Euro Cup – Day 8

Friday, June 17th:

Italy v. Sweden

What a performance by the Italians in their win over Belgium.  We knew the defense would be the strength of the team, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better performance from a defense than the Italians had against Belgium.  Not only did they hold the high-powered Belgian attack without a goal, but defender Leonardo Bonucci created the winning-goal with an incredible pass from deep in the field to Emanuele Giaccherini.  Italy plays three central defenders instead of the normal two, which makes it important that one of them is a guy like Bonucci, who can contribute to the attack with passes like that.

I still think there’s a ceiling to how far Italy can go in this tournament because of the lack of quality in front of that defense, but I wasn’t overly impressed with Sweden in their draw vs. Ireland and it looks like Italy has a good chance to win this group now.

Prediciton: Italy 1, Sweden 0

Czech Republic v. Croatia

Luka Modric scored an incredible goal to win Croatia’s first game but, like Dimitri Payet for France, would’ve been considered the best player on the field even if you took away their great goals.  Modric plays deeper in the field than Payet though and, even down to his floppy hair, is probably the closest thing in the world right now to Italy’s Andrea Pirlo in his prime.  Slight of build but just always around the ball and making the link-up play to seamlessly go from the defense to the attack, while doing some defending and attacking himself.  Every time the ball started moving up the field for Turkey, you were just waiting for Modric to appear and do something with it, and there he’d be.

The Czechs stayed tied with Spain until the 88th minute in a solid opening performance.  I haven’t changed my mind about them: they’re a solid team with good experience but lacking the talent to be anything more than that, and they find themselves in a tough group.

Prediction: Croatia 2, Czech Republic 1

Spain v. Turkey

Spain’s late goal in 1-0 defeat of the Czech Republic was certainly not enough to convince any doubters that they are back in championship form, but the defense was as good as advertised, as the Czechs managed just one scoring chance and, other than that, didn’t seem at all close to a goal at any point.

As I watched that game, it seemed that the key to Spanish chances in this tournament might rest with David Silva.  Two of the four attacking players starting for them are Alvaro Morata and Nolito, who are both decent but not a whole lot can be expected.  Another is Andres Iniesta, who played like the star that he is in the first game.  The fourth is Silva, who has had stretches over the last couple years for Man City where you would consider him the best attacking midfielder in the league.  That player was missing in the first game and a decent amount late in the EPL season.  We know they will defend, but Iniesta can’t be the only one working some magic in the Spanish attack.  They need Silva, also.

For Turkey, it looks like Arda Turan is far from his best form, and that spells doom for them.

Prediction: Spain 2, Turkey 0


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Euro 2016 – Day 7

Thursday, June 16th:

England v. Wales

This one obviously has the intrigue of the two British nations going against each other.  As if England wouldn’t have virtually all of the pressure on them in this match-up already, they now come into this one following the disappointing draw to Russia, while Wales is top of the group after their defeat of Slovakia.

All-time, England has 66 wins, 21 draws, and just 14 losses vs. their Welsh neighbors.  They’ve only played four times in the last 30 years, with England winning all four and Wales failing to score a single goal.

This English team has a ton of talent but you can question how prepared they are mentally.  They’re heavily relying on young, inexperienced players and their captain, Rooney, is not exactly known for his level-headed leadership.  Coming into this one following the Russian draw, what happens if Wales takes the lead?  How do they respond?

Prediction: England 2, Wales 1

Ukraine v. Northern Ireland

Here’s a ridiculous statistic: N. Ireland didn’t touch the ball a single time in Poland’s half of the field for the entire first half of that game.  Only after Poland scored early in the 2nd half did they make any effort to get forward and look for a goal.

They can’t afford to be so defensive here, because they absolutely need a win, with Germany awaiting in their final group game.  Actually, a draw here could spell doom for both teams, because Ukraine won’t want to go into their Poland game needing a win to advance.  That has the potential to make for an exciting game from two otherwise uninspiring teams.

Prediction: Ukraine 2, N. Ireland 0

Germany v. Poland

Not on the level of England/Wales, but a rivalry game here, nonetheless, between these two countries that share a 300-mile-long border.  A little surprising that they’ve only played each other twenty times ever, with 13 German wins, 6 draws, and a lone Poland victory.  But, that Poland win came in October 2014 and in their four contests in the last five years there’s one win for each and two draws, so anything is possible.

Polish star Lewandowski will be going up against a bunch of his Bayern Munich teammates here.  As for the Germans, they’ve opted for Mario Gotze over Mario Gomez at striker, which didn’t produce any goals in the first game.  We’ll see if they stick with him.  We’ll also see if center back Mats Hummels plays after missing the first game with injury.  His replacement, Shkodran Mustafi, actually scored a goal, but isn’t as good a defender.

I’ll go out on a limb and call a Polish upset here.

Prediction: Poland 2, Germany 1

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Euro 2016 – Day 6

Russia v. Slovakia

Neither team looked great in their opening matches as Russia salvaged a late draw vs. England and Slovakia went down to Wales.  I expect the Russians to play it fairly safe here.  They have a draw vs. the best team in the group in the bag and even two more draws would give them a very good chance of advancing.  Slovakia, on the other hand, will need to bring it to them.

Prediction: Russia 1, Slovakia 1

Romania v. Switzerland

Romania was better than expected in the opening game vs. France and it was courageous of them to come out and look to press and try to score from the outset.  Switzerland, on the other hand, seemed to continue their disappointing play from qualifying with a lackluster performance against Albania.  Despite an Albanian red card in the 36th minute, the Swiss still had to sweat out a 1-0 win.

This one is hard to predict, but maybe the Swiss will realize they need to raise their effort and won’t get caught off guard if Romania decides to come at them.

Prediction: Switzerland 2, Romania 1

France v. Albania

France’s opening win was all about Dimitri Payet’s dominating performance, not just with the great goal late but throughout the game.  A late-bloomer playing his first major tournament for France at the age of 29, Payet outshone the bigger names in the French side.  Not that it came as a shock after his really strong season for West Ham.  Payet hails from Reunion, a French owned island near Madagascar.  Crazy to go from there to the highest reaches of French (and world) soccer.

The added attention on Payet may open things up for Antoine Greizmann.  Greizmann doesn’t have elite speed or athleticism and is fairly small.  It takes seeing him play a bunch of times to appreciate how good he is.  He’s somewhat similar to Germany’s Thomas Muller in that he just has a great sense of where to be on the field, to anticipate where openings in the defense will come, and run into those spaces to create goals.

It was a really impressive performance from Albania against Switzerland but France is far superior and I think will have put aside some of the first-game pressure they were feeling to put up the tournaments first rout here.

Prediction: France 4, Albania 0


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Euro 2016 – Day 5

Tuesday, June 14th:

Austria v. Hungary

Just two years shy of the 100 year anniversary of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these two formerly united nations face off on the soccer pitch.  Neither team is considered much a power in the sport, but Austria does come in riding a ton of buzz and have become a popular darkhorse pick to make a run here.  I’ve seen it mentioned so many times that I’m almost ready to call it overblown and ready for them to fall flat on their faces.

David Alaba is the star Austrian player.  The 23-year-old has become a fixture in the Bayern Munich line-up at left back, but will play in a midfield role for Austria, putting him right in the middle of the field where he can orchestrate as much as possible for them.  It also helps that their captain, Christian Fuchs, is also a left back and he will man that position, as he did for EPL champions Leicester City this season.

The bulk of the goal-scoring responsibility will go to Marc Janko and Marko Arnautovic.  They haven’t had illustrious careers but come into this tournament off of career years for their clubs, Janko with an impressive 16 goals in just 17 games for FC Basel of the Swiss league and Arnautovic with 11 goals for Stoke City in the EPL.  Both are big, physically-imposing forwards.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, Hungary was one of the best teams in the world, but this is their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and I don’t have much else to say about this team.  If Austria is actually for real to any extent, they should dispatch the Hungarians, who might be the worst team in this field, with relative ease.

Prediction: Austria 2, Hungary 0

Portugal v. Iceland

It’s crazy that Iceland is in this tournament.  A country of just over 300,000 people on an island out in the north Atlantic on a stage against the best footballing nations in the world.  Apparently back around the turn of the century the Iceland government and football association decided to really focus on building their program and clearly they’ve done an amazing job.

As part of that effort, this team has played together more than most, which gives them an edge.  In particular, their front six players are all between 25 and 28-years-old and have all been logging major time for this team for a good number of years.

The star for Iceland is Gylfi Sigurdsson.  I was impressed with him when he played for Tottenham a couple years ago and was surprised when he took a “step down” to move to Swansea.  He’s clearly been their best player and he will be the do-it-all box-to-box midfielder for this Iceland team.  He and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson are their two biggest goal-scoring threats.

For the Portuguese, there’s not much new to report here.  There is, of course, the best player in the tournament surrounded by a solid but far from great supporting cast.  Nani is still heavily involved up front and the always annoying  (and potential red card waiting to happen) Pepe will be in central defense.  Expect them to get through this group stage but not last long after that.  The biggest question is if Ronaldo is fully healthy and how badly he wants to push himself here.

Prediction: Portugal 3, Iceland 1

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Euro Cup – Days 3 and 4

Day 3, Sunday, June 12th:

Poland v. Northern Ireland (Group C):

Yet another team making their Euro Cup debut, and it should be a quick first appearance for Northern Ireland.  They’re not going to scare anyone in attack.  They do have Southampton stalwart midfielder Steven Davis as their captain and former Man U (current West Brom) defender Jonny Evans.

Poland, on the other hand, is one of the darkhorses of the tournament.  Will they win it?  Almost certainly not, but they have the talent to make a run.  It starts with Robert Lewandoski, who is one of the most feared goal-scorers in the world and netted 42 for Bayern Munich this season.  Arkadiusz Milik will most likely play alongside Lewandoski and he is also a legit goal-scoring threat.  Fullback Lukasz Piszczek is also highly-rated.

Prediction: Poland 2, N. Ireland 0

Germany v. Ukraine (Group C)

The reigning World Champs are absolutely a contender here but they come in to this tournament in worse shape than they were two years ago.  Captain Philipp Lahm has retired from international duty.  Long-time midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger looked older than his 31 years in a pedestrian first season at Man U, and may have lost his starting spot here.  Mario Gomez, who missed most of the previous two seasons with injuries before playing this year in the Turkish league, is expected to start at striker.  The only “new blood” that can be expected to contribute is 22-year-old midfielder Julian Draxler.

All that aside, they still have the world’s best goalkeeper, experienced center-backs in their primes, Toni Kroos controlling the middle, Mesut Ozil providing creative attacking, and Thomas Muller, one of the world’s best goal-scorers.  They’ll be fine.

Don’t expect much resistance from the Ukraine (insert Seinfeld quote here).  The entire team plays in the Ukrainian league with the exception of winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, who plays for the Europa League champs, Sevilla, in La Liga.

Prediction: Germany 4, Ukraine 1

Turkey v. Croatia (Group D)

This is an intriguing match-up.  Croatia is legit and they are one of the darkhorse teams that has a long but real shot to go deep in this tournament and possibly even to win it. The roster is almost entirely a mix of guys in their primes that play for big clubs in top leagues, and some young up-and-comers currently playing for Dinamo Zagreb, the top Croatian team, and most likely on their way to the big leagues.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are two of the finest midfielders in the world and Mateo Kovacic may be on his way to joining them.  Mario Mandzukic is a solid striker leading the line, and both fullbacks are very good.

Turkey doesn’t always make it into the big tournaments, but when they do, look out.  They finished 3rd in the ’02 World Cup and 3rd in the ’08 Euro Cup, the last time they played in a major tournament.

Arda Turan is the star and captain for the Turks, even if he’s just a sub for mighty Barcelona.  Hakan Calhanoglu is another attacker to watch, especially on free kicks.  Left-back Caner Erkin just signed to move from the Turkish league to Inter Milan last week, so he is a talent to be aware of also.

Prediction: Croatia 1, Turkey 1

Day 4, Monday, June 14th:

Spain v. Czech Republic (Group D)

All the talk about Spain will be about their flame-out in the ’14 World Cup, but this team is still awesome and is right there with France and Germany as a favorite to win this thing.  No team in the tournament will be harder to score against than Spain.  Some would argue that David De Gea has surpassed Germany’s Neuer as the world’s best keeper.  They have the great center-back duo of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, and four world-class fullbacks to choose from for the two starting spots there.

There is some question about how many goals they can score, but Andres Iniesta and David Silva are still two of the best midfielders in the sport, and Alvaro Morata should be the striker.  He’s not elite, but certainly on par with the strikers France and Germany will run out.  Late-blooming 29-year-old Nolito is expected to start in his first major tournament with the national team.

This Czech team is solid but toeing the line between “experienced” and “old”.  If they had a different draw, they would have a decent chance of advancing, but Group D is probably the toughest in the field.  Also, they have to face Spain with starting center-back Marek Suchy suspended and their captain, longtime Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, will play but he missed the entire EPL season with injury and is 35 years old.

Prediction: Spain 2, Czech Republic 0

Ireland v. Sweden (Group E)

Groups D and E are definitely the most intriguing, and these two teams are expected to battle it out for third place in this group, which possibly means a berth in the knockout stage.

Ireland’s staring line-up is almost entirely comprised of middling Premier League players, but that’s better than a bunch of teams in this tournament can offer.  They really have no standout players.  Shane Long is a fairly capable striker and Glenn Whelan is probably their best midfielder.

Ireland’s team certainly has more depth of talent than Sweden, but where Ireland lacks a star, Sweden has one of the biggest in this tournament: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Even at 34-years-old, he is still a physical freak and one of the most feared strikers in the world.  His presence alone should make Sweden at least slight favorites in this game.  Marcus Berg will play alongside Ibra and is also (though to a much lesser extent) a goal-scoring threat.

Ireland’s main questions are in defense and at goalkeeper, so they could have a tough time dealing with Ibra in this one.

Prediction: Ireland 2, Sweden 1

Italy v. Belgium (Group E)

This is one of the best match-ups of the entire group stage.  But this is not your father’s Italy squad.  Many have said this is the worst Italian team to arrive at a major tournament in decades.  Andrea Pirlo appears done at 37-years-old and wasn’t picked for this team.  Mario Balotelli’s career has gone completely off the rails and he wasn’t even considered for a spot.  Probably their best midfielder, Marco Verratti, is out with an injury.  And there just isn’t much of a younger generation of Italian talent that has come through the pipeline.

All that being said, they’re still probably in the top third of teams in this tournament.  Their strength is absolutely in goal-prevention.  Gianluigi Buffon, at 38, still mans the goal, and his Juventus teammates, Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, form a fantastic center-back tandem in front of him.  But it’s shocking to see the lack of talent in this midfield, and Graziano Pelle is probably the best of a middling group of strikers.

As for Belgium, they are starting to earn the dreaded “enigmatic” tag.  So much talent on the roster, but they’ve never put it together to add up to the sum of their parts.  In particular, striker Romelu Lukaku and attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne come into this tournament in great form and looking always dangerous to create goals.  My Chelsea boy, Eden Hazard, is looking to rebound after a really poor club season.

The one area you could point to as a weakness at the ’14 World Cup was at fullback, and that hasn’t changed at all.  It’s maybe even worse, because captain and center-back Vincent Kompany is out with an injury.  That means one of the natural center-backs that they play at fullback will have to move inside.  It’s just tough when you get little to no speed or offensive contribution from your fullbacks.

This tilt has particular interest for Chelsea fans.  Italian manager Antonio Conte will take over at Stamford Bridge once this tournament concludes, and both Lukaku and Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan are rumored to be moving to join him next season.  And, of course, there’s always Hazard and keeper Thibaut Courtois to track and root for.

Prediction: Belgium 1, Italy 0

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Euro Cup 2016 – Days 1 and 2

The Euro Cup is back!  The second-best soccer tournament there is, after the World Cup, of course.  This time it’s in France and the field has been expanded to 24 teams, from 16.    The 24 teams are divided into six groups of four teams.  The top two from each group, along with the four 3rd-place teams with the most points, will advance to the knockout stage.

There’s some very small countries that have managed to find their way in and, of course, some of the best teams in the world.  But those “best teams” all come in with some vulnerabilities, so there is a chance that this thing could get crazy with some upsets and maybe a surprise winner in the end.

Day 1, Friday, June 10th:

France v. Romania (Group A)

The hosts start the tournament and, I predict, will also end it as the champs next month.  Germany are the reigning world champs and Spain has won the past two Euro Cups, but I think the French have a team that is as complete as any in this field, plus the home-field advantage.  That’s why I like them to take their first major tournament since they won the Euro Cup in 2000, right on the heels of their ’98 World Cup triumph.

No team in the world can match the group of midfielders of France.  They have attacking midfielders that can put the ball in the goal (Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Dimitri Payet, Kingsley Coman).  They have holding midfielders than can stop the opposition in their tracks and then distribute up the field (N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye).  And then they have a guy that can do all of the above, plus some more, in Paul Pogba.

There are some questions about the defenders, but they do have guys with experience back there, plus a strong keeper and those holding midfielders that can shield them to some extent.

They also are missing their striker, Karim Benzema, due to a suspension.  That leaves the so-so Olivier Giroud to lead the line.  But, again, they still have goal-scoring punch with those attacking midfielders, and Germany and Spain have striker questions of their own.

As for their opponents in this first game, Romania shouldn’t give them too much trouble.  They have just two players that currently play in top European leagues: captain and center-back Vlad Chiriches and goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, both of whom play in the Italian Serie A.

We can fully expect Romania to cede the middle of the field, and ball possession, to the fearsome French midfielders and hope to exploit the aging defenders on the counter-attack.  We can also expect it not to work.  But, maybe we’re in for a topsy-turvy tournament.

Prediction: France 3, Romania 0

Day 2, Saturday, June 11th

Switzerland v. Albania (Group A):

One of the cool things about following this sport is that you end up learning things about these countries and the world that have nothing to do with soccer.  For example, apparently there’s a huge Albanian immigrant population in Switzerland.  Who knew, right?  Most of them fled there as refugees during the post-Cold War ethnic strife in the 90’s.  As a result, there are actually a bunch of guys on the Swiss team that were born in Albania, and a bunch of guys on the Albanian team that were born in Switzerland.  How do they decide which country to play for?  Well, the guys who play for Switzerland are the better ones.

There’s actually even two brothers going against each other in this one: Granit and Taulant Xhaka, who were born in Switzerland to Albanian parents.  Granit is one of the best Swiss players (and he recently signed with Arsenal).

This is Albania’s first appearance in a major tournament.  Meanwhile, Switzerland has been disappointing over the last couple years, so don’t count out the Albanians here.

Prediction: Switzerland 2, Albania 0

Wales v. Slovakia (Group B):

Two countries making their Euro Cup debuts.  Each has appeared in one World Cup though, with Slovakia in 2010 and Wales way back in 1958.

Wales’s (and Real Madrid’s) Gareth Bale is maybe the world’s best player to never appear in a major international tournament.  That ends here.  All eyes will be on him, but this team has a bunch of solid players that are familiar to Premier League fans, notably Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Ben Davies, and Ashley Williams.

Key players for Slovakia: Marek Hamsik is a two-way midfielder while Martin Skrtel, the long-time Liverpool center back, will patrol the back-line as he captains his national team.

This game could be a bit of toss-up and could go a long way in determining a berth in the knockout stage.

Prediction: Slovakia 2, Wales 2

England v. Russia (Group B):

Ah, the English.  They’ve never won this tournament and won their only World Cup way back in 1966.  They flamed out of the ’14 World Cup in the group stage.  But, make no mistake, this group is a real contender in France this month.

Wayne Rooney is still the captain and a fixture in the starting line-up, but they are not relying on him like they have in the recent past.  Since the disaster in Brazil, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have emerged as two of the top goal-scorers in the Premier League, and they will feature prominently, even if Vardy can’t crack the starting line-up out of the gate.  Dele Alli was the Young Player of the Year in the EPL, and he could play a key role as well.

The center back duo of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling leaves something to be desired, and England has a history of big expectations with small results, but this could be a coming-out party for the next generation of English players, even if they don’t go all the way for the title.

Meanwhile, from a quick glance you would think Russia would be the easy pick to finish second to England in this group, but maybe not the case.  They’ve been decimated by injuries to three starting mid-fielders in the run-up to this tourney, and that could definitely open the door for an upstart Slovakia or Wales to beat them out.

Still, Russia should be very well organized defensively, as their coach, who also coaches the reigning Russian league champs CSKA Moscow, will run out three of the four defenders and the goalkeeper from his CSKA side for this team.

Prediction: England 1, Russia 0

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Documentation of the All-Time Greatest Edition of Our Nation’s Greatest Sporting Event

Like Puccinelli before me and Herodotus before him, I am but a humble scribe simply tasked with the documentation of the historical events unfolding before my eyes.  This year’s NCAA Tournament is only 1/3 of the way to crowning a champion, but it is already the best edition of this legendary sporting event.  So, let’s go through all of the MADNESS of what just happened, pod by pod, shall we?  I’ll indicate the pod by the team that survived.

The overall #1-seeded Jayhawks are through in one of the less interesting pods of the weekend.  Led by Perry Ellis and a host of other good “college players,” KU romped 16-seeded Austin Peay and then handled a game UConn team.  Freshmen Chieck Diallo and Carlton Bragg barely got off the bench for a deep, veteran-laden KU team.  We did get drama in the 8/9 game, as Josh Scott and Colorado led most of the way, only to see UConn – and the ridiculous free-throw shooting of Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs – come all the way back to win.

The Terps took a big lead against #12 South Dakota State only to see it slowly slip away and slip away, but they held on.  The other first-round game gave us some MADNESS as #13 Hawai’i – with a slew of skilled athletes like Roderick Bobbitt and Stefan Jonkovic – pretty much handled a 4th-seeded Cal team that was red-hot and featured several future first-round NBA draft picks, including Jaylen Brown. who is likely to be a household name at some point, and Ivan Rabb.  The kicker here is that their leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace, broke his arm in practice the day before the game.  Then, in the Second Round, this fun Hawai’i team led for about 30 minutes before Maryland turned on the jets.  Now, the Terps, who I still believe have the best five starting players (not the best lineup because they don’t really fit) in the country in Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter, and Diamond Stone, are moving on to the Sweet 16.

Sheldon McClellan barely led the 3rd-seeded Hurricanes past a pretty gritty Buffalo team, who was making their second straight tournament appearance despite losing Coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State last season in the First Round, but that was the least interesting game of a great pod.  The other First Round game saw Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet continue their incredible careers by upsetting #6 Arizona just two days after dismantling Wade Baldwin, Damion Jones, and Vandy in the First Four in Dayton.  Two days after that, the Shockers were given a noon tip against Miami and fell down by 25 early.  But, Baker and Van Vleet still had a little magic in them, as they stormed back and took the lead, only to see Angel Rodriguez just throw daggers at them to close out the game and two insanely historic careers in Wichita.  Think about this – Baker and Van Vleet both arrived on campus four years ago to a school that was a good mid-major program, but nothing remarkable.  But, four years later, the two of them graduate with a Final Four, an undefeated regular season, and 4 years where the only year that they did not win MULTIPLE TOURNAMENT GAMES was when they ended their season with only one loss all year – to the eventual national runners-up.  Wow!

Jay Wright’s ‘Cats get the monkey off their backs of 6 years of total disappointment in this tournament.  Freshman Jalen Brunson and senior Ryan Arcidiacono led the way, along with unsung superstar, Josh Hart, as #2 ‘Nova romped UNC-Asheville in the First Round and absolutely destroyed #7 Iowa in the Second Round.  Pretty lackluster madness, right?  Nope!  The other game in this pod was Iowa versus #10 Temple.  The Hawkeyes – led by the sharp-shooting of Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff – were up most of the way, but the Owls made a furious comeback and actually sent the game to overtime on three INCREDIBLY clutch free throws by senior star, Quentin DeCosey.  Then, the overtime went back and forth until all-around d-bag, Adam Woodbury hit the winning putback at the buzzer thanks to a blatant two-handed shove in the back that wasn’t called.  Had that been called, there would have been free throws for Obi Enechionya on the other end, and we would have all been treated to an NCAA Tournament game between two BIG FIVE TEAMS!  We were robbed by the MADNESS.

North Carolina
The MADNESS here came in the First Round.  There was a hint of some MADNESS even in the First Round game for top-seeded UNC.  #16 Florida Gulf Coast (not exactly strangers to MADNESS, themselves) played toe-to-toe with the big, bad Tar Heels for the entire first half and entered the locker room down just 1 at 41-40.  The Heels came out and flexed their muscles in the second half, but it was fun for 20 minutes.  The other First Round game was fun for all 40.  Providence and USC went up and down and back and forth all night before Kris Dunn hit a couple ENORMOUS shots down the stretch to erase a pretty sizeable USC lead that was built by their relatively unknown stars, Julian Jacobs, Jordan McLaughlin, and Bennie “Buckets” Boatwright.  And, then it happened – MADNESS!!!  USC, up 1 with :01.5 seconds left was so focused on stopping either Dunn – the two-time Big East Player of the Year – or Ben Bentil – the 2016 Big East scoring champ – that they forgot to cover little ole Rodney Bullock, who took the inbounds pass and scored a wide-open layup to win it.  Wow!!!  The Friars moved on to the Second Round and got pummeled by Carolina, but they had already contributed to the MADNESS.

Maybe not true MADNESS, but probably the best actual basketball game of the tournament so far came from this pod.  When Indiana rolled Chattanooga and Kentucky rolled Stony Brook in the First Round, we were guaranteed this great matchup between two ultimate college hoops heavyweights who were the respective champs of the Big Ten and SEC.  Star PG Tyler Ulis versus star PG Yogi Ferrell.  Everyone’s favorite one-and-done, Jamal Murray, versus the completely unknown future star, O.G. Anunoby.  In what was just a terrific basketball game that was no befitting the Second Round, the Hoosiers eliminated Calipari’s ‘Cats and sent Ulis, Murray, and Skal Labissiere to their next stops in the Association.

Notre Dame
MADNESS lives and his name is Austin, Stephen F. Austin.  The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks simply dominated #3-seed and sleeper Final Four pick, West Virginia, in the First Round winning by 14 in a game that wasn’t even that close.  The other First Round game saw Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste come back from a huge deficit to lead #6 Notre Dame past #11 Michigan.  That set up some MADNESS.  Stephen F. Austin, who best player, Thomas Walkup, actually might be a lumberjack, outplayed Notre Dame, but the Irish took every punch and eventually got the game-winning tip-in at the buzzer turning a one-point loss into a one-point win.  And, who scored that monumental basket?  But, of course – Rex Pflueger.  I mean that makes sense, considering he hadn’t scored since March 5th, and only scored more than 2 points in SEVEN of ND’s 34 games.  MADNESS!!!

On January 12th, the Badgers were 9-9 and 1-4 in Big Ten play.  They had lost to Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette at home.  They had lost their Hall of Fame head coach.  So, why wouldn’t they be in the Sweet 16?!?  They won a First Round game that was the lowest-scoring game in Tournament history, 47-43 against Pitt, and then took on #2 Xavier, led by Jalen Reynolds, Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis, and freshman star Edmond Sumner.  This is the best Xavier team ever assembled and a legit championship contender.  Then Bronson Koenig happened.  The junior hit a 26-footer with :15 seconds left to tie the game at 60.  Then Sumner committed a charge on the other end with :05 seconds left, setting up Koenig’s heroics, as he took an inbounds pass in the corner and calmly DRILLED a ridiculous game-winner.  MADNESS!!!

Let’s start in the First Round with some MADNESS.  #8 St. Joe’s took on #9 Cincy in a true East Coast style brawl out in Spokane.  Isaiah Miles hit a 3 with :20 seconds left to put St. Joe’s up 78-76.  Cincy comes down, Troy Caupain drives the lane, draws about 4 Hawks defenders, lets go of an incredible wrap-around pass to Octavius Ellis, who does exactly what you’re supposed to do and DUNKS THE BALL.  The problem?  When the red light goes on, the ball is through the basket, but he is still touching it.  Basket waved off, St. Joe’s survives, MADNESS wins…as always.  The Hawks and superstar, DeAndre Bembry, then move on to face #1 Oregon, who dispatched Bill Carmody’s 14-19 Holy Cross team that won their first 4 road games of the year in the Patriot League Tournament to win the thing.  Oregon, led by Pac-12 POY Dillon Brooks and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Chris Boucher, actually struggled most of the way against the Hawks, but hit some monster shots down the stretch to squeak out a victory.

MADNESS!!!  #5 Baylor got manhandled by #12 Yale in the First Round.  Yep, you read that right.  Yale manhandled Baylor.  They outrebounded Baylor.  How do a bunch of Ivy League kids outrebound big, bad Baylor?  Well, some awful reporter asked Taurean Prince that question in an even more ignorant, condescending way than I just did.  And, Prince’s deadpan answer was phenomenal:  You see when someone takes a shot and misses, anyone on the court can go up and grab the ball with two hands.  When that happens, it’s called a “rebound.”  Ya, they got more of those.  But, anyway, MADNESS struck with a little white guy named Makai Mason dropping 31 on Baylor and eliminating a sleeper Final Four pick before the sun went down on Thursday.  The first game of the tournament had the potential for Madness, but Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, and the last Plumlee put the Dookies on their backs and carried them past a good UNC-Wilmington team.  Then, Duke ambushed Yale from the start in the Second Round, but Yale came storming back, cutting a 27-point lead to just 3, but couldn’t finish the job, and Duke and their 6 useable players move on to the Sweet 16.

Texas A&M
Obviously, there were a lot of pods with a LOT OF MADNESS.  But, nothing can top the MADNESS that ensued in this little pod.  Let’s get this out of the way first – #3 Texas A&M ran over #14 Green Bay in an easy First Round win.  Jalen Jones, Danuel House, College Station’s own Alex Caruso all were too much for the Phoenix.  But, that is where the non-MADNESS ends in this pod.  First Round, late Friday night:  11th-seeded Northern Iowa (who got into the Dance on a crazy buzzer-beater by Wes Washpun to beat Evansville in the MVC final) led #6 Texas almost the whole way, but the ‘Horns made a great comeback and tied it on an Isaiah Taylor runner with :02 seconds left.  Overtime, right?  Nope…MADNESS!  The incredibly well-coached Panthers had an inbounds play ready to go without even using a timeout.  They threw the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took two dribble and shot a one-footed shot from half-court.  GOOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!!!  You gotta be kidding me.  One of the best moments that’s ever happened to this program (at least from a guy not named Faroukmanesh), right?  Well, yes…and no.  It sent the Panthers to the second round, which is great, right?  Well, yes…and no.  In an evil twist of fate, the greatest buzzer-beater in NCAA Tournament history enabled the worst collapse in COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY.  I still don’t believe that this happened, but UNI had a TWELVE-POINT LEAD WITH :44 SECONDS LEFT.  WHAT?!?!?!?!?  But, they didn’t have their “designated inbounds passer,” who was struggling with cramps.  What?  Not having an inbounder costs you 12 freaking points in :44 seconds???  Good grief…  Yes, A&M went on to win in double-OT.  Absolute incredible and total MADNESS – no other word for it.

The MADNESS here is pretty much confined to how freaking awesome one dude is.  The guy known simply as “Buddy” was an absolute force in two games so far, scoring 53 points in a pair of OU wins to reach the Sweet 16.  The games weren’t without their fun, though, as the 2nd-seeded Sooners were pushed by both #15 CS-Bakersfield (with Dewayne Durham) and #10 VCU, but survived in both of them.  The other game in this pod was a decent game where VCU’s Melvin Johnson outdueled Gary Payton III and Oregon State, who was playing without their second-best player, Tres Tinkle.

UVA looked pretty good in validating their #1 seed, as future U.S. Senator, Malcolm Brogdon and, especially, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes, rolled over Hampton and then survived a REALLY tough test from Kellen Dunham, the immortal Rosie Jones, and the rest of the Butler Bulldogs, who looked very upset-ready.  The ‘Dogs had knocked out Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech Red Raiders in the 8/9 game in the First Round.

Iowa State
The MADNESS in this pod came from two teams that are no longer around.  #5 Purdue, with the ridiculous frontline of AJ Hammonds, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan, were cruising past a 29-win AR-Little Rock team, up 13 at the under-4 timeout.  But, then their glaring hole at point guard reared its ugly head and Little Rock came storming back including an INSANE 3 to force overtime by Josh Hagins.  The Trojans finished the job in double OT, knocking out yet another sleeper Final Four pick before their tournament even got started.  The Cyclones of Iowa State, led by 56 points in two games by Georges Niang, ran away from AJ English and Iona and then took care of Little Rock to reach the Sweet 16.

MADNESS!!!  An 11-seed in the Sweet 16 is always crazy, but it’s starting to be less so with the ‘Zags.  They have now made – get this – FOUR Sweet 16s as a double-digit seed.  No other program has ever done that more than twice.  Cinderella stops being Cinderella when it’s always the same team.  But, the ‘Zags, who were a 2-seed last year and a 1-seed the year before that, looked very much like the best team in this pod, as they crushed #6 Seton Hall and an exhausted Isaiah Whitehead in the First Round and then absolutely pummeled Jakob Poeltl and #3 Utah in the Second Round.  Utah had nearly blown a lead to Marvelle Harris and #14 Fresno State in the First Round, but survived.

And, after all of this, we STILL haven’t mentioned the craziest thing that happened.  THE BIGGEST UPSET IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY.  Ya, that happened, too.  There are good arguments about whether or not the Middle Tennessee upset of #2 Michigan State really was the biggest upset ever, they are all based in the fact that MTSU isn’t all that bad and were criminally underseeded as a 15-seed.  But, NO ONE is arguing that this Michigan State team is the best team in the history of the tournament to lose in the First Round.  They were – along with Kansas – the Vegas favorites to WIN THE WHOLE F’ING THING.  The other 2-seeds to lose to 15-seeds were very vulnerable and overrated 2-seeds like Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgetown.  Or, they happened in years with prohibitive favorites, like ’91 Syracuse in a year when UNLV and Duke were LOADED, ’93 Arizona when the Fab Five were all back as sophomores and UNC was loaded.  Or, 2001 Iowa State, in a year with a 1-loss Stanford team and a Duke team that had an NBA starting lineup of Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, and Carlos Boozer.  But, this Michigan State team was one of two odds-on favorites to win the whole thing, had one of the two best players in the country, and a coach that is going to be elected into the Hall of Fame this year.  You’ve got to be kidding.  Giddy Potts just hit ANOTHER THREE.  And, in under-the-radar MADNESS, 10th-seeded Syracuse, who shouldn’t have even been in the tournament, cruised past Dayton and Middle Tennessee for a spot in the Sweet 16, where they will wear home whites as the higher-seeded team against #11 Gonzaga.  Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinijie are laughing all the way to Chicago.

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An Overly Analytical Look at the Eagles Schedule

WEEK ONE UPDATE:  Loss at Atlanta…10.35 wins
WEEK TWO UPDATE:  Loss vs Dallas…9.75 wins
WEEK THREE UPDATE:  Win at Jets…10.05 wins
WEEK FOUR UPDATE:  Loss at Washington…9.30 wins
WEEK FIVE UPDATE:  Win vs New Orleans…9.50 wins
WEEK SIX UPDATE:  Win vs Giants…9.70 wins
WEEK SEVEN UPDATE:  Loss at Carolina…9.15 wins
WEEK EIGHT UPDATE:  Bye…9.15 wins
WEEK NINE UPDATE:  Win at Dallas…9.55 wins
WEEK TEN UPDATE:  Loss vs Miami…8.85 wins

Because of the brevity of the NFL season and, therefore, the intense pressure placed on each and every game, no other sport places such an importance on the schedule.  Think about the difference between 10-6 and 8-8 – that is just two games, in actuality, but an effective mountain of difference between how a season turns out.  But, we all know this, which is why we love to talk about “can the Eagles win 10 games or are they just an 8- or 9-win team?”  Which leads to the inevitable prediction machine.

One of the best parts of sports is forecasting.  Trying to figure out just how good your team is.  And, these predictions have steadily gotten more and more refined.  It started with simple questions like “who’s going to win the Super Bowl?”  Then, it became “Who are your 12 playoff teams?”  Eventually, people got ambitious and started picking win totals for every team (which drove me nuts because the aggregate of these win totals would inevitably be higher than the assumed losses, so the league, in total, would have like 280 wins and 232 losses, even though they were all playing each other).  Then, people figured out that there were 256 NFL games each year, so your aggregate win totals had to sum to 256.

Finally, dorks with far too much time on their hands (like me, before the kids took all my “free” time away) started looking at the schedule and picking every game and Continue reading

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The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles – New and Improved?

I honestly (and only partially tongue-in-cheek) can’t wait for the inevitable 30 for 30 documentary on the 2015 Eagles offseason.  To be honest, if the Birds had traded up for Marcus Mariota in the draft, you could make a really good case for it being docu-worthy. But, in the end, we had just a run-of-the-mill offseason that consisted of a front office coup d’etat, a complete roster shake-up, racist-accusation-eliciting trades, standing ovations for a Our Lord and Savior disguised as a 4th-string H-back…I mean, quarterback…, and a couple of head-turning preseason performances. Are you ready for some football?!?

So, let us try and leave all the noise of the offseason behind us and focus on what we have on our football team right now. And, with the bottom line simply being wins and losses – what can we expect from this team this year?  I think one of the best references is to look at what they had last year and the circumstances surrounding that season and compare it to what they have right now.  Last year’s team was a 10-win team, so an improved roster/circumstances would lend one to think that 10 wins is the floor. Right?  So, I wanted to analyze each position group as they compare to last year’s and how deep they are.  But I also wanted to throw in an “upside” factor. In other words, I (like Chip and Sam Hinkie) believe that if you ain’t winning championships, you ain’t winning anything.  So, I want to look at this team in that light – the championship or bust mentality. Let’s call it an elite factor.

So, here we go – position by position.  The differences will be analyzed Continue reading

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BSB’s 2015 Sixers Draft Guide

I started this last year with a list of the players I liked or didn’t like in the draft, and it seemed to turn out pretty well. But, I must give the caveat that I am a MUCH bigger fan of the college game than the pro game, and the two games are very different. So, all of these opinions are based upon what I saw in college and what I have read since. So, all of these takes will be seen through the prism of the college game (or what I have heard in the case of the international players). While I cannot claim an extensive track record on predicting who can make the jump, I did pretty well last year – picking out sleepers like K.J. McDaniels and Jordan Clarkson and calling for the struggles of Doug McDermott, Gary Harris, and Tyler Ennis. And, since the Sixers own basically the entire second round, it should be really interesting to see how they play it. Anyway, here goes my takes on the potential draft choices tonight.


Karl-Anthony Towns
I have to admit, I was an Okafor guy for a very long time. I thought that Towns was terrific, but Okafor was better. I was WRONG. Towns is a TOTAL stud and well worth the #1 pick – which he will be tonight. He can do everything you need. He has no weaknesses and plenty of strengths. All that said, I do not see him being a top-10 NBA player, but he is well worth the #1 pick because he is 6’11” with a good handle, a great shooting touch (including almost 80% from the line), excellent passing ability, and elite rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Just writing this paragraph makes me depressed that the Sixers didn’t get the #1 pick. He’s that good.

Jahlil Okafor
People have really soured on Okafor recently, and I get it. He is not a great rebounder; he is pretty bad from the free throw line; and, he could be scary bad defensively at times. But, is all of that enough to completely discount the fact that this is – arguably – the best low-post scorer to enter the league, maybe since Hakeem? He is agile and quick. He has terrific hands and a very soft touch around the basket. And, at 19 years old, he already has a full arsenal of low-post moves. He is also an excellent passer, a smart player, and seemingly a really good guy. Yes, there are some things to be scared of about him, but I would take the over on 22 for his career scoring average. And, the other argument about how the NBA is going small and quick may have some validity, but let’s pump the brakes on that for a second. People say that Golden State forced Cleveland to “go small.” What does that mean – they were forced to take Timofey Mozgov off the floor? Wow – really forced their hands on that one. If Cleveland had Okafor, the narrative would have been about how the Cavs “forced Golden State to go big.”

D’Angelo Russell
I have to be honest here – I watched a TON of D’Angelo Russell at Ohio State, and I have question marks about his game translating to quite the level some think it might. That does not mean that I do not want him in a Sixers uniform (if Towns isn’t there, I think he’s the one I want them to draft). And, it does not mean that I do not think he has a chance to really, really good. I am just saying that everyone out there who is saying that Russell is a sure-fire superstar at the next level is choosing to ignore some of the legitimate question marks about his game. First and foremost, he is not – by any stretch – an elite athlete. Now, that is clearly not a deal-breaker, and I usually hate when that torpedos someone’s draft stock because we have recently seen several examples of marginal athletes becoming superstars on the wing (James Harden, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, etc.), but lacking elite athleticism certainly lowers your floor. Guys like Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and Derrick Rose have a lot more margin for error and can still be great despite lacking some seemingly requisite skills. I also – and this is partially-related to a lack of elite athleticism – have always had some serious question marks about Russell’s ability on the defensive end, and I think this is being overlooked at every turn (and why I believe the reports that Hinkie is not sold on Russell at #3). And, one more question mark – as good as he was at Ohio State (and he was AWESOME), he never seemed to have that “killer instinct” to me. And, maybe I am just looking at his smoothness and relatively quiet demeanor as an indication of inconsistency (which is what I hated that people did to Wiggins last year), and if so, then forgive me. Now, on to the good things (I guess this has to be the longest paragraph, since he’s most likely going to be our new favorite Sixer). Only a freshman (and a relatively lightly-recruited one at that) and yet this dude had some of the best court vision, poise, and on-court leadership that I have seen in all my years of basketball fandom. It honestly looked, at times, like the game was in slow motion for Russell. He saw plays happening before anyone else on the court and, combined with a natural passing ability, was an incredible playmaker. He also has a really good jumpshot. I have heard several people, including the great Fran Fraschilla, compare his jumper to that of Steph Curry. That seems like a ridiculous comparison to me, but Franny has forgotten more basketball than I will ever know, so maybe it is true. Either way, the dude can shoot. And, that isn’t his only way to score the ball. He is an excellent driver with a solid mid-range game of runners and floaters. He is also a willing and able rebounder with good size. People say he might translate as a 2-guard at the NBA, but I completely disagree. I think he is a point guard through and through, and I would love to hitch my wagon to his offensive game. I just worry about the other end of the floor a little bit. Alright, now I know I have to shorten the rest of these…sorry, folks.

Emmanuel Mudiay
The point guard battle at the top of this draft is fascinating because they are both so incredibly different (caveat: I have not seen a lot of Mudiay, as he went overseas to play this year, but I have seen him some and have a pretty good sense of who he is). Also at 6’5″, think of Mudiay as the polar opposite of Russell in just about every other way. While Russell is a bit slight and not remarkably athletic, Mudiay is big, strong, and insanely athletic. Russell may struggle to guard on the perimeter, but Mudiay will get up in people’s faces and lock them down. Both are decent in the open court, but Russell as more of a heady playmaker, while Mudiay is a jet. He goes to the basket hard, jumps through the roof, and finishes well around the hoop. However, he is nowhere near the shooter Russell is and is nowhere near as secure with the ball. That said, he is, by all accounts, a terrific kid with a strong work ethic. Both are good rebounders, but for different reasons. Russell seems to know where to be, while Mudiay just seems to go up and over people. If Russell has the ceiling of James Harden, Mudiay has the ceiling of Russell Westbrook. I think I have come around in the Russell vs. Mudiay debate to actually favor Russell for the Sixers at this point, I am still holding firm to my love of Mudiay and think he is going to be very good in the Association.

Kristaps Porzingis
Man, I wish the Sixers were able to get that #6 pick in this draft because I am salivating over what they could have done with two top-6 picks this year. Oh well, I guess we have to settle for #3 this year and FOUR first-rounders next year. Anyway, the Porzingis rumors are coming hot and heavy, and for good reason. The upside on this guy is incredible. They just don’t make humans like Kristaps Porzingis very often. He is quick and agile with a good handle and jumpshot. Oh, and by the way, he is 7’2″. Yep…SEVEN-TWO. He blocks shots on one end and hits threes on the other. I have never seen the dude play, but the scouting reports are absolutely sensational. On offense, he is great in transition and off the dribble with the potential to be an elite outside shooter. And, on defense, he can guard multiple positions with the potential to be an elite shotblocker. Really the only question is – can we really believe any of this?!? And, then the additional question for the Sixers is – do you believe that he does not want to play in Philly? And, if not, to what lengths is he willing to go to avoid it? Will he simply stay overseas if the Sixers draft him? That is quite a risk…

Mario Hezonja
I think it is incredibly unlikely – even for the unpredictable Hinkie – that he reaches for Hezonja, but he does have an affinity for internationals, so there is a chance. I know very little about Hezonja, but he sounds like he could be really good. Apparently, he’s a very good athlete with legitmate range on his jumpshot. He also sounds like he is insanely cocky and just a bad dude. I hope they don’t get cute and take him.

Justise Winslow
Like Hezonja, it is hard to imagine Hinkie reaching for Winslow at #3, but I do think there is a very outside chance that he is in play here. No one else is in play at all. Winslow is a do-it-all kind of player, who is going to make some NBA fanbase VERY happy. And, even though his stock is skyrocketing right now, I might still be higher on him than most. People talk about Okafor and Tyus Jones (for good reason) as carrying Duke to the title, but Winslow had just as much an impact on that team – if not more – than either of the other two more celebrated freshmen. His jumper is a little shaky, but still solid, and he can get to the basket. He also is a willing passer and a strong rebounder. But, his real strength is on the defensive end. If you forced me to pick who, from this draft, would be the NBA defender in five years not named Willie Cauley-Stein, I would say Justise Winslow.


Stanley Johnson
I am shocked that Stanley Johnson is not in play for the Sixers, but it is pretty clear that Johnson may be slipping out of the Top 10. Now, to be fair, there is no way that he is one of the three best players in the draft, so he should not be in play for the Sixers at #3, but I really don’t understand all the criticism of Johnson. Everything I saw from him at Arizona tells me that he will be a really solid player at the next level. He plays incredibly hard and is easily one of the best all-around defenders in this draft. He isn’t a great athlete, but all the criticisms of his athleticism seem to go way overboard to me. He looked like a pretty good athlete to me in the Pac-12. He is not a great shooter, but not a terrible one either. He will likely never be an NBA All-Star, but it would not surprise me in the least to see Johnson as a major contributor to a very good NBA team. Someone will be happy with this pick tonight.

Myles Turner
The NBA is littered with the carcasses of the careers of guys like Myles Turner. He has such tantalizing size and skills that it is hard for anyone to look at him and not see a superstar. But, then you look at his production and, other than the 2.6 blocks per game, nothing jumps off the page. And, even further, you look and you see injury concerns. I think this guy could be special, but doubts about heart or health should raise serious concerns, and I have doubts about both of them for Turner.

Willie Cauley-Stein
I love Cauley-Stein and think he is going to make a pretty solid pro. He’s a weird dude with almost no offensive game, but he might be, literally, the best defensive player I have ever seen on the college level. Literally. He is an elite shotblocker right now, and he can go out and guard the perimeter or run the floor. He is fun to watch, and I am gonna miss him at the college level.

Devin Booker
Talk about a quick-riser up the charts, Devin Booker arrived in the NBA draft at the perfect time. Watching the Warriors shoot their way to 67 wins and an NBA title did wonders for guys like Booker, who are basically pure jumpshooters. He is also a smart player (son of one of my all-time favorite college players, Melvin Booker from Missouri), who is a pretty solid defender. As the best shooter in the draft, he only needed to show adequate athleticism to be considered a mid-first rounder, but he tested a lot better than you would think in watching him, so I think he’s a bonafied lottery pick. I am rooting for him – he is a fun player to watch.

Trey Lyles
Might as well continue with that RIDICULOUS Kentucky team that, somehow, did not win the national championship. And, what is interesting is that I knew I was a fan of that UK team (normally, I am NOT), but I didn’t know why. Now, in looking at each individual player, I realize why. They had a bunch of likeable guys, who were really fun to watch. Lyles is another one. All year, as I watched that team, I kept thinking that Lyles was the one whose “stock” was most affected by the lack of playing time and exposure. If Lyles had gone to Louisville (his second choice) or Indiana (his home school), he would have been a featured part of the team – possibly either team’s best player – and could be looking at some sort of national awards or top-5 lottery status. Maybe not, but he certainly has that ability. He is 6’10” with really strong perimeter skills, including a solid jumpshot, smart passing skills, and good handle. I think he has the ability to really guard on the other end, though the scouts seem to disagree with that assessment. I like Lyles a lot and think he’s a bit of a sleeper (if that’s possible for the lottery pick).

Kelly Oubre
I am not in love with Oubre, but if he falls to the mid-teens, he should be scooped up pretty quickly and that team should be happy with the upside that he has. He is a scorer, who is a capable defender, though could use a few more pounds on his frame. The only real concern – and it’s a big one – is just how INCREDIBLY bad he was for about a month or so at Kansas. Like, really, really bad. Like couldn’t-stay-on-the-court bad. That makes me very concerned about him between the ears, but the physical ability it there.

Sam Dekker
I feel like I am liking a lot more guys than I did last year, but I think that just goes to the depth of this draft. Well, here is someone that I do NOT love, at all. Everyone seems to be falling in love with Dekker, and I have no idea why. I have watched a LOT of Dekker over the past three years, and I just don’t see why everyone is in love with this kid. Yes, he is incredibly athletic and plays hard, but was somehow still a pretty poor defender both on the perimeter and on the block and a below-average rebounder. How is that possible when a guy with elite athleticism plays hard? I also think that people saw him hit like 87 threes against Kentucky and think that he was this great shooter. Well, that is not true. He was a streaky shooter – at best. While he has decent ball skills, he is not all that great of a passer. And, then there is the issue of position – what is he? A three, I guess, but is he guarding threes in the NBA? Is he scoring on threes in the NBA? I am just at a loss as to what Dekker actually can do.

Frank Kaminsky
As much as I dislike Dekker, I do not feel at all the same about his Badger teammate, Frank Kaminsky. I think Kaminsky does have transferrable skills to the next level, and I think he will make a decent NBA player. First of all, he is 7 feet tall. Second of all, he is a decent outside shooter who can also create his own shot off the dribble. And, everyone just thinks he was this 7-foot shooter. That is so untrue. He lived in the paint and developed a wide array of post moves that are highly successful (and transferrable) because of his great footwork and soft touch. He will really struggle to guard in the NBA, which might limit his playing time (and career longevity), but he can score at any level of basketball.

The Sixers actually have 5 second-round picks – 1/6 of the entire round. They are #35, 37, 47, 58, and 60. I can’t imagine that they will bring in 6 players to the roster this year. Some of these second-rounders could be trade chips or international stashes. But, there is some talent down here in the second round

Cameron Payne
My biggest sleeper in this draft is not really a sleeper any more because the word is getting out that Cam Payne can flat-out play. A couple months ago, I actually advocated that my perfect situation would be for the Sixers to take the best player available in the first even if it was a big man and then grab Payne in the second. But, that dream is over because (a) the Sixers have the 3rd pick and the two bigs will likely be gone and (b) the league has found out about Payne. But, this skinny, baby-faced point guard from the Ohio Valley Conference can do it all. And, my favorite part is that he combines an incredible basketball intelligence with the heart of a lion. He is my favorite player in this draft, and it’s a shame that he won’t be a Sixer.

Montrezl Harrell
While the stock of Payne and Portis are is rising, Harrell’s is slipping a bit. Earlier, I would have said that there is no way he slips into the second round, but his lack of size for a big and skill for a wing seems to be turning NBA GMs away. I still think he has a lot to offer. He is built like a tank with incredible athletic ability, and he plays insanely hard on every possession, but there are legitimate questions as to where he fits at the next level. 6’8″ power forwards without much of a perimeter game are an endangered species these days.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
It is hard for me to judge RHJ objectively because he spurned Temple in recruiting, but it is hard to fault him for going to Arizona. He is a sensational athlete, who could be an elite defender at the next leve. He won’t be a go-to scorer at any point, but the Sixers should run, not walk, to the podium if he is still there at 35 (which is HIGHLY unlikely).


Bobby Portis
Maybe my second-favorite player in this draft, after Cam Payne, Portis was sensational at Arkansas. He is fun to watch with his size and skill and absolutely incredible energy with which he plays. If you believe in college play having any translation, then you believe that Bobby Portis is going to be a solid NBA rotation player. I don’t think he’s going to slip, but if the Sixers could somehow grab him for a relatively affordable price, I would be a very, VERY happy man.

Terry Rozier
No thanks. I know that he is an elite athlete and a solid defender, but I don’t like guards who aren’t “smart.” The same reason I didn’t like Elfrid Payton last year (though, I look wrong about that, so take it for what it’s worth) is why I don’t like Rozier this year. He turns the ball over a LOT and commits silly fouls on the defensive end. He is just not the kind of guy I want on my team.

R.J. Hunter
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE mid- and low-major college basketball, so you would think that I would be in love Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter. And, I do like him, but I don’t love him. People will just look at his numbers and see him in the NCAA Tournament (he had “The Shot” of the tournament this year when his dad fell off his stool) and think he’s a total stud. Then they will see that he’s 6’6″ with a 6″11″ wingspan and think that he can totally translate to the next level like another small-school shooter that happened to win the NBA MVP this year. But, as someone who actually watched some of his regular season Sun Belt games over the past three years, let me tell you that I am not sure about him. He was pretty much everything for GA State, but also disappeared at times. He didn’t look like a guy who was just so much better than everyone else in that league. He looked like a guy how took a LOT OF SHOTS. I mean he is 6’6″ and plays on the perimeter. Do you know how many Sun Belt guards are even bigger than 6’2″? Not many. Which means he was facing a smaller guy every single night and still shot 39% from the floor and 30% from three-point range. He also committed 77 turnovers this year and was not the primary ballhandler (the point position was held down by former Kentucky starter Ryan Harrow and former Louisville 6th-man, Kevin Ware). So, while I think Hunter may be a decent shooter, I saw a lot more of his warts than the people who just look at the numbers and watched the NCAA Tournament. He was a bit of an underwhelming superstar.

Tyus Jones
You should probably just skip my evaluation of Tyus Jones because I am a college hoops junkie, and this guy was the perfect college point guard. He was smart and poised. He always made the right pass and would drain jumpers if left alone. He was lights-out from the free throw line and completely bought-in on defense. And, he is that proverbial “winner,” which has become a cliche, but I don’t care, I still think it is a good way to describe someone when it applies. I really hope that there is a place for a guy that in the NBA, but he also appears to be the exact spot where the divide between the college game and NBA game hits the hardest, so I will withhold any more praise for a great college point guard.

Jerian Grant
I am not a huge fan of Grant’s potential at the next level. If the Sixers land a PG at #3, then I would look elsewhere from Grant even if he happens to slip all the way to #35. As the older brother of the Sixers Jerami Grant, Jerian is essentially a finished product – and that product looks like a borderline NBA player, at best.

Delon Wright
Grant and Wright are pretty much connected in a lot of ways. They both have NBA bloodlines. They are both seniors (though Wright played two years at a Junior College) and fully-developed 23-year olds. They both were the heart and souls of really good college teams this year. But, to me, I like one a LOT better than the other. As you can read above, I am only lukewarm on Grant, but I LOVE Delon Wright’s game. He is a pretty poor shooter and only a so-so athlete, which will probably make my praise for him look silly in a couple years, but anyone who has played the game or just enjoys the nuances of basketball, will love the way he goes about his business. He is quick, smart, and has incredible court awareness. While he did look to score at Utah (and succeed), he is an incredible passer. And, what I love about his offensive game is that he draws a TON of fouls and makes his free throws. He made 303 free throws in two years at Utah. That is incredible. He is also a really solid and aggressive defender who loves to pressure the ball. I know the NBA needs shooters – and Wright isn’t one – but I do love the rest of his game.

Kevon Looney
I see the NBA’s fascination with the very raw big man from UCLA, but I have some serious questions. The talent is there, for sure, but he is so raw and appeared to me to be rather meek at UCLA. Apparently, he has been showing scouts a really versatile game in workouts (outside shooting, ballhandling, and passing), but to be honest, I saw him play quite a bit in college and never really saw any of that. It’s certainly possible that I missed it, and if so, he’s a better prospect than I give him credit for, but I can only say what I saw. I did see a VERY instictual rebounder with clear physical traits. Another year in college probably would have done wonders for his readiness for the next level, but right now, he seems to me to be a rather risky gamble for only moderate reward potential. In other words, there is a greater chance of him being out of the league in five years than ever making an All-Star team.

Rashad Vaughn
Like Looney, Vaughn is another freshman who could have VERY MUCH benefitted from another year in school. And, like Looney, he is immensely gifted from a physical standpoint. But, again like Looney, he is a pretty big gamble, from what I can tell. But, completely unlike Looney, no one has probably ever described Vaughn as “meek.” The dude is a flat-out volume scorer. He is quick and aggressive and fearless. And, at 6’5″ with elite quickness and athleticism, he is a handful to guard. The problem is that I saw a TON of turnovers, poor defensive effort, and not exactly those intangible “leadership” qualities. He was on a UNLV team that wasn’t supposed to be that bad, but were terrible, and he didn’t seem to care all that much. Personally, I would pass on Vaughn unless he slipped to the Sixers and a lot of these other nice pieces were off the board.

Justin Anderson
I like Anderson and think that he has pretty much everything you might want in a basketball player. He has size, strength, leaping ability, and is a really smart dude who knows the game. He also has a decent jumpshot (when open) and good footwork in the paint. He is a strong rebounder and defender. He’s quicker than he looks, which isn’t saying much because he doesn’t look quick at all. But, for some reason he never really “popped” at UVA. Maybe it was the slowwwwww offensive pace. Maybe it was the total focus on defense. Maybe it was his constant array of injuries (which is a concern, by the way). But, Anderson just never seemed like a star in college, and while you aren’t looking for an NBA star in the late-first, early-second, I am a little concerned about him even producing all that much. That said, he certainly has a TON of ability and could be really good, so it wouldn’t be the worst roll of the dice.

Chris McCullough
McCullough SCREAMS Sam Hinkie. Not only has our man taken Syracuse players in each of his first two drafts (MCW two years ago and Jerami Grant last year), but he also is not afraid at all of risking a total waste of a pick (particularly those with injury concerns) for a potential franchise-changer. And, we ALL know that he is not clearly not afraid of picking a guy who might miss a whole year due to injury. Well, that is the likely story with McCullough. He tore his ACL in January is likely won’t play at all this year. BUT…he has lottery talent, for sure. I have serious concerns about his “want-to,” but I have absolutely NO concerns about his “can.” The dude is a flat-out stud. He moves like a guard, but is comfortable in the post on either end of the floor. He stands at 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and is incredibly athletic. From what we saw in 3 months of college ball, he looked like an incredible shotblocker from the PF position as well as a plus-rebounder. I would LOVE it if the Sixers were able to nab him at some point tonight because there’s a chance he is a total bust, but a chance that he is a legit starting PF in the NBA. And, you rarely get those as late as he is going to go.

Joseph Young
Young is one of those already-finished-products. He was the Player of the Year in the Pac-12 last year and completely deserved it. While I have some questions about his ability on the defensive end, there is no question that the dude can flat-out score. He has decent size (listed at 6’2″, but I swear he seems to play bigger than that) and a lights-out shooting stroke. He can also beat you off the dribble. I am not sure he will ever do enough other things to warrant starter’s minutes in the NBA, but there’s no doubt that he can be a double-digit scorer tomorrow.

Jarell Martin
Stay in school, big boy. I am not going to pretend to know everyone’s personal situations and the reasons for which they make these major life decisions, but simply in a basketball sense, Jarell Martin would have been MUCH better suited with another year in the SEC. He is a beast on the defensive end and on the glass, but he is so incredibly raw offensively (with a TON of potential) that could have been refined at the college level. Now, he’s probably destined to be a bit of a liability offensively for his career because why would anyone give him chances to score in the NBA. He could have been a go-to guy at LSU again this year (even with a strong returning frontcourt and next year’s #1 pick coming in). He has the ability to be a good inside/outside offensive player, but he needs to work at it. But, in the end, he will be paid by some NBA team next year because he is a ridiculous athlete who is really fun to watch and salivating from a development standpoint. I doubt he’ll slip to the Sixers in the second round, and I’m not sure I would trade up for him, but if he’s still sitting there at #35, I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at all on him. He does have serious upside.

Anthony Brown
I’m gonna be honest here, I’m not gonna say I watched a ton of Stanford this year, but I did see them maybe a half-dozen times, and I know I watched them a lot over the past 4 years. And, yet, I am not sure I ever remember thinking – man, that Anthony Brown is good. I sure remember Chasson Randle, who was CLEARLY the best player on that team, but apparently, he’s nowhere to be found in any of these mock drafts. So, I don’t really know what to say about Anthony Brown here. If the scouts like him, then maybe he was just overshadowed. But, I can tell you, as a college hoops fan, there is only one player on Stanford that I would even think had a shot at the NBA, and it ain’t Brown.

Christian Wood
I have seen mock drafts with him in the mid-first round, and I have NO IDEA why. I mean he is a ridiculously good shotblocker, but is that all we need to be to make an NBA roster any more? The answer is probably yes, and if the Sixers get him at #35 or later, I guess it’s a good pick, but coming from a fan of the college game, this guy was not really a very good college player.


Olivier Hanlon
Now, he WAS a very good college player. I was surprised when he declared for the draft, but he was pretty awesome for 3 years at BC. He doesn’t seem like he would have a very translatable game (and a pretty poor defender), but the dude can FLAT-OUT score.

Dakari Johnson
Who knows? We didn’t get to see all that much of Johnson against first-line opponents or for extended periods because of the limited minutes of the Kentucky roster. But, he’s pretty talented and a complete LOAD in the middle at both ends. He’s a solid defender and decent rebounder with agile feet and good hands. Sounds like an NBA player to me, but what do I know?

Rakeem Christmas
Another Syracuse player, so Hinkie might be eyeing him up. He’s got great size and athletic ability. He’s a very good low-post defender, so there’s probably a place for him in the NBA. But, honestly, as a fan of the college game, he was remarkably unremarkable at the ‘Cuse, so I don’t know…

Cliff Alexander
A total bust at Kansas, as he was supposed to do for Kansas what Okafor and Towns did at Duke and Kentucky this year. But, he just never got it going and was then shutdown due to eligibility issues. He may have stayed at Kansas another year if everything was on the up and up (which could have REALLY helped him), but now he’s just a huge, stud athlete with a very raw game (and seemingly very little desire to get better). This situation kind of reminds me of when they first started opening the floodgates for high schoolers to enter the draft and teams had to draft the Kwame Browns just in case they were passing on Dwight Howard. But, while Kwame Brown at #1 is terrible, Dwight Howard at #37 isn’t. So, I guess he’s worth a shot in the second, right?

J.P. Tokoto
I am very surprised that he left early because he never seemed all that good at UNC. But, he certainly has some transferrable traits – particularly, the ability to guard multiple positions at a very high level. But, his offensive game wasn’t even good in the ACC, so he’s going to be a career liability on the offensive end.

The Harrison Twins
They suck.


Vince Hunter
Chad Ford has Hunter going to the Sixers at #37, which made me incredibly excited. This dude was a total STUD at UTEP. He’s one of those guys that is going to leave me scratching my head when he never makes it. I know he’s probably simply too small to play PF in the NBA and not skilled enough to play SF. I get that, but seriously, this dude was incredible in Conference USA. I guess it just shows how big of a jump it really is.

Jordan Mickey
Another guy whom I just LOVED at the college level. This dude was so dominant that it is hard to understand how he’s a second-round draft prospect. Again, I get it. I know that all these dudes that shock me are the same – they are just too small to dominant underneath like they did in college, but this was the SEC! He is an absolute animal on the glass and as a shotblocker. He’s not a great offensive player, but he’s not terrible either. He’s just a monster around the rim – and those guys are fun to watch.

Norman Powell
Looked like a professional basketball player at UCLA. Did all the little things, stepped up when you needed a basket, defended whomever you needed him to defend. A real “glue guy” and I think he can be that at the next level, too. The problem is that he’s not really all that good at anything in particular, so he might not be long for the league if he can’t develop something to hang his hat on.

Tyler Harvey
When you lead the nation in scoring, you’re doing something right. Yes, that Eastern Washington team ran a ridiculously fast (and fun) tempo, but Harvey was a lights-out bomber who runs the floor really well. I honestly don’t see his game translating (he plays no defense, doesn’t rebound at all, and is a mediocre passer, at best). But, I hope he makes it because he’s fun to watch.

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