Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ranking the new NBA Western Conference

1. Houston Rockets - I think it's time for the Rockets to shine in the West, and they will be able to do it. Dwight Howard has taken a team the Finals before, and I think he can do it again. James Harden has really elevated his game through the years as well and perhaps Harden-Howard is the new Shaq and Kobe. They struggled last year in the playoffs, but I do like the signing of Trevor Ariza, even though they may lose Chanler Parons. If he stays, it only makes them better and deeper. Houston has a well-rounded team with balance and depth, and I think they are mature enough to unseat the Spurs.

2. Los Angeles Clippers - The Clippers are another team that should be coming into their prime as a franchise, and could be finally ready to take over for the Spurs if the Rockets don't beat them to it. Chris Paul is the anchor to Lob City, and is still one of the league's most exciting players. The Clips brought in Jordan Farmar from cross town rival Lakers to run the team's second unit behind Paul. Jamal Crawford and JJ Reddick provide excellent offensive firepower for the two spot. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin is such an explosive pair of forwards, and the Clippers added Spencer Hawes in free agency to provide depth. The Clippers have a great team, but still lack a legitimate wing player.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder - This could be OKC's last chance to make a Finals run with Kevin Durant, who can opt out next season. Durant is coming off an MVP season, and is arguably the best player in the league. Russell Westbrook could be the best athlete in the league, and would be the top option for the majority of the league. This duo has made it to the NBA Finals once, but close a number of other times, but this could be their year.  They add Anthony Morrow to replace Thabo Sefolosha, and he should add a bigger scoring threat. Sarge Ibaka is still around, and they have drafted a pair of big men with upside in the past two years with Steven Adams and Mitch McGary. Both player could overtake Kendrick Perkins, and that would be an upgrade.

4. San Antonio Spurs  - The defending champs have not upgraded much, and they are getting a year older. Tony Parker (32), Manu Ginnaobli (36), and of course Tim Duncan (38) have been the core of the league's most recent dynasty, but they are all aging. Boris Diaw, who recently resigned, will be 32 himself. For most teams that would spell trouble, but Greg Popovich, he can manage and rest his stars better than anyone. San Antonio does have a guy in Kawhi Leonard who could be ready to be the face of the team at any moment. Leonard did win the Finals MVP, and looks poised to be a superstar in the near future. Patty Mills, Danny Green, and first round pick Kyle Anderson could help keep the Spurs stay young, and ready to compete with the other top teams of the West.

5. Portland Trail Blazers -  The Trail Blazers sent a message to the league last year that they will be a problem for the next few years. LaMarcus Aldridge is probably the most under appreciated player in the league, but also one of the best. He put on a clinic in the first round against Houston. Damian Lilliard is another budding star point guard in the league, and looks like a veteran the way he handles the position.  Portland has a good core with Wesley Matthews, Nick Batum, and Robin Lopez to fill out the starting five. Portland's biggest concern is depth, and to address that they added Chris Kaman and Steve Blake.

6. Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry has rejuvenated this franchise, and has really made them a threat into a threat in the Western Conference. Klay Thompson is one of the league's top shooters at the two spot. The Warriors had a sneaky good free agent signing with Shaun Livingston.  The Warriors have solid wings with Andre Igudala, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes. David Lee presents a good option down low. The Warriors aren't quite built to win a championship, but they can hang with anyone when their shooters are on.

7. Memphis Grizzlies - The Grizzlies' success starts with their twin towers in the post of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. As long as those two are around, they can hang with anyone. They will push for a playoff spot all year long, but the West is just so competitive.  Adding a rookie like Jarnell Stokes will only add to their rugged front line. Guard play can be a little bit of a weakness, though. Mike Conley is very good point guard, but shooting guard is questionable. Veteran Tony Allen, free agent  Vince Carter, and rookie Jordan Adams will all compete for minutes there.

8. Denver Nuggets - Ty Lawson is one of the most exciting point guards in the league, and he is joined by three solid options at the two guard spot with Randy FoyeAaron Affalo, and rookie Gary HarrisDanilo Gallanari and Kenneth Faried are two very good, young forwards.  This team is offensive minded, but they lack a solid post presence. The up and down game can only take them so far, but they should be in playoff contention to the very end.

9. Phoenix Suns -  The Suns have a deep and talented backcourt, and I think it will get them back to the postseason. Goran Dragic had an outstanding 2014 campagin, and Eric Bledsoe will be back from injury. They also added Isaiah Thomas from the Kings for depth, and drafted Tyler Ennis.  PJ Tucker was resigned, and they drafted gifted scorer TJ Warren to handle the small forward spot. It's the depth of the post positions that will hold this team back for the most part, as they lack talent there.

10. Dallas Mavericks - Dallas resigned their franchise superstar in Dirk Nowitski. Although he is older, Dirk can still play. They brought back Tyson Chandler to help matters in the post. If they are able to land Chandler Parsons, Dallas has a good set of starting forwards. Monta Ellis is one of the league's most gifted scorers, but point guard play, depth, and age really is working against this team.

11. Los Angeles Lakers - The Lakers added Jeremy Lin, and with Steve Nash's age and health, Linsanity could see big minutes. Kobe Bryant will be back, and could easily elevate his game to being one the better players in the league. Resigning Nick Young is a good move, because he can flat out score. As it stands now, the Lakers will be expecting quite a bit from Julius Randle in the post. The young Kentucky star is a talented guy that dropped to the Lakers in the draft, and could be one of the pillars of  this franchise in the future. They still need to make a move to add some more help down low.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves - If Kevin Love gets dealt, they would drop down to 15 and everyone else gets bumped up a spot. Love may hang out for the season, and the TWolves could make a run to the playoffs. Ricky Rubio has not been as great as everyone thought he would be, but still distributes the ball very well. They drafted promising athletic guards, Glen Robinson III and Zach LaVine, and they should help. Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin are both solid veteran scoring options.

13. Utah Jazz - The Jazz have a stable of young guards and wings and the most recent draft was kind to them. Trey Burke is a franchise point guard, and drafting two talented guys like Dante Exum and Rodney Hood should bode well for the future. They were able to hang onto Gordon Hayward by matching an offer sheet from Charlotte. The down low game is what is in question, but Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are both 22 years old with room to grow, this is a team that will be trending upward in the future.

14. New Orleans Pelicans - The West is a tough place if this is one of your worst teams. Anthony Davis is a budding star in the post. Guys like Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday are a tough set of guards, but still they are low down in the pecking order. Tyreke Evans is also a solid piece, but injury concerns and depth down low will cost them in the end.

15. Sacramento Kings - The Kings have one of the best big men in the league with DeMarcus Cousins, but not a whole lot else. Nik Stauskas will be of the better rookies in the league, but they already had a young guard in Ben McLemore with that kind of skill set. Rudy Gay is a good player also,  but beyond that the roster is very dull. Losing Isaiah Thomas and replacing him with Darren Collison is a downgrade also.

Ranking the new NBA Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavs obviously landed the biggest free agent of them all with LeBron James returning to his hometown team. LeBron has proven in the past he could take Cleveland to the Finals on his own, and even this past year with Miami we saw Wade and Bosh regress a bit, and LeBron doing a lot of work. All LeBron all the time will not be the case anymore.  Kyrie Irving is one of the top young point guards in the league, and James has never worked with a top tier PG like this.  Andrew Wiggins will be exciting to watch, but could have too much expected of him right away. A potential Kevin Love deal could happen, or the Cavs may stand pat for one season and make a run at a post player like him next year.  They are good enough to win the East with Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao running the post. I think Dion Waiters is a good 6th man, and perhaps Anthony Bennett takes a jump forward as well.

2. Chicago Bulls  - With the Bulls getting a healthy Derrick Rose back, that's as big of an upgrade to a roster you will see beyond LeBron James. The Bulls are a pretty good team, but add in a former MVP, and you have a legit title contender.  Not only do they get a healthy Rose, they sign Pau Gasol. The Gasol-Joakim Noah front court could be the best in the league. Gasol and Noah both are great passing big men, and can really open up the offense and allow Rose to do a lot of creating. Taj Gibson remains one of the best 6th man's in the league. Perhaps rookie, Doug McDermott, could really help this team. Jimmy Butler has really emerged as a solid contributor in the starting lineup, and the Bulls have the makeup of a team that can win the East.

3. Indiana Pacers - Assuming Lance Stephenson returns, the Pacers should be back towards the top of the East next season. Stephenson and Paul George from one of the league's best young set of wings, and those two can really carry a team pretty far.  So much was talked about them collapsing late in the season and squeaking by in the playoffs, but that was them at the worst.  The Pacers have proven before that they could play much better, and they still managed to win a pair of games against the Heat when push came to shove. This is still a good team. Dropping Evan Turner and adding CJ Miles is a better fit for this team.  Roy Hibbert is up and down, but we know he is capable of being a force when pushed enough.  They still have a pair of smart veterans with David West and Luis Scola at the power forward spot. Adding a point guard would be a good move, though. George Hill is good, but he could be upgraded.

4.  Miami Heat - The mighty have not fallen too much.  Pat Riley was able to bring back Chris Bosh and likely will get Dwayne Wade too. They managed to lure Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts into the fold also. Shabazz Napier will make an impact as a rookie, and they still should be able to make some noise. McRoberts is an upgrade at the center spot, and should add some rebounding the Heat have lacked.  The rumors now of Luol Deng joining the team would be huge, and the Heat could really be a pesky team for LeBron and the other top teams.

5. Toronto Raptors - The Raptors essentially have their whole team back from last season, and they should continue to grow as a threat to the top tier of the Eastern Conference. The Raptors made enough small moves to improve the roster even further. Kyle Lowry is one of the premier point guards in the league, and is coming off a big season. They added Lou Williams to help improve the guard play off the bench along with Greivis Vasquez. DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross are two budding stars, especially DeRozan who averaged 22 points a game last season. Jonas Valanciunas is also coming into his own as a 22 year old center. This team is so young, but they showed a lot last season. They have talent and depth at each and every spot, and they could be a scary good team in a few seasons, and will be a tough out this year.

6. Washington Wizards - The Wizards, much like the Raptors, have young exciting core that was mostly kept together. John Wall (23) and Bradley Beal (21) make for one of the best backcourts in the league, and they even propelled the Wizards into the second round of the playoffs. The Wizards managing to keep Marcin Gortat is huge for this team, as he provides a great presence down low. Nene is also back, and they have a formidable front line that can hang with anyone in the East.  The Wizards added future hall of famer,  Paul Pierce, to bring another veteran presence in what will probably be his last go around in this league. Martell Webster is a reliable backup and should see a lot of minutes because of Pierce's age. Washington has the core in place to be an attractive destination for Kevin Durant to join his hometown team next offseason.

7. Charlotte Hornets - The trend continues with young and exciting teams, and the Hornets are just that. Kemba Walker has been a solid pro in his young career, and is a good start to this team. Gerald Henderson is not the greatest two guard in the league, but does a nice job for this team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the exciting piece to this team, and he could really take a big step forward this season. MGK is so young still, but has an exciting skill set. Al Jefferson really solidifies this team, and gives them a great player in the post. It will be interesting to see who the fourth starter will be since they have lost Josh McRoberts, Cody Zeller and rookie Noah Vonleh are the team's past two number one picks, and interestingly enough come from Indiana. Vonleh has gotten some LaMarcus Aldridge comparisons, and Zeller could allow Jefferson to play some at the four.  They also signed Marvin Williams from Utah, and he could also. Depth will be this team's ultimate concern. I think they can make the playoffs again, but they will have to work for it.

8. Atlanta Hawks - The Hawks nearly pulled off a first round upset of the Indiana Pacers, and they have a roster equipped to return to the postseason. Jeff Teague has been a solid point man for Atlanta, and he should continue to be a solid guard. Atlanta upgraded the wing position with the signing of Thabo Sefolosha from Oklahoma City. Kyle Korver is back and gives the Hawks a serious shooting threat to compliment Sefolosha's defense. The return of Al Horford and having Paul Millsap coming off his best statsistical season gives the Hawks a tough duo to handle in the post.

9. New York Knicks - I don't think the Knicks have quite enough around Carmelo Anthony to make a serious run. They should be in contention for a playoff spot, and could sneak in there.  I look for Cleanthony Early to make a serious impact as I feel he was one of the biggest steals in the draft.

10. Brooklyn Nets - Deron Williams and Joe Johnson is still a dangerous backcourt, and they could make the playoffs if things go right. Still, an aging Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez coming off injury leaves a lot of questions up front.

11. Detroit Pistons - The talent is there, but this team does not seem to mesh well together. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe make for a tough interior. Josh Smith obviously still has some game, and Brandon Jennings is very talented himself. For whatever reason, it didn't work last year. Maybe it will this year? They added Jodie Meeks to the equation in free agency and drafted a very good prospect in Spencer Dinwiddie.

12. Boston Celtics - Rajon Rondo is still around, and they drafted well by getting Marcus Smart and James Young. Boston still is a ways off from making a serious run for the playoffs, and they need to draft or sign some stronger pieces in the post.

13. Orlando Magic  - The Magic will likely be hanging around the lottery once again next season, but they have been adding solid pieces like Victor Oladipo last year and Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton this year. Adding veterans, Ben Gordon and Channing Frye, should help the team, and maybe they can fare a little bit better.

14. Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker will instantly become the face of the franchise, and has a chance to be a special player in this league. Brandon Knight is a good point guard, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is a promising player oozing with potential.

15. Philadelphia 76ers - The Sixers have Michael Carter-Williams and not much else. Philly drafted Joel Embiid, but he is injury prone and a question mark. They did the same with Nerlens Noel last year, and we will see if Noel is the real deal this season. Fortunatley for the Sixers, they have tons of young players recently drafted with potential like KJ McDaniels, Jerami Grant, and Jordan McRae.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The infamous return of "Couch Potato Guide" May 2 edition.

Ah, yes...The return of the "Couch Potato Guide." Not only are you going to finish an entire two liter of Pepsi Max or two (idk,  is that what everyone drinks now?) this weekend, and funnel the bag of Snyder's chips up to your lips and eat every last morsel, you are going to watch sports....lots of sports. In order to be the laziest sports watching person imaginable, here's what you do. You flip on the boobtube (remember when that used to draw a chuckle?) and I'll tell you what to watch. I'll even count it down for you, just so you don't have to flip back and forth if you don't want to. Just settle in to one channel, and launch snack sequence. (Man I sound really lame, I think that's the point.) Here goes nothin'

10. Wait, what? The NFL Draft isn't this weekend? Seriously, ESPN? You mean to tell me you can talk about a non-game sporting event for this long, and you are going to tell me I have to wait another week of this nonsense? #OneMoreWeek #JohnnyFootball #ClowneyWorkEthic #Killme #TomSavage

9. No Draft? No problem, I'll watch real football. Oh wait a minute, it's May, so that means more College Spring games. NOOOOO!!! The only thing worse than NFL Preseason is a college football spring game. Save yourself. Oregon will wear these uniforms, though.(Still, don't watch it) Am I the only one that isn't on board with Oregon's uniforms? Cool guys, wear practice jerseys cooler than everyone's game jerseys, get over yourselves.

8. THE BUCS -  Real live sports. The Pirates will play the Toronto Blue Jays in a weekend series at PNC, which is sure to be a preview of the this year's world series. The Pirates can't hit, They can't hold a lead, and they kinda suck right now. Have your Jolly Roger nearby, but chances are you won't need it.

7. Canadiens at Bruins Game 2 - It's Saturday at 12:30, this is where your sports watching Saturday begins. Your probably avoiding some sort of weekend duties like cutting the grass, painting a room, well you know what I mean. This game should be good on like level 3 volume in your basement with the lights turned off while you hide and wait for rain and avoid your chores.  The Canadiens have a 1-0 lead, you might as well root like hell they can knock the Bruins out if you are a Penguins fans.Since I'm on the subject, the worst thing about Boston hockey is that all their players just have really annoying last names. If I have to hear Doc Emerick say "Lucic passes it back to Krejci" one more time, I'm going to die, and I'm sure you all will too.

6. Raptors at Nets Game 6 - It's Friday night. It's the official start to your weekend, and the game is on during happy hour. You begin to casually watch. Then you just realize the Raptors franchise is still in existence, you become pretty excited. You also notice Jason Kidd is injured and is wearing a suit on the Nets sideline, and you keep watching.  You brush off that the Nets have these weird looking black and white uniforms. You think why does ESPN has a  "BKN" abbreviation for the New Jersey Nets? You notice Paul Pierce, and do a double take (Did they flip it to the Boston game?). Now you're getting worried.....Then your buddy says something like "Jason Kidd has done a great job coaching Paul Pierce and the Brooklyn Nets." Your world has just been flipped upside down, and you order shots----lots of shots.

5. Rockets at Blazers Game 6 - This series has been wild. All great games, and definitely worth checking in on Friday night if you didn't black out from the Brooklyn Nets realization you just had. And no those aren't replays they keep showing, James Harden is actually taking that many shots.

4. Hawks-Pacers game 7 - Does anyone else find it strange that the NBA has kept this series mostly hidden on their NBATV channel? I mean, hopefully we can actually watch this one on Saturday. The demise of Roy Hibbert is what keeps me going.

3. Grizzlies-Thunder Game 7 - Yeah this series is still going on, I can't believe it either.

2. Rangers - Penguins Game 1 - You got your sporty Sidney Crosby shersey on, you got your Penguins flag hanging on your front porch, and you even forced your dog into a Pens collar. Dude you went all out, "Are those IC Light bottles?" Classy.  You. Are. Pumped. #BecauseItsTheCup amirite? But wait, a goal by the Rangers. The inner yinzer in you starts to scream "Flerury you...." then you catch yourself and realize it was a horrible pass by Letang, and you can rightfully place the blame on that bum instead.

1. Rangers - Penguins Game 2 - You still have a couple IC lights leftover from Friday, it's 7:30 on a Sunday, but you are gonna polish those babies off #BecauseItsTheCup. You are either really nervous, or you have been caught up in Penguins really depends on what happened Friday. Whatever happens, you are either going to Twitter all about Marc-Andre Fleury to your 47 followers.

Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014-15 very early Top 25.

1. Kentucky - Kentucky has an array of post players that can't be possibly matched by anyone in the country. It starts with 7"0  Willie Cauley-Stein announcing his return for his junior season. Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns are both incoming five star recruits that stand at 6-10 and 6-11 respectively. Dakari Johnson (7"0) and Marcus Lee (6"9) were last year's five star post players that will be sophomores, and also the explosive Alex Poythress (6'8) is back. Obviously the guard play got a huge boost with the return of Andrew and Aaron Harrison. John Calipari is also welcoming two four star guards to the mix in Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis as well. Kentucky is 10 deep with all of them being former top 100 recruits, and unlike past years, a lot will depend on their upperclassmen, and not just the freshmen.

2. Arizona - The Cats lose two very important players off this season's team in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but they return three starters and welcome another top 5 recruiting class to the mix. TJ McConnell proved to be the floor general Sean Miller has been longing for, and he will be back after a successful 2014 campaign. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a player ready to emerge on the national scene after a solid freshman season. Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley will be back to handle the paint. Stanley Johnson will step right in and be a star for the Wildcats. The nation's #3 recruit should make a similar impact that Aaron Gordon made last year. Sean Miller has talent, depth, and a team seemingly ready to breakthrough for his final four.

3. Wisconsin - The Badgers have four returning starters off a final four team, and one that was very close to playing for a national championship. Frank Kaminsky is a versatile 7 footer that has improved three point range, and makes it tough for the opposition to defend. Sam Dekker was once a big time recruit for Bo Ryan, and started to show some flashes last season, and should be ready to take a much bigger role next year. Traevon Jackson holds this team altogether as the calm, cool point guard.  Nigel Hayes should move from 6th man to take on a role as a starter in place of Ben Brust. Hayes should give Wisconsin more athleticism and size in the starting lineup.  Bo Ryan has as good of a chance as he will ever have to win a national championship in 2015.

4. Duke - The Blue Devils will lose two very good players to the NBA early with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but Coach K is bringing in three of the top 10 recruits in the country to help offset those losses. Jahlil Okafor is a beast of a Center and will give Duke a serious post presence they missed last year. Tyus Jones could be this season's Tyler Ennis, but will have to compete with senior, Quinn Cook at point guard. Rasheed Sulaimon will be in his third season of his up and down career, but the shooting guard has obvious talent. That trio gives Duke a dynamic, and talented backcourt. Amile Jefferson is a growing talent at power forward, and Justise Winslow is the third of the top recruits, and he can make an impact at a wing position. Duke had a disappointing end to their year, but it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Kryszewski make a run to a Final Four.

Cliff Alexander
5. Kansas - Bill Self loses two top tier freshmen to the one and done rule, but will welcome in two five stars to replace them.  Cliff Alexander is already garnering preseason all American hype, and should be a beast in the paint for the Jayhawks. Kelly Oubre is a lengthy 6"7 shooting guard, but certainly isn't Andrew Wiggins. He will make an immediate impact either way. Perry Ellis is the team's leading returning scorer, and should build upon a campaign in which he averaged 13 and 6. Wayne Selden Jr. will take on a larger role with Wiggins' absence. The 6"5 sophomore guard should definitely up his scoring average. Naadir Tharpe will be entering his senior season as a point guard, and is a solid floor general. KU has talent up and down the lineup, but they are really banking on Cliff Alexander having a major impact, and if he does, Kansas should be near the top of the rankings all year long.

6. North Carolina - The Tar Heels will center their team around junior guard, Marcus Paige. Paige averaged 17 points per game to lead the Tar Heels, and emerged as one of the ACC's premier players. Brice Johnson and JP Tokoto both averaged around 10 points last year, and the set of junior forwards should only get better without Leslie McDonald and James Michael McAdoo around this year. UNC will welcome a pair of five star wing players with plenty of hype. Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson both should make serious impacts and give Carolina great scoring options. The inside game presents some questions, and Roy Williams has to be hoping that big Kennedy Meeks can prove to be a viable option.

7. Villanova - Jay Wright returns four starters off a 29 win team. Darren Hilliard II had a breakout year last year, and the 6"6 wing could be the top scorer in the Big East next season. Ryan Arcidiacano and Josh Hart form a big and physical backcourt with experience. Arcidiacano will be in his third year as the starting point guard the Wildcats, and he is a big time performer in pressure situations. JayVaughn Pinkston is a typical Villanova forward that can score and bang with anyone down low. Daniel Uchefu should really settle into his own. The 6"11 junior center has a vast amount of potential, and started to tap it towards the end of last year.

8. Louisville - Rick Pitino has a star in the paint, and a player he can ride to a final four. Montrezl Harrell announced his intentions to remain in school, and it instantly made Louisville a top ten team. Harrell is a beast in the post, and could improve upon his 14 points and 8 rebounds per game last season. The Cardinals have an experienced backcourt highlighted by Chris Jones. After transferring from a JuCo last year, he made an instant impact by averaging 10 points per contest. Wayne Blackshear is also back, and he has the experience of starting in the national championship game a few years ago. Louisville is welcoming five four star recruits with Shaqquan Aaron leading the way. Aaron could come in and get some quality minutes on the wing for Louisville.

9. Texas - Rick Barnes may have been on the hot seat going into last year, but his team showed some serious promise and they will enter this season with some realistic expectations. Texas returns all ten players from their rotation last season, and they should be able to translate that experience to success this year. Jonathan Holmes had a breakout year at power forward, and should be one of the better seniors in the country next year. Cameron Ridley is back at Center, and teaming with Holmes makes them one of the top front courts in America, not to mention they also landed the last of unsigned five star prospects with 6'11 Myles Turner. Isiah Taylor and Javan Felix are both quick small guards that have scoring capabilities.

10. Wichita State - The Shockers ran into a tough draw in the tournament, but they were a legitimate team and they will be again. .  Wichita State returns all three guards from last season, and they each bring some a little different to the table.Fred VanVleet is a smart point guard, and can definitely takeover a game in more ways than just scoring. Ron Baker is physical, and can do a lot of different things, and may be the team's go to scorer next year. Tekele Cotton has progressed each season, and will be a tough senior guard for this Shockers team. Losing Cleanthony Early will be tough to overcome, but Wichita will be fine in the hands of their elite guards.

11. SMU - SMU has just about everyone back from a team that finished as the runner-up in the NIT. SMU also happens to be welcoming arguably the nation's top recruit, Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay will profile like many other great one and done point guards like Derrick Rose and John Wall. Having that kind of presence on the court will have them at the top of the AAC pecking order.  They also return steady incumbent point guard, 5"9 Nic Moore.  It will be a dynamic backcourt to say the least. Markus Kennedy averaged 12 and 7 as a sophomore, and will be counted on to do much of the same this season.

12. Virginia - Virginia brings back four starters from a team that managed to win the ACC regular season, ACC Tournament, and earn a one seed. They are not a flashy team, but they defend better than anyone. Malcolm Brogdon emerged as a great asset as a sophomore, and will be the featured player in 2015. Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey are two physically imposing players in the post, and they are just loads to get around for opponents. Justin Anderson has the task of trying to fill in for Joe Harris, but played a big role last season. London Perrentes is a cool customer at point guard, and his presence really sets the tone for this team. BJ Stith and Isaiah Wilkins are two four star recruits coming into the fold to add to the depth for Tony Bennett.

13. Connecticut - The defending national champions will be without Shabazz Napier for the first season in seemingly forever. The keys will be handed over to Ryan Boatright, who had a big season in his own right. The quick guard for UConn produced in the same way as Napier, but on a smaller scale, but should increase his numbers as the lead player. Rodney Purvis, a transfer from NC State, should slide right into the other starting guard position. Purvis averaged 8 points a game in his freshman season for the Wolfpack, and was once a five star recruit. Omar Calhoun is still around after having a injury filled season in 2014, but is the same player that averaged 11 points as a freshman. Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah are exciting center prospects that will continue to develop. Daniel Hamilton (6"6) is the prized recruit that will have an opportunity to contribute immediately.

14. Florida - The Gators graduate many key players from last season's team, but they have plenty returning and coming into the program. Michael Frazier II averaged 12 points a game as a shooting guard last season as a sophomore, and will be the team's number one option this year. Dorian Finney-Smith is a another junior whose role will grow this year. Kasey Hill will be the full time point guard after backing up Scottie Wilbekin.  Chris Walker may be ready to have a huge season after having to sit out most of last year with eligibility issues. Devin Robinson is a top 20 recruit coming into the program, and could be the starter at small forward from day one.

15. Iowa State - The Cyclones will once again rely on the impact of an immediately eligible transfer for success this season. Bryce DeJean-Jones averaged 13 points last season to lead UNLV, and the 6"5 guard could play a role similar to DeAndre Kane. Georges Niang is the ISU returning leading scorer after posting 16 points per game. Dustin Hogue posted 12 a game last season as a sophomore. Naz Long and Monte Morris are both back, and will be counted on to play bigger roles as guards this season. Fred Hoiberg runs a very wide open, innovative offense. The Cyclones will not be short on firepower, and are capable of being a final four team.

16. Gonzaga - The Zags always find themselves in the preseason top 25, and that's a testament to Mark Few's program. Kevin Pangos will enter his senior season as one of the top guards in America. Pangos is a great offensive threat, and makes Gonzaga a top 20 caliber team. Fellow senior, Gary Bell Jr., will join him as a retuning starter in the backcourt. The Zags found a powerful center last season that looks like he can be a great college player. Przemek Karnowski is a massive 7"1 presence that produced very well last season, and could continue to get better. The most interesting newcomer will be the son of former NBA great, Arvydas Sabonis. His son, Domantas Sabonis, will figure to make an instant impact in the post.

17. Oklahoma - The Sooners had a disappointing first round exit in the NCAA tournament last year, but throughout the season they showed enough promise to be a fixture in the top 25 this season. Oklahoma welcomes back three starting guards that averaged in double figures from last season. It starts with 6"4 junior, Buddy Hield. He poured in over 16 points a game in 2014. Isaiah Cousins is another bigger guard standing at 6"4, and scored 11 points a game last season. The point guard is also back in Jordan Woodard. He dished out 4 assists and scored 9 points a game last year as a freshman. Ryan Spangler put up 9 and 9 a game last year as a sophomore, and will be the team's top post player.

18. VCU - Traveon Graham is back for his senior season, and VCU should have another successful season. Graham is one of the more versatile players in the country, and could be a household name next season. Melvin Johnson is also back after scoring 11 a game as a sophomore. Briante Weber returns as well, to give VCU a lethal three man backcourt. JeQuan Lewis and Jordan Burgess should provide great depth as guards. VCU is welcoming three freshmen forwards and they may all need to make an impact inside.

19. Michigan State - Despite their losses,Tom Izzo will have this team playing at a high level, because he always does. Brenden Dawson will be the team's featured threat as a smart, aggressive forward. Denzel Valentine will be the team's top shooting guard, who will try to replace Gary Harris. Travis Trice will go from reserve to the lead guard for Izzo. Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski will go from role players to counted on to make an impact in the post game. The Spartans top recruit will make an impact in perhaps a 6th man role. Lourawls Nairn is a well regarded point guard that has a very bright future.

20. Syracuse - Syracuse loses a ton from a team that was ranked number one for a good portion of the season, but they still bring back enough talent to be a top 20 team in the country. Trevor Conney is the team's leading returning scorer, and he is a very good outside shooter.  Rakeem Christmas and DeJuan Coleman are back to handle the post. Chris McCollough is a five star forward that figures to earn minutes right off the bat.  Michael Gbinije earned minutes as the season progressed, and could see more in 2015. BJ Johnson and Tyler Roberson will each get opportunities at the small forward spot. A lot of the season hinges on whether Kaleb Joseph can make a Tyler Ennis-like impact. If he can play a high level, Syracuse is underrated at 20, but if he struggles, they are definitely overrated.

21. Oregon - The Ducks have very strong guard play returning, and should be able to the top challenger to Arizona in the Pac 12. Joseph Young is an explosive 6"2 guard that is a very good outside shooting threat. Dominic Artis is back after a rough season in which he was suspended. He is a very good guard and should have a breakout junior year if he can stay in the lineup. Damyean Dotson at 6"5 is the top option out on the wing. Oregon will see the addition of a five star recruit, Jaquan Lyle, to the mix at guard. Oregon adds a pair of well regaerded junior college forwards in Michael Chandler and Dwayne Benjamin.

22. Iowa - The Hawkeyes have a lot of pieces back from an NCAA tournament team, and their depth and experience should carry this team. Aaron White is a dynamic player as a 6"9 forward. White averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds last season and is the team's most notable returnee.  Jarrod Uthoff is another versatile 6"8 forward that played significant minutes last season. Mike Gesell and Josh Ogleseby should form the Iowa backcourt. Adam Woodbury (7"1) and Gabriel Olaseni (6"10) provide great size in the interior.  Iowa has a very physically imposing team, and their size will create an advantage for them in the vast majority of their games.

23. San Diego State - The Aztecs welcome back three starters from a Sweet 16 team. Winston Shepard is an elite forward that will lead the attack for Steve Fisher. Dwayne Polee II is an athletic long wing that Fisher and this San Diego State program loves. JJ O'Brien is a 6"7 forward that can bang down low. San Diego State is also welcoming five star recruit, Malik Pope to the mix. Guard play is something the Aztecs lack due to the graduation of Xavier Thames. Aqeel Quinn figures to work his way into more playing time, and freshmen Kevin Zabo could work his way into some minutes.

24. Michigan - A lot of Michigan's potential success lies in the hands of Caris LeVert. The junior to be had a breakout season, and with his 6"6 frame, he can dominate the game in a variety of ways. Some are expecting an All American caliber performance, and with three players leaving early for the draft, the Wolverines will need it. Derrick Walton Jr. had a very solid freshman season, and he too could be on his way to a big season for Michigan. Walton looks like he can be a good three point shooter, and did an admirable job trying to fill the void left by Trey Burke. Zak Irvin is an other 6"6 shooter that fits into the John Beilen mold.  Michigan is fine on the perimeter, but the low post game is what can hold them back in 2015.

25. Pittsburgh - Jamie Dixon always has a team capable of hanging with anyone in the regular season, and 2014 should be no different. The ACC is loaded, and having arguably the sixth best team in the top 25 should say a lot about how tough the league will be. James Robinson and Cameron Wright are both back after starting every game last season as the two guards. Robinson isn't the best scoring option, but rarely turns it over. Sheldon Jeter is a 6'8 sophomore transfer from Vanderbilt that is expected to fill the void left by Lamar Patterson. Mike Young had a productive freshman year, and more will be expected of him this upcoming year.

5 Others to watch - UCLA     K-State  Harvard    Memphis    Ohio ST

Sunday, March 2, 2014

PIAA Basketball Playoff: Western AA Preview

Jim Hammett
D6SN Sports Editor
Follow me @JimHammett @D6SN

The Favorite - Seton LaSalle - The Rebels of Seton LaSalle will enter the PIAA Class AA tournament as the favorites to represent the West. Coming off a narrow win in the WPIAL championship, the Rebels enter the state tournament with a 25-1 record. Seton LaSalle's only loss came to the hands of AAA power, Montour. They have rolled through the majority of their schedule and even have some wins over AAA and AAAA team to their credit. The tremendous size and athleticism of Seton makes them a tough team to prepare against. Dale Clancy is a smooth, senior guard that leads the offense. The Rebels have big time size with Levi Masua and Malik White. Seton LaSalle is a deep and talented team, and will be a tough out for anybody.

The Challenger -  Greensburg Central Catholic - GCC boasts a 22-3 record, and nearly pulled off a win against Seton LaSalle in the WPIAL championship. The Centurions have a balanced team with strong guard play. The GCC attack starts with versatile wing, Bryan Graytok. Graytok plays taller than his 6-1 listed height, and has a good all around offensive game. Billy Hipp creates a tough match up being a 6-4 guard, and is more than capable leading the team in scoring. GCC played a daring schedule, and it should help them during this run through the playoffs.

Dark Horse - Quaker Valley - The Quakers enter as the 6 seed from the WPIAL, but it would not surprise anyone if they put on a little run from here. Mike Mastroianni is an excellent coach, and seems to thrive in playoff basketball. Quaker Valley does not have a big time star player, and they are very well balanced. 6-4 junior forward, Chris Conlan, leads the Quakers in scoring. Winter Fondi dishes out 6 assists per game, and is one of many seniors in the QV 10 man rotation.

Top Local Favorite - Richland - Last year saw three local teams advance past the first round, and Conemaugh Township made their way to the round of 8.  The Indians are back,  but I look for Richland to have the best chance to move on a game or two. Yes, the Rams play a good Quaker Valley team, but they have enough fire power to steal a win.  Richland starts four seniors, and they have been playing great ball down the stretch. Matt Shaffer is tough to stop in the post, and Kyle Flick is a versatile, stat-sheet-stuffing guard. The tandem along with shooters, Aaron Miller and Jacob Lushko, make a well put together team.

Toughest Draw - Central - Central made their way to the District final, but bowed to a very strong Richland team. The reward for that run, a date with perennial power Beaver Falls. While all the local teams appear to be underdogs, Central getting a 7 loss Beaver Falls team can be misleading. The Tigers have been the team to beat in recent years, and you can bet they still are capable of making a run to the Western Final.  Beaver Falls played a tough schedule, and with their tradition, this looks like a really daunting task for an undersized Central team.

Under .500 - District 9 is awarded one bid to the state tournament, and 11 win Brookville is the team that got it. After going 8-14 in the regular season, the Raiders won their three district playoff games by a total of ten points. All three teams they beat have winning records. The Raiders meet perennial District 10 power, Mercyhurst Prep.

Most Intriguing Game - West Middlesex vs. Neshannock - West Middlesex has been on a great run recently, but things are a little different this year. The Big Reds went on a Western Final run last year with star player Matt Dogan, but he has since graduated. Sure they came back and managed to get to 20 wins this time around, but they definitely lack the star power Dogan brought to the table. Neshannock has an impressive record, but curiously were blown out by Beaver Falls in the WPIAL playoffs.  It was curious they were blown out simply for the fact they beat Beaver Falls twice in the regular season.  This game has the chance to be a good one with no true clear defined favorite.

Most lopsided game - Penns Valley vs. Seton LaSalle - This is David vs. Goliath if there has ever been one. No need to talk about the Rebels anymore, but Penns Valley could be in trouble. The Rams simply do not have the size or athletes to match Seton LaSalle. Penns Valley runs a deliberate offense and hard nosed defense, but they did not have one game on their schedule that could simulate what they will see Saturday. Penns Valley will try to make this a grudge match, but Seton has the shooters and size to combat the defensive pressure.

And from the East? - Constitution High is ranked number one in the Harrisburg Patriot News state rankings. They hail from the Philadelphia Public League, and they boast a 23-5 record playing the toughest schedule of anyone in the bracket. They will be the most likely team to represent the East, but maybe Loyalsock Township or Lewisburg can give them a run for their money.

My Picks  -

Seton LaSalle over Penns Valley
Mercyhurst Prep over Brookville
Quaker Valley over Richland
Aliquippa over Fairview
Summit Academy over Conemaugh Township
Beaver Falls over Central
Greensburg Central Catholic over Bald Eagle
West Middlesex over Neshannock

Seton LaSalle over Mercyhurst Prep
Quaker Valley over Aliquippa
Beaver Falls over Summit Academy
GCC over West Middlesex

Seton LaSalle over Quaker Valley
Greensburg Central over Beaver Falls

Seton LaSalle over Greensburg Central Catholic

PIAA Basketball Tournament: First Round Dates/Sites for Local teams.

Jim Hammett
D6SN Sports Editor
Follow me @JimHammett @D6SN


Saturday March 8
D6 #1 Altoona (13-9) vs. D7 4 North Allegheny (21-4) Hollidaysburg High School 5:30

AAA Boys
Friday March 7
D6 #1 Somerset (16-8) vs. D3 #7 Lancaster Mennonite (20-7) Richland High School 6:00

AA Boys
Saturday March 8
D6 #1 Richland (20-5) vs. D7 #6 Quaker Valley (21-3) Central Cambria High School 5:30
#D6 #2 Central (17-8) vs. D7 #3 Beaver Falls (18-7) Altoona High School 5:30
D6 #3 Bald Eagle (20-5) vs. D7 #2 Greensburg Central Catholic Hempfield High School 5:30
D6 #4 Penns Valley (19-6) vs. D7 #1 Seton LaSalle (25-1) Penn Hills HS 5:30
D5 #1 Conemaugh Township (21-5) vs. D7 #5 Summit Academy (16-6) UPJ 7:00

A Boys
Friday March 7

D6 #1 Bishop Carroll (25-0) vs. D9 #4 Clarion Limestone (21-4) Richland HS 7:30
D6 #2 Bishop Guilfoyle (19-6) vs. D5 #2 Forbes Road (16-8) Altoona HS 8:00
D6 #3 Homer Center (22-3) vs. D9 #2 Elk County Catholic (22-3) Clarion U 6:00
D5 #1 Berlin (23-2) vs. D7 #3 Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (15-10) UPJ 7:30

Thursday, February 27, 2014

District Six Boys Basketball Quick Championship Outlook.

Jim Hammett
D6SN  Sports Editor
Follow me @JimHammett @D6SN

Class A
2. Bishop Guilfoyle (19-5) vs. 1. Bishop Carroll (24-0)
Friday 8:30 DeGol Arena Saint Francis University

PIAA Playoff Implications: Winner plays District 9 #4 seed (Johnsonburg/Clarion Limestone)
Loser plays District 5 #2 (Forbes Road)

Bishop Carroll and Bishop Guilfoyle will get together for the third time this season on Friday night for all the marbles. This is a rematch of last year's championship that saw the Marauders upset Bishop Carroll by a score of 42-39. Things are a little different, and this game brings some different story lines to the table.

Bishop Carroll comes into this game with a perfect record, and the state's number three ranking. The Huskies have been a machine that have rolled through the Laurel Highlands with relative ease, and have won their postseason games in convincing fashion.  The only problems the Huskies ran into at all this season have been their two meetings with Bishop Guilfoyle.  The other 22 games have typically been blowouts by halftime. Carroll runs a up-tempo pressing game that leads to a lot of steals and layups.  The leader of the attack is junior guard, Brandon Martinazzi. The speedy guard leads the team with 20 points a game. Also, the Huskies have a pretty good big man in 6-6 Marcus Lee, who averages 17 and 7 per game. Scott Lucas, Mitchell Madonna, and David Maruca round out the Huskies four guard lineup. Lucas brings a good scoring spark, while Madonna and Maruca handle the ball and create havoc in the press. Nick Suckinos plays the sixth man role very well, and comes in can make shots.  This team works together, and they all understand their roles very well. They haven't been tested a lot this year, but they all went through a deep run into states last year, and the benefit of those big games should help in this one as the Huskies look for their first title since 2011. 

Bishop Guilfoyle comes in as the defending champions, and they are not short on confidence. They have proven twice this year they belong on the floor with Bishop Carroll, as they played two classic games with the Huskies.The Marauders' offensive game starts with senior forward,  Damon Rickens.  Rickens has had the most success in games with Bishop Carroll this year, as he is averaging 18.5 in those contests.The Marauders can also ride the hot hand of junior guard, Sam McCloskey. McCloskey posted a team high 25 points in a win over Homer Center in the semifinals.  CJ Fulare is another key player for BG, and the senior guard has come up big all year.  Guilfoyle's game plan revolves around their depth, and ability to throw multiple defenders on Carroll. Guys like Brandon Chadbourn, Owen Wolf, and Nick Little add a solid and versatile post presence. Guilfoyle got the last laugh in this rivalry last season, but they did not come out strong in the state tournament. Guilfoyle will be looking to pull the upset Friday, and perhaps take some momentum into a run in the PIAA tournament.

My Thoughts - I look for this game to be very much like the first two. Bishop Guilfoyle has ball handlers to withstand the pressure, and they also have the depth to throw Carroll different looks. It will come down to a few things for each side

Can Bishop Guilfoyle match Bishop Carroll offensively?  Carroll gets a lot of their points off the press, but are more than capable of putting up numbers in the half court as well. BG will be tested in the half court game once they get into their offense.

Will Bishop Carroll's depth be tested if the game becomes physical?  Bishop Carroll runs with their first five a good bit, and will go probably eight deep if they have to. Still, BG is comfortable going 11 deep if need be, and their bench can bring more to the table.

I picked Bishop Carroll at the onset of the playoffs, and I'll be sticking with that pick.

Class AA
7. Central (17-7) vs. 1. Richland (19-5)
Saturday 8:30 DeGol Arena Saint Francis University

PIAA Playoff Implications: Winner plays District 7 #6 seed (Quaker Valley or Summit Academy)
Loser plays District 7 #3 (Beaver Falls or Aliquippa)

Much like the A game, we have a rematch on our hands, although of a different kind. Back on November 22, these two schools met at Mansion Park for a memorable District Six football final with Central taking down top seeded Richland 27-22. Now the two teams meet on the hardwood, and they are the two teams left standing in a very difficult, and wide open AA field. 

Richland makes it back to championship weekend for the first time since 2011, and they are seeking their first title since 1975. Richland rides the play of an experienced group of seniors that have improved each and every season. From 6 wins in 2012, to 10 wins last year, to now Richland going for a District Title and win number 20 is a tremendous job by Coach Greg Burke and this senior class. Richland is paced by their senior guard, Kyle Flick. Flick runs the point and averages 13 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds a contest.  Flick is a 1,000 point scorer, and was a key player for the 2011 District runner up team.  Matt Shaffer leads the team in scoring and rebounding by posting 13 and 6 a night. Jacob Lushko and Aaron Miller are Richland's outside shooting threats. Ryan Ball rounds out the starting lineup, and brings a big 6-4 presence to the court.  Richland's main production comes from these five guys.  Linnie Joy and Johnny Kutchman can come in and make things happen, but the first five do the majority of the damage. Richland has a toughness about them, and they are definitely hot right now having won 4 straight, all in convincing fashion. 

Central is looking to win their first District Six title since 1995, and the same man is on the bench from their great teams of the 1990's. After a few years of retirement, Reggie Nevins has been back for the past two seasons and already has the Dragons playing for gold with a 17-7 record. Central is a scrappy, and resilient team. The Dragons do not have one player that stands 6-2, and they have strong guard play, and play tough defense. Austin Cunningham is a quick slashing guard that makes things happen for this Central team, and has been averaging 11 points this postseason.  Alex Lafferty is a solid junior guard, and is a very good outside shooting threat for this team. Zach Slagenweit is another quality guard that brings an outside shooting prowess to the court. The Dragons also turn to a pair of 6-1 seniors, Ben Brumbaugh and Lucas Patterson, to play down low and hang with much taller competition. If any team in this field is prepared for a slug fest, it would be Central. They are coming off a pair of hard fought playoff games against conference opponents decided by four points total. 

My Thoughts - I look for this game to be as entertaining as any on the docket this weekend. Both teams are senior laden with great, headstrong athletes. Both sets of seniors are accustomed to winning, and this will be an absolute battle all night long. I think it comes down to a few things.

Can Central hang with Richland's size? The combination of Ball and Shaffer could be a lot to handle for an undersized post tandem from Central. 

How will Richland handle Central's quickness and tough defensive pressure? Central just held a hot shooting Tyrone team to just 33 points, and did not give Bald Eagle much for most of the game. Richland has one player that can comfortably handle the ball in Flick, but the smaller Central guards can give everyone else some problems. 

I actually picked a Tyrone-Penns Valley final, and I was way off on that. AA was very wide open, and I've been saying since about early January that any of the top 7 seeds could make a run here. Central had to play some battles, while Richland calmly took care of business like a top seed should. I think this will be a spirited affair, but I like Richland to prevail. 

Class AAA
1. Somerset (15-8) vs. 2. Huntingdon (15-8)
Mount Aloysius Convocation Center
Saturday 2:00

PIAA Playoff Implications: Winner plays District 3 #7 (Lancaster Mennonite) 

Somerset and Huntingdon get together for the District Championship Saturday afternoon at the brand new Mount Aloysius Convocation Center to decide the AAA crown.  This will mark the first time since 2008 that the Johnstown Trojans will not be the District champions. Somerset is looking for their first District Six title ever, while Huntingdon is going for their first win since 2002.  

Somerset comes in as the top seed, and they have been hot of late. The Golden Eagles are currently riding a five game winning streak, and the young Golden Eagles are starting to come together. Jake Heiple and Dylan Barnes are two very good sophomore guards that are really coming on strong lately. Both players average around 16 points per game, and they both handle the ball and pass it well on top of their scoring prowess. Connor Zarefoss is a senior that is capable of knocking down three pointers in Somerset's shooting friendly offense. Michael VanLenten is also another capable and versatile player for coach Scott Close. Elliott Dick provides the post presence for Somerset at 6-3. Somerset is solid team, and when they are knocking down their three's, they are very tough to beat. 

Huntingdon started slow at 1-4, but since then, the Bearcats have really put things together. They come in winners of five of six, including a take down of the defending champions, Johnstown. Huntingdon starts their game plan with 6-4 junior wing, Nate Gearhart. The junior averages 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He can really light up, as evidence by a 36 point performance in the season finale against Central Mountain.  Huntingdon also has a smart and heady senior guard in Devon Claar. Claar posts 13 points and 4 assists per game. One of the biggest aspects of Huntingdon's emergence can be attributed to the breakout season by Kobren Frederick. Frederick averages 10 points and 7 rebounds, and poses a presence with his 6-6 frame. Matt Speck and Tanner Cook round out the starting five, and both have the ability to make plays when needed. This Huntingdon team has a lot of firepower, and they definitely have flown a little under the radar in the Mountain League. They are coming together at the right time. 

My Thoughts - Both teams have a lot of young talent, and could be positioning themselves for a run in years to come. This will be a highly competitive game that will be worth the price of admission. 

Can Huntingdon exploit Somerset's lack of size?  The Bearcats made Johnstown pay in round one with their lack of size, and if they can work the post, it could be a tough match up for Somerset.

Can Huntingdon run with the Golden Eagles?  It seems like the Mountain League has a lot of slow and deliberate offenses, and Somerset is definitely an up and down offensive minded team. It is not always the best idea to get in a shooting game with Somerset.

I actually like what Huntingdon is bringing in this one. I like their combination and make up of their team. They blend a veteran point guard with some solid post players.  I think Somerset certainly has the ability to take this one, and it will be fun to see some new times vie for the championship.