Nova’s win defies the 1 percent

Two weeks ago I discovered perhaps the greatest statistic in the entire world. Unfortunately that stat was completely destroyed Monday night with Villanova’s win over North Carolina.

I have secretly always been a North Carolina fan; not a legitimate fan, but when it came to the Duke-North Carolina matchup, I always went for the Tar Heels. What fueled my secret love? Ask my dad about the birth of his only daughter and first child, and he won’t forget to tell you that I was born during a Sweet 16 matchup, after he consistently told my mom it can’t happen. I was born into chaos. My dad and two grandfathers were screaming at the TV when I entered the world. North Carolina and the University of Michigan were playing. It was 1993 and the Tar Heels went on to win the championship.

Two weeks ago, as I was doing Sweet 16 predictions, I delved into history and discovered that the last three times the Tar Heels won March Madness they played their Sweet 16 game on my birthday, March 25. This year North Carolina defeated Indiana on March 25, and well it only seemed right. It was this crazy fact that prompted me to pick the Tar Heels to win it all this year.

Clearly my theory was wrong, but I can’t be upset Villanova destroyed it. Villanova winning it all this year gives hope to those teams that hardly enter the conversation for a national championship. Going into Monday night’s game, four schools had won 12 of the previous 20 national championships — Kentucky, Duke, Connecticut and North Carolina.

March Madness is the only major sporting event that gives the underdogs an equal chance, but it’s still rare to see Cinderella winning it all. There are the teams that have snuck into the inner circle — Syracuse, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas — to name a few, but they can’t even call themselves the underdogs anymore.

I can’t say this Villanova team was the typical underdog. The team was No. 1 for part of the season and shattered offensive records as it made its run, but when it came down to it, North Carolina was expected to do what it always does, win.

As I sat on my couch cheering as North Carolina closed the point gap in those final minutes, it was hard to deny that Nova looked like the stronger team throughout the game. So while I was heartbroken when that shot with less than a second by Kris Jenkins swooshed through the net, I couldn’t help but feel happy that the outcome wasn’t so predictable.

TOO EARLY FOR 2017?

Seven months separate us from the start of next year’s basketball season, but that isn’t stopping most from already making their predictions. While I hope it can be another year for the other 99 percent, the current favorite sitting atop headlines is no-shocker here, the Duke Blue Devils. The Atlantic Coast Conference was the dominant conference this year and by the looks of it, it could happen again. With Duke’s Grayson Allen having announced his return and the top two high school prospects heading to Durham in the fall, the Blue Devils will definitely be in the top five when the season kicks off.

Duke seems to be one of the only team not in complete limbo with the NCAA’s new NBA draft rules too. With that said, 2017 is completely up in the air until after that May 25 deadline.

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Just Three Games Remain

After three weeks of March Madness, I am still trying to find the words other than completely unpredictable and upset-laden to describe the tournament, let alone the 2016 season.

Week three brought two more upsets to the season. Three of four No. 1 seeds were eliminated, including the overall No. 1 and top candidate to win it all, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Villanova is finally living up to the hype with the win that sent the Jayhawks packing. After struggling the last two years in tournament appearances, the Wildcats have finally proved that they are worthy to be in conversation with the top dogs.

Even though the Sooners were the No. 2 seed in their region, most people predicted them to come out on top over No. 1 Oregon. With the best college basketball player on their roster, Buddy Hield, some believe there is no stopping them.

University of North Carolina is the sole No. 1 seed remaining. The Tar Heels were the closest to a perfect season in 2016, but ended on a 32-6 record. Multiple factors pointed to a potential early sendoff for UNC, but it proved the doubters wrong and is now the favorite to win it all.

The last team in the final four is Syracuse, who after an early season ban barely made the tournament. In no way can the Orange be named this year’s Cinderella, but it is this year’s biggest shocker. Syracuse is only the fourth double seeded team to ever make the Final Four and the only 10th seed to ever make the Final Four.

SOUTH SEMIFINAL: VILLANOVA

I am going to go against the grain with the majority on this matchup. Despite a regular-season loss to Oklahoma by 23 on Dec. 7, 2015, I think the Wildcats have more going for them than the Sooners do.

Villanova is fourth in the nation in 2-point percentage and second in free-throw percentage. The Wildcats are great at forcing turnovers while not giving much up themselves, and they move the ball with ease, averaging an assist on 60 percent of field goals made.

The difference maker in their first matchup was 3 pointers, Villanova was 4-32, and Oklahoma was 14-26. If Villanova can beat Oklahoma in all other areas like it should, shots from beyond the arc aren’t important.

EAST SEMIFINAL: NORTH CAROLINA

I’m taking the current favorites on the East side of the bracket. The Atlantic Coast Conference champion North Carolina was the nation’s preseason No. 1 and it has the chance to end like it started. They’ve beaten every tournament opponent thrown their way by a minimum of 14 points, and I don’t see why they can’t keep that going.

The Tar Heels take the advantage in the paint and on the offensive glass with a deep front court. UNC swept Syracuse in the regular season by breaking the Orange’s 2-3 zone and doing what it does best, feeding the post, dominating the glass and drawing fouls. There is no reason another win shouldn’t be in the books.

The one thing UNC needs to avoid is settling for the 3. In their first two games against Syracuse, the Tar Heels shot for a combined 9 of 41 from beyond the arc. It’s hard to knock down those shots against the No. 13 perimeter defense.

NATIONAL CHAMPION: NORTH CAROLINA

Bowl Seaon: Week 2

With Week 1 of bowl games wrapped up, we venture into Week 2. This next week brings some bigger name bowl games along with some bigger name teams into the lineup. Greatest of all, we end this rundown with the college football playoffs semifinal games.

I am currently 5-5 on predictions, not counting Christmas Eve games.

DEC. 26

• ST. PETERSBURG BOWL: CONNECTICUT (6-6) VS. MARSHALL (9-3)

The Huskies’ Jamar Summers is third in the nation with seven interceptions, helping his team rank in at No. 17 for FBS scoring defense. UConn allows 10.8 points per game, but while its defense is tight, the offense is where the team will struggle.

Offensively the Huskies are averaging just 13 points per game. If you thought UConn’s defense was strong, Marshall’s is even better, ranking it at No. 14.

Prediction: Marshall

• SUN BOWL: MIAMI (8-4) VS. WASHINGTON STATE (8-4)

Washington State hasn’t won a bowl game since 2003 but is hoping quarterback Luke Falk can help change that. The Cougars went 6-7 with Falk as their starting quarterback with their only loss coming to Stanford. Falk has thrown for 4,266 yards and 36 touchdowns this season.

Falk went down with an injury half way through the season but is expected to be ready to go against the Canes. Miami hasn’t won a bowl game since 2006 and has made five postseason appearances since. Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt will take over in the 2016 season.

Prediction: Washington State

• HEART OF DALLAS BOWL: WASHINGTON (6-6) VS. SOUTHERN MISS (9-4)

Washington has the best defense in the Pac-12 and should be able to slow down Southern Mississippi’s offense led by Nick Mullens. He connected with the end zone for 36 touchdowns this season.

The Huskies’ rookie quarterback should be able to continue his successful campaign against a weaker defense. Jake Browning completed 62.9 percent of passes for 2,671 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Prediction: Washington

• PINSTRIPE BOWL: INDIANA (6-6) VS. DUKE (7-5)

Both teams struggled down the final stretch, but overall Indiana had a tougher schedule. Two of the Hoosiers losses came from two of the nation’s best teams: Michigan State and Ohio State. Indiana lost by only one score in both matchups.

All-Big Ten Indiana running back Jordan Howard also looks to return after missing the regular season finale. Howard ran for 1,213 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

Prediction: Indiana

• INDEPENDENCE BOWL: TULSA (6-6) VS. VIRGINIA TECH (6-6)

There is no better way for the Hokies to send head coach Frank Beamer into retirement than with a bowl win over Tulsa. Tulsa has a stronger looking quarterback than Virginia Tech with Dane Evans calling the plays, but the VT’s special team units will make all the difference. All of Tulsa’s losses have been by more than 13 points this season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech

• FOSTER FARMS BOWL: UCLA (8-4) VS. NEBRASKA (5-7)

Nebraska is another one of those teams that is not deserving of a bowl opportunity, but the 5-7 Cornhuskers are being underestimated because of it. Nebraska almost pulled off wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. It beat Michigan State.

UCLA came out strong with wins over BYU and Arizona, but in September the Bruins couldn’t seem to pull it off. A surprising loss to USC kept UCLA out of the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford.

Prediction: Nebraska

DEC. 28

• MILITARY BOWL: PITT (8-4) VS. NAVY (10-2)

Pitt has one of the best run defenses in the country but it is going to have some trouble stopping Navy’s triple option offense. The Midshipmen averaged 319.2 yards per game with quarterback Keenan Reynolds at the helm. Reynolds broke the NCAA Division I career record this season with 85 rushing touchdowns. He also has 1,229 yards and 21 touchdowns in the season.

Some other things Navy has going for them: home-field advantage and a shorter break due to the Army vs. Navy game.

Prediction: Navy

• QUICK LANE BOWL: CENTRAL MICHIGAN (7-5) VS. MINNESOTA (5-7)

Central Michigan has won five of its last six games to finish the season 8-5 after a 2-4 start. Minnesota is on a seven-game losing streak. The matchup pits the Chippewas’ No. 21 defense against the Gophers’ No. 105 offense.

Minnesota is the third and final team to play in a bowl game with a losing record this season.

Prediction: Central Michigan

Dec. 29

• ARMED FORCES BOWL: AIR FORCE (8-5) VS. CALIFORNIA (7-5)

California looks to potential top QB draft pick Jared Goff to lead it to a win. Goff has 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns in the season. Air Force is coming off two tough losses to New Mexico and San Diego State.

Prediction: California

• RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL: NORTH CAROLINA (11-2) VS. BAYLOR (9-3)

These two teams are expected to deliver a high-scoring game to viewers. Both teams have top-rated spread offenses. Baylor has the No. 1 offense in the country but injuries at multiple positions looks to be deathly. The Bears averaged 48 points and 605 yards a game, but in their last two games scored a grand total of 31 points.

The Bears announced that they will be playing without three key offensive components: wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman, running back Shock Linwood and QB Jarett Stidham.

Prediction: North Carolina

• ARIZONA BOWL: NEVADA (6-6) VS. COLORADO STATE (7-5)

The Arizona Bowl brings up a Mountain West Conference matchup. Due to different divisions, this will be the first meeting this season for the two teams. It’s almost like a second conference championship. Colorado State enters the game with a higher-ranked defense and offense.

Prediction: Colorado State

• TEXAS BOWL: LSU (8-3) VS. TEXAS TECH (7-5)

Texas Tech will have some difficulties trying to slow down LSU’s Leonard Fournette. He averaged 271.8 rushing yards per game and needs just 259 more yards to reach a season total of 2,000.

The Red Raiders allowed 271.8 rushing yards per game. In their worst loss of the season, 63-27 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma, they allowed 405.

Prediction: LSU

DEC. 30

• BIRMINGHAM BOWL: AUBURN (6-6) VS. MEMPHIS (9-3)

It’s the attack of the Tigers as this game features one of the seasons’ biggest disappointments, Auburn, and one of the seasons’ biggest surprises, Memphis. With Will Muschamp leaving Auburn for South Carolina, the Tigers will attempt the win without a defensive coordinator. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch is another QB looking to go high in the draft, and with 3,670 yards, 28 touchdowns and three interceptions, that may just happen.

This is Memphis interim coach Darrell Dickey’s big opportunity to prove himself.

Prediction: Memphis

• BELK BOWL: NC STATE (7-5) VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4)

It will be a battle of quarterbacks between Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett. Prescott had 3,413 yards, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Brissett had 2,448 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Prescott is the bigger asset. He was also the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 541 yards and 10 end-zone appearances.

Prediction: Mississippi State

• MUSIC CITY BOWL: TEXAS A&M (8-4) VS. LOUISVILLE (7-5)

The Aggies are dealing with some issues as quarterback sophomore Kyle Allen has already left and now rumors are flying that freshman Kyler Murray is considering transferring.

Aggies receiver Christian Kirk is one of the country’s top freshmen, leading the team with 70 catches for 925 yards and six touchdowns, but without a QB, Kirk won’t be seeing success.

Prediction: Louisville

• HOLIDAY BOWL: USC (8-5) VS. WISCONSIN (9-3)

USC has had a strong second half of the season with losses only to top-15 opponents. The Trojans also won impressively against city rivals UCLA and Utah. Wisconsin has no wins against top-ranked opponents, making me think it won’t be able to outscore Cody Kessler and the rest of the Trojan offense.

Prediction: USC

DEC. 31

• CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL: HOUSTON (12-1) VS. FLORIDA STATE (10-2)

Florida State’s Dalvin Cook ran for 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had more than 100 yards in eight games, four of which closed out the regular season. Houston is 12-1 under first season coach Tom Herman. If the Cougars win, it will be their first 13-game winning season since 2011. Can wins against Navy and Temple sway you enough to bet against the 2013 national champions and last year’s playoff finalist? Herman did work under Urban Meyer; I’m going with the upset.

Prediction: Houston

• CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL: OKLAHOMA (11-1) VS. CLEMSON (13-0)

With a win in the college football playoff semifinals, the Tigers will be a stunning 14-0. Clemson is lead by sophomore quarterback and Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson. He had a completion percentage of 69.5 and passed for 3,512 yards with 30 touchdown and 11 interceptions. He also ran for 887 yards for 11 scores.

But Oklahoma is coming in with a strong offensive attack as well. Since their loss to Texas, the Sooners have won out and beat all but one opponent, TCU, by more than 10 points. October proved that the Big 12 Conference was tougher than the ACC.

Prediction: Oklahoma

GOODYEAR COTTON BOWL: MICHIGAN STATE (12-1) VS. ALABAMA (12-1)

The key to shutting down Alabama in the college football playoff semifinals will be shutting down Heisman winner and Alabama running back Derrick Henry. He set an SEC record this season with 1,986 rushing yards. Michigan State enters the game with the seventh ranked run defense in the nation, allowing only 113.1 yards per game.

Michigan State will have to try and force the Tide to put the ball in quarterback Jake Coker’s hands. Coker has only had one game where he’s thrown for more than 250 yards. If the Spartans can shut down Bama’s offense, there will be no stopping them. Michigan State’s Connor Cook is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Cook has thrown for 2,921 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, and is 34-4 as a starter.

Prediction: Michigan State

Who’s In and Who’s Out

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The last time Michigan State went to the Big 10 Championship they beat the favored Ohio State Buckeyes, 34-24. With the win the Spartans earned themselves a ticket to the Rose Bowl where they went on to beat Stanford, 24-20.

For as crazy of a season it’s been, the College Football Playoff committee’s job is looking pretty easy right now. After conference championship weekend last year, there were some not-so-happy fan bases with legitimate arguments for why they should be in the playoff, but this year, if everything plays out like it should Saturday, No. 1 to 4 are pretty self-explanatory.

There are four major conference title games taking place Saturday: ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The two games with the highest probability of making the committee’s job difficult, are No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 8 North Carolina and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida. But before I get into the different worst-case scenarios, let us take a look at what we already know for sure.

The first guaranteed is that the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners are in no matter what. There is a lot of discussion about the teams ahead of them and the teams below them, but there isn’t much talk about that No. 3 spot. The only question I have for the committee is how come last year the Big 12 conference was left out due to its lack of conference championship game, whereas this year they are automatically in due to the same fact? We will save that for another time.

The second guarantee is that the winner of the Big Ten championship game will have a spot in the playoffs. The undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes take on the 11-1 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are the favorite, but only by a couple points.

If Clemson and Alabama, the favorites in both their respective games win, the rankings will remain No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, and No. 4 Iowa/Michigan State. But if either the Tigers or Tide fall or it’s a miracle and they both do, there are several teams on the sideline with valid arguments as to why they should be the next team in.

Scenario 1: Clemson loses to North Carolina, and Alabama beats Florida

If Clemson loses, it would also be added to the list of sideline teams with the potential of making that No. 4 spot. In years past, No. 1 teams who lost their conference championships were demoted to No. 4, but that was before we had this thing called the college football playoffs. But the Tigers still have an extremely impressive schedule and win over Notre Dame.

Just because North Carolina wins, the Tar Heels are not guaranteed a spot. Although North Carolina has gone 11-0 since its season-opener loss to South Carolina, that loss along with a weak schedule that included two Football Championship Subdivision opponents, will probably not be enough for the Tar Heels even with a head-to-head win over the Tigers.

Scenario 2: Alabama loses to Florida, and Clemson beats North Carolina

No. 18 Florida has zero chance of making the playoff even with a win over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Florida has had a very lackluster back end of the season with close wins over Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt. After it ended the regular season with a loss to in-state rival Florida State, the Gators do not stand a chance.

But if Alabama loses, it doesn’t have the same opportunity as Clemson to still be in the top four. After suffering an early season loss to an Ole Miss team that failed to produce throughout the remainder of the season, the Tide cannot afford another loss. A two-loss Alabama team would have even less of a playoff argument than sideline teams.

Craziest thing about an Alabama loss, the college football playoff would be SEC-less. No one ever predicted that happening.

Scenario 3: Alabama and Clemson lose

While this scenario is the least likely, it is the best chance the sideline teams have of making it into the coveted college football playoffs.

SIDELINERS

With scenarios one through three, none of which are the most probable, Ohio State, Stanford, North Carolina and the Big Ten loser have opportunities of making the playoffs.

Ohio State: If Michigan State beats Iowa, Ohio State’s argument and resume only gets better. With the defending national champion’s only loss coming from a CFP team, the Buckeyes have a high chance. Also considering the Big Ten East division has the stiffer competition — MSU, Michigan and OSU — it has a better argument than Iowa, the Big Ten championship loser in this scenario.

Stanford: If Stanford wins the Pac-12 Conference game against the University of Southern California, the Cardinal can set itself up for a playoff spot. Stanford is going against the fact it is a two-loss team.

With a nine-game conference schedule, plus a conference championship and five games against top-20 opponents, you can almost ignore the season opening nonconference loss to No. 13 Northwestern on the road. A win over then No. 4 Notre Dame kind of cancels out the 38-36 loss to No. 15 Oregon, who has seemed to redeem itself since September.

Where Stanford would beat any of its sideline counterparts would be in its conference title. No. 24 USC has no chance of making the playoff even with a win.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ best chance in making the playoffs would be to win the ACC and for Alabama to lose. Like mentioned before, with just a Clemson loss, North Carolina would not be an automatic. The Tar Heels, like the Cardinal, would have a conference title on their side, but schedule weakness would be their biggest holdback.

Big Ten loser: The best chance of the loser of the Big Ten championship making the playoff is if both Alabama and Clemson lose.

If Michigan State is the loser, it would be a two-loss team like Stanford, but unlike Stanford would not have a title to back it up. The Spartans’ losses come from two higher-ranked teams, but some would say the Cardinal had the tougher schedule. MSU has the head-to-head on Ohio State but would have one more loss than the Buckeyes.

If Iowa is the loser, the Hawkeyes’ only loss would be from a playoff team much like Ohio State. Iowa would still have a better record than Stanford but wouldn’t have the title for an extra boost. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would have one loss suffered by the same team, but while Iowa at least made it to the title game, Ohio State had the tougher schedule.