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The Reasons There Will Truly Be March Madness In College Basketball This Season

(photo courtesy of www.cutcabletoday.com)

(photo courtesy of http://www.cutcabletoday.com)

Every year college basketball starts to pick up around this time. Teams are closing out their season and conference tournaments are getting ready to start. And along with that, many are starting to think on who their favorites will be heading into March Madness. Plenty are probably even scouting teams to see who they will pick to win it all. Usually by this time, there are a few teams that many are sold on in regards to having a good chance to win the title. Last year, there were really high hopes for the University of Kentucky and Duke was also a team many thought of as winning the title. Duke was able to do so and prove many right about them. And while Kentucky did not win the title, they made it all the way to the Final Four before being upset by Wisconsin. Coming into this year’s tournament, there is not that much certainty on who could win the tournament. There are some nights that there are apparently obvious teams that could win it all. And the next game, that same team comes out and lays an egg. So why so much parity in college basketball this year you ask?

The mass exodus to the NBA from programs has caught up to college programs, especially the top ones. Teams like Kentucky, who lost seven players, and Duke, which lost four (five if you want to count the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon), had a lot to replace coming into this season. And unlike the previous times when they were able to just reload and still be the same team, this year has been different. Duke, which has not exactly been the deepest team over the years, is really short this year with depth. And with senior forward Amile Jefferson missing most of the season with a foot injury, the Blue Devils were even more depleted. They have essentially been playing one big man all year (Marshall Plumlee) to go along with what they have. And because of that, they have been up and down all year long. Duke replaced their talent with more talent this year, but the magnitude of players they lost compared to what they have now is not even close. As far as Kentucky, they have been solid this season, but have not lived up to the hype they have had each and every season. They replaced the seven players they lost last season with the #1 recruiting class in the nation. And even though they brought in talent to replace talent, they have not been the same or played to the same level. They are starting to play well, but they have been up and down all season long. They sorely miss some of the guys they had last year and they are definitely not as deep a team. The fear they put into teams last season is not there in regards to this team and the effect they have on their opponents. And along with the fear they put into each opponent, some of the composure and experience walked right to the professional level.

But other than losing players, there are just some imbalanced teams that are out there this year. Some teams have good inside play and shaky guard play while others have good guard play and nothing inside. Teams like North Carolina and Oklahoma come to mind as imbalanced. North Carolina has been strong inside all year. Senior forward Brice Johnson has been the man inside, giving the Tar Heels 16 double-doubles all year long. And when the Tar Heels attack the basket as a whole, they can overwhelm you. But the make or break thing about them is their three-point shooting. When teams force them to shoot the basketball more, there can be an issue. For example, in their most recent loss to their rival, the Duke Blue Devils, the Tar Heels went ice cold from three-point range. They shot 1/13 from behind the stripe and they froze out Johnson essentially in the last 15 minutes. This deficiency in their game is one thing that has cost them time and time again (along with some games where they come out in a malaise). As far as Oklahoma, they were better than some thought they would be at the start of the season. Behind senior guard Buddy Hield, the Sooners have been shooting the lights out for most of the season. But when they lose, more times than not it is because they depend so heavily on their perimeter game. They do not have one player that can really get it going inside when they are missing the three-pointers. And since they have gotten into conference play, they have not been as sharp with the jumpers and threes they take. The result has been a few losses this year in the conference and people are starting to cool on them. The reliance on jumpers and threes can be something that could harm this team in a one-game scenario and could ultimately lead to their downfall.

 

The collective inexperience across the county with teams along with the imbalanced teams have led to the current climate we have going into the tournament. And what this has created is a tournament that is wide open. Anyone that can pick which teams make the Finals Four with 100% accuracy needs to play the lottery immediately. I hope everyone is ready to be entertained. This college basketball season is going to have an exciting finish.

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A Closer Look At The Four College Football Playoff Contenders

(Photo courtesy of Sporting News)

(Photo courtesy of Sporting News)

It all came down to this weekend in college football. While Oklahoma was all but a lock to be in the college football playoffs, Clemson, Alabama and Iowa(who maintained a position in the Top 4 before tonight) had to win their conference championships in order to cement their place. Clemson started out strong and hung on to beat a talented North Carolina team 45-37. Alabama was in a struggle for a while until Derrick Henry took over and the Crimson Tide pulled away from Florida 29-15. As for Iowa, they were not as fortunate as Alabama and Clemson. They hung on as long as they could, but Michigan State was not to be denied. The Spartans scored a late touchdown to defeat the previously undefeated Hawkeyes 16-13. So with that being said, our Final Four in college football should be as follows: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma. What are some positives and negatives that both have going into the four-team playoff?

(Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Alabama Crimson Tide

The Crimson Tide are making a repeat performance in the college football playoffs. Their physical brand of football along with their running game have worn people down all year. The good thing for Alabama is they have succeeded all year offensively being a run-first team despite everyone knowing they are looking to run the football. They can throw the football and are solid there, but their bread is buttered by their burly running back. Derrick Henry set a new Southeastern Conference rushing record Saturday when he ran his total to 1,986 yards in this season and he has been a wrecking ball all season. It will be tough for teams to stop him. Defensively the Crimson Tide have an advantage because they can constantly get pressure only using their front four. That allows Alabama to put more people in coverage and make windows smaller for quarterbacks to throw in. Also, Alabama is very stingy against the running game and that usually forces teams to be one-dimensional, playing right into their hands.

The positives are there for Alabama to make a run at the title. But there is also some negatives that appear. Everything that Alabama does is based off the reaction to the running game honestly. So if the running game is not going, can Alabama pass the ball with quarterback Jake Coker to win? He has stepped in a done a great job, but asking Coker to carry the offense is something he may not be ready for. On defense, the Crimson Tide are strong in the front seven. But the defense contains 11 people and that is where the secondary comes in. The Tide’s secondary can have some issues covering opponents when they decide to pass. Add an athletic quarterback for a defense with issues covering and this team could have some issues if they face Oklahoma or Clemson.

(photo courtesy of www.heismanwatch.com)

(photo courtesy of http://www.heismanwatch.com)

Clemson Tigers

The Tigers have some incredible things going for them. First, offensively the Tigers can put up numbers rather quickly. Whether they are running the football or throwing it, they are equally effective either way. And with quarterback Deshaun Watson at the helm, the offense now has that added dimension of a quarterback running the football. Defensively, the Tigers have been solid all season long. They have playmakers at all three levels and they can put the clamps on teams defensively when they need to. Altogether, they are a very solid team on both sides of the ball.

It’s pretty hard to find some negatives for the Clemson football team, but there is one. It seems like they can relax just a little sometimes on either side of the ball. It almost caught up to them when they were playing against North Carolina in the ACC Championship. They have not done like in the past and had an inexplicable loss, but now the pressure has picked up even more. Each team they will face from here on out will be very good. The interesting thing to watch will be if their defense was as good or the competition was not so great. We should find that out when they play their first game. They are the favorite whether people want to acknowledge it or not. And the championship is theirs to lose.

(Photo courtesy of Kirby Lee)

(Photo courtesy of Kirby Lee)

Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State is one physical team offensively. They can line up and run the ball on anyone as they proved when they lined up and ran the ball at will on Ohio State without their starting quarterback, Connor Cook. This type of physical running attack will give fits to anyone they face because they are deep in their running back rotation and they have an underrated offensive line. And as far as the passing game, Cook has one of the best weapons no one is talking about in wide receiver Aaron Burbridge. The Michigan offense has balance and can give many teams problems. As far as the defense, the Spartans have been physical all season long. They went toe-to-toe with Ohio State and stopped one of the best running backs in America (Ezekiel Elliot). And throughout the year, they have been solid in each game.

The Spartans do have a balanced offense, but they also have a quarterback that is inconsistent. Cook is talented and many are looking at him as one of the top quarterbacks heading into the 2016 Draft. But his bouts with inconsistent throws can cost this team in the playoffs. Some see his 24 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but folks look right past his 56.9 % completion rate. And for a guy that does not make up for his inconsistent throws with his feet, this completion percentage is not that great. Defensively, the Spartans do not have anyone that great a defensive backfield. It was shown a little bit this season and going into the playoffs, opponents could try and expose that flaw.

(Photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

(Photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners lost one to Texas earlier this year and many thought their chances were done. But needless to say, Oklahoma kept plugging away and now they are in the playoffs. The offense they have has been dynamic all season long. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has proven to be a tough customer. In addition to using his arm, he has proven to give teams fits with his legs as well. Combining his dual-threat ability with the two-headed running back monster of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon can give any defense problems. Mayfield’s top target in the passing game, Sterling Shepard, has been excellent this season despite being the focus of defenses in that area. Defensively, the Sooners have got after quarterbacks all year long. Eric Striker is the undoubted leader of this defense. His intensity on the field is unmatched by many. And with cornerback Zach Sanchez and the secondary rounding into shape, the Sooners can be a worthy opponent for anyone in the Top Four.

Consequently, the Sooners can have some moments. Although they have only had one blip on the radar screen, that loss showed us that there is still some potential faults in this team. Offensively, one thing that comes to mind first is that if Shepard is taken out of the game, the Sooners tend to struggle in that area. Against a team that has some good cornerback play, that can be an issue. At times, the Sooners give up some pressure up front as well. Mayfield was able to cover up for it, but that is something that will be tougher to do at this level of play. Defensively, the Sooners can be ran on. The Texas Longhorns proved that. They will definitely have to shore that up if they have hopes of winning the title.

The matchups have been set. Oklahoma is the four seed and they are taking on the top seed Clemson. And Alabama, the second seed, it taking on three-seed Michigan State. Both matchups should be entertaining to see. It will also be interesting to see what team exploits the others weaknesses. All four teams have some time to work on some wrinkles for their playoff semifinal game so it will be good to see what they all come up with. The college playoffs are here folks. Now the real competition begins.

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It’s Time For The Tennessee Volunteers’ Coaches To Step Up

The Vols have the talent, but Butch Jones and his coaching staff have to lead them. (photo courtesy of Wade Payne/Associated Press)

The Vols have the talent, but Butch Jones and his coaching staff have to lead them. (photo courtesy of Wade Payne/Associated Press)

The Tennessee Volunteers were the sheik pick by many to win the SEC East. They have a ton of young talent and they finished strong. The Vols also had a ton of pieces coming back this season and added some more young talents to their stables. The future was looking bright. And while some rode the expectations this season, others thought it was next year that they would be ready to win and not this season. Well, the Vols now sit at 2-2 after losing a game at Florida this past weekend. They played hard and made some plays, but they simply did not get the job done. The loss to the Gators makes it eleven straight the Volunteers have lost to the Gators. And what makes it more interesting is this was probably one of the best shots they had to beat them. They returned everyone to the team essentially and Florida was playing a redshirt freshman quarterback along with having one of their starting cornerbacks out for the game. The game was right there for the taking and yet they seemed to let it slip through their grasp. Within all this, there have been questions about the team and where they are. But even more than questioning the players, some have begun to question the coaching that’s happening.

Butch Jones took on the Tennessee job three years ago with a mess on his hands. The team was devoid of talent and looked to get back to relevancy. Each year the team has gotten better under him as they have now got some expectations on them. And with that, there was some thought that they would beat Oklahoma and Florida. And in both games, the Vols held a double-digit lead late in the game. Against Oklahoma, the Vols were up 17-3 in the fourth quarter. And against Florida, the Vols were up 27-14 halfway through the fourth quarter. It seemed as if they had that one won. But an inexplicable timeout, a conservative gameplan with a lead and poor execution caused the Vols to flounder when playing with the lead. The same thing happened two weeks previously with the team against the Oklahoma Sooners. And here we sit, looking at a team that ripped defeat from the jaws of victory twice in a season. The players make the plays on the field and are the ones who play the game, but the coaches are an intricate part of the college game. They usually are in control of all things that happen and put players in position to make it happen. It seemed like every single time whether it is this past game or the Oklahoma game, the Vols and their coaching staff would call runs with the lead like they either did not trust their quarterback or thought they could salt the game away. Well, in each time doing so, they essentially slowed down their own offense every single time. But this flounder is not just limited to the offensive coaches. The defense seemed to let off the gas a little bit in both games. The Vols have not gotten to the quarterback like they did last season, but it seemed like the pressure they were trying to bring dissipated and the coverage was looser. That allowed opposing offenses to get wherever they wanted to and gain momentum to eventually catch up to and dispose of the Vols. So after seeing these late-game flounders, what can the Vols do going forward?

Well, it’s always said that you cannot play scared. That saying can apply to coaching as well. Butch Jones and crew looked like they were coaching not to lose instead of coaching to win when they came down the stretch in both games. It’s understandable that you don’t want to give the opposing team a chance to win, but what about when it comes at the cost of your own team? Each time it seems the Vols coaching staff and their handling of their team has stunted the momentum they had gained. The Vols are a good running football team, but there is no way that they should have abandoned the pass down the stretch. At that point, the defense knew what they were doing and where to find them. And if that is the case, it makes it easy on them. And defensively, when you play prevent defense, that is preventing a win, especially when you play it way too early. Another thing Butch and his staff may want to do is take the cuffs off some of these kids. There are plenty of players with tremendous talent on this Tennessee team, but you would not know it because of the doldrums they go through when closing out games. When you have a lead like they have, that is no time to let off the gas. That is actually the time to let your playmakers bury the opponent. If you aren’t going to let them be the playmakers you recruited, then why even have these kid there to put the nail in the coffin? The Vols are a very talented team and they are just waiting to explode. It’s time for the staff to allow them to.

Butch Jones is not on the hot seat right now, but there are plenty of Tennessee fans that are not happy with the losses to Oklahoma and Florida. He has recruited some very good talent to Tennessee. Now it’s time to turn them loose and quit the conservative coaching. This team should be undefeated right now, but the scared mentality never helped a coach win any ballgame. And Butch Jones has shown that twice this season.

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