"I Know the Game Like I'm Reffing It"

Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015-16 Big East Preview

Despite finishing the 2014-15 season with the third highest conference RPI, Big East conference teams begin this season with a familiar tag: underrated.

Some might even call it disrespected.

Of course, much of it has to do with the Big East’s lack of recent success in March. Villanova stormed through the regular season and were awarded a number one seed by the selection committee, only to be upset by NC State in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. A disappointment like that can easily cause people to forget all of the big non-conference wins the league accumulated earlier during the season.

However, Nova coach Jay Wright has other theories, as well.

“There are a lot of forces out there in the media and in other conferences that are promoting that,” Wright said about the perception that the Big East is a diminished conference. “I think over time you're going to see the consistency of a lot of teams in the tournament – some of us have to break through – but, great traditional programs doing what they do every year and I think we’ll just wear people out.”

Regardless, this season figures to be another successful one. Teams such as the aforementioned Villanova, as well as Georgetown, Butler and Xavier return a lot of talent and are sure to be formidable. In addition, Marquette and Seton Hall possess promising young players who look ready to explode on the scene, giving both programs a chance to reclaim past glory.

Oh, and I have yet to mention the league could very well have the best player in the country, Kris Dunn from Providence.

So, expect the Big East to show very well versus non-conference foes again this season and for pundits to express shock and awe. Things probably won’t be as smooth within the conference, as the 10-team round-robin promises to be a grind.

But, again, the league’s success and reputation will ultimately be judged on its success in March. Expect six teams to be chosen for that challenge.


G – Kris Dunn, Jr., Providence
G – D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Sr., Georgetown
G – Billy Garrett, Jr., DePaul
G – Kellen Dunham, Sr., Butler
G – Isaiah Whitehead, So., Seton Hall


Kris Dunn, Jr., Providence


Henry Ellenson, Fr., Marquette


John Thompson III, Georgetown


Coach Jay Wright, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono celebrate last season's Big East Championship.                           

1. Villanova – They won't be as dominant as they were last year, but the Wildcats are the clear favorite once again. They are typically guard-heavy again this year, but big man Daniel Ochefu will have to play a more prominent role. Best Player: Ryan Arcidiacono. Key Player: Daniel Ochefu.

2. Georgetown – The Hoyas have been overlooked by most preseason prognosticators, but it won’t take long for the country to take notice. With the return of DSR and some extremely talented sophomores, Hoya Saxa will challenge Nova for the Big East title. Best Player: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Key Player: Isaac Copeland.

3. Butler – They surprised everyone last season by using grit and guile to tie for second place in the Big East. They will be no surprise this year with two of the league’s best players still on their roster. There is a clear three-team top tier this season and the Bulldogs are in it. Best Player: Kellen Dunham. Key Player: Andrew Chrabascz.

4. Xavier – The Musketeers actually played deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any other Big East team last season, reaching the Sweet 16. They lost a couple of key guys, but the cupboard is far from bare. Look for Xavier to be a credible threat to the league’s top three. Best Player: Trevon Bluiett. Key Player: Myles Davis.

5. Providence – The Friars lost a lot in production and experience from last season’s team. But, they still have some talent, including a candidate for National Player of the Year, in Kris Dunn. Coach Ed Cooley is a proven winner, so don’t expect Providence to dip. Best Player: Kris Dunn. Key Player: Jalen Lindsey.

6. Marquette – Despite a 13-19 record, Marquette was a hard-nosed, tough out last year in Coach Steve Wojciechowski’s first year. This season, Wojo comes equipped with a top ten recruiting class, including a top 10 prospect in 6’10, Henry Ellenson. Look for the Golden Eagles to be much-improved and sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Best Player: Henry Ellenson. Key Player: Luke Fischer.

7. Seton Hall – The Pirates are a bit of a wild card in the Big East this season. They have a very talented sophomore class, including guard Isaiah Whitehead, who looks primed to have a breakout season. However, the players and coach have yet to prove they are capable of putting together a successful season. If this prediction is correct, this could be coach Kevin Willard’s last season in South Orange. Best Player: Isaiah Whitehead. Key Player: Derrick Gordon.

8. DePaul – The Blue Demons have been the laughing stock of the league for longer than I care to remember. Former coach Dave Leitao has returned for a second go at it. He actually has some talent to work with, as three starters return. Look for DePaul to be more competitive, but in the tough Big East, it will be difficult to move up the standings. Best Player: Billy Garrett Jr. Key Player: Tommy Hamilton IV.

9. Creighton – A year after Doug McDermott lit up the country, including the Big East, and carried the Blue Jays to a surprisingly successful first season in the conference, Creighton came way back down to earth last season. They played tough and lost many close games, but four Big East wins is four Big East wins. Their roster turns over a great deal again this year, so expect more hard times, while still being a tough beat. Best Player: James Milliken. Key Player: Cole Huff.

10. St. John's – Johnnies’ legend Chris Mullin takes over at his alma mater with one heck of a rebuilding job, at least from a roster perspective. The Red Storm have three players returning from Steve Lavin’s 2014-15 NCAA Tournament team and none of them contributed significantly. Mullin has been quoted as saying he has experienced both winning and losing. He will likely lean on the latter this season. Best Player: Durand Johnson. Key Player: ?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mets Making the Best of a Good Situation

It is stating the obvious to say that the Mets look like a different team since the July 31st trade deadline.

Of course, they are a different squad, after the additions of two ancillary pieces and a borderline superstar to their previously inept lineup. The roster is much deeper, which suddenly creates competition, and Terry Collins now has many more options with which to play.

I worried that options might not necessarily be a good thing for Collins, whose moves often perplexed me, but the 10-3 record the Mets have posted in August has made me look foolish.

Collins deserves credit, but the players deserve the lion’s share.

They have all bought in. 

The two guys who figured to be squeezed the most after the trade deadline were Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores. 

Flores has elevated his play this month, recording one clutch hit after another, one standing ovation after another and earning pretty consistent playing time either at second base or shortstop. 

Lagares’s fate has been more tenuous. He has played sparingly since the trade deadline, either getting a spot start versus lefties or coming in as a late game defensive replacement in center field.

Lagares, an everyday player and Gold Glove winner a season ago, has not hung his head.

“It’s a little hard, I can’t lie and say I don’t care, because you know, what you want is to play. But you can’t do anything about it. Come ready to play every day because you never know,” Lagares said in Spanish after a win over Colorado earlier this week.

“I always speak with everyone, with Grandy, with Cuddyer, we are a team and everyone can go through a bad time. Because baseball is like that, you’re always going to have ups and downs but you try to stay positive and keep working.”

There is, perhaps, no better example of, or to, these current Mets than Michael Cuddyer. 

Strange, I know, since he’s widely been considered a huge disappointment on the field in his first year in Queens.

After inking a 2-year, $21 million contract in the off season, Cuddyer is batting .250 with 8 home runs and 31 RBIs, while suffering through a knee injury that forced him into a DL stint before being reactivated on Monday.

But, upon his return and after realizing that much – including his potential playing time – had changed, Cuddyer’s leadership and attitude has remained a positive.

“There are pros, guys who appreciate the game, that do the things that I think you're supposed to do…in the clubhouse, on the field. Michael Cuddyer fits that category,” Collins said Tuesday night.

Cuddyer sang much the same tune this week while the Mets were sweeping the Rockies.

"Maybe I'm not going to play everyday, I don't know. But, to have that attitude of whatever Terry calls upon you, whatever you need to do to help win the game, that's what we’re onboard to do and I think guys in here are seeing how fun it is to win and enjoying it.”

Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson rejoice after a win over the Colorado Rockies.

10-3 in August is fun for everyone. The only question for fans is whether this fun has legs that can carry the Mets through September and into October.

Juan Uribe, who has been a part of two championship teams, also stuck with the fun theme when asked if this team reminded him of a winner.

“They play together,” Uribe said, sounding like the new member of the team he is. “They play like family. They're happy all game, lose or win, they're happy. Every team wants to be a team like that.”

Whether he realizes it or not, Uribe has played a big part in that attitude in the small amount of  time he's been here.

Since the trade deadline it seems everyone has bought in. They realize that this is their team and if everyone plays their role the team will be successful; and with success comes fun. 

Mets fans can surely attest to that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What a Difference a Trade Makes

Jay Z and Too Short coined the phrase, “It was all good just a week ago.”

For the Mets, it's all good right now. A week ago? Not so much.

Last Friday’s trade deadline and the weeks leading up to it had to be excruciating for the Mets. The New York media and fans relentlessly voiced their displeasure over the management’s inability, or worse yet, unwillingness to bring in help for the their inept offense.

The Mets - particularly their owners, General Manager Sandy Alderson and the offense - were an embarrassment, according to their critics. Most of the New York sports media labeled Alderson a fraud that talked a good game, but was sure to waste the dominant pitching staff he helped assemble.

Alderson was basically dared not to make a move. 

I started to think that might be the preferred occurrence for fans and media, so the horde could justifiably crucify Alderson, as they were dying to do.

But, then something happened. A trade. Then another one. And then a big one.

The Mets’ low-cost addition of Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard was a tasty appetizer for the critics. But, after the failed Carlos Gomez trade/Wilmer Flores crying fiasco, the pressure was right back on. Alderson came through just in the knick of time with the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes minutes before the trade deadline.

Yoenis Cespedes
Suddenly, there’s a buzz, a buzz that hasn’t been seen since Citi Field opened in 2009.

The Mets’ average attendance this year is 30,159. On the night that made Wilmer Flores famous, 24,804 people were at Citi Field to witness Flores crying on the field in person.

The Cespedes trade was a game changer on and off the field.

The average attendance for the Nationals series this weekend was 38,178, about 8,000 above the average.

Expect that trend to continue now that management has shown they are serious about building an immediate contender.

Thanks to a single move by the General Manager, Mets fans are back on board for the first time in years and for the first time since their beautiful stadium has been called home.

There’s a saying, “scared money don’t make money,” and Mets’ ownership should heed that advice from here on out. The better the product on the field, the more likely fans are to support the team, both emotionally and financially. 

The fans aren't the only ones excited.

“This is my first experience with a New York crowd and what it’s like here and the energy they bring to the ballpark is unbelievable,”  Terry Collins said after the Mets' 5-2 win and series sweep over the Nationals Sunday night. “If we continue this, they're going to help a great deal to keep this club energized for the next two months.”

Daniel Murphy had similar thoughts.

“It was a treat playing in front of this crowd,” he said. “I feel like we rewarded them with some good baseball.”

It was just a week ago that the Mets looked like a laughing stock.

But, thanks to a trade, it’s a new week, a new team and newly energized fan base. 

It should be fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mets Still Have Questions, But Flores's Storybook Night Provides Hope

When I last wrote about the Mets – during the All-Star break – I cautioned fans and the like to be patient with them. I felt they were primed to stay in the National League East race, that their offense couldn't possibly perform worse than it had in the first half of the season and their pitching would keep them in most games.

Lastly, and toughest to sell, I predicted that General Manager Sandy Alderson would pull the trigger in free agency and add a piece or two to help the team’s dilapidated offense.

Alderson didn't make it look pretty.

But, despite a blood thirsty New York media frenzy that essentially dared Alderson not to make a move and a severely botched non-trade that caused the young Wilmer Flores to shed tears on the infield, the Mets reached yesterday's trade deadline having added four new pieces for the stretch run.

New York strengthened their bench, bullpen and acquired that much needed power bat by adding Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from Atlanta, Tyler Clippard from Oakland and Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit.

Alderson was able to pull it all off without giving up any of their star pitchers, including the rehabbing Zack Wheeler, who was reported to be part of the failed Gomez deal. They also held on to Flores, who has shown promise this year.

The Mets were able to use talent from their suddenly stacked minor league system to complete these much needed deals.

So here we are.

The Mets seem more than equipped to make a realistic run at the solid but unspectacular Nationals, who arrived at Citi Field Friday with a 3-game division lead.

New York now has a deep roster with players who can play multiple positions, some better than others.

Now that the pressure is briefly off Alderson, the likely next person in the line of fire is Manager Terry Collins.

He will have to perform better at his own job if the Mets are going to be true players come September. 

Collins has made curious decisions a habit, whether it be pulling starters too early, leaving them on the mound too long, or lineup decisions. With the added depth and talent on the roster comes more chances for Collins to press the wrong buttons (I won't even mention his proclivity for odd press conference behavior).

He will now have to juggle time between Johnson, Flores and Murphy at second base, Murphy, Uribe and maybe even David Wright at third, and the outfield is suddenly a logjam with Cespedes, Granderson, Conforto, Lagares, Nieuwenhuis, Cuddyer, and even Eric Campbell.

 I dare say, I don’t have the utmost confidence in Collins’s ability to make it all work.

Lets hope I'm wrong. Depth problems are usually described as good problems.

We shall see.

The post trade deadline could not have started more positively Friday.

Though Cespedes could not join his new team in time for yesterday's series opener versus the Nationals, the Mets were set up well for the series with their top three young guns on the mound, Harvey followed by Jacob deGrom, then Noah Syndergaard.

Harvey did his part.

He started the game with five and a third innings of perfect work before giving up a single to Jose Lobaton.

But, the night belonged to, guess who? Flores.

Remember, it was Flores who was put through the wringer two nights ago.

Word spread quickly via Twitter that the Mets and the Brewers had agreed to terms on a trade that would send Carlos Gomez to the Mets for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores.

The only problem was Flores was currently playing shortstop at Citi Field for the Mets versus the Padres. The deal was confirmed by various media outlets and being talked about on the live game broadcast, but Flores remained in the game, cameras focusing in on his every emotion.

When he stepped to the plate, astonishingly still in the game in the late innings, he received a farewell standing ovation from the New York crowd who seemingly knew more than he did. When he ran out to his shortstop position (still in the game) for the next half inning, cameras again zeroed in on the 23-year-old. He was seen wiping tears away from his face with his fielding arm.

Wilmer Flores was emotional Wednesday night.
You could tell early that yesterday would be a better day for Flores.

In the first inning, he robbed Yunel Escobar of a hit with a diving stop and accurate throw to first  base. The crowd rewarded Flores with a prolonged standing ovation; part appreciation for the play, part appreciation for his refreshing show of emotion two nights earlier, and part apology for jumping the gun.

In the fourth inning, Flores drove in the game’s first run with a single to left. Another standing ovation ensued. That run was enough to keep the Mets ahead until the Nationals finally broke through against Harvey and tied the game in the eight inning.

Flores stepped to the plate again in the bottom of the twelfth with the game tied at 1. This time he lined a shot over the left centerfield fence. He raced around the bases into the mob of teammates waiting at home plate.

One last standing ovation.

What a difference two days make.

If that's not a good sign for the Mets’ stretch run I don't know what is.

But, then again, it's the Mets. So, we shall see.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mets Midseason Report - Where do they go from here?

Ah, the Mets.

Let me start by admitting I’m a life long Mets fan, so my feelings vis-a-vis the Amazins are usually either hopelessly optimistic or depressingly pessimistic. Sometimes both at the same damn time.

Cautious optimism is winning out today.

As poorly as the Mets’ offense has looked over the past three months, they have managed to keep their heads above water. There is no reason to think they won’t be able to do so the remainder of the season, whether or not changes are made to the roster.

The Mets finished the first half of the season five games over .500 at 47-42, 2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East.

Not too bad and maybe acceptable had you asked Mets fans prior to the season.

However, remember the Mets started the season 13-3, so that means since April 24th they have been a less than average (5 games under .500) baseball team. That’s three months of inconsistent to bad baseball.

Yes, injuries have hurt the team.

David Wright has been absent since the beginning of the season and his return is still greatly in question.

Travis d’Arnaud has been their best offensive player when healthy. Unfortunately, he has very rarely been healthy and starts the second half of the season on the DL.

Daniel Murphy, though one of the worst fielders I may have ever witnessed on an everyday basis, is a solid bat in any lineup. But again, Murphy has had a couple stints on the DL already this season and has been unable to get into any kind of offensive rhythm.

The rest of the offense has just been bad, without the benefit of health excuses.

After a promising start to the season, Lucas Duda had a putrid month of June, hitting just one homerun. Michael Cuddyer, GM Sandy Alderson’s prized free agent bat during the offseason, has convinced me that there may be a Mets free agent curse, particularly in left field. Cuddyer has resembled Jason Bay, as his confidence is shot and he has become close to an automatic out with or without runners in scoring position, but especially when runners are on.

So, why the cautious optimism, you ask?

The pitching, of course.

The Mets currently have two #1 pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, in their rotation and two other guys who have #1 potential, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, though Matz is currently on the DL.

The other two pitchers in the rotation aren’t too shabby either. Jonathon Niese and fan favorite Bartolo Colon have more than held their own on the mound.

The pitching has absolutely carried the Mets, to the point where if the offense could just muster three runs a game for the remainder of the season, you’d feel pretty confident that the Mets could make the postseason.

That brings us to the big question. What can Alderson do to bolster the offense so that all of this dominant pitching is not wasted?

Every fan and New York media member has taken their turn bashing Alderson for failing to make a successful move in the offseason or a move at all so far this season.

“Do something!” has been the cry.

But, when you ask about specifics it’s crickets.

I’m a believer that “something” must be done, whether it’s obtaining a big bat or little bat, but not at the expense of any of the young pitchers. Now, if a team is offering up a young stud, a la Trout, Harper, Pederson, Goldschmidt (of course they are not), then now you’re talking, but anything else, no thank you. So, in other words, the Mets’ young stud pitchers should be untouchable, including Zack Wheeler, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Thus, it is hard to argue with Alderson’s inaction at this point. People keep predicting the demise of the Mets this season, but somehow the team has found a way to stay within reach of the division leading Nationals.

There have been reports of the Mets having interest in little pieces like Oakland’s Ben Zobrist or Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez, either of which could help.

More recently, however, Jon Heyman reported that the Mets are showing interest in another Brewer, Carlos Gomez, and the Padres’ Justin Upton. Those are two potentially bigger bats that could give the Mets the boost they need to become a true threat in the National League. As long as the core five pitchers are not touched, I’m all for that type of move, one year rental or not.

Regardless, I predict that the Mets will be a playoff contender late into the summer. The pitching will keep them in it and even without a major move (though, I think one is coming) the offense cannot perform any worse than it already has. It is only up from here.

Though you cannot count on Wright’s return, it is possible, as he recently was cleared to resume baseball activities. d’Arnaud should also be back in a few weeks and if he can somehow avoid another injury, he will be a huge offensive addition.

The Nationals are formidable, but they haven’t shown the ability to run and hide.

Expect the Mets starting pitching to stay dominant, the relief pitching to improve with the return of Jenrry Mejia, and for Alderson to make a move that gives the offense that much needed boost.

For the first time in a long time, expect meaningful baseball games in August and September in Queens.

A Look at the Knicks' Summer - Progress Made

It’s been a busy summer for Phil Jackson. A lost summer, if you are even half listening to the chatter.

Phil’s name, of course, triggers serious sports emotions in New York. So, when attempting to assess the job he’s done so far, New Yorkers must sift through that emotion.

With only two low salary spots available, we can now start to get a feel for how the team will look when the season starts in the fall.

Guess what? 

It ain’t as bad as you’ve heard.

The Knicks’ starting lineup will likely look like this: Jose Calderon (PG), Aaron Afflalo (SG), Carmelo Anthony (SF), Kyle O’Quinn (PF), Robin Lopez (C). However, Jerian Grant (G), Kristaps Porzingis (F/C), Derrick Williams (F), and Langston Galloway (PG) should all be in the rotation.

It is clear that Jackson’s plan was to create a roster that was more versatile, selfless and possessed a higher basketball IQ than the one he was saddled with last season.

I have heard arguments from Phil detractors – of which there are many – that the roster he inherited (J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, etc.) was more talented than the group he assembled this summer.

That may be true if you define basketball talent strictly as jumping ability, one-on-one prowess, name recognition, and swagger. But, Phil seems to have successfully put talented role players around the one true star on the squad.

Carmelo Anthony should enjoy playing with this season’s Knicks a lot more than he has in the past. He will be surrounded by guys who will be eager and capable of getting him the ball in the correct spots. Moreover, this team now has multiple players who enjoy doing the dirty work (see defense), which should also be appealing to Melo.

At the same time, this particular roster puts much pressure on Carmelo. Not only must he carry the team offensively, but the pressure is also on him to get this team into the playoffs, which a player of his talent and stature should be able to do, though it won’t be easy.

Now, are you ready for a shocking statement?

Wait for it…

Phil Jackson’s best work this summer was done in the draft.

I know, I know, what about that poor little Knicks fan whose hopes and dreams were shattered on draft night? No, not the actual draft pick, but the kid who was caught bawling on camera. Well, sources tell me he was actually planted in the crowd by ESPN (just joking).

In all seriousness, despite the crying and ridicule from fans and media after the selection of Kristaps Porzingis - including from yours truly, after two weeks of summer league play it is clear that Porzingis has as much potential as anyone in the 2015 draft.

The 7’3 Porzingis is fluid, athletic, has seemingly unlimited range on his jumper, and has a high basketball IQ. He is also tough and media savvy, which might be his most valuable traits while playing in New York City.

While my originally preferred target with the 4th overall pick, Emmanuel Mudiay, has looked like a keeper for Denver as well, it was relayed to me that the Knicks’ brass felt Mudiay was too “ball dominant” for their liking.

Porzingis’s biggest question mark was basically just that. He was an unknown from Latvia whom fans and most media had never seen. But after seeing him play for all of ten minutes, you get a glimpse of the talent that reportedly prompted Knicks Head Scout Clarence Gaines to say he would’ve taken the 7’3 Latvian #1 overall.

With all this talk about Porzingis, it’s easy to forget that Jackson also pulled another first round pick out of thin air. He acquired the rights to the #19 pick, Jerian Grant, for Tim Hardaway Jr.

Grant, a 5-year Notre Dame combo guard who led the Irish to their best season since Digger Phelps roamed the sidelines, is kind of like a Mudiay-lite. He’s light on the Mudiay potential and athleticism, but also light on the ball domination and inexperience.

Grant is a very talented two-way guard that can score and pass and has a great chance to play major minutes in his rookie year.

So, despite all the Knicks/Phil Jackson jokes – and they will continue with force, New York has added some good pieces.

Yes, the Knicks struck out on all of this year’s “big” free agents. And yes, a couple of them refused to even meet with the Zen Master.

However, if there was a year to strike out, it was this year.

LaMarcus Aldridge is a high-end complementary player, but he is not winning you any championships.

By subtracting Chandler, Smith, Shumpert, and Hardaway Jr. and replacing them with Afflalo, Lopez, Porzingis, Grant and others, the Knicks have become more well-rounded and more importantly, more stable.

How many wins that translates into will depend largely on the type of bounce-back season Carmelo has, along with the type of coach Derek Fisher matures into.

But, the Zen Master has started the rebuilding process in an intelligent, responsible fashion that hints that he is in this for the long haul (his five-year contract), not the quick fix that New Yorkers irrationally long for.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 Mock NBA Draft, 1st Round - What they SHOULD do (updated).

The NBA Draft takes place tonight in Brooklyn. Here's a look at how I think it SHOULD go down, if I were the GM of all 30 teams

1. MinnesotaJahlil Okafor, 6'11, C, Duke. How you pass up on the best offensive big man in many a year, I don't know. His defensive woes have been way overblown.

2. Los AngelesKarl-Anthony Towns, 7'0, C, Kentucky. The Lakers could use a multi-talented big to bolster their front line, along side Julius Randle.

3. PhiladelphiaD’Angelo Russell, 6'4, G, Ohio State. Russell is the best non big in the draft and Philly, of course, has a couple young bigs.

4. New YorkEmmanuel Mudiay, 6'5, G, China. As we know, the Knicks’ roster is bare almost everywhere. Why not start filling the point guard position with an athletic big guard with loads of potential.

5. OrlandoKristaps Porzingis, 7'1, PF, Latvia. The Magic are in a safe position to take a chance on the ballyhooed foreigner. They could end up stocked with young talented bigs.

6. SacramentoMyles Turner, 6'11, PF/C, Texas. The Kings have glaring needs at PG and PF. Turner makes sense here. He has great size and much potential, despite a somewhat disappointing freshman campaign at Texas.

7. DenverMario Hezonja, 6'8, G/F, Croatia. Denver needs help everywhere and is in rebuilding mode, so why not take a chance on a high upside, athletic Croatian SG.

8. DetroitJustise Winslow, 6'6, G/F, Duke. The Pistons need help at the G/F spots and Winslow's stock has been soaring, largely based on his NCAA Tourney performance where he showed all around skills and the heart of a lion.

9. CharlotteFrank Kaminsky, 7'1, PF/C, Wisconsin. Word is that MJ is high on Frank the Tank and with the trade of Noah Vonleh, the Hornets have even more room for a solid big.

10. MiamiStanley Johnson, 6'6, SF, Arizona. Johnson was slightly disappointing as a freshman at Zona, but he is still highly regarded and is a good fit for the Heat with his versatility and hard-nosed play.

11. IndianaCameron Payne, 6'2, PG, Murray State. The Pacers need help at guard, specifically point guard. The Murray State phenom could be a perfect fit.

12. UtahDevin Booker, 6'6, SG, Kentucky. The Jazz, like everyone else, can use a 6'6 pure shooter to go with their young mix of talent.

13. PhoenixWillie Cauley-Stein, 7'0, C, Kentucky. This is a nice fit for both parties. Who really knows what the Suns are doing, but Will Trill is a defensive-minded big that runs like a gazelle.

14. Oklahoma CitySam Dekker, 6'9, SF, Wisconsin. OKC needs some scoring reinforcements from the G/F position and Dekker could be that guy.

15. AtlantaBobby Portis, 6'11, PF, Arkansas. Portis would give the Hawks’ frontcourt depth and versatility.

16. BostonTrey Lyles, 6'10, PF, Kentucky. The Celtics are likely looking for the best non guard available at this spot and Lyles is the guy.

17. MilwaukeeMontrezl Harrell, 6'8, PF, Louisville. The Bucks could use some bulk and energy up front.

18. HoustonTyus Jones, 6'1, PG, Duke. The Rockets need a pure PG and Jones is the best one available at this spot.

19. WashingtonRondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6'7, SF, Arizona. The Wizards could use some help at the forward spot and Hollis-Jefferson could add defensive toughness, as well.

20. TorontoR.J. Hunter, 6'6, SG, Georgia State. The 6’6 Hunter fills a SG and perimeter shooting need for the Raptors.

21. DallasDelon Wright, 6'5, PG, Utah. The Mavs need a PG and Delon Wright is a pure one that can do a little bit of everything at 6’5.

22. ChicagoKelly Oubre, 6'7, SF, Kansas. If Oubre is still around, this makes sense here. The Bulls need SG insurance and SF help. Oubre has loads of potential and new coach Fred Hoiberg is familiar with the former Big 12 player.

23. PortlandKevon Looney, 6'9, PF, UCLA. Looney is a good 6’9, long, athletic and skilled gamble for the Blazers, who may need to replace LaMarcus Aldridge.

24. ClevelandJerian Grant, 6'4, G, Notre Dame. If Grant is still around at this spot, it would be a steal for the Cavs. Grant can contribute right away at both guard positions, as he can score, but is very unselfish with a high basketball IQ.

25. MemphisOlivier Hanlan, 6'4, G, Boston College. This could be looked at as a bit of a risk/reach, but Hanlan is probably the best shooter/scorer available and has the size, at 6’4, to be a combo guard.

26. San AntonioRashad Vaughn, 6'5, SG, UNLV. This is a tough pick. There are no clear choices, but they should take a chance on a young shooting talent that they can develop.

27. Los AngelesJustin Anderson, 6'6, G/F, Virginia. The Lakers badly need SF help and Anderson seems to be a fit here. Anderson came out of nowhere to star for Virginia last year, only to have his season cut short due to injury. So, this is a bit of a risk.

28. BostonJarell Martin, 6'9, PF, LSU. The Celtics need all the help they can get at the forward position and Martin has great upside.

29. BrooklynChris McCullough, 6'9, F, Syracuse. McCullough played in only 16 games as a freshman at Syracuse due to a season ending ACL injury. He’s raw and a project, but has lots of upside and NY area ties.

30. Golden StateJoseph Young, 6'2, G, Oregon. What does the team that has everything get for itself? I say they go for another explosive shooter/scorer to plug into their backcourt to give the Splash Brothers a rest.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Eastern Conference Semifinal Quikie Preview: Chicago vs. Cleveland

Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 Games, 2-2-1-1-1.

Series Favorite: Cavaliers -240

Game 1: Cavaliers -4.5

This was the series many predicted in the preseason. However, most assumed that this would be the Eastern Conference Final match-up. Thanks to Derrick Rose's continued injury issues, these two teams meet a round earlier. 


The injury bug decided to spread the wealth, when Boston's Kelly Olynyk intentionally or unintentionally yanked Kevin Love's arm from his shoulder socket. So, as the Bulls' luck would have it, they are the team in better physical shape for this series, as their injury plagued star will actually play in this round.


The key for the Bulls is how well Rose plays. He looked mighty impressive early in the first round versus the Bucks, but tailed off as the series went on. If Rose can be anywhere near the player he was in the first two games of Round 1, the Bulls have the edge. If he can merely stay on the court and give the Bulls spurts of energy and clutch play, they have a shooter's chance.


Point guard play is also the key for the Cavs. We know LeBron James will be his extraordinary self in this series. We also know that Kyrie Irving will give the Cavs at least 20-something a game. What we are not sure of, but know may be possible, is a Kyrie explosion. Irving's ceiling has not been determined yet and if he can score 30-plus points in two or three games, that may be enough to make up for Love's absence and push the Cavs over the top.


There is one glaring mismatch in the series and that is on the sideline. Yes, the NBA is a "player's league," but if ever that theory could be debunked, it is here.  Tom Thibodeau has been here before and has the respect of his players. David Blatt cannot attest to either claim.


The Cavs have the two best players in this series, so if either or both is other worldly, Cleveland likely moves on. But, my safe prediction is based on the tried and true theories that defense wins championships and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I'm taking the Bulls' depth, defense and coaching over LeBron and Kyrie. Either way, it will be fun to watch.

Prediction: Bulls in 6

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dance Line$ - Picking the Tournament - National Championship Game

This year, I will be picking every game of the Tournament against the spread.

For the record, I am doing this just for fun - for the love of the game!

Off the record, who knows, so wish me luck. Thanks!

Whew, thank God this tournament is almost over and done with. My pockets have really taken a hit. Just imagine if I would've put some real money down.

I have no one to blame but the odds-makers, the underdogs and the favorites. They all did me wrong.

Anyway, at least there's tonight. Yet another chance for me to end on a good note and resuscitate my self-esteem.

Record: 23-41-2

Final Four: 0-2

Monday, 4/6/15. National Championship: 

(1) Wisconsin -1 vs. (1) Duke, Indianapolis, IN, CBS

So, here we are. Two teams left standing and all those cliches to rattle off. But, this one actually should be great. Two of the four best teams throughout the season, and oh by the way, both teams are at the top of their games. Most people have only given Duke credit for this. Yes, the Blue Devils have been dominant the entire tournament, winning five games by an average of 17.6 points. However, it's hard to argue that any team is playing better than Wisconsin. The Badgers had to beat North Carolina, Arizona and all-mighty Kentucky to get here. Many have wondered whether Bo Ryan can get his team up for one more game, after their physically and emotionally taxing win Saturday night. Well, this "one more game" isn't some regular season game, it's the National Championship game. If you can walk, you can get up for this game. This contest features two of the top three offensively efficient teams in the country (Wisconsin, 1 and Duke, 3). Duke has been the better defensive team, especially during the tournament. That being said, this game will be a battle of wills rather than a battle of statistics. For me, it comes down to which team wants it more. Of course, both teams really want this game and are filled with winners, they wouldn't be here otherwise. But, the Badgers are the older, more experienced team that came into practice this season with this game in mind, having had their hearts broken last year. Kaminsky, Dekker and Jackson will pull every ounce of energy from their bodies in order to win this game. I don't expect Duke's freshmen to wilt, by any means (especially Tyus Jones, who is an absolute killer), I just expect Wisconsin to be just a little bit better and prevail in this true pick em game. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Dance Line$ - Picking the Tournament - Final Four

This year, I will be picking every game of the Tournament against the spread.

For the record, I am doing this just for fun - for the love of the game!

Off the record, who knows, so wish me luck. Thanks!

Welp, we're here. The Final Four. You could not ask for more in terms of the quality of the teams and coaches that make up this year's field in Indianapolis.

As for the quality of my picks, let's just say there's a reason professional betters choose their action judiciously.

Anyway, team Blacketology is on a mission to finish this tournament off strong in order to provide the proper momentum going into 2016.

Record: 23-39-2

Elite 8: 1-3

Saturday, 4/4/15. National Semifinals: 

(7) Michigan State +5.5 vs. Duke, 6:09PM, Indianapolis, IN, TBS

These two met in mid November and Duke dominated. But, it goes without saying that this is a vastly different Michigan State team, because, well, they're coached by Tom Izzo. His teams always get better as the season progresses and occasionally (like every other year), they get so much better that they make a run at a National Championship. The Spartans beat Georgia, Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville to get to this point. None of those teams are slouches. Unbeknownst to many, Izzo & co. are a top 15 offensive team, but still that gritty team on defense and the backboards we've all come to know and love. Duke is an explosive offensive team. They are young, but they have risen to meet the challenge of their competition perhaps more often than any team in the country. The Blue Devils' defensive effort has picked up significantly in the Tournament and is the reason for their relatively easy road to Indy. I like Duke to prevail, but 5.5 is just too much for me to give Izzo. Three and a half months later, it will be a game this time.

(1) Kentucky -4.5 vs. (1) Wisconsin, 8:49PM, Indianapolis, IN, TBS

I have been saying all post-season that Kentucky was being overvalued by the public, and thus Vegas, so I would be picking against the Big Blue Nation. That theory has pretty much held true, as Kentucky is 1-3 against the spread in this tournament. However, after Notre Dame pushed the Wildcats to the brink last weekend, it seems as if Vegas got a bit skittish. A 4.5 line for Kentucky would have been unheard of at the start of the Tournament. When the bracket was announced, many opined that Kentucky was likely to be a double-digit favorite throughout. So, the UK spread has come back down to earth and is actually where I think it should be. Kentucky is not unbeatable, as we were shown by lesser teams in the SEC and most recently by the Irish. Wisconsin may well be the second most dominant team this season. The Badgers ran through the Big Ten and beat North Carolina and Arizona in impressive fashion to get to Indianapolis. If you think Notre Dame was offensively equipped to give Kentucky a scare, Wisconsin is probably a bit more so. Bo Ryan's squad is the country's top rated team in terms of offensive efficiency, just ahead of the second ranked Irish. Having said all that, I'm taking Kentucky. John Calipari has been tremendous when given close to a week to prepare his squad, just ask Bob Huggins. With a 4.5 spread, that leaves me just enough room to predict a close game that Kentucky survives.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dance Line$ - Picking the Tournament - Elite 8

This year, I will be picking every game of the Tournament against the spread.

For the record, I am doing this just for fun - for the love of the game!

Off the record, who knows, so wish me luck. Thanks!

We witnessed two terrific college basketball games last night. Wisconsin elevated its already high level of play to run away from Arizona in the second half, while Kentucky rode their defense and Karl Anthony Towns and withstood a valiant effort from Notre Dame in a classic.

Don't look for a letdown today.

Record: 23-37-2

Yesterday: 1-1

Sunday, 3/29/15. Regional Finals: 

(4) Louisville +2 vs (7) Michigan State, 2:20PM, Syracuse, NY, CBS

Today's undercard is a classic match-up in its own right. Two of the best coaches of all-time link up for a chance to get their overachieving team to the Final Four. Neither was really supposed to be here, much less reach Indianapolis. The Spartans are a slight favorite because they are on one of their classic Izzo late-season runs. MSU's only two losses this month have come at the hands of Wisconsin, who is already Indy bound. However, Louisville hasn't been too shabby either. The Cardinals' only losses this March have been to Notre Dame and North Carolina. Rick Pitino's squad has relied almost solely on their top five defense all season, but they have suddenly received an offensive boost, just in the nick of time. In a true test of coaching wit, due to the one day to prepare, look for Pitino to work his magic and pull out a squeaker, thanks in part to the match-up zone.

(2) Gonzaga +2 vs (1) Duke, 5:05PM, Houston, TX, CBS

In tonight's main event, we have two heavyweights. Actually, two is selling this one short. The two coaches alone are heavyweights, in Coach K and Mark Few, but Jahlil Okafor, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis likely qualify as well. These are two teams (among six others) who had typical 1-seed resumés all season. This is an even match-up statistically, as both teams are top five offensively and top 30 defensively. But, if match-ups make fights and basketball games, then the edge here looks to be with the Zags. Duke is highly reliant on Okafor and their other dynamic freshmen on the perimeter. Gonzaga has a slew of big men they can use to contain Okafor and they have the experience and skill in the backcourt (Pangos, Wesley and Bell are all seniors) to frustrate and contain Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, while neutralizing Quinn Cook. I'm betting on Few to finally shut up his irrational critics and get to his first Final Four.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dance Line$ - Picking the Tournament - Elite 8

This year, I will be picking every game of the Tournament against the spread.

For the record, I am doing this just for fun - for the love of the game!

Off the record, who knows, so wish me luck. Thanks!

I was on my way to a pretty darn good betting Friday, until members of the Utah Utes men's basketball team proved unable to control their frustration. Down 5 (the line I had was Utah +6) and with 0.7 seconds to go, the Utes clawed and grabbed at Quinn Cook.

Of course, the refs had absolutely no choice but to call the foul and drag both teams back from their locker rooms in order to protect the integrity of the game. And, of course, Cook had no choice but to tease me by missing the first free throw, only to rip my heart out by making the second, in true Dukie fashion.

But, anyway...

Record: 22-36-2

Yesterday: 2-1-1

Saturday, 3/28/15. Regional Finals:

(2) Arizona -1.5 vs (1) Wisconsin, 6:09PM, Los Angeles, CA, TBS

For once, what we all thought would happen in the NCAA Tournament actually did happen. The 1 and 2 seeds took care of their business and will meet tonight in a rematch of an Elite Eight match-up from last year. In that game, Wisconsin won an overtime thriller, 64-63, led by Frank Kaminsky's 28 points and 11 rebounds. The key this year will be Sam Dekker. He will have to produce more than the 7 points he put up last year for Wisconsin to get to their 2nd straight Final Four. Arizona has been open about the revenge factor at work in this contest, which will only help the Cats in this evenly matched affair. It is Arizona's defense that separates the two teams and will propel Sean Miller to his first Final Four.

(3) Notre Dame +11 vs (1) Kentucky, 8:49PM, Cleveland, OH, TBS

Yeah, so, last time I bet against Kentucky they embarrassed West Virginia - and me - to the tune of a 78-39 obliteration. Don't blame me, I forgot the Mountaineers couldn't shoot/score in an open gym practice, much less against the best defensive college team in years. Notre Dame doesn't have that problem. They have two dynamic guards, likely to play at the next level, along with a determined, resourceful small forward and a decent big. It's the decent big that is doubtful to be enough to upset the Big Blue juggernaut. The biggest thing in favor of the Irish keeping this game relatively close is their lack of chatter. So far, they've been smart enough to avoid bold statements that could cause them to hide in bathroom stalls after the game. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dance Line$ - Picking the Tournament - Sweet 16

This year, I will be picking every game of the Tournament against the spread.

For the record, I am doing this just for fun - for the love of the game!

Off the record, who knows, so wish me luck. Thanks!

Well, things went a little better for me yesterday, as I was on-point with my Notre Dame pick. As for that thing I said about West Virginia covering, please forget that ever happened.

Record: 20-35-1

Yesterday: 2-2

Friday, 3/27/15. Regional Semifinals:

(2) Gonzaga -8.5 vs (11) UCLA, 7:15PM, Houston, TX, CBS

This might be the year that Mark Few and the Zags finally fulfill their dream of reaching a Final Four and I don't see the upstarts from L.A. disrupting that. Gonzaga rolled over a pretty good Iowa team in their last game and they won at UCLA rather easily way back in December. Yes, the Bruins are a different team than they were then, but they still don't have enough to deal with the Zags.

(4) Louisville -2.5 vs (8) NC State, 7:37PM, Syracuse, NY, TBS

The Wolfpack won the only meeting between the two this season, on the Cardinals' home turf. That came as a surprise at the time, but NC State has shown that that may not have been a fluke. However, the previous result will also provide additional focus and motivation to Rick Pitino and his squad. Pitino is pretty good even without additional help, especially in March. 

(5) Utah +6 vs (1) Duke, 9:45PM, Houston, TX, CBS

Duke is one of those "public teams" that gets a lot of support in Vegas no matter who they're playing. That said, this Blue Devils squad is legit and are the objective favorite to get to the Final Four out of the South region. They looked spectacular in their win over San Diego State last weekend, but Utah will be a different beast. The Utes, too, looked great last weekend, beating Georgetown. Utah has the size to bother Jahlil Okafor and the team defensive prowess to slow down Duke's perimeter attack. I think Duke just sneaks by here. 

(3) Oklahoma +2 vs (7) Michigan State, 10:07PM, Syracuse, NY, TBS

Hey, I know the Spartans are playing terrific basketball of late and Tom Izzo is great and you should never pick against him. But I like the firepower that the Sooners can throw at them with Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, TaShawn Thomas & company. It should be a defensive battle, but Oklahoma has proven they have the ability to win in a variety of ways. Look for Lon Kruger to move on.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dance Line$ - Picking the Tournament - Sweet 16

This year, I will be picking every game of the Tournament against the spread.

For the record, I am doing this just for fun - for the love of the game!

Off the record, who knows, so wish me luck. Thanks!

It was a rough Sunday for me, as I went 1-7 on the last day of the round of 32. Fortunately, I still have a tiny bit of money left to try and make an L.L. Cool J style comeback. 

Kids, don't try this at home. I feel things about to turn around for me. But, if not, I'm not too good for rehab.

Record: 18-33-1

Thursday, 3/26/15. Regional Semifinals:

(3) Notre Dame +2 vs (7) Wichita State, 7:15PM, Cleveland, OH, CBS

What the Shockers did to Kansas last weekend was quite impressive. I don't think I've seen a team play harder than WSU did the last couple minutes of the 1st half, along with the entire second half. The problem for me is, I don't see how they can possibly conjure up the same emotion and resultant effort a few days later against a non-hated opponent. Not that they won't play well, I just expect a slight let down. Notre Dame is coming off an impressive, gritty win over a team similar to Wichita State, in Butler. The Irish, and more importantly, I, now know they are capable of winning a tough game at a slower pace.

(4) North Carolina +6.5 vs (1) Wisconsin, 7:47PM, Los Angeles, CA, TBS

This will be a close game, in my opinion, so Wisconsin is getting too many points for my liking. The Badgers struggled a bit with Oregon in the second (yes, second) round, which gives me more pause towards the Badgers than I already had. The Tar Heels have been undervalued, despite showing that they can play with any team in the country and coming off an impressive victory over a talented Arkansas squad. Look for this one to come down to the wire, forcing Kaminsky and Dekker to come up big, late.

(5) West Virginia +13 vs (1) Kentucky, 9:45PM, Cleveland, OH, CBS

As I stated in a previous post, I'm likely to pick against the Wildcats the rest of the way, based solely on them being overvalued by the general public and thus, by Vegas. They have failed to cover the spread in either of their two tournament games so far and I see that trend continuing. I don't think the Mountaineers pull off the upset, but I do think they can keep the final score under double-digits, or very, very close.

(6) Xavier +11.5 vs (2) Arizona, 10:17PM, Los Angeles, CA, TBS

Though, this is pretty close to a home game for Arizona, I look for this contest to stay competitive for most, if not all of the game. Zona has been impressive so far in wins over Texas Southern and Ohio State. But, they have a history of letting teams hang around, as the Cats are not the most explosive offensive team. Xavier has been better than they have been given credit for and have the bigs to match up with Arizona's frontline. The Musketeers are a tough bunch, so look for them to take some Zona punches and throw a few right back.