Wichita State And Kentucky Played Another Absolute Classic
Sports |  Source: aseaofblue.com

Wichita State And Kentucky Played Another Absolute Classic

These two teams are so much fun together.

Three years ago, an undefeated Wichita State team and a slow-starting-but-heating-up Kentucky team played an absolutely incredible game of basketball in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament. I remember watching it on my couch at home in Pittsburgh, surrounded by relatives who were excited to see me over spring break, and paying literally no attention to anything except the television. (Well, and the buffalo chicken dip.) In the end, Kentucky won out by two points.

This year, 10-seed Wichita State had a chance for vengeance against 2-seed Kentucky, and they dang if they nearly did it.

Yesterday, as the two teams prepared for the "rematch," Wichita State forward Darral Willis, Jr., sparked the quasi-rivalry with some pretty solid bulletin-board material, telling reporters he and the Shockers weren't scared of big, bad Kentucky.

Which meant you KNEW both teams were going to bring it on Sunday.

And it didn't disappoint.

Kentucky held a two-point lead at halftime, the two teams traded leads early in the second half, and neither team ever led by more than seven points the entire way.

And against a team full of first-round NBA draft picks, it was Wichita State's freshman guard Landry Shemet who had the biggest afternoon of all. Shamet hit seven of his 14 shots, scoring 20 points to lead the Shockers within mere points of knocking off one of the 10 best teams in the country this year.

Down the stretch, things got very dramatic, especially in the final two minutes.

After Shamet made three straight free throws, and the teams traded three-pointers on consecutive possessions, Kentucky led by just two points with under 120 seconds to play. Their offense, that three-pointer aside, had been sort of sleepy and it needed something to wake it up.

Enter De'Aaron Fox:


But Wichita wasn't done! Because, like I said, Sunday was all about Shamet, who broke out his super-duper-clutch pants just in time, answering Fox's dunk with this cold-blooded three to make it a one-point game:

But after a Malik Monk block, and then two free throws from the Kentucky freshman, Wichita only had one more chance to tie things up and send it to overtime to get that sweet revenge, and they came thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close... but couldn't make it happen.

Still, such a tremendous game from two very good teams. Wichita State probably (read: definitely) deserved higher than a 10-seed, but Kentucky was just better on Sunday. Also, these two teams should play each other every day for the rest of time.

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The Best of the NCAA Tournament's First Week

AKA the best week ever.

1. The Best Name: Rex Pflueger, Notre Dame
Let's start off with a lighthearted highlight from the weekend.

Notre Dame's Rex Pflueger scored two winning points with 1.4 seconds left on Sunday afternoon to vault the No. 6 seed Irish into the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin.

It was the first field goal of the afternoon for Pflueger, who waited for just the right time to play spoiler against one of the country's favorite Cinderella stories.

And, really, the highlight wasn't the put-back itself, but that we as sports fans were treated to a name that is essentially what you'd get if wrestler Lex Luger donned a bowler hat and a fake mustache and went to party in Las Vegas for a weekend.

Unfortunately, Rex doesn't look much like Lex, but the effect is still the same. Here's to you, Mr. Pflueger.

2. The Best Upset: Middle Tennessee over Michigan State
Tom Izzo's team, led by plenty of veteran leadership and NBA Draft-worthy talent, was a popular pick to win it all in a wide-open tournament. Expectations were high; and they should have been.

Then, the unknown Middle Tennessee State Lightning struck hard.

They outplayed the Spartans in the first half with laser-like shooting from deep, and remained afloat in the second half by repeatedly throwing the ball into the post and getting good looks from in close, something even the most seasoned teams stray away from as games go on and legs grow weary.

And then, of course, the Lightning polished the win off with that incredible block of Michigan State's Bryn Forbes to seal the deal.

The Vine below truly encapsulates No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee's incredible upset of the No. 2 seed Spartans on the second day of the tournament.

3. The Best Dunk: Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
It might be recency bias, because this dunk occurred Sunday, but this is the one that sticks out the most in my mind after watching all four days of basketball.

It's especially impressive when you consider the circumstances: Late in the second half, his team leading by three and barely fending off a fiery Stephen F. Austin team, Jackson broke through the lane and extended for this incredibly athletic dunk. Naturally, the Notre Dame bench loved every second.

Plays like this one kept the Irish in range until our man Pflueger was able to cap it all off with his heroic tip-in.

4. The Best Shot: No. 11 Northern Iowa's Buzzer Beater
It was the shot heard 'round Midnight Basketball Twitter. We scurried to create GIFs and record Vines of Northern Iowa's Paul Jesperson winding up from mid-court, releasing, and burying a game-winning heave to lift the No. 11 seed Panthers over No. 6 seed Texas.

It was another incredible game on the best day of this year's tournament. Both teams kept the other within reach, back and forth for 40 minutes, until Texas tied the game with just a few seconds to go. Overtime seemed inevitable.

But then, bedlam.

5. The Best Game: No. 8 St. Joe's vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
We had plenty of contenders on Friday, but this one had it all: a transcendent performance from a guy with an equally transcendent afro; a flurry of action in the final minute; a clutch-time three-pointer; and a dramatic, last-second dunk waved off.

You would imagine that matches between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in each region would be the tightest. The spots are almost toss-ups, and the teams could easily be reversed in their seedings. They should, in theory, be nearly interchangeable in quality.

On Friday, that was true. St. Joe's and Cincinnati were evenly matched, and each team impressed.

Both teams shot at least 48 percent from the field. The Hawks knocked down nine threes, while the Bearcats buried 10. Both teams hit 76 percent of their respective free throws. They were deadlocked in assists at 13 apiece; and Cincinnati grabbed just one more rebound than St. Joe's.

To put it plainly, this was an incredibly even game, played at an impossibly high level. And the Bearcats' game-tying dunk being waived off at the buzzer was the adorning orange twist on a delicious Friday evening nightcap.

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Pretending You Care About March Madness

It's not easy to look interested, ya know

It's finally here, someone's favorite time of the year: March Madness. For sports enthusiasts, this is the pinnacle of their entire sports-loving existence; for others, it's an excuse to yell about athletics and drink in copious amounts.

If you're like me, you probably fall into the latter, but since you're just so hip and cool you want the world to believe you can sport with the best of them. So I am here to give you some pointers (a sports pun, how fitting) on how to actually look like you care about the Madness that is March.

1. Make a Bracket:
I know this seems like a terrifying concept, especially when you can't name more than two teams that are playing at any given time, but hear me out. Making a bracket will force you to learn the teams and watch the games so you can, at least, pretend to know something when shouting along with everyone else. As an added bonus, you can also see how elite your guessing skills really are.

2. Pick a Favorite Team:
Once you have a favorite team you can start throwing their name around in sports conversations like a champion (the puns!!).

3. Frequent Sports Bars:
This is where the action is. Imagine a magical land with lots of high-strung men with too much testosterone, probably abandoning a lonely significant other somewhere, drinking together and yelling at a television in unison. Ah, America. If you can mingle amongst them and throw around a sporty phrase or two (try to stick to basketball) you'll fool everyone into thinking you not only know what you're talking about, but that you actually give a shit!

So this, my friends, is my fool-proof method on how to not just survive, but actually thrive in the glory and confusion that is March Madness. Now go forth, my sons/daughters, and sports talk like your life and future as a cool person depends on it.

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Sports |  Source: chicagotribune.com

The First Annual NCAA Tournament Sneak-Peak

Finally, the NCAA does something right.

The NCAA Selection Committee announced today that they will reveal their top 16 NCAA Tournament seeds in mid-February as sort of a Selection Sunday tease. Obviously, these seeds aren't set in stone, and teams will jump up and down during the last few weeks of conference play and eventually conference tournaments.

I know, Roy! I love the move too.

As it stands now, college basketball undoubtedly owns the sports landscape during the month of March. This February 11th reveal is an NCAA attempt to grab the sports world right after the Super Bowl, rather than waiting for conference tournaments to roll around in early March.

Sure, maybe this is "unnecessary," but what's the downside? Worst case scenario is it's a failed attempt to create more buzz around the tournament and then life goes on as if they hadn't done anything at all. Success would mean much higher ratings during the stretch run of conference play and an eventual increased interest in the Tournament itself.

At the absolute very least, the early reveal serves as an argument baseline for sports nerds (me) who love to banter about potential tournament seedings. It's no different than the College Football Playoff releasing their top-four teams every week for the last month of the season.

There's no way this goes poorly for the sport, and I for one am excited to get a sneak-peek at where the committee's head is at immediately after football comes to a close.

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Sports |  Source: mycn2.com

2016 Champions Classic Picks

Nothing better than midweek money.

In case you've been living under a rock, the sixth iteration of the annual Champions Classic takes place tonight, with four of the nation's premier college basketball programs descending on the world's most famous arena for a star-studded double header.
With four of the top 13 teams in the AP Top 25 squaring off, it should be a great night of hoops, and as you well know, there's nothing like having some skin in the game to make a great night of hoops even better! So without further ado, here's my advice on how to bet the Champions Classic tonight:
No. 13 MICHIGAN STATE (+7.5) vs. No. 2 Kentucky
With Kansas' season-opening loss and three of Duke's star freshmen sitting out tonight, the first game of the night has taken much of the spotlight. This is the first major test for John Calipari's latest crop of one-and-done talents after blowing out Stephen F. Austin and Canisius at home, while the Spartans will seek to rebound from a come-from-ahead loss to Arizona in the Armed Forces Classic.
Kentucky, as usual, has the talent advantage here; freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk team with sophomore Isaiah Briscoe to form one of the nation's best backcourts, while Edrice "Bam" Adebayo looks like the second coming of Dwight Howard down low.
Nevertheless, I'm taking Sparty-plus-the-points here. With so many freshmen playing major roles, Calipari's teams tend to play their best ball late in the season, and quite frankly, 7.5 points is just too much to give Tom Izzo on a neutral floor.
While I like this Kentucky team going forward, I've watched both of their early season games and this crop of freshmen just doesn't look ready for this type of test just yet, especially against the Spartans' all-upperclassmen backcourt of fifth-year senior Eron Harris and junior Tum Tum Nairn.
And of course, Michigan State has a one-and-done talent of its own, and in fact I see Flint native Miles Bridges being the best player on the floor tonight. That's always a huge factor for me in big-time college hoops matchups. I do ultimately see Kentucky winning the game, but expect a close one tonight, with Izzo, Bridges, and big-game experience doing enough to keep the Spartans in the game.
No. 7 KANSAS (+2.5) vs. No. 1 Duke
As I mentioned, the biggest story in this game just might be who's NOT playing, as three-quarters of Duke's five-star freshmen class--Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, and Marques Bolden--will all sit out nursing various leg injuries. Of course, the Blue Devils still have plenty of talent, including National Player of the Year favorite Grayson Allen.
However, without three presumed starters, I can't justify taking Duke AND laying points. Despite their loss on Friday--in overtime to a very good Indiana team--the Jayhawks should still be a top-5 quality team all season, so I'd take the points here and would even look into picking Kansas straight-up.
This game will be decided on the perimeter, and while Allen leads a strong group of Blue Devil guards, the combination of talent, toughness, and experience that Kansas' Frank Mason and Devonte Graham bring to the table makes them quite possibly the best backcourt in the country. I don't necessarily expect Mason to match his 30 points and nine dimes that he dropped on Indiana, but potential top draft pick Josh Jackson also can't play much worse than he did in the opener.
Also, for the number-crunchers out there, this situation is also in the Jayhawks' favor: since Bill Self took over as head coach in 2003, Kansas is 39-27-2 (59.1 percent) against the spread coming off a loss and 25-18-1 (58.1 percent) ATS as an underdog.
And when it comes down to it, who doesn't love rooting against Duke? So take the Jayhawks, and hopefully celebrate a win by blasting this gem for all to hear.
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Sports |  Source: spokesman.com

Top 5 Mid-Major Basketball Programs

They're small schools with big-time programs.

When a casual fan thinks about college basketball, you can bet they think about the Kansas's, Kentucky's, and Villanova's of the world. These are big programs that have put their respective universities on the map through sports. These schools have passionate fanbases not just in their cities, but all around the country.

But what makes college basketball so great is that anyone can be beaten on any given day. There are a ton of smaller colleges with Division I programs that have gained recognition through basketball. Here are the top five, in my opinion.

5. Stephen F. Austin (Southland Conference)
Since 2014, the Lumberjacks have made it to the NCAA Tournament three years in a row. During that span, they've gone 89-14 overall and an incredible 59-1 in conference play. The Southland Conference isn't exactly composed of juggernauts, but SF Austin has proven it can compete with anyone. Last year, it beat West Virginia to move on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

4. Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley Conference)
The Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament eight times since 1990, and it seems as though they do some damage every time they get the chance. Last year, they faced highly-touted Texas in the first round.

They proceeded to beat them at the buzzer with an unbelievable half-court bank shot. They had a very good chance to defeat Texas A&M in the next round, but collapsed in the final moments.

source: desmoinesregister.com

3. Monmouth (MAAC)
The Hawks haven't had any recent NCAA Tournament success, but they took the country by storm last season. Everyone fell in love with their bench mob as Monmouth defeated USC, Notre Dame, and UCLA all on the road or at neutral sites. They lost in the MAAC Tournament final, however, and were ultimately left out of the NCAA Tournament. In 2016-17, they return much of the same team.

2. Wichita State (Missouri Valley Conference)
The Shockers always come into the NCAA Tournament under the radar, but then always become the team to beat. Since Coach Gregg Marshall's arrival in 2007, Wichita has climbed the ranks of mid-major basketball. They won the NIT title in 2011, and have been on the NCAA radar ever since. Their best run came three years ago, when they went all the way to the Final Four only to be beat by eventual national champion Louisville.

1. Gonzaga (WCC)
There's no question the Bulldogs have achieved the status of being a big-time college basketball team. They've absolutely dominated their conference, which is composed of some pretty decent programs like Portland State and St. Mary's. Gonzaga has made the Tournament 18 years in a row, the fourth-longest streak in college basketball.