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Running back is one of the easiest positions to find a new standout each year, and there always seems to be a wave of stars ready to emerge in offseason workouts. Last season, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey finished second in the Heisman voting in his first year as the starter, while Alabama’s Derrick Henry went from sharing time with T.J. Yeldon to finishing as the nation’s leading rusher and the Heisman Trophy winner. Regardless of whether teams use a committee approach or rely on one back, spring practice is the first opportunity to find the next star at the position. Players like Penn State's Saquon Barkley, USC's Ronald Jones, Washington's Myles Gaskin, Alabama's Bo Scarbrough and Michigan State's LJ Scott are just a few of the next wave of players ready to emerge as stars at the running back position. 

 

Quarterback battles will receive most of the attention in spring practice, but there are a handful of key playoff contenders losing a starter at running back or have a player poised for a breakthrough season. While pinpointing breakout players is easier after spring practice, it’s never too early to examine some of the top rising stars at running backs.

 

Let’s take a look at 30 running backs on the rise for 2016, followed by a few other names to watch:

 

College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016

 

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Despite running behind an inconsistent offensive line, Barkley became the first Penn State rusher to reach 1,000 yards since 2012. Barkley recorded 1,076 yards and seven scores on 182 attempts and posted five 100-yard efforts. His best performance of the season came against Rutgers (195), but Barkley also found running room against tough defenses in Ohio State (194) and Michigan State (103). After a standout debut as a true freshman last year, Barkley is due for more opportunities in 2016.

 

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Shannon Brooks, Minnesota

Minnesota has churned out plenty of standouts at running back in recent memory, and Brooks looks like the next star for new coach Tracy Claeys. Brooks made 12 appearances as a true freshman last year and finished the season with 709 yards and seven scores. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark two times, including 176 yards against Purdue in a 41-13 victory for the Golden Gophers. Brooks will share carries with Rodney Smith, but the Georgia native should threaten the 1,000-yard mark in his sophomore campaign.

 

James Butler, Nevada

The Mountain West has a solid stable of running backs returning in 2016, and with names like Donnel Pumphrey (SDSU), Brian Hill (Wyoming) and Jeremy McNichols (Boise State) grabbing national attention, Butler’s name gets lost in the mix. The Illinois native recorded 1,345 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and averaged a healthy 6.5 yards per carry. Additionally, Butler posted 100-yard efforts in eight games, including 189 against Colorado State in the Arizona Bowl and 107 against Texas A&M.

 

Duke Catalon, Houston

Houston is losing a sizeable chunk of its ground attack with the departure of Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson. The duo combined for 1,365 yards last season, and Kaliq Kokuma is the only returning running back on the roster that recorded a carry (18) in 2015. Catalon is expected to make an immediate impact for coach Tom Herman and should assume the top spot in the backfield. After a redshirt year at Texas in 2014, Catalon – a four-star recruit coming out of high school – chose to transfer to Houston and is poised to be a difference maker for the Cougars in 2016.

 

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Matthew Dayes, NC State

Dayes was off to a fast start last season but a foot injury limited him to just eight games. Prior to the season-ending ailment, Dayes rushed for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns and recorded at least 100 yards in five contests. His best effort of the year came against Wake Forest (205 yards). Dayes should open the season as NC State's No. 1 back, but he will face competition from talented redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier. A committee approach would not be a surprise for the Wolfpack.

 

Keith Ford, Texas A&M

The Aggies won’t drastically alter their scheme for 2016, but this team might play more to its defense and the ground game than it has since joining the SEC. New coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense generated a 1,000-yard rusher in three out of his four seasons at UCLA. Mazzone won’t have Tra Carson at his disposal, but the Texas A&M ground attack should be in good shape with Ford leading the way. Ford was a five-star recruit in the high school ranks and spent two years at Oklahoma, recording 503 yards and six rushing scores.

 

D’Onta Foreman/Chris Warren, Texas

Transitioning to a new offense and sorting out the quarterback situation is a tough challenge for new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert in his first season in Austin. But the cupboard isn’t completely bare for Gilbert. Foreman and Warren were a bright spot last year, as the duo combined for 1,237 yards and eight scores. Foreman brought more of a big-play element to the offense, as he gashed opponents for 7.2 yards per rush. Will this duo share carries once again? Or will Foreman emerge as the clear No. 1 back?

 

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Myles Gaskin, Washington

Washington is poised to challenge Stanford for Pac-12 North supremacy this season, as the Huskies are a team on the rise behind talented sophomore quarterback Jake Browning and one of the nation’s top defenses. Additionally, the offense found a spark on the ground last year with the emergence of Gaskin. As a true freshman in 2015, Gaskin rushed for 1,302 yards and 14 scores. Additionally, he eclipsed at least 100 yards in each of Washington’s last four games.

 

Soso Jamabo, UCLA

Paul Perkins’ decision to leave for the NFL opens the door for Jamabo to take over as UCLA’s No. 1 back. The five-star recruit from Texas impressed in limited action last season, recording 403 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries. Jamabo’s best performance came against Oregon State (90 yards), and he also posted two outings of 79 yards (Virginia and California). Expect the sophomore to lead the way for UCLA’s ground attack and push for at least 1,000 yards in 2016.

 

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Jordan Johnson, Buffalo

Second-year coach Lance Leipold faces a rebuilding project on offense, as just two starters are back for 2016. However, the offense has a good place to start the rebuilding effort at running back with the return of Johnson. As a backup to starter Anthone Taylor last season, Johnson rushed for 811 yards and 12 scores on 172 attempts. Despite the limited action, the New York native showcased the necessary talent to handle the every-down role for the Bulls. He recorded 147 yards on 28 attempts against Ohio and posted 123 yards against Miami (Ohio) in late October.

 

Xavier Johnson, South Alabama

Getting the ball to Johnson more often in 2016 should be a priority for coordinator Bryant Vincent. Johnson showed big-play ability and explosiveness in 12 games for the Jaguars last year, rushing for 956 yards and seven touchdowns on 145 attempts. Johnson posted five 100-yard games but only attempted at least 20 carries two times in 2015. With a few more opportunities next season, Johnson should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and push for All-Sun Belt honors.

 

Markell Jones, Purdue

Coach Darrell Hazell is looking for a spark on offense after Purdue averaged 22.5 points a game in Big Ten action last season. Even though the Boilermakers have room to improve on offense, the emergence of two freshmen last season – quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones – provide hope for 2016. Jones led the Boilermakers with 875 rushing yards and 10 scores. His best performance came against the rugged Michigan State defense, recording 157 yards on 22 attempts. With more help up front and opportunities, Jones could become Purdue’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008.

 

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Ronald Jones, USC

With quarterback Cody Kessler expiring his eligibility, it’s safe to assume the Trojans will utilize their ground attack more in 2016. New coach Clay Helton and coordinator Tee Martin aren’t hurting for options at running back, with Jones returning as the lead back after a strong freshman campaign. In 14 games last year, Jones recorded 987 yards and eight scores. He posted just one effort of more than 100 yards, but the Texas native also never attempted more than 19 carries in a contest. With more opportunities and a solid offensive line leading the way, Jones should easily eclipse 1,000 yards next season.

 

Devante Mays, Utah State

Mays was a key pickup from the junior college ranks last season and provided some punch to Utah State’s ground game late in the 2015 campaign. After recording less than 12 carries in each of the first six contests, Mays recorded at least 15 attempts in five out of the last seven games. Additionally, Mays posted three 100-yard efforts in the second half of the season, including 176 against Wyoming and 124 against Akron in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

 

Travon McMillian, Virginia Tech

New coach Justin Fuente inherits a talented group of running backs in Blacksburg, and this unit will help the first-year coach alleviate some of the pressure on the quarterback. McMillian had a breakout year as a redshirt freshman last season, and all signs point to an even better 2016 campaign. McMillian rushed for 1,042 yards and seven scores on 200 attempts and recorded three straight 100-yard efforts in the second half of the year. The return of Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie adds depth to this backfield, but McMillian should remain the go-to back for Fuente.

 

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Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

Opportunities could be limited for Mixon with Samaje Perine clearly entrenched as Oklahoma’s No. 1 back. However, as Mixon showcased in his first year of playing time with the Sooners, he’s got plenty of big-play ability and is a valuable receiver out of the backfield. In 13 games last season, Mixon ran for 753 yards and seven scores and grabbed 28 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Exceeding those totals by a lot in 2016 won’t be easy, but coordinator Lincoln Riley should find a few additional ways to get Mixon more involved.  

 

Ryan Nall, Oregon State

“The Wrecking Nall” is still a bit of a mystery after recording only 73 carries last season. Despite the small sample size, there’s a lot to like about the converted tight end. Nall rushed for 455 yards and three scores on 73 attempts and caught seven passes for 109 yards in 2015. Nall was more involved in the offense late in the year, including a 174-yard effort against Oregon and 122 yards against Colorado. Coach Gary Andersen inherited a major rebuilding project, but Nall is a player that could help spark an Oregon State offense that managed only 19 points a game last year.

 

Devine Redding, Indiana

Jordan Howard’s one-year stint at Indiana was a successful one, but the drop-off at running back for coach Kevin Wilson should be minimal. Redding was a solid No. 2 option last season, rushing for 1,012 yards and nine scores on 226 attempts. He also filled in as Indiana’s No. 1 back when Howard was injured late in the year and recorded three consecutive performances of at least 130 yards in each of the final three games. Redding gashed Duke for 227 yards and one touchdown in the Pinstripe Bowl and is poised to build on those totals in 2016.

 

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Jovon Robinson, Auburn

This is the second year in a row Robinson makes an appearance in this list. The junior college product rushed for 639 yards and three touchdowns last season and finished the year on a high note with 126 yards against Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. With Peyton Barber departing to the NFL, combined with Robinson’s strong close to the 2015 season, all signs point to a breakout year in his second year at Auburn.

 

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

Derrick Henry will be missed, but as usual in Tuscaloosa, Alabama isn’t hurting for talent at running back. Scarbrough looks like the next star for coach Nick Saban after rushing for 104 yards and one score on 18 attempts last season. The Alabama native was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, and at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Scarbrough has a physical build similar to Henry. Scarbrough needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season, but the sophomore will be one of the SEC’s top breakout stars at running back. 

 

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LJ Scott, Michigan State

With quarterback Connor Cook off to the NFL, the Spartans are expected to lean more on their ground attack in 2016. Coach Mark Dantonio has assembled a deep backfield for the offense to utilize, as three players return that recorded at least 500 rushing yards in 2015. Scott led the way with 699 yards and 11 scores, including 73 yards and the all-important game-winning score to beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. Gerald Holmes, Madre London and Delton Williams will see carries, but the guess here is Scott emerges as the team’s go-to back in 2016.

 

Ito Smith, Southern Miss

New coach Jay Hopson inherits six returning starters from an offense that averaged 39.9 points a game in 2015. Quarterback Nick Mullens is the headliner, but the ground attack shouldn’t be overlooked. Smith quietly rushed for 1,128 yards and 10 scores last season and was a key target in the passing game with 49 catches for 515 yards. He also led all Conference USA running backs with nine rushes of 30 yards or more in 2015.

 

Justin Stockton, Texas Tech

DeAndre Washington capped a solid career in Lubbock with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. While the Red Raiders lean on the passing attack and quarterback Patrick Mahomes to generate points and yards, the ground game is far from an afterthought. Stockton is slated to get the first opportunity to replace Washington at running back, and the junior has already showcased big-play potential in limited snaps. Stockton rushed for 367 yards (6.02 ypc) last season and added 22 receptions for 341 yards and six scores in 2015. Corey Dauphine and Quinton White are also expected to push for carries this offseason.

 

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Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Illinois

New coach Lovie Smith is just getting acclimated to his new team, but Smith has to like the start the Fighting Illini has on offense. Quarterback Wes Lunt and receiver Mike Dudek return, and the ground attack should be in good shape with Vaughn leading the way. As a freshman last year, Vaughn led the offense with 723 rushing yards and six scores and caught 16 balls for 119 yards. The Tennessee native is poised for a breakthrough campaign in 2016.

 

Mike Warren, Iowa State

Warren is the centerpiece of new coach Matt Campbell’s rebuilding effort at Iowa State. In 12 games last year, Warren rushed for 1,339 yards and five scores and posted one 200-yard effort (245 against Texas Tech). Campbell nearly landed Warren as a recruit at Toledo, so there is plenty of familiarity between Warren and the new coaching staff. Additionally, Campbell’s offenses (as a head coach) at Toledo generated a 1,000-yard rusher in three out of the four seasons. If a rebuilt offensive line meshes early in the year, Warren could challenge for the Big 12’s rushing title.

 

Mike Weber, Ohio State

This spot could go to a couple of Buckeyes, but the guess here is Weber ends up leading the team in rushing yards by the end of 2016. Weber was slated to play as a true freshman last season, but a knee injury kept the Detroit native on the sidelines. The potential and upside is there for Weber to step in and soften the blow from Ezekiel Elliott’s early departure to the NFL. Weber was a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 78 overall prospect in the 2015 signing class. Antonio Williams and Bri’onte Dunn are also in the mix for carries.

 

Boom Williams, Kentucky

Williams has been a solid player for coach Mark Stoops in each of the last two seasons, but the Georgia native is capable of elevating his game to another level. Despite missing two games last year, Williams rushed for 855 yards and six scores last season. Additionally, Williams recorded 7.1 yards per rush – the most by any SEC running back with at least 100 carries. With four starters back on the offensive line, can Williams hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2016?

 

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David Williams, South Carolina

One of the biggest concerns for new coach Will Muschamp has to be the skill players on offense. The Gamecocks lose running back (Brandon Wilds) and three of the top four receivers from 2015. Williams was rated as a four-star recruit out of high school but has only worked in a reserve role in each of the last two years. The Philadelphia native has never recorded more than 14 carries in a game, but 2016 should be his time to step forward as South Carolina’s go-to running back.

 

Jarveon Williams, UTSA

New coach Frank Wilson certainly knows all about finding and developing good running backs. After all, Wilson comes to UTSA after tutoring standouts Leonard Fournette, Stevan Ridley and Jeremy Hill at LSU. Wilson should find plenty to like in Williams, as the Texas native is UTSA’s top weapon on offense. In 11 games last year, Williams recorded 1,042 yards and eight scores on 173 attempts. Expect Wilson to utilize Williams even more in 2016.

 

Joe Williams, Utah

Utah got an early glimpse of its 2016 backfield after Devontae Booker was lost for the year in mid-November with a knee injury. Williams filled in admirably late in the year, recording 399 yards and three touchdowns over the final three games and finished the season with 477 yards on 104 attempts. After a strong showing in his first year on campus, Williams is poised for even bigger things in 2016 as Utah’s No. 1 running back.

 

Others to Watch

 

Josh Adams/Dexter Williams, Notre Dame

Tarean Folston is back from a season-ending knee injury, but the Fighting Irish could spread the wealth in carries in 2016. Adams finished second on the team in 2015 with 838 yards, while Williams chipped in 81 yards on 21 carries. Both players should see plenty of opportunities next fall.

 

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Warren Ball, Akron

Ball was a four-star recruit but never found consistent playing time with the Buckeyes. The Columbus native could realize his potential as a graduate transfer with the Zips.

 

Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan

Bogan supplanted Jarvion Franklin (1,551 yards in 2014) as Western Michigan’s No. 1 back in 2015 and finished the year with 1,051 yards and 16 scores. Will Bogan remain in the lead role or will Franklin reclaim the starting job?

 

Mike Boone, Cincinnati

Three Cincinnati backs rushed for 700 yards last season, but only two – Boone and Tion Green – return for 2016. Boone rushed for 749 yards and nine scores in 11 games last season and showed the most big-play ability (7.2 ypc) in the Cincinnati backfield.

 

Fred Coppet, Bowling Green

New coach Mike Jinks won’t have quarterback Matt Johnson or dynamic receivers Roger Lewis or Gehrig Dieter at his disposal, but Coppet returns after working as the No. 2 option to Travis Greene last year. Coppet rushed for 825 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries last fall.

 

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Justin Crawford, West Virginia

Crawford should play a key role in West Virginia’s ground attack after Wendell Smallwood left early for the NFL. Crawford ranked as the No. 34 overall junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite.

 

LeShun Daniels/Akrum Wadley, Iowa

With Jordan Canzeri out of eligibility, the focus in the Iowa backfield shifts to Daniels and Wadley. Derrick Mitchell is also in the mix, but Daniels and Wadley worked in the backup role to Canzeri in 2015. Will the Hawkeyes find a clear No. 1 back or is a committee approach coming in 2016?

 

Dontrell Hilliard, Tulane

It’s no secret new coach Willie Fritz likes to run the ball. Hilliard only rushed for 646 yards last year, but his 5.6 per carry average provides promise for 2016.

 

Xavier Jones, SMU

Coach Chad Morris is starting to put the pieces into place for improvement on SMU’s offense. Jones was a three-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and finished second to quarterback Matt Davis in rushing yardage (632) and tied for the team lead in rushing scores (10).

 

C.J. Leggett, Georgia Tech

Leggett was poised for a huge role in Georgia Tech’s backfield last season but an ACL tear in April ended his 2015 season. Leggett is expected to return at full strength to help anchor the ground attack for coach Paul Johnson in 2016.

 

Robert Martin/Josh Hicks, Rutgers

Martin and Hicks earn a mention in this column for the second year in a row. This duo combined for 1,437 yards and 10 scores last season and will be the focal point for the offense under new coach Chris Ash.

 

I’Tavius Mathers, MTSU

Ole Miss transfer is eligible after sitting out 2015 due to NCAA transfer rules. Mathers recorded 290 yards with the Rebels in 2014 and should provide some punch to a MTSU ground attack that ranked 12th in Conference USA last year.

 

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Izzy Matthews, Colorado State

Dalyn Dawkins is still the lead back in Fort Collins, but Matthews will get more opportunities after rushing for 590 yards as a true freshman last season.

 

Timothy McVey, Air Force

McVey doesn’t have a huge sample size of stats, but the Ohio native showcased a knack for creating big plays last year. He caught 10 passes for 307 yards (30.7 ypc) and four touchdowns and gashed opposing defenses for 435 yards and nine touchdowns on just 51 carries. Will the Falcons get McVey more involved in 2016?

 

Jalin Moore, Appalachian State

The Mountaineers are loaded at running back – led by standout Marcus Cox – but Moore could find a few additional opportunities after rushing for 731 yards on just 99 carries (as a freshman) last fall.

 

Khalfani Muhammad, California

With Jared Goff departing, the focus of California’s offense could shift more to the ground attack in 2016. Muhammad leads a solid trio of backs for coach Sonny Dykes and finished with 586 yards and one score on 87 rushes last year.

 

Arkeel Newsome, UConn

The ground attack is the strength of UConn’s offense, and Newsome is the headliner for coach Bob Diaco after recording 792 yards and six touchdowns on 183 carries in 2015.

 

A.J. Ouellette, Ohio

Ouellette has been a steady performer for the Bobcats over the last two seasons and rushed for 785 yards on 160 carries in 2015. Will the junior get more opportunities in 2016?

 

Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska

The Cornhuskers are hoping to generate more from their ground attack in 2016, but will a clear go-to option at running back emerge for coach Mike Riley? Ozigbo is one to watch after he rushed for 87 yards on 21 attempts in the Foster Farms Bowl win against UCLA.

 

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Jordan Scarlett/Mark Thompson, Florida

The Gators are searching for a new No. 1 back after Kelvin Taylor left Gainesville to head to the NFL. Scarlett was a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and rushed for 181 yards and one score on 34 attempts. He will be pushed for snaps by incoming junior college product Mark Thompson.

 

Alonzo Smith, Miami, Ohio

The RedHawks struggled to establish their ground attack last season, but Smith showed promise late in the year by recording 93 yards against Eastern Michigan and 109 against UMass.

 

Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan

Vann should be a key cog in the Eastern Michigan offense this season. As a backup to starter Darius Jackson last year, Vann recorded 586 yards (5.8 ypc) and five touchdowns. He also posted one 100-yard effort (Wyoming) and is the go-to back with Jackson out of eligibility.

 

Kareem Walker, Michigan

The top three running backs from 2015 are back for coach Jim Harbaugh, but the Wolverines could have trouble keeping Walker on the sidelines. The New Jersey native was a four-star recruit and ranked No. 100 in the 247Sports Composite. Early playing time is certainly possible in 2016.

 

Warren Wand/Johnston White, Arkansas State

Michael Gordon (1,063 yards in 2015) will be missed, but Arkansas State’s ground attack shouldn’t miss a beat with Wand (707 yards last year) and White (14 TDs, 616 yards) back in Jonesboro. 

 

Devwah Whaley, Arkansas

Who will be the next star running back for Bret Bielema at Arkansas? Whaley – a top 100 recruit in the 247Sports Composite – is a name to watch when he hits campus this summer.

 

Jeffrey Wilson, North Texas

Wilson should be one of the top playmakers for new coach Seth Littrell in 2016. Wilson showed flashes of promise last year by recording for 830 rushing yards and one score (5.4 ypc) on 155 attempts.

 

Marquis Young, UMass

Young quietly finished the 2015 season on a high note by recording 472 yards over the final three games for the Minutemen. He should be more involved with the ground attack as a sophomore next fall.

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College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/washington-state-cougars-2016-spring-football-preview
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Everything finally fell into place for last season. The Cougars finished with nine wins for the first time since 2003. With Luke Falk at quarterback, few defenses could effectively contain Washington State's explosive passing attack. Now building a consistent winner is the task ahead for Mike Leach as 2016 approaches.

 

Staying competitive in the Pac-12 North may come down to what improvements Washington State can make on the defensive side of the ball. The Cougar offense, as long as Falk stays healthy, should be in good hands.

 

4 Storylines to Watch in Washington State’s Spring Practice

 

1. What can Falk do for an encore?

Many coaches have to be kicking themselves for not giving Falk a closer look when he played at Utah’s Logan High School. Falk joined Washington State program as a walk-on after receiving virtually no recruiting attention. Now he is one the Pac-12's best quarterbacks.

 

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Falk enjoyed a breakout sophomore season last fall. He threw for 4,566 yards and 38 touchdowns while completing 69.4 percent of his passes. Falk ranked fifth nationally in total passing yards and fourth in passing touchdowns. With him at the controls, the Cougars had the nation's top passing offense (389.5 yards per game) in 2015.

 

There are concerns about Falk's health after he got knocked out of three different games with injuries last season and missed the Apple Cup because of a concussion. The offense's production dropped off noticeably under Peyton Bender, Falk's backup, so keeping its starting quarterback healthy is critical for Washington State's continued success.

 

2. Backfield blossoming

Don't look now, but Washington State is starting to get a semblance of a ground game going. Leach is notorious for having quarterbacks dial up 50 or 60 passes in a game, but he may be able to give Falk's arm a little bit of rest this fall.

 

The Cougars return their top three running backs — Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington — from a season ago. Wicks led the trio with 610 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry. Harrington was the top receiving threat with 312 yards on 43 catches. That group only gets deeper this spring with the addition of promising freshman James Williams.

 

3. Retooling the defensive line

The Cougars must find replacements for Destiny Vaeao and Darryl Paulo who can offer similar defensive playmaking skills. Vaeao was a consistent disruptor at the line of scrimmage. Paulo was a leader in tackles for a loss and sacks on the line.

 

Hercules Mata'afa will get a chance to move into a starting role. He did well as a pass rusher while backing up Vaeao a year ago. Robert Barber returns at nose tackle and Daniel Ekuale will slide over from tackle to play end. The trio will be counted on to boost Washington State's run defense after the team gave up nearly five yards per carry. It kept the defense on the field for long stretches and proved to be a major liability for the Cougars at times.

 

4. Marks headlines receivers again

Getting back Gabe Marks for one more season is an unexpected surprise. Marks seemed to be on the NFL radar at the end of last season after totaling 1,192 receiving yards and leading the Pac-12 with 15 touchdown catches.

 

Getting back Marks will add teeth to a receiver corps already flush with depth, talent and experience. Only Dom Williams, the No. 2 receiver behind Marks last season, is gone from Falk's top targets in 2015. It should make the unit a defensive headache again in 2016.

 

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

 

Leach has brought hope back to Pullman after snapping a streak of 11 consecutive losing seasons last fall. Now the task is to build on that nine-game winning season and Sun Bowl victory. The Cougars should be able to keep moving forward in the Pac-12 North. With Falk and nearly of the team's top receivers back, it's safe to say Washington State is poised to be an offensive powerhouse again in 2016.

 

— 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:
Washington State Cougars 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-basketball/2016-ncaa-tournament-ranking-sweet-16-teams
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The first week of the NCAA Tournament has come and gone, and we have cut down the field to the Sweet 16. Northern Iowa, Stephen F. Austin and Middle Tennessee tried their best to  play the role of Cinderella, but the clock has struck midnight on the mid-majors, as the Sweet 16 has turned into a battle of the college basketball big boys — including a record six ACC teams.

 

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The second week of the Big Dance has become a who’s who in college hoops, highlighted by all four No. 1 seeds, historic programs and Hall of Fame coaches. Although the long shots and dark horses weren’t sent packing, doesn't mean that the madness has to stop. In fact, this Sweet 16 has a chance to be one of the best in recent memory with teams all being within arm’s reach of one another.

 

So how the remaining teams stack up? Let’s rank them, from No. 1 all the way through to No. 16.

 

1. Kansas Jayhawks (32-4)

The Jayhawks have to be the popular pick to cut down the nets in Houston after Michigan State’s early and unexpected exit at the hands of Middle Tennessee. Kansas blew out feel-good No. 16 Austin Peay in the first round, and handled the red-hot No. 9 Connecticut Huskies on Saturday. This isn’t the most talented group Bill Self has had in his Lawrence tenure, but it is his most cohesive and arguably his toughest team. Kanas presents a series of conundrums for opposing coaches. Lead by Wayne Selden Jr. and Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks have depth that other teams could only dream about. Focus on shutting down Selden? Then good luck stopping Frank Mason III or Devonte Graham at the same time. Per 40 minutes, the Jayhawks have 11 players that average a minimum of 12 points, and rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency.

 

2. North Carolina Tar Heels (30-6)

If Kansas is No.1, then the Tar Heels are 1B. Roy Williams’ squad has saved its best and most versatile brand of basketball for March. The Tar Heels disposed of No. 16 Florida Golf Coast in the opening round and then went small against No. 9 Providence to beat the Friars 85-66 on Saturday night. Carolina has so many ways to beat you, but it starts with the interior presence of senior Brice Johnson (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and works its way outside with guards Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige. Carolina plays Indiana on Friday night in a matchup between two of the sport’s most historic programs, with a total of 10 combined national titles. Roy’s boys match up very well with the Hoosiers, and everyone else left in the tourney.

 

3. Villanova Wildcats (31-5)

Forget about all the early and disappointing Villanova Tournament exits in past years. This Wildcat team is the same as any Jay Wright-coached squad over the past decade: guard-oriented, efficient in transition, and hard-nosed defensively. So what is the difference between those disappointing ‘Nova teams of yesteryear and this season’s? In short — tenacity. These Wildcats are superb on the defensive end, ranking seventh in defensive efficiency, and forcing more than 20 turnovers per game. Villanova also has arguably the most well-balanced and aggressive offensive attack in college basketball, with six players qualifying as “significant contributors” on KenPom.com, keeping opposing defenses guessing. 

 

4. Virginia Cavaliers (28-7)

Virginia opened up the first round by discarding No. 16 Hampton by 36, and holding the Pirates to just 45 points. For an encore performance, the Cavaliers shot a blistering 73 percent from the floor and poured in 54 points in the second half against No. 9 Butler. Tony Bennett’s team is the most well-oiled and methodical team in college basketball. The Cavaliers are led national player of the year candidate and KenPom golden boy Malcolm Brogdon — you know about him. The player who somehow gets lost in the shuffle is senior forward Anthony Gill, another KenPom top 10 player. Brogdon and Gill aside, the Cavaliers are an extremely productive offensive team, ranking sixth in offensive efficiency, and rank within the top 20 nationally in turnover percentage, effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free-throw percentage. Oh yeah, they also have the best defense left in the Tournament. Good luck, everyone else.

 

5. Indiana Hoosiers (27-7)

The Hoosiers proved that their No. 5 seed was a misrepresentation after dismantling Chattanooga in the first round and then topping archrival Kentucky on Saturday to advance to their third Sweet 16 in five seasons. The Yogi Ferrell-led Hoosiers are the most visually appealing team remaining in the dance. Indiana likes to get out and run, and all five guys on the floor can move, especially wing-post hybrids Troy Williams and freshman OG Anunoby. Williams has Jekyll and Hyde moments, but he has at least one instance per game that simply makes you question what if you just witnessed was reality – “Did he really just hit that shot!?” The best part about this Hoosiers squad is their chemistry. Every player knows and executes their specific roles perfectly.

 

6. Oklahoma Sooners (27-7)

Senior guard Buddy Hield is the best thing going in college basketball and must-see TV. He backed up a 27-point performance in the opening round against CSU Bakersfield with his closing argument for national player of the year honors — a 29-point, second-half explosion against VCU on Saturday night. Hield finished with 36 points, six three-pointers, and seven rebounds in OU’s hard-fought 85-81 win over the Rams. The Sooners face a feisty Texas A&M team in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. While Hield drives the offense, the Sooners are great on defense, giving them a well-rounded attack and a great shot at the Final Four.

 

7. Oregon Ducks (30-6)

The Ducks are still fighting for national respect — even after earning a No. 1 seed, Oregon still isn’t the favorite to make it to the Final Four from the West region. Oregon whooped No. 16 Holy Cross by 39, and survived against St. Joseph’s on Sunday night, 69-64, to advance to the Sweet 16. Dana Altman’s team is so effective on offense thanks to its length and athleticism, starting with the versatile, 6-foot-7 Dillon Brooks. But the Ducks may only go as far as their freshman guard Tyler Dorsey can take them — especially in a Sweet 16 matchup against Duke’s backcourt.

 

8. Miami Hurricanes (27-7)

The Hurricanes are the streakiest team left in the Tournament. They will string together minutes of brilliant play followed by what seems like endless possessions of cluelessness. The ceiling for Miami is the Final Four; it’s just a matter of Jim Larranaga’s team pulling it all together for 40 minutes on the sport’s biggest stage. Miami looked okay against an under-whelming Buffalo team, and then followed that up with a hard-fought victory over No. 11 Wichita State. Putting together that complete game against a premium Villanova squad in the Sweet 16 will be the difference between Miami reaching its potential or going home to South Florida by week’s end.

 

9. Iowa State (23-11)

Iowa State has made the most of a good situation thus far. After Purdue’s shocking loss in the opening round, the Cyclones’ first two Tournament opponents were double-digit seeds – No. 13 Iona and No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock. But don’t be fooled by the high seeds, both the Gaels and Trojans were solid teams, and the Cyclones handled both of them by an average margin of 15 points. Iowa State’s outstanding offense is well known, but defense has been the driving force so far this Tournament. A Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia is a college hoops fan’s dream. Georges Niang vs. Malcolm Brogdon is going to be worth tuning in to.

 

10. Maryland Terrapins (27-8)

Maryland slightly underperformed to lofty expectations throughout the regular season. The Terrapins survived the dreaded 12-5 upset in the first round against South Dakota State and lived to tell the tale against a tough No. 13 Hawaii team. The Terps will have more NBA talent (Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble) on Thursday night when they take on No. 1 Kansas — it’s just a matter of bringing that collective talent together and outplaying an all-around better team. One thing is for sure, if the Terps shoot as poorly as they did against Hawaii (1-for-18 from 3-point range), they can forget about upsetting the Jayhawks.

 

11. Duke Blue Devils (25-10)

The Blue Devils are similar to their former ACC counterpart, Maryland, in the fact that they’ve underachieved with a roster highlighted by NBA potential in Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen. Just when you thought that Duke was hitting its stride — leading Yale by 27 points on Saturday — the Blue Devils reminded you just how frustrating of a season it’s been when they allowed the Bulldogs to cut that near 30-point deficit to three with less than a minute remaining.

 

Duke held on, 71-64, but Coach K’s team looked spent after the final buzzer sounded against Yale. Duke now plays No. 1 Oregon late Thursday night. The Ducks are looking for national respect, and what better way than beating March royalty on their way to a Final Four? Dukies beware.

 

12. Texas A&M Aggies (28-8)

Call it divine basketball intervention. Call it a hardwood miracle. Or just call it March Madness. But whatever it was, on Sunday the Aggies found a way to erase a 12-point deficit with 40 seconds left in regulation against No. 11 Northern Iowa, to force OT. The Aggies were able to finally knock off the Panthers, 92-88, in double overtime to reserve a spot in the Sweet 16, the only SEC team to do so. Defense has been the Aggies’ greatest strength all season, as Danuel House has been carrying the offense. Texas A&M is going to need both against Buddy Hield and No. 2 Oklahoma on Thursday night. 

 

13. Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-7)

The Zags had to win the WCC Tournament in order to make their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament. And so far, Mark Few’s team hasn’t disappointed, as the Bulldogs are getting it done on both ends of the floor. Domantas Sabonis is increasing his NBA Draft stock with his performances against No. 6 Seton Hall and No. 3 Utah, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds in the first two rounds. Defensively, Gonzaga has been outstanding, keeping both the Pirates and Utes to fewer than 60 points last weekend.

 

14. Syracuse Orange (21-13)

The Orange are proving they belonged in the Tournament all along. After a 19-point win over No. 6 Dayton, and second half throttling of No. 15 Middle Tennessee, Jim Boeheim’s squad is now primed for an Elite Eight appearance if they can top No. 11 Gonzaga on Friday night. If ‘Cuse wants to move on, slowing down Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer on the perimeter and potential lottery pick Domantas Sabonis in the paint will be critical. The Orange have been strong defensively during the Tournament, something that will have to continue if wish to keep dancing.

 

15. Wisconsin Badgers (22-12)

The Badgers’ season has been a wild ride. Head coach Bo Ryan abruptly retired on Dec. 15 after a win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. The Badgers responded by losing four of their first six games under interim coach Greg Gard. After the brief skid, Wisconsin went on to win 10 of its next 11 Big Ten games. After an ugly 47-43 win over Pitt that set the game of basketball back four generations in the first round, the Badgers and Xavier Musketeers gave us a beautiful opening week parting gift on Sunday night. Bronson Koenig’s game-tying three-pointer, and then buzzer-beating, game-winning step-back three have given the Badgers a seemingly magic touch they can work with against No. 6 Notre Dame on Friday night.

 

16. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-11)

It’s not necessarily a knock that the Irish are the lowest-ranked team in this list, they’re just the least impressive of the bunch at the moment. It took a mediocre-at-best No. 11 Michigan team pushing the Irish around in the first half of the opening round for Notre Dame to realize it was a win-or-go-home sort of thing. The Irish stayed alive with a last-second tip-in against No. 14 Stephen F. Austin to keep dancing to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame is one the most efficient teams in the nation on offense, a testament to head coach Mike Brey, but the Irish can really struggle on defense, ranking 187th in the nation in defensive efficiency.

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Tournament: Ranking the Sweet 16 Teams
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/sportscenter-fidel-castro-tweet-delete-espn-savior-twitter
Body:

SportsCenter and ESPN often get blasted for their tone-deaf approach to things.

 

There are times the "world-wide leader in sports" is old-fashioned and just doesn't understand how social media works. They recently tweeted out a feature on Fidel Castro. Yes, that one. In the tweet, and the video from the website, they called Castro a "savior." Considering ESPN doesn't like its talent to share their political views, it's odd that the tweet was sent out.

 

Obviously the SportsCenter account took a verbal beating of sorts, from fans to respected journalists, urging them to take the tweet down. In a matter of about 3 hours, they decided enough was enough and deleted the tweet without immediate explanation.

 

Hours after the tweet was gone, they sent out this one to clear up any confusion.

 

 

Saying "our bad" isn't going to rectify the situation that didn't sit well with the 25 million of SportsCenter's followers.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 15:56
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /overtime/trutv-gives-finger-those-making-fun-its-viewership-pick-six-ncaa-tournament-march-madness
Body:

TruTV is a channel many sports fans may not know until March Madness comes around, but don't tell them that.

 

When Pick Six tried to come after the channel for being "popular" for one month of the year, they weren't having it.

 

 

TruTV didn't let that slide and answered with this colorful tweet, complete with an obsene gesture. 

 

 


Although Pick Six tried to clear up the confusion, TruTV called them out on the sideways comment.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 14:29
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2016-sweet-16-bracket-cheat-sheets
Body:

Let’s face it, chances are pretty good that your NCAA Tournament bracket is busted. Take heart, you’re not alone in this after all the chaos, fantastic finishes and unexpected outcomes that took place in the first and second rounds. But the good news is it’s not too late to redeem yourself. The Sweet 16 is set, and with it comes a shot at redemption.

 

So what if you didn’t have Syracuse or Gonzaga or Wisconsin making it to the Sweet 16. Now’s your chance to go all in on the Orange or Bulldogs or Badgers or you can hitch your wagon to another horse. No Michigan State or Kentucky to choose for your Final Four? No problem, as other blue bloods like Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and Indiana are still in the hunt.

 

The point is this. Consider the slate clean. If you could start over from this point, who would you have making it to the Final Four? Here’s how some Athlon editors see things playing out as the field narrows down to four teams come Sunday night. Besides, you know that they say: hindsight is always 20/20.

 

Mitch Light      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

Braden Gall      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

David Fox      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

Jasmine Watkins      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

Mark Ross      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     
Teaser:
NCAA Tournament 2016: Sweet 16 Bracket Cheat Sheets
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/top-moments-first-weekend-ncaa-tournament-march-madness-uni-texas-am-mtsu-wisconsin-xavier
Body:

They don't call it March Madness for nothing.

 

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament lived up to the hype. Upsets, buzzer-beaters, and more all left us crying and cheering like never before. Here are some of the more memorable moments as you try to make sense of everything that happened. Sure there were a lot of epic moment, but these have to rank among the top in everyone's memory.

 

Middle Tennessee upsets Michigan State

 

Wisconsin heads to the Sweet 16 

 

 

Notre Dame steals a win from S.F. Austin... hearbreakers

 

Texas A&M's epic comeback against UNI

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-14-zach-johnson
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. 14: Zach Johnson

Born: Feb. 24, 1976, Cedar Rapids, Iowa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 12 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,801,487 (8th) | World Ranking: 15

 

Gary Williams' Take: By adding a second major championship to his résumé with his Open Championship win, Johnson has put himself in a position for a Hall of Fame run as he enters his 40s. To achieve a dozen wins on Tour and two majors in an era of bomb and gouge is a great testament to his grit, but also to his commitment to playing to his strengths. Consider that he won The Masters at Augusta and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, both of which favor bombers, by sticking to a plan and executing it expertly. Like others with similar strengths, he should be expected to continue his production well into his 40s. He accumulated 10 top 10s in 2015, and while other shorter hitters have to focus on places like Colonial and Harbour Town, Johnson has shown that he can contend on courses with four par 5s and courses in excess of 7,200 yards.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 47
Wins: 2
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T9
    U.S. Open – T72
    British Open – 1
    PGA Championship – Cut
Best Career Finishes
    Masters - 1 (2007)
    U.S. Open - T30 (2011)
    British Open - 1 (2015)
    PGA Championship - T3 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 12
Missed Cuts: 16

 

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: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 11:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Utah Utes, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/utah-utes-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

is transforming into a team other Pac-12 teams don't want to face.

 

The Utes are coming off their best season since joining the league – finishing 10-3 overall and earning a bowl victory and final Top 25 ranking for the second consecutive season. Can Utah keep all of this momentum going forward in 2016?

 

The Utes have the ingredients in place to carve out another memorable season. Utah is strong once again on defense. The biggest mystery – like in past seasons – is how the offense will perform once fall arrives.

 

Five Storylines to Watch in Utah’s Spring Practice

 

1. Replacing Devontae Booker

Booker functioned as the engine that drove Utah's offense for the past two seasons. Filling his shoes won't be an easy task. Utah does have a stable of capable running backs, though, who can step up into a bigger role this season.

 

Joe Williams has the early edge for the top spot. The speedy senior made three starts after Booker went down with a season-ending injury a year ago. He totaled 477 yards and three touchdowns on 104 carries. Williams had issues with fumbling during his three starts, so the door is definitely wide open for Troy McCormick or incoming freshman Zach Moss to push for playing time.

 

Related: 

 

2. Who will start at quarterback?

For the first time since 2012, Utah opens a season without Travis Wilson at quarterback. Wilson set the school record for quarterback starts (39) and games played (46). He finished with 7,403 career passing yards, 54 touchdown passes, 21 rushing touchdowns and 8,627 yards of total offense.

 

Junior college transfer Troy Williams, redshirt sophomore Brandon Cox and true freshman Tyler Huntley will be battling to be the new Utah quarterback. Williams is likely the front-runner after throwing for 2,750 yards, 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions during his sophomore season at Santa Monica (Calif.) College.

 

3. Breaking in new linebackers

Linebacker is the only defensive position group with major question marks coming into spring camp. Utah must endure the difficult task of replacing standouts Gionni Paul and Jared Norris. Paul and Norris set the pace for the defense, combining for 204 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, eight pass breakups and four forced fumbles.

 

Utah has some promising junior college talent to fill those open spots at linebacker. David Laufatasaga, a transfer from Arizona Western College, can step in and make an immediate impact. Laufatasaga has great size for a linebacker and is a relentless hitter. Kurtis Taufa, a transfer from Snow (Utah) College, also could earn an immediate starting role with his ability to read offenses and quickly get to the ball.

 

4. Restocking special teams

Replacing a punter may not seem like a big deal. But when it is two-time Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett, it's a different story. Hackett played a critical role in winning field position battles last season. He led the Pac-12 and ranked second in the FBS in net punting, averaging 48 yards per punt. Hackett totaled a school record 10,933 career punt yards at Utah. The Utes have brought in another Australian punter, Mitch Wishnowsky, to try and fill his shoes.

 

Things are more settled at placekicker where Andy Phillips returns for his senior season. Phillips went 23-of-27 (.852) on field goals as a junior – highlighted by a career-long 53 yard kick against USC. He also went 47-of-47 on PATs, making 100 percent for the second time in three seasons.

 

5. Will the receivers take a step forward?

Utah hired Guy Holliday away from BYU during the offseason as the team's new receivers coach. Holliday will inherit the task of finding a way to elevate a position group that underachieved at times last season while replacing the Utes' top two receivers from 2015.

 

Kenneth Scott graduated and Britain Covey departed for a two-year Mormon mission. Utah's top returning receivers are tight end Harrison Handley (21 catches, 286 yards, four touchdowns) and wide receiver Tyrone Smith (18 catches, 193 yards). Tim Patrick, a key contributor in 2014, also is expected to return after sitting out 2015 with a leg injury.

 

The door is wide open for returning contributors like Patrick, Handley, Smith, Caleb Repp and Kenric Young to step up and put together breakout seasons. Newcomers like Alec Dana and Demari Simpkins will have a chance to also carve out a role.

 

Utah's Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12

 

There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the Utes this season. Utah's offensive and defensive lines are loaded with skill, experience and depth. The Utes also remain strong in the secondary and on special teams.

 

Utah has brought in several promising new playmakers at the offensive skill positions. The Utes lack experience in some areas of the offense, but if the talent at quarterback receiver, and running back lives up to its potential, there should not be any significant drop-off for Utah in the Pac-12 South.

 

If Utah can duplicate or build on what it has done the past two seasons, the Utes may once again challenge for a Pac-12 South title.

 

— 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:
Utah Utes 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-basketball/2016-ncaa-mens-basketball-tournament-sweet-16-schedule
Body:

The 2016 NCAA Tournament field has been narrowed from 68 teams down to 16. By Sunday evening, there will be just four teams left standing that have earned the right to advance to Houston and play for the national championship. If the first week of this Tournament is any indication, the March Madness has just begun.

 

Here are the matchups, times and broadcast information for Thursday and Friday’s Sweet 16 action.

 

Note: Some start times may be approximate.

 

Thursday, March 24


No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova (South Region)

7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)

 

No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (West Region)

7:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

 

No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas (South Region)

9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)

 

No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon (West Region)

10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

 

Friday, March 25

 

No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia (Midwest Region)

7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

United Center (Chicago)

 

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (East Region)

7:27 p.m. ET, TBS

Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

 

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse (Midwest Region)

9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

United Center (Chicago)

 

No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina (East Region)

9:57 p.m. ET, TBS

Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament: Sweet 16 Schedule
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/10-biggest-upsets-ncaa-tournament-history
Body:

The only person I know who called No. 15 Middle Tennessee’s win over No. 2 Michigan State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was my five-year-old nephew and his prediction was not based on thorough research.

 

Unexpected upsets happen all the time in the Tournament, hence the reason all four No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four just once (2008) since 1979 when seeds were first used. That being said, only a select few – including the game just mentioned – have had a significant impact on college basketball. Here are the 10 biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

 

10. Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79 – 1988 National Championship Game

April 3, 1988 (Kansas City, MO)

The sixth-seeded Jayhawks entered the Tournament with 11 losses, two of which were to the Sooners. However, they also had college basketball’s best player in Danny Manning, who played his best in the season’s final three weeks. Manning’s team, nicknamed “Danny and the Miracles,” made it into the title game and the third time proved to be the charm against top-seeded Oklahoma. Kansas’ 11 losses are still the most of any national champion.

 

9. Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 – 1991 First Round, East Region

March 14, 1991 (College Park, MD)

This was the first time a No. 15 upset a No. 2, as the Spiders jumped out to a 44-36 halftime lead over the Orangemen and hung on to win. Richmond subsequently lost to Temple in the second round, but the upset proved that anything was possible during March Madness.

 

8. Loyola Marymount 149, Michigan 115 – 1990 Second Round, West Region

March 18, 1990 (Long Beach, CA)

Spurred by the tragic death of teammate Hank Gathers and the fastest offense in college basketball history, No. 11 Loyola Marymount overwhelmed defending national champion and No. 3 Michigan in the second round. The Lions continued their emotional run all the way to the Elite Eight where they were stopped by eventual national champion UNLV. But the upset of the Wolverines is the game that fans remember most.

 

7. Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81 – 2016 First Round, Midwest Region

March 18, 2015 (St. Louis)

Upsets seem to occur more frequently these days but Friday’s shocker stands out because Michigan State had won the Big Ten Tournament only five days earlier and was the heavy favorite in many brackets. Approximately 22 percent of brackets submitted to the NCAA Capital One March Madness Challenge Game picked the Spartans to win the national title and the Blue Raiders busted all of them. When you factor in that many more probably had Michigan State going deep into the tourney, there is no telling how significant this upset could prove to be. Even though Middle Tennessee lost to Syracuse in the second round on Sunday, what the Blue Raiders accomplished on Friday won't be forgotten for a long time, if ever.

 

6. Gonzaga 82, Stanford 74 – 1999 Second Round, West Region

March 13, 1999 (Seattle)

When No. 10 Gonzaga met No. 2 Stanford in the second round of the 1999 Tournament, few in the college basketball world thought of the Bulldogs as a national power. The upset over Stanford represented their coming out party. Since that win, Gonzaga has made the Big Dance every year, advanced to the Sweet 16 seven times (including this year) and the Elite Eight twice.

 

5. Florida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68 – 2013 First Round, South Region

March 23, 2013 (Philadelphia)

This is the highest of all the 15 vs. 2 upsets because it has the largest margin of victory, as the Eagles overran the Hoyas’ very good defense en route to becoming the only No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16.  The win is even more remarkable because the Eagles had only been in Division I basketball for two seasons and this game marked their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

 

4. Duke 79, UNLV 77 – 1991 Final Four

March 30, 1991 (Indianapolis)

It is very rare that a No. 2 seed’s defeat of a No. 1 is considered a major upset, but UNLV was 34-0 and had not lost a game since February 1990. The Runnin’ Rebels also had drubbed Duke 103-73 the previous year in the most lopsided national championship game in NCAA Tournament history. The Blue Devils got revenge with this upset of UNLV in the Final Four and the 1990-91 Runnin’ Rebels are now considered to be .

 

3. George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 – 2006 Regional Final, Washington, D.C., Region

March 27, 2006 (Washington, DC)

No. 11 George Mason reeled off wins against No. 6 Michigan State, No. 3 North Carolina and No. 7 Wichita State to earn an Elite Eight showdown with No. 1 Connecticut. The Colonials then stunned the Huskies and become the first small conference school to make the Final Four since 1979.

 

2. NC State, 54 Houston 52 – 1983 National Championship Game

April 4, 1983 (Albuquerque, NM)

The No. 6 Wolfpack had to win the ACC Tournament just to get in the Big Dance. Upon arriving, they “survived and advanced” with gutsy win after gutsy win, but saved their best for last. In the championship game, NC State slowed down No. 1 Houston’s “Phi Slamma Jamma” attack and then gave it a dose of its own medicine with an alley-oop dunk to win the game. No championship run has produced more drama.

 

1. Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 – 1985 National Championship Game

April 1, 1985 (Lexington, KY)

After barely squeaking into the NCAA Tournament, No. 8 Villanova became the greatest Cinderella story in basketball history. The Wildcats made it to the title game, where they faced defending national champion and No. 1 Georgetown. Villanova had lost to the Hoyas twice in the regular season but on this night, the Wildcats hit an amazing 78.6 percent from the field in the last college basketball game played without a shot clock.  It was enough to score the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at .

 

(Photos courtesy of Brent Beerends/Middle Tennessee Athletic Communications)

Teaser:
10 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/life-lessons-gary-player
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“I’m 80, but really I beat most of the guys at 40 in the gym,” jokes Gary Player. Except, that’s not a joke. The World Golf Hall of Famer is still practicing what he preaches about the benefits of diet and exercise. With National Nutrition Month and Diabetes Alert Day (March 22) upon us, we caught up with the South African fitness icon to glean a few words of wisdom.

 

Daily exercise routine…

“I still do 1,300 crunches and sit-ups. I still push 300 pounds with my legs and I run on the treadmill.”

 

Best fitness investment…

“All a person’s got to do is invest in buying a treadmill, and putting a treadmill in their bathroom. And every morning before they have their shower just get on that treadmill for a lousy 10 minutes.”

 

Diet advice…

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. You don’t put gas in your car when you park it in the garage at night.”

 

Foods to avoid…

“I don’t eat a lot of meat. I don’t eat bacon, at all. I don’t drink milk. I would never eat a hot dog or cold meats or bologna and that kind of stuff. I would never eat a donut. I would never eat all of this crap! You look at the way people eat — honestly they eat like it’s the Last Supper.”

 

Foods to enjoy…

“I love all kinds of fruit. Vegetables, love vegetables. Right in front of me now I have a glass of green juice, which is spinach, broccoli, kale, all the vegetables.”

 

On learning from Nelson Mandela…

(Prior to Mandela becoming South Africa’s first President, after spending 27 years in prison.) “He said, ‘I have no hatred. If I have revenge and hatred then we will never bring people together.’ And every time I was around him, I could not stop crying. I could not, because I realized how a man could have so much love.”

 

On giving golf tips to Elvis Presley…

“I said, ‘You’ve got to learn to use the hips, to wind up and unwind.’ He says, ‘The hips?’ And I say, ‘Yes.’ And he says, ‘Watch this, baby!’ And he gave me that Elvis hip movement.”

 

On the growing diabetes epidemic…

“If you look at the number of diabetics, there’s going to be 100 million diabetics in America in 40 years time. Eventually the government will run out of money if people keep getting sick like this.”

 

Final thoughts…

“Look after yourself, man. Your body is a holy temple. The greatest gift you can have is your health.”

 

 

American Diabetes Association Alert Day®

Join us as we give America a wake-up call to take the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test (www.diabetes.org)

 

Teaser:
At 80 years old, golf legend Gary Player remains a fitness icon
Post date: Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 14:44
Path: /life/big-game-hunting-adam-vinatieri
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Four-time Super Bowl champion Adam Vinatieri, 43, certainly knows a thing or two about big games.

 

The 20-year veteran kicker holds the NFL record for career postseason points scored (234) and has delivered time and again in high-pressure, high-profile situations. Vinatieri split the uprights on a 48-yard field goal to win Super Bowl XXXVI. Two years later, he won another Super Bowl by kicking a 41-yarder. The infamous “Tuck Rule” game? Won on a field goal by you-know-who.

 

As it turns out, Vinatieri isn’t just an expert on wild big games; he also knows all about big game in the wild.

 

“I’ve hunted all over the world,” he says. “Alaska, the Arctic, South America, New Zealand. I’ve chased everything from whitetail deer to grizzly bears. I love football, but hunting is in my blood.”

 

Not surprising, considering he grew up in rural South Dakota.

 

“My dad took me hunting for pheasants when I was 4 or 5 years old,” he says. “We were always out with uncles and cousins. It was definitely a family affair.”

 

Vinatieri has passed down the love of the outdoors to his kids, too.

 

“When I can, I try to steal an afternoon and take my 12-year-old son (A.J.) out,” he says. “He absolutely loves it. I’ve tried bringing my 5-year-old (Gabe) along, but it’s a little tough to keep a 5-year-old quiet. And my daughter (Allison) has tried hunting a few times. But honestly, she’d rather be riding horses.”

 

Today, Vinatieri still craves all types of outdoor activities — rifle and bow hunting, fishing, you name it. And while he loves the thrill of the chase, being outdoors gives the NFL’s oldest active player a chance to decompress.

 

“My job is stressful,” says Vinatieri, who lives in Carmel, Ind., just north of Indianapolis. “Every time I’m out there kicking it’s some degree of pressure. So when the season’s over, I really enjoy getting away from the city. The quiet, the calm, watching the sunrise, everything about it keeps me grounded.”

 

From deer to musk ox, gazelle to bison, Vinatieri has amassed quite a hunting résumé. (And yes, he does eat most of what he catches.) But of course, like all of us, he’s still trying to accomplish ambitious “bucket list” goals.

 

“I’d love to get to Russia and hunt,” he says. “Animal-wise, the Lord Derby (the world’s largest eland antelope, which can weigh over 2,000 pounds) in Africa is definitely something I have my sights set on.”

 

Judging by Vinatieri’s track record of success, there’s a good chance he adds a few more off-field prizes to his laundry list of on-field achievements. The undrafted South Dakota State product has raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl wins with Tom Brady (three times) and Peyton Manning (once). He’s also the only player to ever score 1,000 points with two different teams — playing 10 years apiece with the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.

 

“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some great teams,” he says. “Sometimes life is about being in the right place at the right time.”

 

He says that if he could, he’d hunt 250 days a year. So, will he be hunting full-time when he retires?

 

“In a perfect world, I’d love to have my own TV show. I’ve been on a couple of other hunting shows and had a great time.  I think it’d be awesome to travel the world, hunt and have it filmed.”

 

In the end, Vinatieri says hunting is more about the experience than the final result.

 

“Having a chance to spend time with family, the people I care about, building memories,” he says. “That’s the thing I love the most.”

 

by Lane Strauss

Teaser:
The greatest clutch kicker in NFL history is also a marksman off the field
Post date: Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 14:29
Path: /college-basketball/2016-ncaa-tournament-sunday-second-round-preview-and-predictions
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Unlike Thursday, Friday’s NCAA Tournament matchups featured plenty of upsets and great finishes. Sunday should offer more of the same as there are some Cinderella teams looking for their Sweet 16 glass slipper.

 

Here's a breakdown of the games on Sunday that will determine the rest of the Sweet 16 participants.

 

NCAA Tournament Saturday Second Round Games

Note: All times Eastern, some start times are approximate

 

No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 2 Villanova Wildcats

TV: 12:10 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Brooklyn (South Region)

Preview: Villanova has a bad reputation for losing Round of 32 games. Can these Wildcats advance to the Sweet 16?

 

The Wildcats were very impressive in their 86-56 victory over UNC Asheville on Friday, especially with their shooting. They were 13-of-28 from 3-point range and the Wildcats will look to do the same against the Hawkeyes.

 

Iowa will likely need to rebound better to defeat Villanova. The Hawkeyes were outrebounded by Temple 49-38. If the Hawkeyes can win the rebounding battle, this will help set up second-chance opportunities.

 

Iowa barely defeated Temple, so expect Villanova's depth to be a problem for the Hawkeyes.

 

Prediction: Villanova 73, Iowa 66


Related: 

 

No. 14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks vs. No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

TV: 2:40 p.m ET, CBS

Site: Brooklyn (East Region)

Preview: Can the Lumberbacks pull off another upset? Stephen F. Austin shocked the West Virginia Mountaineers 70-56 so don’t expect Notre Dame to intimidate this team. The Irish have been inconsistent all season long, but they have the talent to make a deep run.

 

This game will come down to if Travis Walkup has another big time game as he did against the Mountaineers when he scored 33 points.

 

Stephen F. Austin has an excellent defense and has the ability to put the clamps down on Notre Dame. The Lumberjacks should win a very close game.

 

Prediction: Stephen F. Austin 65, Notre Dame 63

 

No. 10 VCU Rams vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners

TV: 5:15 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Oklahoma City (West Region)

Preview: Can the Rams make it to another Sweet 16? Oklahoma got more than it bargained for in the first round against CSU Bakersfield. While the Sooners won 82-68, the game was closer than the final score indicated.

 

VCU will attempt to shut down Buddy Hield by forcing turnovers and establishing a strong presence in the painted area. If the Rams can rattle the Sooners offense, they will be able to push the tempo and get some fast break opportunities.

 

VCU is going to nag Oklahoma all game long, but the Rams will have a hard time dealing with the Sooners’ size. Oklahoma wins, but it will be close.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 69, VCU 65

 

Related: 

 

No. 15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. No. 10 Syracuse Orange

TV: 6:10 p.m. ET, TBS

Site: St. Louis (Midwest Region)

Preview: Which double-digit seed will advance? Syracuse silenced the doubters who said the Orange shouldn't even be in the Tournament by rolling over Dayton 70-51. On Sunday, they will have to defeat a Middle Tennessee team that pulled off the biggest shocker of the tournament.

 

The Blue Raiders upset No. 2 Michigan State 90-81. Middle Tennessee knocked down 11 3-pointer in the victory, something that will be necessary against Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone.

 

Talent-wise, Syracuse should win this one easily, but expect Middle Tennessee to put up a fight. However, don’t expect the Blue Raiders to have another great shooting game like they did against Michigan State.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 71, Middle Tennessee State 64

 

Related: 

 

No. 13 Hawaii Warriors vs. No. 5 Maryland Terrapins

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET. TBS

Site: Spokane (South Region)

Preview: Will Maryland underachieve again? Maryland has plenty of talent at each position and the Terrapins could potentially make a run at this year's Final Four. But Despite having an excellent point guard in Melo Trimble, a solid swingman in Rasheed Sulaimon and a dominating big man in Diamond Stone, the Terrapins have the tendency to play down to their opponents.

 

Hawaii will need to get great guard play from Quincy Smith and Roderick Bobbit, who loves to attack the basket. If Maryland can play disciplined basketball, they should defeat Hawaii by double digits.

 

Prediction: Maryland 77, Hawaii 61

 

Related: 

 

No. 11 Northern Iowa Panthers vs. No. 3 Texas A&M Aggies

TV: 7:40 p.m. ET, truTV

Site: Oklahoma City (West Region)

Preview: Can the Panthers do it again? On Friday, Northern Iowa won a thrilling game over No. 6 Texas, thanks to a half-court buzzer beater by Paul Jesperson. Now, the Panthers hope for a similar outcome against another team from Texas.

 

The Panthers uses four guards to attack the basket. Wes Washpun can attack the rim, but he also can knock down open 3-pointers. Texas A&M center Tyler Davis will need to be an enforcer in the paint to prevent Northern Iowa from getting easy shots.

 

Nothern Iowa will look to spread the floor against Texas A&M, just like it did against Texas.

 

Prediction: Northern Iowa 71, Texas A&M 67

 

No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 2 Xavier Musketeers

TV: 8:40 p.m. ET, TNT

Site: St. Louis (East Region)

Preview: Xavier is at its best when it works its offense inside-out. Trevon Bluiett can go to the basket, but has enough range to knock down an open 3-pointer.

 

If Wisconsin is going to win, the Badgers will need to keep the pace slow. While they have a ton of experienced players from last year's national championship game appearance, they simply do not have the athletes to keep up with the Musketeers.

 

Prediction: Xavier 60, Wisconsin 55

 

No. 9 Saint Joseph's Hawks vs. No. 1 Oregon Ducks

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

Site: Spokane (West Region)

Preview: Oregon is as balanced and athletic as any team in the Tournament. Chris Boucher scored 20 points in the Ducks' first round win over Holy Cross and they will need him and Elgin Cook to have another impressive performance on Sunday. 

 

St. Joseph’s loves to crash the boards and attack the basket. The Hawks don't have great size so they will need to rely on hitting their long-range shots.

 

Oregon's length is going to create some problems for St. Josephs’. The Ducks should win this game by double digits.

 

Prediction: Oregon 75, St. Joseph's 60

 

— 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 @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Tournament Sunday Second Round Preview and Predictions
Post date: Saturday, March 19, 2016 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/hawaii-rainbow-warriors-vs-maryland-terrapins-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
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The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors caught No. 4 California at the perfect time on Friday. Cal’s leading scorer Tyrone Wallace broke his shooting hand during practice on Wednesday and was unable to go, but at least the Golden Bears could prepare for that. Another double-digit scorer, junior guard Jabari Bird, was suffering from back spasms and was ruled out of the contest right before tip-off. This isn’t to say that Hawaii simply got lucky; this is a talented team that is definitely capable of rattling off a few more wins in March. Next up for Hawaii is No. 5 Maryland, which built a big lead and then held off a pesky South Dakota State team on Friday.

 

No. 13 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (28-5) vs. No. 5 Maryland Terrapins (26-8)

 

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

Where: Spokane Arena (Spokane, WA)

TV: TBS

Line: Maryland -6.5

 

Keys for Hawaii

New head coach Eran Ganot’s team was able to lock up Hawaii’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win in the Rainbow Warriors’ first appearance since 2002. This team is truly playing with nothing to lose, as a bevy of NCAA violations under former head coach Gib Arnold has made them ineligible for any postseason next year. The Rainbow Warriors must feed junior center Stefan Jankovic the ball in the low post and run their offense from the inside out in order to take down Maryland.

 

Keys for Maryland

The Terrapins held a 17-point lead with 11 minutes to go in the second half against South Dakota State and still had to eek out a win in the closing minutes. Melo Trimble played sloppy on both sides of the ball at times, including taking his fifth foul on a 3-point shot with a minute left in the game. This team always seems to panic under pressure, and a very solid Hawaii team will give the Terps serious trouble if they don’t play smart basketball. The key for Mark Turgeon’s team is its shooters. If Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman can knock down a few early threes it will enable the Terrapins to space the floor on offense.

 

Final Analysis

 

There is very serious upset potential here, and the Rainbow Warriors could be the first No. 13 seed to topple a No. 5 seed in the round of 32 in a decade. Maryland cannot afford to be careless with the basketball, as Hawaii is the type of team that capitalizes on almost every mistake its opponent makes.

 

Prediction: Hawaii 76, Maryland 70

 

(Stefan Jankovic photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. Maryland Terrapins: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, March 19, 2016 - 15:20
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/middle-tennessee-blue-raiders-vs-syracuse-orange-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
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What can Middle Tennessee do for an encore? The Blue Raiders put themselves on the college basketball map with one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. Middle Tennessee never trailed for 40 minutes en route to knocking off No. 2 Michigan State 90-81 – a team that was widely considered to be a national championship contender.

 

Syracuse pulled out a surprise on a smaller scale. The Orange met with heavy criticism when they received an at-large bid with low RPI numbers and losses in five of their last six games coming into the Tournament. Syracuse silenced many doubters with a dominating 70-51 victory over No. 7 Dayton. Now the Orange have earned a shot at going to the Sweet 16.

 

No. 15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (25-9) vs. No. 10 Syracuse Orange (20-13)

 

When: 6:10 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Where: Scotttrade Center (Saint Louis)

TV: TNT

Line: Syracuse – 6

 

Keys for Middle Tennessee

 

Break the Zone

Syracuse can make it difficult for opponents to generate consistent offense with its patented zone. If Middle Tennessee wants to take its underdog act to the Sweet 16, the Blue Raiders need to knock down 3-pointers early to open things up offensively. It will force Syracuse to guard the 3-point line tighter and open up driving lanes to the basket.

 

Spread the Wealth

The Blue Raiders reached the second round in large part because they got big games from several players. All five starters scored in double figures against Michigan State, led by Reggie Upshaw's 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Middle Tennessee will need a similar effort against another tough defense.

 

Keys for Syracuse

 

Put Middle Tennessee on the line
The Blue Raiders ranked in the bottom 50 nationally in free throw shooting percentage during the regular season. Middle Tennessee did well at the line over its past two games, but the law of averages is bound to catch up. Syracuse can potentially break a close game open by letting the Blue Raiders shoot themselves out of it.

 

Don't start slow

Middle Tennessee played fearless after jumping out to a 15-2 lead on Michigan State and was able to answer every comeback run the Spartans mounted. Syracuse needs to start strong on offense to avoid giving the Blue Raiders early confidence. The Orange could use another lights-out inside-out performance from Malachi Richardson and Tyler Roberson, who combined for 31 points and 22 rebounds against Dayton.

 

Final Analysis

 

Middle Tennessee shocked the world with its big victory over Michigan State and the Blue Raiders are playing with supreme confidence. Still, Syracuse can be a handful for teams not accustomed to dealing with its zone. The Orange are likely to fluster Middle Tennessee's shooters enough to prevent it from becoming just the second No. 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 78, Middle Tennessee 68

 

— 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:
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Syracuse Orange: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, March 19, 2016 - 15:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/vcu-rams-vs-oklahoma-sooners-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
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After being on the other end of first-round upsets for two consecutive seasons, VCU got to deliver a knockout blow as a double-digit seed this time around. The Rams helped kick off a second day of opening round upsets with a 75-67 victory over Oregon State.

 

Now VCU is a step closer to reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011 when it reached the Final Four for the first time. The Rams face a stiff challenge with Oklahoma. Few teams can match the Sooners when it comes to producing an efficient and explosive offense.

 

Oklahoma averages 80.4 points per game. The Sooners shot 55 percent from 3-point range in an 82-68 first round victory over CSU Bakersfield. They average 43 percent shooting from the perimeter per game this season.

 

No. 10 VCU Rams (25-10) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (26-7)

 

When: 5:15 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City)

TV: CBS

Line: Oklahoma – 6.5

 

Keys for VCU

 

Lewis needs a big game

When JeQuan Lewis is at his peak, so are the Rams. Lewis had a fine performance against Oregon State, scoring 21 points, dishing out eight assists and collecting seven rebounds. He has a knack for turning the ball over too much under pressure. But when Lewis stays composed and limits his mistakes, VCU can punish teams with efficient offense and aggressive defense.

 

Blanket the perimeter

Oklahoma is a team that can shoot opponents out of a game in a hurry. That outside punch is what makes the Sooner offense so powerful and fun to watch. VCU needs to aggressively guard the perimeter and force Oklahoma to work the clock so the Sooners can't get into an early rhythm with outside shots.

 

Keys for Oklahoma

 

Get Hield some help

Buddy Hield makes creating amazing plays seem as normal for him as taking a free throw. Hield averages 25 points per game and has scored at least 30 points 10 times this season. He had 27 points against the Roadrunners on Friday. But Hield can't be expected to carry the team alone. When he struggles, the Sooners become vulnerable against almost any opponent. Players like Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard need to step up and provide an extra offensive punch against VCU.

 

Take care of the ball

Shooting well isn't the only thing that will lift Oklahoma against VCU. The Sooners will have to guard against the Rams getting into passing lanes and getting their hands on the ball. It could be easier said than done. VCU averaged 8.6 steals per game in Atlantic 10 play, a number that led the conference.

 

Final Analysis

 

Oklahoma faces a VCU team that can generate more than enough defensive pressure to make things uncomfortable for the Sooners for 40 minutes. That can turn into a problem for Oklahoma, since it relies heavily on its perimeter game to bury opponents. The Sooners need to step up inside and take pressure off outside shooters if they wish to make it to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: VCU 73, Oklahoma 70

 

— 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:
VCU Rams vs. Oklahoma Sooners: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, March 19, 2016 - 15:05
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/iowa-hawkeyes-vs-villanova-wildcats-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
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Fran McCaffrey and Iowa were one of the most popular picks to get upset in the first round, but despite an OT scare the Hawkeyes were able to scrape out a win against No. 10 Temple. Iowa did let a double-digit lead in the second half slip away, something that is becoming all too familiar. It cannot afford to let up against a high-powered Villanova Wildcats team that is fresh off of a 30-point rout of UNC Asheville if the Hawkeyes wish to move on to the Sweet 16.

 

No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes (22-10) vs. No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (30-5)

 

When: 12:10 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Where: Barclays Center (Brooklyn, NY)

TV: CBS

Line: Villanova -6.5

 

Keys for Iowa

Iowa once again failed to close out a game and deliver a complete, 40-minute effort. However, they kept their composure in overtime and senior big man Adam Woodbury was able to put back an offensive board with four seconds left for the victory. Iowa pulling off the upset on ‘Nova rests largely on the shoulders of Jared Uthoff and Peter Jok, who were a combined 5-for-20 from 3-point range on Friday. That cannot happen again if the Hawkeyes want to keep pace with a Villanova team that gets consistent scoring at every position.

 

Keys for Villanova

Villanova must study the tape from Friday and force Iowa into making the same mistakes it did against No. 10 Temple. If Villanova can keep Iowa out of the paint the Wildcats have a very good chance of running away with this game. Jay Wright’s teams often look great on paper during the regular season but fail to win in March. These Wildcats must come out fired up to play an Iowa squad that can be lethal when it’s hitting shots. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono must be a floor general and create open looks for his teammates from the opening tip to get them in a good groove.

 

Final Analysis

 

There is a ton of talent on display in this second round showdown between Iowa and Villanova. I believe the matchup plays to Villanova’s strengths, and if senior big man Daniel Ochefu (6-11, 245) can keep Uthoff in check while staying out of foul trouble then the Wildcats should come out on top. The Wildcats also will benefit from the crowd, as this game in Brooklyn is only a few hours away from Philadelphia. Additionally, Arcidiacono is one of those pesky four-year starters that seem to carry their team through the tournament on sheer heart. Villanova should be able to score enough against a sloppy Iowa defense to move on to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Villanova 82, Iowa 75

Teaser:
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Villanova Wildcats: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, March 19, 2016 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/auto-club-400-fontana-preview-and-fantasy-nascar-predictions-2016
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finishes up its three-race tint out west with what it hopes will be the sport’s own version of March Madness at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The 2-mile oval will host the Auto Club 400 in what should be the most aggressive test of NASCAR’s new rules package designed to make racing better on intermediate ovals. The old pavement here combined with passing-friendly changes is expected to make one of the best racetracks in recent years a “can’t miss” event.

 

The last two Sprint Cup champions, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick enter this race tied atop the standings, although Busch has yet to win so far this season. Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards round out the top 5 in driver points and each of them are poised for a strong weekend. They’re all former winners at Fontana.

 

2016 Auto Club 400

 

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Track: Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.)

TV: FOX

Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

 

Who’s at the Front

Stewart-Haas Racing. In a year filled with parity, SHR’s two best drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have picked up where they left off during an impressive 2015 season. They comprise two of the three drivers to post top-10 finishes in every race this season (Kyle Busch is the other) and have combined to lead 364 laps. Kurt doesn’t have a win yet but his consistency so far is a sign he won’t just make the Chase but be a serious contender down the stretch. And for Harvick? It’s great bargaining power with his contract up for renewal, SHR’s pending move to Ford in 2017 and other potential Chevrolet suitors interested in snagging him away.

 

Who’s at the Back

Ryan Newman. For years, this Richard Childress Racing driver has made the Chase and contended through consistency. Top-10 finishes, not wins is what launches his No. 31 car into the playoffs. But after a handful of bad-luck moments to start 2016 Newman may need to get more aggressive. He has yet to record a top-10 finish, sits 25th in the standings and crashed out at Phoenix, finishing dead last. Newman’s contract also is up in 2016 and with young Ty Dillon, the grandson of owner Childress, looming it may be a make-or-break stretch coming up for NASCAR’s 2002 Rookie of the Year.

 

Who’s Making News?

Tony Stewart may be cleared to drive a street car but his return to NASCAR remains unclear. Stewart, out since January with a burst fracture in his L1 vertebra, says he can drive a street car but hasn’t been given the “thumbs up” for clearance to return to a race car. Best guess estimates remain centered around the Charlotte races in mid-May.

 

While NASCAR’s finishes have been close, save for Harvick and Carl Edwards locked in a side-by-side battle at Phoenix last week, the regular season so far seems devoid of any, well... drama. While four drivers from four different teams have won the first four races, trumpeting parity, only a handful of major names (Kyle Larson, Newman, Chase Elliott) are on the outside looking in on the Chase. NASCAR’s playoff system, when you add in the fact that there is one less major team (Michael Waltrip Racing) competing, Jeff Gordon is now retired and Stewart’s injury, becomes rather forgiving as nearly 50 percent of the field that runs full-time will make it in this year. Without a dramatic upset, the size we’re seeing in college basketball’s March Madness it may make NASCAR a bit, well... irrelevant the next few weeks.

 

NASCAR by the Numbers

 

.695

The combined margin of victory (in seconds) of NASCAR’s three races that have ended under green-flag conditions.

 

75

Lead changes through four races this season – six fewer than last year. It’s a weird quirk in a season where NASCAR’s new rules have caused more competitive racing throughout the pack.

 

30-1

Odds currently for Tony Stewart to win the 2016 Sprint Cup title. Stewart, out since the beginning of the season with a fractured vertebra, hasn’t even made the Chase since 2012.

 

300-1

Odds currently for Clint Bowyer to win the Auto Club 400 this weekend. Bowyer, the championship runner-up in 2012 and Stewart’s replacement behind the wheel of the No. 14 car in 2017, has found it tough sledding this year in a temporary ride for underdog HScott Racing. His best finish is 22nd and he’s finished just once on the lead lap.

 

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

 

Top Tier

 

Johnson is nearly as reliable at Fontana as Kevin Harvick was at Phoenix; he’s won five times, led 955 laps and posted 15 top-10 results in 21 career starts. That’s an astonishing 71 percent finish rate inside the top 10. It’s hard to get a higher number in this sport.

 

Busch, the 2003 winner at Fontana, feels like he’s owed one after dominating the race last year only to have a “debris caution” result in a green-white-checkered finish. Busch lost the restart on that to Brad Keselowski, slipped to third in the final running order and had to wait a few more weeks to post his 2015 comeback victory after a season-opening three-race suspension. Busch hasn’t forgotten that call, heads into the weekend with a strong intermediate track program and is motivated to right that wrong. Don’t discount emotion here.

 

Middle Tier

 

Larson, 13th in Friday practice, has been a bit of a disappointment so far in 2016. However, Fontana is a track that’s been kind to him; a runner-up result two years ago remains the best of his career in the Cup Series. The No. 42 is in need of a momentum boost and Larson’s tendency to run the high line should serve him well with this racetrack’s old pavement.

 

Greg Biffle

Biffle used to feast on the competition at both Fontana and Michigan. He won out here in 2005 and has led 297 career laps at this track. That history bodes well for him in a bounce-back year for Roush Fenway Racing. Treat his last two finishes in this race (40th and 32nd) as an anomaly.

 

Lower Tier

 

Chris Buescher

Fifth in Friday practice, the Front Row Motorsports rookie hasn’t done much to write home about so far in 2016. That said, he was fifth at Fontana last year in the XFINITY Series, driving Roush Fenway Fords and his FRM team has access to RFR notes that used to be quite good around this racetrack. Considering how well some of his “teammates” have done in recent weeks it’s worth a flier.

 

What Vegas Thinks

Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were tied with 5-1 odds heading into Friday’s practice session. As for last year’s winner, Brad Keselowski? He’s a distant 12-1, behind teammate Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

What I Think

Fontana has always been Johnson’s time to shine. I think the No. 48 team becomes the first two-time winner this season, as Hendrick Motorsports flexes their muscle before the Easter Break. That said, keep an eye on Austin Dillon, fastest in Friday practice and having a career year in his third season driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site . He can be reached at or on Twitter .

 

(Photos by )

Teaser:
Auto Club 400 at Fontana Preview and Fantasy NASCAR Predictions
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 20:45
Path: /college-basketball/connecticut-huskies-vs-kansas-jayhawks-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

The Connecticut Huskies and the Kansas Jayhawks is a matchup that would be fitting for the Final Four. But on Saturday, the two teams will meet in the second round looking to advance to play in the Sweet 16 next week in Louisville, Ky.

 

Kansas blew out No.16 Austin Peay 105-79 in the first round while UConn came from behind to edge No. 8 Colorado 74-67.

 

No. 9 Connecticut Huskies (25-10) vs. No.1 Kansas Jayhawks (31-4)

 

When: 7:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Where: Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines)

TV: CBS

Line: Kansas -8.5

 

Keys for Connecticut

Connecticut has a three-headed guard lineup of Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis and the trio came up big in the win over Colorado, combining for 38 points and 17 rebounds. While the Huskies will need their guards to produce they also will also need forwards Shonn Miller and Phillip Nolan to play well inside.

 

Keys for Kansas

Kansas’ talent is far superior to UConn’s, but the Jayhawks still need to execute against a well-coached Huskies team that is peaking at the right time. Wayne Selden Jr., Devonte Graham, and Frank Mason III can beat teams from both inside and outside. Forward Perry Ellis is the Jayhawks’ veteran enforcer in the paint who also can score inside. Kansas’ defense also is capable of giving the Huskies problems.

 

Final Analysis

 

Connecticut entered this year's Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, but that run is about to end. The athleticism of Kansas along with its depth should be enough to give the Jayhawks an edge in this matchup of basketball blue bloods.

 

Prediction: Kansas 72, Connecticut 63

 

— 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 @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Connecticut Huskies vs. Kansas Jayhawks: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 18:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/tom-izzo-choked-denzel-valentine-after-msu-loss-michigan-state-mtsu
Body:

Denzel Valentine has played his last game for Michigan State.

 

The Spartans' star had an amazing season, but it ended with an unexpected upset to Middle Tennessee State. After the game head coach Tom Izzo found it hard to put into words just what Valentine did for the team.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 17:56
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/twitter-erupts-after-mtsu-defeats-michigan-state-middle-tennessee-state-blue-raiders-spartans
Body:

Down goes Sparty.

 

One of the more unlikely upsets happened. The No. 15 seed, Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, took down a tourney favorite in No. 2 Michigan State.

 

It was tense for a moment there.

 

 

When Sparty didn't get the win, everyone went crazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 17:29
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/providence-friars-vs-north-carolina-tar-heels-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

On Thursday, both the Providence Friars and the North Carolina Tar Heels advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Providence scored a last-second bucket to defeat the USC Trojans 70-69 while North Carolina rolled over Florida Gulf Coast 83-67.

 

Now, the Friars and Tar Heels will meet one another on Saturday night to determine which team will advance to the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia.

 

No. 9 Providence Friars (24-10) vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (29-6)

 

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

Where: PNC Arena (Raleigh, NC)

TV: TBS

Line: North Carolina -10

 

Keys for Providence

If Providence is going to pull off the upset, its defense will have to play a major role. Forwards Rodney Bullock and Ben Bentil need to keep the Tar Heels, who rank 13th in the country in rebounding, off the glass and out of the painted area. Kris Dunn, the Friars’ second-leading scorer, has the ability to shoot the ball well from distance and that could open up opportunities in the paint.

 

Keys for North Carolina

North Carolina has a deep roster that would give any team problems. The Tar Heels have eight players that average at least 15 minutes a game and they're led by forward Brice Johnson. The senior has the ability to score inside while guard Joel Berry II can get hot from three-point range at any time.

 

Final Analysis

 

Providence has the players and talent with Bullock, Bentil and Dunn to make this an excellent contest, but UNC's depth and length will likely be too much for the Friars to overcome. The Friars don't seem to have a person who can slow down Johnson inside. And just like Florida Gulf Coast discovered on Thursday, that will be a huge problem.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 81, Providence 70

 

— 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 @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Providence Friars vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 16:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/gonzaga-bulldogs-vs-utah-utes-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

This second round matchup in the Midwest Region is sure to have a handful of NBA scouts watching. Even though it was the lower seed, No. 11 Gonzaga was favored to win its first round bout with Big East Tournament champion, No. 6 Seton Hall. The Bulldogs showed why with an easy victory stemming from a huge effort out of Domantas Sabonis (21 points, 16 rebounds). Utah’s own NBA prospect, center Jakob Poeltl, had a similar showing in the Utes’ 80-69 win against No. 14 Fresno State, finishing with 16 points and 18 boards.

 

No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-7) vs. No. 3 Utah Utes (27-8)

 

When: 8:40 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Where: Pepsi Center (Denver)

TV: TNT

Line: Even

 

Keys for Gonzaga

Mark Few’s team needed a West Coast Conference Tournament championship to extend Gonzaga’s incredible streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 17 in a row. The Bulldogs have yet to make it past the Elite Eight, with a 66-52 loss to eventual champion Duke ending their furthest run in school history in 2015. With the dynamic frontcourt of Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer both set to depart after this season, Gonzaga must take advantage of this opportunity. Wiltjer will need to use his range to help space the floor and keep Utah’s defense on its toes to come out on top.

 

Keys for Utah

The Utes will not be able to rely on Poeltl to do everything. The sophomore big man will have his hands full with his counterpart, Sabonis. Poeltl snagged nine offensive rebounds against Fresno State, something that will probably not happening against Gonzaga. Utah had four players score at least 15 points in its first round win, which is a good sign moving forward. The Utes will need another solid effort from all of their starters to take down another team of Bulldogs.

 

Final Analysis

 

Arguably the most promising statistic from Gonzaga’s first round upset of Seton Hall was the defense holding the Pirates to 52 points. The Bulldogs have proven all season that they can score in a lot of different ways, but their defense was typically a massive hindrance. If Gonzaga can bring a similar effort against Utah it has a very good chance of pulling off another upset and advancing to a second straight Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 79, Utah 70

Teaser:
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Utah Utes: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 16:40
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/arkansas-little-rock-trojans-vs-iowa-state-cyclones-ncaa-tournament-second-round-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

Arkansas Little-Rock has provided the country with the most exciting game thus far in the NCAA Tournament, securing an 85-83 win over Purdue in double OT and moving on to the Round of 32 for the first time since the Trojans upset Notre Dame in 1986. First-year head coach Chris Beard may have already cemented his place in school history, and the Trojans are certainly not satisfied just yet.

 

No. 12 Arkansas Little-Rock Trojans (30-4) vs. No. 4 Iowa State Cyclones (22-11)

 

When: 6:10 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Where: Pepsi Center (Denver, Colorado)

TV: TNT

Line: Iowa State -7

 

Keys for Arkansas-Little Rock

The Trojans played an extra 10 minutes of basketball on Thursday and still didn’t score as many points as Iowa State did during regulation of its easy victory over Iona. UALR did get its 30th win of the season, something only the Kansas Jayhawks can boast along with the Trojans. Arkansas-Little Rock and Iowa State play nearly opposite styles of basketball, and it is crucial that the Trojans do not attempt to play the Cyclones’ game. The Sun Belt Tournament champions must slow this game down and let its No. 3-ranked defense frustrate Iowa State. Shutting down Georges Niang isn’t easy for anyone, as the 6-foot-8,. 230-pound senior forward is a walking mismatch. If the Trojans can limit Niang’s touches and his production, they have a chance to pull of another upset.

 

Keys for Iowa State

The Cyclones avoided another first-round collapse like the one they suffered at the hands of Georgia State in last year’s Tournament. However, they didn’t come into this year’s Big Dance just looking to get one win. Iowa State wants to make a prolonged run and send Niang, the team’s leader, out with fond memories. Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm also wants to prove he was the right man to replace Fred Hoiberg at the end of last season, and a deep run in his first year could establish trust with the fans in Ames for years to come.

 

Final Analysis

 

The battle of rookie head coaches in the second round is sure to be exciting, and this game could very well come down to which one makes the smarter decisions on the bench. Iowa State is one of the most gifted teams in the entire field, but its No. 257-ranked defense will need to step it up to prolong the Cyclones’ stay.  The loss from last year still stings and I believe this team is on a mission. Purdue would have been a very tough matchup, so the Cyclones must capitalize on getting a No. 12 seed in the second round. Although as Arkansas-Little Rock showed against the Boilermakers, sometimes a seed is just a number.

 

Prediction: Iowa State 74, Arkansas-Little Rock 64

Teaser:
Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans vs. Iowa State Cyclones: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 18, 2016 - 16:35

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