2015 NCAA Sweet 16 Preview: East and South Regions

sweet 16

East Regional Semifinal 1: #4 Louisville vs. #8 North Carolina State

nc state

For the second straight year, a fourth-seeded Louisville team will face the number 8 seed in their region in the sweet 16. Last year, it was Kentucky who upset #1 Wichita State in the previous round before eventually beating Louisville and going to the Final Four. This time, it’s the eighth-seeded Wolfpack who come in off a win over the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats. NC State is a good team with impressive wins this year, such as a victory over Duke, but the game against Villanova showed more about the Nova’s weaknesses than it did about NC State’s strengths. Louisville and coach Rick Pitino are only two years removed from their championship in 2013, and after looking shaky at times down the stretch, and against #13 UC Irvine in the second round, the Cardinals looked impressive in their win against Northern Iowa in the round of 32. I think this will be a close battle since NC State certainly won’t be intimidated, but Montrezl Harrell will control the paint down low for Louisville who will return to the Elite 8 for the second time in three years.

East Regional Semifinal 2: #3 Oklahoma vs. #7 Michigan State

oklahma msu

The Oklahoma Sooners are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since Blake Griffin starred as a player of the year candidate in 2009, while Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans are familiar faces in the second weekend of the tournament once again. With top-seeded Villanova and two seed Virginia both knocked out of the region over the weekend, the East’s Final Four berth is up for grabs. In a year that featured seven Big 12 teams making it to the tournament, few thought that Oklahoma would be one of the last teams standing ahead of the likes of Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State. Meanwhile, many people believed Michigan State was underseeded after seeing them play Wisconsin to overtime in the Big 10 championship. A veteran team led by forward Brandon Dawson with an experienced coach will once again prevail as Michigan State locks up a berth in the Elite 8.

South Regional Semifinal 1: #1 Duke vs. #5 Utah

duke utah

Utah has flown under the radar as a pretty solid team out of the Pac-12 this year, but all eyes will be on Duke and player of the year finalist Jahlil Okafor. Utah’s main focus will be preventing him and forward Justice Winslow from dominating in the paint and forcing Duke to shoot jump shots. Freshman point guard Tyus Jones will play a key role as well in running the offense. Duke has had some struggles in the tournament since their championship in 2010, including losses to a 15 and 14 seed in the round of 64. However, this Duke team appears to be playing much better basketball as of late, with dominating wins in their first two games of the tournament. Utah has not faced a team as talented as Duke, aside from possibly Arizona, this season and I expect the Blue Devils to keep it rolling.

South Regional Semifinal 2: #2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA

ucla gonzaga

Two West Coast teams clash in this Sweet 16 matchup as the UCLA Bruins face off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Neither of these teams are flashy or loaded with star power, but they do have key players that many people may not know about due to their games being late night on the west coast. Sharpshooter Bryce Alford leads UCLA, and made his presence in the tournament known with a 9 for 11 three point shooting night in the round of 64. Meanwhile, Gonzaga is paced by veterans point guard Kevin Pango and forward Kyle Wiltjer. Gonzaga has not been a very popular Final Four pick this year, despite being in the same region as arguably the weakest one seed in Duke, but the Bulldogs are very underrated and certainly have the capability to make a run. Many people think UCLA should not have even been in the tournament, and many also think they should not have won their first game on a controversial goaltending call. Combine that with their win against a 14 seed in the third round, and UCLA’s mediocre season will finally come to an end.

Thanks for reading my March Madness previews. Please like the post if you enjoyed reading, comment if you have feedback, and share with others.

2015 NCAA Sweet 16 Preview: West and Midwest Regions

sweet 16

68 teams began their quest for a championship starting with the First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the now that field is down to just sixteen. Here is a preview of what to watch for during the next eight games of the 2015 NCAA tournament.

Midwest Regional Semifinal 1: #1 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia

UK

Kentucky is off to the best start in NCAA history at 36-0, but they’re not done yet. Their next opponent will be the fifth-seeded Mountaineers, led by coach Bob Huggins. An extremely under the radar statistic in this matchup is the surprising fact the Huggins is 8-2 all time against Calipari, the best winning percentage of anyone against him with at least three matchups. West Virginia comes out of a battle-tested Big 12 conference, and can create the type of full court pressure to take the opponent’s offense out of rhythm. However, the scary part about this Kentucky team this year is that they are so good, they can win games without even being at their best. They are a well-balanced machine with freakish athletes led by Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, and the Harrison twins. They have the length to block and alter shots which has resulted in a historic opponent shooting percentage of 35%, in addition to deadly three point shooters and efficient big men in the paint on offense. West Virginia will hang around at times in this matchup, but Kentucky will advance to the Elite 8.

Midwest Regional Semifinal 2: #3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State

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ACC champion Notre Dame faces off against MVC champion Wichita State in a battle of veteran teams. Both of these teams are coming off of victories against in-state rivals, with Notre Dame pulling out a thrilling overtime win against Butler and the Shockers claiming the battle of Kansas over the Jayhawks. Notre Dame has caught the attention of many by defeating both Duke and UNC multiple times this season, and has the capabilities to make a deep run behind veterans Pat Connaughton and Zack Auguste. However, Wichita State still has much of the team that led them to the Final Four in 2013 and a 35-0 start last year, including Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Gregg Marshall’s team will be determined to win this game and potentially turn the tables on Kentucky in the Elite 8, which ended the Shockers’ undefeated season a year ago.

West Regional Semifinal 1: #1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina

wisco unc

This matchup has the potential to be one of the best games in the tournament: two outstanding coaches in Bo Ryan and Roy Williams, two star players in Frank Kaminsky and Marcus Paige, and two teams that both have the capability of making Final Four runs. Wisconsin has been consistent all season long. After a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Final Four last year, player of the year candidate and senior forward Frank Kaminsky is determined to lead his Badgers to Indianapolis for a shot at glory. Meanwhile, North Carolina has been inconsistent at times and posted double digit losses on the season, but has played better toward the end of the year. In a suddenly strong ACC featuring Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and Notre Dame, the Tar Heels have gone under the radar at times. This could be a dangerous matchup for Wisconsin since North Carolina has the talent to pull off the upset. The Badgers will need to control the tempo early and limit turnovers in order to advance.

West Regional Semifinal 2: #2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier

zona xavier

Many people thought Arizona should have earned a #1 seed for this tournament, while many also overlooked Xavier as an overseeded team out of a relatively weak Big East conference. Now the Musketeers, led by Matt Stainbrook’s 12 points and 7 rebounds per game, are the lone representative of the Big East after the likes of Villanova, Butler, and Providence have fallen. Meanwhile, Brandon Ashley and the Arizona Wildcats are hungry for a potential Elite 8 rematch with Wisconsin, with last year’s game ending in a heartbreaking overtime loss. Arizona should win this game and is very much a threat to reach the Final Four.

2015 NFL Free Agency Reactions

free agency

The free agency period got under way on Tuesday and there has been no shortage of moves being made since then. I’m going to run down some of the more notable signings and give my quick reaction to each.

Ndamukong Suh to the Dolphins

suh

This is a solid move by the Dolphins to pick up one of the best defensive pass rushers in the NFL. Alongside Cameron Wake, the Dolphins will try to finally put a stop to New England’s division dominance by consistently pressuring Brady and the Patriots. However, it comes at the cost of $114 million over six years, with $60 million guaranteed.

Darrelle Revis to the Jets

revis

Good move by the Jets by not only bringing in the best cornerback in the NFL back to the place where he played for six seasons, but also stealing him away from the Patriots and upgrading their secondary. I can’t blame the Patriots for not paying him, as the cost is $70 million over five with $39 million guaranteed, but the Jets had the cap space to do so and went for it.

Lesean McCoy to the Bills in exchange for Kiko Alonso

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This was no doubt a surprising move by the Eagles. McCoy is one of the best running backs in the league and is still only 26 years old, while Kiko Alonso has potential but has only played one full season. I think the Bills won this trade, since they have a solid #1 RB in place of unreliable, injury prone backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for Max Unger and first round pick

graham

The Seahawks learned that a ridiculously good defense still isn’t quite enough to win championships consistently without at least a decent offense. Jimmy Graham will provide that threat on the offensive side for Russell Wilson, while Drew Brees loses his favorite target. I think Seattle won this trade, despite giving up their starting center and a first round pick.

Devin McCourty resigns with Patriots

mccourty

After losing Darrelle Revis to New York and Brandon Browner to New Orleans, the Patriots did manage to lock up one of their star defensive backs with a five year $47.5 million deal. This is obviously an important move for the Patriots, since McCourty has been a defensive starter since his rookie year in 2010 and has been a cornerstone of the defense.

Demarco Murray to the Eagles

murray

The Eagles have made many questionable moves this offseason, but this one not one of them. After trading away McCoy, Philadelphia quickly found its replacement with the leading rusher from last season.

For a complete list of free agency activity go to the following link:

http://www.nfl.com/freeagency

March Madness 2015

march madness

Selection Sunday is just around corner, which means it’s time to gear up for another 3 weeks of epic buzzer beaters, crazy upsets, and a cinderella making the Final Four. I will be hosting my 4th annual bracket pool this year on Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick ‘Em. It is only a $10 buy in to play, so anyone interested please go to the following link: https://yho.com/tourney?g=9124&k=094f1d0caf87a9e2 or email me at jpierro22@gmail.com with any questions or concerns.

I will also be blogging previews and predictions about the games as well. Looking forward to another epic March!

Jeff

NBA Trade Deadline Recap

nba trade

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and seen 39 players traded at the deadline, most ever, so it’s time to recap the important and notable trades and how they impact the race for the playoffs.

Celtics acquire point guard Isaiah Thomas from Suns in three team trade

thomas

My hometown Celtics got in the trade deadline chaos by sending Tayshaun Prince to the Pistons and Marcus Thornton to the Suns in exchange for point guard Isaiah Thomas. I really like this move because it gives the Celtics a good young point guard that can score and also has some experience in the league playing with Sacramento and Phoenix. After losing Rondo, and the plan being for Marcus Smart to be a back up for his rookie season, and the point guard of the future later on, Thomas can thrive in this role with a young roster and a good coach who will motivate him. With Boston only 1.5 games out of the 8th spot, this move could also vault them into the playoffs.

Miami acquires guard Goran Dragic from Suns

dragic

It was no surprise that Dragic was traded at the deadline, the only question was which team he would go to. With Chris Bosh potentially gone for the season, and Dwayne Wade always at risk of injury, Dragic provides a scoring threat in the backcourt for a team that currently holds the 8th spot. Not to be outdone, younger brother Zoran Dragic was also acquired in the trade by Miami, although he doesn’t figure to play as much of a role. Also involved in this trade was Danny Granger going to Phoenix and Norris Cole going to new Orleans.

Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee in 3 team deal

mcw

Phoenix continues to make moves, this time as the buyer and not the seller, by acquiring point guard Brandon Knight from Milwaukee, while the Sixers ship away reigning rookie of the year MCW. I like this move for Milwaukee, essentially upgrading at point guard with younger talent with more potential, as they battle for playoff position in the East. Meanwhile, Philly has revamped their quest to acquire yet another Top 3 pick this summer.

Denver trades shooting guard Aaron Afflalo to Portland Trail Blazers

afflalo

I think this is a great move for the Trail Blazers as they try to upgrade in an already competitive Western Conference playoff scenario. Afflalo teams up with Damian Lillard in the backcourt to complement a frontcourt with all-star Lamarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Denver picks up Thomas Robinson and Will Barton on the other end.

Kevin Garnett returns to Minnesota

kg

This trade won’t affect the playoff scenario in any way, but has to be mentioned as a cool story as Kevin Garnett goes back to his home town Timberwolves where he made several all-star appearances and won an MVP. Retiring with Minnesota will be a nice end to Hall of Fame career.

For the rest of the trades check out the following link: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/tradetracker/nba-trade-tracker-2015

The Significance of Super Bowl XLIX

sb 49

Super Bowl XLIX will go down as one of the most dramatic, epic games in NFL history. From a pure football standpoint, it was an all time classic in a clash of two great teams that came down to the very end. However, the significance of the Patriot’s win goes far beyond just a Super Bowl championship, it solidifies unfinished business for one of the greatest modern day dynasties in professional sports.

int

Winning three Super Bowls in a four year span from 2001-2004 put the New England Patriots on the map as the team of the decade during the 2000’s. With a coach/quarterback combination that had so much success in their first couple of years, it was assumed that more championships were to follow. It was only a matter of time before they cemented their place in history. Like most things in life, though, it never comes easy. The Patriots continued to make the playoffs year after year and break record after record along the way, but couldn’t get over that final hump. Making things even tougher was that the whole world outside of New England wanted to see them fail.

brady v manning

The first significant outcome of this game is that it finally settles the Brady vs. Manning debate and solidifies Brady as the greatest ever. For years, this debate would rage on and simplified to the quarterback with the better regular season stats and passing records against the quarterback with the better postseason stats and winning records. Peyton Manning has the most one and done’s (9) in NFL history, and has been favored in 8 of them. Manning also has the most postseason losses (13) in NFL history, and a Super Bowl record of 1-2. Brady has the most postseason wins (21) in NFL history, the most Super Bowl appearances in NFL history (6), tied for the most Super Bowl wins (4), and tied for the most Super Bowl MVPs (3). As for regular season stats, Brady is just as good with a 50 touchdown season (2nd all-time), two regular season MVP awards, 392 career touchdown passes (4th all time), over 53,000 passing yards (5th all time), 160 wins as a starter (3rd all time) and a 0.773 winning percentage (#1 all time). He has gotten it done time after time with several different supporting casts, mediocre receivers, awful defenses, injuries, and in the clutch.

brady

brady v montana

http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/content/there-goes-tom-brady-the-best-who-ever-lived/33040/

The second significant outcome of this game was cementing Bill Belichick’s legacy as the greatest coach of all time. Belichick tied Chuck Knoll for the most Super Bowl wins for a head coach with his fourth. He has 233 career wins, good for fourth all time, and 22 postseason wins which ranks as the most by a coach in NFL history. His 6 Super Bowl appearances tie Don Shula for most all time while his 9 Super Bowl appearances as a coach at any level are the most in NFL history. Belichick’s 12 division titles are the most all-time, and he is the only coach to win 11 division titles in a 12 year span. In addition, he is the only coach to win 3 Super Bowls in a four year span.

belichick

Finally, the Patriot’s fourth Super Bowl championship establishes their position on the Mount Rushmore of NFL dynasties, alonside San Francisco, Dallas, and Pittburgh. Are they the greatest dynasty ever? Well that depends on your timespan definition of dynasty.

silver-datalab-nfldynasties-table

And the most impressive part of all this? It’s not over.

SUPER BOWL XLIX PREVIEW

Sunday, February 1 at 6:30 PM on NBC: #1 New England Patriots (-1) vs. #1 Seattle Seahawks

super bowl 49

The stage is set for the biggest game of the year as the AFC champion Patriots meet the NFC champion Seahawks down in Glendale, Arizona in a battle for the Vince Lombardi trophy. There are several storylines surrounding this year’s Super Bowl: accusations of tampering with footballs, Bill Belichick succeeding Pete Caroll as the Patriots head coach, Revis vs. Sherman, Browner facing his old team, a potential repeat champion facing the last team to repeat, and most importantly the opportunity for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Patriots to cement themselves as the greatest NFL dynasty.

patriots

The key for the Patriots is to get in rhythm early. Establish the run with Legarrette Blount, even if the ground game isn’t working, to set up play action and short passes that will enable the Patriots offense to play up tempo and pick apart the Seahawks defense. Although the Patriots have preferred to get the ball to start the second half, I think they need to receive the opening kickoff if they get the chance here. Gronk and Edelman will be key, but they will also be the main focus for the Seahawks so it will be important for Lafell, Amendola, and Vereen to make key plays, especially on third down. For the defense, the focus will be on containing Marshawn Lynch and keeping Russell Wilson in the pocket. The secondary should be able to handle the likes of Baldwin and Kearse, but there’s only so much they can do if Wilson is consistently extending plays.

seahawks

The key for Seattle is the same as for anyone who plays the Patriots. They will have to get pressure on Tom Brady and disrupt the rhthym of the offense. Taking away the short passes on third down and shutting down Gronk in the red zone will be important as well. The secondary needs to be alert at all times, several runs and quick passes can make you more tempted to blitz but every once in awhile there will be a play action deep pass on single-covered receiever so the secondary needs to prevent big plays. Obviously, Wilson will need to play a lot better than he did in the NFC championship. Part of how he will do this is if Lynch gets going on the ground early. That allows the Seahawks to run read-option plays where Wilson will often keep it and confuse the defense.

I am not going to make a prediction this time, instead I’ll leave that up to you in the poll down below.

As always, thanks to everyone who read this post.

Jeff

2014 Year In Review

There is no doubt that 2014 was an incredible year in a lot of ways. Some personal highlights for me include Red Sox opening day, ServeUp in Tampa, graduating from Bryant, vacationing in Las Vegas, and starting my full-time job, just to name a few. Here is just a tiny glimpse of what the year was like in pictures.

2014 NFL Conference Championships Preview

conf champs

The NFL’s version of the Final Four has arrived as the two #1 seeds in each conference will try to meet in the Super Bowl for the second straight year.

Sunday, January 18th at 3:20 PM: #2 Green Bay Packers at #1 Seattle Seahawks (-7.5)

seahawks packers

One of the final three games of this NFL season will be a rematch of the very first game of the season. Seattle easily beat Green Bay in the first matchup, but both teams have had their ups and downs since then. Green Bay was able to squeak by Dallas on a controversial overturn of Dez Bryant’s fourth down catch, while the Seahawks haven’t been tested yet having only faced a losing Carolina team. This will be a matchup of the NFL’s top scoring offense (GB 30.4 PPG) against the top scoring defense (SEA 15.9 PPG). Seattle has two advantages in this game besides their defense and playing at home. Aaron Rodgers has struggled since suffering a calf tear and the Packers have not played well on the road this season, going just 4-4. Eddie Lacy is going to have to step up for Green Bay to create some sort of running attack and keep the Seahawks secondary honest so that Rodgers doesn’t face many blitzes. Even then, it may not be enough. Green Bay +7.5, Seattle straight up.

Sunday, January 18th at 6:40 PM: #4 Indianapolis Colts at #1 New England Patriots (-6.5)

patriots colts

Just like the first game, this game will also feature a matchup in which the home team destroyed the underdog during the regular season. In fact, since Andrew Luck joined the league in 2012, the Patriots have outscored the Colts 144-66 in three games including the playoff game last year, all of which have been wins. The Patriots come in to this game off a hard fought victory over Baltimore while Indy pulled the upset over a reeling Denver squad. If not for past history, you could make a case for this being a close game with two division winners and two great quarterbacks. However, it’s hard to see how the Colts will win this game after getting blown out three straight times. The Patriots will have to be aware of screens out of the backfield with Colts RB Daniel Herron, which will effectively serve as their run game. They will also need to keep Luck in the pocket to prevent him from extending plays and finding deep threats Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Finally, the Patriots need to keep an eye on Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener in the middle. Tight ends in the seam have given the Patriots problems this year. New England -6.5 and straight up.

2014 College Football Championship Preview

Regardless of the outcome of this game, the inaugural college football playoff has already been declared a huge success. Had the old system been in place, we would be preparing for Alabama vs. Florida State, but instead we have Oregon vs. Ohio State in North Texas on January 12 in what should be a thrilling game to watch.

cardale jones

Ohio State continues to roll despite losing their top two quarterbacks for the season. Third string QB Cardale Jones has stepped in and was impressive in a win against Alabama in the semifinal. Running back Ezekiel Elliot gashed the Crimson Tide’s defense while star linebacker Joey Bosa and the Buckeyes defense held Blake Sims and Amare Cooper in check. Coach Urban Meyer will try to win his third national championship after winning two at Florida in 2006 and 2008.

mariota

The Oregon Ducks dismantled defending national champion Florida State by putting up 59 points behind Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Oregon’s offense is capable of scoring at lightning quick speeds, although a storyline to keep an eye on will be the impact of missing suspended wide receiver Darren Carrington. Oregon will try to win its first national championship after losing its only other appearance to Auburn in 2010.

oregon osu

There will also be a lot on the line for each of these conferences as well. After a string of SEC teams winning the national championship, followed by an ACC team last year, Ohio State from the Big Ten and Oregon from the Pac 12 will have a chance to return their conferences to the ultimate glory. Clearly Oregon has an advantage at quarterback with Mariota, but I don’t think Jones is that far behind. In addition, I give the edge to Ohio State for the ground game, defense, and most importantly coaching. I believe the Buckeyes will pull the upset and deliver a championship to the state of Ohio. Final Score: Ohio State 29, Oregon 25.

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