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

Posted: 8th April 2015 by Jeff Plattner in MLB

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

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

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.

 

NFL Trading Places (written March 25, 2015

Posted: 25th March 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NFL

When the NFL free agency period began on March 10th, it began with a flurry. In the spirit of the March Madness Sweet Sixteen, let’s assess the sixteen biggest moves thus far. To get an idea of the caliber of talent on the move this offseason, of the nineteen players mentioned below, all but two have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl, with a combined fifty-two Pro Bowl selections for the group. A total of three torn ACL’s have kept QB Sam Bradford and LB Kiko Alonso from adding to that total.

 

  1. Minnesota acquired WR Mike Wallace and a 2015 seventh round pick from Miami for a 2015 fifth round pick. An instant deep threat for Teddy, Wallace can fly. Greg Jennings, who was due $11M, was cut shortly after the Wallace signing, meaning it’s time for 2014 disappointment Cordarelle Patterson to step up.

 

  1. Arizona signed OG Mike Iupati to five years, $40M. Iupati was part of an offensive line in San Francisco that Frank Gore ran behind to four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He provides a significant upgrade to a Cardinals line that was the second worst run-blocking unit in the league.

 

  1. New Orleans signed RB C.J. Spiller to four years, $16M. While trading Jimmy Graham was a dagger, Spiller does give the Saints what they have had in Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, a duel threat speedster who is dangerous in open space. If healthy, Spiller is a candidate for 50+ receptions and over 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

 

  1. Detroit acquired DT Haloti Ngata and a 2015 seventh from Baltimore for a 2015 fourth and fifth. After losing DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the addition of Ngata helps prevent the Lions from an absolute free fall on the defensive side of the ball, where they led the league against the run in 2014.

 

  1. Dallas signed DE Greg Hardy to one year, $11.3M. Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones quickly looked past the recent domestic assault allegations against Hardy. Players as talented as Hardy are hard to find, but is the baggage that comes with him worth it?

 

  1. Indianapolis signed WR Andre Johnson to three years, $21M. Johnson has just 14 TDs in his last four seasons, but he also hasn’t had Andrew Luck throwing him the ball. A big, physical, possession receiver, he’s the perfect compliment to deep threat T.Y. Hilton.

 

  1. New York Jets acquired WR Brandon Marshall and a 2015 seventh from Chicago for a 2015 fifth. This is the ultimate low risk, high reward move. The Jets haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2007 and haven’t had as talented a receiver since Keyshawn Johnson in 1999.

 

  1. St. Louis acquired QB Nick Foles, a 2015 fourth, and a 2016 second from Philadelphia for QB Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth. Here’s the deal; great move for the Rams, but…the kicker? If Bradford isn’t the Eagles starter, Philly gets their second round pick back. I’d be surprised if Bradford ever suits up for them. Instead, he may be dangled to help the Eagles move up in the draft to select QB Marcus Mariota, who Chip Kelly coached at Oregon.

 

  1. Kansas City signed WR Jeremy Maclin to five years, $55M. The Chiefs did not have a TD catch by a WR last season. Let. That. Sink. In.

 

  1. Indianapolis signed RB Frank Gore to three years, $12M. 2006 was the last time the Colts had a 1,000-yard rusher. Every year I think Gore will finally break down, he answers with a 1,000 yards rushing. Anything close to that will take plenty of pressure off Andrew Luck and the passing game.

 

  1. Jacksonville signed TE Julius Thomas to five years, $46M. More important is the fact that Thomas’ 24 TDs over the past two seasons are gone from Denver. It’s becoming more apparent that Peyton Manning will never win that second Super Bowl title.

 

  1. Miami signed DT Ndamukong Suh to six years, $114M. How much is too much for a DT? Suh is dominant, there’s no doubt, but could the Dolphins have spent more wisely, in areas that would help lead to future playoff births? I think so.

 

  1. New York Jets signed CB Darrelle Revis to five years, $70M. He got his Lombardi trophy and now…he got paid, again. Revis returns to the Jets where he’ll look to dethrone the very team he just won the Super Bowl with, the New England Patriots. With Marshall, Revis, and others, look for the Jets to take a big step in 2015.

 

  1. Buffalo acquired RB LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia for LB Kiko Alonso. McCoy signed for five years, $40M. Bills coach Rex Ryan is old school and wants to pound the rock. He now has his guy and although it took a future star LB to get McCoy, the Bills were without Alonso in 2014 and still finished fourth in total defense.

 

  1. Philadelphia signed RB DeMarco Murray to five years, $40M. Criticized early for letting Maclin, McCoy, and Trent Cole all walk, Chip Kelly and the Eagles ended up getting Murray (657 fewer career touches than McCoy) at a discount, a huge signing for a team that looked to be crumbling before our very eyes.

 

  1. Seattle acquired TE Jimmy Graham and a 2015 fourth from the Saints for C Max Unger and the 31st pick in the 2015 draft. Once he went on the trade block, the addition of Graham was a no-brainer for the Seahawks, as he instantly bolsters their sub-par passing attack. Since 2011, Graham has 46 TD catches. This move, along with the re-signing of Marshawn Lynch, again makes Seattle the team to beat in the NFC.

NFL Trading Places (written March 20, 2015)

Posted: 20th March 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NFL

When the NFL free agency period began on March 10th, it began with a flurry. In the spirit of the March Madness Sweet Sixteen, let’s assess the sixteen biggest moves thus far. To get an idea of the caliber of talent on the move this offseason, of the nineteen players mentioned below, all but two have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl, with a combined fifty-two Pro Bowl selections for the group. A total of three torn ACL’s have kept QB Sam Bradford and LB Kiko Alonso from adding to that total.

  1. Minnesota acquired WR Mike Wallace and a 2015 seventh round pick from Miami for a 2015 fifth round pick. An instant deep threat for Teddy, Wallace can fly. Greg Jennings, who was due $11M, was cut shortly after the Wallace signing, meaning it’s time for 2014 disappointment Cordarelle Patterson to step up.
  1. Arizona signed OG Mike Iupati to five years, $40M. Iupati was part of an offensive line in San Francisco that Frank Gore ran behind to four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He provides a significant upgrade to a Cardinals line that was the second worst run-blocking unit in the league.
  1. New Orleans signed RB C.J. Spiller to four years, $16M. While trading Jimmy Graham was a dagger, Spiller does give the Saints what they have had in Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, a duel threat speedster who is dangerous in open space. If healthy, Spiller is a candidate for 50+ receptions and over 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
  1. Detroit acquired DT Haloti Ngata and a 2015 seventh from Baltimore for a 2015 fourth and fifth. After losing DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the addition of Ngata helps prevent the Lions from an absolute free fall on the defensive side of the ball, where they led the league against the run in 2014.
  1. Dallas signed DE Greg Hardy to one year, $11.3M. Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones quickly looked past the recent domestic assault allegations against Hardy. Players as talented as Hardy are hard to find, but is the baggage that comes with him worth it?
  1. Indianapolis signed WR Andre Johnson to three years, $21M. Johnson has just 14 TDs in his last four seasons, but he also hasn’t had Andrew Luck throwing him the ball. A big, physical, possession receiver, he’s the perfect compliment to deep threat T.Y. Hilton.
  1. New York Jets acquired WR Brandon Marshall and a 2015 seventh from Chicago for a 2015 fifth. This is the ultimate low risk, high reward move. The Jets haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2007 and haven’t had as talented a receiver since Keyshawn Johnson in 1999.
  1. St. Louis acquired QB Nick Foles, a 2015 fourth, and a 2016 second from Philadelphia for QB Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth. Here’s the deal; great move for the Rams, but…the kicker? If Bradford isn’t the Eagles starter, Philly gets their second round pick back. I’d be surprised if Bradford ever suits up for them. Instead, he may be dangled to help the Eagles move up in the draft to select QB Marcus Mariota, who Chip Kelly coached at Oregon.
  1. Kansas City signed WR Jeremy Maclin to five years, $55M. The Chiefs did not have a TD catch by a WR last season. Let. That. Sink. In.
  1. Indianapolis signed RB Frank Gore to three years, $12M. 2006 was the last time the Colts had a 1,000-yard rusher. Every year I think Gore will finally break down, he answers with a 1,000 yards rushing. Anything close to that will take plenty of pressure off Andrew Luck and the passing game.
  1. Jacksonville signed TE Julius Thomas to five years, $46M. More important is the fact that Thomas’ 24 TDs over the past two seasons are gone from Denver. It’s becoming more apparent that Peyton Manning will never win that second Super Bowl title.
  1. Miami signed DT Ndamukong Suh to six years, $114M. How much is too much for a DT? Suh is dominant, there’s no doubt, but could the Dolphins have spent more wisely, in areas that would help lead to future playoff births? I think so.
  1. New York Jets signed CB Darrelle Revis to five years, $70M. He got his Lombardi trophy and now…he got paid, again. Revis returns to the Jets where he’ll look to dethrone the very team he just won the Super Bowl with, the New England Patriots. With Marshall, Revis, and others, look for the Jets to take a big step in 2015.
  1. Buffalo acquired RB LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia for LB Kiko Alonso. McCoy signed for five years, $40M. Bills coach Rex Ryan is old school and wants to pound the rock. He now has his guy and although it took a future star LB to get McCoy, the Bills were without Alonso in 2014 and still finished fourth in total defense.
  1. Philadelphia signed RB DeMarco Murray to five years, $40M. Criticized early for letting Maclin, McCoy, and Trent Cole all walk, Chip Kelly and the Eagles ended up getting Murray (657 fewer career touches than McCoy) at a discount, a huge signing for a team that looked to be crumbling before our very eyes.
  1. Seattle acquired TE Jimmy Graham and a 2015 fourth from the Saints for C Max Unger and the 31st pick in the 2015 draft. Once he went on the trade block, the addition of Graham was a no-brainer for the Seahawks, as he instantly bolsters their sub-par passing attack. Since 2011, Graham has 46 TD catches. This move, along with the re-signing of Marshawn Lynch, again makes Seattle the team to beat in the NFC.

March Madness is Back (written March 14, 2015)

Posted: 14th March 2015 by Jeff Plattner in College Basketball

It’s finally that time of year again…the brackets are set and we’re ready to dance! At 34-0, the Kentucky Wildcats are the team to beat in 2015, as they look to become the first unbeaten team to cut the nets down since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Will the Wildcats win six more to complete their undefeated journey? Which upsets are bound to happen and who will be this year’s Cinderella? For all of this and more, let’s take a quick look inside my 2015 NCAA March Madness crystal ball.

Let’s start with whom to watch. As always, top NBA talent will be on display. However, every tournament also provides a chance for “the little guys” to step into the national spotlight and showcase their talents. Which of those will shine the brightest? From the Midwest region, look out for Justin Moss of the Buffalo Bulls. Former Duke point guard, Bobby Hurley has guided the Bulls to their first ever NCAA tournament behind the play of Moss and his fifteen double-doubles. With Ryan Harrow hobbled and questionable heading into the tourney, Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter’s play on the court suffered. Hunter shot just 3-15 while stumbling to a 38-36 Sun Belt Conference championship win over Georgia Southern on Sunday. Luckily for Hunter, Kevin Ware (yes, that Kevin Ware) saved the day. So, now that the Panthers are safely in, Hunter, who averaged 20/5/4 on the season, can get back to the type of play that saw him drop 35 points on that same Georgia Southern team just eight days earlier. Being he’s semi-local, you may know him by now, but most of America doesn’t. He’s Seth Tuttle and he’s the engine that makes the Northern Iowa Panthers go. The 6’8” 240lb senior plays with attitude and has been dreaming of this moment since he committed to the Panthers following their 2010 upset of 1 seed, Kansas. And speaking of dreams, his Panthers received a dream bracket on Sunday. Arguably the weakest region of all, in the East, the Panthers won’t have to go through Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona, or Kansas to reach the Final Four. Only a sophomore, the nation’s leading scorer, (22.9ppg) Tyler Harvey, had a three game stretch a little over a week ago, where he drained seventeen 3-pointers and scored 90 points. He led the Eastern Washington Eagles to an early season win at Indiana and has them primed for a run at the Sweet Sixteen.

Looking for an upset special as you fill out that office pool bracket or try to look like the brain among your friends? Here are a few quick facts along with this year’s safest upset picks. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1. Don’t bet on this happening in 2015 either, but if it does, give me Lafayette over Villanova. Seven times a 15 has beaten a 2 and had NDSU drawn Virginia or Kansas, they’d be a solid pick. Instead, they’ll have their hands full with Gonzaga’s 6’10”, 6’10”, and 7’1” frontcourt, which features Kentucky transfer, Kyle Wiltjer. As a 14 seed, Mercer beat Duke last year, but the matchups don’t look favorable for the 14’s this year. So, once again we have to go down to the 13 and 12 line to find our best upset picks. No 13 seed won in 2014. That will change, with Eastern Washington over Georgetown being the safest bet. We already touched on Tyler Harvey and although they beat Villanova by twenty, the Hoyas are vastly over-seeded, also losing three times to Xavier. Pick this upset with confidence. Like so many years, the 12 vs. 5 matchups are where a bulk of the upsets reside. A 5 seed has never won the tournament and in the past three years, 12 seeds are 8-4 against 5 seeds. In each of the last two tournaments, three 12 seeds have advanced. When looking at the bracket this year, Northern Iowa looks like the only safe 5 seed, leaving Stephen F. Austin, Buffalo, and Wofford as likely 12 vs. 5 upsets. If you like to live dangerously, the SFA Lumberjacks are staring the Sweet Sixteen right in the eyes.

So, while we all love pulling for the underdog, only three double-digit seeds have ever reached the Final Four: LSU (1986), George Mason (2006), and VCU (2011). All were 11 seeds. Who will dance all the way to Indianapolis, in 2015? Here are my Final Four picks and championship game result. In the Midwest, Kentucky should roll and enter the Final Four at 38-0. The West will feature a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight thriller between Wisconsin and Arizona. The Badgers will prevail once again, which will set the stage for a Final Four rematch with Kentucky. The East region is a mess. With all due respect to Villanova and Virginia, they just aren’t great teams. I see Northern Iowa and Michigan State meeting with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Tom Izzo’s crew will have just enough to slide by the Panthers and get back to the Final Four. In the South, a Duke vs. Iowa State matchup would be fun and hopefully Gonzaga doesn’t ruin that. Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones have been hot, but Jahlil Okafor and the Blue Devils will be too much. The Kentucky vs. Wisconsin rematch will be a great one again, but this time the Badgers will get the final say. The Spartans ride will end, as Apple Valley’s, Tyus Jones, and the Blue Devils will prove too much. When it’s all said and done, I see the Badgers, led by Frank Kaminsky, cutting the nets down for the first time in seventy-four years, with a 79-76 win over the Blue Devils.

 

 

 

 

KG Comes Home (written Feb 28, 2015)

Posted: 28th February 2015 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Nostalgia [no-stal-juh] – pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing you could experience it again.

This would sum up the emotions of Minnesota Timberwolves fans everywhere upon hearing of the move that would bring Kevin Garnett back home. On Wednesday, February 25th at Target Center, thanks to a close friend with an extra ticket, I was fortunate enough to be among the 20,000 that would see the emotional return of KG first hand and for a while, reminisced, wishing we could return to a time of winning teams and success. For over a decade now, Wolves fans have longed for a winning team. While, Garnett may no longer be able to bring that success with his play on the court, he can certainly provide a positive influence to the Wolves youngsters by showing them the hard work and dedication it takes to become an NBA Champion, a fifteen-time NBA All-Star, a league MVP, a defensive player of the year, a future NBA Hall of Famer, and so much more.

Since dealing Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007, the Wolves had compiled a rotten 165-366 record, never sniffing the playoffs. Furthermore, their futility never led to NBA Draft success, thanks in small part to bad luck, but mostly to the complete ineptitude of David Kahn, former President of Basketball Operations. In just three short years, Kahn passed on future stars Steph Curry in 2009, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, and in 2011, still in desperate need of outside shooting, failed to come up with a plan to trade down and draft sharp-shooter, Klay Thompson. Instead, Kahn selected Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, and Derrick Williams. Who? Exactly!

Enter Flip Saunders, who in less than two years has transformed the Wolves roster from one full of underachieving misfits to one loaded with talent and promise. So while the talent is there, the experience is not. The Wolves began the season as the fourth youngest team in the league, with an average age of 24.9 years old. After a few moves during the season, that average age, not factoring in Garnett, has gotten even younger. Only Garnett (38), Kevin Martin (32), Gary Neal (30), and Nikola Pekovic (29) are the only players on the roster over 26 years old. But the youngsters have potential. Andrew Wiggins has all the tools to become a superstar and appears to be well on his way to just that. Ricky Rubio is one of the purest point guards in the league and should he find his shooting stroke in the off-season, could become an extremely dangerous playmaker. Shabazz Muhammad provides instant offense, but needs to develop defensively before being considered a complete player. Over NBA All-Star weekend, we all saw the freakish athletic ability Zach LaVine brings to the table, but on the court, he often leaves you shaking your head. With improved decision-making and a consistent mid-range jumper, LaVine could be turning heads. In the frontcourt, while Gorgui Dieng has been a pleasant surprise, Anthony Bennett and Adreian Payne should have even higher ceilings. When Bennett, the former No. 1 overall pick figures it out, watch out! And Payne is a high-energy guy who can rebound, defend, block shots, and provide a little scoring. Positioned to finished no better than fourth worst in the league, through June’s NBA Draft, the Wolves should be able to add a rim-protector, to help improve their interior defense, which has been atrocious for years. A few names to consider could be Karl-Anthony Towns (6’11” 250lbs) and Willie Cauley-Stein (7’0” 240lbs), both from the 31-0 Kentucky Wildcats.

Again, the talent is in place, but these young guys needed somebody who could teach them what it takes to truly be a professional. When the rumors of KG’s return arose, it seemed like a no-brainer. Thad Young was due $10 million next year, which the Wolves weren’t about to pay, so the swap was great for both sides. Garnett’s passion for the game and winning is undeniable. And on the night of his return to Target Center, watching the way he led, encouraged, motivated, supported, and fired up his teammates left me with optimistic thoughts of the team’s future. Off the court, it’s setting an example and high expectations that Garnett brings. My favorite story of his first few days back in Minneapolis…on the Tuesday morning before the game, Anthony Bennett, still bothered by a right leg injury, decided to hit the gym and get his workout in early. Bennett thought he’d surely be the first player there. Not the case. When Bennett arrived, he found that Garnett was already well into his workout and had been at the facility for nearly two hours. After going up to introduce himself, Bennett said they talked for a bit and Garnett told him he’s basically going to be like an older brother. He’ll teach them along the way. Several other stories were reported early on, of KG’s encouragement and leadership on the practice floor, in his first days back with the team.

Things couldn’t have shaken out better for the Wolves. KG will bestow his wisdom and intensity on the team. And while it may take a few more years before the team is truly competitive in the Western Conference, if there’s one thing Minnesota Timberwolves fans know how to do, it is to be patient. We’ve already been waiting over a decade for a return to the playoffs. What’s another two years? Or three? Or four? Or…

 

 

 

 

Saturday Night Fever (BCS Chaos)

Posted: 19th November 2012 by Jeff Plattner in College Football

On Saturday afternoon, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, off to a 10-0 start for the first time since 1993, took the field of Notre Dame Stadium for Senior Day versus the 5-5 Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Irish, huge favorites to win the game, found themselves on the outside looking in at a shot to play in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Ranked No. 3 in the BCS behind the Kansas State Wildcats and Oregon Ducks, Coach Brian Kelly and the Irish were “just trying to win football games.” If Notre Dame were to defeat Wake Forest and USC in their final two games, they would complete the school’s first perfect regular season since 1988, the year of Notre Dame’s last national championship. Before ousting West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl that season to win the title, the No. 1 ranked Irish had one final regular season test; go on the road and beat USC. Saturday afternoon in Notre Dame Stadium ended in a 38-0 victory over Wake Forest and to complete a perfect regular season, the Irish found themselves again with one more test; go on the road and beat USC. However, the Irish were in a position where they could go to USC, beat the Trojans, and still not be chosen to play in the BCS National Championship Game. They needed help…and boy would they get it Saturday night.

Everybody thought the top-ranked Kansas State Wildcats had one more test before the Big 12 Championship Game; the Texas Longhorns. Everybody was dead wrong. Heisman trophy front-runner Collin Klein and the undefeated Wildcats traveled to Waco, TX to face the 4-5 Baylor Bears Saturday night, a game that figured to be quite one-sided. Instead, the Bears stunned K-State by jumping out to a 28-7 lead with just 2:54 to go in the first half. Frantically, Klein and the Wildcats scored ten quick points before halftime and headed to the locker room relieved, only down 28-17. The feeling of relief would go away quickly in the third quarter, as Baylor ran all over a reeling Wildcats defense, blowing the game wide open and seemingly crushing K-State’s title hopes. As the teams lined up to begin the final 15:00, the scoreboard read Bears 52 Wildcats 24. That would be the final, as Baylor used 342 yards and 5 TDs on the ground to knock Kansas State out of the BCS title chase. With Notre Dame fans elated at what had just taken place, things were about to get even better.

2,080 miles away, in Eugene, OR, the No. 2 ranked Ducks had their hands full as well. After averaging more than 19ppg in the first quarter, through their first ten contests, Oregon was blanked in the first against a stout Cardinal defense. A Marcus Mariota TD pass late in the second quarter knotted the game at 7-7 and that’s how it stood at halftime. For the second straight game, Heisman hopeful RB Kenjon Barner was held to under 70 yards rushing and 0 TDs. Despite Barner’s struggles, De’Anthony Thomas put the Ducks up 14-7, midway through the third, capping Oregon’s most impressive drive of the night, one that covered 95 yards in 16 plays. But the Ducks could not put the Cardinal away and a miraculous TD catch in the back of the end zone, by Zach Ertz, tied the game with 1:35 to go. Oregon’s title hopes hanging in the balance, the game headed to overtime. A quick three and out by the Ducks culminated in a missed 41-yard field goal, kicker Alejandro Maldonado’s second miss of the night on just his third attempt of the season. With a field goal enough to win it, Oregon was in trouble. On a 4th and 5 from the Oregon 20-yard line, kicker Jordan Williamson, just 12 for 21 on the season, lined up a 37-yard field goal. As the kick sailed through the uprights, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sailed into the No. 1 ranking in the nation for the first time in nineteen years.

The help the Irish so desperately needed had come and in doing so, Baylor and Stanford had also re-opened the BCS National Championship Game door for the SEC (Southeastern Conference), most likely Alabama or Georgia. Barring an improbable loss to 3-8 Auburn on Black Friday, the Crimson Tide will meet the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game on December 1st, the winner playing for the national title. Saturday night was complete and utter chaos and the BCS world was flipped upside down. And while the SEC is almost once again assured a spot in the title game for seventh consecutive year (the past six winners have all come from the SEC), the Fighting Irish still have work to do. It’s been a long time since Notre Dame has won or even played in a national championship game. How long? Nobody on the current Notre Dame roster had been born yet when Tony Rice, Rocket Ismail, and Michael Stonebreaker led the 1988 Fighting Irish to the title, but heading into the final week of the 2012 season, this Irish team faces the same hurdle the ’88 team faced; go on the road and beat USC. Carrying the No. 1 ranking with them, this time it’s Everett Golson, Manti Te’o, and Tyler Eifert’s turn to prove they belong in the BCS National Championship Game.

 

Chasing Rings (written November 11, 2012)

Posted: 17th November 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Bill Russell has eleven. Michael Jordan won six. Magic Johnson has five, as does Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan has four and Larry Bird three. But for some stars, an NBA championship ring can be as elusive as a snake in tall grass. The six men listed above have many things in common, but a rather rare commonality between all men is that they won three or more rings with one team. Since the NBA’s inception in 1946, only players from the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles/Minneapolis Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs have won three or more rings, while doing so with the same team. Furthermore, in this 66-year span, 43 championships have been won by these four franchises, with Boston (17) and the Lakers (16) leading the way. With titles so difficult to obtain, players now more than ever have began “chasing rings.”

During his time in the league, Michael Jordan prevented many NBA greats from winning a championship ring. In the NBA Finals, Jordan knocked off five of his 1992 Olympic teammates, en route to his six rings. In 1993 Jordan and the Bulls defeated Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns and in back-to-back years (’97 and ’98) Karl Malone and John Stockton’s Utah Jazz fell to the Bulls in the Finals. But before all of this, in 1992, just six weeks prior to the start of the Barcelona games, Chicago defeated Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trailblazers; Jordan’s second ring. The loss was Drexler’s second NBA Finals defeat in three years. The Finals loss was followed by two straight first round exits by Drexler and the Trailblazers and suddenly, entering his twelfth year in the league, “Clyde the Glide” saw his window of opportunity closing. At the 1995 trade deadline, Portland honored Drexler’s request to be traded to a contender and shipped him back home to the defending champion Houston Rockets. Four months later, Drexler, reunited with college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, had successfully tracked down his first NBA championship ring.

2003 was a huge year in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers. With two strokes of the pen, the Lakers had acquired over 55,000 career points, nearly 19,000 career rebounds, and almost 13,000 career assists. In his nineteenth season, as a last ditch effort at winning a ring, 39-year-old Karl Malone signed as a free agent with the Lakers. A week before his 35th birthday, Gary Payton did the same. In their prime, Payton and Malone both saw Michael Jordan spurn their greatest opportunities for a ring. With time running out, Malone and Payton figured there was no better way to taste what an NBA championship felt like than to join Shaq, Kobe, and a Lakers team that was just one year removed from a three-peat. After finishing second in the Western Conference, the Lakers easily advanced to the Finals, needing no more than six games in any series. However, with the Detroit Pistons waiting in the wings, the Lakers would meet their match in the Finals. Behind the brilliant play of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, the Pistons would dominate the series and send the Lakers home in just five games. Malone would go on to retire having never won a ring, while Payton bounced around the league for three more years, just long enough to latch onto Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006. Reunited with Shaquille O’Neal, Payton would win his first championship in his sixteenth NBA season. Hungry for a ring himself, thirteen years into his career, Alonzo Mourning joined Payton and that Heat team, also earning his first ring.

In recent years, many other players have successfully chased down rings of their own; Glenn Robinson (San Antonio Spurs in 2005), Michael Finley (Spurs in 2007), Peja Stojakovic (Dallas Mavericks in 2011), and most recently Juwan Howard and Mike Miller (Miami Heat in 2012) to name a few. However, others have fallen short in their quest for a ring.

Where can 2013’s ring chasers be found? Look no further than the two teams many picked to meet in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. With a 2008 championship ring on his finger, Ray Allen turned his back on his Boston Celtics teammates, taking far less money to join LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and the Heat. In his seventeenth season, Allen seeks his second title. Following Allen to Miami was fourteen-year veteran Rashard Lewis, who is looking to be fitted for his first championship ring. Lewis and Allen will spread the floor out even more for LeBron and Wade, making it that much more difficult for opponents to defend the Heat. While Allen and Lewis signed with the Heat as free agents, out west the Lakers were wheeling and dealing to obtain two ring-deprived stars. Sixteen seasons and no rings were enough for Steve Nash to decide it was now or never and that joining forces with Kobe Bryant was his best shot at a title. Not long after Nash landed in L.A., Dwight Howard finally managed to pout his way all the way across the country and in a trade that once seemed improbable, Howard landed in L.A. with Kobe and the newly acquired Nash. While Allen already has the one ring and Howard figures to have many years ahead, Nash and Lewis are hungrier than ever before. Will their dreams be answered in 2013 or as their careers wind down, will their chase for a ring be all for not?

2012-13 NBA Preview: Part III

Posted: 29th October 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Northwest Division

1.    Oklahoma City Thunder:  In a shockingly sudden move Saturday night, OKC traded 6th man of the year, James Harden (and others), to the Houston Rockets, in return for guards Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks, and a second-round draft pick. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook still the one-two punch in OKC, Martin should step right in to replace Harden as a key, third scoring option. With getting rookie, Lamb in the deal, the Thunder add a long, athletic guard, who can score and is a solid defender. With the move coming so late in the preseason, it may take OKC some time to mesh, but they should still be able to hold off the Nuggets for first in the Northwest. Prediction: 59-23

2.    Denver Nuggets: The acquisition of Andre Iguodala turns the Nuggets into legitimate contenders in the west. The reason being, Iguodala is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The Nuggets have been anything but a strong defensive team the past few years, but adding an elite wing defender, in a conference that features Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, was a golden move by Denver. While Iggy also fits in seamlessly with the run and gun offensive style of Denver, the lack of a go to star could hurt come playoff time. Prediction: 57-25

3.    Minnesota Timberwolves: While 50 wins were a real possibility a few weeks ago, now with Ricky Rubio AND Kevin Love out for the foreseeable future, the Wolves will simply try to tread water for the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season, until Love returns. Replacing the likes of Darko, Wes Johnson, and company with players, who actually perform when on the floor, is reason enough for Wolves fans to be optimistic. Love should return around the beginning of December, which means he’ll miss about 15 games. If the Wolves can enter December around 6-9 or 7-8, they should still be in good position to make a playoff run. Prediction: 45-37

4.    Utah Jazz: The Jazz snuck into the playoffs, as the No. 8 seed a year ago, and were quickly destroyed by the Spurs, in a four-game sweep. They add Mo Williams and Marvin Williams to the starting lineup. Paul Millsap is one of the more underrated players in the game and Utah has plenty of young potential, in the form of Gordon Heyward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Enes Kanter. Provided their stars stay healthy, the Jazz should again challenge for the No. 8 seed. Prediction: 42-40

5.    Portland Trailblazers: It’s sure to be a frustrating year for All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers. Portland matched Minnesota’s offer sheet to retain Nic Batum. However, rookies, PG Damien Lillard and C Meyers Leonard figure to jump right into the starting lineup. That doesn’t say much about the rest of the lineup, which is extremely thin. Prediction: 25-57

Central Division

1.    Indiana Pacers: With Derrick Rose on the shelf for a better part of the season, the Pacers should cruise to first in the Central. Indiana did nothing flashy in the offseason, although they did trade Darren Collison, replacing him with D.J. Augustine. If Paul George can continue to develop into an all around star, the Pacers could challenge the Heat in the east, if not, Miami’s path to their third straight NBA Finals could be as easy as a stroll on South Beach. Prediction: 54-28

2.    Chicago Bulls: As mentioned above, the Bulls will be without former MVP, Derrick Rose, for much of the season. However, with the frontline trio of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah still in place, the Bulls still figure to be a playoff team. The PG trio of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, and rookie Marquis Teague, although nowhere nearly as effective as Rose, are at least serviceable at the PG position. They will win ugly games, as they’ve become known for. Prediction: 43-39

3.    Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will continue to be a backcourt that can light it up on any given night. By trading for Samuel Dalembert and drafting John Henson, Milwaukee addressed many weaknesses; defensive rebounding, defense in the paint, and shot blocking. While re-signing Ersan Ilyasova was a good move, in the end, the Bucks did nothing to make you think they’ll do anything other than what it seems like they always do; challenge for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ll fall short again this year. Prediction: 37-45

4.    Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs found a backcourt mate for Kyrie Irving, by selecting  Dion Waiters, No. 4 overall in the draft. Waiters should add a much-needed scoring punch, as he excels at slashing to the hoop. While the front court is decent, with Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, we all know this team is only as good as Irving makes it. In just his second year, he is already on the brink of stardom. Although the Cavs should take another step in the right direction, they are a solid SF away from being considered a playoff team. They should look to solidify the SF spot through the 2013 NBA draft, in which they will have options. Prediction: 35-47

5.    Detroit Pistons: The Pistons will be bad, but the positive spin on that is that management already knows this. They finally rid themselves of Ben Gordon’s contract and continued to bring in some talented youngsters, primarily rookie PF Andre Drummond, who, if he learns to consistently play hard, could be a perennial All-Star. The positivity pretty much ends there. Prediction: 25-57

Plattner’s Postseason Predictions

Western Conference MVP: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City)

Eastern Conference MVP: LeBron James (Miami)

Western Conference Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)

Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year: Bradley Beal (Washington)

Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over Denver Nuggets 4-2

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat over Indiana Pacers 4-2

NBA Finals: L.A. Lakers over Miami Heat 4-3