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All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Pittsburgh Panthers
Path: /college-football/pittsburgh-panthers-2016-spring-football-preview

It was an adventurous first season for Pat Narduzzi at . The year started with an injury to his best player, who was later diagnosed with cancer. There was a tough loss at Iowa, the result of a 57-yard field goal converted by the Hawkeyes at the final gun. There was ACC Coastal contention that was ended with a Thursday night loss to North Carolin at the end of October.


All in all, an 8-5 record and a bowl appearance in your first year as an FBS head coach is not a bad start. Also, Narduzzi looks like he will be at Pitt for the long haul, which is something that is very important for a program in search of stability.


Let’s take a look at the Panthers heading into the spring.


5 Storylines to Watch in Pittsburgh’s Spring Practice


1. James Conner
Obviously, coming off of Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments, contact drills will not be in Conner’s near future. But the 2014 ACC Player of the Year will be the main talking point for Pitt followers this spring. It will be interesting to see how much he is participating and how he looks. The early reports are very promising and Narduzzi expects Conner to be on the field come this fall. Undoubtedly, Conner will be excited to get back on the field with his guys.



2. Finding a New No. 1 Wide Receiver

Tyler Boyd caught 43 percent of Pitt’s completions in 2015. He had 65 more receptions than the Panthers’ second leading receiver, Dontez Ford. Quarterback Nathan Peterman’s security blanket is now gone and a new top target needs to emerge. No one person is going to replace Boyd, but younger receivers like Zach Challingsworth, Elijah Zeise and Quadree Henderson will be asked to help Ford carry the load. Challingsworth is recovering from shoulder surgery, making it unlikely that he will see significant action this spring.


3. The Development of the Offensive Line

The left side of the line is very experienced with guard Dorian Johnson and All-American candidate Adam Bisnowaty. The center position and the right side are young, but it’s not like they are without experience. Redshirt freshman Brian O’Neill, a converted tight end, started the last 11 games of the season at tackle and sophomore Alex Officer was the starting right guard. The Panthers lose center Artie Rowell and it is possible that Officer is bumped to that spot. Sophomore-to-be Alex Bookser would appear to have the inside track on the open line spot over veterans Gabe Roberts and John Guy. Jaryd Jones-Smith also returns after missing 2015 due to injury. 


4. The Jordan Whitehead Experience

The Aliquippa, Pa., product was expected to make an impact in the defensive backfield. But his play on both sides of the ball, a performance that resulted in ACC Rookie of the Year honors, was a surprise to many. How he is used this spring will be fascinating to watch. Obviously, Whitehead will be at his safety position on defense, a spot from which he led the Panthers with 109 total tackles. He carried the ball just 12 times last year, but averaged 10.2 yards on each of those chances. Will he see more touches out of the backfield in 2016? With the lack of playmakers at wide receiver, will Narduzzi get the ball in his team’s most electric athlete that way? No one knows at this point, but one would expect that Whitehead will be even more involved on both sides of the ball than he was in 2015.


5. Finding a Rotation at Defensive Tackle

Along with Whitehead, Pitt has a lot of talent returning on the defensive side of the ball. Ejuan Price was granted a sixth year of eligibility and he is coming off a monster season where he piled up 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Matt Galambos and Mike Caprara are a solid linebacker duo and corner Avonte Maddox helps Whitehead out on the last level of defense. But Pittsburgh needs to develop some depth on the interior of the defensive line. With all those productive players at other positions, Narduzzi does not need tackles that are stars. But with Darryl Render and K.K. Smith-Mosely out of eligibility, the Panthers hope that guys like Tyrique Jarrett, Jeremiah Taleni, Connor Dintino and Justin Moody can make an impact.


Pre-Spring Pittsburgh Outlook in the ACC


Once again, the ACC Coastal Division should be wide open. With what Pitt has returning, the Panthers should be a major factor in the division race. The one glaring issue is finding a No. 1 receiving option for Nathan Peterman. Perhaps a receiver currently on campus steps up, but it’s also possible that an incoming freshman like Ruben Flowers, Henry Miller or George Hill become a factor in the passing game. Plus, this is a Pat Narduzzi-coached team. The first order of business will be to play good defense. Pitt will do that. Second will be to run the football. With an experienced offensive line and a good stable of backs with or without James Conner, it’s likely that the ground game will not be a problem. In year two of the Narduzzi regime, Pitt should be able to improve on last year’s 8-5 record.


— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the  for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter .

Pittsburgh Panthers 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-gamecocks-2016-spring-football-preview

The 2015 season marked the end of the greatest coaching era in college football history. Steve Spurrier decided to step away from the game after a brilliant, 10-year career at South Carolina. Spurrier will retire with more wins for the Gamecocks than any other coach in program history. He also is the first Heisman Trophy winner to coach a Heisman Trophy winner, with Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel receiving the award in 1996 under his tutelage. Needless to say, South Carolina has a tall order as it looks to move on from a Hall of Fame coach.


On the field, the 2015 campaign was not a great one for the Gamecocks. South Carolina finished the season 3-9, its worst record since going 0-11 in 1999. Needless to say, South Carolina is eager to move past this tumultuous campaign and begin the Will Muschamp era in Columbia.


5 Storylines to Watch in South Carolina’s Spring Practice


1. Will Muschamp Takes the Reins

Muschamp has no shortage of experience in college football or in the SEC. The former Auburn defensive coordinator is following the career trajectory of his predecessor, coming to South Carolina after a previous stint with Florida. Spurrier was much more successful in Gainesville, and Muschamp must prove he is a worthy tactician to follow in the footsteps of two coaching legends in Spurrier and Lou Holtz.


2. Linebacker Skai Moore will be Limited

One of the lone bright spots from 2015, Moore will apparently be limited in spring practice due to a neck injury. Moore is one of the best returning linebackers in the SEC, leading the position in interceptions (4) and coming in third in tackles (111) last season. Hopefully he can recover in time to get important reps with what’s sure to be a new-look defense under Muschamp. He could be the anchor Muschamp needs for a defense that is severely lacking in star power.


3. Recruiting Class’ Significant Improvement since Muschamp’s Hiring
Muschamp has never had a problem attracting top talent to his football teams. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, where he has a proven track record of success, Muschamp has always been successful convincing transfers to come play for him and recruits to sign with him. His short tenure with South Carolina has been no different thus far. The No. 1 junior college cornerback prospect, Jamarcus King, just signed with the Gamecocks. Muschamp also has convinced two premier defensive linemen to change their minds about their destination and come play for him in Columbia. Keir Thomas, a promising defensive end out of Miami Central, de-committed from Florida State, while defensive tackle Kobe Smith changed his mind from Kentucky to South Carolina. The talent is arriving; it will be interesting to see what Muschamp can do with it.


4. Quarterback Position Very Much Up in the Air

The quarterbacks on the current depth chart do not seem to be all that promising. For this reason, it is certainly good news that Muschamp was able to land the No. 7-ranked dual threat quarterback in the class of 2016. Brandon McIlwain is a superb athlete and has committed to play both football and baseball at South Carolina next year. Will he be the next great multi-sport athlete like Jameis Winston and lead South Carolina to a national title?


5. Did Spurrier Leave Enough Talent Behind for South Carolina to Compete in Year One?

South Carolina’s 2016 roster is missing a large portion of the key players from last year’s team, most notably wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, who left early to enter the NFL Draft. Although Muschamp has done a good job so far in recruiting, we won’t know if there are enough bodies in Columbia for the Gamecocks to compete in the always-tough SEC East.


Pre-Spring South Carolina Outlook in the SEC


The SEC East is no stranger to new head coaches in recent years. In fact, newcomer Jim McElwain won the division in 2015 in his first campaign with Florida. New South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp would probably argue that those were his recruits at Florida and that he can do the same thing this season in Columbia. It will definitely be a tall task to right the ship for the Gamecocks in year one. Can Muschamp and company pull it off?

South Carolina Gamecocks 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-basketball/michigan-wolverines-vs-tulsa-golden-hurricane-ncaa-tournament-first-four-preview-prediction-2016

Like it or not, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (20-11) and the Michigan Wolverines (22-12) are in the NCAA Tournament and will face one another in the last of the First Four matchups. Michigan’s 203rd-ranked non-conference strength of schedule and 4-12 record against the RPI top 100 apparently was outweighed by Kameron Chatman’s semi-controversial (he traveled) buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. But if you think the Wolverines didn’t deserve a bid, have you seen Tula’s resume?


The Golden Hurricane finished in a three-way tie for third (12-6) in what was a mediocre (at best) American Athletic Conference. Tulsa finished with a record of 8-11 versus the RPI top 150 and closed out its resume by getting beat by lowly Memphis twice in three games. The Hurricane’s resume simply doesn’t add up to merit an at-large bid. The Selection Committee flat out failed with this pick.


First Four: No. 11 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 11 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes


When: 9:10 p.m. ET (Wednesday, approximate tip time)

Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)

TV: truTV

Line: Michigan -4


Keys for Michigan

Without leading scorer Caris LeVert, Michigan hasn’t put up a ton of points, but still remains as one of the most efficient offenses in the Big Ten. Despite their vanilla resume, the Wolverines are one of the best teams in the nation at protecting possessions and knocking down open shots. With a balanced offensive attack featuring Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton and Duncan Robinson, paired with good 3-point shooting and Tulsa’s poor perimeter defense, John Beilein’s team should secure a first round date with Notre Dame on Friday night.


Keys for Tulsa

Tulsa’s perimeter offense and defense is among the bottom third in the country, but its interior defense and ability to create turnovers could keep this game close. Also, Tulsa is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, on both sides of the glass. The Golden Hurricane rank 234th in offensive rebounding percentage compared to Michigan’s top 50 ranking in defensive rebounding percentage. So finding ways to string multiple possessions together, and keep the ball away from the efficient Michigan offense will be essential for Frank Haith's team.


Final Analysis


Typically, if you’re in the First Four, you’re either just happy to be a part of the Big Dance (Holy Cross), or proving to the rest of college basketball that you belong in the Tournament. If you’re a Michigan fan, you’re looking at Tulsa and probably already thinking about the Fighting Irish on Friday night. I don’t blame you. Tulsa is a near-ideal matchup for the perimeter-oriented Wolverines. The Golden Hurricane’s inability to slow teams down outside the arc has been their Achilles heel, and with the well-rounded offensive attack of the Wolverines, I don’t see Tulsa advancing to play Notre Dame.


Prediction: Michigan 79, Tulsa 68

Michigan Wolverines vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane: NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-basketball/holy-cross-crusaders-vs-southern-jaguars-ncaa-tournament-first-four-preview-prediction-2016

Holy Cross versus Southern isn’t the sexy First Four game that is going to force a lot of casual college basketball fans to turn on their TVs on Wednesday night. That being said, it is still March Madness and that’s good enough for us.


Neither the Crusaders nor the Jaguars put together impressive seasons. The Crusaders (14-19) went just 5-13 in the Patriot League, and the Jaguars (22-12) finished fourth in the SWAC. These teams were selected as the 67th and 68th in the field after miracle runs through their respective conference tournaments. The winner earns the right to play No. 1 seed Oregon on Friday night.


First Four: No. 16 Holy Cross Crusaders vs. No. 16 Southern Jaguars


When: 6:40 p.m. ET (Wednesday)

Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)

TV: truTV

Line: Southern -2.5


Keys for Holy Cross

Bill Carmody couldn’t make the NCAA Tournament in 13 seasons at Northwestern. With a record of 14-19 (5-13 in conference) Carmody and the Crusaders are the unlikeliest team in the field of 68. But thanks to a fantastic performance from forward Malachi Alexander in the Patriot League Tournament, the Crusaders are going dancing.


Alexander lead the way against No. 1 Bucknell in the conference tourney quarterfinals with 20 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Alexander was even better in the championship game with 26 points, nine boards, and three assists against No. 2 Lehigh. If the Crusaders’ improbable run is to continue, Alexander is going to need a wing man.


Keys for Southern

The Jaguars’ season started impressively enough with a win against Mississippi State and an 8-5 non-conference record, but ultimately Roman Banks’ Jaguars finished fourth in the SWAC. Like their Crusader counterparts, a great run through the conference tourney earned Southern a bid to the Big Dance. But unlike Holy Cross, the Jaguars have more than one efficient scorer in their regular lineup. Southern’s best player, Adrian Rodgers (16.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) has the productive partner that Holy Cross’ Alexander doesn’t in guard and SWAC Tournament MVP Trelun Banks.


Final Analysis


Don’t expect a lot of points to be scored in this play-in game, as both teams greatly struggle when you look at offensive

efficiency numbers. Defensively, Southern is actually rather impressive for such a small mid-major, especially when it comes to defending beyond the arc. That just happens to be the area on the court where Holy Cross scores a third of its points, so something has to give. Southern’s combo of Banks and Rodgers could prove to be too much for Holy Cross, putting an end to the Crusaders’ semi-magical postseason run.


Prediction: Southern 65, Holy Cross 60

Holy Cross Crusaders vs. Southern Jaguars: NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Kevin Kisner, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-18-kevin-kisner

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. 18: Kevin Kisner

Born: Feb. 15, 1984, Aiken, S.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,567,939 (20th) | World Ranking: 22


Gary Williams' Take: A player who ended 2014 ranked 238th in the world and in a state of PGA Tour anonymity entered 2016 ranked 17th coming off his first win on Tour at the RSM Classic in November 2015. Kisner had four second-place finishes in 2015 before finally breaking through at Davis Love’s event at Sea Island. Kisner has grinded his way to a prominent spot on Tour working with swing instructor John Tillery, and he told me right after his first win that representing the USA in the Ryder Cup was a career goal he wanted to achieve in 2016. Kisner doesn’t have any stats that jump off the page, but he carries himself as a player with confidence and belief, as evidenced by the second shots he struck on the final holes of the Heritage and the Players Championship. Kisner is now on everyone’s radar, and it’s exactly where he thinks he belongs.


Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters - DNP
    U.S. Open – T12
    British Open – Cut
    PGA Championship – Cut
Best Career Finishes: 
    Masters - n/a
    U.S. Open - T12 (2015)
    British Open - Cut (2015)
    PGA Championship - Cut (2015)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 1
Missed Cuts: 3


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. .


Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 10:22
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-quarterback-battles-watch-spring-practice-2016

Spring practice is the first look at all 128 college football teams for 2016, and every coaching staff has a long list of questions for their programs to answer during offseason workouts. While replacing key players in the trenches or rebuilding the secondary is critical to the success of any team, quarterback battles are always going to steal the offseason spotlight. This spring features several contenders looking to find the right answer under center, including Michigan, Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State and Notre Dame.


With spring practice underway across the nation, Athlon Sports is previewing some of the biggest storylines for the offseason workouts. Here’s a look at 25 of the biggest quarterback battles and the candidates vying for snaps. 


College Football's Top 25 QB Battles to Watch in Spring Practice


1. Alabama

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 1

Departed Quarterback: Jake Coker (263 of 393, 3,110 yds., 21 TDs, 8 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Blake Barnett (FR), Jalen Hurts (FR), David Cornwell (SO), Cooper Bateman (JR)


The Breakdown: This appears to be a two-man battle entering spring practice. Barnett was a five-star prospect out of high school and redshirted in his first season on campus. Bateman made one start last year and completed 37 of 52 passes for 291 yards and one score. Can Bateman’s experience win out over Barnett’s talent?

Predicted Winner: Barnett




2. Notre Dame

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 9

Departed Quarterback: None

2016 Candidates: Malik Zaire (JR), DeShone Kizer (SO)


The Breakdown: The Fighting Irish enters offseason workouts with two proven options at quarterback. Malik Zaire opened 2015 as the team’s No. 1 quarterback but suffered a season-ending leg injury against Virginia. Prior to the injury, Zaire completed 26 of 40 passes for 428 yards and four scores and rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries. Kizer started the final 11 games after Zaire’s injury and threw for 2,880 yards and 21 scores. He also rushed for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns. Having two proven quarterbacks is a good problem for coach Brian Kelly.

Predicted Winner: Zaire


3. Florida State

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 5

Departed Quarterback: None

2016 Candidates: Sean Maguire (SR), Deondre Francois (FR), Malik Henry (FR)


The Breakdown: Coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the nation’s top quarterback gurus. But after tutoring three first-round picks under center in Tallahassee, the Seminoles struggled to get consistent play at quarterback last year. Everett Golson and Sean Maguire combined for 3,325 yards and 22 scores, with Maguire finishing the season as the No. 1 quarterback. However, Maguire is nursing an ankle injury and won’t participate in spring ball. Maguire’s injury opens the door for two talented freshmen – Malik Henry and Deondre Francois. Maguire’s edge in experience might be enough to win the job in the fall. But it won’t be easy holding off Francois.

Predicted Winner: Maguire




4. Michigan

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 6

Departed Quarterback: Jake Rudock (249 of 389, 3,017 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Brandon Peters (FR), John O’Korn (JR), Shane Morris (JR), Alex Malzone (FR), Wilton Speight (SO)


The Breakdown: Can coach Jim Harbaugh have success for the second year in a row with a transfer quarterback? In his only year at Michigan, Iowa transfer Jake Rudock threw for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns. After sitting out 2015 due to transfer rules, former Houston signal-caller John O’Korn is the favorite to take the first snap in 2016. O’Korn was benched after a slow start in 2014 but threw for 3,117 yards and 28 scores in 2013. Morris has the most experience among the signal-callers in a Wolverine uniform and is back in the mix after a redshirt year. Peters – a four-star recruit – enrolled in time to compete in spring ball.

Predicted Winner: O’Korn


5. Michigan State

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 13

Departed Quarterback: Connor Cook (229 of 408, 3,131 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Tyler O’Connor (SR), Damion Terry (JR), Brian Lewerke (FR)


The Breakdown: Connor Cook finished a stellar career in East Lansing with a 34-5 record as Michigan State’s starter. But Cook’s absence in one of the Spartans’ biggest wins last season (Ohio State) provided some insight into the quarterback battle for 2016. Both Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry received snaps in the win, with O’Connor completing 7 of 12 throws for 89 yards and a score. He’s the frontrunner to claim the starting job, but Terry’s mobility provides some extra intrigue and specialty packages for the offense.

Predicted Winner: O’Connor


6. Stanford

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 14

Departed Quarterback: Kevin Hogan (206 of 304, 2,867 yards, 27 TDs, 8 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Keller Chryst (SO), Ryan Burns (JR), K.J. Costello (FR)


The Breakdown: Kevin Hogan wasn’t the flashiest or most prolific quarterback in the nation, but he was a great fit for coach David Shaw’s offense. With Hogan departing, the Cardinal is expected to turn to Keller Chryst – a top-100 recruit in the 2014 signing class. The California native completed 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one score in limited action last year.

Predicted Winner: Chryst




7. Texas

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 47

Departed Quarterback: None

2016 Candidates: Kai Locksley (FR), Shane Buechele (FR), Jerrod Heard (SO), Tyrone Swoopes (SR)


The Breakdown: Scoring points has been a problem for the Longhorns under coach Charlie Strong, and the team is headed in a new direction with Sterlin Gilbert coming from Tulsa to coordinate the offense. Gilbert is expected to implement a Baylor-like attack in Austin, but it will take at least a year to accumulate the right pieces. Finding a quarterback to fit this offense in 2016 is going to be a challenge. Swoopes and Heard bring plenty of mobility to the table and have the edge in experience. True freshman Shane Buechele has the best skill set for the offense. How quickly can he adapt to the FBS level?

Predicted Winner: Heard


8. Auburn

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 33

Departed Quarterback: None

2016 Candidates: Sean White (SO), Jeremy Johnson (SR), John Franklin III (JR), Woody Barrett (FR)


The Breakdown: Considering Gus Malzahn’s track record, last year’s struggles on offense came as a surprise. Getting back on track on offense starts with finding a quarterback, and the Tigers have four candidates vying for snaps. Johnson and White combined for 11 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last season, while Franklin joins the competition from the junior college ranks. He’s the best fit for this offense but faces a tough transition to the SEC.

Predicted Winner: Franklin III


9. BYU

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 46

Departed Quarterback: None

2016 Candidates: Tanner Mangum (SO), Taysom Hill (SR)


The Breakdown: Similar to fellow Independent Notre Dame, BYU opens spring practice with two capable and proven options at quarterback. Hill had options to leave Provo as a graduate transfer, but he decided to return for his senior year and compete with Mangum for the starting job. Mangum stepped up for the BYU offense after Hill was lost for the rest of the 2015 season due to an injury in the opener against Nebraska. Mangum finished 2015 with 23 touchdowns and 3,377 yards on 267 completions. This battle may not be decided until the end of fall practice.

Predicted Winner: Mangum




10. Texas A&M

Pre-Spring Rank: 34

Departed Quarterbacks: Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray

2016 Candidates: Jake Hubenak (JR), Trevor Knight (SR), Nick Starkel (FR)


The Breakdown: The December transfers of Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray came as a surprise, which left Texas A&M with only one quarterback – Jake Hubenak – with experience for the Music City Bowl against Louisville. Hubenak performed admirably under the circumstances, completing 28 of 48 throws for 307 yards and two scores in a 27-21 loss. Help and depth is on the way in the form of Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, while true freshman Nick Starkel joins the team in the summer. Knight has the edge in experience, but all three quarterbacks will be learning a new offense with the hire of Noel Mazzone as the program’s play-caller.

Predicted Winner: Knight


11. Florida

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 26

Departed Quarterbacks: Will Grier, Treon Harris (moved to receiver)

2016 Candidates: Kyle Trask (FR), Feleipe Franks (FR), Luke Del Rio (SO), Austin Appleby (SR)


The Breakdown: The Gators are desperately looking for improvement in the passing game after averaging only 207.1 passing yards a game last season. Treon Harris is expected to move to receiver, leaving four quarterbacks vying for the first snap. Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio is the early favorite, but talented true freshman Feleipe Franks is one to watch in spring workouts.

Predicted Winner: Del Rio


12. Georgia

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 19

Departed Quarterback: None

2016 Candidates: Jacob Eason (FR), Greyson Lambert (SR), Brice Ramsey (JR)


The Breakdown: One of the first tasks for new coach Kirby Smart was to ensure Eason kept his commitment to Georgia. Mission accomplished. The five-star recruit and No. 5 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite is expected to compete for the starting job this spring. Greyson Lambert is Eason’s biggest competition after completing 63.3 percent of his passes and 12 scores last year. Even though Eason lacks experience, he’s too talented to keep on the bench.

Predicted Winner: Eason


13. Arkansas

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 29

Departed Quarterback: Brandon Allen (244 of 370, 3,440 yards, 30 TDs, 8 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Austin Allen (JR), Rafe Peavy (SO), Ricky Town (FR), Ty Storey (FR)


The Breakdown: Dan Enos earned high marks for his first season in Fayetteville, as the Razorbacks led the SEC (conference-only games) with an average of 34.4 points a game. A couple of key pieces from last year’s offense are gone, including quarterback Brandon Allen after an underrated 2015 season. Austin Allen (Brandon’s brother) is the frontrunner to win the job in 2016 after serving as a backup for the last two seasons. USC transfer Ricky Town – a top-100 recruit in the 2015 signing class – is one to watch this spring.

Predicted Winner: Allen


14. Penn State

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 40

Departed Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg (192 of 359, 2,525 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Tommy Stevens (FR), Trace McSorley (SO), Jake Zemblec (FR)


The Breakdown: Penn State’s offense has struggled under James Franklin, but there is reason for optimism in 2016. Sure, Christian Hackenberg is a talented quarterback and will be missed. However, the offense has more depth and overall talent than it has in recent seasons. McSorley worked as Hackenberg’s backup last year and completed 20 of 40 passes for 185 yards and two scores. With an offensive line struggling to maintain its pass blocks, a mobile quarterback like McSorley could be a valuable asset for Franklin. Stevens and Zemblec ranked as three-star recruits and should have the opportunity to push McSorley this offseason.

Predicted Winner: McSorley




15. California

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 49

Departed Quarterback: Jared Goff (341 of 529, 4,719 yards, 43 TDs, 13 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Ross Bowers (FR), Luke Rubenzer (JR), Chase Forrest (SO), Zach Kline (SR), Max Gilliam (FR)


The Breakdown: Jared Goff finished his prolific career in Berkeley on a high note (467 yards) against Air Force and ended the 2015 season with 4,719 yards and 43 passing scores. Chase Forrest (10 of 18 for 162 yards and 1 TD) spent last season as Goff’s backup and is the frontrunner by default. Bowers joins the mix after a redshirt year, while Gilliam enrolled in time to compete in spring practice.

Predicted Winner: Forrest


16. Arizona State

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 43

Departed Quarterback: Mike Bercovici (318 of 531, 3,854 yards, 30 TDs, 9 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Bryce Perkins (FR), Dillon Sterling-Cole (FR), Brady White (FR), Manny Wilkins (SO)


The Breakdown: The competition in Tempe is one of the toughest quarterback battles to get a read on this offseason. New coordinator Chip Lindsey has four talented options to choose from, but no quarterback on the roster has attempted a pass in a Sun Devil uniform. Wilkins worked as the backup to Bercovici last season and is the favorite by default. However, White was the highest rated quarterback of the group coming out of high school.

Predicted Winner: White


17. Virginia Tech

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 37

Departed Quarterback: Michael Brewer (126 of 216 for 1,703 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Dwayne Lawson (SO), Brenden Motley (SR), Jerod Evans (JR)


The Breakdown: Two freshmen – Joshua Jackson and Jack Click – are in the mix, but all signs point to this battle becoming a three-man race in spring ball. Motley has the edge in experience over Lawson and Evans, passing for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns on 92 completions last year. But Motley could be facing an uphill battle to win the starting job this spring under new coach Justin Fuente. Evans ranked as the No. 50 junior college prospect by ESPN, while Lawson (a four-star prospect) has the most raw talent.

Predicted Winner: Evans




18. USC

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 15

Departed Quarterback: Cody Kessler (298 of 446 for 3,536 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs)

2016 Candidates: Max Browne (JR), Sam Darnold (FR)


The Breakdown: USC is listed as a “quarterback battle” here, but all signs point to Browne as the clear favorite to replace Cody Kessler. Browne – a five-star prospect in 2013 – worked as Kessler’s backup in each of the last two seasons and completed 8 of 12 throws for 113 yards last year. Darnold ranked as a four-star prospect from the 2015 signing class and took a redshirt season in his first season on campus.

Predicted Winner: Browne




19. TCU

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 22

Departed Quarterback: Trevone Boykin (4,187 total yards and 40 total TDs)

2016 Candidates: Zach Allen (JR), Foster Sawyer (SO), Grayson Muehlstein (SO), Kenny Hill (JR), Brennen Wooten (FR)


The Breakdown: Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill in Fort Worth, but TCU appears to have a capable replacement in Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill. In 2014, Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores with the Aggies but transferred after losing the job to Kyle Allen. Zach Allen, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein will have a shot to compete for the starting job this spring. However, it’s unlikely Hill is unseated from the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

Predicted Winner: Hill


20. Mississippi State

Team Pre-Spring Rank: 39

Departed Quarterback: Dak Prescott (4,381 total yards and 39 TDs)

2016 Candidates: Damian Williams (JR), Nick Fitzgerald (SO), Elijah Staley (SO), Nick Tiano (FR)


The Breakdown: Replacing arguably the best player in school history won’t be an easy task for coach Dan Mullen. However, the Bulldogs have some intriguing options in place. Damian Williams started one game for the Bulldogs in 2013 and used a redshirt season in 2015. Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley are promising sophomores and gained valuable reps in limited snaps last year. This battle could go deep into the fall.

Predicted Winner: Fitzgerald


21. Boise State

Brett Rypien is coming off a stellar debut as a freshman last season, but Ryan Finley will have a chance to compete for the job.


22. Utah

The Utes should have a strong ground attack and offensive line, but big question marks remain about the passing game. Junior college transfer (and former Washington signal-caller) Troy Williams has the early edge over intriguing freshman Tyler Huntley and junior Brandon Cox.


23. Wisconsin

The Badgers have a two-man race to replace Joel Stave. Senior Bart Houston has waited his turn in Madison and is the favorite to start over redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook.


24. Kansas State

Injuries hit Kansas State’s quarterbacks hard last season, but this unit is in better shape going into the 2016 season. Jesse Ertz opened 2015 as the starter and was lost for the year due to a knee injury in the opener. Joe Hubener saw the bulk of the snaps the rest of the season and returns to compete for the job, along with freshmen Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson.


25. WKU

Jeff Brohm’s high-powered offense needs a new signal-caller after Brandon Doughty expired his eligibility following the Miami Beach Bowl win over USF. Two transfers – Mike White (USF) and Tyler Ferguson (Louisville) – will push Nelson Fishback for the starting job.


Others to Watch: South Carolina, Oregon State, Bowling Green, Toledo, Memphis, Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati, NC State, Colorado, Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland, Indiana, Boston College

College Football's Top 25 Quarterback Battles to Watch in Spring Practice
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/8-slumping-teams-avoid-your-2016-ncaa-tournament-bracket

This season has been arguably the most competitive in NCAA basketball history. The playing field was as level as it has ever been. The four No. 1 seeds have a combined 23 losses on the year, an NCAA Tournament record. With all of this parity during the regular season, and with no team in the field without weaknesses, this year’s Tournament is guaranteed to deliver its fair share of March Madness.




Many teams with impressive starts to the season have since shown they are capable of losing in any given matchup. As a matter of fact, preseason No. 1 Maryland may be the most vulnerable of all the teams in the field. Let’s take a look at eight teams that are limping into March, and a few reasons why you should avoid picking them to go far on your bracket sheet.


No. 5 Maryland

The preseason No. 1 team in the USA Today Coaches Poll has lost five of its last eight, including a setback to Minnesota, which went 8-23 this season. That shocking result back on Feb. 18 represented the Golden Gophers’ first win in 14 games and was one of just two conference victories (2-16) they would get all season. Maryland put up a fight against eventual Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan State in the semifinal, but the Terrapins are slumping at the exact wrong time. Something else that does not bode well for their Tournament chances is a vast discrepancy when it comes to their home record (20-1) compared to how they have done on the road or in a neutral site game (5-7).


No. 4 Iowa State

There was a lot of hype surrounding this Iowa State squad coming into 2016 but the Cyclones just haven’t been able to figure things out. Inconsistent play was consistent, and they ended the final third of their season on a poor note (5-7 over last 12 games). They’ve beaten some of the best teams in the field (most notably Kansas), but with the 257th-ranked defense in the country they are primed for another early exit. Will 2015’s first round upset loss to UAB prove to be a lesson, or will Iowa State experience a similar fate in 2016?


No. 6 Arizona

This is one of the weaker Arizona teams in recent memory. Couple this with the fact that both squads in the First Four matchup of No. 11 seeds — — started the season ranked inside the top 20. Whether it’s the Commodores or the Shockers, it figures to be a tough opening game for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. Since the inception of the play-in games in 2011, at least one of the First Four winners has gone on to win again in the round of 64 (VCU, South Florida, La Salle, Tennessee, Dayton). Arizona could be the next higher-seeded team to fall prey to this trend.


No. 7 Iowa

Simply put, Iowa isn’t as good of a basketball team as people once thought. The Hawkeyes burst onto the scene with two wins against Michigan State in January. However, Spartans star Denzel Valentine didn’t play in the first matchup, and he was fresh off of knee surgery the second time the two teams met. Now losers of six of the last eight, including setbacks to Penn State (16-16) and Illinois (15-19), the Hawkeyes are reeling coming into the Tournament. Which Iowa team will show up?


No. 4 Duke

The Blue Devils had an up and down year, most notably falling out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in close to a decade. This ended the longest active streak in college basketball, and although Duke is once again ranked, this team is a far cry from the one that cut down the nets last year. The Blue Devils must score a ton of points in order to win games, and relying so heavily on shots to fall is dangerous in March. Their last time out on the floor they were up 16 points in the second half against Notre Dame, before a seven-minute scoreless drought allowed the Fighting Irish to climb back in and eventually overtake Duke in overtime. In games where Mike Krzyzewski’s team has failed to reach 70 points they are just 1-6, with the lone win coming on a controversial buzzer beater against Virginia. Duke better hope it can get hot and stay hot (and stay out of foul trouble), otherwise it could be a quick Tournament for the defending champions.


No. 2 Oklahoma

Oklahoma isn’t exactly slumping, although it is not very reassuring for a No. 2 seed to lose five of its last 11 games. A lot of experts like Oklahoma to make a deep run coming off of a strong campaign in the uber-competitive Big 12. I am not one of those people. The Sooners rely far too much on Buddy Hield to score. As we saw in the Big 12 Tournament loss to West Virginia (Hield: 1-8, 6 points), if Hield can’t get his looks and put points on the board the Sooners struggle. After the game Hield said he had never seen defense like that before, and hopes he doesn’t have to see it again. I’ve got some bad news for you. If VCU gets past Oregon State (which I believe they will), you will see another stingy defense that runs the full-court press very well. Regardless of which team it plays, Oklahoma better be on upset alert.


No. 6 Texas

The Big 12 was the most complete conference in 2016 from top to bottom. So it may be surprising that I have three teams from the conference on this danger list. Furthermore, first-year Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart is a proven Tournament guru. However, Northern Iowa played Smart’s VCU teams each of the previous four seasons he was there, so the two are quite familiar. The Panthers have proven they are good enough to beat anyone in the country with wins over North Carolina, Iowa State and Wichita State (two). Although Northern Iowa went through a very ugly stretch in the middle of the season, it has rebounded to win its last six games. Texas must be wary of Panthers senior guard Wes Washpun, who will be the key in this game. Get ready for a hard-fought, low-scoring battle that could truly go either way.


No. 2 Xavier

The Big East must be viewed by the NCAA Selection Committee as if it still has the same level of competition it once did when powerhouse programs like Syracuse and UConn were members. It doesn’t. There is a reason the new Big East has failed to send a team past the Sweet 16 in each of its first two years. Xavier is the sole team to even make it to the second week, and the Musketeers only had to beat Ole Miss and Georgia State to get there. This year’s Tournament will be no different; the highest seeded non-conference opponent that a Big East team has defeated is No. 5 Purdue (Butler). The Big East has no wins against any team among the top four seeds in each region. A potential matchup with Wisconsin in the second round could be the end of Xavier’s 2016 Tournament run.


(Buddy Hield photo courtesy of )

8 Slumping Teams to Avoid in Your 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/6-double-digit-seeds-watch-2016-ncaa-tournament

Every year there are teams that capture the heart of America after making an unexpected run. VCU was just another school in terms of popularity before they went from the First Four all the way to the Final Four in 2011. Now, the Rams are always on people's minds when it comes to March. Dunk City was just Florida Gulf Coast before they were put on the map in 2014. So which team will it be this year?




Well, there are several things I like to consider when trying to identify the next Cinderella team. First off, you have to have been tested during the regular season and feature a star or a concept that I can get behind. It also would help if the team has good coaching and isn't too bad in the press conference. Finally, you also have to have a path that is conducive to making a run in the bracket. With that, let's take a look at the double-digit-seeded teams I like best this year.


12 Chattanooga Mocs

Record: 29-5

Notable Regular Season Games: W at Georgia (92-96 OT), W vs. Illinois (81-77), W at Dayton (61-59), L at Iowa State (83-63)

First Round opponent: No. 5 Indiana


Why Chattanooga? It's a good story with Matt McCall winning 29 games in his first year as a head coach. McCall took over for Will Wade, who is now at VCU making things happen. Ironically one of the stars on the Mocs is Justin Tuoyo, who started his collegiate career as a Ram before transferring. His size and athleticism will be needed against an Indiana team that can score. I really wanted this matchup because Chattanooga plays defense. The Mocs have held 11 teams to 60 points or fewer. I know that teams don't look ahead in the Tournament, but Indiana can't help but be thinking of a potential Round of 32 matchup against Kentucky.


13 Iona Gaels

Record: 22-10

Notable Regular Season Games: L at Oregon State (93-73), L at Tulsa (90-81), won 2 of 3 vs. Monmouth

First Round opponent: No. 4 Iowa State


Why Iona? Tim Cluess said what we were all thinking about the Monmouth bench — that that that group might have been cheerleaders wearing uniforms. Any guy who can call out the Bench Mob is good in my book. On the court, A.J. English, who is averaging 22.4 points per game, is awesome to watch. He adds five boards and more than six assists per contest as well so he can do it all. English has some help from Jordan Washington and Deyshonee Much. Three times this year, the Gaels cracked the 100-point mark. They should be able to keep up in a shootout with Iowa State even in the thin air of the Mile High City.


14 Fresno State Bulldogs

Record: 25-9

Notable Regular Season Games: L at Oregon (78-73), L at Arizona (85-72), won 2 of 3 vs. San Diego State

First Round opponent: No. 3 Utah


Why Fresno State? It's rare to see a conference champion of this ilk seeded so high. The other No. 14s are Buffalo, Green Bay and Stephen F. Austin, who are in lesser conferences than the Mountain West. Marvelle Harris is capable of taking over games, as evidenced by the 57 he has poured in the last two games when the Bulldogs needed him the most. I think Rodney Terry is an up-and-coming coach with his team making the postseason for the second time under his tutelage. You can't say enough about a team that has won nine straight too so confidence won't be an issue.


11 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Record: 26-7

Notable Regular Season Games: W vs. Washington (80-64), L vs. Texas A&M (62-61), W vs. UConn (73-70), L vs. Arizona (68-63)

First Round opponent: No. 6 Seton Hall


Why Gonzaga? Wait a second, Gonzaga is on this list? Well for once, they are no longer the hunted, checking in as a No. 11 seed. It's an odd version of the Zags with a backcourt that is severely lacking. Sure, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis are known commodities, but among Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Dustin Alberts, which guard is going to step up? We heard all about Perkins last year, but his inconsistency was the reason for some of Gonzaga's early struggles. Still, head coach Mark Few is a guy you can back and this team always makes things fun in the Tournament.


11 Northern Iowa Panthers

Record: 22-12

Notable Regular Season Games: W vs. North Carolina (71-67), W vs. Iowa State (81-79), won 2 of 3 vs. Wichita State

First Round opponent: No. 6 Texas


Why Northern Iowa? Ali Farokhmanesh. It's as fun to say as it is to type. He's no longer on the team, but he still gets mentioned often. The Panthers were America's darlings once before and there's no reason they couldn't be once again. Wes Washpun became a bigger name after his jump shot got UNI the automatic bid by winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Panthers’ offense is so precise at times and feature several solid shooters. Paul Jesperson has range that will make us think of Steph Curry. They clearly won't be intimidated by anyone having already beaten North Carolina, Iowa State and Wichita State. This isn't the deepest team so foul trouble will hurt the Panthers.


10 VCU Rams

Record: 24-10

Notable Regular Season Games: L vs. Duke (79-71), L vs. Wisconsin (74-73), L vs. Cincinnati (69-63), split two games with St. Joseph's

First Round opponent: No. 7 Oregon State


Why VCU? Google Will Wade press conferences from this season and you'll see a thoughtful coach who doesn't hold back his emotions. Wade has a lot at his disposal and although these Rams don't run the Shaka Smart-inspired Havoc defense as much, they are still fun to watch. Chances are when you watch their games, you'll hear a joke about Mo Alie-Cox playing in the NFL, but he's really that tough. Justin Tillman almost transferred away, but decided to stay and has made an impact. If that's not enough, VCU has the best pep band in America and a fan base that would travel to the moon if the Rams had a game there.


I also considered both Hawaii (No. 13) and South Dakota State (No. 12) for this list, but I think their opponents are too good. Both the Jackrabbits and Rainbow Warriors still have plenty of reasons to watch them play, even if they end up being one and done.


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


(Top photo courtesy of )

6 Double-Digit Seeds to Watch in 2016 NCAA Tournament
Post date: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/vanderbilt-commodores-vs-wichita-state-shockers-ncaa-tournament-first-four-preview-prediction-2016

Coming into the 2016 season if you had asked Wichita State and Vanderbilt if they would be happy playing in a First Four matchup each team would have said “heck no.” If you were to ask them now? They’re just happy to be here.




The preseason AP No. 10 and No. 18 teams respectively each had underwhelming campaigns. Both teams are now healthy, but each also is coming off of an early exit in their conference tournament. This appears to be a matchup that pits Wichita State’s Tournament experience against Vanderbilt’s athletic ability. So which team will survive and advance to face the No. 6 seed Arizona Wildcats in Providence on Thursday?


First Four: No. 11 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. No. 11 Wichita State Shockers


When: 9:10 p.m. CT (Tuesday, approximate tip time)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)
TV: truTV

Line: Wichita State -3.5


Keys for Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt was lucky to receive an at-large bid, but that luck ran out when the Commodores got the Tournament-tested Shockers as their opposition. Wade Baldwin must use his length to shut down Wichita’s Fred Van Vleet like he did Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (5-20 from the field, 0-7 from three) in Vanderbilt’s biggest win of the season. The Commodores also must use their size to their advantage.  Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are two seven-footers who must dominate in the post. Wichita’s tallest player averaging more than eight minutes a game is Anton Grady (6-8). Kornet in particular could be key for Vanderbilt’s success.


Keys for Wichita State

Wichita State Ranks No. 25 in the country in Assist-to-Turnover ratio at 1.44.  The Shockers also lead the way in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 59.3 points per game. They must continue these strong trends to knock off Vanderbilt and advance to the round of 64. The key player for Wichita State is jack-of-all-trades Ron Baker. The senior guard needs to score efficiently and connect on timely buckets when the Shockers enter a few inevitable scoring droughts.


Final Analysis


Wichita State is too experienced to let the apparent talent deficiency be a factor. The real key matchup in this contest could be between the men calling the shots off of the court. Kevin Stallings has never led any of his teams beyond the Sweet 16 and this is Vanderbilt’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012. On the other side, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall has led the Shockers to four straight Tournaments and is just three seasons removed from a Final Four run in 2013. Marshall and the Shockers’ collective postseason experience could be the deciding factor against Stallings and the Commodores.


Prediction: Wichita State 68, Vanderbilt 59

Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Wichita State Shockers: NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/florida-gulf-coast-eagles-vs-fairleigh-dickinson-knights-ncaa-tournament-first-four-preview-prediction-2016

The opening game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament pits Florida Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Sun champion, against Fairleigh Dickinson, the recipient of the automatic bid out of the Northeast Conference. The winner claims the No. 16 seed in the East Region all to themselves and will get to face the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in Raleigh on Thursday.


For Fairleigh Dickinson, this is the Knights’ first trip to the Tournament in more than a decade. Florida Gulf Coast was a Cinderella story in 2013, becoming the first No. 15 team to ever advance to the Sweet 16 after defeating No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State. Can either the Knights or Eagles rewrite Tournament history in 2016? Before that can even be discussed business must be attended to in Dayton.


First Four: No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights


Time: 6:40 p.m. ET (Tuesday)

Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)
TV: truTV
Line: Florida Gulf Coast -6


Keys for Fairleigh Dickinson

The Knights allow more points on average then they score, which is surprising for a team with a winning record (18-14). Needless to say, this trend cannot continue for head coach Greg Herenda if his team wishes to advance to the round of 64 to take on ACC champion and top-seeded North Carolina.  Sophomore sensation Darian Anderson must take care of the basketball while hitting his shots and getting his teammates involved. The guard leads the team in both scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (3.7 apg).


Keys for Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles must contain Fairleigh Dickinson’s top four scorers, each of whom averages double digits, with special attention paid to the aforementioned Anderson. Florida Gulf Coast freshman guard Zach Johnson must take care of the basketball and find his team’s top option, junior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia, early and often. If head coach Joe Dooley's Eagles can start flying in transition and establish Dunk City just like the 2013 team made famous, then the Knights should watch out below.


Final Analysis

Florida Gulf Coast’s NCAA Tournament experience will be a huge factor considering Fairleigh Dickinson hasn’t been in the Big Dance since 2005. Nerves are to be expected from both sides, but having gone to the Sweet 16 just three seasons ago should help the Eagles to stay calm and poised. Furthermore, I expect the size and athleticism of Norelia to be too much for the Knights to handle.


Prediction: Florida Gulf Coast 81, Fairleigh Dickinson 73

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights: NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 15:30
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-sun-devils-2016-spring-football-preview

A 6-7 finish does not tell the full story of the 2015 football season.


Yes, a sub-.500 finish fell well short of expectations — expectations head coach Todd Graham unabashedly set at national championship level. And, after back-to-back 10-win campaigns, the 6-7 tally marked a regression two full games below Graham's previous worst in Tempe: an 8-5 finish in 2012, his debut season.


The last month of the 2015 regular season and Arizona State's bowl game provide context to go with the record. The Sun Devils dominated in a win over in-state rival Arizona and rallied to beat a good Washington team, but squandered opportunities and blew leads against both Oregon and Cal before losing a Cactus Bowl shootout to West Virginia.


All that, and we're only talking one month.


The tumult of the late season carried over into the offseason. Coaching exits and high turnover throughout the roster promise a new-look Arizona State in 2016, the first glimpse of which will be on display in spring workouts.


5 Storylines to Watch During Arizona State Spring Football


1. Graham's Guy at Quarterback 

Mike Bercovici's departure opens a quarterback competition, which isn't that unique in and of itself. What is rather surprising is that whomever wins will be the first starting quarterback recruited by Graham's staff. Both Bercovici and predecessor Taylor Kelly were holdovers from Dennis Erickson's tenure.


Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins is a former 4-star recruit and spent 2015 second on the depth chart behind Bercovici. Wilkins has yet to complete or attempt a pass, but carried seven times for 55 yards in three games. Ballyhooed recruit Brady White will challenge Wilkins, with Bryce Perkins also in the mix.


The but the coming practices should impact the race heading into preseason camp come summer.


2. A New Driver of High-Octane Offense 

The brand of hurry-up, no-huddle football Graham brands as "high-octane" gets a new driver in 2016. Mike Norvell accepted the head coaching position at Memphis, replacing Virginia Tech-bound Justin Fuente. Chip Lindsey came shortly thereafter, but lost support staff (running backs coach Kodi Burns) shortly after his hire.


This year may be an ideal time to break in new offensive staff. Lindsey's taking over play-calling for an offense that loses seven starters, including versatile playmaker D.J. Foster.


Lindsey may have to break in a new quarterback, but he inherits one of the best running back tandems in the Pac-12 with traditional feature back Demario Richard and power back Kalen Ballage. Arizona State can build off the run game, but must do so behind an offensive line replacing talented guard Christian Westerman.


3. Special Teams Prowess 

Special teams miscues plagued Arizona State in 2013 and '14, but the 2016 Sun Devils have the pieces for one of the Pac-12's best special teams units.


Speedster Tim White was among the nation's best kick returners in 2015, averaging 27 yards per attempt and taking one back for a touchdown. Punter Matt Haack and kicker Zane Gonzalez are entrenched veterans, both coming off solid years.


What's been one of Arizona State's biggest weaknesses looks like its most established strength heading into 2016. 


4. Home Runs or Strikeouts 

Think of the blitz-heavy defensive scheme Graham prefers like a swing-happy, home-run hitter in baseball. It's a risk-reward mentality that comes up big when effective, but can result in plenty of strikeouts.


In 2015, the Sun Devils whiffed more than they connected. The 33.7 points per game Arizona State surrendered were the most any Graham defense allowed in his four years with the program, and ranked 99th nationally.


his scheme after losing the regular-season finale to Cal, 48-46, a game in which the Sun Devils surrendered numerous big plays. Giving 43 points to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl left Arizona State heading into the offseason with the bad taste of 128 points allowed in just three games.


How a 2.5-month layoff to marinate on those failings impacts Graham's philosophy could shape the Sun Devil defense in 2016. Arizona State loses five starters, including defensive backs Lloyd Carrington and Jordan Simone. Linebacker Salamo Fiso and defensive back Kareem Orr return to provide a foundation for that blitz-and-turnover combination Graham favors, but they'll need support.


5. Defending The Pass 

After struggling with option offenses in Cal Poly and New Mexico early in the season, Arizona State buckled down to limit opponents to 125.9 rushing yards per game — 20th best in the nation. But as logic would dictate for a defense that gave up as many points as the Sun Devils, a stingy rush defense struggled mightily against the pass.


No team in college football was worse against the pass. The Sun Devils allowed 338 yards per game through the game, the statistical manifestation of the aforementioned commitment to bodies on the blitz.


Arizona State defensive backs have to be comfortable on an island, in single coverage. Orr settled into a playmaking role as the season progressed, but the Sun Devils lacked the sheer variety of capable defensive backs necessary to withstand passing barrages. Losing Kweishi Brown leaves further uncertainty in the secondary heading into spring.


Pre-Spring Arizona State Outlook in the Pac-12


Graham hasn't been shy about touting top-tier potential for Arizona State football. The 2016 campaign will provide the stiffest test of the program's endurance in Graham's tenure.


Arizona State has fewer returning starters — six on defense and just four on offense — than any team in the Pac-12, save Cal. The lack of experience, coupled with the disappointment of 2015, has the Sun Devils facing more uncertainty than any season since '12.


This team's identity will be far from crafted by the end of spring practice. The 2016 Sun Devils should look different than any squad Graham's had. With the Pac-12 South collectively facing a season of uncertainty, Arizona State's basement could be the bottom, as much as its ceiling could be first place.


— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Arizona State Sun Devils 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Hideki Matsuyama, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-19-hideki-matsuyama

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. 19: Hideki Matsuyama

Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (6 on Japanese Tour) | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,758,619 (15th) | World Ranking: 14


Gary Williams' Take: In the massive rush to declare the next great thing, Matsuyama has managed to come to America after Ryo Ishikawa and eclipse Ishikawa’s accomplishments while assuming the burden of having the throng of Japanese press follow his every waking moment. He turned 24 in late February and already has top 10s in the three of the four major championships and is statistically one of the finest ball strikers on the PGA Tour. He consistently ranks among the best in all the categories that matter most, and by making the choice to play the PGA Tour at an early age, he has already been on two President Cup teams and has a reasonable chance to become the most accomplished Japanese player on the best Tour in the world long before his 30th birthday.
Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 13
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters - 5
    U.S. Open – T18
    British Open – T18
    PGA Championship – T37
Best Career Finishes
    Masters - 5 (2015)
    U.S. Open - T10 (2013)
    British Open - T6 (2013)
    PGA Championship - T19 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 6
Missed Cuts: 1


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

Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 11:34
Path: /college-basketball/5-reasons-why-north-carolina-tar-heels-will-win-it-all-2016

The North Carolina Tar Heels have endured their fair share of struggles and criticisms throughout the 2015-’16 regular season. The preseason No. 1-ranked team in the AP poll, everything about this team,from toughness to cohesiveness, has been called into question. Even the Tar Heels’ two-time national championship-winning coach, Roy Williams, has drawn negative criticism for some of his more questionable coaching decisions throughout the season.


The good news is that March Madness is finally here, and the slate has been wiped clean. The No. 1 seed in the East region, North Carolina is well positioned in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and a legitimate opportunity awaits for the Tar Heels to prove why they were the favorites to cut down the nets before the season began. Here are five reasons why the North Carolina Tar Heels are still the team to beat.


5 Reasons Why North Carolina Will Win the 2016 NCAA Tournament


1. Momentum

Consistency has been an issue with North Carolina throughout the season, but a strong showing to close out the regular season and in the ACC Tournament play has this team peaking at the perfect time to make a run at the 2016 national title. The Tar Heels wrapped up the regular season by knocking off hated rival Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time in four years, and in the process, clinching the regular season ACC title. They followed that up by sweeping their way through the ACC Tournament, culminating in a victory over No.4 Virginia and earning their first ACC Tournament title since 2008. Momentum is critical heading into March Madness and North Carolina has it.


2. Experience

Everyone knows experience wins championships, and North Carolina may have the most experienced roster in the entire NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Marcus Paige has started every game in which he has been healthy since he was a freshman. Junior forward Kennedy Meeks has been a starter since midway through his freshman season. Senior big man Brice Johnson is in his second season as a full-time starter, in addition to being a significant contributor in each of his four seasons in Chapel Hill. And sophomore guard/forward Justin Jackson also now has two seasons under his belt as a full-time starter.


In total, the Tar Heels have 511 games worth of experience amongst their starting five. The vast majority of which have come in a starting capacity. A deep bench provides a wealth of experience as well. Experience that should pay dividends in the NCAA Tournament, as there is literally nothing an opposing team can throw at them, that they have not already encountered at some point in the past.


3. Depth

Speaking of a deep bench, the Tar Heels have that as well. UNC returned 12 lettermen and nine of its top 10 scorers from last season’s Sweet 16 squad. The addition of two true freshmen, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams, allow the Tar Heels to go as many as 11 deep. There is a drop off in talent, of course. However, UNC’s decline in talent is not as significant as you will find with most of the other schools participating in March Madness.


Junior forward Isaiah Hicks averages close to 10 points per game coming off of the bench and would likely start for most of the other teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Junior point guard, Nate Britt, is more than capable of filling in for Joel Berry or Paige in the backcourt without issue. Senior Joel James is yet another big man that can provide quality minutes in the post. And athletic sophomore guard/forward Theo Pinson may be the best defensive player on the entire team as a reserve player. North Carolina’s depth will almost certainly play a key role in getting them through the rigors of March Madness, especially as a team that prefers an up-tempo style of play.


4. Talent

Collectively, North Carolina boasts one of the most dangerous lineups from top to bottom in the NCAA Tournament. For starters, it’s a lineup that features six former McDonald’s High School All-Americans. But collectively, this is a highly skilled group of players that, despite some inconsistency, can run the floor as well as anyone in the nation and score points at a breakneck pace, which is evident by the 83 points per game the Tar Heels are averaging.


If there is one area in particular where North Carolina can really shine, it is down low. In fact, there may not be a better combination of post players than Johnson, Meeks and Hicks. Johnson has exceeded expectations as the Tar Heels’ leading scorer and rebounder this season, producing 20 double-doubles and being a unanimous selection for All-ACC first team honors. Meeks and Hicks both complement Johnson nicely as opportunistic big men that can run the floor surprisingly well and compete with just about anyone down on the block.


Paige is a player that has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Tar Heels this season. That said, the pre-season All-American remains a double-digit scorer and is fully capable of taking over a game at any moment. Berry is the team’s second-leading scorer and provides UNC with its best option out on the perimeter at the moment, shooting 39 percent beyond the arc. He also is coming off of a strong showing in the ACC Tournament that earned him MVP honors. Jackson is a streaky scorer that performs extremely well in transition and can put up points in bunches when fully engaged. Britt and Pinson both serve as quality role players that can provide solid minutes off of the bench. If even half of the aforementioned players are at, or near, their best over the next few weeks, North Carolina will be extremely tough to beat.


5. 2016 or Bust?

Following this season, the Tar Heels will lose their top two players in Johnson and Paige to graduation. There also is the matter of the still unresolved NCAA investigation into a university-wide academic scandal. It’s possible that forthcoming NCAA sanctions and penalties could impact the basketball team’s postseason eligibility for 2017 and beyond.


Keeping all of that in mind, this could be North Carolina’s best shot at winning another national championship for some time to come. You can bet that Williams knows it, and the players most assuredly know it as well. All logic would tell you that those extenuating circumstances will further add fuel to the fire to help motivate a hungry Carolina team to not only get to the Final Four in Houston but earn the right to cut down the nets when all is said and done.


— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

5 Reasons Why the North Carolina Tar Heels Will Win it All in 2016
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/top-eight-potential-first-round-upsets-watch-2016-ncaa-tournament

The 2016 NCAA Tournament bracket is out and now it's time to find out those higher seeds that are going to make you regret not watching that late-night game out of the Midwest. Every year there are mid-majors that the common fan knows nothing about and picks against them in their pool. I'm here to educate you on the top eight first round upsets that could happen on Thursday and Friday.


12 Chattanooga over 5 Indiana

Matt McCall's boys went 29-5 this season and have won five straight games. Chattanooga has road wins over Georgia, Dayton and Illinois already this season so the Mocs won't be intimidated by the Hoosiers. Pardon me if I'm not ready to buy Indiana quite yet after skating through the Big Ten with an easier schedule than others. Yogi Ferrell is very good, but he'll be tested by Chattanooga. These Mocs are balanced — seven players average at least seven points per game.


13 Iona over 4 Iowa State

The Cyclones aren't very deep and their recent tournament history has been questionable. Last year they lost in the first round with essentially the same team. Iowa State’s starting five is very good, but also prone to foul trouble. The Gaels have A.J. English and if you haven't seen him play, he can take over games. This matchup will be a track meet and sometimes that keeps the higher seed in the ball game. The experts will point to Iona's struggles against Tournament-caliber teams, but the Gaels did beat Monmouth, which should have gotten into the field of 68.


11 Gonzaga over 6 Seton Hall

I'm always leery of teams that go on prolonged runs in their conference tournament. Both of these teams did, but the Zags have been off for at least a week. There's no denying Isaiah Whitehead and the advantage the Pirates will have in the backcourt in this one. The problem for them comes in trying to slow down Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. Gonzaga has won five straight and won't mind playing as an underdog for once. Seton Hall hasn't won in the Tournament since 2004.


10 VCU over 7 Oregon State

Congratulations to Oregon State for making the Tournament as a 19-12 team. Gary Payton II is an awesome player who does it all, averaging almost 16 points per game and eight rebounds per contest as well. The Beavers average just 11 turnovers per game, but they don’t possess the effective size to scare VCU. The Rams are arguably the better team in this matchup. I'd make sure guard Melvin Johnson is 100 percent in this one because he didn't look like it on Sunday. Also, Tres Tinkle's status (foot injury) is important considering he's Oregon State's second-leading scorer. Mo Alie-Cox could have a field day in this one for VCU.


11 Northern Iowa over 6 Texas

UNI already has a win over North Carolina and a road victory over Wichita State. The Panthers have been here before and won't be intimidated by Texas. Wes Washpun is an underrated point guard and he's got several weapons around him. Shaka Smart has done great things with the Longhorns in just his first year there. Longhorn big man Cameron Ridley will have more time to get ready after playing just two minutes in his return from injury, but who knows how effective he will be. This game features two very good coaches in Smart and Ben Jacobson.


10 Temple over 7 Iowa

My how far the Hawkeyes have fallen, having lost six of their last eight games including a tough one to Illinois in their opening game of the Big Ten Tournament. Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok are solid scorers, but they may find tough sledding against Temple, which will grind you out both offensively and defensively. Quinton DeCosey could have been AAC Player of the Year and Obi Enechionyia is developing into a solid shooter. The Owls have five wins over Cincinnati, SMU and UConn. This one should be a low-scoring affair, which often benefits the higher seed.


14 Fresno State over 3 Utah

This is one of the longer shots that I'll put in the article, but the Bulldogs have talent. Marvelle Harris is a stud guard and he's got a lot of friends in Karachi Edo, Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero. Depth isn't an issue for Fresno, which has won nine straight and 11 of its last 12 with the loss coming in overtime at Nevada. The Utes are no slouches themselves and Pac-12 Player of the Year Jakob Poetl will be a handful, but they were undressed in their conference tournament championship game by Oregon. I like both teams, but I don't think the Bulldogs are going to get much credit nationally.


9 Cincinnati over 8 St. Joseph's

The Hawks won the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament and get more than 35 points per game combined from DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles. St. Joseph’s does lack a bit inside and isn’t the deepest team with just eight regulars in the rotation. Cincinnati is led by Troy Caupain on the outside and Gary Clark on the inside. The Bearcats will have the frontcourt edge in this one and once again I'm leery of a team that made a deep run in their conference tourney. Cincy gets a little extra time to rest after their four OT loss to UConn.


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

Top Eight Potential First Round Upsets to Watch for in the 2016 NCAA Tournament
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/what-weve-learned-about-nebraska-football-spring-week-two

It’s been around 70 and sunny more often than not recently in the San Diego of the Big Ten a.k.a. . Now that helmets and pads are part of the practice festivities, separation and storylines are already occurring. Here’s the report for week number two of the festivities in Lincoln.


Quarterback Competition Continues

The spot for who’ll be the eventual signal-caller is on and thus far Tommy Armstrong, Ryker Fyfe and Patrick O’Brien appear to be the three at the top of the food chain. A.J. Bush looks to be the odd man out as low man on the totem pole as Zack Darlington has moved to wide receiver. All three of the aforementioned have taken reps with the No. 1 offense.


Running Back Roulette

Devine Ozigbo is up to 232 pounds, but you wouldn’t know it. He runs with the same quickness, fluidity and confidence that he did late last season. Terrell Newby looks to continue his role in a We-Back rotation as of right now while Mikale Wilbon is starting to step up and show the athleticism many have been waiting for. Riley did note that he now has to “put the rest of the game together.”


Filling Some Big Fullback Shoes

Mike Riley clearly loved the performance he got out of Andy Janovich as Harrison Jordan, Luke McNitt and Graham Nabity are all working to fill the hole left by his departure. Riley has gone on record many times as saying he loves what fullbacks can bring to his offense.


Wealth of Wide Receivers

Nebraska isn’t lacking in talented wide receivers. The usual suspects are around (Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, etc.), but true freshman Derrion “Cherry” Grim is making some noise and redshirt freshman Lavan Alston is looking very good early on.


Westerkamp and Stanley Morgan both suffered groin injuries. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the former be kept out a good chunk of the remainder of spring camp. He’s a known quantity while other receivers could stand to use the snaps while Westerkamp recovers.


Sorting Out the Offensive Line

The offensive line has been hit or miss, however David Knevel looks like he’s made large improvements from last season to now. He’s currently lined up at starting right tackle and if he can continue to play at the level he is, he likely retains that position.


Nick Gates has held down the opposite tackle spot and still struggles with the better edge rushers, but that’s something to be taken with a grain of salt this early. Perhaps the most memorable moment for the offensive line this week will be Dylan Utter getting planted by defensive tackle Greg McMullen during a drill where Utter lined up at center.


Guard Gerald Foster has been showing new initiative and looks the part inside. Tanner Farmer weighs in at 295 pounds, down from the 335 he carried around at times last season. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh was quoted as saying, "He's got a chance to start, but that ain't up to me. It's like that Missouri license plate. Show me."

Rebuilding the Defensive Line

Speaking of McMullen, he appears to have shed some bad weight and looks like a true defensive tackle. Redshirt freshmen brothers Khalil and Carlos Davis both are showing bad intentions early along with plenty of swagger. It should be fun to see how they progress. 


The defensive end position remains wide open, though Freedom Akinmoladun likely retains his Blackshirt when it’s all said and done. More separation in that area likely shows up by next week.


Linebackers Have a Leg Up Early

Not much to report on the linebackers early on aside from a hyperextended knee suffered by Michael Rose-Ivey. Otherwise, Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young are clearly a step ahead right now. Everyone seems to be just waiting for Tyrin Ferguson and Mohamed Barry to have breakout days.


Educating the Secondary

In a two-birds-with-one-stone effort, Nebraska is practicing plays out of offensive sets that are a part of the actual playbook, but ones the secondary also happened to struggle against last season.


The wideouts have had the upper hand in most one-on-one battles, but that’s not to be unexpected considering the safeties are just now getting familiar working with defensive coordinator Mark Banker and, well, you don’t jump 90 spots in pass defense in a day or even four for that matter.


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

What We’ve Learned About Nebraska Football This Spring: Week Two
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/8-red-hot-teams-watch-your-2016-ncaa-tournament-bracket

Last year the Kentucky Wildcats were considered the favorites entering the NCAA Tournament. While Kentucky didn't win the national championship (Duke Blue Devils), the Wildcats advanced to their 17th Final Four.


Unlike last year, the 2016 NCAA Tournament is completely wide open as there's a legitimate case for 15-20 teams winning the national championship. While everyone knows about the Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans, there are a few other teams that could bust up a number of brackets.


So who are the teams people should know as we get ready for another installment of March Madness?


Oregon Ducks (28-6)

Oregon destroyed Utah 88-57 on Saturday to win the Pac-12 Tournament. There might not be a hotter team in the country than the Ducks, who received the No. 1 seed in the West Region.


Oregon has won eight straight games and is second in the country in RPI. Leading scorer Dillion Brooks is averaging 16.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. If you're looking for a team outside of Kansas and North Carolina that could cut down the nets next month, Oregon could make a surprise run to the Final Four in Houston.


Michigan State Spartans (28-5)

For a team with nearly 30 wins and a Big Ten Tournament championship to its credit, Michigan State has been a bit under the radar this season, which is the way head coach Tom Izzo likes it. The Spartans did have a mid-season slump when Denzel Valentine was injured. But since his return, Michigan State looks like one of the best teams in the country.


Izzo and his Spartan teams usually save their best for the NCAA Tournament and this year may not be any different.


Kentucky Wildcats (26-8)

On Sunday, Kentucky won another SEC Tournament, defeating Texas A&M in overtime. The Wildcats have won 10 out of their last 12 games, as head coach John Calipari has his young and talented team peaking at the right time.


Kentucky has a good enough frontcourt and a great backcourt with SEC Player of the Year Tyrler Ulis and Jamal Murray (averaging 20.2 points per game) to make a serious run to Houston and the Final Four.


UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (25-7)

Kevin Keatts, a former Louisville Cardinals assistant under Rick Pitino has done an incredible job in his first two seasons at UNC-Wilmington. All he has done is win the CAA Conference Coach of the Year in consecutive years and he guided the Seahawks to a CAA Conference Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2006.


UNC-Wilmington plays small ball and is led by junior guard Chris Flemmings. In his first season playing for the Seahawks after transferring from Division II Barton College, Flemmings leads the team in scoring (16.1 ppg) while chipping in nearly six rebounds per game as well.


UNC-Wilmington's defense could be the biggest reason the Seahawks make some noise. Opponents shoot just 34.1 percent from three-point land, a key component for teams looking to advance in the Tournament.  


Seton Hall Pirates (25-8)

For the first time 23 years, Seton Hall won the Big East Conference Tournament, which secured the Pirates' first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006. Seton Hall will enter the Tournament winners of eight out of its last nine games.


The Pirates are led by Isaiah Whitehead, who averaged 23.3 points per game during the Big East Tournament and was named the Most Outstanding Player.


Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (27-5)

On Saturday, Stephen F. Austin won its third straight Southland Conference Tournament, as the Lumberjacks defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 82-60. Stephen F. Austin has won 20 straight games and has not lost since Dec. 29 (UAB).


The Lumberjacks play a high-pressure defense that’s complemented by an effective and efficient offense. Stephen F. Austin has the talent and roster to pull off an upset in the Big Dance much like it did in 2014, when the 12th-seeded Lumberjacks beat No. 5 VCU.


Northern Iowa Panthers (22-12)

Northern Iowa has won six straight games, the last three coming in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Panthers have several good quality wins this season, as they have defeated fellow Tournament teams North Carolina, Iowa State, Stephen F. Austin and Wichita State (twice).


The Panthers core of Wes Washpun, Jeremy Morgan, Paul Jesperson and Matt Bohannon are going to be tough for any team to slow down. Northern Iowa has the potential to play into the second weekend of the Tournament.


Green Bay Phoenix (23-12)

For the first time in 20 years, Green Bay will be dancing after winning the Horizon League Tournament. The Phoenix are one of the fastest teams in the country, as they average 79.8 possessions per game. Carrington Love (17.7 ppg, 3.5 apg) is one of the best players not many people know about, but that could change this week. With an offense as good as the Phoenix and a top defense, Green Bay could potentially pull off an upset or two.


— 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.

8 Red-Hot Teams to Watch in Your 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/big-ten-2016-spring-football-preview-and-power-rankings

Ohio State and Michigan enter 2016 as the frontrunners to win the Big Ten title, but both teams enter spring practice with plenty of work to do. The Buckeyes return quarterback J.T. Barrett and a few rising stars on defense. However, only six starters are back for coach Urban Meyer. The skill players need to be restocked, and the defense has to reload in the trenches and in the secondary. The Wolverines are loaded on defense and at the skill positions, but can a clear answer emerge at quarterback? The only storylines in the Big Ten this spring aren’t just from Ohio State and Michigan, as there’s a rebuilding effort underway at Michigan State on offense, Iowa is looking to fill in the necessary pieces to win the Big Ten West again, while Nebraska hopes to take a step forward in coach Mike Riley’s second season.


Spring practice is set to begin around the nation for all 128 teams over the next few weeks. While spring ball is just practice sessions and it’s hard to glean much information, it’s never too early to look at some of the biggest storylines facing teams this offseason.


Here’s a look at the biggest questions facing the 14 teams in the Big Ten this spring:


Big Ten 2016 Spring Football Preview and Power Rankings


East Division



2015 Record: 6-7, 2-6 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 7

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 5


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Finding Nate Sudfeld’s Replacement

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld finished his career in Bloomington as one of the most prolific passers in school history. The battle to replace Sudfeld begins this spring, and junior college recruit Richard Lagow is the early favorite with Zander Diamont sidelined due to offseason surgery. Lagow threw for 2,285 yards and 21 scores at the junior college level last season and also spent time in his career at UConn and Oklahoma State. With Diamont sidelined, Lagow will have a chance to stamp his place at the top of the depth chart. If he can’t, Austin King and Danny Cameron are the next options in the mix this spring. Another storyline to watch for Indiana is the transition on defense to new coordinator Tom Allen.





2015 Record: 3-9, 1-7 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 4, Defense: 5

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 6


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Quarterback Play

It’s no secret Maryland’s quarterback play was a major issue last season. Four different signal-callers received snaps and combined for 29 picks and a sluggish 47.2 completion percentage. Needless to say, new coordinator Walt Bell has his hands full this spring. Perry Hills passed for 1,001 yards and eight scores last season and added 535 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He’s the frontrunner to take the first snap, but Caleb Rowe, Gage Shaffer and Shane Cockerille will push for time in the spring. True freshman Tyrrell Pigrome arrives this summer and is a name to watch in the fall.



2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 6

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 2


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Quarterback Play

The linebacking corps is another unit to watch in spring practice, but it’s safe to assume all eyes in Ann Arbor will be on the quarterbacks. Jake Rudock’s one-year stint at Michigan resulted in a 3,000-yard (3,017) season, and the Iowa transfer leaves big shoes to fill. Houston transfer John O’Korn is the frontrunner, but freshman Brandon Peters, Wilton Speight, Shane Morris and Alex Malzone will push for snaps. How quickly will coach Jim Harbaugh find the right answer?




Michigan State

2015 Record: 12-2, 7-1 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 4, Defense: 5

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 3


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Filling the Voids on Offense

With only nine returning starters this spring, both sides of the ball are going to receive plenty of attention in East Lansing. While the defense has personnel losses at each level, the needs are greater on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Connor Cook expired his eligibility, leaving Damion Terry and Tyler O’Connor as the top candidates vying for time this spring. The offensive line loses standouts Jack Conklin (LT) and Jack Allen (C), and two of the top receivers – Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings – also expired their eligibility. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it will take some time for the new pieces to fall into place for coach Mark Dantonio.


Ohio State

2015 Record: 12-1, 7-1 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 3, Defense: 3

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 1


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Restocking the Skill Positions

It’s hard to mention just one position in this space. The Buckeyes return only six starters for 2016 and lose several key pieces on both sides of the ball. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback headed into spring ball, but the supporting cast is filled with uncertainty. Who replaces Ezekiel Elliott at running back? Senior Bri’onte Dunn, junior Curtis Samuel and freshmen Antonio Williams and Mike Weber will battle for snaps in the spring. Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller depart from the receiving corps, which leaves Noah Brown and Corey Smith as the likely go-to targets in 2016. However, the Buckeyes need more than just Brown and Smith. True freshman Austin Mack is a name to watch. Talent isn’t an issue, but Meyer and his offensive staff need time to restock the weapons around Barrett.




Penn State

2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense: 5

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 4


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Offensive Line

It may seem like a broken record, but the offensive line is once again a huge issue for Penn State. This unit has a new coach in former Minnesota assistant Matt Limegrover, and he’s tasked with improving a group that’s allowed 83 sacks over the last two years. The good news? The talent and depth have improved under coach James Franklin. Four starters return, and two freshmen – Alex Gellerstedt and Connor McGovern – enrolled in time to compete this spring. In addition to this group, keep an eye on the defensive line and Trace McSorley’s first opportunity to win the starting quarterback spot in spring practice.



2015 Record: 4-8, 1-7 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 7

Big Ten East Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 7


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Transition to the New Staff

The Scarlet Knights hit the reset button after a 4-8 record last season. Kyle Flood was fired, and Ohio State assistant Chris Ash was hired as the program’s new coach. Ash was a solid hire for Rutgers, but this is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level. Additionally, he’s inheriting a team in need of significant work on both sides of the ball. The offense averaged only 21.3 points a game (conference-only matchups) last year and enters spring with a quarterback battle on its hands. Additionally, top receiver Leonte Carroo must be replaced, and the offensive line has to improve after surrendering 25 sacks last year. Seven starters are back on defense, but this unit gave up 34.9 points a game last season and struggled to stop the pass. How much of a difference will Ash make in one offseason?  


West Division



2015 Record: 5-7, 2-6 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 5, Defense: 4

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 6


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Getting Defensive

Lovie Smith’s first spring in Champaign is all about building relationships and getting familiar with his new team. This is Smith’s first job in the collegiate ranks since 1995, so there’s going to be plenty of transition and kinks to work through on both sides. Smith has a strong track record on defense, and that’s a huge area of need for the Fighting Illini with just four returning starters. Each level was hit hard by departures, and this unit also suffered another blow via the transfer route when T.J. Neal departed to Auburn. Illinois has a few issues to address on offense, but quarterback Wes Lunt and receiver Mike Dudek are a good duo to build around. How quickly will the players adapt to Smith and transition to the new schemes?





2015 Record: 12-2, 8-0 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 5, Defense: 8

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 1


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Finding Playmakers at Receiver

The Hawkeyes are in good shape for another run at a Big Ten West Division title, but there are a few areas for coach Kirk Ferentz to address in spring workouts. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is one of the top signal-callers in the Big Ten, but his receiving corps was hit by departures. Leading receiver Matt VandeBerg is back, while receivers Tevaun Smith (32 catches) and Jacob Hillyer (16 catches) and tight end Henry Krieger Coble (35 grabs) expired their eligibility. That’s 83 of the team’s 227 receptions from last season, and that number grows to 103 if you count the departure of running back Jordan Canzeri. In addition to leaning more on VandeBerg, the coaching staff will be looking for more from Jerminic Smith, Riley McCarron and Jay Scheel. Who steps up at receiver and tight end this spring?



2015 Record: 6-7, 2-6 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 7

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 5


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Adjusting to the New Offense

Minnesota’s revamped secondary deserves a mention here, but the biggest spring storyline in Minneapolis is the offense. The Golden Gophers have finished 11th or worse in the Big Ten in scoring offense in two out of the last three years. New coordinator Jay Johnson has to get more out of this group, but there are pieces to build around in 2016. Quarterback Mitch Leidner returns after throwing for 2,701 yards and 14 scores last season, and running back Shannon Brooks is back after a promising freshman campaign. Leidner will be limited this spring due to surgery. Receiver is an area of focus for Johnson after KJ Maye expired his eligibility (73 catches in 2015). Drew Wolitarsky and tight end Brandon Lingen are back, but the Golden Gophers will be looking for more out of Eric Carter and Rashad Still. The offensive line also features some uncertainty, and the coaching staff will be keeping a close eye on the progress of junior college recruits Vincent Calhoun and Garrison Wright this spring.





2015 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 6

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 3


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Line of Scrimmage

The progression of quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a key storyline to monitor out of Lincoln, but Nebraska won’t take a step forward without retooling in the trenches. The Cornhuskers lose three starters on the offensive line and must replace three on the defensive side. Left tackle Alex Lewis and center Ryne Reeves leave big shoes to fill, but the losses are even heavier on defense. Tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine left early for the NFL, and end Jack Gangwish expired his eligibility. Will the Cornhuskers finish spring with answers on both sides of the ball?





2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 6

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 4


Top Priority in Spring Practice: The Passing Game

Defense and a strong ground attack led Northwestern to a 10-3 mark last season. But even with 13 starters back this spring, the Wildcats will need more out of the passing attack to push for 10 wins once again. Quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for 1,522 yards and seven scores and rushed for 397 yards and five touchdowns in his first year as the starter. He’s expected to take a step forward this spring, but the supporting cast at receiver has its share of question marks. Dan Vitale (33 catches), Christian Jones (23) and Miles Shuler (15) expired their eligibility. Austin Carr (16 catches) and running back Justin Jackson (21) are the top returning targets. Northwestern needs more out of Thorson and the receiving corps.  



2015 Record: 2-10, 1-7 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 9

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 7


Top Priority in Spring Practice: David Blough’s Development

There are several areas requiring attention for coach Darrell Hazell this spring, but David Blough’s development is critical for the Boilermakers to have any shot at finding improvement in the win column next season. Blough had his share of ups and downs as a freshman last year and finished the year by throwing for 1,574 yards and 10 touchdowns. New play-caller Terry Malone has to get Blough to take the next step, as well as generate more big plays from a passing attack that generated only 28 plays of 20 or more yards last year.





2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2 Big Ten

Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 5

Big Ten West Division Pre-Spring Power Ranking: 2


Top Priority in Spring Practice: Quarterbacks and Receivers

With a solid defense and ground attack in place, Wisconsin doesn’t need a prolific passing game to win the Big Ten West Division next season. Quarterback Joel Stave expired his eligibility after the Holiday Bowl win over USC, which leaves senior Bart Houston as the frontrunner over redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. Houston played in seven games last season and completed 27 of 47 throws for 281 yards and three touchdowns. In addition to the quarterback battle between Houston and Hornibrook, the receiving corps is looking for a new go-to target after Alex Erickson expired his eligibility. This is a key spring for Robert Wheelwright, Reggie Love and Jazz Peavy.

Big Ten 2016 Spring Football Preview and Power Rankings
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/leaked-bracket-cbs-selection-show-turner-twitter-account-ncaa

CBS caught a lot of flack on social media for having a two-hour selection show.


It doesn't take long to reveal a bracket and, believe or not, there was a time when the show would only be 30 minutes. It wasn't until a few years ago that it was stretched to an hour, and now to the two hour madness you see before you today.


How do you fill two hours of a selection show? Well, with a lot of talking heads, some of who don't really study college basketball. There were touchscreen segments that bombed, way too much talking, commercials, and hearing from NBA analysts. IT TOOK AN HOUR AND 17 MINUTES TO REVEAL THE ENTIRE BRACKET.




Luckily about 20 minutes into the show, a bracket was leaked by a now-deleted Twitter account. It's like an angel that appeared to give us this gift and then vanished. Some say CBS got what it deserved in trying to stretch a show out that didn't need to be that long. One entity that wasn't too happy about the leak was the NCAA, releasing a statement about the situation.


"We go through great lengths to prevent the tournament field from being revealed early, and the NCAA took its usual measures to protect this from happening. Unfortunately, and regrettably, the bracket was reveal prior to our broadcast partners having the opportunity to finish unveiling it. We take this matter seriously and are looking into it."


If nothing else, this mishap should prove the Selection Show does not need to be two hours.

Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 09:41
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/essential-tips-picking-your-2016-ncaa-tournament-bracket

Everyone wants to be that person who wins their NCAA Tournament office pool. Picking a bracket isn't an exact science. Underdogs rise up out of nowhere and pull off upsets nearly every season, winning legions of fans even as they destroy a sea of brackets before the second weekend.


Your odds of getting every pick right in your bracket are in the same neighborhood as getting hit by an asteroid while sitting in your living room. But that doesn't mean you can't have a winning strategy to best family, friends or coworkers in a friendly bracket challenge.




Here are a few tips to follow if you want to give your 2016 NCAA Tournament bracket a longer life:


Never pick a No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed

All sorts of memorable upsets happen during March Madness. A No. 16 seed knocking off a No. 1 seed is not among them. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 16 seeds have gone 0-124 against top seeds.


There have been close calls. In 1989, Georgetown beat Princeton 50-49 and Oklahoma edged East Tennessee State 72-71. Murray State took Michigan State to overtime in 1990, before losing 75-71. Purdue escaped from Western Carolina 73-71 in 1996, after the Catamounts missed a potential game-winning basket in the final seconds.


Only 15 games pitting a 16 against a 1 have been decided by single digits. Will a 16 beat a 1 eventually? Maybe. But it isn't worth sabotaging your own bracket right out of the gate just so you can potentially be the one who correctly guesses that historic upset.


Pick at least one No. 1 or a No. 2 seed to lose before the Sweet 16

While seeing a No. 1 or 2 seed fall in the first round is extremely rare, at least one or two of those top teams usually don’t make it to the Sweet 16. Top two seeds have lost games during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament more frequently than you think. At least two of the top eight teams have failed to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last six years. The last time all No. 1 and 2 seeds made it to the second weekend was in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.


Going all chalk to the Final Four rarely works out. Since the NCAA Tournament began seeding teams in 1979, all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four just one time – in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, you need at least one No. 1 seed in your Final Four. At least one top seed has reached the Final Four in every tournament since 1985 with two exceptions – 2006 and 2011.


Avoid advancing underdogs too far into later rounds

We all love seeing a double-digit seed rise out of nowhere and put themselves on the basketball map with a run to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or, on rare occasions, the Final Four. VCU and George Mason reached the Final Four as No. 11 seeds in 2006 and ‘11. Davidson made the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed in 2008. Florida Gulf Coast reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 in 2013.


Still, picking double-digit seeds to tear up brackets past the Sweet 16 isn’t a wise idea. Only three No. 11 seeds have reached the Final Four since 1985 and three others reached the Elite Eight. Seven No. 10 seeds have reached the Elite Eight – most recently Davidson in 2008. Only one No. 12 seed, Missouri in 2002, has made it to the Elite Eight.


Advance at least one First Four at-large winner to the Round of 32 or Sweet 16

When the NCAA Tournament expanded to a 68-team field in 2011, it created an opening round that matched the last four at-large teams and four automatic bid winners in four games played before the Round of 64. The First Four has injected drama into the NCAA Tournament every year since that time.


At least one First Four at-large winner has advanced to the Round of 32 every season. Two First Four winners, La Salle and Tennessee, reached the Sweet 16 in 2013 and ‘14 respectively. And, of course, VCU famously went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011. It's a safe bet at least one First Four team will rattle off a couple of victories again this year.


Pick against vulnerable No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 seeds

Once you get past the top three seeds in a region, odds for picking an early upset increase significantly. This could definitely be the case in 2016 with a strong crop of No.  11, 12 and 13 seeds.


No. 13 seeds have knocked out the No. 4 seed 13 times going back to 2001. All four No. 5 seeds have advanced to the Round of 32 just four times – in 1988, 2000, ‘07 and ‘15 – since 1985. Three of the four No. 5 seeds lost to a No. 12 seed in 2013 and ‘14. At least one No. 11 seed has beaten a No. 6 seed in 11 straight tournaments.


No. 5 seeds are just 80–44 against the No. 12 seed since 1985. No. 6 seeds have an 81-43 record against No. 11 seeds in that same stretch.


Vulnerable seeds in 4-6 range: Duke, California, Iowa State, Indiana, Maryland, Arizona, Seton Hall, Texas


Potential Giant Killers in 11-13 range: Gonzaga, Michigan, Wichita State, Chattanooga, Hawaii, Stony Brook, Little Rock, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State


Free throw shooting can separate contenders from pretenders

Games are often closer in the NCAA Tournament than during the regular season. These pressure-packed situations can be a disaster-in-waiting for a team that can't get it done at the free throw line.


Free throw shooting is the best measuring stick for separating contenders from pretenders. Teams that struggle with low free throw shooting percentages will eventually shoot themselves out of a game. And that will happen sooner rather than later.


Top 50 free throw shooting percentage teams: Connecticut, Villanova, Gonzaga, Virginia, Maryland, Miami, Northern Iowa, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech, Purdue, Colorado, North Carolina, Purdue, Michigan, Notre Dame, Arkansas-Little Rock


Bottom 50 free throw shooting percentage teams: California, Middle Tennessee, Green Bay, Florida Gulf Coast, Cal-State Bakersfield, Hampton


Watch out for homecourt heroes

Some teams tend to pile up shiny records during the regular season by dominating opponents in their home arena. When they get outside that friendly environment, it's a different story.


Beware advancing homecourt heroes deep in your bracket. Always pay close attention to a team's win/loss record on the road and at neutral venues. If they lose frequently to good or average teams away from home, and have a sub .500 record outside their own arena, that's a major red flag. Higher- seeded teams and lower-seeded teams that fit this profile are both ripe for quick exits.


Homecourt heroes to avoid in 2016: California, USC, Colorado, Miami, Iowa State, Oregon State, Vanderbilt, Texas Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse


Beware extremely hot or cold teams

There are always a few at-large teams who back their way into the NCAA Tournament each season after suffering several losses in their final few games. A handful of teams also get hot down the stretch after a rough start in conference play or non-conference play – masking weaknesses that caused the initial turbulent patch. Both types of teams are ripe for an early exit from your bracket.


Finding consistent winners is the key. Too many losses down the stretch might mean injuries, chemistry problems or some other issues are at play. A lengthy winning streak peppered with multiple blowouts, on the other hand, can make a team ill-prepared to handle close games in the NCAA Tournament.


Extreme hot teams: Wisconsin, California, Fresno State, Yale, Northern Iowa

Extreme cold teams: Iowa, Iowa State, Syracuse, USC, Baylor, Butler


Offensive and defensive balance wins championships

Everyone has heard the saying, “Defense wins championships.” That's only partially true. Teams that are most successful in the NCAA Tournament strike a balance between strong defense and productive offense. If a team is significantly weaker in either area than the other, it usually equals an early exit.


Advanced metrics are useful in identifying balanced teams versus unbalanced teams. A large majority of Final Four and Elite Eight teams each season rank in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency coming into the Tournament. Vulnerable higher seeds, on the other hand, will always have a glaring deficiency on at least one end of the court.


Top 30 teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency in 2016: Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan State, Villanova, Oklahoma, Purdue, West Virginia. 


— 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

Essential Tips for Picking Your 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2016-march-madness-bracket-cheat-sheets

Selection Sunday is over. Now the real fun begins. It's time to fill out your bracket for the NCAA Tournament and crush your co-workers and buddies in this year's pick-'em game. But who do you pick? We're here to help with our predictions. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from our experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humiliation of picking MTSU to win it all.


(Click images to enlarge)

Mitch Light's Tournament Picks

Championship Pick: North Carolina



David Fox's Tournament Picks

Championship Pick: Michigan State


Braden Gall's Tournament Picks

Championship Pick: Michigan State



NCAA Tournament 2016: March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheets
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /overtime/must-follow-twitter-accounts-ncaa-tournament-teams-2016-march-madness-college-basketball

Filling out the perfect bracket is one thing, knowing who to follow on Twitter for all of the March Madness events is another. From the crying to the dancing, you're not going to want to miss a minute of this tournament. 


Every team has an official account, but sometimes those aren't always the best source, especially if you're a fan of more entertaining tweets. I've got you covered from college basketball must-follows to team-specific ones. You can thank me later.


The Sweet 16 - These are the national accounts to follow for all the action. They should keep you informed and in some cases, even entertained.


@marchmadness: The official NCAA account. 

@MarchMadnessTV: You're going to need to know what channel TruTV is.

@SethDavisHoops: "Sharpie"

@JayBilas: Mr. College Hoops.

@franfrachilla: Not everyone in CBB is a quality follow, but you can't go wrong with Fran.

@RobDauster: Head college basketball guy at NBC Sports (and as of right now his Twitter avi is one of the cutest kids ever).

@BrianHamiltonSI: Sports Illustrated's college basketball guy, pretty straightforward.

@TheCauldron: Chances are they'll have a gif/vine before you even catch a replay.

@ESPNDanaOneil: Great overview of college hoops and writes damn good features.

@CampusRush: Sports Illustrated, the college version.

@NicoleAuerbach: Mainly college basketball, but also a good follow for CFB season. 

@MedcalfbyESPN: Great info doesn't get hurt if he's wrong about his picks. Quality follow.

@GoodmanESPN: Not too entertaining but tweets all the insider info.

@GaryParrishCBS: Engaging on twitter and has pretty good columns to boot.

@CBSSportsCBB: Prepare yourself for a lot of gifs, vines, and memes.

@CardChronicle: CBB editor for SB Nation, kind of funny, always informative.




1. Kansas: @jessenewell, Kansas City Star

16. Austin Peay: @AustinPeayMBB

1. Oregon: @AddictedToQuack

16. Holy Cross: @HCrossMBB

16. Southern: @JaguarHoops

8. Colorado: @CUBuffsMBB

9. UConn: @UConnMBB

8. Saint Joseph's: @SUJUHawks_MBB

9. Cincinnati: @GoBearcatsMBB

5. Maryland: @TerpsInsider

12. South Dakota State: @GoJacksMBB

5. Baylor: @OurDailyBears

12. Yale: @Yale_Basketball

4. California: @JeffFaraudo, Bay Area News Group

13. Hawaii: @Brian_McInnis, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

4. Duke: @dukeblueplanet

13: UNC Wilmington: @uncwmenshoops

6. Arizona: @ZackBlatt, Tucson Star

11. Vanderbilt: @VandyMBB

11. Wichita St.: @PaulSuellentrop, The Wichita Eagle

6. Texas: @TexasMBB

11. Northern Iowa: @UNImbb

3. Miami (FL.): @ByTimReynolds, AP

14. Buffalo: @gggaughan, Buffalo News

3. Texas A&M: @BrentZwerneman, Houston Chronicle

14. Green Bay: @gbphoenixmbb

7. Iowa: @LukeMeredithAP, AP

10. Temple: @TUMBBHoops

7. Oregon State: @OregonStateMBB

10. VCU: @VCURamNation

2. Villanova: @NovaMBB

15. UNC Asheville: @UNCAbasketball

2. Oklahoma: @ryaber, The Oklahoman

15. Cal St. Bakersfield: @CSUB_MBB



1. North Carolina: @UNC_Basketball


16. F. Dickinson: @FDUKnights

1. Virginia: @UVAMensHoops

16. Hampton: @Hampton_MBB

8. USC: @InsideUSC

9. Providence: @PCFriarsMBB

8. Texas Tech: @TexasTechMBB

9. Butler: @ButlerMBB

5. Indiana: @insidethehall

12. Chattanooga: @GoMocsMBB

5. Purdue: @BoilerBall

12. Little Rock: @LittleRockMBB

6. Notre Dame: @nironside247, 247Sports

11. Michigan: @MaizenBrew

11. Tulsa: @KellyHinesTW, Tulsa World

6. Seton Hall: @SetonHallMBB

11. Gonzaga: @ZagMBB

3. West Virginia: @WVUHoops

14. S.F. Austin: @SFA_MBB

3. Utah: @Runnin_Utes

14. Fresno St: @FresnoStateMBB

7. Wisconsin: @BadgerMBB

10: Pittsburgh: @PittGuru, Pittsburgh Post

7. Dayton: @DavidPJablonski

10. Syracuse: @NunesMagician

2. Xavier: @slrussell, The Cincinnati Enquirer

15. Weber St.: @WeberStateMBB

2. Michigan St.: @joerexrode, Detroit Free Press

15. Middle Tenn.: @MT_MBB


Post date: Sunday, March 13, 2016 - 20:38
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /overtime/charles-barkley-samuel-l-jackson-spike-lee-star-march-madness-commercial-capital-one-ncaa-tournament

The amazing trio is back on the road again.


Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, and Spike Lee hit the road for their annual Capital One commercial series for March Madness. It's going to be a long, but enjoyable, trip.






It's all very "Chuck-a-licious."

Post date: Sunday, March 13, 2016 - 18:19
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-bracket-2016-field-68-announced-march-madness-seeds-teams

The stage is set.


The NCAA Tournament is set to be a good one. There hasn't been one breakout team and that always makes for good basketball. Keep an eye on the 5 vs. 12 matchups because some of the best upsets happen in those.


Remember, there's no shame in making multiple brackets.


1. Kansas vs. 16. Austin Peay1. Oregon vs. 16. Holy Cross/Southern
8. Colorado vs. 9. UConn8. Saint Joseph's vs. 9. Cincinnati
5. Maryland vs. 12. South Dakota State5. Baylor vs. 12. Yale
4. California vs. 13. Hawaii4. Duke vs. 13. UNC Wilmington
6. Arizona vs. 11. Vanderbilt/Wichita St.6. Texas vs. 11. Northern Iowa
3. Miami (FL) vs. 14. Buffalo3. Texas A&M vs. 14. Green Bay
7. Iowa vs. 10. Temple7. Oregon State vs. 10. VCU
2. Villanova vs. 15. UNC Asheville2. Oklahoma vs. 15. Cal St. Bakersfield
1. North Carolina vs. 16. FGCU/F. Dickinson1. Virginia vs. 16. Hampton
8. USC vs. 9. Providence8. Texas Tech vs. 9. Butler
5. Indiana vs. 12. Chattanooga5. Purdue vs. 12. Little Rock
4. Kentucky vs. Stony Brook4. Iowa St. vs. 13. Iona
6. Notre Dame vs. 11. Michigan/Tulsa6. Seton Hall vs. 11 Gonzaga
3. West Virginia vs. S.F. Austin3. Utah vs. 14. Fresno St.
7. Wisconsin vs. 10. Pittsburgh7. Dayton vs. 10. Syracuse
2. Xavier vs. 15. Weber St.2. Michigan St. vs. 15. Middle Tenn.

Good luck with your brackets, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Post date: Sunday, March 13, 2016 - 17:35
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/russell-wilson-proposes-girlfriend-ciara-seattle-seahawks-engaged

Russell Wilson is now a restricted free agent when it comes to his relationship status.


The Seahawks quarterback proposed to his longtime girlfriend Ciara and shared it with a tweet. Ah, young love. 



Post date: Friday, March 11, 2016 - 15:54
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/brent-grimes-miko-instagram-post-dolphins-dumpster-fire-tampa-bay-buccaneers

Anyone who knows about Brent Grimes, knows about his wife.


Miko Grimes has never been one to hold her tongue. The Pro Bowl cornerback's wife wasn't happy with the way they were treated by the Dolphins organization, and she for one is glad to leave. Grimes is headed to the Buccaneers on a two-year, $16.5 million contract.


In a since-deleted Instagram post, Miko shared her thoughts about how happy her family is to be leaving the "dumpster fire" that is the Dolphins. Some speculated the Bucs asked her to delete her twitter, knowing how outspoken she can be, but she set the record straight on that as well. 


According to , this is what Miko had to say:


"The Bucs are a REAL organization, being ran PROPERLY, unlike that dumpster fire in the AFC East we just left! They wouldn't DARE ask me to delete my twitter! I deleted my twitter because I didn't want the twitter gangsters and thumb thugs to have anyone to @ when they found out the Bucs (and multiple other teams) make them all look STUPID! Who doesn't want a pro bowl corner that's doing s— NO OTHER CORNER IN THE LEAGUE CAN DO! Men lie! Women lie! Stats lie! The media lies! You know what's undefeated? FILM!!! We are HAPPY and I don't feel like sharing it with anyone just yet. I'll be back very soon and I'll be the same supportive dedicated truthful b— I was before I left!"


Can't wait to see what Miko has to say about Jameis Winston this season.

Post date: Friday, March 11, 2016 - 15:27