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All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/2016-ncaa-tournament-friday-sweet-16-preview-predictions
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We might as well call the second night of Sweet 16 matchups "ACC Friday" with each game featuring a team out of the conference. It's hard not to find a Sweet 16 pairing not involving the ACC anyways with the success the conference is having. Friday also features the best game of the Sweet 16 with Indiana taking on North Carolina. I know the folks in Philadelphia and Chicago are happy with how everything turned out in the first two rounds.

 

NCAA Tournament Friday Sweet 16 Games

Note: All times Eastern, some start times are approximate

 

No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Chicago (Midwest Region)

Preview: Iowa State has vanquished two mid-majors so far this Tournament, knocking off Iona and Arkansas-Little Rock. There's no doubting whether or not the talent was there with the Cyclones, but it was could they put it together for 40 minutes? So far so good although the challenge becomes much bigger now. Virginia plays really good defense and just won't let Iowa State get into the track meet it prefers. Malcolm Brogdon will be a tough cover for any Cylclone defender, but can another Cavalier provide some scoring? We know London Perrantes can shoot and Anthony Gill is tough inside.

Prediction: Virginia 67-63

 

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame

TV: 7:27 p.m. ET, TBS

Site: Philadelphia (East Region)

Preview: Two teams that didn't think they'd still be playing meet in Philly in this one. The Fighting Irish needed comebacks to beat both Michigan and Stephen F. Austin while Wisconsin beat up on Pitt and came from behind on Xavier. Whenever March rolls around, it's hard to bet against the Badgers, no matter who is coaching. Greg Gard has done a fantastic job with this team although a lot of credit goes to Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes among others. I think this one is a toss-up.

Prediction: Notre Dame 66-65

 

Related: 

 

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse

TV: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Chicago (Midwest Region)

Preview: For once, Gonzaga wasn't the hunted and it has seemingly fit this role nicely. The Bulldogs’ front court with Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer will be really important in this matchup as they get a look at a true zone defense in Syracuse. The Orange limped into the field, but proved they could flip the switch in shutting down both Dayton and Middle Tennessee. They could be able to do that again, if Trevor Cooney continues to score. He's the big x-factor for the team out of the ACC.

Prediction: Syracuse 67-63

 

Related: 

 

No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina

TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, TBS

Site: Philadelphia (East Region)

Preview: The Hoosiers arguably played the best of any team in the first round, dismantling Chattanooga, which many (including me) thought could win the game outright. Indiana struggled against Kentucky, but it says a lot that Tom Crean’s team gutted out a win. The big question will be health with several guys banged up entering this one. The other question is will we get a focused effort from North Carolina or all 40 minutes? The best game of the day is the last one. The winner of the Marcus Paige vs. Yogi Ferrell matchup goes on to the Elite Eight.

Prediction: North Carolina 80-75

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Top photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati, courtesy of )

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Tournament Friday Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/indiana-hoosiers-vs-north-carolina-tar-heels-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
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College basketball elitists are already giddy about this Sweet 16 pairing of No. 1 North Carolina and No. 5 Indiana, a matchup between two of the game’s greatest traditional programs.

 

Carolina comes into this game hitting its stride at the right time after winning the ACC regular season and tournament championships and beating No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast, and No. 9 Providence handily in the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Tar Heels fans are hungry for another national title, and this team certainly has the talent to hang another banner in the Dean Dome. The Heels are led in scoring by national player of the year candidate and big man Brice Johnson — but Carolina doesn’t just dominate the paint, with top-end guard play coming from Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige on the perimeter.

 

The basketball pressure cooker that is Bloomington, Ind., almost got the best of Tom Crean last season as losses and player arrests and dismissals were piling up. Crean responded with his best coaching performance since he’s been in Bloomington, winning the outright Big Ten regular season title and defeating archrival Kentucky last Saturday in the second round. The Hoosiers go as senior point guard Yogi Ferrell go — and Yogi goes fast. Controlled, yet, fast — reminiscent of Branch McCracken’s “Hurryin’ Hoosiers” teams of yesteryear. With the Indianapolis native Ferrell running the show alongside high-octane forward Troy Williams, the Hoosiers are the most fun, and probably the most up-tempo offensive team left in the Tournament.

 

No. 5 Indiana Hoosiers (27-7) vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (30-6)

 

When: 9:57 p.m. ET (Friday)

Where: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

TV: TBS

Line: North Carolina -6

 

Keys for North Carolina

Roy Williams’ message to his team is simple — play your game. Carolina can run up and down the floor well enough, but doesn’t want to turn this contest into a track meet with the Hoosiers. The Heels have a noticeable advantage in the frontcourt, starting with the 6-foot-10 Brice Johnson. Johnson averages a double-double (16.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg) and also leads the team in blocks. In short — he’s a beast that Indiana’s mid-size big men can’t handle.

 

North Carolina also has depth in the paint behind Johnson with Kennedy Meeks, Isiah Hicks and Justin Jackson, all three of whom are listed as “significant contributors” in terms of percentage of possessions used according to KenPom. The 6-foot-8 Jackson has the ability to knock down jumpers from outside of the paint, likely drawing one of the Hoosiers’ best rim protectors, Troy Williams or OG Anunoby, away from the paint.

 

Defensively, Carolina has to find a way to frustrate Yogi Ferrell — easier said than done. But more than Ferrell, the Tar Heels have to slow down Troy Williams. Williams, who tends to get in his own way at times, can get to the bucket with more explosiveness than anyone Carolina has seen this season. Getting back in transition and getting a hand in the face of Indiana’s shooters is going to be paramount.

 

Keys for Indiana

First thing’s first — the Hoosiers have to shoot the ball better. Another 6-of-21 showing from three-point range, like they had against Kentucky, isn’t going to fly against the high-scoring Tar Heels. The Hoosiers have the ability to get hot behind the arc unlike any other team in the nation, with all five guys on the floor being able to stretch the floor and knock down jumpers.

It’s unlikely that freshman Thomas Bryant will be able to repeat his brilliant performance that he had against Kentucky (19 points, 7-for-9 FT) against the trees of Carolina. If the Hoosiers are to pull off back-to-back upsets, it’s going to have to come from the perimeter.

 

It starts with Ferrell. He is the soul and the engine of this squad — and so far this Tournament, he has been brilliant, scoring 20 points and pulling down 10 boards against Chattanooga, and adding 18 points against Kentucky. More importantly, Ferrell is protecting the basketball, with just three turnovers compared to 14 assists in the first two games.

 

But it’s not just Ferrell that will have to produce. Williams and Anunoby give the Hoosiers firecracker explosion from the wings in transition and with hustle plays. But the biggest input is going to have to come from behind the arc from role players Collin Hartman, Nick Zeisloft and Max Bielfeldt, especially with starting guard Robert Johnson’s availability in limbo for this game. Also Bryant is going to need help in the post, calling on every single Hoosier to crash the boards and gather rebounds.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Hoosiers are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country and the Tar Heels are one of the worst at defending the arc. North Carolina is dominant in the frontcourt, and Indiana is limited.

 

Both have tradition. Both have pageantry. Both have entrenched, nationwide, basketball-crazed fan bases.

 

So something has to give.

 

When it comes to breaking down a matchup, I typically stick to what common sense and the numbers tell me. Basic logic and the analytics say that North Carolina has all the tools and advantages to handle Indiana, especially with the discrepancy in the paint. But March has a way of kicking the numbers and logic to the side and giving us something that we’ve never seen before, something special — just look at Middle Tennessee.

 

The Tar Heels are peaking at just the right time, hitting on all cylinders, on both ends of the floor. They look like a national title contender and they’re playing like one... but there is just something about these Hoosiers.

 

Prediction: Indiana 82, North Carolina 80

Teaser:
Indiana Hoosiers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/gonzaga-bulldogs-vs-syracuse-orange-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
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How good is the ACC this year? Consider this: If Syracuse beats Gonzaga on Friday the worst place they could technically finish in the NCAA Tournament is eighth. That would be two spots higher than their 10th-place finish in the ACC this season.

 

Not sold yet? By now you’ve heard that the ACC sent a record six teams to the Sweet 16. What many people may forget is that Louisville, which finished No. 16 in the AP Poll and fourth in the conference, was not allowed to participate due to a self-imposed postseason ban. Long story short; the ACC is dangerous. West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga will have its hands full with Syracuse in this Sweet 16 matchup.

 

No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-7) vs. No. 10 Syracuse Orange (21-13)

 

When: 9:40 p.m. ET (Friday

Where: United Center (Chicago)

TV: CBS

Line: Gonzaga -4.5

 

Keys for Gonzaga

The most dynamic frontcourt in all of college basketball hails from Spokane, Wash. Domantas Sabonis is your stereotypical power forward. He can attack the glass and make gritty plays inside. Kyle Wiltjer is a stretch forward who has shot better 43 percent from three-point range on nearly 200 attempts. Needless to say, this duo isn’t the easiest to match up against. Gonzaga’s best players will need to continue to shine, and the Bulldogs’ defense will have to match the intensity that was on display in the first two rounds. If Gonzaga can contain Syracuse star Michael Gbinije like it did Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead (4-for-24 shooting, 0-for-10 on 3s) the Bulldogs will win this basketball game.

 

Keys for Syracuse

Syracuse cannot afford to be too content with back-to-back blowout wins by an average of 22 points. Neither Dayton nor Middle Tennessee has players even close to the caliber of Gonzaga’s frontcourt tandem. Jim Boeheim’s infamous 2-3 zone will have to be dominant, especially in the low post, in order to keep Gonzaga’s scorers in check. The x-factor for Syracuse on offense will be senior sharpshooter Trevor Cooney. Those NBA-range threes he has become known for must be falling in order for Syracuse to keep pace with the Bulldogs.

 

Final Analysis

 

Mark Few and Gonzaga appear to be on a mission in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. While both teams come into this matchup off of consecutive routs in the first two rounds, Gonzaga’s level of competition was significantly higher. The Bulldogs are playing their best basketball when it matters most, and the combination of Sabonis and Wiltjer will be too much for the Orange to handle. Unless Syracuse can make this the sloppiest game of the Tournament thus far and pull off a tight victory, Gonzaga should be moving on to the Elite Eight.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 71, Syracuse 66

Teaser:
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Syracuse Orange: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/wisconsin-badgers-vs-notre-dame-fighting-irish-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

Through four combined wins so far in the 2016 NCAA Tournament No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 6 Wisconsin have outscored their opponents by a total of 15 points. These programs just have a knack for getting it done in March, as well as a flair for the dramatic.

 

Each team is coming off of a game-winning shot in their respective second round matchup. Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger tipped home a rebound with 1.5 seconds left to beat upset-minded Stephen F. Austin, while Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig drained a fadeaway three-pointer as time expired to send No. 2 Xavier home. Are more fireworks to be expected in the Sweet 16?

 

No. 7 Wisconsin (22-12) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (23-11)

 

When: 7:27 p.m. ET (Friday)

Where: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

TV: TBS

Line: Notre Dame -1

 

Keys for Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s defense has been stout thus far in the NCAA Tournament, and as long as the Badgers can score enough points to stay close they have a chance to pull out every game in the final minutes. New head coach Greg Gard has done an incredible job turning this team into a legitimate contender after a sloppy start to the season (9-9). Gard needs a lengthy scouting report on Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste in order to keep his first Tournament run alive. Additionally, Nigel Hayes desperately needs to snap out of his shooting funk (5-for-27, 18.5 percent in first two games), as he creates a problem for the Notre Dame defense when his shots are falling.

 

Keys for Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish and head coach Mike Brey have had a remarkable run the previous two NCAA Tournaments. The experience that this veteran group gained in 2015 will be the key to them advancing even further this year. Auguste is now a legitimate beast in the low post, and his NBA Draft stock has to be on the rise following consecutive double-double outings. He will once again be the man against a Wisconsin team that is without a bona fide big to keep him in check. If Auguste can get Badgers freshman Ethan Happ in foul trouble early by taking it to him on low block, the senior may be due for another huge outing.

 

Final Analysis

 

The one certainty about this matchup is that it is not going to be an easy victory for either side. Both teams will have to work extra hard to get open looks at the basket. Whichever team fights harder for loose balls and second chance opportunities will come out on top. Be sure to tune in for at least the final minutes of this tilt, as late-game heroics are pretty much guaranteed.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 64, Wisconsin 62

 

(Stefan Jankovic photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/iowa-state-cyclones-vs-virginia-cavaliers-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Iowa State Cyclones had little problem defeating No. 13 Iona and No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock. Unlike Iowa State, the Virginia Cavaliers had a battle in their second round game against the Butler Bulldogs.

 

Virginia beat Butler 77-69 behind 22 points and five rebounds from ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. The Cavaliers will look to defeat the Cyclones on Friday night to advance to their first Elite Eight since 1995.

 

No. 4 Iowa State Cyclones (23-11) vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (28-7)

 

When: 7:10 p.m. ET (Friday)

Where: United Center (Chicago)

TV: CBS

Line: Virginia -5.5

 

Keys for Iowa State

Iowa State has looked tremendous in victories over Iona and Arkansas-Little Rock, but defeating Virginia will take a lot more than the Cyclones have shown in the Tournament so far. They will need to hit shots from beyond the arc, as they're averaging 38.6 percent from three-point land this season. Virginia's defense is relentless, so Iowa State will need to be crisp and committed in its execution to get quality shots in the paint later in the game.

 

Keys for Virginia

Virginia should look to attack the basket early with shots inside. Iowa State has had problems staying in front of opponents with its 2-3 zone. The Cavaliers also need to crash the boards since the Cyclones are ranked No.121 in adjusted rebounding.

 

Final Analysis

 

Iowa State will look to run its up-tempo offense, but this Virginia team will be more than happy to pick up the pace. If the Cavaliers can get the Cyclones in foul trouble, that will open up more shots from the perimeter. Virginia tends to make fewer mistakes than most teams and that's why the Cavaliers will be victorious on Friday night.

 

Prediction: Virginia 72, Iowa State 64

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on [email protected]

Teaser:
Iowa State Cyclones vs. Virginia Cavaliers: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Sergio Garcia, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-11-sergio-garcia
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s .

 

No. 11: Sergio Garcia

Born: Jan. 9, 1980, Borriol, Castellon, Spain | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (11 on the European Tour) | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,670,229 (31st) | World Ranking: 14

 

Gary Williams' Take: Now 36, Sergio has spent more than 300 weeks in the top 10 in the world in his career and has finished second in majors on four occasions with an additional six top-5 finishes. So why do we all get cynical when we talk about him? It’s a combination of expectation and attitude. He has been one of the five most talented players in the game for 15 years, but he leaves you wanting more, last winning on the PGA Tour in 2012 at the Wyndham Championship. He has 10 top 5s in majors and 20 top 10s, and he’s been a Ryder Cup linchpin. Questions remain: Will he win a major, and where will his best chance come? The Open Championship seems to be the answer with four top 5s and nine top 10s at golf’s oldest major. He’s beloved in Europe and feels most comfortable on the Open rota’s slower greens. Worth noting: He has an exemplary record in the event with the strongest field in golf, the Players Championship. I’d make him the favorite there and a good horse at Royal Troon to get his first major.


Major Championship Résumé
Starts
: 69
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T17
    U.S. Open – T18
    British Open – T6
    PGA Championship – T54
Best Career Finishes
    Masters - T4 (2004)
    U.S. Open - T3 (2005)
    British Open – 2/T2 (2007, ’14)
    PGA Championship - 2/T2 (1999, 2008)
Top-10 Finishes: 20
Top-25 Finishes: 31
Missed Cuts: 18

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 10:50
Path: /college-football/keyshawn-johnson-jrs-commit-sign-mike-rileys-future-success-nebraska
Body:

Fourteen words may very well have changed the trajectory of football. "I told you I was going to make my own path. Go Big Red.” Now’s the time to buy all of the Big Red stock you can.

 

No, the Huskers aren’t going to best Alabama in next season’s College Football Playoff. But thanks to the words of their newest commit, four-star wide receiver and legacy Keyshawn Johnson Jr., they’re inching closer back towards national relevancy.

 

One player can’t win a game or even make a recruiting class. However, all it takes is rolling a snowball the size of your palm downhill to start something big. That’s what Mike Riley has done in securing the prized recruit out of Calabasas, Calif.

 

Riley and his staff were shooting offers out to four- and five-stars left and right early in this cycle. They’re cultivating the relationships that will ultimately result in commitments.

 

If not for Riley, All-Everything five-star Darnay Holmes may already have chosen a future in Palo Alto with the Stanford Cardinal. He still may, but the point is that there is a legitimate chance he may wear a different shade of red.

 

The Huskers are hot on the trail of another legacy in Calabasas High’s quarterback and Johnson’s teammate Tristan Gebbia. It’s down to the Ole Miss Rebels, where his father played, and Nebraska.

 

Why is this happening? Riley. For all of the crap he’s dealt with following a disastrous 6-7 first year as the Huskers’ head man, there has to be something awfully tantalizing for this elite talent to want in. Keyshawn Johnson Sr. couldn’t have put it any better.

 

 

Yes, it’s that simple. No pixie dust, no sleepovers, nothing that’ll make headlines. Just honest relationship building and trust that boys will become men on and off the gridiron. What will make headlines is when players like Johnson commit to Riley’s cause – and there will be more.

 

With the talent infusion Riley will be bringing in, it would take a monumental effort to fail and he is simply putting in too much hard work to do that. If there were an area where he and his staff were cutting corners, that would be a lie or at best blowing smoke. Despite what some Nebraska fans may think of last season’s outcome, Riley does know what he’s doing.

 

Don’t take one high-profile commitment as proof. Let them build up. If that’s not enough to allow the cynicism let up a bit, that’s fine. Many fans prefer to let the win and loss columns do the talking. That’s totally understandable.

 

However, to think that Riley is merely stockpiling talent before he’s escorted out following poor performances a la Bill Callahan before Scott Frost is hurriedly given the keys to the Big Red castle is misguided.

 

He’s an excellent judge of talent and he sees it not only in the players he coaches, but in the program he represents. Despite fans’ disdain and harsh words for him last year, he agrees that he, his coaching staff and his players must do better, that they must expect better of themselves and perform to a higher standard.

 

He wants what all Nebraska fans want, but there’s still a disconnection because some think he’s just some schmuck from Corvallis who can’t make it in the big time.

 

There will be a day, maybe a year from now, maybe a few when people will be able to point to Johnson’s commitment and realize something. It didn’t mean Nebraska was “back,” but it gave notice that the Huskers were anything but dead all thanks to Riley.

 

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to like his follow him on Twitter () and on Periscope ().

Teaser:
Keyshawn Johnson Jr.'s Commit a Sign of Mike Riley's Future Success at Nebraska
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/big-ten-top-15-players-rise-2016
Body:

Breakout players and the emergence of new faces are one of college football’s annual traditions. Players can go from a backup position into a starting role to earn all-conference honors or produce a big season. Incoming or redshirt freshmen can also make an impact in their first season on campus. Regardless of how players arrive on campus, it’s no secret a new wave of standouts will emerge next season.

 

With spring practice underway across the nation, this is the first opportunity for coaching staffs to get a look at how their team stacks up for 2016. Additionally, this is also the first chance for players to step up into the spotlight and emerge as a breakout candidate.

 

Who are the names to watch in 2016 as players on the rise in the Big Ten? Here are 15 names to watch this spring:

 

15 Big Ten Players on the Rise for 2016

 

Brian Allen, OL, Michigan State

Allen has been a key cog in the trenches in his first two years on campus, but with the departures of Jack Conklin (LT) and Jack Allen (C), the Spartans need more of their versatile junior. The Illinois played in 12 games as a true freshman and became a full-time player in 2015 by recording 12 starts. Allen has played both guard spots and received snaps at center, and his flexibility is key for a revamped offensive line. Allen is listed as the starting center on Michigan State’s first depth chart, but he could end up at guard by the fall.

 

Related:

 

Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota

New coach Tracy Claeys is hoping a new play-caller and direction helps Minnesota take a step forward on offense after finishing 13th in the Big Ten in scoring (22.5 ppg) in 2015. Jay Johnson takes over the offense after five seasons at UL Lafayette and inherits a few talented pieces to work with, including two promising running backs in Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. While both players are going to see carries, the guess here is Brooks emerges as the team’s No. 1 back. In 12 games as a true freshman last season, Brooks recorded 709 yards and seven scores. He averaged a healthy 5.96 yards per attempt and grabbed 17 receptions for 167 yards.

 

Jonathan Crawford, S, Indiana

Defense has been Indiana’s Achilles heel in recent years. The Hoosiers have ranked 10th or worse in the Big Ten in scoring defense in each of the last eight years. But there is reason for optimism in Bloomington. The addition of Tom Allen as the unit’s play-caller is a step in the right direction, and there is talent returning in the back seven. Crawford is one of the promising players in place for Allen, as the Florida native finished second on the team with 76 stops as a true freshman last season. Additionally, Crawford intercepted four passes, forced one fumble and broke up one pass in 2015.

 

Michael Deiter, OL, Wisconsin

Producing standout offensive linemen is an annual tradition at Wisconsin. However, the Badgers experienced some growing pains up front last year. While last year wasn’t up to the usual standard, coach Paul Chryst returns a group with a lot of promise for 2016. Deiter started all 13 games as a redshirt freshmen last season, including the final five at center after Dan Voltz was lost for the year due to injury. Deiter should be one of the anchors on the line for Chryst in 2016.

 

Related:

 

Nick Gates, OT, Nebraska

Nebraska loses four key members of last season’s offensive line, but two full-time starters return to anchor this group in 2016. Gates started 10 games as a redshirt freshman at right tackle last year and is expected to anchor the left side of the line in 2016. With another offseason to work in the weight room and under coach Mike Riley, expect Gates to thrive as the anchor of Nebraska’s offensive line next season.

 

Grant Haley, CB, Penn State

A couple of Penn State defensive backs could fit in this space, as Haley, John Reid and Marcus Allen are all promising players for new coordinator Brent Pry. Haley started all 11 games he played in last season and finished with 42 tackles (two for a loss), two interceptions and seven pass breakups. His emergence last year was a key reason why Penn State allowed only nine touchdown passes in Big Ten action. Additionally, Haley earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2015. He should take another step forward this spring.

 

Parker Hesse, DE, Iowa

With the uncertainty surrounding Drew Ott’s status for 2016, the emergence of Hesse last season is an even bigger development for Iowa as it heads into spring practice. The Iowa native shifted from linebacker to defensive end during his redshirt year (2014) and was pressed into a starting role last year after Ott was lost for the season. Hesse played in all 14 games for the Hawkeyes and recorded two sacks, three tackles for a loss (44 overall stops) and one forced fumble. With another offseason to work at defensive end, Hesse should become an even bigger presence off the edge for Iowa.

 

Related:

 

Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defense is under construction this spring. New co-coordinator Greg Schiano inherits only three returning starters, and each level of the defense was hit hard by departures. Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt leave big shoes to fill in the trenches, but Ohio State isn’t short on talent. Tyquan Lewis returns at one end spot after recording eight sacks last year, and the coaching staff is counting on Hubbard to increase his production as a full-time player. As a redshirt freshman last season, Hubbard recorded 6.5 sacks, eight tackles for a loss and forced one fumble.

 

Markell Jones, RB, Purdue

Purdue’s offense is in desperate need of a spark after averaging only 4.8 yards per play last season. Coach Darrell Hazell has a few promising players to build around in 2016, including running back Markell Jones and quarterback David Blough. After earning Mr. Football honors in Indiana as a high school senior, Jones made an instant impact as a true freshman. In 12 appearances, Jones recorded 875 yards and 10 scores and caught 34 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown. He should build on those totals in 2016.

 

Tyler Lancaster, DT, Northwestern

Lancaster didn’t make a huge contribution on the stat sheet for coach Pat Fitzgerald in 2015, but his impact on the defense goes beyond the box score. In 13 games last year, Lancaster recorded 33 tackles (5.5 for a loss), 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. The Illinois native was a big reason why Northwestern ranked third in the Big Ten (conference-only games) against the run. Additionally, opposing rushers in conference play averaged only 3.2 yards per rush. Expect Lancaster to push for All-Big Ten honors next year.

 

Robert Martin/Josh Hicks, RB, Rutgers

New coach Chris Ash inherits an offense with question marks at quarterback, receiver and on the offensive line, but the Scarlet Knights have a solid group of running backs in place. Hicks and Martin led the way for the offense last season and combined for 1,437 yards and six touchdowns. This duo has showed plenty of promise over the last two seasons and should provide a solid foundation for new coordinator Drew Mehringer to build the offense around next fall.

 

Related:

 

D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

Maryland’s offense had its share of ups and downs last season, and new coordinator Walt Bell inherits a unit that averaged only 22.3 points in Big Ten games. Despite the uneven quarterback play, there were signs of promise at receiver in 2015. Levern Jacobs and Taivon Jacobs combined to catch 56 passes, while Moore – as a true freshman – grabbed 25 for 357 yards and three scores. Assuming the Terrapins can generate more consistent play out of their quarterbacks, Moore should be able to increase his totals from 2015 and become an even bigger part of the offense. Talented sophomore linemen Derwin Gray and Damian Prince are two other names to watch this spring.

 

Grant Newsome, OL, Michigan

Newsome has only played in four career games for the Wolverines, but the sophomore is a player to watch next season. With center Graham Glasgow departing, coach Jim Harbaugh and line coach Tim Drevno are shuffling the five starters up front. Mason Cole – last year’s starter at left tackle – is slated to move to center. With Cole moving to center, Newsome is slated to take over at left tackle. Newsome was a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and has the necessary size (6-foot-7, 300 pounds) to anchor the blindside for the starting quarterback.

 

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Illinois

Vaughn quietly impressed as a true freshman last season and is poised to take on a bigger role in the ground attack under new coach Lovie Smith. The Tennessee native led the team with 723 rushing yards and six scores and recorded 16 receptions for 119 yards. Vaughn recorded just one game of more than 100 yards (Purdue), but he also recorded only one contest of more than 20 carries. With more opportunities expected in 2016, Vaughn should increase his production as a sophomore.

 

Dedrick Young, LB, Nebraska

Young wasted no time making an impact in his first season in Lincoln. The Arizona native started 11 contests as a true freshman and ranked fourth on the team with 61 tackles. Additionally, Young recorded five of those tackles for a loss and broke up three passes. Young is only going to get better with more experience, and coordinator Mark Banker should expect another step forward from Young next season.

Teaser:
15 Big Ten Players on the Rise for 2016
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-podcast-transfer-rules-tv-networks-and-jim-harbaugh
Body:

Braden Gall, David Fox and Mitch Light cover all of the media talks from the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 while discussing Jim Harbaugh's latest antics as well as Kirby Smart's transfer rule.

 

- Mike Gundy had some strong words about the future of the Big 12 and the impact the Longhorn Network has had on it. What does the Big 12 need fix to move forward and survive?

 

- Can the ACC support its own network and is there any urgency to go down that road for John Swofford?

 

- Harbaugh jabs Ohio State... again. Petty or genius? He is also camping in Waco with Art Briles and Baylor.

 

- Kirby Smart has changed Georgia's transfer rule. Do we think this is the right thing to do or is Smart just doing what's best for his program?

 

- With all of the craziness of the first weekend in the NCAA tournament, the guys try to draw comparisons to buzzer beaters, historic combacks and crazy upsets in college football.

 

 

Send any ideas, questions or comments to  @AthlonMitch or @DavidFox615 or email . The podcast can be found on  and our .

Teaser:
College Football Podcast: Transfer Rules, TV Networks and Jim Harbaugh
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 09:49
Path: /college-football/oregon-state-beavers-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Year one under Gary Andersen ended up being as rough as expected for . Andersen took over a program in need of a complete overhaul. It quickly showed on the field. The Beavers sank to a 2-10 record after losing their final nine games and finished without a win in conference play for the first time since 1997.

 

Will things be better for Andersen and Oregon State in year two? Climbing back up the ladder may be a difficult task with major question marks at key positions for the Beavers and a schedule full of Pac-12 foes expected to be as tough as they were a year ago.

 

College Football Podcast: Transfer Rules, TV Networks and Jim Harbaugh



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4 Storylines to Watch in Oregon State’s Spring Practice

 

1. Finding a new quarterback

For the second straight season, Oregon State will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. Seth Collins and Nick Mitchell split starting duties in 2015. Both players transferred out of the program after the season, with Collins heading to Northern Illinois and Mitchell going to Dixie State (Utah).

 

Utah State transfer Darell Garretson, sophomore Marcus McMaryion and true freshman Mason Moran will be competing to take over the starting quarterback job. Garretson figures to have the inside track because of his experience. The junior was a part-time starter for the Aggies in 2013 and ‘14.

 

Garretson played in 13 games for Utah State and threw for 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns before transferring to the Beavers at the end of the 2014 season. He started seven games for the Aggies in 2013, going 6-1 with a Poinsettia Bowl victory over Northern Illinois, and played in five games in 2014 before a season-ending wrist injury sidelined him.

 

2. Clune makes his debut

Oregon State also will have a new defensive coordinator for a second consecutive season. Former defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake left to take over as head coach at BYU. For his replacement, Andersen brought in Kevin Clune , who worked as a defensive assistant under him at Utah State from 2009-12.

 

Clune comes to Corvallis after working as Utah State's defensive coordinator last season. He has a major rebuilding job on his hands in year one. Oregon State ranked near the bottom of most key Pac-12 defensive categories last season and surrendered an average of 642.5 yards per game over its final four contests.

 

3. Can the offensive line stay healthy?

Injuries hit the Beavers hard in the trenches a year ago. Gavin Andrews, a projected starter at right guard, missed the entire 2015 season with a foot injury. Sean Harlow, a three-year starter at left tackle, also went down with a season-ending foot injury in late October.

 

Both Andrews and Harlow are back, along with returning starters Dustin Stanton and Fred Lauina. They are joined up front by BYU transfer Brayden Kearsley, who is the team's new starting center. Kearsley appeared in 18 games over two seasons at right guard for the Cougars before transferring in 2014. Oregon State will need the group to stay healthy since depth and experience are both thin on the offensive line after the starting five.

 

4. Will the receivers blossom under a new quarterback?

Oregon State had one of the worst passing offenses in the Pac-12 last season. If Garretson wins the job as expected, that could change. Garretson is not a run-first type of quarterback the way Collins was at times last season. He is more likely to move the chains through the air.

 

Garretson will have a talented group of receivers returning to work with as targets. Jordan Villamin totaled a team-high 660 yards and five touchdowns on 43 catches last season. Caleb Smith also is back after missing all but two games last season. Smith has 573 yards and nine touchdowns on 48 career receptions for the Beavers.

 

Oregon State's Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12

 

Things can't be any worse for Oregon State in 2016 than how last season unfolded. Expectations aren't high for the Beavers this season, but the potential to surprise people is there. Andersen is starting to put players in place who can run the offense and defense how he wants it to run. He built a program out of the ashes at Utah State and – given enough time – he can do the same at Oregon State. It just might take another season or two before substantial progress is made in the win/loss column.  

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter 

Teaser:
Oregon State Beavers 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/5-mlb-teams-could-disappoint-2016
Body:

As spring training winds down, expectations are low for several MLB teams that have fully committed to rebuilding in 2016 and beyond, including the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies. If those teams lose 90 games or more, it will be disappointing to fans, but not unexpected.

 

Related: 

 

However, there are several teams that are expected to compete for division and league titles that could cause major disappointment this year should players regress or fail to develop, or should injuries and age take their toll. We take a look at five teams expected to contend for championships that could fall short of expectations in 2016.

 

Kansas City Royals

(95-67, 1st in AL Central, World Series champions)

 

Kansas City surprised many by reaching the World Series in 2014, then repeated as American League pennant winners last season before taking down the New York Mets in the Fall Classic. The Royals’ offense ranked sixth in the AL in runs scored (724), and next to last in home runs (139), but Kansas City’s winning formula consisted of great defense, outstanding team speed, and arguably the best bullpen in all of baseball and it paid off (ahem) royally. The defending champs made only a few offseason moves, most notably adding Ian Kennedy to bolster the starting rotation and grabbing a few bargains mined from the scrap heap, so the recipe for success in 2016 is the same – and so are the projections.

 

Projections are rarely perfect – and several of the statistical projection systems expected KC to take a step back in 2015 instead of win the franchise’s first World Series in a quarter of a century – but both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA are bearish on the Royals this season. In both instances, Kansas City is expected to fall all the way into last place in the AL Central. It could be that the statistics-based models simply don’t give the Royals enough credit for their strengths: specifically their defense and bullpen. Or, it could be that KC wildly overachieved in 2015.

 

Aside from Kansas City itself, the division as a whole should be stronger with Detroit and Cleveland expected to compete again for the top spot, as well as a young and talented Minnesota team, which started fast in 2015 before falling out of the race late. Even the Chicago White Sox have legitimate playoff hopes. Therefore, 95 wins and a third straight World Series appearance seem highly unlikely, but by now, the Royals are used to surprising us.


Related: 

 

New York Mets

(90-72, 1st in NL East, NL pennant winner)

 

Speaking of surprises, no one expected the Mets to make it to the World Series this time last year. But, now that New York can boast one of the most dominant starting rotations in baseball, has graduated key prospects to the big leagues like Michael Conforto, and was able to keep late-season hero Yoenis Cespedes – who hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs in 57 games with the Mets – over the winter, this team (and their fans) expects to make another run at a title.

 

There were a few adjustments to the Mets’ roster over the offseason: The club traded veteran starter Jon Niese for Neil Walker to replace departed postseason hero Daniel Murphy at second base, and Asdrubal Cabrera (currently nursing a minor knee injury) is expected to beat out Wilmer Flores for the everyday duties at shortstop. Niese was expendable because the Mets still have Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and the ageless Bartolo Colon to take the mound in rotation, as well as Jeurys Familia to close the door in the ninth inning. New York posted a 3.43 team ERA last season and could be even better in 2016 because the club expects to have Zack Wheeler (Tommy John surgery) back in the fold in July.

 

As for the projections, both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus expect the Mets to win the division in a close race with the Washington Nationals, who will certainly pose a threat with Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer and MVP Bryce Harper leading the way and a lineup that aims to stay much healthier than it did a year ago. The rest of the division is far weaker, though the Miami Marlins are optimistic they can improve under first-year manager Don Mattingly, and even the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are capable of overachieving in 2016 and playing spoiler.

 

Of course, it’s possible that 2015 was a one-off. After all, the franchise hadn’t posted a winning record since 2009. The pitching staff was brilliant last season, but it’s possible that Conforto, Syndergaard or Matz suffers a sophomore slump, and the offense may take a hit without Murphy, with outfielder Curtis Granderson turning 35, and with team leader David Wright coming off a season in which he was limited to just 38 regular season games due to injury.

 

Everything went right for New York in 2015, and 90 wins were enough to win a watered-down division. Expect the road to a second straight division title to be much tougher this year.

 

Related: 

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

(92-70, 1st in NL West in 2015)

 

Most analysts and projections systems (including both FanGraphs and PECOTA) expect the Dodgers to win the NL West again in 2016, and there is certainly plenty of reason to be optimistic about the team’s chances. Clayton Kershaw is still arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet, Adrian Gonzalez is about as solid as they come in the middle of the lineup, and there’s a ton of young talent already on the roster, such as Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Corey Seager, who all have All-Star potential. Plus, even more talent is on the way. Pitchers Julio Urias and Jose De Leon are the team’s top two prospects and each could make his big league debut this year.

 

However, there are reasons to be concerned. Kershaw’s running mate Zack Greinke now pitches for a division rival, and the Dodgers will rely heavily on Scott Kazmir (who washed out of baseball in 2011 before making a miraculous comeback) and Kenta Maeda (who has never pitched in a MLB game because he has spent his entire professional career in his native Japan) to provide Kershaw with support in the rotation.

 

Injuries also are an issue. Andre Ethier is expected to miss 10-14 weeks due to a fractured tibia and Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner are both recovering from offseason surgeries while numerous pitchers are either hurt or still on the comeback trail. Also, Dave Roberts is in his first major league managerial role, and it’s a tough one given the size of the payroll (and accompanying egos) in Los Angeles and the high expectations for the franchise.

 

The Dodgers should be good – and they could even be great if the powers that be decide to use a deep farm system and even deeper pockets to make improvements to the roster over the course of the season. But, Los Angeles could also be a disappointment if Puig and Pederson don’t improve, the other young talent doesn’t pan out, or injuries take their toll.

 

Related: 

 

Chicago Cubs

(97-65, 3rd in NL Central in 2015, NL Wild Card)

 

Finally. This is the year. Or is it? The Cubs are the favorite to win the World Series according to Las Vegas odds makers – and for good reason. This team is absolutely loaded with young talent like All-Star Anthony Rizzo, reigning NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, and fellow sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler in the lineup, plus a veteran pitching staff led by Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and solid lefty Jon Lester. The team added prized free agents Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist (one of manager Joe Maddon’s favorites from his time in Tampa Bay) to give the team a boost both in the field and at the plate and also brought in veteran right-hander John Lackey for the rotation.

 

At this point, it’s hard to find a weak spot and most positions in the infield and outfield are at least two deep thanks to the flexibility of players like Zobrist, Schwarber and Javier Baez. And if a need presents itself over the course of the season there is still enough talent on the farm to fill it through a mid-summer trade, or through promotion.

 

But, let’s not forget the Cubs have a longstanding tradition of finding creative ways to make their fans suffer. And, baseball is a very difficult game; it’s quite possible that the youngsters the Cubs will lean on in the lineup fall short of expectations should the rest of the league make adjustments. Injuries could be a major factor, or the bullpen could blow up.

 

Those are a lot of what ifs, but let’s also not forget that the NL Central is incredibly tough because of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, which both finished ahead of the Cubs a year ago and are primed to make postseason runs again in 2016.

 

This could be the year... or it could be another heartbreaker.

 

Related: 

 

Los Angeles Angels

(85-77, 3rd in AL West in 2015)

 

Mike Trout is the best player in the American League and Albert Pujols is a surefire Hall of Famer who hit 40 home runs last season. Kole Calhoun is one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, and new shortstop Andrelton Simmons is this generation’s Ozzie Smith/Omar Vizquel in terms of making spectacular plays with the glove. Even through Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson are already dealing with nagging injuries and Tyler Skaggs won’t be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery until mid-April at the earliest, the Angels’ starting rotation features hard-throwing Garrett Richards, underrated Hector Santiago and budding star Andrew Heaney.

 

But, despite the very bright spots on the Angels’ roster, there are some major questions that must be answered. Can incoming third baseman Yunel Escobar come close to repeating the uncharacteristic .314/.375/.415 slash he produced last season in Washington, and if not, can Kaleb Cowart improve upon the paltry .174/.255/.283 he hit in 34 games after re-emerging as one of the club’s top prospects earlier in the year?

 

Can Chad Pennington win an everyday job on the strength of his hot spring (.410/.452/.462 across his first 39 at-bats) and carry that over to the regular season? Can the Angels get any offensive production out of an expected left field platoon headed up by Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry? How will the aging bullpen hold up?

 

Then, there’s the question as to whether or not Pujols, Wilson, and Weaver can make it through the season healthy. And finally, with one of the weakest farm systems in baseball, and a reluctance to spend money on free agents like Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes over the winter, would the Angels be willing or able to make a big move later in the season to challenge the suddenly strong Houston Astros and surging Texas Rangers?

 

Simply put, that’s far too many questions for us to expect the Angels to improve upon last year’s 85-77 record - especially since Los Angeles overachieved anyway. The Angels finished dead last in the AL in 2015 in hits (1,331), batting average (.246), doubles (243) and were next to last in OPS (.702) and total bases (.702), but pitched well enough to finish one game out of a playoff spot. Unless the offense improves in 2016, expect a postseason bid to be even farther out of reach.

 

Related: 

 

5 Other Teams to be Concerned About

 

Baltimore Orioles

Chicago White Sox

New York Yankees

San Diego Padres

St. Louis Cardinals

 

— Rankings by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on . Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
5 MLB Teams That Could Disappoint in 2016
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/2016-ncaa-tournament-thursday-sweet-16-preview-predictions
Body:

Thursday night’s Sweet 16 games feature four matchups full of teams that all have the potential to make the national championship game in Houston on April 4. Here is a breakdown of what to expect on Thursday night.

 

NCAA Tournament Thursday Sweet 16 Games

Note: All times Eastern, some start times are approximate

 

No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Louisville, KY (South Region)

 

Preview: Guard play is going to be the name of the game when the Hurricanes and Wildcats face off on the banks of the Ohio River. Jim Larranaga’s ‘Canes have been up and down in terms of consistency all season long, and the offense goes as point guard Angel Rodriguez goes. Rodriguez was outstanding on Saturday night against Wichita State, putting up 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting against probably the best defense in the nation. The test doesn't get any easier for Rodriguez against ‘Nova. The Wildcats boast a top-10 defense and offense in terms of adjusted efficiency.

 

It has always been said that March is won with guard play, and Jay Wright’s has what is the most productive backcourt in the nation. The hard part for Miami will be matching up defensively against a ‘Nova team that essentially starts four perimeter players. The Wildcats’ offensive floor spacing and passing is the best in the nation and a huge reason why they have six “significant contributors” offensive according to KenPom. The Wildcats’ balance on both ends of the floor should send them to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.

 

Prediction: Villanova 75-70


Related: 

 

No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

TV: 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Site: Anaheim, CA (West Region)

 

Preview: After the most improbable comeback in college basketball history, storming back from a 12-point deficit with 35 seconds left in regulation against Northern Iowa, the Aggies have the pleasure of trying to shut down the nation’s best player in Sooners guard Buddy Hield! Congratulations! But don’t worry Aggies, the Sooners are going to have to find an answer for one of your own, Danuel House.

 

House was shut out in the first half against Northern Iowa but responded with 22 points in the second half and both overtimes to help overcome the Panthers. Even with the Aggies’ remarkable comeback still lingering, all eyes are going to be on Hield — and rightfully so. He has been making the argument all season long that he is the best player in the nation, but nothing might have been as convincing as his 29-point outburst in the second half against VCU. Aside from Hield, the Sooners offer more depth than Texas A&M with Ryan Spangler in the post and Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard as complementary pieces to Hield on the perimeter.

 

While I give the slight edge to the Sooners, I’m fully expecting this game to go down to the wire.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 75-72

 

Related: 

 

No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas

TV: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Louisville, KY (South Region)

 

Preview: We’re about to find out what the Terrapins are all about. Many claim that Maryland has underperformed this season with the likes of Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble in the lineup. But if the Terps can knock off the best team left standing in Kansas and advance to the Elite Eight, there is no way this season could be labeled a disappointment for Mark Turgeon’s club.

 

As it stands right now, the Jayhawks are the best team in the Sweet 16, by a slim margin over North Carolina. Bill Self’s squad is the complete package. The Jayhawks are a lock-down defensive team, allowing on average 67.9 points per game. Kansas may not have the star power, or NBA lottery pick talent that others in the Sweet 16 have, but this team has the depth and chemistry needed to win a national title. Per 40 minutes, the Jayhawks have 11 players that average a minimum of 12 points per game, and rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency.

 

Prediction: Kansas 78-70

 

Related: 

 

No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon

TV: 10:07  p.m. ET, TBS

Site: Anaheim, CA (West Region)

 

Preview: The bracket may have saved the best game of the day for last as the Blue Devils and Ducks battle late out west. Duke looked absolutely spent after nearly blowing a 27-point lead against Yale the second round, while the Ducks proved their mettle against a feisty St. Joseph’s team this past Sunday.

 

Coach K’s squad isn’t the same as last year’s national champion, as the Blue Devils rely heavily on Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram on the perimeter. After losing senior captain, and ultimate glue man Amilie Jefferson in the post, getting this Duke team to come together and form a new identity on the run, especially after falling out of the Top 25 earlier in the season, has been one of Coach K’s better coaching jobs. Krzyzewski and his staff will have their hands full defensively stopping the balanced scoring attack of Dana Altman’s Ducks, led by Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks.

 

Oregon is extremely athletic and uses its length and depth to keep teams guessing by interchanging players at different positions. Duke and Oregon rank fourth and 11th, respectively, in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, so scoring shouldn't be an issue in this one. This game is going to come down which team can get stops in crunch time. And after Duke’s near meltdown against Yale, it’s going to be hard betting against Oregon, which is fighting to prove it belongs with the blue bloods of college basketball. Give me the hungry Ducks in a high-tempo toss-up.

 

Prediction: Oregon 82-81

 

Related: 

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Tournament Thursday Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/braxton-miller-trolls-michigan-jim-harbaugh-ohio-state-urban-meyer-buckeyes
Body:

Braxton Miller may be on his way to the NFL, but that doesn't mean his hatred for Michigan is wavering.

 

After seeing other Ohio State players tweet about Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, Miller decided to get in on the action.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 16:29
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/betting-against-spread-best-bets-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-games-2016
Body:

We are down to 16 teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament and the fun has really just begun. Let's be honest, this is exactly what the Selection Committee wanted when the members set up the field. They get their upsets in the first round or so, but when you get down to it, the power names are still around. I'm going to give you my thoughts on each game that's left even if I don't have a lean on it.

 

Record: 5-1 (first round only)

 

Thursday, March 24

 

Miami vs. Villanova (7:10 p.m. ET, CBS)

Villanova is playing some good basketball right now and the Wildcats finally got the monkey off their back by making it into the second weekend. The problem was that they really didn't play anyone of note, beating UNC Asheville and Iowa. The Hawkeyes moved on after an awful no-call on Adam Woodbury against Temple. Now the Cats get Miami, who I really like because of the Hurricanes’ veteran players, solid inside play and good coaching. Jim Larranaga is 1000x better then Jay Wright and with extra time to prepare, I like the Canes in this one. They could have folded up shop after Wichita State came back, but they didn't. Nova is just 17-17 ATS all year long. SELECTION: Miami +4.5

 

Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (7:37 p.m. ET, TBS)

Two old friends face off in this one. Buddy Hield put the Sooners on his back last round to lead them past VCU. They also were buoyed by a home crowd in Oklahoma City. This game features a ton of veteran guards and just enough inside play to make either team dangerous. I've never been a big believer in the Aggies this season. That said, I don't know how much I love OU either. LEAN: Oklahoma ML (just a lean though)

 

Maryland vs. Kansas (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS)

I said it in my , but I'll say it here too: Maryland is damn good. The Terrapins were picked to be atop the polls in the preseason and they are finally coming together. If Jake Layman can keep it up, then Maryland wins this one outright. Go read my article for the full preview. SELECTION: Maryland +6.5

 

Duke vs. Oregon (10:07 p.m. ET, TBS)

As a guy who enjoys Duke fans’ misery and pain, I hate to say it, but it may not come this round. We all tried to find the most vulnerable No. 1 seed and many thought it was Virginia when Michigan State was still around. Oregon is athletic, no doubt, and the Ducks are deep, which Duke isn't. The Blue Devils outlasted UNC Wilmington, which tried to outrun them in the first round and then the team out of the ACC beat Yale. With the extra time to prepare, I'll take Coach K over Dana Altman, who is no slouch either. SELECTION: Duke +3

 

Friday, March 25

 

Iowa State vs. Virginia (7:10 p.m. ET, CBS)

That big sigh of relief came from Charlottesville when the Cavaliers didn't have to see Michigan State in its way. Now they've got an Iowa State team that represents the best chance for the Hoos not to make it to the Final Four. I'll admit that I've tried to fade the Cyclones at every turn this Tournament, but they've come through each time. Iowa State plays just seven or eight guys, but that group is really good. Georges Niang could present some problems for Virginia, which struggles at times with shooters with size. The problem will be finding someone to slow Malcolm Brogdon down. I don't really love anything in this game. LEAN: Iowa State +5 (not a huge lean though)

 

Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame (7:27 p.m. ET, TBS)

Raise your hand if you had this matchup on your bracket. Wisconsin just turns it on in the postseason no matter how good the Badgers were in conference play. Notre Dame got very lucky that Stephen F. Austin played so poorly in the end. I really don't have a good feel in this one either although when in doubt, lean ACC in this Tournament as the conference continues to roll. LEAN: Notre Dame -1

 

Gonzaga vs. Syracuse (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS)

Right up front, I'll admit I'm a Syracuse alum and I couldn't be more stunned at how well the Orange have played these last two games. The defense has been on point and they are getting offense from Trevor Cooney, which has been like getting blood from a stone. Gonzaga wasn't the favorite this year and it's seemingly made a difference. The big question will be if the Zags’ guards can get the offense going against the 2-3 zone as the Orange will try and pack the middle to stop Domantas Sabonis. I'm only going to go lean status here as I haven’t been able to get a grip on my Orange all year long. LEAN: Syracuse +4.5

 

Indiana vs. North Carolina (9:57 p.m. ET, TBS)

The final game of the Sweet 16 is the best one and the one that will most likely feature the most NBA players. There's no doubt that the Tar Heels are the most talented team in the country when they want to be. They steamrolled Providence last time out and if Marcus Paige keeps this up, they'll be cutting down the nets. Indiana crushed Chattanooga and then beat Kentucky to get here and that's no slouch either. The Hoosiers have been underdogs just six times all year going 4-2 ATS. North Carolina, on the other hand, is 16-17 ATS as a favorite and 16-19 ATS overall. I'm going to side with Indiana in this one and hope that the sometimes sketchy Heels show up. SELECTION: Indiana +6

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Betting Against the Spread: Best Bets for NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Games
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/lebron-james-northern-iowa-collapse-i-would-quit-basketball-texas-am-march-madness-sweet-16
Body:

Northern Iowa is probably still feeling the effects of the epic collapse against Texas A&M.

 

The Aggies are in the Sweet 16 because of a once-in-a-lifetime 12-point comeback in the span of about 30 seconds. That's a hard loss to get over. Cavaliers star LeBron James gives a harsh take on UNI after the loss. 

 

 

Ironically when his team lost to the Warriors in the NBA Finals, he didn't have any thoughts like that. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:49
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/duke-blue-devils-vs-oregon-ducks-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

Only Oregon remains to represent the Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament. The league sent seven schools to the Big Dance and promptly saw five exit in the first round. The Ducks narrowly avoided getting sent home themselves in a 69-64 second round win over St. Joseph's. Oregon needed a game-ending 18-6 run over the final five minutes to beat the Hawks.

 

The No. 1 seed Ducks’ reward is a shot at the defending national champions. Duke had to hold off a late rally from Yale before beating the Bulldogs 71-64. The Blue Devils have reached the Sweet 16 for the 29th time behind a formidable one-two offensive punch of Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen.

 

No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (25-10) vs. No. 1 Oregon Ducks (30-6)

 

When: 10:07 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

TV: TBS

Line: Oregon -3

 

Keys for Duke

 

Allen must keep rolling

Few players have had a better showing in the NCAA Tournament so far than the Duke point guard. Allen averaged 26 points per game in wins over Yale and UNC Wilmington. He has been effective at attacking teams on the drive and on the perimeter. Allen will have to be able to do both, while limiting turnovers, against Oregon.

 

Don't get sloppy

Duke had stretches in both of its victories last week where it hit offensive lulls because of poor shooting and multiple turnovers. The Blue Devils can't afford to do either against Oregon. The Ducks have athletic guards who can disrupt passing lanes and score easily in transition. Getting into a track meet with Oregon won't end well.

 

Keys for Oregon

 

Crash the boards

When the Ducks do a consistent job of collecting rebounds, good things happen. Oregon is 21-2 this season when it finishes with more rebounds than an opponent. This could be especially critical against Duke. The Blue Devils like to light it up from the perimeter. If Oregon can bottle things up outside and reel in long rebounds, it can help the Ducks get out in transition and bury the Blue Devils early.

 

Keep Ingram in check

There's a good reason why Ingram is in competition with LSU's Ben Simmons to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He can pick apart defenses with ease. Ingram averaged 22.5 points against Yale and UNC Wilmington. Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook or whoever else Oregon coach Dana Altman assigns to guard Ingram will need to blanket the standout freshman. If Ingram gets in a rhythm, the Blue Devils will be tough to stop.

 

Final Analysis

 

Oregon has been labeled as the weakest No. 1 seed by many national pundits and that scrutiny is even more intense this week after a terrible overall showing by the Pac-12. The ironic part in all of this is that the Ducks have a favorable shot at reaching the Elite Eight going against the Blue Devils. Duke relies on a high-scoring offense to get things done and has a porous defense. That plays right into Oregon's hands.

 

Prediction: Oregon 82, Duke 75

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter

Teaser:
Duke Blue Devils vs. Oregon Ducks: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/maryland-terrapins-vs-kansas-jayhawks-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

This will arguably be the best game of the week as Kansas takes on Maryland Thursday in Louisville. The Jayhawks are the No. 1 overall seed and have pretty much had no problems with their first two opponents. The Terrapins, meanwhile, picked up a pair of solid wins, but struggled at times with putting their opponents away. Both of these teams expected to be playing in the Sweet 16 as you couldn't have found a publication that didn't have Maryland in its preseason top 10. These two squads feature a ton of NBA Draft prospects and a lot will be on the line.

 

No. 5 Maryland Terrapins (27-8) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (32-4)

 

When: 9:40 p.m. ET (Thursday)

​Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)

TV: CBS

Line: Kansas -7

 

Keys for Kansas

Start fast and make Maryland doubt itself. Kansas is the favorite for a reason and these Jayhawks have played like it in the first two rounds. If Melo Trimble gets in foul trouble, then the Terrapins’ offense could likely go into its shell (solid pun, right?). Perry Ellis has to win the battle inside for Kansas because Diamond Stone and Robert Carter Jr. are playing well for Maryland right now. If the Jayhawks keep playing like they have been, it will be hard for anyone to beat them.

 

Keys for Maryland

As mentioned above, Trimble has to be on the court for things to run smoothly. Jake Layman also has to stay hot, having scored 37 points in two games thus far. He struggled at times down the stretch, but it seems like he is getting his confidence back at the right time. Finally, give the others in the crowd something to root for. Should Miami and Villanova fans stick around, they certainly won't be rooting for Kansas. Play well and make people believe an upset can occur.

 

Final Analysis

 

I'm a stubborn person when it comes to my beliefs. I took Maryland at 30/1 to win this Tournament before it began because I believe in their talent. If the Terrapins play up to their potential, they can win this one. Both teams are deep, but I think that Maryland gets the victory.

 

Prediction: Maryland 69, Kansas 65

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Top photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
Maryland Terrapins vs. Kansas Jayhawks: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/texas-am-aggies-vs-oklahoma-sooners-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

At first glance it may seem as if the West Region has been the least exciting corner of the bracket so far in the NCAA Tournament. But oh how wrong that assessment would be, as the West is the only region in which each of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet 16.

 

Particularly when you remember that No. 3 Texas A&M trailed No. 11 Northern Iowa by 12 points with 35 seconds remaining in regulation on Sunday night before the Aggies pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of college basketball. Win probability calculators gave the underdog Panthers a greater than 99.99 percent chance to win, proving once and for all that in March anything is possible.

 

No. 3 Texas A&M Aggies (28-8) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (27-7)

 

When: 7:37 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: Honda Center (Anaheim, California)

TV: TBS

Line: Oklahoma -2

 

Keys for Texas A&M

The Aggies had to pinch themselves on Monday morning just to make sure the previous night’s events were not a dream. However, they have no time to celebrate, as a huge matchup with Buddy Hield and the Sooners looms. Danuel House and the Aggies will get buried if they resort to three-point jump shots again (7-for-31, 22.6 percent vs. Northern Iowa). Freshman center Tyler Davis will be the difference in this contest, and Sunday’s hero Alex Caruso needs to penetrate to collapse the Oklahoma defense and find his big man early and often. If Texas A&M can slow the pace of this game down and keep Hield from exploding the Aggies have a chance to advance to their first Elite Eight in program history.

 

Keys for Oklahoma

The Sooners also had a four-point victory on Sunday, but it was far less thrilling compared to their Sweet 16 opponent. Hield propelled his team to victory with 29 points in the second half, 19 of which game in the final eight minutes. The senior guard elevates his game in the biggest moments, and he will have to do that again in the most important game of his college career to date. The key for Oklahoma in this matchup will be its defensive pressure. Northern Iowa was able to keep Texas A&M’s top scorers in check for most of the game Sunday. Jalen Jones and House became frustrated and started to force the issue on offense. If Oklahoma can pester them again it will help the Sooners advance to the Elite Eight.

 

Final Analysis

 

There may be no team more confident in their abilities right now than the Aggies, who proved on Sunday that they are capable of pulling off the impossible. On the other side, there may be no individual player more trusting of his skill set than Oklahoma’s Hield. You won’t hear about it now because Oklahoma got the win, but Hield had two ugly air balls during his second-half scoring burst. Only an exceptional talent with zero doubt in his game can miss everything twice and just keep jacking up shots. Texas A&M went 4-0 against the Big 12 (wins vs. Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State and Baylor) with an average margin of victory of 13 points. Can the Aggies make it 5-0?

 

Prediction Texas A&M 83, Oklahoma 78

Teaser:
Texas A&M Aggies vs. Oklahoma Sooners: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Justin Thomas, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-12-justin-thomas
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s .

 

No. 12: Justin Thomas

Born: April 29, 1993, Louisville, Ky. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,278,564 (18th) | World Ranking: 33

 

Gary Williams' Take: With a win at the CIMB Classic and a third at the Frys.com Open, Thomas got the 2015-16 season, his second, off to a ripping start. He was a runner-up to Daniel Berger in the Rookie of the Year race in ’15, and I think he’s going to make a quantum leap to USA Ryder Cup team member in 2016. Thomas (145 pounds) is pound for pound the longest hitter on Tour. More importantly, he is a prodigy who has learned to win big at every level, and he has the sincere belief that no one is better than he is. Finishing seventh in the all around ranking category as a rookie is a reflection of someone who not only adapts but also is blessed with world-class talent. If he can improve his make percentage from 15-20 feet, where he finished 154th on Tour in 2015, he will contend even more. A second full year of controlling his own schedule will mean greater comfort and a huge leap in the world rankings by the end of the year.
Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 2
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters – DNP
    U.S. Open – DNP
    British Open – DNP
    PGA Championship – T18
Best Career Finishes
    Masters – n/a
    U.S. Open - Cut (2014)
    British Open – n/a
    PGA Championship – T18 (2015)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 1
Missed Cuts: 1

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:04
Path: /college-basketball/miami-hurricanes-vs-villanova-wildcats-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

The No. 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats cruised to easy victories over UNC Asheville and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday, the Wildcats will face a much tougher opponent in No. 3 Miami.

 

Despite being underdogs in their second round matchup against the Wichita State Shockers, the Hurricanes led by as much as 21 points before holding on for a 65-57 win. This came after Miami defeated Buffalo 79-72 in the first round.

 

No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (27-7) vs. No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (31-5)

 

When: 7:10 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville)

TV: CBS

Line: Villanova -4

 

Keys for Miami

Guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan played a huge game against the Shockers last Saturday and they are tough to stop when they get it rolling. The duo combined for 46 points, five assists and five steals. If the Hurricanes are to advance, both Rodriguez and McClellan will likely need another massive performance against the Wildcats.

 

Rodriguez can score inside the paint and from long range. He will need to use his athletic ability to get Villanova defenders in foul trouble. Miami also will need to have the same pestering defense the team demonstrated against Wichita State.

 

Keys for Villanova

The Wildcats will need a solid outing from forward Daniel Ochefu. Villanova doesn't need Ochefu to score a lot of points, but it needs him to do the dirty work by getting rebounds and defending the paint against the Hurricanes. Guards Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono will be playing against equally athletic counterparts, so it will be important that the Wildcats slow the game down and attempt to play at their preferred tempo.

 

Final Analysis

 

Villanova has been one of the best teams in the country all season, but this matchup against Miami puts the Wildcats at an enormous disadvantage. The Hurricanes are quick, athletic and they have length and Miami defends very well. Expect Rodriguez to keep the Hurricanes at a fast tempo and for Miami to force turnovers much like it did against Wichita State. If Miami plays its style of basketball, the Hurricanes will be moving on to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

 

Prediction: Miami 76, Villanova 66

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Miami Hurricanes vs. Villanova Wildcats: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/rutgers-scarlet-knights-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Few programs were in need of a change in leadership the way was. Kyle Flood landed himself a three-game suspension last season from the university in what was a rough season for the Scarlet Knights, their second as a Big Ten member. Now in year three of its new conference home, Rutgers has a new coach in Chris Ash, who comes to town after being a defensive coordinator for Ohio State.

 

If Ash sees just a fraction of the success Tom Herman had in his first year as a head coach after leaving Ohio State, then Rutgers will appear to be in very solid hands. With spring practices here, Rutgers hopes to establish a new path for the program as Ash leads the way in his first spring as a head coach.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Rutgers’ Spring Practice

 

1. New coach brings breath of fresh air

Any time a new coach comes into the program, spring gives everyone a first-hand look at just how his program may operate. Ash is an unknown in this category as this is his first head coaching job, but the anticipation to see how the former Ohio State assistant runs things is reason enough to watch Rutgers with great interest this spring.

 

2. Improving the defense and plugging some holes

Given Ash’s defensive background, it stands to reason Rutgers will soon see improvement in the defense moving forward. This spring the defensive line is at least stable going into the spring with what is returning, but there are holes to fill in the middle and back of the defensive playing field. Three starting linebacker positions are open for competition and the secondary has been in need of a drastic makeover for some time.  The secondary was full of youth last season, so another year to grow could benefit Rutgers in this area.

 

3. Is Chris Laviano still the best option at quarterback in new offense?

While Ash focuses his coaching efforts on improving the defensive side of things, there is some work to do on the offense as well. The first question that may need to be answered by Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer is whether or not Laviano will be the best option to run the new no-huddle system. Laviano led the offense last year but will have to earn the starting nod against Hayden Rettig and Giovanni Rescigno. Don’t count on a starter being named this spring, but pay attention to how each handles the new offense.

 

4. How will Janarion Grant be utilized?

Rutgers is lacking in playmakers outside of Grant. While his impact as a wide receiver was limited last season (35 rec., 352 yds., TD), Grant made the most of his contributions on special teams with three kickoff return touchdowns and a punt return touchdown in 2015. He could start to see more opportunities on offense this year as Rutgers looks to open things up offensively. Given his big-play ability, it will be intriguing to see if Rutgers can find ways to use Grant more in the passing game.

 

5. How well did offseason conditioning pay off?

Once Ash and his staff got into town, the work in the gym started. One very noticeable negative about Rutgers since joining the Big Ten is the condition of the players. The difference between Rutgers and some of the better teams in the Big Ten, especially when hitting the road, was clear as day. A transition from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten was expected to come with some growing pains as Rutgers catches up in a number of ways, but the focus on weight training and conditioning this offseason has been a key storyline to follow. Now we will see if it has helped this spring.

 

Pre-Spring Rutgers Outlook in the Big Ten

 

Even a vastly improved Rutgers team would be expected to be nowhere higher than the middle of the pack in the Big Ten East. Lumped in the same division as mighty Ohio State, defending conference champion Michigan State, a surging Michigan program, not to mention a Penn State team that has recruited well and is crawling out of the sanction phase, Rutgers has a long way to go before contemplating a dream scenario that has the Scarlet Knights playing for a Big Ten title. Reaching bowl eligibility, however, may not be far off at all.

 

The schedule will throw some major hurdles on the road (Washington, Ohio State, Michigan State), but reaching six wins is not out of the question if the new offense takes flight and the defense improves at all. Six wins may be the ceiling for Rutgers though, but just getting through the season with a new mentality and a plan for success down the line should be the primary focus.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for , and hosts the . Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ohio-state-ad-gene-smith-apologizes-michigan-jim-harbaugh-ezekiel-elliott-buckeyes-wolverines
Body:

The Ohio State - Michigan rivalry isn't contained to the football field. 

 

Buckeyes AD Gene Smith is in hot water for commenting on Michigan's ploy to hold practices in Florida, claiming they are trying to "jump start" their program.

 

 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, in true Harbaugh fashion, wasn't going to let that slide without so much as a comment about it. 

 

 

Ohio State running back, and soon to be NFL star, Ezekiel Elliott weighed in on Harbaugh's tweet. 

 

 

Smith later apologized for his comments, calming the situation before it got even more out of hand. It was little too late at that point.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:21
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-2016-spring-practice-edition
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College football’s 2015-16 coaching carousel was one of the most active in recent memory. After 28 jobs changed hands, the 2016-17 version may not be as active at the end of the year. However, several big-time jobs could open, as Les Miles (LSU), Charlie Strong (Texas), Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn) enter the 2016 season squarely on the hot seat.

 

Spring practice is underway across the nation, and the offseason workouts are the first step to starting the countdown for the 2016 season. Coaches are always on the hot seat and under pressure to win. However, here are 10 coaches who need a big 2016 season to hold onto their job in 2017.

 

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Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2016 Spring Practice Edition

 

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State

Record at Fresno State: 29-23 (4 years)

 

Fresno State got off to a fast start under DeRuyter. The Bulldogs went 20-6 through DeRuyter’s first two seasons and won the 2013 Mountain West title. But after Derek Carr expired his eligibility, DeRuyter has struggled to keep the program at the top of the conference. The Bulldogs are just 9-17 over the last two years and finished 3-9 in 2015. Last season’s three wins were the fewest by the program since 1978 (3-8). Will staff changes help DeRuyter get Fresno State back on track in 2016?

 

Related:

 

Paul Haynes, Kent State

Record at Kent State: 9-26 (3 years)

 

Haynes has ties to the Kent State program as a former player and spent time as an assistant at Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State and Arkansas before taking the top spot with the Golden Flashes. In three years at Kent State, Haynes is just 9-26 and has lost at least eight games in each season. The offense has been especially problematic for Haynes, as the Golden Flashes averaged only 13.1 points a game in 2015.

 

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Record at Purdue: 6-30 (3 years)

 

Purdue is one of the Big Ten’s toughest jobs, and Hazell inherited a roster in need of repair. However, progress has been tough to find over the last three years. Under Hazell’s watch, the Boilermakers are just 6-30 and have only two wins in Big Ten play. In an effort to spark improvement, Hazell made significant changes to his staff, including new play-callers on both sides of the ball. Progress will be tough to find in 2016, but Purdue has two promising players to build around on offense in quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones. In two years at Kent State, Hazell went 16-10 and had the Golden Flashes on the cusp of a MAC title in 2012.

 

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Record at West Virginia: 36-28 (5 years)

 

Holgorsen enters 2016 in an odd position. Despite West Virginia earning its best record (8-5) since joining the Big 12, Holgorsen was not able to land an extension and only has two years left on his contract. Could a slow start by the Mountaineers have an effect on Holgorsen’s outlook with the program? After a 10-3 debut and a Big East title in 2011, West Virginia has not finished higher than 8-5 and has only one winning mark in conference play in the last four years.

 

Related:

 

Mike MacIntyre, Colorado

Record at Colorado: 10-27 (3 years)

 

MacIntyre inherited a big-time mess from former coach Jon Embree. The Buffaloes went 4-21 under Embree’s watch, and the roster wasn’t exactly stocked with talent. There have been noticeable signs of progress under MacIntyre’s watch, as Colorado has two four-win seasons over the last three years. However, the Buffaloes have only two victories in Pac-12 action in the last three seasons. Is Colorado poised for a breakthrough in 2016? After losing five games by one score in 2015, the Buffaloes are close to pushing for a bowl game next fall.  

 

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Record at Auburn: 27-13 (3 years)

 

Auburn is just two years removed from an appearance in the national championship game, but the overall trend for this program has not been favorable since 2013. Despite an 8-5 record in 2014, the Tigers entered 2015 with high expectations. However, Auburn slipped to 7-6 overall and won just two games in SEC play. After winning 12 games in 2013, Malzahn’s record has slipped in each of the last two seasons. Another problem for Malzahn is his specialty – offense. The Tigers managed only 22.1 points a game and averaged 5.1 yards per play in SEC contests last year.

 

Les Miles, LSU

Record at LSU: 112-32 (11 years)

 

Prior to LSU’s season finale against Texas A&M, all signs seemed to point to a coaching change in Baton Rouge. However, the Tigers defeated the Aggies, and athletic director Joe Alleva announced Miles would return as the program’s head coach in 2016. The ending to the season was certainly bizarre, but is that the last of this story? Miles has won 112 games in 11 years and continues to assemble an impressive roster of talent. However, despite recruiting at a high level, LSU has not finished higher than No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll over the last four years. Additionally, the Tigers are only 9-7 in SEC play over the last two seasons. Improving the offense – specifically the passing attack – is a top priority for Miles and the coaching staff this offseason.

 

Related:

 

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Record at Kentucky: 12-24 (3 years)

 

Kentucky has made small strides under Stoops’ watch, but the program is still looking for a bowl bid and is only 4-20 over the last three years in SEC play. After a 2-10 record in 2013, the Wildcats took a step forward over the last two seasons. Kentucky has recorded back-to-back 5-7 marks and just missed a bowl in 2015 after losing three games by one score. The talent level is on the rise in Lexington, but this team enters 2016 with question marks on both sides of the ball. Can Stoops deliver a breakthrough year?  

 

Charlie Strong, Texas

Record at Texas: 11-14 (2 years)

 

Strong didn’t inherit a roster overflowing with talent, but the expectations are high in Austin. Simply, finishing with a .500 record in back-to-back years with the Big 12’s top roster (according to recruiting rankings) isn’t sitting well. The Longhorns are just 11-14 in Strong’s two seasons and finished 4-5 in Big 12 play last year. Texas was up-and-down in conference action in 2015, pulling off surprise wins over Oklahoma and Baylor (when the Bears were hit with injuries at quarterback) and suffered a blowout loss (24-0) at the hands of Iowa State. Strong has promising young talent in place on defense, but the offense is probably a year away under new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. 

 

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Record at Texas A&M: 36-16 (4 years)

 

Texas A&M made quite a splash in Sumlin’s first year. Behind quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Aggies finished 11-2 in 2012 and claimed a No. 5 finish in the Associated Press poll. However, the Aggies have been unable to capitalize off that momentum. Sumlin has guided Texas A&M to a 25-14 record over the last three seasons but does not have a winning mark in conference play in that span. Additionally, the Aggies have not recorded a top 25 finish in each of the last two years. Sumlin has recruited well, and the addition of John Chavis helped the defense take a significant step forward in 2015. Will the addition of Noel Mazzone as the play-caller help Texas A&M’s  offense take a step forward in 2016?

Teaser:
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2016 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/march-madness-outrageous-predictions-sweet-16-and-elite-eight-2016
Body:

Well, that was fun. Buzzer beaters, blown leads, upsets and blowouts dominated the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. As always, very little of it went according to plan.

 

Now that all of our brackets — just like— are trash, we can just sit back and enjoy March Madness stress-free (unless your favorite team is still alive). We still have double-digit seeds to root for. We still have blue bloods to root against. And we still have plenty more outrageousness to come this weekend, as the final 16 teams try to punch their tickets for the Final Four in Houston.

 

Outrageous Predictions for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight

 

Buzzer beaters will be absent during the Sweet 16

We had overtime games, last-second tip-ins and half-court heaves during the first four days of action. They'll all take this next round off. The Sweet 16 games are all about matchups that are going to yield sound victories. If you're the type who just tunes in for the last couple of minutes because that's when the games are decided, you'll be out of luck and subjected to nothing but an exchange of pointless free throws.

 

Only one ACC team advances to the Elite Eight

The ACC is getting a ton of love right now on the back of sending six teams to the Sweet 16. The lovefest ends Thursday and Friday, as only one ACC squad will make it to the Elite 8. Take a look:

 

Indiana vs. North Carolina — Indiana is having a great Tournament. The Hoosiers are more physical than the Tar Heels, and this game will get physical. Then there are the intangibles. Yogi Ferrell can will the Hoosiers to the Final Four if he needs to. Hoosiers win.

 

Villanova vs. Miami — The Hurricanes had the luxury of playing two teams with inferior athletes during the first two rounds. Now come the Wildcats, who are more than capable of matching up with Miami athletically. On top of that, from a basketball IQ standpoint, there aren't many squads smarter than Jay Wright's Villanova team. Look for the Wildcats to roll.

 

Oregon vs. Duke — The Ducks were tested against St. Joseph's and showed their resiliency. Now they bring their talent and depth into a matchup with Duke. Oregon is as complete as any team Duke has faced all season. The Ducks will run. They'll slow it down and play half court. And thanks to their head coach Dana Altman, they'll play every bit as smart as the Blue Devils. Depth will be the difference here as Oregon gets the win.

 

Iowa State vs. Virginia — The Cyclones are going to give Virginia trouble with their size and athleticism. Virginia struggled at times with Butler, a team much less athletic than Iowa State. Iowa State has shown no signs so far of not being ready for the moment, dispatching two inferior opponents with ease thus far. The Cyclones welcome a stiffer test from Virginia and are ready to send the Cavaliers back to Charlottesville empty-handed.

 

Gonzaga vs. Syracuse — Syracuse caught a Dayton team that probably did not have the skill set to break the 2-3 defense. The Orange followed that game up with a snoozer against Middle Tennessee thanks to the Blue Raiders' upset of Michigan State. Gonzaga is a different animal. The Bulldogs are smarter and more athletic than either of Syracuse's opponents thus far in the Tournament. On top of that, they have solid big men — something that helps when you face a tough 2-3 zone. Discipline wins this game, and Gonzaga is infinitely more disciplined than the Orange.

 

Notre Dame will be the only ACC team to move on to the Elite Eight, as the Fighting Irish are the only team with a distinct advantage in both style of play and actual matchups. They should pull away from Wisconsin permanently before the 10-minute mark of the second half.

 

The No. 1 seeds will all be eliminated prior to the Final Four

I said it last week and I'm sticking by it. Two of the No. 1 seeds are from the ACC and I just told you how North Carolina and Virginia will lose in the Sweet 16. Oklahoma will end Oregon's run in the Elite Eight, while Kansas may not even make it past Maryland to play Villanova. If the Jayhawks do, you could argue that Villanova would be the best team outside of Oklahoma that Bill Self's group has faced all year. The Wildcats have playmakers all over the court that Kansas will struggle to match up with for 40 minutes.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the owner of KnowItAllFootball.com and host of "Raising the Bar" on RadiOmaha.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
March Madness: Outrageous Predictions for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/5-mlb-teams-rise-2016
Body:

Opening Day of the 2016 season is just around the corner, and on spring training fields across Arizona and Florida teams are hard at work trying to improve themselves. Optimism is high across baseball – and for good reason. After all, just last season, the small-market Kansas City Royals beat the surprising New York Mets in the World Series and the Houston Astros completed a complete teardown and rebuilding effort by winning a wild card spot in the American League.

 

Which teams are poised to break out in 2016? We take a look at five on the rise.

 

Boston Red Sox

(78-84, 5th in AL East in 2015)

 

Most fans and analysts expected the Red Sox to bounce back last season following a very disappointing last-place finish in 2014. Instead, Boston stumbled again and finished last in the division for the second consecutive year – the first time the Red Sox have spent back-to-back seasons in the basement since 1929-30 – and the third time in the last four.

 

The biggest reason for the team’s struggles was the starting rotation. Boston ranked second to last (14th out of 15 teams) in the American League in ERA (4.31) and lacked an ace at the top of the rotation. Clay Buchholz didn’t pitch after July 10 and only one pitcher that started more than 20 games posted an ERA below 4.46 (Eduardo Rodriguez).

 

In an effort to fix the pitching staff and reverse the losing trend, the Red Sox were aggressive in the offseason and signed 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner (and 2015 runner-up) David Price. The 30-year-old lefty was 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 225 strikeouts in 220 1/3 innings across 32 starts split between the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays last season. Price was a major factor for the Jays down the stretch and made four postseason appearances for Toronto after helping the club win the AL East.

 

In addition to Price, the Red Sox made a splash by trading for closer Craig Kimbrel, who posted a 2.58 ERA with 39 saves in 61 appearances for the San Diego Padres in 2015 after coming over from the Atlanta Braves. Kimbrel, the hard-throwing 27-year-old, led the National League in saves in each of his first four full big league seasons and has a career ERA of 1.63 with 225 saves and 563 career strikeouts in 348 1/3 innings.

 

The Red Sox are also hoping new first baseman Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval will return to form after disappointing seasons a year ago, and the club expects one last great offensive performance from designated hitter David Ortiz, who will retire following the season.

 

As always, expectations are high in Boston. And, they also are high across the industry. FanGraphs predicts the Red Sox to finish in first place in the AL East with a record of 88-74 - a four-game cushion over the Blue Jays. Online sports book Bovada has Boston listed as the favorite to win the AL pennant.

 

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Detroit Tigers

(74-87, 5th in AL Central in 2015)

 

Like the Red Sox, the Tigers expect to compete for championships on an annual basis (and had won four straight AL Central division titles), but also suffered through an unexpected losing campaign in 2015.

 

Detroit started well, but missed Justin Verlander in the starting rotation early in the season and fell out of first place on May 15. Once Verlander returned in early June, things only got worse as the Tigers lost each of his first eight starts, during which the 2011 AL Cy Young winner posted a 5.57 ERA with just 25 strikeouts in 42 innings. Injuries also took their toll in the middle of the summer. After the club lost Victor Martinez for a month, then Miguel Cabrera to injury in early July, the Tigers fell out of the playoff chase by the trading deadline, which played a big role in the decision to trade David Price to the Blue Jays and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets.

 

The loss of Price still stings, but a healthy Verlander – who posted a 2.36 ERA and held opponents to .204/249/.304 with 88 Ks in 91 1/3 innings over his final 13 starts last year – will go a long way towards replacing the AL Cy Young runner-up, as will newcomer Jordan Zimmermann. Similarly, a healthy Cabrera-Martinez combo should make the Tigers competitive again, as will the addition of Justin Upton, the free agent who signed a six-year deal in January to replace the departed Cespedes.

 

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San Francisco Giants

(84-78, 2nd in NL West in 2015)

 

You probably already know this, but 2016 is an even-numbered year. And, you probably remember that the Giants have won the World Series in each of the last two even-numbered seasons. Of course, the calendar itself has little to do with the Giants’ chances in 2016. Instead, hope lies on the shoulders of free-agent signees Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, who should give a jolt to an aging starting rotation and provide ace Madison Bumgarner with some support.

 

Last season, only Bumgarner and Chris Heston started more than 30 games for the Giants, and the pair joined Jake Peavy as the only starters to post an ERA under 4.13. Cueto may have struggled in the regular season after a trade to Kansas City (4-7, 4.76 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings), but he finished strong with a complete game, two-hitter in Game 2 of the Fall Classic and also has a history of terrific success that includes two top-four finishes in NL Cy Young voting.

 

Samardzija struggled with the Chicago White Sox last season (no one in MLB surrendered more hits or earned runs, and he led the AL with 29 home runs allowed), but in 2014 he posted a 2.99 ERA across 33 starts split between the Cubs and the Oakland A’s. Perhaps a stable contract situation will help get Samardzija on track. He signed a five-year deal worth $90 million.

 

Like most of the teams on our list, the Giants are banking on a comeback season from an injured regular. For San Francisco, it’s Hunter Pence, who was limited to 52 games a year ago, and Joe Panik, who played just three games after Aug. 3. The Giants are also hoping for big things from new center fielder Denard Span, who hit .301/.365/.431 with five home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 61 games with the Nationals last year because of a variety of injuries, including a hip issue that required surgery.


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Arizona Diamondbacks

(79-83, 3rd in NL West in 2015)

 

Unlike Boston, Detroit and San Francisco, Arizona made a big step forward in 2015 – a whopping 15-game improvement, in

fact. Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart have been aggressive in their rebuild of the Diamondbacks – so aggressive that the pair sprung for top free agent pitcher Zack Greinke and traded away 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson, pitching prospect Aaron Blair and rising star Ender Inciarte for Atlanta All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller. The addition of Greinke – the former AL Cy Young Award winner who was the runner-up in the NL last season after going 19-3 with a MLB-leading 1.66 ERA, 225 ERA+ and 0.844 WHIP – is doubly important because he came over from the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

The Diamondbacks also signed reliever Tyler Clippard to further bolster a pitching staff that ranked ninth in the NL with a 4.04 ERA last season and allowed 182 home runs – more than all but two other teams in the league. Arizona, which led the NL in hits (1,494) and ranked second in runs (720) also acquired shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with Milwaukee.

 

Washington Nationals

(83-79, 2nd in NL East in 2015)

 

The Chicago Cubs are the odds-on favorite to win the 2016 World Series, which is a position the 2015 Washington Nationals know well.

 

Last season, the Nats built an incredibly strong starting rotation, headlined by new ace Max Scherzer and featuring Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister. Scherzer did his part by posting a 2.79 ERA with 276 strikeouts in 228 2/3 innings, which included a no-hitter that was one out shy of a perfect game. So did 22-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, who hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs, 99 RBIs and 118 runs and won NL MVP honors.

 

However, the club struggled as a whole – and like the Tigers and Giants was bit badly by the injury bug – and fell well shy of expectations. Instead of a third NL East title in four seasons, the Nationals finished seven games behind the Mets, whose starting rotation quickly became the talk of baseball.

 

Looking ahead to 2016, the Nationals will rely heavily on Scherzer and Harper, but must replace Zimmermann and Fister, as well as outfielder Denard Span and shortstop Ian Desmond. The Nats added speedy outfielder Ben Revere and postseason hero Daniel Murphy, and moved Tanner Roark back into the rotation where he thrived in 2014. If Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth bounce back from injury-plagued seasons, and Washington takes advantage of the opportunity for easy wins in the division against the rebuilding Braves and Phillies, the Nationals should give the Mets a stiff challenge for the division title.

 

5 Others to Watch

Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays

 

Related: 

 

Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on , and . Follow him on Twitter .

 

(David Price photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
5 MLB Teams on the Rise in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 09:00

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