 team is slightly over four and No. 20 Wisconsin has seven.

So what does it all mean?

A) The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are going to have a difficult time determining the field of the 68 teams that make it to the Big Dance.

and

B) Once the teams and seeds are finalized, the national championship is truly up for grabs.

Without further adieu, here are my NCAA men’s basketball power rankings for Week 15:

1. Miami Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0)-Miami is the only team in one of the power six conferences to have a perfect conference record. The Hurricanes’ 10-0 record in ACC play has given Miami a two-game cushion over Duke. The Hurricanes have proven that they can run traditional college basketball powerhouses out of the gym as seen by their 27-point win against Duke and 26-point victory over North Carolina.

The Miami Hurricanes are the only team in a power six conference that is undefeated in conference play. (Image courtesy of http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/29/3118194/win-signals-progress-for-miami.html)
The Miami Hurricanes are the only team in a power six conference that is undefeated in conference play. (Image courtesy of http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/29/3118194/win-signals-progress-for-miami.html)

2. Indiana Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2)-Indiana let an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining against Illinois slip away, which could been a major concern for the Hoosiers if it wasn’t for IU’s bounce back win at No. 10 Ohio State. The 81-68 victory was Indiana’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2002 and kept the Hoosiers atop the AP Poll.

3. Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3)-If Ben Brust’s half-court prayer didn’t force overtime in Madison, Wisc. and eventually lead to a Badgers victory, Michigan would likely be No. 1 team in the country. The Big Ten’s abundance of tournament-bound teams has taken its toll on the Wolverines, who are tied for third in the conference with Wisconsin.

4. Duke Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2)-The Blue Devils have finally gotten their feet under them after losing senior forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury. Duke lost two of its first three games without Kelly but have rattled off five straight wins as the team sits in second place in the ACC.

5. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2)-Don’t look now but the Spartans are tied for first in the Big Ten with Indiana. The Spartans still have to play Michigan twice as well as Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin a second time; if Sparty can survive the gauntlet, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed in March.

6. Florida Gators (19-3, 9-1)-The Gators should not be judged too harshly for their 80-69 loss to Arkansas. Every team has off nights and Florida showed that their lone conference loss was a fluke. They returned to their prior form by beating Mississippi State by 25 on Saturday.

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2, 10-0)-Barring a horrible loss or two, Gonzaga seems destined for a No. 2 seed with an outside chance to be a No. 1 if the teams in front of them don’t finish the regular season on high notes. The Bulldogs are a major question mark because of their weak conference schedule. They aren’t tested on a nightly basis the way that ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 teams are. Gonzaga played against three ranked opponents and lost two of those matchups, which could hint at an early exit in the tournament.

8. Syracuse Orange (20-3, 8-2)-If Syracuse can settle senior forward James Southerland’s eligibility issue, then the Orange may be the favorite to win the Big East and ‘Cuse could match last year’s Elite Eight appearance.

9. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3)-Last week may have been the darkest period in the history of Kansas basketball with three losses. Texas Christian University’s first Big 12 win, an unexpected 62-55 upset of the Jayhawks, was sandwiched by Kansas losses to unranked Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With four teams within one game of the conference lead, Kansas doesn’t have any more room for error in a wide open Big 12.

10. Arizona Wildcats (20-3, 8-3)-Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the country and arguably the best team out West early in the season with wins against No. 5 Florida, Miami (Fla.) and No. 17 San Diego State during its 14-0 start. However, the Wildcats have started to show their true colors and fade from the spotlight with losses to unranked Oregon, UCLA and California.

Making cases for Kansas, Michigan and Florida to be ranked No. 1

Last week was a bloodbath for the AP Top 25. No. 1 Duke lost at Miami (FL) by 27. Louisville lost three consecutive games in the Big East to No. 6 Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown. Minnesota lost four straight games in the Big Ten. With all of the losses by ranked teams, the No. 1 position is up for grabs and three teams have cases to claim the top spot in this week’s updated polls.

Kansas’ case to be ranked No. 1

The Kansas Jayhawks have won 33 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse and are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1501647-kansas-basketball-jayhawks-lack-of-offense-isnt-a-big-concern)
The Kansas Jayhawks have won 33 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse and are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1501647-kansas-basketball-jayhawks-lack-of-offense-isnt-a-big-concern)

The Jayhawks are 18-1 and their only loss was by three points to then-No. 21 Michigan State in the second game of the season. Since its only blemish on its 18-1 record, Kansas beat No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio and topped No. 11 Kansas State on the road. Bill Self’s squad is off to a 6-0 start in the Big 12 and the team has won 33 consecutive games at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas is nearly unbeatable at home and its two victories against ranked opponents were on the road, which proves that the Jayhawks can win anywhere they play. They also beat Ohio State, who gave Michigan its only loss of the season, by eight points.

Michigan’s case to be ranked No. 1

Similarly to Kansas, Michigan only has one loss this season and it was also by three points when the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines on Jan. 13. Michigan has two wins against ranked opponents. The Wolverines defeated then-No. 18 North Carolina State at home and then-No. 9 Minnesota on the road. The co-leaders of the Big Ten are 19-1 (6-1) and have 15 double-digit wins this season. Michigan’s resume also includes wins over Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Illinois, who are all teams that have been ranked at some point during the season but weren’t when they lost to the Wolverines.

Florida’s case to be ranked No. 1

The Florida Gators are 16-2 (6-0) and tied with Ole Miss for the SEC lead. Their only two losses are a 65-64 loss at Arizona, a competitive game in which Wildcats guard Mark Lyons hit the game-winning jumper with seven seconds left, and a six-point loss to Kansas State. The Gators have rattled off eight straight wins and have dominated their SEC opponents in conference play. The most points that Florida has allowed in an SEC game is 52 and four of the Gators’ opponents have scored in the forties. Florida’s average margin of victory in conference play is over 26 points and earlier this month they defeated then-No. 17 Missouri 83-52. Granted, the SEC lacks proven teams and depth outside of Florida, Ole Miss and Missouri but the Gators are the team to beat down South.

Kansas has the strongest case because they beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, who later handed Michigan its only loss, on the road by eight. Of the three teams, Florida’s case is the weakest because the Gators have two losses and play in arguably the weakest of the power 6 conferences.

College basketball stock report: 5 teams to buy, sell or hold

Illinois

SELL

The Fighting Illini started the season 12-0 and defeated No. 10 Gonzaga on the road by double digits. However, since Illinois’ victory over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 16, John Groce’s squad is 3-5 and 2-4 in the Big Ten. The Illini lost to unranked Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, which does not bode well since their schedule will only get tougher as the season progresses. They still have to play Michigan twice, Indiana and Michigan State for the first time, in addition to rematches against Minnesota and Ohio State.

Michigan State

BUY

It's a good time to be in East Lansing, Mich. as Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-1 record. (Image courtesy of http://wkzo.com/news/articles/2012/sep/24/msu-basketball-coach-tom-izzo-guest-speaker-at-kalamazoo-benefit/)
It’s a good time to be in East Lansing, Mich. since Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-1 record. (Image courtesy of http://wkzo.com/news/articles/2012/sep/24/msu-basketball-coach-tom-izzo-guest-speaker-at-kalamazoo-benefit/)

The Spartans were on the verge of dropping out of the AP Top 25 after three losses in the 2012 calendar year. Michigan State’s challenging non-conference schedule paid off; Tom Izzo’s squad is leading the Big Ten with a two game lead over Michigan and Indiana. Three of Michigan State’s Big Ten wins are by three points or fewer, which separates great teams from the good ones in March.

 Oregon

BUY

The Ducks sit alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings after defeating No. 24 UCLA last Saturday. Arizona and UCLA only appear once on Oregon’s schedule, which means there are no ranked opponents remaining on the Ducks’ schedule. Oregon is in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 now that the team’s biggest challenges are in the Ducks’ rearview mirror.

Wisconsin

HOLD

Bo Ryan’s Badgers are a very perplexing team. Wisconsin lost four of its first 10 games then rattled off seven consecutive wins, including victories over No. 12 Illinois and No. 2 Indiana. After defeating the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall, the Badgers dropped two games to Iowa and Michigan State by a total of six points. Wisconsin has the coach and the talent to finish in the top three in the Big Ten or the Badgers could end up sixth or seventh. They have been too inconsistent to determine how good they can be in college basketball’s toughest conference.

Xavier

BUY

The 2012-13 Musketeers are possibly one of the weakest Xavier teams in the past decade and most Atlantic 10 projections have Xavier as a middle-of-the-road team in the conference yet Semaj Christon & Co. have started to turn their season around in conference play. Don’t look now but Xavier is tied with Virginia Commonwealth for first place. The Muskies have pulled out close wins against Temple, St. Bonaventure and La Salle after losing four straight games in non-conference play. They don’t play VCU and Butler until late in the season, which means that Xavier has over a month to improve before it faces two of the A-10’s best teams.

Wisconsin upsets No. 2 Indiana, continues undefeated streak against Crean

Now is not a good time to be a top ranked team in college basketball. In the span of six days, four teams ranked in the top three lost to lower ranked or unranked opponents. Last week, Oregon upset No. 3 Arizona, No. 20 North Carolina State knocked off No. 1 Duke and No. 15 Ohio State was victorious against No. 2 Michigan. With the three losses the No. 5 Indiana Hoosiers moved up three spots to No. 2 but lost to Wisconsin at home 64-59 on Tuesday.

The Badgers were a nightmare matchup for the Hoosiers. Wisconsin prides itself on slowing down the pace of the game and playing tough defense, which go against Indiana’s play style of scoring in transition and racking up over eighty points per game on average.

The first half was different from Indiana’s other home games this season. The Hoosiers typically have no problem scoring at home and distancing themselves from their opponents–even good teams like Minnesota and North Carolina. A combination of easy baskets in transition, effective three-point shooters and multiple scoring options gives Indiana breathing room at halftime. IU was winning by nine points after the first half against North Carolina, 23 points against Minnesota and the rest of their non-conference home games were similar scenarios. However, against the Badgers, Indiana was only leading by one after the first half.

Outside of Cody Zeller’s first half, no Hoosier player had a good performance offensively. Zeller had 18 points on 8-8 shooting against Wisconsin senior center Jared Berggren. In the second half, the sophomore center scored only five points and made just one of his seven shot attempts. Other than Zeller and freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell, who made the one shot that he took and contributed the only two bench points of the night, no Indiana player shot above 43 percent. The other four starters, senior Christian Watford, junior Victor Oladipo, senior Jordan Hulls and freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, were a combined 10-31. Junior Will Sheehey, sophomore Remy Abell and freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea were 0-7 from the field. Indiana’s shooting woes were the result of tight defense from Wisconsin and a team-wide epidemic of a bad shooting night. The quality of a team’s warmups may not have a direct correlation to how the players will perform but I noticed that few shots were falling in the pre-game shooting drills, which may have carried over to the actual games.

The lack of outside shooting options for the Hoosiers made it especially difficult for Indiana when one of its players was able to penetrate into the lane. On two occasions, Jordan Hulls drove to the basket, jumped and looked for an outlet pass but he could not find any open teammates and turned the ball over both times.

While the Badgers connected on less than one-third of their three-point attempts, the ones that they made came at critical points in the game, either to take the lead from Indiana or begin to pull away from the Hoosiers. One of their largest leads of the game came with 12:13 remaining in the second half when Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run that included a pair of three-pointers from freshman Sam Dekker and senior Mike Bruesewitz.

Wisconsin center Jared Berggren dunks on Victor Oladipo.
Wisconsin center Jared Berggren dunks on Victor Oladipo.

Victor Oladipo scored the first three points of the game after halftime to extend Indiana’s lead but the Hoosiers failed to play with the urgency that they needed against a tough opponent. Indiana’s zone defense left gaping holes for Wisconsin to exploit and by the time that IU Coach Tom Crean called for full-court pressure, it was too late for the No. 2 team in the country. Wisconsin made six free throws in the final 71 seconds and the Badgers held off Indiana to complete the upset at Assembly Hall.

_____________________

Game Notes

It is irresponsible to declare under most circumstances that the officials decided the game based on their calls. Many Hoosier fans are up in arms over several calls against Indiana.

Were most of the calls justified?

Yes.

Were a couple of the calls absolutely outrageous?

Yes.

The referees did not decide the game but some of the calls certainly made it more difficult for Indiana to surmount Wisconsin in a late comeback. The worst of the calls occurred with 1:11 remaining after Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell made the second free throw after being fouled to bring Indiana within four of Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz tried to set a screen on Victor Oladipo, held him and the two were tangled up as Oladipo tried to get past him. A foul was called on Oladipo, Brusewitz made a free throw to extend Wisconsin’s lead and Indiana lost seven ticks on the clock when there wasn’t much time to spare.

_____________________

The past eight winners of the Big Ten have lost only seven home games, which suggests that Indiana may be out of luck to win the conference. The Hoosiers still have to face Michigan (x2), Michigan State (x2), Ohio State (x2), Minnesota and Illinois.

_____________________

While Will Sheehey and Remy Abell have received national recognition as potentially being the best sixth and seventh men in the country, respectively, the pair has combined for only one point on 0-12 shooting in the past two games. Indiana needs them to step up, especially on offense, if the Hoosiers want to win the Big Ten and battle for a No. 1 seed in March.

However, it is not just Sheehey and Abell who make Indiana’s bench a liability. Jeremy Hollowell has only scored six points in the four games since he sat out during an NCAA investigation. Junior Maurice Creek hasn’t played since the Dec. 15 game against Butler due to an injury and senior Derek Elston has not played in the past three games. Freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea is not yet a scoring option on offense and only plays when Zeller needs a quick breather. Freshman Peter Jurkin has only played in three games after serving a nine-game suspension and has yet to play for more than four minutes in a game.

Currently, Indiana is only seven players deep. Mosquera-Perea and Hollowell will play minor minutes but IU Coach Crean will need to develop the talent on his bench for Indiana to play to its potential in the remainder of the Big Ten schedule and the NCAA Tournament.

_____________________

Indiana has lost 11 consecutive games against Wisconsin and Tom Crean is still searching for his first win against the Badgers as head coach of Indiana.

2013: Week 2 in review (Jan. 6-12)

College football’s Kelly’s flirt with the NFL

After four consecutive BCS bowl appearances, Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly decided to remain in Eugene, Ore. despite interest from the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. It remains to be seen if Kelly’s recruiting at Oregon will be impacted in the future due to his interest in the NFL but his window of opportunity to make the jump to the next  level may be closing after turning down several offers to be an NFL head coach.

The Philadelphia Eagles also interviewed Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly just days after the Fighting Irish lost the BCS National Championship to Alabama. Kelly certainly would have been a leap of faith for Philadelphia since he has no NFL experience as a player or coach. Also, Kelly has moved up the ranks incredibly quickly. He has won everywhere that he has coached but just 13 years ago he was an assistant coach at Grand Valley State University. Three years at Central Michigan, three years at Cincinnati and three years at Notre Dame is a very fast progression but Kelly has certainly earned consideration to coach at the next level.

By winning his third BCS National Championship in four years, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban is definitely in the conversation for the greatest college football coach of all time. While he only has won half the number of national championships that former Alabama Head Coach Bear Bryant won, this is a different era. In Bryant’s day, coaches could have well over 100 players on scholarship. Today the number is 85. Saban announced that he is “at peace” with his current position, which indicates that he is unlikely to return to the NFL. At 61 years old, Nick Saban still has time to bolster his resume and potentially vie for more national championships in the future.

Only one rookie QB advances to the Divisional Round; three great Saturday games

In Ray Lewis’ final home game of his career, the Baltimore Ravens defeated Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts behind Joe Flacco’s two passing touchdowns. The Colts ran 31 more plays and held the ball for 15 minutes longer than Baltimore but could only kick three field goals.

In Washington, Mike Shanahan put rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III in the game despite visible signs of being hurt and RGIII ended up tearing his ACL and LCL in the fourth quarter. The Redskins had taken a 14-0 lead before RGIII left the game to see the team trainer. Seattle then scored 24 unanswered points and ran for 224 yards in the game. Griffin III had surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews, who has worked with Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Albert Pujols and Drew Brees, soon after Washington’s playoff loss and has an eight to twelve month recovery period. Who knows, RGIII could be next year’s Adrian Peterson if he can rehabilitate his knee and come back even stronger.

Somewhere Tim Tebow has to be celebrating secretly that he managed to win a playoff game in Denver and Peyton Manning fell short this season. Despite a Trindon Holliday’s 90-yard punt return and a 104-yard kickoff return for touchdowns, the Broncos could not put away Baltimore, extending Ray Lewis’ career by at least one week. Joe Flacco lead scoring drives in the final thirty-six seconds of both halves. In the first half, the Ravens had three plays for 58 yards and Flacco found Torrey Smith for six on a 32-yard strike. With the game on the line, Baltimore had another three-play drive that resulted in a 70-yard touchdown reception by Jacoby Jones after a blown coverage by Denver safety Rahim Moore. Peyton Manning threw an interception at the end of the first overtime period and Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker won the game in double OT with a 47-yard field goal.

Well, it looks like Jim Harbaugh’s gut paid off. After benching starting quarterback Alex Smith in favor of second-year backup QB Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49’ers have had a record of 6-2-1 and Harbaugh’s team is in the NFC Championship Game for the second year in a row. Against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick rushed for an NFL record 181 yards, which is the most ever by a quarterback in a single game. He also threw for 263 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns as the 49’ers downed the Packers 45-31 in Candlestick Park.

San Francisco 49'ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 181 yards against Green Bay. (Image courtesy of http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/nfl/news/20130113/nfl-playoffs-49ers-packers/)
San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 181 yards against Green Bay. (Image courtesy of http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/nfl/news/20130113/nfl-playoffs-49ers-packers/)

Two top teams suffer first loss in college basketball

Duke and Arizona were in the top three in virtually every college basketball ranking. However, everything changed in a three-day span. On Thursday night, the No. 3 Wildcats traveled to Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. to face the 12-2 Oregon Ducks. Arizona was down 12 points with 3:10 remaining in the game and in typical Wildcat fashion, Sean Miller’s squad fought their way back to within four after Mark Lyons knocked down a pair of three pointers. However, it was too little too late for Arizona and Oregon won 70-66. Two days later, a short-handed Duke team (without senior Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry was injured in the game) lost on the road to No. 20 N.C. State, who was led by C.J. Leslie’s 25 points and six rebounds.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.!

The first college basketball stock report of 2013

Conference play is officially underway in most conferences, which means that it’s time to evaluate whether it’s time to buy, sell or hold stock in some of the country’s top college basketball teams.

BUY

Butler

Brad Stevens has the Butler Bulldogs looking up as they head into A-10 play. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1446736-butlers-brad-stevens-the-most-job-secure-coach-in-college-basketball)
Brad Stevens has the Butler Bulldogs looking up as they head into A-10 play. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1446736-butlers-brad-stevens-the-most-job-secure-coach-in-college-basketball)

The Bulldogs’ two losses came in the team’s first five games and since their loss to Illinois, who is currently ranked eleventh, Brad Stevens’ squad has rattled off nine straight victories, including a win over No. 1 Indiana. Butler is playing their trademark tough defense and the Bulldogs have wins over Marquette, North Carolina and Northwestern in addition to knocking off the Hoosiers. Butler is the favorite to win the A-10 and its stock can continue to rise with a good conference record.

VCU

The Rams suffered three early losses to Wichita State, who is likely the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Duke and Missouri. However, VCU rebounded and is 12-3 with favorable chances to win a wide open Atlantic 10.

Minnesota

The Golden Gophers started the season unranked but have won their way to the ninth spot in the rankings. Their lone loss was to Duke, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of considering the Blue Devils’ success this season. Minnesota is on a nine game win streak and has won six consecutive games by double digits, with the latest being a 76-63 home win against No. 18 Michigan State.

Kansas State

In Bruce Weber’s first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Kansas State is off to an impressive 12-2 record. K-State lost to Michigan and Gonzaga early in the season but have put those behind them with wins over Florida and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats will be in the mix of teams competing for second place in the Big 12 behind Kansas.

Kentucky

UK was way overrated at No. 3 in the preseason but the Wildcats have had time to work out some of their kinks in their non-conference schedule. Ryan Harrow gives them a good option at point guard that they were missing early in the season. They lost to Duke and Louisville, two of the top four teams in the country, and Notre Dame in their first true road test. Many of the growing pains are out of the way and a top three finish in the SEC isn’t out of the question as the will compete with Florida and Missouri for the conference title.

SELL

Ohio State

Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini handled their business against Ohio State and make basketball fans wonder how good the Buckeyes really are. (Image courtesy of http://www.toledoblade.com/Ohio-State/2013/01/05/No-11-Illinois-rebounds-with-home-win-over-No-8-Buckeyes-74-55.html)
Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini handled their business against Ohio State and make basketball fans wonder how good the Buckeyes really are. (Image courtesy of http://www.toledoblade.com/Ohio-State/2013/01/05/No-11-Illinois-rebounds-with-home-win-over-No-8-Buckeyes-74-55.html)

The Buckeyes have faced three ranked teams-Duke, Kansas and Illinois-and lost all three games. With six ranked teams in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will have to win big games, especially on the road, and they haven’t proven that they’re up to the challenge just yet.

Pittsburgh

The Panthers cracked the AP Top 25 with an appearance at No. 24 but it will be short-lived after losing to Cincinnati and Rutgers in their first two Big East games, which makes then tied for last place in the conference. Pittsburgh had two freshmen in the starting lineup, which could make for a slow start to conference play.

Cincinnati

Mick Cronin’s Bearcats reached as high as eighth in the rankings but Cincinnati lost to New Mexico and St. John’s in the team’s last three games. UC has a challenging next matchup when it hosts No. 21 Notre Dame on Monday.

Wisconsin

The Badgers entered the season in the AP Top 25 but fell quickly out of the polls after losses to Florida, Creighton, Virginia and Marquette. Wisconsin plays Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State in consecutive games in January, which bodes for a difficult month and a bad start to Big Ten play.

HOLD

Duke

The Blue Devils have passed every test that has been thrown at them this season but they can only move down in the rankings from the No. 1 spot. Duke will be expected to win the ACC but North Carolina State, North Carolina or Maryland all have the talent to upset the Blue Devils in conference play.

Arizona

Sean Miller’s Wildcats are the best team out West but San Diego State, Colorado and Utah’s close losses have shown that Arizona is vulnerable and it could suffer its first loss to a PAC-12 opponent this month.

Illinois

The Fighting Illini are a very difficult team to examine. They won by double digits against Butler and on the road against Gonzaga. Then Illinois lost to Missouri and Purdue in a three-game stretch, followed by a dominating win over Ohio State. Illinois is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten but their up and down play gives the impression that they will have their share of impressive wins and tough losses this season.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys blew out North Carolina State early in the season but have lost consecutive games to No. 10 Gonzaga and No. 25 Kansas State, which means that Oklahoma State still has room for improvement in the remainder of the season.

Michigan

The country’s No. 2 team is off to a 15-0 start but it is only a matter of time until the Wolverines lose their first game. The Big Ten schedule for every team is a mine field–one bad step or slip up and Michigan can receive the first blemish on its 2012-13 campaign. However, the Wolverines are one of the best teams in the country and will give Indiana a run for its money to win the Big Ten.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.!

The first week of 2013 in review

College basketball conference wins are hard to come by, especially on the road

Conference play started kicked off in college basketball and it has already taken its toll on some of the top teams in the country. No. 18 Michigan State fell to No. 9 Minnesota 76-63, Purdue upset No. 11 Illinois 68-61, Marquette bested No. 15 Georgetown and No. 24 Pittsburgh is off to an 0-2 start in the Big East after losing to No. 14 Cincinnati and Rutgers.

Minnesota beat Michigan State thanks to a 25-8 run to end the game. (Image courtesy of http://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2012/12/31/3823022/michigan-st-minnesota-final-score)
Minnesota beat Michigan State thanks to a 25-8 run to end the game. (Image courtesy of http://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2012/12/31/3823022/michigan-st-minnesota-final-score)

Colorado was set to hand No. 3 Arizona its first loss of the season thanks to a career night from senior guard Sabatino Chen. Arizona came back from a double digit deficit in the second half and Mark Lyons tied the game with a pair of free throws in the final seconds. Chen hit a pull up three with 00.1 seconds left to win the game and the referees ruled the shot good. Upon further review, they waived off the shot (which was determined in HD replay to have left Chen’s hands before the clock hit zero) and the Wildcats won in overtime.

The NFL Playoffs are under way

For the second year in a row, the Houston Texans ended the Cincinnati Bengals’ playoff hopes, leaving Cincinnati winless in the postseason since 1990. In a game in which the majority of the points were scored by the kickers, Houston dominated time of possession by having the ball for 38 minutes and 49 seconds. Arian Foster moved the chains for the Texans with 140 yards  and one touchdown on 32 carries. Andy Dalton did not target A.J. Green in the first half and the Bengals had -6 passing yards at halftime. Houston settled for field goals instead of touchdowns, which allowed Cincinnati to stay within striking distance but the Bengals struggled to put together a scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

Andy Dalton did not target A.J. Green in the first half against Houston. (Image courtesy of http://www.boston.com/sports/football/2013/01/04/picking-the-nfl-wild-card-winners/IltouiU0yasLRvDydm2TNK/story.html?pg=2)
Andy Dalton did not target A.J. Green in the first half against Houston. (Image courtesy of http://www.boston.com/sports/football/2013/01/04/picking-the-nfl-wild-card-winners/IltouiU0yasLRvDydm2TNK/story.html?pg=2)

Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback Christian Ponder did not start against the Green Bay Packers due to an elbow injury, making Joe Webb the first quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game without throwing a pass in the regular season. Webb only took three snaps all season–two rushes and a kneel–but looked to beat Green Bay for the second time in as many weeks. The Vikings had the second fewest first half passing yards in NFL Playoff history (6) to only the Cincinnati Bengals, who set the dubious record just hours earlier. The Ponder-less Vikings could not keep pace with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. Minnesota scored first with a field goal in the first quarter but surrendered 24 unanswered points, which was enough for the Packers to win at Lambeau Field.

Two long streaks end in the NBA

The Charlotte Bobcats ended an 18-game losing streak by beating the Chicago Bulls, who then beat the defending champions, the Miami Heat, in their next game.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles Clippers put together a 17-game win streak before falling to the Nuggets in Denver.

Kobe Bryant may be 34 years old but the Black Mamba still has some gas left in the tank for the Lakers. He posterized Chris Paul on a fast break in Friday nights matchup between the two Los Angeles teams. Kobe also joined Twitter this week, giving social media users insight into his life, including his acupuncture therapy and his love to challenge himself. You can follow him @kobebryant.

Kobe Bryant showed that he still has youth left despite being 34 years old. (Image courtesy of http://elitedaily.com/elite/2013/kobe-bryant-throws-nasty-dunk-chris-paul-video/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kobe-bryant-throws-nasty-dunk-chris-paul-video)
Kobe Bryant showed that he still has youth left despite being 34 years old. (Image courtesy of http://elitedaily.com/elite/2013/kobe-bryant-throws-nasty-dunk-chris-paul-video/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kobe-bryant-throws-nasty-dunk-chris-paul-video)

Oregon and Johnny Football shine in bowl wins

In a matchup that had national championship hopes late in the college football season, Oregon routed Kansas State and the Ducks didn’t take long to get on the board–De’Anthony Thomas returned the opening kickoff and Dion Jordan took a shovel pass into the end zone to give Oregon an 8-0 lead 12 seconds into the game. While the Wildcats had possession of the ball for six minutes more than the Ducks, Oregon outgained Kansas State by 102 yards. The strangest play of the game was when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota rushed for a touchdown but Alejandro Maldonado’s extra point attempt was blocked, a Kansas State played grabbed the ball and pitched it to a teammate in the end zone and the Wildcat player was tackled for a one-point safety in favor of Oregon. Oregon won the Fiesta Bowl 35-17.

Johnny Manziel backed up his Heisman Trophy winning regular season with an impressive bowl game performance. Manziel had over 500 yards of total offense along with 2 rushing and 2 passing touchdowns as No. 9 Texas A&M defeated No. 11 Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.!

Arizona vs. Miami (FL): A Matchup between Point Guards with Ties to Cincinnati

Christmas break in college is the ultimate vacation. There is no school work for which one is responsible and there are few responsibilities or expectations. My family spent the day before Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house, which meant that I was given the choice between sleeping on a couch in the family room and the floor of a bedroom. Naturally, I took the couch but that meant that I had to listen to the incessant drone on my grandpa listening to Storage Wars. The sound of the auctioneer rattling off steadily increasing prices and featured buyer Dave Hester’s constant shouts of “YUPPP” had virtually the same effect as Chinese water torture and falling asleep while the TV was on quickly became out of the question.

I checked my phone one last time before bed to see if the Seattle Seahawks managed to drop fifty points on the San Francisco 49’ers and saw that there was one featured game on ESPN’s ScoreCenter mobile app that hadn’t started: No. 4 Arizona v. Miami (FL) in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. I grabbed my Skullcandy noise-cancelling headphones, an early Christmas present that I had received just hours earlier, and said goodbye to the obnoxious catch phrases of Storage Wars and hello to late night hoops on WatchESPN that carried me into the early hours of Christmas Eve.

Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats are ranked fourth in the country and their 11-0 start is the best since the 1987-88 season. (Image courtesy of http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/id/688594/arizona-vs-miami-fl-semifinal-2)
Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats are ranked fourth in the country and their 11-0 start is the best since the 1987-88 season. (Image courtesy of http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/id/688594/arizona-vs-miami-fl-semifinal-2)

It has been a lot of fun watching the Arizona Wildcats play this season because of thier coach, Sean Miller, and senior point guard Mark Lyons. Miller and Lyons are one of my favorite coaches and players, respectively, in college basketball after following them for years at Xavier University. Miller was at Xavier from 2004 until 2009 and took the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2008. Lyons was on two Sweet Sixteen teams in 2010 and 2012.

The Miami Hurricanes entered the matchup against Arizona with an 8-1 record. It was the ‘Canes’ second game in a 24-hour period after defeating Hawaii, the host school, in a matchup that tipped off at 12:30 A.M. ET on Sunday. Miami’s starting point guard is Shane Larkin, son of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and lifelong Cincinnati Reds shortstop (Class of 2012) Barry Larkin. The younger Larkin is the Hurricanes’ second leading scorer with an average of 14.4 points per game in addition to being the team’s leader in assists and steals.

Miami was voted fifth in the ACC in the preseason and earned more respect from the rest of the conference by defeating No. 13 Michigan State. While the Hurricanes were upset-minded entering the matchup, Arizona proved to have too much talent and depth for Miami to overcome.

While Arizona pulled away in the second half, the Mark Lyons-Shane Larkin matchup was very exciting to watch as both point guards were on the floor for the majority of the game and facilitated their teams’ offenses.

Mark Lyons

Senior-6’1″ 200 lbs.

University of Arizona starting point guard Mark Lyons. (Image courtesy of http://uanews.org/story/cats-ranked-no-12-preseason-ap-poll)
University of Arizona starting point guard Mark Lyons. (Image courtesy of http://uanews.org/story/cats-ranked-no-12-preseason-ap-poll)

Throughout the game, Mark Lyons showed his versatility at the guard position. At Xavier, Lyons typically played off the ball as the shooting guard because Tu Holloway was a better fit at point guard. Since transferring to the University of Arizona, Sean Miller has converted the senior to a point guard but the Wildcats’ offense allows Lyons to be the team’s leading scorer.

Lyons led the Wildcats with 19 points and got off to a hot start early in the game. Two minutes into the first half, the Xavier transfer dribbled down the court in transition, beat Larkin at the top of the key and drove to the rim for an easy layup before Miami’s defense was set. On Arizona’s next possession, he made a spot-up NBA three-pointer to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

Lyons did not score again in the first half until there was 4:49 remaining on the clock when he pulled up a few feet behind the three-point line a knocked down a shot in Larkin’s face. On Arizona’s next possession, their point guard used a screen set by Angelo Chol to drive to the basket, where he was fouled and made both free throws.

Mark Lyons’ first points in the second half came at the 17:59 mark after Miami made a layup. Lyons received the inbounds pass and jogged towards the other end of the floor. Then he sped up, crossed over Shane Larkin at the three-point line and scored an uncontested layup. The Hurricanes were still running back on defense and weren’t fast enough to contain him after he blew past Larkin.

Lyons hit his third three-pointer of the game halfway through the second half to give Arizona a 56-37 lead, which was the team’s largest up to that point in the game. It was actually his second three-point attempt in the possession–his first rimmed out but the Wildcats grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to him for a straightaway three.

With six minutes left in the game, Mark Lyons went into takeover mode. He drove down the court after Larkin forced a three-point shot, completed a beautiful spin move in the lane to get by three Hurricanes defenders and laid the ball off the glass for two points. The next time down the court for Arizona, the Wildcats made three passes as Mark Lyons rotated down to the block before receiving the ball near the half-court line. He split two Miami defenders, attacked the lane, used a ball fake and head fake to get them leaning and finally scored on a finger roll after going through all five Hurricanes players. He stared down the camera before Miller replaced him with Nick Johnson, ending his night with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. Three of his assists were to a teammate on three-point field goals and the fourth was good look to an open Kaleb Tarczewski for a dunk.

Shane Larkin

Sophomore-5’11” 176 lbs.

University of Miami starting point guard Shane Larkin. (Image courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/rmGH0_mrF2p/Clemson+v+Miami/1YxX9TBqKcT/Shane+Larkin)
University of Miami starting point guard Shane Larkin. (Image courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/rmGH0_mrF2p/Clemson+v+Miami/1YxX9TBqKcT/Shane+Larkin)

Larkin’s athleticism and quickness showed that he won the lottery of the gene pool by having a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer as a father. The University of Miami point guard needed to have an excellent game if the Hurricanes were to have any chance of winning because they were without Reggie Johnson, a 6’10” 292 lb. forward who is the team’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, due to a thumb injury.

The weight on Larkin’s shoulders got a little bit heavier when starter Durand Scott injured his ankle early in the game. Scott remained in the game and managed to score 15 points but he was visibly not at full strength as he was often limping or hobbling on the court.

Miami’s offense typically consisted of four players around the three-point line and one player, usually forward-center Kenny Kadji, in the interior. Larkin was at his best when he penetrated Arizona’s defense and fed the ball to Kadji. Kadji, a 6’11” senior who transferred from the University of Florida after two seasons, was the only Miami player who was having a good shooting night. He was 9-15 from the field and the rest of the Hurricanes were collectively 10-37. Shane Larkin assisted two of Kadji’s nine field goals–an open three followed by a dunk after a slashing dribble drive from Larkin.

Shane Larkin finished with 10 points on 4-9 shooting to go along with his 3 assists and 6 steals. Where Mark Lyons stepped up for Arizona on offense to give them momentum in the game, Larkin came up just short or was countered by the Wildcats.

In the first half, Kevin Parrom made a three-pointer for Arizona to take a 12-11 lead. Immediately after surrendering the lead, Larkin tried to cross over Lyons but lost the ball, Parrom came up with it and went coast to coast for the layup, which shifted the momentum in favor of Arizona. The Wildcats then jumped ahead 17-11.

With seven minutes left in the first half, injured guard Durand Scott was running point with Shane Larkin in the corner. Arizona’s Parrom pressured Scott, forced the turnover and assisted his teammate Nick Johnson on a highlight reel worthy dunk. Larkin should have recognized the danger of having a limping Durand Scott running point and taken control of the offense.

With 1:21 remaining in the first half, Shane Larkin drove to the basket and tried to kick the ball out to a wide open Kenny Kadji for three but sailed the ball over Kadji’s head. Miami was down 37-25 at the time of the turnover and that shot could have cut Arizona’s lead to single digits heading into halftime. With less than one minute on the clock, Larkin missed an open spot-up three-point attempt.

In the second half, Parrom knocked down a three-pointer to extend Arizona’s lead to 16 points. On Miami’s next possession, Larkin missed a three and a jump shot in the span of seconds, which were critical shots in keeping the game from getting out of hand.

By no means did Shane Larkin have a bad game. However, he failed to make the shots to keep Miami in the game and his two first half turnovers came at points in the game when Arizona was going on runs. Miami took advantage of turnover-prone Arizona by stealing the ball 14 times, led by Larkin with 6 steals, but the Hurricanes could not turn forced turnovers into points. Miami shot poorly in every phase of the game with a shooting percentage of 36.5, three-point percentage of 26.3 and a lowly 50 percent completion rate from the free throw line.

Final Takeaways

Miami was going to need to have a historic shooting performance in order to beat No. 4 Arizona. The Miami Hurricanes were not at full strength and they played one of the best teams in the country in the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats have premier talent at every position and Sean Miller’s squad goes nine players deep. The absence of Reggie Johnson took the life out of the Hurricanes in terms of their rebounding, especially since they were playing against a 7-footer in Kaleb Tarczewski. Arizona had 44 rebounds to Miami’s 19. Kenny Kadji had 19 points and gave Miami an inside scoring option but he only grabbed four rebounds. Miami was playing with only three and a half starters since Durand Scott was operating on a bad ankle.

Mark Lyons outplayed Shane Larkin in Sunday night’s matchup in Hawaii. Even though Lyons plays point guard, he has three years of experience as a shooting guard and has a killer mentality with which Larkin could not compete. Lyons is an incredibly versatile player. He can knock down three-pointers from NBA range, drive to the basket, run his defender into screens and has a repertoire of lethal dribbling moves that makes him capable to score 20 points on any given night. Lyons also benefitted from having great shooters around him–a luxury that Larkin was largely lacking against Arizona. Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kevin Parrom and Kaleb Tarczewski shoot at least 51 percent from the field and average 6.5 or more points per game. Shane Larkin could not stay in front of Lyons and was embarrassed several times on defense when his opponent decided to take over on offense for Arizona.

I have no doubt that Miami can be a threat in the ACC this season when the team is completely healthy. They can wreak havoc on defense but need Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott to be at full strength in order to competitive on the boards and on offense. Plus, Shane Larkin’s best games are still in front of him. He is only a sophomore and has two years to improve at the most important position in basketball.

The Arizona Wildcats are no longer a secret as they are off to their best start in almost two decades at 11-0. They are playing like the best team out west and have Final Four potential thanks to the addition of Mark Lyons in the offseason.