Not Your Same Old Wolves (written June 27, 2015)

Posted: 27th June 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NBA
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Less than three years ago, I wrote a piece introducing several new faces of the Minnesota Timberwolves and declaring it was time to start getting excited about the 2012-13 Wolves. Today, of the fourteen players mentioned in that article, just three remain. Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Chase Budinger. While I may have thought that 2012-13 team called for excitement in the Twin Cities, it was clearly nothing close to what Flip Saunders and the Wolves have assembled, coming out of last week’s NBA Draft. As a lifelong fan of Minnesota sporting teams, optimism is not something I’m accustomed to. However, this time it simply feels different. The Wolves are legitimately putting together something special and people around the league are beginning to take notice. With an extremely young core, the Wolves may still have a few years of growing pains, but there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

The 2013 NBA Draft Trade

Some may recall the heat Flip Saunders took for dealing No. 9 overall pick and 2013 NCAA Player of the Year, Trey Burke, to the Utah Jazz, for pick No. 14 (Shabazz Muhammad) and No. 21 (Gorgui Dieng), in the 2013 NBA Draft. Just a few short years later; the deal is beginning to lean heavily in Minnesota’s favor. Dieng has been a pleasant surprise in the middle and with the addition of Karl-Anthony Towns, can feel comfortable knowing he’ll no longer be asked to log thirty plus minutes a night, but instead, should enjoy the luxury of playing most of his minutes against backups, as Towns figures to be the starter. Shabazz, when healthy, has been instant offense off the Wolves bench. Before missing forty-four of the last forty-seven games due to injury, Muhammad enjoyed a nice twenty-one game stretch that saw him average 17.4ppg, while shooting 49% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc.

The Love Trade

What a difference a year makes. This now looks like one of the greatest moves in Minnesota Timberwolves history. Andrew Wiggins won Rookie of the Year last season and appears to have all the tools required for NBA stardom, while Kevin Love just opted out of his contract after a rollercoaster ride in year one with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although many believe he may re-sign with Cleveland for the 2016 season, it doesn’t feel like Love and the Cavs have the makings of a long-term relationship. Anthony Bennett has struggled, but under the tutelage of Kevin Garnett, hopefully he can turn things around.

The KG Trade

An underrated move that had casual fans baffled, asking why the Wolves would trade 26 year-old Thaddeus Young for the aging, Kevin Garnett, who at 38, seemed to have very little left in the tank. Here’s why. Because, Kevin Garnett is the greatest Wolves player there’s ever been, because twenty years ago, fresh out of high school, it was Minnesota who believed in Garnett, because despite leaving the team more than seven years ago, not on the best of terms, he still loved the city, he still loved the organization (or at least Flip Saunders), and he still loved the fans of Minnesota, because even with father-time working against KG on the court, Garnett could bring this team what they’ve desperately needed for over a decade and something that only KG could provide; Leadership, wisdom, a desire to improve every day, the determination to become the very best, and the knowledge and experience of the sacrifices made in order to reach the NBA’s pinnacle.

The 2015 NBA Draft

For once, the Timberwolves had gotten some lottery luck and owned the No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history. Now all they had to do was not screw it up. As Karl-Anthony Towns’ named was called on Thursday, June 25th, Wolves fans everywhere breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Towns can do it all; shoot, defend, rebound, block shots, pass, run the floor. He’s the perfect fit for what Minnesota’s looking to do and along with Andrew Wiggins, he gives the Wolves what could be the scariest one-two punch in the league, in a few short years. After drafting Towns, the Wolves could have kicked back, celebrated their future star and ended the night by selecting a fringe roster member with the 31st pick and a Euro-stash with the 36th pick. Instead, they weren’t done improving. Frantically trying to move back into the first round, the Wolves found a familiar trade partner, in the Cleveland Cavaliers. They would swap their two seconds for No. 24 and select Apple Valley native, Tyus Jones, who said playing for the Wolves was a dream come true. Jones gives the Wolves a much-needed backup point guard behind Rubio and a very capable one at that. He’s smart, plays hard, doesn’t make many mistakes, and is a natural leader.

Building Something Special

If these Wolves can stay healthy and stay together, we’ve got something special brewing. Front office Flip has one job, keep the core of Rubio, Wiggins, Towns, Shabazz, Gorgui, LaVine, and Tyus together. Pek is expendable, if anyone wants to take on his ludicrous contract. Garnett will most likely play his final season this year and then clear up some cap space, as he heads to the front office. Projected starting five: Rubio, Shabazz, Wiggins, KG, and Towns. How fun would that be on opening night? The bench: Flip needs to ensure Kevin Martin and Pek come off the bench, as they’ll provide the second unit with a very nice scoring punch and will be much more effective working against opposing second-teamers. Other than Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, and Gorgui Dieng, the rest of the roster could see some turnover, as free agency begins July 1st and the Wolves may look to make a move or two before the season begins. Whatever else happens prior to the season opener, the Wolves are definitely headed in the right direction…finally!!




2015 GM’s Draft: Part II (written June 21, 2015)

Posted: 21st June 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NBA
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The NBA Draft is just about here and while my good friend, Jay and I covered the lottery picks last week, this week we’ll finish out the first round in Part II of the 2015 GM’s Draft.

(Jay) With the 15th pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the Atlanta Hawks select Trey Lyles, PF Kentucky. We have quietly been hoping and praying that Lyles would fall to us at 15. He’s one of the most versatile players in the draft and you forget that he’s 6’11” when he’s handling the ball like a guard. He can shoot from outside and give us options in case Millsap or Carroll decide to leave in free agency this summer.

(Jeff) With the 16th pick, the Boston Celtics select, Sam Dekker, SF Wisconsin. Sorry Milwaukee, but we were ecstatic to see such an exceptional athlete still on the board here. While there are questions around the consistency of his outside shot, we’re confident that Sam will work hard to improve in that area. With Young last year and now Dekker, we’re continuing to build an athletic team that can get up and down, pushing tempo.

(Jay) With the 17th pick, the Milwaukee Bucks select Bobby Portis, PF Arkansas. The Bucks would have loved to fit Mr. Wisconsin into the mix, but are confident that Portis gives us the most flexibility. After trading Ersan Ilyasova, we have plenty of minutes available for a spark plug like Bobby. He scores, rebounds and defends well. A great fit for us.

(Jeff) With the 18th pick, the Houston Rockets select Tyus Jones, PG Duke. First off, Jay I can’t believe I drafted all of your Duke players. As a UNC fan, that makes me nauseous!! Secondly, it’s been no secret that a) we love Tyus and b) we desperately need PG help. We even talked Tyus into faking an injury to shut down the rest of his workouts, by promising we’d select him here…oh crap, did I just say that out loud?

(Jay) With the 19th pick, the Washington Wizards select Kevon Looney, PF UCLA. We needed one of the three young PF’s to fall to us and feel like we just got the one with the most upside. Looney may not have enough size to be a true PF in the league, but he’s comically long and can rebound like crazy. He can also fill in at the SF if we are in a pinch. We’re confident we can mold him into a young, budding starter within 3 years.

(Jeff) With the 20th pick, the Toronto Raptors select Jerian Grant, PG Notre Dame. What an extremely difficult decision. We had four guys in a dead heat for this slot. However, despite his age (22), Grant was the pick, because we feel he’s the most prepared to come in and help us win now. In a weak Eastern Conference, we’re close to getting over the hump and Grant’s experience could help us get there. While he’s a very good defender and great decision maker with the ball, he’s also versatile enough to play the 1 or the 2.

(Jay) With the 21st pick, the Dallas Mavericks select R.J. Hunter, SG Georgia State. The likely departure of Monte Ellis from an already thin backcourt makes us select the NCAA Tournament feel good star of last year. RJ can shoot it from deep, although he struggled last year, and will open up the floor for Dirk and Co.

(Jeff) With the 22nd pick, the Chicago Bulls select Rashad Vaughn, SG UNLV. Our defensive minded squad could use some help on the offensive end and Vaughn can flat out score. At just 18 years old he already has an NBA body…he’s not built like the freight-train that is Jimmy Butler, but well enough to hold his own against other 2s in the league.

(Jay) With the 23rd pick, the Portland Trailblazers select Jarell Martin, PF LSU. A long armed forward that can consistently hit jumpers from 16-18′ is something every team would enjoy having. Martin will compliment LaMarcus Aldridge if he stays and hopefully be a part of the replacement should he leave in free agency.

(Jeff) With the 24th pick, LeBron James selects…I mean the Cleveland Cavaliers select Justin Anderson, SF Virginia. There are several reasons Anderson is the perfect addition to our team. Here are four. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, James Jones, and Mike Miller. Anderson possesses the ability to both defend AND make wide-open threes, an ability none of these other bums can claim to have.

(Jay) With the 25th pick, the Memphis Grizzlies select Delon Wright, PG Utah. Picture a 6’6″ point guard that can defend coming off the bench this past postseason when Mike Conley went down with his facial fracture. We feel the West might have had a different outcome if we had Wright this past year.

(Jeff) With the 26th pick, the San Antonio Spurs select Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF Arizona. We’re in a great position to bring Jefferson in and let him develop his outside shot, over time. He can contribute in other ways right off the bat, such as defense, in transition, and penetrating. After sliding a few spots, we think Rondae will be very pleased with where his slide ends. Go Spurs, Go!!

(Jay) With the 27th pick, the Los Angeles Lakers select Montrezl Harrell, PF Louisville. While no one questions his motor, most question his focus. Aside from KG or Duncan, there’s simply no better player to learn how to act and play in the NBA from, than Kobe. Matching Harrell with Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle gives us a strong young core that we’ve brought in over the past two drafts.

(Jeff) With the 28th pick, the Boston Celtics select Chris McCollough. Our push to become more athletic continues, as McCollough is explosive and versatile. With his knee injury, we’ll have to wait to see his elite shot-blocking ability in action, but let’s be real; the Celtics aren’t ready to win next year anyway.

(Jay) With the 29th pick, the Brooklyn Nets select Terry Rozier, PG Louisville. While we had hoped that McCullough and his lottery talent would have fallen to us here, we feel that Rozier will give us depth at a position that has declined for us rapidly over the past few years. Energy and defense are what we’re asking for from Rozier.

(Jeff) With the 30th and final pick of the first round, the Golden State Warriors select Joseph Young, SG Oregon. Shooting, shooting, shooting. When it’s time for Steph Curry to rest, why not put in a Steph Curry clone? We could use more depth at the 1-2 anyway and Young is a lights out shooter. The more the merrier!!



2015 GM’s Draft: Part I (written June 13, 2015)

Posted: 13th June 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NBA
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The NBA Draft is Thursday, June 25th. That means it’s time for the 2015 GM’s Draft. Via text message, my good friend, Jay, and I put on our best general manager caps and draft not whom we think each team will take, but whom we would draft, if we were in charge. After winning the No. 1 overall pick, Jay was on the clock, drafting for our very own Minnesota Timberwolves. Jay will make all the odd numbered picks, while I will make the even numbered selections. That is of course, unless a blockbuster trade takes place. Picks 1-14, the NBA draft lottery picks, are below.

(Jay) This was one of the toughest decisions, as a GM that I could be presented with. The anticipated consensus #1 overall pick for the past year, Jahlil Okafor, has been overtaken in recent gallop polls by the more exciting candidate Karl-Anthony Towns. Being a Duke fan, the pick should be easy: take the more polished Okafor and let him patrol the middle aisle of Target Center for the next 12-15 years. But, the NBA has changed recently to an up and down style, pick and rolls that need the big to be able to be more than just a wall of flesh, centers that can run the floor, but can still step out and hit a jumper. 15 years ago my pick is easy: Okafor. Today my pick is just as easy: K.A.T. The Kentucky product should be able to meld with the young Pups that we already have on the squad to create a formidable heat source for our cold winter nights.

(Jeff) With the 2nd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select, DeAngelo Russell, PG, Ohio State. Much like the Wolves thought process, if it was 2005, the pick is Okafor in a heartbeat. However, the NBA game is changing and combo guards with range have replaced the dominant big man. Competing in the Western Conference, we face a plethora of deadly point guards on a nightly basis; Curry, Westbrook, CP3, Lillard, etc. so it only makes sense to get one of these guys, ourselves. We feel comfortable in our ability to fill our frontcourt needs via free agency. Also, we’ll be terrible again this season and the top of the 2016 draft figures to be loaded with big men.

***WE HAVE A TRADE*** The Philadelphia 76ers have agreed to trade Thomas Robinson and their 2015 1st round pick (3rd overall) to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony and their 2015 1st round (4th overall). The New York Knicks are on the clock.

(Jeff) It’s time for a change; time to get this franchise back to its winning ways. We thank Carmelo for his services and wish him well in Philadelphia. It’s been 15 years since the great Patrick Ewing patrolled the Garden paint. Today begins a new era of paint dominance at MSG. With the 3rd pick, the Knicks select Jahlil Okafor, C from Duke. Now that we have our big man of the future and much needed cap room, we’ll look to build around Okafor by luring some of the following 2015/2016 free agents to the bright lights of NYC; LeBron James, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Mike Conley, Bradley Beal, and Kawhi Leonard, to name a few.

(Jay) With the 4th pick, the Philadelphia 76ers select Emmanuel Mudiay, PG from the Congo…or…Texas…umm…the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the CBA! Mudiay was basically the second player on our big board behind Russell. Don’t get us wrong, KAT would be amazing but we NEED a PG. By making the trade with NYC we’ll have a starting five of Mudiay, returning leading scorer from 2015, Melo, and twin towers Nerlens Noel & Joel Embiid. That’s exciting. The City of Brotherly Love is begging for a superstar to love. We’ve built a young, exciting, team-first cast around Melo. Let’s see what happens in 3 years.

(Jay) With the 5th pick, the Orlando Magic select Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C, Latvia.
As the GM of an NBA franchise I should know all the players on my team, especially the starters… right? I had no idea who my starting PF going into this offseason was. I was just as clueless after I was told that it was Dewayne Dedmon. We know Porzingis might be 2 years and 20 lbs of muscle away from scratching his potential, but we think we have a core group of young players (Peyton, Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic) that believe they can bring a title to Orlando.
(Jeff) With the 6th pick, the Sacramento Kings select Justise Winslow, SF from Duke. This was a very difficult decision for the Kings, as we were torn between two players. However, Winslow’s versatility and character won out. He will immediately help us on both ends, especially where we need it the most, on the defensive end, as he can guard most 2s and 3s and even some PGs.

(Jay) With the 7th pick, the Denver Nuggets select Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky. We feel like taking the best player available here is our best route. Adding WCS to a frontcourt of Gallinari and Kenneth Faried is a scary thought. Cauley-Stein can solidify the middle and in turn will allow Faried to be an even scarier ball hawk. What WCS lacks offensively is greatly outweighed by his motor and defensive prowess.
(Jeff) With the 8th pick, the Detroit Pistons select Mario Hezonja, SF from Croatia. We love his knack for scoring and the range on his shot, but above all else, we couldn’t pass on his ability to play both wing spots, as that provides our team the flexibility to get creative on both ends of the court.

(Jay) With the 9th pick, the Charlotte Hornets select Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky. We’ve nearly put all the pieces together in recent drafts to take the next step, but recently have lacked in one glaring area: 3-point shooting. We were a league worst 31.8% from behind the arc last season and think we can slide Booker into this slot to help us.

(Jeff) With the 10th pick, the Miami Heat select Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona. We were tempted to go a few different ways here. However, Johnson gives us depth at our position of greatest need and he’s ready to play now. Also, you may have heard of a guy named LeBron? If the Heat are to compete again in the East, we’ll need a physical defender who can slow him down. We believe Stan can be that man.

(Jay) With the 11th pick, the Indiana Pacers select Cameron Payne, PG Murray State. After thoughts of moving back to select Payne later we thought it would be advantageous to grab him now. We need a high IQ point guard that can get to the rim to pair with Paul George. Payne plays with a floor general’s confidence, something that’s really needed here in Indy.

(Jeff) With the 12th pick, the Utah Jazz select Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas. Though we could use more frontcourt depth, when it came down to it, we were simply too enticed by Oubre’s athleticism and explosiveness, attacking the rim. Thanks to his incredible 7’2″ wingspan, he can guard multiple positions, as well.

(Jay) With the 13th pick, the Phoenix Suns select Myles Turner, PF, Texas. Questions about his toughness, his rebounding and the way he runs fall on deaf ears around here in the southwest. Turner is a top 5 talent that falls in our lap and can step outside or work the blocks.

(Jeff) With the 14th pick in the draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin. Our window is about to be slammed shut, so it’s imperative we bring in a guy who can help us win the title next year, before Durant bounces next summer. Frank the Tank brings us instant offense off the bench, while opening up the floor for others, thanks to the 7-footer’s smooth outside touch.





No More Wolves Lottery Woes (written May 21, 2015)

Posted: 21st May 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NBA
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The statistics were uncanny. Eighteen years in the NBA Draft Lottery and the Minnesota Timberwolves had never moved up. The Wolves poor fortunes finally came to an end on Tuesday night May 19, as they won the lottery for the first time in franchise history. Is this a sign of happier days ahead? As Wolves fans, is there reason to be optimistic? Tuesday night was Minnesota’s eleventh straight NBA Draft Lottery, which is simply dreadful. How did it ever get to that point? Check it out.


1990-1991: In their attempts to find a franchise center, the Wolves swung and missed on Felton Spencer in 1990 and Luc Longley in 1991.


1992-1994: And then there was 1992. For true Wolves fans, this one is still painful. Coming off a 15-67 season, the Wolves had the best shot at the No. 1 pick and prized LSU prospect, Shaquille O’Neal. The consolation prize was Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning. The Orlando Magic would leapfrog the Wolves and end up with Shaq. As if that weren’t enough, the Charlotte Hornets catapulted six spots and into the No. 2 slot. The Wolves, falling to No. 3, would settle for Duke star Christian Laettner and the rest is history. The wound became bigger the following year. Slated to pick No. 2 overall, Minnesota slid to No. 5, where they selected Isaiah Rider. We’ll never forget “The Eastbay Funk Dunk” that won Rider the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest, but the fact that that was Rider’s brightest moment in Minnesota says it all. The top five picks of the 1994 NBA Draft made a combined twenty All-Star teams. Grant Hill, the No. 3 pick that year, accounted for seven of those All-Star appearances. Donyell Marshall, the No. 4 pick, was the only non All-Star of the group. The Wolves, slated to pick third, again slid. Instead of Hill, they came away from the draft with Marshall. He lasted just 40 games in Minnesota.


1995-1999: Sliding for the fourth year in a row, the 1995 slide actually helped the Wolves. No. 3 would have probably been too high, but after falling to No. 5 they could justify swinging for the fences on a scrawny, but athletic 19-year-old kid out of Farragut Academy in Chicago. Kevin Garnett came to Minnesota and made life as a Wolves fan mostly enjoyable for the following decade and change. The following year, Minnesota stayed put at No. 5 and selected Ray Allen, only to swap the future Hall of Famer, on draft night, for Stephon Marbury. Marbury and Garnett seemed like a match made in heaven. However, time would tell us that Stephon could not handle playing second fiddle to Garnett and by 1999, Marbury was gone. Earlier in 1999, perhaps realizing what they had lost by trading Ray Allen, the Wolves selected the smooth stroke of Wally Szczerbiak at No. 6 overall. Garnett and Szczerbiak would help keep the Wolves out of the draft lottery for the next six seasons.


2005-2008: Not nearly as putrid as the Kahn era, but still pretty poor, the Wolves drafted Rashad McCants instead of Danny Granger (2005), traded a do-everything PG in Brandon Roy for a do-nothing PG in Randy Foye (2006), and drafted a “lockdown defender” in Corey Brewer, who was and is to this day, anything but that (2007). The one bright spot was 2008 when the Wolves drafted O.J. Mayo No. 3 overall and traded him to Memphis for the No. 5 pick, Kevin Love. However, you can argue that Minnesota should have just taken Russell Westbrook and called it a day. While Love was solid in Minnesota and is unfortunately injured for the remainder of the Cleveland Cavaliers 2015 playoff run, Westbrook is simply entering another stratosphere and could soon have an MVP season.


2009-2012: Speaking of MVP, Stephen Curry, everybody. In 2009, David Kahn made three huge mistakes. First, he didn’t hire a coach before the NBA Draft. Hey, idiot, are you kidding me? How do you know the personnel you’ll need if you don’t know the system you’ll be running? Secondly, in the NBA, if you have the chance, always take an elite shooter. They don’t grow on trees. Third, after passing on the great shooter, you probably don’t want to hire the coach whose system is perfect for said, great shooter (remember, you passed on him), but terrible for the guy you actually drafted. Years two through four were no more kind to Kahn. 2010 saw him pass on DeMarcus Cousins, because they needed a wing player. That’s great, but next time, take the guy who’s over two years younger, more athletic, a better shooter, and can handle the ball better. Oh, and a better defender. Nope, Kahn went with Wes Johnson over Paul George. Great move. In 2011, the Wolves fell from No. 1 to No. 2 and drafted Derrick Williams, missing out on Duke PG Kyrie Irving. Williams continues to struggle, while Kyrie is one of the best young PGs in the league. In 2012, the Wolves sent their first round pick, No. 10, to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the 2005 trade that brought Marko Jaric to Minnesota…don’t ask.


2013-2015: In 2012, Flip Saunders replaced David Kahn. Essentially, Saunders was taking over a house that had been foreclosed on, all appliances had been either removed or damaged, the wiring and all the copper had been stripped out of…you get the point. In a relatively short timeframe, Saunders has rebuilt the roster into something that’s starting to resemble a basketball team. In 2013, the Wolves stayed put at No. 9 and parlayed Trey Burke into Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, a move that added some much needed depth. 2014 saw Minnesota take a chance on the uber-athletic Zach LaVine, with pick No. 13. By trading Kevin Love, in the offseason, the Wolves also added Andrew Wiggins (2014 Rookie of the Year) and 2013 No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett. Winning the lottery last Tuesday means, if they keep the pick, Minnesota will be the first team in NBA history to have three consecutive No. 1 draft picks on their roster.

So, while it may have taken over a decade to get here, the pieces are slowly being put in place for the Wolves to become contenders in the West, three to five years down the road. Changes can still be made with the veteran players on the roster, but the young talent is there and another huge piece will be added on June 25. Only one question remains. Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor? Who do you prefer?





NBA Conference Finals (written May 16, 2015)

Posted: 16th May 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NBA
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In the NBA, it’s Conference Finals time, once again. And Minnesota Timberwolves fans know all too well what that means; the NBA Draft Lottery and those pesky ping-pong balls that never seem to bounce the way of the Wolves. Depending on where you are reading this, the lottery may have already taken place, as it is slated for Tuesday night, at halftime of Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. The worst team in the league, the Wolves hold the highest chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Never mind that it’s been since 2004 that that has actually happened. But, enough loser talk, we’ll get to the Wolves next week, after the lottery has taken place and we can dissect what the Timberwolves very bright future may look like.


Believe it or not, only eight different teams have won the NBA title since 1984; the Lakers (8), Bulls (6), Spurs (5), Celtics (3), Pistons (3), Heat (3), Rockets (2), and Mavericks (1). Of those eight teams, only the Houston Rockets remain in the 2015 playoffs. The Rockets, back-to-back champions in 1994 and 1995, seek their first title in twenty years. Seems like a long wait, right? Tell that to the three teams who join Houston in the conference finals and have been waiting forty years, fifty-seven years, and forever!

In 1975, Rick Barry led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA title, by sweeping Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and the Washington Bullets, four games to none. The Warriors have not reached the NBA Finals since. The year was 1958. St. Louis Hawks forward, Bob Pettit was a man on a mission. Pettit’s 29.3ppg and 17.0rpg were enough to help the Hawks avenge their 1957 NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics. In the clinching Game 6, Pettit torched the Celtics for 50 points, which included 18 of the Hawks’ final 21 points and a late tip in that would seal the 110-109 victory for the Hawks’ first and last NBA title. This marks the first trip to the conference finals for the Hawks, since 1970. After returning home to Cleveland in the offseason, LeBron James looks to bring the city their first ever NBA title. Cleveland loved him and then they hated him and now they love him again. Success for the Cavs has been few and far between. Long gone are the days of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Larry Nance, that saw the Cavs consistently make the post-season, but rarely get out of the first round. Between 1985-1998, Cleveland made ten playoffs appearances, eight times disappearing in Round 1. The Cavs were sent packing by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls five of those years, most notably in 1989, with Jordan’s “shot on Ehlo.” With Kevin Love injured and Kyrie Irving hobbled, it’ll be up to LeBron to bring the Cavs back to the Finals for just the second time ever. In 2007, they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.


Western Conference Finals – Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

The shooting of league MVP Stephen Curry and backcourt mate, Klay Thompson will simply be too much for the Rockets to withstand over the seven game series. The defense of Trevor Ariza may be good enough to slow down Thompson for a game or two, but the Warriors are too good to lose this series to Houston. In close games, the horrendous free throw shooting of Dwight Howard (41%) will hurt the Rockets. Howard is so bad, Coach Kevin McHale is forced to keep him off the floor in the closing minutes of tight games, thus often missing out on his defensive presence, on the other end of the floor. As an avid Wolves fan, I enjoyed watching Corey Brewer play well, for the Rockets, down the stretch in the Clippers series. However, as an avid Wolves fan, I’ve also seen far too much of Brewer getting completely turned around and lost defensively. My guess is the Warriors will capitalize early and often, off of Brewer’s lack of defensive awareness. Golden State wins the series, 4-2.

Eastern Conference Finals – Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

As I mentioned earlier, it’s up to LeBron James to win or lose this series. While he may miss Game 1, Kyrie Irving should be able to give the Cavs enough the rest of the series, to make a difference. In tight situations, Cleveland will go to LeBron. The knock on the Hawks all year, has been, who will take the shots when the game is on the line. We should find that out, as this figures to be a closely contested series. But, when all is said and done, Atlanta’s balance will come back to bite them, as they’ll lack a go to guy, down the stretch in close games. LeBron will be a scorer and a playmaker, the entire series. I wouldn’t be shocked if he records four triple doubles in Cleveland’s 4-3 series win.






Vikings 2015 NFL Draft Recap (written May 3, 2015)

Posted: 3rd May 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NFL
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With a final tally of ten draft picks over the three days of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings had one agenda; plug holes. Drafting five offensive players and five defensive players, the Vikings did just that, focusing on their top needs. After grabbing arguably the draft’s top CB and the best coverage LB in the draft, the Vikings kept plugging away, with a high emphasis on potential. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the Minnesota Vikings 2015 NFL Draft.

Round 1, Pick 11

  • Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State – Depending on who you talk to, the Vikings reached a bit, picking Waynes 11th overall, especially considering Louisville WR DeVante Parker was still on the board. However, the fact of the matter is this; Minnesota got the best coverage corner in the draft and filled perhaps their most glaring need. Playing in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson, the Vikings did the right thing with this pick and were still able to get WR help later, in a draft deep at the WR position.

Round 2, Pick 45

  • Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA – Kendricks was the best coverage LB in the draft and he absolutely flies to the ball in the running game. The biggest knock on him is his size, as he’s only 6’0” 232lbs., so the question is whether or not he’ll be able to hold up defending the run, in the NFL. Like Waynes, Kendricks could very well be a Week 1 starter for the Vikings defense.

Round 3, Pick 88

  • Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU – Once Minnesota grabbed probable starters at CB and LB, they turned their focus to rushing the passer by taking Hunter, who has the size and speed to be an elite pass-rusher in the NFL some day. The question is how soon will he develop, as he is quite raw. With a great attitude and motor that doesn’t quit, in a year or two, Hunter could be turning heads.

Round 4, Pick 110

  • J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh – After beginning his college career on the defensive side of the ball, Clemmings moved to OT his junior year. Much like Hunter, he comes with a very high ceiling, but due to his lack of experience at the position, could take some time to put it all together. He should be a solid run-blocker right away and with question marks all along the Vikings offensive line, Clemmings will definitely see the field.

Round 5, Pick 143

  • MyCole Pruitt, TE, Southern Illinois – Sticking with the high upside theme, Pruitt was the fastest TE at the NFL draft combine. He’s only 6’2”, which isn’t tall for a TE, but his speed gives him big play ability, as he’s able to rack up yards after the catch. He scored 13 TDs in his senior season at Southern Illinois. While his blocking skills are questionable, his effort is not.

Round 5, Pick 146

  • Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland – Upon reading the scouting report on Diggs, I couldn’t help but think of former Vikings WR, Percy Harvin. With a similar frame (6’0” 195lbs.) and speed (4.46 40-yard dash), he could provide the Vikings with some of the same things Harvin used to, minus all the headaches, literally and figuratively. Envision Diggs starting out as a threat in the return game and evolving from there, as a slot receiver.

Round 6, Pick 185

  • Tyrus Thompson, OT, Oklahoma – Thompson provides the Vikings with depth along the offensive line. He’s not going to challenge for a starting job, at least not right away, as he has a lot of work to do in order to become more consistent in his technique. At times he also lacks toughness. At the end of the day, Thompson has the size and athleticism to succeed, but needs a lot of help in the other areas.

Round 6, Pick 193

  • J. Dubose, DE, Louisville – Dubose has had some character issues in the past, but perhaps his former Louisville teammate, Teddy Bridgewater, can set him straight, if he indeed makes the team out of training camp. What the Vikings saw in the 6’4” 284lbs. DE, was a pass rusher with great size and strength. This late in the draft, that’s worth a flier.

Round 7, Pick 228

  • Austin Shepherd, OT, Alabama – Shepherd figures to transition into an OG in the NFL, as he lacks the speed and technique to block NFL edge pass-rushers. Because of that, he’s a much better run-blocker than pass-blocker. Maybe his greatest attribute is his durability, as he’s never sustained a serious injury.

Round 7, Pick 232

  • Edmond Robinson, OLB, Newberry – The biggest question here is where on earth is Newberry College? Robinson is a great athlete, with an exceptional attitude and has a legitimate shot of becoming a contributing member of the Vikings special teams unit. By the way, Newberry College is in Newberry, SC, which is 45 minutes northwest of Columbia, SC. We learned something today!

So there you have it. All in all, not a bad draft for the Vikings. They come out of it with two starting quality defensive players, depth along the offensive and defensive lines, an intriguing TE prospect, two possible special teams difference makers, and plenty of potential!

2015 NFL Draft: Vikings Outlook (written April 14, 2015)

Posted: 14th April 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NFL
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The 2015 NFL Draft is less than ten days away and for the fourth time in the last five years, the Minnesota Vikings have a top twelve draft pick. With one of the previous three a definite bust (Christian Ponder) and another looking like a bust (Matt Kalil), it’s imperative the Vikings hit on the No. 11 overall pick this year. In a moment, we’ll look at the Vikings top needs by position and what players could have their name called when Minnesota is on the clock. But first, here’s how the draft may play out in front of the Vikings. We’ll mock draft picks 1-10 and in ten words or less, break down each pick.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State – You need a franchise QB to compete in today’s NFL.
  2. Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – Titans likely trade pick, plenty of teams interested in Mariota.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Leonard Williams, DL, USC – Vic Beasley, Dante Fowler fill needs, but Williams too tempting.
  4. Oakland Raiders: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia – I would take Amari Cooper here, but they’re the Raiders.
  5. Washington Redskins – Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida – Skins need pass-rush, toss-up between Fowler and Beasley.
  6. New York Jets – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama – With Decker, Marshall, now Cooper, no more excuses for Geno.
  7. Chicago Bears – Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson – Bears must get more pressure on Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford.
  8. Atlanta Falcons – Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska – Need for high upside pass-rusher outweighs his character concerns.
  9. New York Giants – Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa – Eli has been sacked sixty-seven times, last two seasons.
  10. Louis Rams – DaVante Parker, WR, Louisville – Rams defense is stacked. Foles needs a legit deep threat.
  11. Minnesota Vikings – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State – Since Aaron Rodgers took over the reigns for Green Bay, in 2008, the Vikings have spent twelve draft picks on DBs. They’ve missed on every one with the exception of their two first rounders, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. With their terrible track record of drafting DBs, it would be a good idea to grab Waynes here and fill other needs later. Waynes should step in and start opposite of Xavier Rhodes, from Day 1.

Vikings other top needs:

  • Offensive Line – The Vikings need an OG and in case you were hibernating last winter, LT Matt Kalil took an enormous step backwards in 2014. If Waynes is off the board, the Vikings may look for some insurance along the offensive line, in the form of Iowa’s Brandon Scherff or LSU’s La’el Collins.
  • Linebacker – They signed Casey Matthews, but that still leaves plenty of room to improve at the MLB position and Chad Greenway isn’t getting any younger. There’s a chance that Scherff, Waynes, and the top three WRs could all be gone before the Vikings pick at No. 11. If that happens, do they look to trade down, take La’el Collins to fill their OL need, or take a guy like Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory, who’s a top five talent, but could fall in their lap because of his recent positive marijuana test?
  • Wide Receiver – The offseason signing of Mike Wallace is nice, but the Vikings better keep him happy or his stay in Minnesota could have a disastrous ending. Much like Kalil, Cordarelle Patterson saw huge regression in 2014. Once Adrian Peterson was suspended, teams were able to key solely on Patterson and the second year player was not up to the challenge. One would assume he’s spent a large part of the offseason working on his route running and other receiving skills, but regardless, the Vikings can still use another weapon at WR. If Bridgewater’s old Louisville teammate DeVante Parker if off the board, the Vikings could grab WR help in rounds two or three, as the pool is deep on the WR end this year.
  • Running Back – I don’t want to get into the whole Adrian Peterson situation, but IF he is traded, the Vikings will clearly need more help at the position. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley headline a strong group of RBs. The crop is deep enough where Minnesota could get a solid contributor in the middle rounds. Will the Vikings grab Minnesota’s David Cobb (3rd-4th round grade) or NDSU’s John Crockett (7th round grade)? We shall see!

Great teams are built in the middle to late rounds. Here are the rest of the Vikings picks, along with some recent notables who have been selected in the same range.

Round 2 (No. 45) – DE Michael Strahan and RB Thurman Thomas (No. 40), TE Rob Gronkowski (42), OL Larry Allen (46), RB Roger Craig and WR DeSean Jackson (49).

Round 3 (No. 76) – RB DeMarco Murray (71), DE Jason Taylor and RB Jamaal Charles (73), RB Curtis Martin and WR Steve Smith (74), QB Russell Wilson (75), RB Ahman Green (76).

Round 5 (No. 107) and (No. 129) – OG Jahri Evans (108), LB Kevin Green (113), RB Herschel Walker (114), WR Steve Largent (117), WR Brandon Marshall (119), CB Asante Samuel (120), TE Ben Coates (124), DE Jared Allen (126), RB Darren Sproles (130), S Kam Chancellor (133).

Round 7 (No. 204) and (No. 207) – RB Jamal Anderson (201), DE Richard Dent (203), WR Pierre Garcon (205), LB Jessie Armstead, WR Donald Driver (213).


MLB: 2015 National League Preview (written April 8, 2015)

Posted: 8th April 2015 by Jeff Plattner in MLB
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National League West

Los Angeles Dodgers: 93-69*

Nearly three decades since Gibson went yard,

Return to Series has proved to be hard;

The payroll is nuts,

A quarter-bill plus,

Quick exit again, thanks to the Cards.

San Francisco Giants: 86-76*

Another ring makes three in five years,

Panda was lost, but ‘MadBum’ appears;

Destined for greatness,

His stuff simply heinous,

But two through five must kick it in gear.

San Diego Padres: 84-78

Winter of spending unlike the past,

Ready to contend with their new cast;

Upton, Kemp, and Myers,

Filled their big desires,

L.A. and San Fran could be caught fast.

Colorado Rockies: 74-88

Times of late have been rough for the Rocks,

‘Tulo’ and ‘CarGo’ knock off your socks;

But that’s where it ends,

Because this team spends,

Far too much time with trips to the Doc.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 70-92

After a big step back, changes galore,

Dave Stewart, La Russa, welcomed aboard;

Fresh rotation in place,

Cuban, Tomas third base,

Competing out west will still be a chore.

National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74*

Oscar’s dreams were nearly fulfilled,

But a tragic crash, Taveras was killed;

A future so bright,

The Cardinals will fight,

And play hard for Oscar, he would be thrilled.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 87-75*

McCutchen’s their crutch, key in the clutch,

The staff is strong, bullpen hard to touch;

Three decades have passed,

Since they were last cast,

As baseball’s champs, with Stargell and such.

Cincinnati Reds: 81-81

A steady decline has Reds on the ropes,

Semi-rebuilding, but clinging to hopes;

That things fall right this time,

Sluggers look like their prime,

But odds likely they continue down slope.

Chicago Cubs: 78-84

Cubs’ fans have waited since 1908,

Epstein and Maddon have Cubs in right state,

Still a couple years out,

But they’re on the right route,

To end the curse and finally be great.

Milwaukee Brewers: 72-90

Central’s improved, can Brewers still hang,

After standing pat with the same gang?

They’ve been in a slide,

Since Braun cheated and lied,

Time to start over, Braun is to blame.

National League East

Washington Nationals: 97-65*

The best staff ever? They’re stacked no doubt,

World Series is all this year’s about;

One last shot is the talk,

Before free agents walk,

And franchise heads for a winning drought.

Miami Marlins: 86-76

Ex-Twin Redmond has team on the rise,

MVP threat, Stanton, is the top prize;

Marlins not there yet,

But this you can bet,

Late in the year, their games will have eyes.

New York Mets: 77-85

A young rotation with high upside,

Carries the Mets, will they steer and guide;

The team to new heights,

Or freeze from bright lights?

The key, how soon can they hit their stride?

Philadelphia Phillies: 70-92

Seems like ages since ruling the roost,

Total rebuild, will Phillies be spruced?

First trade was J-Roll,

Who else will they dole,

To give the rebuild a little boost?

Atlanta Braves: 69-93

With Upton and Kimbrel dealt away,

The Braves rebuild for another day;

New park in three years,

The plan is for cheers,

To be many then, while few today.


NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)

NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates)

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs)

NLCS: Washington over St. Louis 4-2

World Series: Washington over Seattle 4-3

*denotes playoff team







MLB: 2015 American League Preview (written April 2, 2015)

Posted: 2nd April 2015 by Jeff Plattner in MLB
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American League West

Seattle Mariners: 93-69*

It’s time King Felix takes M’s to top,

Cano, Cruz, Seager have big-time pop;

Division not won,

Since 2001,

Fifteen years later, cream of the crop? 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 89-73*

Trout is a monster, best in the game,

Pujols and Hammy can’t pull up lame;

Young pitching with flare,

The bullpen is fair,

But the Halos glow won’t be the same.

Texas Rangers: 77-85

2014 was a horror show,

Not what the Rangers have come to know;

Too many what-ifs,

Turn out to be stiffs,

And past injuries will start to show.

Houston Astros: 75-87

Enough is enough losing gets old,

Few years away, farm system is gold;

Last year they stepped in,

The right direction,

Stros get warmer before they get cold.

Oakland Athletics: 74-88

Billy Beane’s gone mad and sold the farm,

Few bats remain and barely an arm;

When used right, Moneyball,

Helps them ball into fall,

But this time Beane has only done harm.

American League Central

Kansas City Royals: 91-71*

First playoffs since Nintendo was hot,

Wait that long again, Royals think not;

A blossoming core,

Bullpen shuts the door,

Playoffs, they could again stir the pot.

Chicago White Sox: 87-75

Tigers, Royals in Chicago’s sights,

Offseason moves to the fan’s delight;

Chris Sale is cash,

Abreu will mash,

The Central race is sure to be tight.

Detroit Tigers: 87-75

They’ve owned the Central for four years straight,

But no rings for this group that is great;

With Scherzer now out,

Will pitching be stout,

Or winning it all not Tigers fate?

Cleveland Indians: 84-78

Cy Young winner was Corey Kluber,

Brantley does it all, not a goober;

Perhaps they lost pace,

With teams they will chase,

So year will be good, but not uber.

Minnesota Twins: 71-91

Four years to go of overpaid Joe,

Fans eager to see Buxton, Sano;

The future looks bright,

But not overnight,

Will wins pile up like Mauer’s dough.

American League East

Boston Red Sox: 92-70*

Worst to first once again for the Sox?

With Panda and Hanley, lineup rocks;

Youngsters bring swagger,

Big Papi the daggers,

With good health, to win East, Sox are locks.

Toronto Blue Jays: 89-73*

Longest dry spell of twenty-one years,

Joey Bats and E5, pitcher’s fears;

They crush the long balls,

To Niagara Falls,

World Series, eh! Canada cheers. 

Baltimore Orioles: 82-80

Tough to lose Cruz, the loss leaves a bruise,

Jones is a stud, but would need to use;

An MVP year,

For the ship to steer,

Deep into fall, else O’s have the blues.

Tampa Bay Rays: 76-86

Maddon was gone, seemed like an hour,

Rays direction quickly went sour;

The pitching is good,

Unlike the Rays wood,

Which will lack some serious power.

New York Yankees: 75-87

ARod’s a con, self-righteous cheater,

The Captain’s gone, Yankees miss Jeter;

This year won’t be stellar,

Could end in the cellar,

Haters will say, couldn’t be sweeter.


AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)

AL MVP: Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)

AL Rookie of the Year: Rusney Castillo (Boston Red Sox)

ALCS: Seattle over Boston 4-3

*denotes playoff team







Final Four Breakdown (written March 29, 2015)

Posted: 29th March 2015 by Jeff Plattner in College Basketball
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And then there were four. Sixty-four games down, three to go, to decide the 2015 NCAA Men’s basketball national champion. Notre Dame pushed Kentucky to the absolute brink, but it was one-shot away from being enough. Wisconsin rode some ridiculously hot second-half shooting past Arizona and into their second straight Final Four, where they will again meet Kentucky. Michigan State overcame mistakes and poor free throw shooting down the stretch to outlast Louisville in overtime. And Duke used a balanced attack to deny Gonzaga their first ever trip to the Final Four. Here are the resumes for each program.

Kentucky becomes the first team to enter the Final Four undefeated since UNLV in 1991. The Runnin’ Rebels would reach the title game that year, but fall to Duke, 79-77. This is Kentucky’s fifty-fifth tournament appearance, with sixteen Final Fours (four in the last five years), and eight national championships. Their last coming in 2012. A program that has become a stomping ground for one and done NBA prospects, Kentucky again boasts loads of talent, with five potential 2015 first round draft picks; Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, and Dakari Johnson.

Wisconsin reaches their second consecutive Final Four and fourth overall in their twenty-first tournament appearance. The Badgers only title came seventy-four years ago, in 1941. Unlike the Wildcats, the Badgers rely heavily on upperclassmen, with just two sophomores and no freshmen seeing significant playing time. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who both figure to be first round picks in June’s NBA draft, lead the Badgers, who look to avenge their heartbreaking one-point loss (74-73) to Kentucky in last year’s Final Four.

In perhaps Tom Izzo’s finest coaching job yet, Michigan State reaches their ninth Final Four in twenty-nine tournament appearances. The Spartans have won two titles, with Magic Johnson leading them over Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in 1979 and Mateen Cleaves leading the “Flintstones” (several members of the team hailed from Flint, MI) to the title in 2000, defeating Wisconsin along the way. Two seniors (Travis Trice and Branden Dawson) and a junior (Denzel Valentine) have carried the Spartans on their late season surge. Trice has been especially outstanding in the tournament. You’d never know this is the same team that lost, at home, to the lowly Minnesota Gophers, just over a month ago.

In their thirty-ninth tournament appearance, Duke reaches their sixteenth Final Four, twelve coming under Coach K. Surprisingly, this is Duke’s first Final Four since 2010 and only their fourth in the last fifteen years. Their last title also came in 2010 when they outlasted Butler, 61-59, when Gordon Heyward’s half-court heave for the win, just missed. The probable No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft, Jahlil Okafor, leads the Blue Devils, along with fellow projected first rounder’s, Justice Winslow and PG Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, MN.

The matchups:

Kentucky Wildcats (38-0) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (35-3): Prediction – Wisconsin wins 71-69, ending Kentucky’s bid for a perfect season. Why the Badgers can beat Kentucky? Wisconsin is experienced, discipline, and smart. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t take bad shots, they play defense without fouling, and they make free throws. In the Elite Eight, Notre Dame executed the perfect game plan against Kentucky for thirty-nine minutes, but strangely went away from it on their final few possessions, costing them dearly. Just as the Irish did, the Badgers must attack the rim early and often. If and when the Wildcats bigs leave their man to go block shots, Kaminsky, Dekker, and Nigel Hayes must go straight to the offensive glass, to clean up. Kentucky’s pick and roll defense is also suspect, so the Badgers should look to exploit that. In the end, the Badgers will do much of the same things Notre Dame did well versus Kentucky; move the ball, while taking care of it, attack the rim, crash the offensive glass, box out on the defensive end, and make free throws. But, where Notre Dame struggled, the Badgers three-point shooting (four players shoot 38% or better) will be key in helping them knock off the undefeated Wildcats.

Duke Blue Devils (33-4) vs. Michigan State Spartans (27-11): Prediction – Duke wins 76-73. These teams met all the way back on November 18th, with Duke prevailing 81-71. This time, for Michigan State to pull the upset, they’ll need to be more physical with Okafor, do a much better job defending the perimeter, and take care of the ball. The Spartans have the bodies to bang with Okafor down low and to again win the rebounding battle, but the key to the game will be Duke’s ability to shoot the long-ball and Michigan State’s ability to defend it. Thus far in the tournament, the Spartans have been tremendous against the three, with opponents hitting on just 14 of 59 attempts (23.7%). The true test however, comes against the Blue Devils, who are shooting 42.8% for the tournament from beyond the arc. If Michigan State can keep Justice Winslow and Quinn Cook from getting hot, they’ve got a chance. My heart says Sparty will pull the upset, but for the sake of staying true to our original picks, Duke advances to the national final against the Wisconsin Badgers, where, if you read two weeks ago, the Badgers claim their first title in seventy-four years, with the 79-76 win.