21 year old basketball player Sim (Simran) Bhullar may not be a household name for most but to a large demographic half-way across the world his impact can create an even larger effect than his immense stature.
Bhullar stands as the tallest prospect in the 2014 NBA draft at 7’5″ and weighed in at 350 pounds. Bhullar is ready to undertake the tall task of becoming the first NBA athlete of Indian descent. Bhullar’s parents are originally from Punjab and religiously are part of the Sikh faith. Bhullar’s brother, Tavneer, also plays for the New Mexico State Aggies and just completed his redshirt freshman year, he stands at 7’3″ and looks like a potential NBA prospect in his own right.
After a successful career at New Mexico State leading them to a berth in the NCAA tournament, the Toronto native declared for the NBA draft. As he went through the draft combine and individual workouts, his draft stock constantly moved up and down turning him into a polarizing prospect. Concerns about his size and athleticism (related to weight and injury risk) ultimately triumphed over the possible payoff and all 60 teams wound up passing on the center.
The day following the draft, it had been announced that Bhullar would be signed to play for the Sacramento Kings summer league roster. The summer league consists of two different tournaments for NBA teams, the Las Vegas league and the Orlando league. This is a chance for rookies, unproven players, and veteran players trying to earn a contract to be on display for all 60 NBA teams. Majority of the rookies play in this league before ever stepping onto an NBA court as a chance to prove their worth and to experience some of the highest competition of basketball around the world before ironing out a contract.
Interestingly enough, the owner of the Kings, Vivek Ranadive, hails from Bombay, India. Ranadive was always passionate about basketball and in 2010 became the first Indian minority owner of any NBA franchise (the Golden State Warriors). After leading them through a large transformation into becoming an annual playoff threat, he saw an opportunity to take majority ownership of the Sacramento Kings. In 2013, Ranadive and his group of investors bought the Kings for an NBA record $534 million.
It will be very interesting to see if Bhullar can adjust to the speed and talent in the NBA over the next few years and work for a season long contract. He hopes to bring the NBA’s influence back to India and through movies like Million Dollar Arm Americans have gotten the opportunity to see that the Indian community can be very receptive toward new opportunities and sports alike. Though the Kings may not have a need in their rotation for the large center, another team inevitably will and if he can prove his dedication over the summer, he could very well turn into a serviceable center one day playing against some of the best competition in the world.
Watch the video below to see some of Bhullar’s highlights.
Well, by now you’ve heard about the comments made by Clippers’ longtime owner (currently the longest tenured NBA owner with the passing of the Lakers’ Jim Buss), Donald Sterling. If you haven’t, Sterling has been in the news for his alleged racist comments towards African-Americans and ignorance. Sterling has had ownership over the Clippers since 1981. He bought the franchise for $12.5 Million and the franchise is now worth $575 Million according to Forbes Magazine. Though he has done a lot to put the Clippers in a position for success over the last five years, he has also had a constant flurry of controversial and truly gross and despicable statements that should be made public. Individuals affected by these comments range from NBA players, normal civilians, other members of NBA ownerships and executives, and even former NBA legends such as Magic Johnson. Let’s take a look at the comments he’s made previously that can and should be considered racist. I will not be using the n-word even while quoting, though, be aware they are prevalent in a large amount of quotes said by Sterling.
“I wanna know why you think you can coach these [n-words].” (1983…said while questioning possible coaching candidate Rollie Massimino) “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean…Is she one of those black people that stink? Just evict that bitch.” (2002)
“And it’s because of all the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke all day. I don’t like Mexican men because they smoke, drink and just hang around the house.” (2002)
“I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid.” (On former number one pick Danny Manning)
“I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent.” (On Koreans)
He wanted a “Southern Plantation type structure” and wanted to have “poor black boys from the South playing for a white head coach.” (Said by NBA Hall of Famer and former Clippers Executive Elgin Baylor)
“I just stopped liking basketball. And then you dribbling down the court and having the owner like cuss at you and call you an idiot. I didn’t even look forward to coming to the games, and if the owner [Donald Sterling] came to the game, I definitely was not gonna have a good game because it was just like, how do you play when the main heckler in the gym is the owner of the team, and he’s telling you how much he hates you and calling out your name?” (Baron Davis)
“Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (Sterling to his girlfriend in regards to a photo she put of Magic Johnson at a Clippers game)
These quotes above should give a decent idea about Sterling’s racism through the years. As the Clippers are in a brutal series with new rivals Golden State Warriors, now a new distraction has been created in the locker room and beyond.
A tape, likely released by his (at the time) girlfriend, was made public recently in which he criticized her for publicly expressing that her friends were African-American and posting pictures to Instagram of her with African-Americans at Staples Center during Clipper games. The main person who Sterling spoke about was Magic Johnson. Sterling was outraged that Johnson was at the Clipper game and that his girlfriend was proud and excited enough to take a picture with him. It’s worth noting that Sterling’s girlfriend is half African-American and half Mexican. Johnson has since announced he will never attend another Clipper game while Sterling is the owner.
Other shameful situations have come up where Sterling has brought women into the locker room after games and put the player’s bodies on display remarking their “beautiful black bodies.” In 2011 during Black History Month, Sterling put out a promotion giving free tickets to over 1000 under privileged children directly relating them to African-Americans.
As more stories become popular and more tapes are rumored to be released soon (according to Stephen A. Smith), the NBA will have to find the right way to deal with the issue. In the past, former NBA commissioner David Stern hasn’t done much to discipline the owner but with Adam Silver having stepped in just a few months ago, this can be a defining moment to solidify Silver’s reputation and gain him some fans. Though Sterling is the owner and can’t be fired, the NBA can strip him of his position or force him to sell the team. Silver can also suspend him from his position as a more temporary solution. The NBPA (National Basketball Players’ Association) has announced they will not let this slide by so it’s a must for Adam Silver to act on this. He is scheduled to be in attendance in tonight’s Clippers/Warriors playoff game.
The Clippers had a players only meeting last night but the results of that are unknown other than the fact that the players on the team are outraged and furious. Twelve of the Clippers’ fourteen players are African-American and so is their newly hired head coach Doc Rivers.
People have proposed the Clippers protest their owner by not playing and ultimately not earning Sterling his money but the players believe that they play the game and win for the city, the fans, and themselves, not for their owner.
Sorry Mr. Sterling, you’re in 2014 not 1814. Hopefully your comments get the discipline and backlash they deserve because they truly are sick and disheartening. How you got an NAACP Lifetime Achievement award a couple years ago? I don’t know. All I know is your comments are disgusting.
A growing change in sports culture is the use of illegal drugs. From steroids to marijuana to aderall, drugs have always been prevelant in sports culture. All sports have had major advocates for the controversial issue of marijuana being banned in professional sports (future hall of fame running back Ricky Williams for the NFL, two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum for the MLB, and now up-and-coming defensive NBA center Larry Sanders).
Larry Sanders went on record after being busted by the NBA’s antidrug policy, a policy that only is put into action and made public after a third positive drug test, a couple weeks ago and voiced his support of medical marijuana for athletes. He claims to have studied both the risks and benefits of the drug even going as far as to remark that the drug helped him heal quicker from injuries this season and attributed to his success during previous seasons. Pitcher Tim Lincecum admitted that before his games during his Cy Young and World Series Champion seasons he would smoke to settle his nerves and get him focused. Since giving up smoking during the season his ERA has plummeted and he isn’t even the top pitcher on his own team.
Sanders believes that the “stigma” that comes with marijuana would go away the minute it is deemed legal in the eyes of the nation and the league. While writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sanders contrasted the negative effects between marijuana and other drugs stating that it doesn’t hold as “many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment [as other drugs].”
In Kelly Dwyer’s article on Yahoo Sports, marijuana use is juxtaposed to a player’s typical night after a game during the season filled with drinks and bars. Sanders was scrutinized earlier this season for getting injured during a bar fight and as he isn’t the perfect representative for change in the NBA, he does have experiences that can be analyzed. As Dwyer states, it is a lot more destructive to have intoxicated players taking a night out on the town and effectively being in a different state of mind that comes with alcohol. On the other hand, with players smoking a nerve-settling and temporarily healing drug like marijuana they would wind up just getting a bite to eat and get tired at the end of the evening making a safer evening for the player and his career.
As for Sanders, he has stated that he apologizes to his fans but that he will face the consequences of his violations as they come. It sure doesn’t sound like he will be stopping any time soon and as marijuana is legalized in more states around the country; it will gain a larger following each year.
These aren’t the Raiders of the last few years. These also aren’t your parent’s Raiders.
This year’s Oakland Raiders look to erase the woes of the last few seasons and by doing so, establish a new culture for the team that claims fans across the nation. Raider fans have seen a lot of turnover in the last few years with a mix of losing seasons, bad contracts, and the passing of legendary owner and GM Al Davis.
The silver and black are notorious for their appeal to just about anybody maximizing on the pop-culture influence they held between the 80’s and 90’s as being dominant on the field as well as in the media. Part of the cultural influence the Raiders held included hiring the first African-American head coach, female NFL executive, and the second Latino head coach in NFL History. The late Al Davis even refused to play his team in cities where both black and white players couldn’t stay in the same hotels before civil rights began modernizing.
Although it’s been a tough last two seasons for Raider fans going a combined 8-24, this season brings a sense of optimism amongst fans. Loaded with nearly $60 M in free agency, the team looked to make a huge splash and set the tone and direction for the team. This could’ve resulted in two ways, picking up a plethora of young players going for lesser contracts to prepare for the future or signing players who have been established, grew up with the dominance of the Raiders, and are ready to fulfill Al’s mantra to just win.
The win now approach is the direction GM and former Raider Super Bowl Champion Reggie McKenzie has chosen for the team. The Raiders had an embarrassing beginning to free agency having a botched attempt to add offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a 5-year/$42 M contract that was later voided. Saffold failed the physical given by the Raiders training staff and cited a shoulder injury as the reason why. Saffold then signed a 5 year extension with his former team, the St. Louis Rams for significantly less money. It almost seems like the Raiders realized how overpaid the above average guard would make and took the chance to take back the contract. Even with the hiccup, the Raiders offseason began to jumpstart.
To kick off the signing spree, the Raiders signed starting tackle Austin Howard to fill the gap left by Jared Veldheer and were aggressive in signing former pro-bowler and Super Bowl champions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. Woodley will give some much-needed experience and toughness at the linebacker position channeling Raiders of past generations with his elite toughness and work ethic. Tuck is coming off a resurgence year with the New York Giants where he acquired 11 sacks, forced 2 fumbles, and had an interception at age 31.
The next day, the Raiders added veteran pro-bowler Antonio Smith from the Texans on a 2 year deal and signed 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown to a 1 year deal. Resigning Usama Young, longtime Raiders leader and legend Charles Woodson, and upcoming defensive tackle Pat Sims were all moves to bolster the already improved defense with some returning experience. Signing former first round pick Carlos Rogers who was coming off a good season will be a major acquisition in the coming season by adding even more talent and experience while also providing a mentor for last year’s first round pick DJ Hayden.
The Raiders didn’t only improve defensively. The team added career starter Matt Schaub who holds every Houston Texans’ passing record and is a former Pro-Bowl MVP. Though Schaub is past his prime and coming off a disappointing season that started out with potential championship aspirations, he still holds a lot of talent and should prove to be the consistent quarterback the Raiders never had last year. Adding former Packers’ wide receiver James Jones will give Schaub another target downfield as the veteran led the NFL in touchdowns just two season ago. Last season he had the highest yardage output of his career.
Resigning injury prone Darren McFadden is a risky move but the talent clearly outweighs the injury risk in the $1.25 M deal. Losing backup running back Rashaad Jennings will hurt but the Raiders more than made up for it signing one of the most talented running backs in the NFL in Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD originally hails from Oakland and grew up a fan. The running back timeshare will hopefully give an answer to keep McFadden healthy while giving an elite dual threat at running back defenses need to stay on their toes for. The two running backs are both dangerous running but also will add another dimension for the Raider pass offense as both are great pass blockers and pass catchers.
Former Raider Kevin Boothe decided to return to the Raiders after winning a couple of championships with the New York Giants to help the pass protection along with experienced pro-bowler Donald Penn. Though the roster may not be the youngest by any means, they provide some much-needed experience and consistency to the young platoon of players the Raiders had in years past.
The Raiders just missed out on star wide-receiver Desean Jackson and though this would’ve been a big move to provide legitimacy for this new look offense, GM Reggie McKenzie didn’t believe it was necessary to add the controversial player. McKenzie did not believe that Jackson’s gang ties were worry some but were concerned with his reputation as a me-first player who is very concerned with stats and money. The Raiders chose not to offer him a contract higher than the Redskins though they had the money to do so.
Looking forward, the Raiders have a very important draft ahead of themselves. NFL Draft analyst projects the offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, and defensive end to be the biggest needs in this year’s deep draft. Playmakers like consensus future star and one of a kind talent Sammy Watkins is a player that comes to mind when looking at good fits for the team. Big receiver Mike Evans warrants a lot of attention because he looks like a special talent as well. Most Raider fans would love to see defensive game changer Khalil Mack come in and provide a building block for this veteran defensive team. Coming into a situation like this Mack could get immediate playing time but also be taught by some of the best defensive players in the game. Mack currently holds the NCAA division 1 record for most forced fumbles in a career and career tackles for loss. The Raiders could choose to go in a different direction to prepare for the future and take a quarterback and let him develop behind Matt Schaub but in the win-now situation Reggie Mckenzie has created, it seems unlikely. Offensive tackle is a possibility also with players like Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson likely going in the top 10 as well.
Regardless of who the Raiders select in this year’s draft, the team will be an improvement on last season’s roster without a doubt bringing in talent they haven’t held in years and reigniting Raidernation’s passion across the country. This team appeals to the older generation as it looks to be a hard-hitting and smart defense many grew up with, but also to the younger generation by gaining big names of the last few years on both sides of the ball. Whoever the Raiders select in this years draft should solidify the win now direction chosen by Reggie McKenzie and as a member of Raidernation, it’s time to start the new season and just say win baby, win.
Florida is the best team in the nation and will have absolutely no problem beating down play-in winner Albany in the first round. Their defense will stifle Albany in the early going and they’ll hold their lead the entire game.
X Factor: Florida bench will be needed to keep the starters rested for the future rounds.
(9) Pittsburgh over (8) Colorado
Pittsburgh is one of the toughest teams in the tournament and proved in the NCAA Tournament that they were capable of beating top ranked teams. Without star player Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado won’t be able to make a dent in the Panther defense.
X Factor: Lamar Patterson will be asked to carry the scoring load for this Pittsburgh team and will answer the call.
(5) VCU over (12) Stephen F. Austin
Shaka Smart is one of the best young coaches in the nation and that’s been a known fact since his run a couple years ago led by Eric Maynor. This year’s VCU team is a solid team that will also benefit from a very winnable first round draw.
X Factor: Guard Briante Weber has picked up his play as of late and is a monster on the defensive end. He will be needed to cause turnovers and create offense.
(4) UCLA over (13) Tulsa
This UCLA team is one of the best, most well rounded teams we’ve seen from the Bruins in recent memory. Although Tulsa guard Jordan Woodard will cause problems, the lengthy and skilled combo of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams will prevail for this UCLA squad.
X Factor: Danny Manning’s coaching style. If former college basketball star Danny Manning can create some magic and force a few turnovers in the backcourt, it isn’t impossible to see an upset.
(6) Ohio State over (11) Dayton
Ohio State is possibly the best defensive team in the country and will flat out dominate against Dayton. The buckeyes will be led by Aaron Craft to the next round.
X Factor: LaQuinton Ross is the Buckeyes main offensive firepower and though it’s obvious the team will be able to shut down Dayton on the offensive end, putting up points will also be important.
(3) Syracuse over (14) Western Michigan
Syracuse will be able to to suffocate the Western Michigan offense and create matchup problems for the Broncos resulting in an easy win for the Orange.
X Factor: Syracuse’s size down low and rebounding. Western Michigan big man Shayne Whittington is the only legit size the Broncos have down low.
(7) New Mexico over (10) Stanford
This is one of the more interesting match-ups in the tournament as Stanford has had victories over UCLA, Connecticut, and Oregon but also has a few key losses against major teams. They are led by scoring guard Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell. New Mexico has the likes of Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams, and Alex Kirk who can all score. Though this is an intriguing game, the Lobos provide similar offense and a lot more defense to shut down Stanford’s attack.
X Factor: New Mexico’s perimeter defense. The Lobos must be able to contain 40% three point shooter Chasson Randle from beyond the arc to keep the score down.
(2) Kansas over (15) Eastern Kentucky
Well…do I need to go over this one? With or without Joel Embiid the Jayhawks will win. Andrew Wiggins has really looked like a future NBA All Star in the second half of this season proving he is one of the best defenders in the game, can score with ease when aggressive, and that he can be a great teammate using his elite athleticism to sky high for rebounds. Expect an easy win.
X Factor: Kansas will be able to rest their stars and play the bench a little more. This is important because with a tough road to the championship, everyone on their roster will be needed healthy and rested.
Round of 32
(1) Florida over Pittsburgh
Florida and Pittsburgh both have great defenses. Expect a slow moving second half during this game with both teams trying to control the possession and grind out a victory. Florida has too many offensive weapons to be stopped on defense and a lot of strength down low, look for Billy Donovan’s bunch to make the sweet sixteen.
X Factor: Michael Frazier II from Florida is one of the best shooters in the Southern division. He will show it and force Pitt to spread out their defense too much making them vulnerable.
(4) UCLA over (5) VCU
UCLA has elite size with a 6’9 point guard and twin seven footers down low available. They have a 6’6 guard in Zach Lavine who can play both guard spots and is as explosive as he is skilled. VCU lacks elite shooters and going against UCLA’s size will make for a difficult offensive game for the Rams. Steve Alford’s squad will advance to the sweet sixteen.
Zach Lavine hasn’t been playing with the same confidence as he was the first half of the season but when he is on his game, there’s no stopping UCLA’s guards. If Lavine can get his shot going, expect an easy win.
(3) Syracuse over (6) Ohio State
This is a battle of great defensive teams as well. Both teams have size down low, crafty guards (no pun intended), and both are looking to redeem themselves for the second half of their streaky seasons. Expect Syracuse to pull out the win due to the offensive firepower from CJ Fair.
X Factor: Jerami Grant is finally back and healthy. Grant is a 6’8 man child with extreme athleticism and toughness but plays as a small forward. If he can use his size on defense to lock up LaQuinton Ross and grab offensive boards, Syracuse is a very difficult team to beat.
(2) Kansas over (7) New Mexico
New Mexico is a very good team but does not have the players to compete with the likes of Andrew Wiggins and company. The matchup creates for a very exciting game but in the end, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are future NBA stars while several other players have the potential to be role players on this Kansas team.
X Factor: Naadir Tharpe will be asked to create the offense against this tough New Mexico squad. As long as he can initiate the offense against the physical Lobo pressure, the Jayhawks will be fine.
(1) Florida over (4) UCLA
Florida and UCLA have a history dating back to the mid 2000’s where Florida ended UCLA runs in consecutive years. It looks like the Gators are on track to repeat history. Florida has the size to create problems for UCLA’s offense through ball pressure and they are very good at sharing the ball playing like a team. Both will play a good game but Florida will prove that they just are the better team.
X Factor: Florida’s big men (Patric Young, Dorian Finney Smith, and Will Yeguete) will need to play big down low and make the game about toughness on the block thus being able to play a fluid inside-outside game.
(2) Kansas over (3) Syracuse
This game will come down to Kansas being able to break Syracuse’s tough defense. Obviously the Orange are known for their incredible 2-3 defense but if there’s a team made to beat this, it is these Gators. With Kansas being known for getting into the lane and being able to shoot jumpers from outside, Kansas will break down the zone defense.
X Factor: Joel Embiid. If Embiid doesn’t play, this game is will come down to the last possession without his muscle down low to deal with big man Rakeem Christmas for the Orange. With him there, it provides a legit low post presence with the all around game several other Jayhawks can provide.
(1) Florida over (2) Kansas
Florida and Kansas will create a battle for the ages showing a veteran team playing against a young team buoyed by veteran role players. At the end of the day, the matchup won’t come down to Billy Donovan vs. Bill Self or any player against another but rather it comes down to defense. Both teams are good defenders but the depth Florida has on the defensive side of the ball at every position is enough to slightly edge a great Kansas team. See you on draft day Andrew Wiggins.
X Factor: Scottie Wilbekin will have to be able to penetrate into the Kansas defense. If he can do that, it will be able to free up outside shooting by the rest of the team and a steady pick and roll game where Kansas hasn’t been that great against this season.
Virginia is one of the best, most well balanced teams in the nation on both sides of the court. That, mixed with a calmness down the stretch makes them one of the best teams in the tournament and deserving of a top seed.
X Factor: Like other top seeds, the Virginia bench must gain some confidence and give their starters a bit of rest for the tests coming up soon.
(8) Memphis over (9) George Washington
Memphis has great scoring forwards who are able to penetrate and shoot with equal ability. Expect them to pull out a victory against an above average GW defense.
X Factor: Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin need to combine for at least 12 rebounds in this game and be able to be physical down low.
(5) Cincinnati over (12) Harvard
This is going to be a gut check game for Cincinnati. Harvard is one of those teams that is much better than their seeding and had they been in any major conference would’ve been a top 10 seed. Harvard is built more around their guards who can score in bunches while Cincinnati plays a physical style of basketball utilizing their big men down low. Expect a tough win by Cincinnati.
X Factor: Sean Kilpatrick will have to show that he can play in the spotlight. He has been great all season but in a tough game like this, it’s important for him to show he has what it takes. If he develops that confidence, he can dictate how far Cincy will go.
(4) Michigan State over (13) Delaware
Michigan State is one of the most experienced and veteran teams in the entire tournament. They’re very talented and have one of the best and most skilled players across the nation in Gary Harris. Expect an easy win.
X Factor: Michigan State staying healthy. They need to stay healthy during this game because like veteran teams across any sport, they’ve had their fair share of key injuries. No injuries and they’re a final four team, one injury and they could be done.
(6) UNC over (11) Providence
The real question in this one is trying to predict which North Carolina team will show up. We could see the UNC team who knocked off the likes of Duke, Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky or we could also see the team that lost to teams like Belmont, UAB, and Wake Forest. Even though Bryce Cotton is one of the most underrated players for Providence, the combination of Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo will be too much for the Friars to overcome.
X Factor: James Michael McAdoo has been called a star at some points but has also been called overrated at others by the same scouts. He has the potential to be a great NBA player but can never seem to put it together. He’s shown what he can do in tournaments past so let’s see if he can bring the same effort this time around.
(3) Iowa State over (14) North Carolina Central
Iowa State is a good team loaded with offensive firepower. They are one of the best offensive teams with capable scorers, shooters, and rebounders. They will win easily.
X Factor: These Cyclones aren’t a mid major Cinderella anymore like they were during the Royce White era, these guys are legit and aren’t a secret at all. Everyone knows about Ejim, Kane, and Niang but now it’s important for double double threat Dustin Hogue to gain some confidence too in this early game.
(7) Connecticut over (10) St. Joe’s
St. Joe’s presents an interesting matchup as they’re a very good team who can apply great pressure on defense and can stroke the ball from the perimeter. Connecticut has a very good all around player and nightly triple double threat in guard Shabazz Napier and his talent mixed with the UConn experience and leadership will be enough to win them the game in a close one.
X Factor: Ryan Boatright needs to be able to shoot the ball well for Uconn and create a perimeter threat for the Huskies.
(2) Villanova over (15) Milwaukee
Although there won’t be an upset here, it will be a lot closer than people expect here. The Villanova defense will create way too many turnovers for a Milwaukee victory and Villanova will run away with it.
X Factor: Three point shooting will be important as Villanova is a high scoring team. The squad needs to be able to hit a few threes to be able to run away with it as easily as they hope.
Round of 32
(1) Virginia over (8) Memphis
The tough Virginia defense led by Akil Mitchell will be more than enough to be able to stop a solid Memphis team and secure their place in the sweet 16.
X Factor: Akil Mitchell will have to stop Shaq Goodwin and the Memphis forwards to be able to advance. Shooting by Joe Harris will be important too.
(4) Michigan State over (5) Cincinnati
Even if the Bearcats can gain all the confidence in the world, Michigan State (when healthy) is the superior team both inside and out with the only exception being Sean Kilpatrick. Look for Tom Izzo’s Spartans to work their way into the sweet sixteen yet again.
X Factor: Adreian Payne needs to play big down low and on the blocks. He reminds me of a less physical, more athletic David West and in order to stop Cincinnati from breaking loose inside the paint, he needs to play to his size.
(3) Iowa State over (6) North Carolina
Iowa State is loaded from DeAndre Kane to Melwin Ejim to Georges Niang. All three of these players are capable of huge nights on any given night. Though Marcus Paige has been electric all season, he doesn’t have the supporting cast around him to pull off the upset.
Georges Niang will have to make use of his size and defensive abilities down low. Niang should easily be able to grab rebounds against this Tar Heels team and create lots of second chance opportunities on the offensive end.
(2) Villanova over (7) Connecticut
Villanova will do just like they did earlier in the season and beat St. Joe’s again. They are a much better team and have the personnel to be able to shut down St. Joe’s perimeter attack.
X Factor: Sophomore Ryan Arcidiancono will have to prove he can be an Aaron Craft-like defender and make guards afraid to dribble on him.
(4) Michigan State over (1) Virginia
This is no knock on Virginia’s talent, drive, or ability. Virginia is a great team but Michigan State is better. This will be a huge stage for freshman London Perrantes going up against veteran guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris. The Spartan’s defense will be an overwhelming factor and will ultimately win them the game.
X Factor: Keith Appling. Appling will have to prove he can play at the same ability he was playing at before the injury happened. If he can set up the offense and make the incredibly steady Cavaliers team halt their offensive for a couple seconds extra each possession or two, Michigan State will pull it out.
(3) Iowa State over (2) Villanova
Iowa State’s offensive firepower mixed with their shot blocking ability will be too much for these Villanova Wildcats to handle. If they force Villanova to play faster than they’re used to, they won’t be able to keep up with the versatile Cyclones. They’re a great team but will have too much on their hands at this point in the tournament.
X Factor: DeAndre Kane must be able to create a fast paced offense and dictate control of this game as he’s done with games all season.
(4) Michigan State over (3) Iowa State
These teams both have great starters at each side but a big five will beat a big three any day of the week. Michigan State has incredible depth across the board and their starting five is stuffed with two way players. The mixture of shooters, penetrators, and rim protectors will create too many problems for an explosive Iowa State team.
X Factor: Branden Dawson needs to show that he can match up with Melwin Ejim and create a physical matchup with Ejim. If he can create a tough shooting day for the forward, it’s an automatic win for the Spartans.
Arizona has been a different team since losing Brandon Ashley to injury. They’ve looked like a good team still but not a championship worthy team and it’s arguable that they are appropriate for a 1 seed. Regardless, they have a good matchup against a Weber State team that has little to no chance of upsetting the new look Wildcats.
X Factor: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is one of the most talented freshmen in the country but hasn’t been able to provide the hole Ashley left when he went out. He needs to build some confidence with an easy game like this.
(9) Oklahoma State over (8) Gonzaga
Oklahoma State may be the best 8 seed team in the history of the tournament. The Cowboys started off as a top overall team this season and hit a rough stretch that was only made worse through the suspension of super sophomore Marcus Smart in the midst of a minor losing streak. The Cowboys are a tough team who are ready to use their size and extreme athleticism to dominate Gonzaga.
X Factor: Markel Brown has to prove that he’s capable of playing at the big stage like his teammates Smart and Le’Bryan Nash have each shown.
(12) North Dakota State over (5) Oklahoma
This may be a shocker to some fans but to those who have looked into North Dakota State this season, this will come as no surprise at all. The Bisons are led by Taylor Braun who reminds me a lot of former South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters. Oklahoma is a good team who can put up points in bunches but having played so many games recently and after an exhausting conference schedule, look for the refreshed Bison to pull a major upset.
X Factor: Taylor Braun! Taylor Braun! Taylor Braun!
(4) San Diego State over (13) New Mexico State
New Mexico has elite size with the Bhullar twins both over 7’3. 6’10 center Tshilidzi Nephawe starts alongside 7’5 sophomore Sim Bhullar with little brother Tanveer coming off the bench. Though this team has great size, they aren’t a great team and haven’t figured out just how to use their size perfectly yet. San Diego State is an incredibly well sized team as well and they know how to defend better than anyone. They will prove how good they can be this March.
X Factor: Coach Steve Fisher is the X factor here. He will have to be able to effectively game plan for the incredible size in the Aggies’ front court. If he can force them to play an up-tempo game, they should be successful.
(11) Nebraska over (6) Baylor
Baylor is a team who has been spotty all season but really turned their season around in the second half of the year. Nebraska has been very good in the last few weeks and proved it in the conference tournament. Nebraska will be able to win the game because of their intensity and toughness.
X Factor: Walter Pitchford needs to take advantage of Baylor’s finesse play down low and win the battle on the boards. Whoever wins that battle will win the game.
(3) Creighton over (14) Louisiana
Creighton and Wooden Award Doug McDermott start their road to legitimacy. Though they’ve had great records the last few years but the Big East has often been questioned and their depth outside of Douggie Fresh has been questioned as well. This will be a chance to prove they can do much more than just give the ball to Larry Bird, uh…I mean Doug McDermott.
X Factor: Ethan Wragge will have to prove he’s an offensive threat as well to complement McDermott which he’ll have no problem doing to create an easy win.
(7) Oregon over (10) BYU
Both of these teams are great offensive teams with weapons galore. BYU’s Tyler Haws can put up 25 on any given night Jimmer style by raining threes. On the other hand, Oregon is a team who severely underperformed from their original projections before the season started. The Ducks can do some serious damage on the offensive side so expect a fast paced game with lots of scoring and more offensive firepower coming form Oregon’s side.
X Factor: Joseph Young. Young is another elite scorer who can put up 30 with ease as well. Look out for Young to shoot plenty and manipulate the BYU defense.
(2) Wisconsin over (15) American
Wisconsin is a very good defensive team loaded with shooters. American is unique for running an effective Princeton offense (which is rare these days) but their slow pace will get beat easily by the Badger’s fast paced style of play and control over the tempo.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan will have to be able to control the tempo and keep it at their style of play. Being able to hurry up the American offense and get quick shots will win them the game.
Round of 32
(1) Arizona over (9) Oklahoma State
Both of these teams have been on title watch since day one and now they both have had tumultuous seasons. Many will look to see Oklahoma State pull off the mild upset here but with Arizona’s team wide effort and offensive power, they will be able to use their size to win the game down low.
X Factor: Kaleb Tarczewski. The 7 foot center must be able to use his size down low to be a rim protector and grab somewhere between 7 and 10 boards to establish their size advantage down low.
(4) San Diego State over (12) North Dakota State
It’s interesting to see two mid majors here. If the Bisons win, they’ll be a Cinderella while the Aztecs have already played the role of Cinderella with Kawhi Leonard a few years ago and now are considered a top team. The San Diego State defense led by Xavier Thames will be able to handle Taylor Braun and will effectively beat the Bisons.
X Factor: Xavier Thames must be able to use his length to show he’s an elite defender. If he uses his size, they will win easily.
(3) Creighton over (11) Nebraska
Doug McDermott will not let his team go down this early. Expect between 30 and 35 points in a shootout between McDermott and his teammate Ethan Wragge. Nebraska will put up a fight but it won’t be enough to pull off the upset.
X Factor: Matt Stainbrook has to play tough on the post for Creighton. He brings an old school kind of feel to the game as Creighton looks like an old school team in general. A team that wins.
(2) Wisconsin over (7) Oregon
All the firepower that Oregon holds still will not be enough to knock off Wisconsin at this stage in the tournament. Wisconsin will be able to control the tempo and make Oregon commit turnovers and shoot bad shots.
X Factor: Sam Dekker is a great shooter and the most important player to Wisconsin’s scoring attack. As long as his three point shooting is on, he will help Wisconsin control the game from both ends.
(1) Arizona over (4) San Diego State
Arizona just has way too much for the Aztecs to handle. Both teams are great and they specialize on different sides of the ball. At the end of the day, Arizona’s great offense is better than San Diego State’s great defense.
X Factor: You know what you’ll get out of Arizona star and leader Nick Johnson but we could see any of the several versions of Aaron Gordon we’ve been accustomed to this year. If he can shoot around 50% and grab around 6-9 rebounds, it adds another dimension to this team.
(2) Wisconsin over (3) Creighton
Both teams are very good shooting teams and are able to execute their respective game plans very well. Wisconsin hold the upper hand because of their depth and their ability to control an offense on the defensive end.
X Factor: Frank Kaminsky has to be able to shoot well and play to his potential to ensure he can secure Wisconsin a victory. He must also play athletic defense on McDermott and deny him the ball at every opportunity available.
(1) Arizona over (2) Wisconsin
Arizona, even without Brandon Ashley, have the easiest draw of any 1 seed in the entire tournament. Arizona will be able to dictate their explosive offense over Wisconsin’s defense and force the Badgers to be uncomfortable on the offensive end by using their athleticism.
X Factor: Aaron Gordon, yet again, will be the X factor here. It will be important to see his offensive outlook in this game but more importantly he will have to show that he’s a good enough defender to use his athleticism to stop Sam Dekker and keep a hand in his face.
Wichita State is one of the best teams in the nation and they have proven it with their undefeated record but because of their status of a mid-major school, they do not get the credit they deserve. They want to prove this year they’re worthy of this 1 seed.
X Factor: This Shockers team is very deep with 9 players playing significant minutes every game. It’s important to have Darius Carter come off the bench and grab 5-6 boards. This proves to everyone that they’re a lot deeper than just a couple good players in the starting lineup.
(8) Kentucky over (9) Kansas State
This is the story of two teams who nobody projected to be at these seeds for different reasons. Kentucky has had an awful season for their talent but the former high school All Americans from Kentucky have began getting hot lately and lost a nail biter to a dominant Florida team in the SEC Championship over the weekend. Kansas State has been terrific this year led by the best freshman nobody is talking about, Marcus Foster, but this is just too big of a stage. The Wildcats pull out the win in a very close game.
X Factor: Andrew Harrison’s game has really matured over the second half of the season. Though he’s not NBA ready or playing at his ridiculous potential, if he can be calm with the ball and not commit more than 2 turnovers, the Wildcats will play significantly better and pull out the win.
(12) North Carolina State over (5) Saint Louis
NC State will win a tight game over Xavier between NBA prospects TJ Warren and Semaj Christon. Warren is one of the most underrated scorers who has shown that he can score in bunches scoring 40 in a game recently. Saint Louis is a good team but lack a certain edge to them that NC State has acquired playing in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, the ACC.
X Factor: TJ Warren has to be ready to step up and do it all. He’ll face double teams all night from the scrappy Billikens and must be able to succeed out of it without getting too fatigued.
(4) Louisville over (13) Manhattan
Louisville has been playing some incredible basketball lately and many analysts have been upset that the Cardinals were not a higher seed. I’m sure the team is upset about it as well and the poor Manhattan Jaspers will have that anger taken out on them.
X Factor: Louisville bench, much like other veteran teams, must give some relief to the Louisville starters. Many of them have played large minutes this season and this is just the beginning of a deep post season run so the 2nd unit must be ready to step in.
(11) Iowa over (6) UMass
Iowa has been a ranked team most of the year and suffered from a few late season losses down the stretch. Devyn Marble has been nothing short of amazing this year and will continue his dominance over skilled but undersized Chaz Williams.
X Factor: Aaron White is averaging 6.7 rebounds per game and has been playing tough all year. He’ll have to help the Hawkeyes control the boards as a key to win this game.
(3) Duke over (14) Mercer
This is not Lehigh and we are not in 2013. Duke is a much better and deeper team than they were last season. They are battle tested and have an interesting blend of young and veteran talent. Expect them to get an easy victory.
X Factor: Amile Jefferson has played big in big games against teams like Syracuse and North Carolina this year. This is the next step to ensure he continues to play big on the big stage and when Jefferson is playing at his best, so are the Blue Devils.
(7) Texas over (10) Arizona State
Both of these teams are led by interesting and talented point guards (Isaiah Taylor vs. Jahii Carson). When you look at the next level of play, you’ll see Jonathan Holmes as a deciding factor in this game. Texas will get a good win over a quality Arizona State team through their offensive depth.
X Factor: Jonathan Holmes needs to help an inside, outside game develop in order to create a Texas win. With Cameron Ridley banging down low, it should be relatively easy for Holmes to score in this game.
(2) Michigan over (15) Wofford
The Wolverines are ready for the tournament and are given a very easy first round matchup.
X Factor: Michigan bench must be able to give relief to this Michigan starting group and get their three point shooting going early and often.
Round of 32
(1) Wichita State over (8) Kentucky
This is Wichita State’s chance to prove they’re legit and they’ll take advantage of it. They play a bigger, more hyped Kentucky team but Wichita State will play with a chip on their shoulder in this game. The game will be a game of spurts but the veteran Wichita State lineup led by Fred VanVleet and Cleanthony Early will pull the game out in the remaining few minutes and move onto the sweet sixteen. This is one of the better teams in the tournament.
X Factor: Undersized forward Cleanthony Early will have to do a number to stop double double machine Julius Randle but to slow him down is a possibility for such a skilled player like Early.
(4) Louisville over (12) NC State
Louisville is primed and ready for this moment. Expect their balanced attack along with Russ Smith’s overwhelming defense to be too much for TJ Warren to handle.
X Factor: Russ Smith needs to lock up on TJ Warren and make him commit turnovers and have to pass the ball.
(3) Duke over (11) Iowa
Duke is one of the best teams in America and will show it here. They will dominate a very good but inconsistent Iowa team on their way to the sweet sixteen. Jabari Parker and the versatile Duke offense will spread the Hawkeyes out thin.
X Factor: It will be essential to have Rodney Hood hitting shots from the perimeter. As long as he creates another viable option in the Duke scoring attack to keep the Hawkeyes humble, Duke should have no problem.
(2) Michigan over (7) Texas
Texas is a very good team but Michigan can score in so many ways whether that be close to the rim or from the three point line. Expect Nick Stauskas and the wolverines to advance.
X Factor: Glenn Robinson III has to step up and play like he’s capable of. He’s played some big games this season and just like his daddy will one day play in the NBA, he just needs to prove to both us and himself that he can play on the biggest stage of all.
(4) Louisville over (1) Wichita State
This has nothing to do with Wichita not being worthy of a 1 seed or not being a tough team. I think Louisville just will get hot at the right time and with Coach Pitino in March a 4 seed is just a disgrace. Wichita has the toughest draw of any 1 seed to make the final four and it will end in the sweet sixteen.
X Factor: Montrezl Harrell has been a monster for Louisville as of late. When he’s active on the glass and getting to the rim, Louisville is a scary team. There aren’t many bigs out there who can beat his length, athleticism, and skill. Harrell will prove to be too much for Early and the Shockers down low.
(3) Duke over (2) Michigan
This is a battle of two similar teams. Both can take the ball to the rim using their athleticism but both are also deadly from the three point line. It’ll be a very exciting offensive battle but Jabari Parker is one of the top 5 players in the college game and is ready to show that he is capable of leading a team.
X Factor: This one goes to the freshman himself, Jabari Parker. If Parker can keep Michigan defenders guessing with how he will attack the core of the defense, he will be an unstoppable matchup.
(4) Louisville over (3) Duke
Both of these teams have fiery offenses, legendary coaches, and incredible fan bases but only one can win. This will prove to be one of the best games of the tournament as both have the potential to win it all but in the end, the difference maker will be Louisville controlling penetration and stopping Duke at the rim.
X Factor: Louisville controlling the boards on both offense and defense. Whoever wins the battle of the boards and shoots the ball better is going to win this game. This could go either way.
Louisville will ultimately be able to outmuscle the Wildcats down low as the guard play by the two teams will be matched down low. Russ Smith and Nick Johnson will create one of the most entertaining matchups in this year’s field and it will come down to a lot of fast paced offense. Expect Rick Pitino’s Cardinals to pull it out in the end.
X Factor: Louisville must apply pressure and force the ball out of Nick Johnson’s hands. If Louisville can force him to pass the ball and make other players handle the ball more, Arizona will turn the ball over. Louisville can capitalize off turnovers better than almost anyone in the country.
(1) Florida over (4) Michigan State
There’s still no doubt in my mind that Florida is the most balanced team in the nation. They have depth at every position and skill in every facet of the game. They’re cool under pressure and are well coached. Much of the same can be said about Tom Izzo’s Spartans but at the end of the day, it comes down to talent and the Florida team has more talent than the Michigan State team. If Florida can use their physicality to throw Michigan State off their game a bit, they will take advantage of every opportunity they get.
X Factor: Scottie Wilbekin. Wilbekin is one of the best players in the nation and it’s about time he got credit for it. He will need to step up and show his team first mentality that’s gotten them there and be able to force Gary Harris to operate off the weak side of the court.
It’s been a long road to get here but there’s no team in America who can match up with Florida player for player. With Florida’s rotation of physical big men, it’ll be too much for Louisville to handle and with their slow down offense in effect in the late second half, Florida will control the tempo late. Though the guard matchups will be very entertaining and pretty equal, the ability of Florida to play together without a defined singular star will be the deciding factor. Billy Donovan and the Gators will be cutting down the nets in Arlington on April 7.
X Factor: The trio of Florida big men to rotate down low and cause problems. Their toughness and explosiveness is something you don’t see very often at all and this will be a deciding factor as they’ll get their way down low on the boards and create many second chance opportunities for guards Wilbekin and Michael Frazier to set the offense up again and control the tempo.
“My wings spread a lot further than the acceptable athletic stereotypes and conformity was never a strong point of mine. My focus has always been on becoming a better me, not a second-rate somebody else.”
On Sunday March 9th, Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall took to the Huffington Post to announce his retirement from the NFL. This retirement comes at an odd time as he is only 26 years old coming off another good season as a starting running back. Since being drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2008, Mendenhall has accumulated over 5,000 total yards including his 2010 season with the Steelers where he averaged close to 80 yards a game, finished with 13 touchdowns, and helped lead the Steelers to the SuperBowl.
Mendenhall explained that he decided to write online rather than calling a press conference about his retirement because he wanted to make as minimal news as possible. He stated that he personally would’ve been happy with fading into the darkness as a sort of NFL mystery. He comes off in his retirement letter as a very educated and articulate person who creates well thought out decisions. In the letter, he explains that the lights of the NFL and commercialized football have created an entirely different League than when he dreamt of being in the NFL.
Mendenhall noted that he always has and always will love football but realized when he reached the NFL that football entails so much more than just that now. He believes that players are more into their stats, celebrations, and highlights now rather than picking up a blitz, blocking, or doing something else that wouldn’t show up on ESPN. As his brother, a high school coach, remarked, “These kids don’t want to work hard. All they wanna do is look cool, celebrate after plays, and get more followers on Instagram.”
The truth in this statement is apparent in any game you watch. It’s more about the sleeves they wear and advertising themselves on social media than actually playing the game at this point in many ways. It’s because of reasons like this that Mendenhall said he would no longer want to put his body at risk for a follow or like. He was not shy about commenting on the idea of fantasy football and speaking about how that is one of the main motivators for players now too rather than winning games and this leads to more individual fame and stardom.
Mendenhall has never been one to worry about what others thought about him having said some very controversial and media stirring comments through social media and in press conferences. The most controversial of which was when he expressed his feelings over the celebration of Osama Bin Laden’s death exclaiming “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…” In defense of this statement he explained that Bin Laden would be judged by God and that Americans were being hypocritical. He remarked “During 9/11 we watched in horror as parts of the world celebrated death on our soil. Earlier this week, parts of the world watched us in horror celebrating a man’s death.” It’s safe to say Mendenhall wasn’t afraid to create and defend his own path.
As for what Mendenhall sees in his future? That’s left for him to decide but its sure that he is fed up with the limelight. He explained that he would love to travel the world and take to writing and with no real financial concerns, he should be able to do that with no problem. Much to Mendenhall’s pleasure, it’s likely that the next time you hear his name will be at his own desire rather than ESPN’s Fantasy Watch, NFL Gameday, or Sportscenter. Congratulations to Mendenhall on seeing his own potential and here’s to hoping you can live life the way you want to rather than the way others want you.
Seven-footer Jason Collins is set to break a groundbreaking barrier today. Collins, a 35 year old male, is set to sign a 10 day contract with the Brooklyn Nets today. He is best known for his personal life outside of basketball as an openly gay man.
In May 2009, the Stanford graduate wrote a column for Sports Illustrated announcing that he was openly gay. It is a perfect situation as he will return to the team who drafted him and who he played for from 2001-2008. He has appeared in two NBA Finals with the organization and had his best year in the 2004-2005 season averaging over 30 minutes a game and starting 80 of the 82 games.
Collins has been very instrumental in the openness and sexuality within the professional sports arena and has undoubtedly had an influence on the coming out of future NFL draftee Michael Sam. Collins, a Northridge (CA) native and attendee of Harvard Westlake High School, has been training in Los Angeles and is prepared to join the Nets against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight.
Collins should be welcomed into the Nets community as he is often considered a great teammate and locker room influence. He will step into a locker room whose main goal is to win games.
Coach Jason Kidd and Collins had successful years together playing for the Nets, Collins played for the Celtics recently alongside both Kevin Garnett and fellow LA native Paul Pierce, and Collins spent three seasons with all star Joe Johnson in Atlanta so it is expected to be an easy transition.
Though Collins is a trailblazer for professional sports and more significantly men’s sports, WNBA star Brittney Griner is often overlooked. Griner came out in April 2013 almost directly coinciding with Collins’ article in Sports Illustrated. At 6’8, the female professional player and LGBT activist was the first pick in the WNBA draft. During her rookie season last year, she averaged 12.6 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, and 3 blocks per game in only 26 minutes per game.
It will be interesting to see if having active professional athletes in both male and female sports will encourage other athletes to come out across sports. Today is an important date in both the LGBT community as well as the sports community as something like sexuality should not be condemned as it used to be. Hopefully in the coming years, this will no longer have to be breaking news or such a rare occurrence in sports.