This Sure Feels Like Phil Jackson’s New York Moment

Two years ago, Knicks fans were ecstatic.

Legendary NBA figure Phil Jackson had just signed on to be the team’s President, a position that would enable him to oversee personnel decisions along with General Manager Steve Mills, and to, more importantly, develop a “culture of winning,” as the Zen Master put it.

This was great for the Knicks, a team perceived by many, including it’s own fan base, to be run by a self-absorbed billionaire in James Dolan, who made ill-advised move after ill-advised move in hopes of pushing the Knicks toward competitiveness and relevancy. Jackson was finally, mercifully, going to be putting an end to the overreaching steps taken by Dolan far too often. Dolan would listen to Phil, and Dolan would shut up. Phil couldn’t have won 11 rings by accident. He had credibility, and Dolan was going to respect that. Things were going to change. And the Knicks were going to be good.

Well, things certainly did change, and quickly, as Phil Jackson made moves that shipped off guys like Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and Tyson Chandler, the latter three being key parts in New York’s 56 win season in 2012–2013 under the recently fired Mike Woodson and Co. Talks with fellow Knicks fans centered around the same thought: Phil was making good on his promise to change the culture, and it started by rooting out these four bad apples in an otherwise good bunch. The winning, though? That was, and is, a completely different story.

The 2014–2015 season was a disastrous 17 win campaign, one that saw Derek Fisher flounder in his first year as coach, Carmelo Anthony undergo career-altering knee surgery, and guys like Lou Amundson starting at the 5. (No offense to Sweet Lou, I love the guy, but I think even he would admit he is not a starting 5 in the NBA) It was tough to watch at times, and the games were mostly ignored with the thought that this season was a sacrifice for good things to come, and future deep playoff runs.

The NBA draft didn’t yield much happiness either, as the Knicks used the #4 pick on a young Latvian who’s name we all know by now. Kristaps Porzingis was destined, or so it was declared on Twitter the moment the pick was announced, to be the classic Euro-bust that comes along every so often and completely blows up a team’s plan for the future. The pundits were out, not the least of which was Stephen A. Smith, a “native New Yorker” who claimed to be “completely disgusted” with the pick.

Thankfully, young KP proved the majority of us Knicks fans wrong when he went out and had a hell of a season, dazzling us with dunks, sinking deep 3 pointers, sometimes from Steph Curry Land, and going to the All Star game and putting up some great numbers in the admittedly completely offensive-focused affair. Unfortunately, like the rest of his team, Porzingis seemed to hit a wall of sorts, becoming less productive and energized as the calendar turned to February. Once at 22–22, the Knicks limped to a 32–50 record, which obviously meant no playoffs, and more questions.

KP’s stamina and Carmelo’s patience weren’t the only things that didn’t survive the season, as the Knicks (read Phil Jackson) decided to cut weight in the firing of Derek Fisher. Citing reasons like it being “time for a change” and an opportunity to “move forward” Jackson met with the media and installed interim head coach and triangle worshipper Kurt Rambis, who oversaw the final 2o or so games without any noticeable improvement. With the Knicks not engaging in playoff action, and being without a draft pick, the conversation surrounding the team has focused squarely on the huge head coaching decision on the table.

After two seasons of relative failure, many fans, myself included, are calling for another significant change, this time at the head coach position. After the disaster that was Derek Fisher, (who perhaps got a bit of a raw deal, but I digress) and the incompetence of Kurt Rambis , it feels like the right time for Phil to spring for a coach like Tom Thibodeau or Jeff Van Gundy, two disciplinarians focused on hard practices and motivating players, instead of more system focused basketball. Given Thib’s recent success with the Bulls, who became a mess this year without his guidance, many fans and writers are bullish on the idea of him coaching at MSG, with some reports that the Knicks job is the one he always wanted and that he would “crawl to Madison Square Garden” for it.  Some have even gone as far as claiming it’s time for Dolan to re-enter the fold and declare his wishes for a change, or for Melo to demand a trade if a competent and established coach isn’t hired.

In light of recent developments, including words directly from Phil Jackson’s mouth, it seems he has no desire to abandon the triangle offense, the system that rewarded him so handsomely for his loyalty, in favor of a popular move at the head coaching position. In closing press conferences last week, Phil expressed his desire for a “simpatico” relationship with his head coach, and his reinforcement of the “system” and its principles. Phil’s alleged phone call to (an uninterested) Luke Walton, a disciple of the Zen Master and ticket holder on the Golden State Express, confirms Phil’s words with actions, and further evidence came while this was being written, which said that Phil, Kurt Rambis, and about 4–6 players would meet to review “triangle offense principles.”  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one’s attitude, it seems like Phil will stick to his guns, and continue to hold the principles of the triangle close.

This situation has all the makings of a legacy defining moment for Phil Jackson’s New York experience. Will his staunch defending of the triangle offense prove correct and fruitful, or will his stubbornness to see what this team really needs lead to him being held in contempt with Knicks fans, his name muttered in the same breath with Isaiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury? While Phil seems to have made his decision, history has not.

New York Yankees 2016 Preview

Baseball season is here. Today, the New York Yankees begin their season and their quest for their 28th World Series Championship in franchise history. There’s a lot to talk about with this 2016 squad, but before before doing so, let’s recap the 2015 campaign. The 2015 Yankees were a success, in my opinion. They got off to a hot start and jumped out to a huge lead in the AL East. Unfortunately, the dog days of summer caught up to them as the team’s elder age became a factor while the Blue Jays kicked it up several notches. The Yanks lost their lead in the AL East, and subsequently the Wild Card game against the Houston Astros. All was not lost, though, as new Yankees acquisitions Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Miller contributed strongly to the Yankees last year and I see them building on that this year.

The 2016 Yankees are in a weird spot. A lot of their big contracts come off the books after this season and next season: Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and C.C. Sabathia. In anticipation of this, the Yankees added some youth with some pieces that were acquired in the offseason. Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, and Aroldis Chapman are hopefully going to be huge assets, and the Yankees are relying on their assistance in order to have success in 2016 and beyond. In a departure from their previous ways, the Yankees managed to get younger despite not signing a free agent this offseason. While these moves were and are encouraging, the team is still reliant on its veterans to compete at a high level if this team is to make a deep playoff run.

The pitching staff returns Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Luis Severino. All of these pitchers, except for Severino, were injured at one point or another last year, and Severino himself only played in the second half of the season. The pitching staff is probably the Yankees biggest question mark going into the year, and understandably so.

Looking at this group, I really believe in the potential of both Severino and Eovaldi. Sevy was very sharp in his limited time last year, bringing a swagger that allowed him to be confident and challenge hitters. I think if the Yankees manage him right, he will be the ace of this staff in the very near future. Eovaldi started off pretty slowly last year, but when he rediscovered how to throw a split finger; it completely reenergized him. If he can bounce back from his injury, and remain effective longer than 5 innings, the Yanks will have a very solid #3 on their hands in Nasty Nate.

That leaves Tanaka, Pineda, CC, and Nova as the big question marks of this group. Will Tanaka need surgery on his elbow? Can Pineda pitch to his full potential? How will CC throw since he entered rehab? Will Nova turn the corner since he had Tommy John surgery? These are some of the many questions we will hear throughout the season regarding these pitchers. Personally, I think Tanaka will be fine, but won’t quite regain the dominance of his rookie year, which was mostly the byproduct of no one seeing his stuff  previously. I think Tanaka can and should be looked at as this staff’s #2, rather than the ace, as in he will put up good numbers, and be steady, but not quite dominate batters like he used to.

Pineda needs to figure his stuff out and stay healthy. This guy is the definition of a head case.  When things go well for him, he has shown he can be unstoppable. When he starts giving up hits though, his body language gives away how upset or rattled he is, and suddenly he’s just throwing batting practice. If he can stay healthy, and learn to control his emotions, he should be in line for a good year. Let’s see if Big Mike can take care of business this year. Larry Rothschild, I’m looking at you bud.

CC and Nova are probably the scariest options here and just concluded their battle for the #5 spot, with CC emerging the victor. Hopefully, CC is now focused since his stint in rehab to remedy his alcoholism. He’s not the same ace as he was with the Yankees in 2009, but he’s smart enough to compete. Nova will be the spot starter/long reliever from the bullpen. I don’t think he’s fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery just yet, and he probably needs some time to feel things out. He is also in the last year of his contract, and I think if he can be effective, he will earn himself a nice pay day from a team in need of pitchers. If, however, CC and Nova falter, I can definitely see Cashman making a move to shore up this shaky staff.

While the pitching staff has its issues, the bullpen will be the Yankees biggest strength this season. The Yankees picked up arguably the best closer in the MLB in Aroldis Chapman, and despite his suspension for the early part of the season, he will regain the position upon his return. The Yankees will move last year’s closer Andrew Miller to the set up man role, and former 8th inning guy Dellin Betances will handle the 7th inning or earlier, if needed. All three pitchers have nasty stuff and can be almost impossible to hit.  The beauty of having these three will be the lessening of stress on the starter, allowing him to go 5 or 6 innings, while remaining confident in unleashing the three headed monster to lock down the game. I also like a few of the other pitchers that will be featured in the bullpen. Shreve, Yates, Barbato, and Cessa won jobs out of camp and they will have to show that they have the talent to stay at the major league level. All of these relievers are young guys who can bridge that gap from the starters to relievers, if maybe one of the Big 3 isn’t available, or while Chapman is suspended. I’ve always thought that Girardi does a nice job of mixing and matching his relievers, and he is especially adept at bringing up relievers from AAA in emergency situations, sending them down to rest/throw more, and then bringing them back up at a later time if need be. Don’t be surprised if we see a lot more young assets coming up to the team to pitch the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings such as Pinder, Mitchell, Goody, and Lindgren among others, before handing it to that Big 3 of Betances, Miller, and Chapman.

With pitching out of the way, let’s look at offense. The Yankee infield got a huge boost by adding Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Granted, it came at the cost of Mr. Reliable Adam Warren, and Castro has only played second base a limited amount, but if you watched any baseball in 2015 you know he is 1000% better than whomever was getting rolled out to play there last year. Didi and Castro form a nice double play combo on defense, and their bats came on late last year. I’m really looking forward to watching the middle infielders contribute to the team this year. Brian McCann is a great catcher, and I love how he handles the pitchers and calls a game. He still needs to work on not pulling the ball so much when the shift is on, and I really thought he would be providing more power, especially at Yankee Stadium with its short left field porch, but his 2015 was much better than 2014. If he McCann can continue to improve, this lineup becomes that much more dangerous. Mark Teixeira was having a great season, maybe even an MVP-type season last year before a bad injury in August ended it prematurely. He looked like a whole new hitter, he was very clutch, and was hitting with great power. At this point with Teixeira, you almost have to expect he will get hurt at one point, and build a roster that takes that into account. I’m hoping the Yankees bring him along slowly to mitigate that serious injury possibility, and that Girardi can provide steady rest for him either at DH or with a full day off. Chase Headley had a bad year last year, both defensively and offensively. He made the most errors in his career and wasn’t as effective at the plate. I think if he can play better defensively, it will also allow him to be confident and hit consistently as well.  With Rob Refsnyder going down to the minors last week, that leaves Dustin Ackley and Ronald Torreyes as the backups. Ackley will be the super utility man and who can sub in at first and second base to give Castro and Tex a day off.  He also can play some outfield if necessary to give some of the guys a rest. He isn’t a sexy player, and he won’t put up amazing numbers, but he will allow these guys a much needed rest when necessary, and perform competently.  Torreyes will sub on the left side of the infield at short and third when Headley and Didi need a rest.  He only had about 10 at bats during September of last year, but he obviously played well enough in Spring Training to win a spot. Austin Romine will probably be the backup catcher for now, and he is very good defensively, but his hitting leaves much to be desired. He will start the year as the backup, but I see Gary Sanchez eventually taking over this role in the near future. In the event that Tex goes down with injury or needs a day off, I like the idea of moving McCann to first to keep his bat in the lineup, and having Romine (or Sanchez) behind the plate.

The Yankees outfield stays the same and they get a tad younger with Aaron Hicks as the backup. I like having Hicks in there because he can play every outfield spot and can hit well. He will allow Beltran to rest or DH and can play to give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest when the Yankees are facing a lefty pitcher. I am confident that Gardner and Ellsbury will both have bounce back years. In 2015, both players were hurt and played through their injuries when they probably shouldn’t have. As a result, their numbers dipped tremendously as the season went on, especially Gardner, whose second half paled in comparison to his first half. This year, the Yankees have reliable options for subs to allow them to rest when necessary, which will hopefully allow both guys to remain fresh into October.

Everyone’s favorite, A-Rod, will be the starting DH again. He had a phenomenal year in 2015 and I think he almost reinvented himself, as he finally became the role model for this team. Alex wasn’t immune to fatigue either, as his numbers decreased throughout the year as well. With reliable backups, though, that will allow guys like Tex, McCann or Beltran to sub in at DH giving A-Rod rest when and if he needs it.

In 2016, and as it has been in recent years, the major key to the Yankees is rest and injuries. If Girardi can manage to give the vets regular rest, and the backups perform as I think they are capable of, they will be fine. The injury factor can make or break this team, as the starting staff, infielders, and outfielders all have players who have had long term injuries in the recent past. Hopefully, and as I believe will be the case, Girardi will manage this team well enough to prevent any major injury, and the Yankees will be successful. Don’t be surprised if we see some young assets make an impact this year at some point, in preparation for the departure of some of the older guys. This may be the last time we see the “same old Yankees,” as in the core of the team being expensive free agents of 4 or 5 years ago.

I don’t think the Yankees will win the AL East, not with Toronto and their stacked lineup around. The Yankees should do well enough to win a Wild Card and advance to the ALDS, and hopefully go further. I’m looking for an ALCS appearance at the least to call 2016 a success.

With that being said, Yankees fans should be excited for the season ahead and look for the team to build off of last year’s playoff appearance. Let’s go Yanks!

2016 Final Four Preview

Wow, what a crazy couple of weeks huh? This year’s tournament certainly has not disappointed, bringing us double digit seeds advancing, plentiful overtimes, long distance buzzer beaters, and quite possibly the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history. After two crazy weekends, we finally are down to the Final Four. As I mentioned in my previous March Madness blog, this tournament was wide open, and on the majority of brackets, this Final Four was not present.

The main story of this year’s college basketball season was the senior. All four teams that made the Final Four have valuable seniors surrounded by veteran teams that have helped them get to Houston. Syracuse and North Carolina played each other twice earlier in the year, with UNC winning both at home and on the road. Oklahoma played Villanova at home and beat them. Obviously, things change from the regular season to the tournament and I, along with many media pundits, expect both games to be entertaining and close.

The first game of this evening will be Oklahoma vs. Villanova. This game is interesting for a few reasons. Buddy Hield is arguably the best player in college basketball, and has been very entertaining during this run. I think he is the motor for this Sooner team, as he has helped spark them during this tournament, and is arguably the biggest reason for their Final Four appearance. Given Hield’s performance all year long, this isn’t too surprising. Villanova, on the other hand, has shocked me completely. I did not feel confident in Villanova going into the tournament, especially given their loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament, and their recent early exits in March Madnesses past. I was proven wrong when they beat Miami and Kansas last weekend in different fashions. In the Miami game, Nova shot the ball extremely well. They played a flawless game on the offensive end and beat Miami easily. Against Kansas, Nova played arguably their best defensive game of the year, by constantly challenging Kansas and limiting Perry Ellis’ scoring, frustrating the Jayhawks. Now, Villanova will meet Oklahoma in a game that has me extremely excited for 6:09pm to get here. Buddy Hield and Ryan Arcidiacono are the two seniors, leaders, and best shooters on their respective teams, and  both will have an impact on how this game goes. To try to neutralize Hield, it wouldn’t surprise me if Villanova puts Mikal Bridges, a lengthy defensive forward, on the senior Sooner to try and limit his offense. If Hield is going to be off with his shot which isn’t too likely, Oklahoma will need to get a lot of rebounds from Ryan Spangler, and I expect Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard to pick up their game on offense in this scenario. In the end, I think Oklahoma will prevail, as Hield is having a special season ala Kemba Walker with UConn. Both players lead their team and the nation in scoring, and I believe Hield will also lead his team to a National Championship.

The second game on Saturday night will be North Carolina vs Syracuse Part III. ACC games are always competitive, and when the stakes are this high, prior head-to-head results should be thrown out the window. Both teams are peaking at the right time, and that should lead to some exciting drama late into this Saturday night. Syracuse has been a shocking team this tournament, with nobody expecting them to go this far. They probably benefited the most from the top teams going down early, including the #2 team in their region, Michigan State, and their stunning first round loss. ‘Cuse has played phenomenally in two come from behind wins against Gonzaga and UVA, and the zone and press has caused all sorts of issues for teams this tournament, and I expect them to frustrate Carolina a bit as well. While Syracuse has battled through adversity in each round so far, UNC has had an easier ride, beating every opponent by at least 14 points. The Tar Heels have done so with great rebounding which has limited opponents to one shot and gave them second and third chances on offense, and also success from beyond the 3 point line. If they can hit that 3 ball against Syracuse, they should make it to the championship game on Monday night. I’m looking for Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney step up in this big spot for UNC to help them get past Syracuse. While this has been primarily a senior focused season, freshman Malachi Richardson has been huge for Carolina on both ends of the court and will have to continue that trend tonight. I think Joel Berry and Marcus Paige will need to hit their 3’s against the Cuse zone, and I do think they will be up to the task. Add in Brice Johnson and his double doubles in points and rebounds throughout the year, and one has a lot of to be confident about with this UNC squad. In light of this, I think the Cinderella story for Syracuse  will come to an end. UNC is too much to handle, and they are really clicking at the right time. Let’s not forget that UNC was the preseason number 1 entering the year, and if they perform as they should, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in the finals after Saturday night’s festivities.

I am picking Oklahoma and North Carolina to win tonight and advance to the championship game. I think both of these teams’s veterans and success throughout the year will guide them to victory. The Tar Heels and Sooners should make for another wild game for the championship. Both teams really match up well with strong rebounders, scoring, and senior leadership. I think most or all of America would pick UNC to win this game, as they were the preseason favorites, have great scorers, and have arguably the best rebounder in all of college basketball. However, I think Oklahoma is on a special run, and that they are destined to be the UConn of 2011 or the Syracuse of 2003 where one player takes his game to a whole new level. Buddy Hield will be that player in 2016. His play this season has been truly special, and I don’t see it falling short of a championship.


All of America can agree that this tournament has been nothing short of incredible, and I really am hoping for some more drama during these final games. It would be great to see some nail biters coming down to the wire, or a buzzer beater shot to end a game, or a multi-overtime marathon, or who knows what else to go along with the madness of this tournament. Hopefully, these final games are as exciting as the others, but while they happen, let’s not forget to reflect on this college basketball season, and all the insanity we enjoyed because of it.

Bracketeering – Round 1

Bracket fever is in full swing across the country, otherwise known by our bosses as the least productive work week of the year.

Here at PortaBloggy, our “Bracketeering” (TradeMark not yet pending) doesn’t just stop at the NCAA Tournament. Our creative minds theorized what it would be like if colleges with active NBA players had these current players represent their respective schools in a mega NCAA/NBA joint bracket.

Think of it this way: The University of Kentucky has 20 active players in the NBA. This accounts for the most players produced by any school, so we gave them the #1 seed. On the flip side, Wake Forest only has 6 active players in the league, so we tagged them with the #16 seed.

Our selection committee (party of one) assembled the best possible 5-man lineup using these available players. All statistics were provided to us by our good friends over at Basketball Reference*.

Follow? No? Whatever. Just share this on Twitter and hopefully a friend can help you out.

*we’re technically not friends yet, but that’s neither here nor there

Without further ado, on to…

. . .

Round 1

1. Kentucky – PG: John Wall, SG: Eric Bledsoe, F: Anthony Davis, PF: Karl Anthony Towns, C: DeMarcus Cousins
16. Wake Forest – PG: Chris Paul, SG: Jeff Teague, SF: James Johnson, PF: Al-Farouq Aminu, C: Tim Duncan

Kentucky – True to Kentucky fashion, the Wildcats kick things off as our #1 seed and tournament favorites. Top to bottom, this team is incredibly athletic, balanced, and star-studded, just like Calipari drew up. Players like Rajon Rondo, Julius Randle, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a dozen others couldn’t make the cut, showing how deep Kentucky’s presence in the NBA truly is.

The backcourt of John Wall, currently 3rd in the league in assists, and Bledsoe, averaging 20.4 PPG this year, would be a sufficient duo to take down most teams in this bracket on their own. Incredibly, they are joined by future MVP Anthony Davis, likely Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony Towns, and anchored by DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. If you can find a flaw with this team, you can have my job.

Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons feature arguably the greatest power forward of all time in Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental. Chris Paul, who has consistently averaged around 19 points and 10 assists per game during his tenure with the Clippers, is a future Hall of Famer himself. Jeff Teague has blossomed into an All Star guard in Atlanta, but Johnson and Aminu remain uninspiring. Sorry fans, you won’t be seeing a 16 over 1 upset this year. Duncan’s age, paired with CP3’s inability to win on a big stage [ducks for cover], leaves Wake Forest short of moving on.

Brandon’s Pick – Kentucky

. . .

8. Syracuse – PG: Michael Carter-Williams, SG: Dion Waiters, SF: Wesley Johnson, PF: Carmelo Anthony, C: Fab Melo
9. Texas – PG: D.J. Augustin, SG: Avery Bradley, SF: Kevin Durant, PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, C: Tristan Thompson

Lookout! It’s the battle of fanhoods for PortaBloggy contributors Kevin Hunker (Syracuse) and Brian Graney (Texas). Let’s see which writer gets bragging rights for the next year. Or, at least, until their first round of golf.

Syracuse – Syracuse is loaded with high-volume shot takers in Carmelo, Waiters, and MCW, but plagued by lackluster defense. Combined, the three scorers are shooting near 42% per game. It’s an eerily similar scouting report to Kevin Hunker’s own basketball skill set nonetheless. Wesley Johnson is a lanky wing who can play solid defense, but doesn’t have the height to effectively contain Durant (who can?). Poor Fab Melo gets his one shot to play next to the real Melo, but will struggle getting rebounds opposite Thompson.

Texas – A former MVP and a perennial top-10 MVP candidate, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge respectively, are virtually unstoppable together. Durant’s elite versatility and Aldridge’s prowess in the paint is a sight we get to see once a year at the All Star Game.

Avery Bradley has settled in nicely as an above-average defender. Tristan Thompson, an offensive rebound juggernaut, is averaging 3.4 ORB’s per game throughout his career. His proficiency around the rim can keep alive any rare miss by either Durant or Aldridge. Augustin, nothing more than a replacement level player at this point in his career, appears to be this teams weak point. It will be tough sledding for Syracuse in guarding Texas’s bigs up front, so I’ll chalk this up as a win for Brian Graney.

Brandon’s Pick – Texas

. . .

5. UCLA – PG: Russell Westbrook, SG: Jrue Holiday, SF: Arron Afflalo, PF: Trevor Ariza, C: Kevin Love
12. Georgia Tech – PG: Jarrett Jack, SG: Iman Shumpert, SF: Thaddeus Young, PF: Chris Bosh, C: Derrick Favors

UCLA – What an outstanding backcourt. Next to Steph Curry tha god, Russell Westbrook is undoubtedly the best point guard in the game. A truly elite playmaker, he may even have supplanted Kevin Durant as the best player on his team [ducks for cover]. Paired alongside the versatile playmaker in Jrue Holiday, UCLA will be able to feed Kevin Love down low or around the three point line with ease. Add in underrated wings in Afflalo and Ariza, the scoring should never be in drought. Defense, however, may be the knock against this team.

Georgia Tech – A talented frontcourt in Young, Bosh and Favors won’t be enough to offset the deficiencies in the backcourt. Jack is a serviceable veteran and is capable enough to share the rock with the bigs up front. Shumpert, with all of his glorious hair, rap songs, and Instagram posts, has settled into the role of a “Three and D” shooting guard. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the frontcourt won’t be able to carry this team to a win over UCLA.

Brandon’s Pick – UCLA

. . .

4. North Carolina – PG: Ty Lawson, SG: Danny Green, SF: Vince Carter, PF: Harrison Barnes, C: Tyler Hansbrough
13. LSU – PG: Marcus Thornton, SG: Garrett Temple. SF: Anthony Randolph, PF: Brandon Bass, C: Glen Davis

North Carolina – The Tar Heels boast a talented, balanced lineup. Vince Carter may be riding into the sunset, but he can still be an efficient player and veteran presence for this young squad. Harrison Barnes is finally coming into his own on the Golden State Warriors, and is certainly due for a sizable payday this summer.

On offense, the backcourt of Lawson and Green can be quite competent. Lawson, an undersized point guard, is a dynamic scorer and passer when healthy and not in jail. Danny Green is as good as they come at knocking down threes.

On defense, Lawson probably should take a defensive driving course for his abundant DUI arrests…and for allowing opposing point guards to drive to the hoop. Similarly, Green is a known liability against quick, athletic guards, which puts UNC at a bit of a disadvantage on the boards.

LSU – Aside from Brandon Bass and Marcus Thornton, no other player on this roster is a quality NBA starter. Anthony Randolph never panned out despite his potential, and Garret Temple can kick rocks. Big Baby can take all the charges he wants, but at the end of the day, he’s still Big Baby.

As long as Lawson can avoid getting pulled over on his way to the game, UNC will have no problem handling this sub-par LSU team.

Brandons Pick – North Carolina

. . .

6. Arizona – PG: Jason Terry, SG: Andre Iguodala, SF: Derrick Williams, PF: Aaron Gordon, C: Jordan Hill
11. University of Connecticut – PG: Shabazz Napier, SG:Kemba Walker, SF: Rudy Gay, PF: Charlie Villanueva, C: Andre Drummond

Arizona – The trio of Williams, Gordon, and Hill up front feature some of the best raw, athletic talent. You may or may not have seen Aaron Gordon sit on air during the dunk contest, but now combine that with defensive guru and reigning Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, and you have an Arizona team that can be aggressive with its strength and balance. Oh, and let’s not forget Jason “The Jet” Terry. The maker of many clutch baskets in his heyday. How can you bet against The Jet?

UConn – …and UConn is exactly why you can safely bet against The Jet. As the old adage goes, the three things you can count on in life: 1) death, 2) taxes, and 3)never bet against UConn in a tournament. Sure, Jeremy Lamb is a more talented player than Shabazz Napier. But Shabazz has that UConn magic. When in doubt kids, don’t ever doubt the UConn magic.

Brandon’s Pick – UConn

. . .

3. Duke – PG: Kyrie Irving, SG: JJ Redick, SF: Luol Deng, PF: Jabari Parker, C: Jahlil Okafor
14. Michigan – PG: Trey Burke, SG: Tim Hardaway, Jr. SF: Jamal Crawford, PF: Glen Robinson, C: Mitch McGary

Duke – You may hate Coach K, Laettner, the Cameron Crazies, and everything Dook, but you can’t deny their consistency year after year. The backcourt of Kyrie and Redick is a highly effective pairing. JJ is shooting an insane 48% from beyond the arc this year, and Irving has an effective field goal percentage at over 50%.

Deng, while getting up in age, has been a bulldog on defense throughout this career. Rounding this team off with talented young stars in Parker and Okafor, this Duke squad should have great ball movement and chemistry, and will find a way to win games.

Michigan – This version of the Fab Five doesn’t compare to the original of the 90’s. Former 6th man of the year and Mr. Crossover, Jamal Crawford is the only veteran on this team. The other four all played together in the NCAA championship game against Louisville in 2013. With none of those four standing out as anything more than young bloods learning the game, the Wolverines won’t have the experience to outlast the Blue Devils. ESPN won’t be making a 30 for 30 on this one, folks.

Brandon’s Pick – Duke

. . .

7. Florida – PG: Nick Calathes, SG: Bradley Beal, SF: Chandler Parsons, PF: Al Horford, C: Joakim Noah

10. Washington – PG: Isaiah Thomas, SG: Nate Robinson, SF:Terrence Ross, PF: Quincy Pondexter, C: Spencer Hawes

Florida – Featuring Billy Donovan era NCAA champions in Horford and Noah, it would be hard for opposing big men to clean up the glass against these two. Noah, who plays with passion and loves to get under opposing team’s skin, may be the scrappiest center in the game.

Parsons, shooting 42% from the 3 this year and 49% overall, and Bradley Beal, whose numbers are increasing all around year after year, form a solid core for this Gators team. As for Nick Calathes? Kicking rocks.

Washington – Breakout player and first-time All Star Isaiah Thomas is taking the league by storm. The pint-sized point guard is 10th in scoring this year, and quietly leading the Celtics on a charge into the postseason. Nate Robinson may be bouncing around the league, but there’s nothing more fun than watching Krypto-Nate bounce to the rim. He even did it wearing Shaq’s elephant sized shoes!

Terrence Ross is a complementary piece to this team, just like his complementary role to Lowry and DeRozan in Toronto. However, Pondexter can kick rocks and Hawes is terribly overrated and overpaid, whose numbers and minutes are diminishing each season.
Bracketeering at PortaBloggy isn’t for the faint of heart.

While Florida is the superior team, anything can happen in March (Hi FGCU). The diminutive duo of Isaiah and Nate will blow up for alternating 15-point scoring runs, and the Huskies pull out the upset in OT. If that’s too much for you to handle, you too can kick rocks with Calathes and Temple.

Brandon’s Pick – Washington

. . .

2. Kansas – PG: Mario Chalmers, SG: Andrew Wiggins, SF: Paul Pierce, PF: Marcus Morris, C: Markieff Morris
15. USC – PG: O.J. Mayo, SG: Nick Young, SF: DeMar DeRozan, PF: Taj Gibson, C: Nikola Vucevic

Kansas – Led by The Truth, the Jayhawks are a well balanced squad. Pierce may be old, but he’s adjusted to the game in his elder age rather nicely. Chalmers, love him or hate him, is a solid distributor and has plenty of big game experience from his time with the Heat.

Former top overall pick Andrew Wiggins would benefit with real life experience playing under Pierce’s wing, rather than the abyss that exists in Minnesota in regards to developing young stars. Wiggins is an effective scorer still learning the game, but has the talent to contribute at a high level today. Hopefully they don’t ship him up to Boston when he’s ready to win a ring…

The Morris twins, headcases they may be, have that from the womb to the hoop chemistry. Both big bodies and above average rebounders, they will keep Kansas competitive in every game.

USC – Let’s go from the bigs down for this one… Vucevic is an underappreciated player on a rebuilding Orlando team. A big body with a deft touch, many teams would be more than happy to have Vucevic anchoring the paint. Taj Gibson, more of a 6th man than a starter, has the length and experience to contribute nicely.

DeMar DeRozan has improved tremendously over the course of his career, and earned a well-deserved All Star berth this season. He reminds me of a young Kobe-lite. As for Swaggy P and OJ Mayo…oh boy. Unfortunately for USC, they’ll end up forfeiting this game as the two will be ejected for fighting (each other) in the first half. Swaggy P get’s KO’d in case you were wondering.

Brandon’s Pick – Kansas

And that about wraps up Round 1 coverage. Round 2 featuring the Elite 8, Final 4, and the Championship game is coming your way later on.

March Madness 2016

Each year, the country is drawn to the insanity of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. From the casual sports fan to the current student to the crazy alum, each is drawn to the games in a winner-take-all tournament. Everyone knows the big names: Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, and UCLA, but this year there is no clear cut favorite. Due to this, the 2016 tournament is poised to be one hell of a ride.

The casual fan in America probably hates the idea that there is no clear favorite entering the tournament. He or she wants a dominant #1 so they can win the office pool or some bets in Vegas. As an avid college basketball fan, I love this. Why? Because of one reason and one reason alone, the chaos. It makes it so much more entertaining that a small school can upset a traditional powerhouse in this year’s tournament. Think of the years where teams such as George Mason, Davidson, Florida Gulf Coast, or VCU went on runs. It creates better stories, and the nation does seem to be much more interested if there’s potential for a Cinderella Story to make it all the way.

We all know everyone loves filling out brackets. People pick the games and hope against hope that they can get that perfect bracket, along with the fat prize check that comes with it. There are all types of strategies for picking: which mascot would win in a fight? I like the color blue instead of red. That team has cool bench celebrations. That senior looks pretty cute. (Looking at you, Ryan Arcidiacono) This year, you probably can keep whatever strategy you’ve been using the past 17 years and you might turn into a genius, and a millionaire. If you don’t have any slightly insane methods for picking the games, well, you might want to get on it. This tournament is wide open.

Why is this tournament such a crapshoot? There are several reasons. First, top ranked teams have been taking losses like crazy. Just this week, 8 of the top 10 teams lost. That is insane! If you take a look at the rankings this year, the recurring theme has been the number one ranked team staying in that spot for two or three weeks and then dropping due to a loss or losses. The longest a team has been ranked #1 in the AP Poll was Michigan State. They held that honor for four weeks earlier in the season. The rest of the season, the #1 ranked team has held for three weeks or less. In fact, this even carries over to the Top 10. Teams make it into the Top 10 and lose a game or two and subsequently drop. That is not supposed to happen, and we are a week from the conference tournaments! One has to believe the upsets are just beginning, and that the the 64th ranked team has just as good of an opportunity to win the tournament as the Number 1.

Another reason for this unpredictable year is the “one and done” rule. College basketball has been and is becoming a one-year pit stop on some star players’ roads to the NBA. These players don’t care about going to class, and they don’t care about the team. They care about getting through that one year of college, and then being on their way to the draft and to being a professional. It’s hard to blame them; if I had their talent, I would probably take that route too. The NCAA can fix this, but they choose not to, and as a result, many players jump to the NBA or overseas prematurely. College basketball is about developing as a player, and most of these guys are still pretty raw after their one-year. Coaches can work with them to encourage them to work as part of a team, teach them how to handle adversity, and how to improve their game. By leaving early, players are depriving themselves of these experiences, and America of the opportunity to see a game with higher teamwork and chemistry.

The third big reason for inconsistency in top teams’ play is the lack of talent of some of the “top freshmen.” Every year, we see the McDonald’s All Americans who are going to take the college basketball world by storm. This year, there are two top freshmen, and then everyone else. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are the top two freshmen in college basketball this year. They have so much talent that they are projected as the number 1 and 2 picks in most NBA mock drafts, but there aren’t many freshman players close behind them. Even so, both aren’t accomplishing as much as you would expect of players of their caliber in college. Ben Simmons, for example, is the best player in the country, yet his team, LSU, may not even make it to the tournament!

Also an issue this season is poor play on the road. It would seem that during conference play, teams are having a difficult team dealing with the adversity that comes with playing on road, mainly from being out of their element and dealing with deafening noise from fans. We’ve seen normally tightly coached teams become prone to dumb mistakes, which wind up being costly if the home team can capitalize. High emotion rivalries are also huge, and this year is no different. Higher ranked teams come into a rivalry building with a target on their back, and can end up dropping the game if they aren’t composed and smart with the basketball. This can come into play during the tournament as teams are playing far away from their campuses, and have to deal with travel after every couple rounds.

The final big reason for the inconsistency this year is injuries. I know every team is going to experience nicks and bruises throughout the season, but it seems that a lot of players have been hurt and have been out for a long period of time, and other players haven’t stepped up. Some teams put all their eggs in one basket with their star, and when that player goes down, the team is left scrambling. If you look at any team, you can find a top player who was, or is, currently hurt. I know injuries happen, but teams not being prepared and the lack of that player bouncing back has definitely damaged their seasons, and may continue to affect them in the tournament.

“The Tourney” is probably my favorite event to watch. I am locked and loaded from opening tip until the final score. I won’t give you my answer for who I think will win this tournament, as it is only March 1, and there is still plenty that can happen, but I firmly believe this tournament will keep up with the overarching season theme of extreme volatility. There will be upsets. Top programs will fall. Cinderella’s will be born. So get your best bracket picking strategy ready, because it might actually pay off this time around.

Let the chaos begin!