Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/police-investigating-death-threats-made-chris-pauls-wife-jada-lapd-clippers
Body:

As everyone knows, there is a dark side to social media. 

 

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating death threats made towards Chris Paul's wife, Jada. Recently a Twitter account tweeted at the NBA star, making threats the police are taking very seriously. 

 

"@CP3 if I knew where you lived I'd probably kill your wife and frame you for it. I watch dateline and get away with it," the tweet said. 

 

According to TMZ, the Clippers' security team go a hold of it and notified the police. Although no arrests have been made, they are adamantly searching for the owner of the twitter handle. 

 

Paul has yet to comment on this situation, but has a history with twitter trolls coming after his wife on the internet. For now, the Paul's security has been increased.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 14:44
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ufc-2-simulates-fight-matt-barnes-derek-fisher-grizzlies-knicks
Body:

Ever wondered what a fight between Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher would look like?

 

This "UFC 2" simulation pits the Grizzlies role player against the former Knicks coach and it's not pretty. If you're a fan of Fisher's you may have a problem with the beating he takes. At least he got a few hits in there.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 13:02
Path: /college-basketball/animosity-toward-connecticut-womens-basketball-reflects-american-feelings-about-success
Body:

The University of Connecticut women's basketball team is under fire again. No, the Huskies have not been accused of cheating. They are not accused of dirty play nor are there any allegations of academic fraud or misconduct.

 

They are simply winning at a high level, and apparently a lot of Americans are not ok with it.

 

My question is simple: Why are some people not ok with it?

 

This is a question and issue that does not live in the sports world alone. It also crosses into politics and economics. We seem to be fine with everyone having a chance to succeed and even eventually enjoying some success. But when someone becomes so proficient in what he or she does and their success turns into domination, however, we find a way to make them the villain.

 

The New England Patriots, since the turn of the century, have been the NFL's most dominant team. We've found a way to paint them as cheaters. The New York Yankees are historically the most dominant franchise in American sport. We don't like how much money they spend to win titles, even though there is no salary cap in the sport. Notre Dame football has seemingly endless funds, their own TV deal with NBC, and are attached to the Catholic church. They probably have more haters than any other collegiate sports program.

 

Those are just some examples in sport. Think about Apple. It wasn't long ago that Apple was the brand of the little guy — real rags-to-riches story about a man who created something, was ousted by corporate America and then returned to make what he created great again. And then Steve Jobs was gone. Apple marched on, continued to accumulate wealth and have success. Slowly but surely, many Americans have grown tired of Apple. I've heard people say "they're just about the money now."

 

I've got news for you — they've always been about the money. So have most businesses, and any business that isn't about the money won't be in business for long. The same goes for sports teams and winning.

 

I see a lot of calls to action to support small businesses. Everyone wants me to shop at small businesses and give them my money. And I do — sometimes — if their products are good enough. But what happens when we give them money? They grow. They grow and grow and before you know it, they are all over your town, your state and your country. And now we hate them. Why?

 

Because we hate success.

 

We long to watch the rags-to-riches stories unfold, but then we don't appreciate the success when it happens. We just sit around and wait for the next story to come along and topple the kings or queens of the mountain.

 

We've all enjoyed watching the Golden State Warriors evolve from the little team that could into the second coming of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. We're in the middle of that evolution right now, and it's fun to watch.

 

But pay attention: The Warriors aren't going anywhere. They're young, and they'll keep winning. When they do, we'll get sick of them, because that's what we do. We have lost the ability to admire sustained greatness and instead view it as unchecked power that keeps others from achieving the same.

 

This is the public perception battle that the Connecticut women's basketball team is going through right now. In a time when we should be celebrating their accomplishments and domination that has come on the back of building a program the right way, we have legitimate journalists asking if they are bad for the game. That makes no sense.

 

Anyone who dominates anything — sports or otherwise — should be considered the standard. They should be what everyone else strives to be. Without a dominant entity, you have a revolving door of front-runners, creating a culture that says "If we just keep at it and do what we've been doing, that will be us one day."

 

Thankfully, we have the UConn women's basketball team to squash that school of thought. They are here to show us what sustained success is supposed to look like. They are a reminder that you cannot just keep doing what you are doing. Sometimes you must change. At some point, you must try to emulate the success of others by looking at how those people, teams or companies became so successful and plugging your own passion and effort into that blueprint — or at the very least look at how you could tweak the blueprint to better suit you. If what you do only gets you close to the top, maybe you need to do more instead of asking how those at the top could do less.

 

The only bad thing about anyone or anything dominating a sport or industry is others in that sport or industry asking whether or not that domination is a bad thing. At that point, you are looking for ways to limit the future success anyone might have in a certain field, which in turn slows the evolution of sports, business and society as a whole.

 

Embrace and admire success. Don't look for ways to paint it as a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with what Geno Auriemma's Huskies are doing. If anything, it's an example of what happens when you do it right.

 

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

Teaser:
Animosity Toward Connecticut Women's Basketball Reflects American Feelings About Success
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Henrik Stenson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-9-henrik-stenson
Body:

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

 

No. 9: Henrik Stenson

Born: April 5, 1976, Gothenburg, Sweden | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 (9 on the European Tour) | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,755,070 (9th) | World Ranking: 7

 

Gary Williams' Take: Stenson, who turns 40 at the beginning of April, is one of the most accomplished players without a major, generally playing his best from September until the end of the year. Winning both the FedExCup and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in 2013 was historic stuff, and he has posted recent major championship finishes of second, third and fourth, making it hard to imagine that his career would end without a major victory. Still, winning majors, let alone your first, after age 40 is a rare feat. Stenson's putter can be balky, but his overall stats were greatly improved in 2015, making it hard to fathom why he didn’t win last year.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 39
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T19
    U.S. Open – T27
    British Open – T40
    PGA Championship – T25
Best Career Finishes
    Masters – T14 (2014)
    U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
    British Open – 2 (2013)
    PGA Championship – 3/T3 (2013, '15)
Top-10 Finishes: 9
Top-25 Finishes: 19
Missed Cuts: 9


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. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 12:27
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/texas-tech-receiver-box-jump-derrick-willies-red-raiders
Body:

Texas Tech opponents beware. 

 

If you try going up for a jump ball against Derrick Willies, you probably won't have much of a chance. The Red Raiders receiver did an impressive 60-inch box jump sitting down. Oh not to mention, he was wearing a 10lb vest. Yikes.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 11:35
Path: /college-football/nebraska-wide-receivers-coach-keith-williams-twitter-must-follow-different-reasons
Body:

If you’re on Twitter, you can easily find recruits chirping away, but there’s a new manner of bird making noise in the nest – college football coaches. Jim Harbaugh’s taken to it like a duck to water, being the most egregious offender. His latest endeavors include slamming Tennessee’s Butch Jones and harassing Ohio State’s AD, which prompted former Buckeyes to strike back.

 

Nebraska has a coach that’s mastered Twitter in wide receivers specialist Keith Williams, but in nowhere near the same form or fashion Harbaugh has. The Cornhuskers recently received commitments from wide receivers Jaevon McQuitty and the much-heralded Keyshawn Johnson Jr. Shortly after Johnson committed, Williams tweeted:

 

 

Some may look at that and say it’s bigger than anything Harbaugh or any coach in recent history has put out into the great social media beyond. However, there’s a reason this wideout perfectionist literally has the Twitter handle @wideouts.

 

Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore – all likely starters for Nebraska this season – improved statistically last year under Williams’ watch. He doesn’t mock his Big Ten cohorts. He mocks those who would waste time by not wanting to become or teach the best.

 

 

Following the verbal pledge of Johnson, it appears Williams has gone into full recruiting mode. With the Huskers already locking down two prospects and the aforementioned three players all leaving following this season, it’s likely that two more pass-catchers get a spot in Nebraska’s class of 2017. Williams offers a bit of advice for those considering the Big Red or any other school.

 

“There is a three-point conversation every young WR, who wants to reach their potential, should have with every WR coach they are considering. 1) What is the wideout stance you will teach me and what are three reasons that makes this the most effective stance? 2) What are three press releases you will teach me and are these releases useful against all types of press? If not, what are the differences? 3) What are three cone/separation drills you will teach me? What are the gains, benefits and purpose for each one?”

 

Sneaky, tactical and not unsurprising from a man who preaches the concept of “savage professionalism” complete with mascots of Silverback gorillas.

 

Williams is much like the rest of Nebraska’s football staff. He’s not likely to make headlines, especially in the way a man-child like Harbaugh does, but the former San Diego State Aztec gets the job done. He does his job so well, in fact, that he earned a $125,000 pay raise in just one year under Mike Riley.

 

Asking Williams about the antics of other coaches on Twitter would likely be an effort in futility. He has his eyes on showing elite talent why it needs to come to Lincoln, Neb. NFL wide receivers Ryan Grant and Xavier Rush already make the trip specifically to work out with him.

 

 

If he’s good enough for the one percent in The League, maybe it’s time for coaches’ conversation to turn back towards what they can actually offer. If not, Williams won’t only be pulling in receivers. Players from other positions will visit to see what all the fuss is about.

 

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

 

(Photo courtesy of Keith Williams' Twitter account, @wideouts)

Teaser:
Nebraska Wide Receivers Coach Keith Williams A Twitter Must Follow for Different Reasons
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/fan-asks-marshawn-lynch-autograph-gets-his-hat-taken-seattle-seahawks-running-back
Body:

Marshawn Lynch is ruthless. 

 

As the Seahawks running back made his way through the crowd, many people asked for his autograph. Lynch didn't stop but he did take a hat from a fan who would've rather he signed it instead. Cold world.

 

(Warning: This video contains NSFW language)

 

Lynch doesn't play nice.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 10:02
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-toughest-college-football-schedules-2016
Body:

The SEC usually has some of the nation's toughest schedules. With trips to rowdy venues such as Death Valley, Kyle Field and Neyland Stadium, as well as matchups with respectable non-conference opponents, SEC teams have to earn every win.

 

Related: SEC 2016 Spring Football Preview and Power Rankings

 

This year is no exception. The West may be as good as it has ever been, and some familiar teams in the East seem to back on the map. Every team has a tough road, but some are worse than others.

 

Here is a ranking of the SEC's schedules from most difficult to "easiest."

 

* - neutral site

 

1. Auburn

Non-Con: Clemson, Arkansas State, UL-Monroe, Alabama A&M

West Home: Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas

West Road: Ole Miss, Alabama

Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Georgia


A case could be made for most West teams to be No. 1 on this list, but Auburn stands out for a couple of reasons. First, the Tigers have to start the season against Clemson, arguably the team with the most talent returning in all of college football. That's a tough early matchup. After that, Auburn gets to play at home for a while, but it still has to take on the likes of LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Then, to finish out the season, Auburn travels to Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. No team envies those last few weeks.

 

2. Alabama

Non-Con: USC*, Western Kentucky, Kent State, Chattanooga

West Home: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn

West Road: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU

Crossover: Kentucky, at Tennessee


The Crimson Tide have a brutal slate of SEC road games – Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee. The part of the schedule away from home is a bit worse than what Auburn has to face. However, Alabama should be fine with its home games for the most part, and that week one matchup with USC, while difficult, is still more favorable than having to play Clemson.

 

3. Ole Miss

Non-Con: Florida State*, Wofford, Memphis, Georgia Southern

West Home: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State

West Road: Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M

Crossover: Georgia, at Vanderbilt

 

Ole Miss opens the season against Florida State, which is basically built like another SEC team. Also in the non-conference, the Rebels will play a still-capable Memphis team they lost to last year. It will be nice to get Alabama at home, but Ole Miss will travel to play Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. That isn't quite as bad as Alabama's SEC road schedule. The Rebels have favorable crossover matchups.

 

4. LSU

Non-Con: Wisconsin*, Jacksonville, Southern Miss, South Alabama

West Home: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama

West Road: Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M

Crossover: Missouri, at Florida

 

The Bayou Bengals battle Wisconsin out of conference for the second time in three years, but other than that, there isn't much

to be afraid of outside the SEC. LSU gets Ole Miss and Alabama in Death Valley, which should be a huge relief, but road trips at Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M won't be easy. From the East, LSU takes on Mizzou at home and Florida in The Swamp. That portion of the schedule should be manageable.

 

5. Arkansas

Non-Con: Louisiana Tech, at TCU, Texas State, Alcorn State

West Home: Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU

West Road: Texas A&M*, Mississippi State

Crossover: Florida, at Missouri

 

Well, Arkansas' schedule is tough, but it sets up well. The toughest non-conference matchup is a road trip to TCU, but with the Hogs' early-season struggles last year and the fact that they must replace most of the offense, don't count out Louisiana Tech. Fans should be pumped about marquee home games against Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU and Florida. Those are all quality opponents, so it should be a good season for ticket sales in Fayetteville.

 

6. Mississippi State

Non-Con: South Alabama, at UMass, at BYU, Samford

West Home: Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas

West Road: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss

Crossover: South Carolina, at Kentucky

 

Although the Bulldogs do travel all the way to Massachusetts and Utah to play non-conference games, that doesn't hide the fact that they didn't schedule anybody decent. Maybe BYU could be tricky. But Mississippi State does get an awful draw in the SEC, having to travel to LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have winnable crossover games against South Carolina and Kentucky.

 

7. Georgia

Non-Con: North Carolina*, Nicholls State, UL-Lafayette, Georgia Tech

East Home: Tennessee, Vanderbilt

East Road: Missouri, South Carolina, Florida*, Kentucky

Crossover: at Ole Miss, Auburn

 

Georgia doesn't have to play every team in the West, but make no mistake, this is a rough schedule. The 'Dawgs play Georgia Tech every year, but they should be commended for also scheduling a neutral site game against North Carolina. Georgia has only two true home games against East opponents. Thankfully, one of those is against Tennessee. The Bulldogs also draw a rough crossover schedule with games at Ole Miss and at home against Auburn.

 

8. Texas A&M

Non-Con: UCLA, Prairie View, New Mexico State, UTSA

West Home: Ole Miss, LSU

West Road: Auburn, Arkansas*, Alabama, Mississippi State

Crossover: at South Carolina, Tennessee

 

An early-season tilt with UCLA should be challenging, but the rest of the non-conference schedule is a light load. The Aggies are fortunate to get Ole Miss and LSU in College Station, but will have to travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. They get a tough draw having to play Tennessee out of the East, but that game will take place at Kyle Field as well.

 

9. Florida

Non-Con: UMass, North Texas, Presbyterian, at Florida State

East Home: Kentucky, Missouri

East Road: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia*, South Carolina

Crossover: LSU, at Arkansas

 

The non-conference slate for Florida is very manageable until November when it takes on the Seminoles in Tallahassee. The Gators don't get a great draw, having to play Tennessee on the road and Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. Also, they could have quite a bit of trouble with the crossover matchups. LSU comes to Gainesville, but it's a long way from Gainesville to Fayetteville, Ark., and the Gators will be coming off a physical contest against Georgia.

 

10. Kentucky

Non-Con: Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Austin Peay, at Louisville

East Home: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia

East Road: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee

Crossover: at Alabama, Mississippi State

 

Kentucky has a respectably difficult test at Louisville late in the year, but like with Florida, it's pretty much rainbows and

butterflies before that. The Wildcats have to go on the road to play Florida and Tennessee, but get Georgia in Lexington. The worst part about the whole deal is that they will have to travel to play Alabama on Oct. 1. Fortunately, they'll get a bye week shortly after that.

 

11. South Carolina

Non-Con: East Carolina, UMass, Western Carolina, at Clemson

East Home: Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri

East Road: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida

Crossover: at Mississippi State, Texas A&M

 

Once again, I'm putting quite a bit of stock into a matchup with Clemson. These two teams play every year, but this one will be especially difficult for the Gamecocks. Also, East Carolina certainly won't be a pushover. South Carolina gets the East's two most potent teams, Georgia and Tennessee, at home, but has a challenging road game at Florida. The Gamecocks also have to take on Texas A&M in their usual permanent West matchup.

 

12. Missouri

Non-Con: at West Virginia, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, Middle Tennessee

East Home: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt

East Road: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee

Crossover: at LSU, Arkansas

 

It's pretty hard to rank these East schedules, and it is certainly up for debate, as is the case with the West. But Missouri's schedule really doesn't look all that bad. The Tigers do have to play Florida, Tennessee, and LSU on the road, and that's rough, but they get Arkansas and Georgia at home. The best opponent Mizzou will play in the non-conference will be West Virginia, a team that was middle of the road in the Big 12 last season.

 

13. Tennessee

Non-Con: Appalachian State, Virginia Tech*, Ohio, Tennessee Tech

East Home: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri

East Road: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

Crossover: at Texas A&M, Alabama

 

Tennessee's schedule sets up really well. The Vols get to gradually build up to the meat of the schedule. Games against Virginia Tech and Florida won't be easy, but those are both teams Tennessee should beat. The Vols' most difficult stretch comes with back-to-back road games at Georgia and Texas A&M, then Alabama at home. If Tennessee gets through that, it should cruise through November unscathed.

 

14. Vanderbilt

Non-Con: Middle Tennessee, at Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky, Tennessee State

East Home: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee

East Road: Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri

Crossover: at Auburn, Ole Miss

 

Vanderbilt has the SEC's easiest schedule, but it's really not easy. The Commodores play Georgia Tech out of conference, but should be able to beat the other teams that make up that part of their schedule. They get Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee at home, and travel to Georgia, Missouri and Kentucky. Crossing over against any team from the West is never easy, but Vandy gets the better of its two opponents (Ole Miss) in Nashville.

 

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2016
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/theo-pinson-north-carolina-post-game-press-conference-tar-heels
Body:

UNC is heading to the Final Four, and Theo Pinson is one of the happiest Tar Heels.

 

Pinson had to crash North Carolina's press conference ahead of the Notre Dame matchup, asking where he should sit, and got a big laugh from the crowd.

 

 

After the UNC defeated Notre Dame Sunday, Pinson had his own seat and name tag on the podium. Here's to hoping he continues having big games because he's a riot to interview.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: 2016 NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2016-nfl-draft-first-round-mock
Body:

The 2016 NFL Draft is a month away and mock season is already in full swing. So it’s time to take an early look at who's going where and why.

With the Tennessee Titans already locked in with their franchise quarterback selected in last year’s draft, the storyline regarding the No. 1 overall pick is very different from last year, when it was all about whether the Buccaneers would take either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.

 

We know how that turned out, so now things get a little more complex with no true consensus on who Tennessee should take. When teams look at the quarterback spot, there doesn't seem to be a consensus there, either.

 

So maybe uncertainty, even more than usual, is the theme this year.

 

Buckle up.

 

1. Tennessee Titans (3-13)

Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, cornerback, defensive end

Pick: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State

There are a few tantalizing options that could make sense here, but with so many needs on the roster, the Titans would be smart to simply grab the best player. More and more, it seems like that guy is Ramsey, who can be an immediate difference -maker at any spot in the secondary and even adds value as a blitzer.

Other Possibilities: Laremy Tunsil, OL, Mississippi

 

2. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Biggest needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line

Pick: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

There are needs everywhere, but nowhere more glaring than at quarterback, where Johnny Manziel’s failures set the franchise back even further than it was when he was drafted. Wentz has become the hot pick for the position over the last few months, and expect that momentum to continue.

Other Possibilities: Jared Goff, QB, Cal; Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State; Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi

 

3. San Diego Chargers (4-12)

Biggest needs: Defensive line, secondary, offensive tackle

Pick: Laremy Tunsil, OL, Mississippi

There's plenty of people who think Tunsil will go first overall, but Ramsey's name has been trending the most lately. The thought here is that no matter who goes first overall, Cleveland still goes after a quarterback, leaving the Chargers in great position to scoop up a player who could step in right away and fill a big need on either side of the ball.

Other Possibilities: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida Sate

 

4. Dallas Cowboys (4-12)

Biggest needs: Edge rusher, cornerback, backup quarterback

Pick: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

There's always the chance that the Cowboys go with the splash move and pick Tony Romo's successor. However, it would be

tough to pass up the chance to grab a player like Buckner here, especially in the light of the uncertainty around the future of Greg Hardy. The Oregon product would bring a dominant force at that spot without all the red flags.

Other Possibilities: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

 

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)

Biggest needs: Outside linebacker, offensive line

Pick: Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA

The Jags signing defensive lineman Malik Jackson was a huge coup, and the hope is last year’s first-round pick, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., recovers well fully from his knee injury. Adding Jack, a multi-talented defender who can rush the passer and be effective in coverage, would fortify that front seven even more.

Other Possibilities: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State; DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon; Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

 

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-11)

Biggest needs: Cornerback, edge rusher, offensive line

Pick: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

The hole at cornerback is a big one, and if Vernon Hargreaves III is available, which he most likely will be, don’t be surprised if that’s the pick. But if that’s not the case, the Ravens would be wise to do the next best thing and lock up an overpowering pass rusher like Bosa who can take over a game.

Other Possibilities: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida; Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame; DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

 

7. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)

Biggest needs: Quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver

Pick: Jared Goff, QB, Cal

Maybe Colin Kaepernick stays in San Francisco and Chip Kelly revitalizes his career. But it’s more probable that Kelly grabs a signal-caller here. Wentz might fit better in the offense, but despite some late nitpicking by scouts, Goff is still a solid pick and as accurate a quarterback that exists in the class.

Other Possibilities: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State; Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

 

8. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)

Biggest needs: Running back, offensive line, wide receiver

Pick: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

There is still the belief that grabbing a running back this high is not worth it, and that may be for most teams, but the Eagles have bungled the management of this position for consecutive years and need to rectify it. Elliott is an immediate solution.

Other Possibilities: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

 

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10)

Biggest needs: Cornerback, offensive tackle, edge rusher

Pick: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

With Dirk Koetter taking over head coaching duties going into quarterback Jameis Winston’s second year, the priority should be upgrading the defense. The biggest need is at corner, and many considered Hargreaves a top-5-caliber pick at this time last year. His pure cover skills are as good as it gets.

Other Possibilities: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame; Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

 

10. New York Giants (6-10)

Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, secondary, wide receiver

Pick: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

The Giants fortified their defensive line in free agency. It makes sense to do the same to the offensive line in the draft. This is a team that has struggled to find a true tackle to adequately protect Eli Manning, and Stanley could fit that bill. He excels as a pass blocker and has the frame for a prototypical left tackle.

Other Possibilities: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State; Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida

 

11. Chicago Bears (6-10)

Biggest needs: Edge rusher, running back, quarterback

Pick: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Is this the year the Bears plan for Jay Cutler’s successor? Maybe. However, Lawson is the better immediate choice. Although a minor injury somewhat diminished his effectiveness in the College Football Playoff, for the rest of his career, Lawson has been a beast.

Other Possibilities: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State; Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia; Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson

 

12. New Orleans Saints (7-9)

Biggest needs: Defensive line, linebacker, wide receiver

Pick: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

The problems for this defense are well documented, and while there are needs all over it, it never hurts to go by the tried and true cliché of building from the inside out. Robinson is a massive presence (6-4, 307) with uncommon athleticism and can play multiple spots along the line. His ceiling is high.

Other Possibilities: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama; Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama

 

13. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Biggest needs: Running back, edge rusher, cornerback

Pick: Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson

If Elliott is still here, he’d be hard to turn down. Although the Dolphins may feel satisfied with Mario Williams replacing Olivier Vernon, picking up Dodd if he is still around would be a good long-term solution at a position where you can never have enough quality depth.

Other Possibilities: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State; Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

 

14. Oakland Raiders (7-9)

Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, inside linebacker, secondary

Pick: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

The Raiders have done a good job both in the draft and free agency of slowly putting themselves in a position to make the playoffs. There are a few ways they could go here, but snatching up Conklin, a reliable tackle from a pro-style system, could pay dividends sooner rather than later.

Other Possibilities: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama

 

15. Los Angeles Rams (7-9)

Biggest needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, secondary

Pick: LaQuon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi

The Rams are trying to sell everyone on Case Keenum as their starting quarterback. If that truly is the case, then you should see them again target the type of weapon to make his life easier. Treadwell, who suffered a gruesome leg injury as a sophomore but recovered fully, may be that guy.

Other Possibilities: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor; Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis; Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

 

16. Detroit Lions (7-9)

Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, cornerback, inside linebacker

Pick: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

The Lions could stand to wait back on a few positions, but the most immediate need here is keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford upright, which is something the Lions didn’t do a great job of last year. Decker is a consistent performer who should be here in this spot.

Other Possibilities: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State; Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama

 

17. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)

Biggest needs: Defensive end, secondary, linebacker

Pick: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State

Dan Quinn came over from Seattle last year and pieced together a few nice wins, but needs to get his defensive footprint more deeply rooted for greater success. Lee possesses the speed to contribute right away and Quinn likely won’t be scared away by the concern some scouts have about his size.

Other Possibilities: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State

 

18. Indianapolis Colts (8-8)

Biggest needs: Offensive line, edge rusher

Pick: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana

The Colts simply can’t go through another season where Andrew Luck takes the type of beating he did last year. That means they are offensive line or bust, so while Spriggs may be a bit of a reach here, you could see it if the likes of Decker, Conklin and Stanley are already off the board.

Other Possibilities: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State; Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State; Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia

 

19. Buffalo Bills (8-8)

Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, defensive line, edge rusher

Pick: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
The Bills need to address their need at offensive tackle, so that could be the pick. But a player like Floyd, who can come off the edge and provide an immediate blitzing presence, seems like the perfect fit for a Ryan brothers defense.

Other Possibilities: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

 

20. New York Jets (10-6)

Biggest needs: Edge rusher, offensive tackle

Pick: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
It would not be a surprise to pick up another interior defensive lineman to offset the loss of Damon Harrison in free agency, but the belief here is that the Jets would rather have someone on the edge. Spence can rush the passer from multiple fronts and could fill that role well.

Other Possibilities: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana

 

21. Washington Redskins (9-7)

Biggest needs: Interior lines, secondary

Pick: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama

This is a team that can stand to get stronger up the middle on either side of the ball, and Reed would be a perfect fit to do that on defense. A bull-strong run-stuffer, Reed may not be here at this spot. If he is, there’s likely to be other solid options at the position worth grabbing.

Other Possibilities: Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor

 

22. Houston Texans (9-7)

Biggest needs: Wide receiver, offensive tackle

Pick: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

Like several teams immediately ahead of it, the Texans would love a little help at offensive tackle, but there are some other needs to fill, too. Another stud wide receiver opposite DeAndre Hopkins would work, and Fuller is definitely that, a speedster who had an extremely productive 2015.

Other Possibilities: Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech; Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor; Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

 

23. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

Biggest needs: Wide receiver, offensive tackle

Pick: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

The Vikings have been frantically looking to find more weapons for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ever since he came into the league. That could continue here, as Doctson is a big target that can line up on the other side of Stefon Diggs and strengthen that wide receiver corps.

Other Possibilities: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

Biggest needs: Wide receiver, defensive tackle

Pick: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Free agency gutted the weapons around All-Pro wideout A.J. Green, so the Bengals would be smart to take a receiver here in a draft that isn’t as deep at the position. Coleman was productive in college and is one of the fastest receivers in the class.

Other Possibilities: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor; Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

 

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

Biggest needs: Secondary, linebacker

Pick: William Jackson III, CB, Houston

While players like Ramsey and Hargreaves have garnered the most early hype, Jackson has picked up steam later on in the process and would be a terrific addition to a Steelers team that desperately needs a boost at corner. Jackson has the height (6-0) and speed (4.37 40 at the Combine) that teams drool over.

Other Possibilities: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State; Vonn Bell, FS, Ohio State

 

26. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

Biggest needs: Cornerback, both lines

Pick: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

Some key personnel losses on defense make that the priority this draft, and the thought here is that Pete Carroll will go after one of the several good corners who should be here. Apple has the height (6-1) Carroll loves and possesses a good combination of physicality and cover skills.

Other Possibilities: William Jackson III, CB, Houston; Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

 

27. Green Bay Packers (10-6)

Biggest needs: Inside Linebacker, tight end, defensive line

Pick: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama

There’s a good chance Ragland is gone by this point (the Raiders, in particular, seem like a good landing spot), but if he is not, then he makes too much sense not to take. This would allow the Packers to keep Clay Matthews on the outside and Ragland would be a nearly seamless fit both schematically and for the type of skill set he provides.

Other Possibilities: Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

 

28. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)

Biggest needs: Edge rusher, cornerback, wide receiver

Pick: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

The Chiefs could stand to get a younger pass rusher, and the search for another receiver never ends in Kansas City, but it wouldn’t hurt to add depth at corner. That leaves a player like Alexander, who plays with the type of confidence and swagger you’re looking for in that position.

Other Possibilities: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State

 

29. Arizona Cardinals (13-3)

Biggest needs: Interior defensive line, outside linebacker

Pick: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville

Opinions can vary widely on Rankins, who could very easily go 15-18 spots higher. That said, he’s someone who could see a late drop depending on how others view players like Robinson, Reed and others. If the Cardinals do choose to grab someone of that ilk, they’d be lucky to get Rankins this late.

Other Possibilities: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama; Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor

 

30. Carolina Panthers (15-1)

Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, defensive end

Pick: Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech

The question is whether or not the Panthers are scarred enough from the protection issues in the Super Bowl to pass on a good defensive end who might still be available. The thought here is that yes, they are, and Clark will still be on the board for the taking.

Other Possibilities: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State

 

31. Denver Broncos (12-4)

Biggest needs: Quarterback, defensive tackle, inside linebacker

Pick: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

Don’t think John Elway was simply going to let Brock Osweiler go and throw all his eggs in the Mark Sanchez basket. Lynch is a player that was well thought of earlier in the process and has seen his stock drop just enough to be a realistic option here. He might not be a Week 1 starter, but can be groomed for the spot.

Other Possibilities: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

 

Note: There are only 31 picks in the first round because New England forfeited its selection as part of the punishment associated with the Deflategate scandal.

 

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

Teaser:
2016 NFL Draft: First Round Mock
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/virginia-cavaliers-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Later on in April, Bronco Mendenhall will host his first spring game as the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers. Early in Virginia's spring practices leading up to the annual spring game, Mendenhall is making the players earn everything, including even the numbers on their jerseys.

 

Under former head coach Mike London, the Cavaliers often had mental breakdowns defensively as well as inconsistent play at the quarterback position. There's no denying that Virginia has some questions to address since the team has not had a winning season since 2011.

 

5 Storylines to Watch During Virginia’s Spring Practice

 

1. Will Matt Johns improve from his 2015 campaign?

Quarterback Matt Johns started all 12 games for the team in 2015, but the results were very much a mixed bag. While Johns threw 20 touchdown passes he also had 17 interceptions. If the Cavaliers are going to qualify for a bowl in 2016, Johns will need to be more consistent.

 

Johns has been learning the Cavaliers’ new offense with quarterback coach Jason Beck, who has worked with Mendenhall since 2013. How quickly Johns picks up the offense will go a long way to how successful he will be for the upcoming season.

 

2. How will Taquan Mizzell be used?

Under London, Mizzell was not only used as Virginia’s primary ball carrier, but he also was a key component of the passing game. Last season, Mizzell not only led the team in receptions with 75, he was second in receiving yards (721) and touchdown catches (four).

 

While at BYU, Mendenhall loved big, bruising running backs, but Mizzell is the total opposite. Mizzell got the nickname "Smoke" because of his blazing speed, so it will be interesting to see how he fits in with the Cavaliers’ new offense.

 

3. Offensive line

Virginia has nine players returning along the offensive line, each of whom has started for the team at some point in their career. That's amazing to have that much experience returning, but the players will have to adjust to their third offensive line coach in three seasons.

 

Garett Tujague, who also was Mendenhall's offensive line coach at BYU from 2013-15, will be the one tasked with putting the Cavaliers’ line together and getting everyone on the same page.

 

4. How can Virginia improve defensively?

Virginia ranked 79th in the nation in total defense in 2015. Former East Carolina head coach and Virginia assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill will be the man that can hopefully improve the team's defense.

 

McNeill brings a wealth of experience to Charlottesville following six seasons at East Carolina. Prior to that McNeill was on Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech from 2000-09, spending the last two as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator.

 

5. Who will replace Maurice Canady and Demetrious Nicholson?

Canady and Nicholson have exhausted their eligibility, meaning new defensive coordinator McNeill will have to identify his starting cornerbacks. Those are two pretty big holes to fill on a defense that has much room to improve and is making the transition to a new coaching staff.

 

Senior Tim Harris appeared in 10 of 12 games last season, so he’s a likely candidate to fill one of the two vacant cornerback spots. Starting opposite Harris could end up being sophomore Darious Latimore, who recorded two interceptions last year. Fortunately for McNeill he does have safety Quin Blanding, a first-team All-ACC honoree last season and an All-America candidate for 2016, to build around in the secondary.

 

Pre-Spring Virginia Outlook in the ACC

 

The best-case scenario for the Cavaliers in 2016 is finishing with six wins and qualifying for a bowl game, but it will not be easy. With road trips to Oregon, Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, the path to bowl eligibility is not an easy one.

 

Virginia will need better play from quarterback Matt Johns and running back Taquan Mizzell and the team will need to find more playmakers on offense. The Cavaliers also will need to improve their defense. If linebackers Micah Kiser and C.J. Stalker can live up to expectations and help serve as linchpins, that alone will improve Virginia's defense.

 

With the ACC Coastal seemingly wide open, Virginia has a chance to make an instant impact in its division. The Cavaliers likely aren’t going to win the Coastal in 2016, but hiring new head Bronco Mendenhall is a step in the right direction.

 

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

Teaser:
Virginia Cavaliers 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 28, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/notre-dame-fighting-irish-vs-north-carolina-tar-heels-ncaa-tournament-elite-eight-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

If you’re just now joining us — no, this isn’t the ACC Tournament. But with four of the Elite Eight coming from the Atlantic Coast Conference, it sure feels that way.

 

Sunday night’s matchup Between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Notre Dame is the third meeting between the two conference foes, and the second time in 16 days. The Irish upset the Tar Heels, 80-76, in a fantastic game at the Joyce Center back on Feb. 6. Just over two weeks ago, Carolina took out their frustrations on the Irish in the ACC Tournament, whooping Notre Dame, 78-46.

 

The Irish have battled their way through the Big Dance, defeating Michigan, Stephen F. Austin on a last second tip-in, and holding on to beat Wisconsin on Friday night. Notre Dame has won all three games by a combined 13 points, and none of the games have been pretty. If the Irish hope to top the Tar Heels for a second time this season, the uglier the game, the better.

 

Carolina is peaking at the perfect time. The Heels dismantled Indiana on Friday, 101-86, after handling a good Providence team by 19 points in the second round. The Heels have many different ways to beat you, on Friday it was the long ball. So this time against the Irish, it could be pick your poison.

 

No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-11) vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (31-6)

 

When: 8:49 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Where: Philadelphia (East Region)

TV: TBS

Line: North Carolina -10

 

Keys for Notre Dame

The Irish are making back-to-back Elite Eight appearances for the first time in almost 40 seasons. They are one of the more efficient teams in the country on offense, but can really struggle at times on D. However, so far this Tournament, Mike Brey’s team has been exceptional on the defensive end, only allowing more than 62 points one time, against Stephen F. Austin.

 

Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson is coming off a great game against the Badgers – 18 points, six assists, three steals, and almost had an identical box score against the Tar Heels back in February. The biggest key to the Notre Dame upset all those weeks ago was the five Irish players that scored in double figures. That same team-based performance will be needed Sunday night for the Irish to move on to the Final Four.

 

Keys for North Carolina

Carolina rode some hot, hot three-point shooting on Friday night to fuel its scoring outburst against Indiana. But what has been equally impressive, especially during March, has been the Tar Heels’ defense. Even though the Hoosiers scored 81 points in the loss, they shot just 41 percent from the field. Going back to the ACC Tournament, Carolina’s has limited its last six opponents to 44.4 percent shooting or worse. More of that type of defense is going to be needed to limit Notre Dame, especially when it comes to Jackson and the Irish’s other perimeter scorers.

 

The Heels also used their great interior presence and depth, led by Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, to push the Hoosiers around. That figures to be a bit tougher Sunday night against Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste, who posted his 22nd double-double on the season against the Badgers. Look for the Heels to get out and look for more transition scoring opportunities against the slower Irish, and for senior guard Marcus Paige to continue his hot shooting.

 

Final Analysis

 

What Brey has done with this Notre Dame team has been special, and their run in the NCAA Tournament thus far has been one of the better stories of March. Sadly, the Irish are running into a Carolina buzz saw. Not only do the Tar Heels possess an advantage in every aspect on the floor in terms of talent, but they also have the depth to keep the pressure on. Look for the ACC regular season and tournament champions to score enough points to punch their Final Four ticket.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 86-77

Teaser:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, March 26, 2016 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/syracuse-orange-vs-virginia-cavaliers-ncaa-tournament-elite-eight-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

ACC Sunday begins in Chicago as No. 1 Virginia gets upstart, No. 10 Syracuse in the Midwest Region final. The Orange were hotly debated before the NCAA Tournament even began as one of the teams that didn't belong in the Big Dance. Their defense is in top form, but when using that word, you have to go to Virginia. These two conference foes played on Jan. 24 in Charlottesville with the Cavaliers taking care of business at home, 73-65. Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Anthony Gill accounted for 53 of those points in the victory.

 

No. 10 Syracuse Orange (22-13) vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (29-7)

 

When: ​6:09 p.m. ET (Sunday)

​Where: United Center (Chicago, Illinois)

TV: TBS

Line: Virginia -8

 

Keys for Syracuse

Play loose. The Orange have no business being here and they'll play like it on Sunday. Virginia has all the pressure of being the No. 1 seed and expected to win its region especially after Michigan State lost. Tyler Lydon and Trevor Cooney combined for just 10 points in the first meeting between so that number has to be a lot higher. Lydon's range can help stretch out the defense, but he'll need to hit those shots when they are open.

 

Keys for Virginia

It's pretty simple for the Cavaliers: maintain status quo. There aren't too many teams left playing as well as Tony Bennett's squad right now. The last few meetings between these two schools have been a bit of a clinic as to how to get open shots against the 2-3 zone. Pound the glass as well with Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill so when the Hoos miss a shot, they get another opportunity.

 

Final Analysis

 

It's almost torture that I was asked to write this article as I am a proud alum of Syracuse. It's been a wild ride, but it comes to an end on Sunday. Virginia is the deeper team and the better one as well. The only shot the Orange has is if they can get more from Malachi Richardson and Cooney to keep the Cavaliers honest. Virginia won't mind if Michael Gbinije gets 30 as long as the rest don't help out. The Wahoos are Final Four bound.

 

Prediction: Virginia 68, Syracuse 54

Teaser:
Syracuse Orange vs. Virginia Cavaliers: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, March 26, 2016 - 16:45
Path: /college-football/jordan-westerkamp-brings-leadership-rex-burkhead-back-nebraska
Body:

Everyone in Nebraska knows Rex Burkhead’s name. Not only for how he brought Jack Hoffman’s fight against pediatric brain cancer into the spotlight, but for something else Husker fans are quick to underscore – his heart and determination on the football field.

 

Burkhead wasn’t the fastest running back, but what he did better than anyone else wearing an “N” on their helmet was lead. The entire team believed in him, coaches and players alike. When Nebraska needed a yard, he’d get two. When the run was stymied, he caught passes. In 2011, he tallied 1,357 and 15 touchdowns in workman-like fashion with an “aw, shucks” attitude that made everyone associated with the program smile proudly.

 

Five years later, the Cornhuskers have another like him in their midst.

 

Senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp is at the top of wide receivers coach Keith Williams’ totem pole. His leadership goes beyond his legacy, though. He’s not just the guy who makes behind-the-back catches and wins games by snagging Hail Mary passes. Like Burkhead, Westerkamp doesn’t show off or take all of the credit. He knows his role.

 

 

“I’m a wide receiver,” Westerkamp said in an interview with ESPN’s Mitch Sherman. “It’s kind of what I’m expected to do. I’m supposed to catch the ball.”

 

It’s a good thing that other Husker wideouts recognize his talent and look up to him. Two other seniors and likely starters this upcoming fall, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly, will be departing after this season. The Big Red will need to reload and quickly.

 

Related: Nebraska Cornhuskers 2016 Spring Practice Positional Preview -Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

 

It’s time for the young guns to take the baton from Westerkamp much like Ameer Abdullah did from Burkhead in 2012. The running back from Plano, Texas, was kept from playing because of injury while Abdullah began what would be a storied career, but Burkhead’s leadership never waned even from the sideline.

 

Westerkamp has an opportunity to achieve something that no other Nebraska player has ever done in 2016. He could become the very first Husker to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. He’s slowly been building towards that number during his Big Red journey, falling just 82 yards short last year.

 

That would be an excellent way to cap his career, but the bigger picture matters most for the Cornhuskers. After 2015’s 6-7 record, it has to be and nobody’s more aware of it than Nebraska’s second team All-Big Ten wideout. The key for the Big Red will be consistency and that’s what Westerkamp brings to the field whether it’s for a practice or when it counts in the win-loss column.

 

 

He is the model athlete that the Huskers must rally around.Know your role, expect the best from yourself and sure enough, it will come from those around you. This mentality is what the senior brings in a year that presents a tremendous opportunity for head coach Mike Riley to hit the reset button on a large chunk of Nebraska fans’ perceptions of him.

 

The Huskers will find themselves in precarious circumstances as they did last year, but whether or not they can take a page out of Westy’s book and stay calm when heartbeats quicken will determine if they’re on the winning side of history this time around.

 

Truly, it’s no coincidence that the leader of the Cornhuskers wears No. 1.

 

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

Teaser:
Jordan Westerkamp Brings the Leadership of Rex Burkhead Back to Nebraska
Post date: Saturday, March 26, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-basketball/villanova-wildcats-vs-kansas-jayhawks-ncaa-tournament-elite-eight-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

Both the Kansas Jayhawks and the Villanova Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight in dominant fashion on Thursday night. Behind 27 points from Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks cruised to a 79-63 victory over the Maryland Terrapins in the Sweet 16. Villanova routed the Miami Hurricanes 92-69 as the Wildcats shot 67 percent from the arc.

 

Now Kansas and Villanova will meet on Saturday night for the right to play in this year's Final Four in Houston.

 

No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (32-5) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (33-4)

 

When: 8:49 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)

TV: CBS

Line: Kansas -2.5

 

Keys for Villanova

Villanova has arguably been the most dominating team in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have defeated their first three opponents by an average of 24.7 points and it is because they have been a balanced team.

 

Four of Villanova's five starters scored in double digits in the blowout win over the Hurricanes and Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins both scored 21 points apiece. The Wildcats will need to maintain this balance to be successful against a Jayhawks team that uses their length and size to create turnovers.

 

Villanova also will need to attack the basket early in the game to get the Kansas big men in foul trouble.

 

Keys of Kansas

Kansas entered the Tournament as the overall No.1 seed and they have certainly played like it. The Jayhawks have won each of their three games by double digits and their athleticism and ability to force turnovers have played a significant role in their success.

 

By forcing turnovers on the defensive end, Kansas has been able to get some easy transition buckets on offense. This will need to continue against a Villanova team that has shot the basketball better than any in the Tournament. 

 

Three-point shooting also will be a huge key for the Jayhawks, especially since the Wildcats have been successful behind the arc. Kansas will need Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason to hit their outside shots to increase the chances of easier opportunities close to the basket.

 

Final Analysis

 

Villanova has yet to be really tested this Tournament, but that will change on Saturday. Kansas is arguably the best team remaining and the Jayhawks will be the toughest team Villanova has seen all season.

 

While the Wildcats have shot the ball well lately, that will change against the Jayhawks. Kansas has the length, speed and athleticism on the perimeter and the inside to give Villanova a lot of problems. It should be a close game but expect the Jayhawks to punch their ticket to Houston.

 

Prediction: Kansas 76, Villanova 70

 

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

Teaser:
Villanova Wildcats vs. Kansas Jayhawks: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 25, 2016 - 14:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/oklahoma-sooners-vs-oregon-ducks-ncaa-tournament-elite-eight-preview-prediction-2016
Body:

Oregon won the first NCAA Tournament held in 1939. The Ducks have not reached the Final Four since that time. Now they are one step closer to breaking that long drought after an 82-68 victory over Duke, a victory that allowed Oregon to set a school record for most wins (31) in a season.

 

Getting past Oklahoma will be a much tougher task. The Sooners are looking for their first Final Four berth since 2002 after dispatching Texas A&M 77-63. Oklahoma took down its former Big 12 rivals even as standout Buddy Hield was bottled up defensively for much of the night. Along the way, the Sooners resembled the team that was ranked No. 1 for a large portion of the regular season.

 

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (28-7) vs. No. 1 Oregon Ducks (31-6)

 

When: 6:09 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Where: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

TV: CBS

Line: Even

 

Keys for Oklahoma

 

Help out Hield

It's tempting for the Sooners to sit back and let Hield do his thing because he does it so well. Still, when defenses collapse in on the guard, Oklahoma needs other players to pick up the slack. That's one reason why the Sooners beat Texas A&M so easily. Hield wasn't carrying the team all alone. Jordan Woodward led Oklahoma with 22 points – including 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range.

 

Control the Glass

Rebounding is an Achilles' heel for Oregon. The Ducks are not a strong rebounding team and struggled against St. Joseph's in the Round of 32 when the Hawks had an edge on the glass. Oklahoma has not won the rebounding battle in any of its NCAA Tournament games thus far. The Sooners can't afford to lose it to the Ducks. Oregon likes to attack the rim and giving the Ducks plenty of second chances will put Oklahoma's defense on its heels for 40 minutes.

 

Keys for Oregon

 

Close down the perimeter

Oklahoma thrives on burying opponents from outside. During the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma has attempted 71 three-pointers over three games. The Sooners are making 42.6 percent of those baskets per game. They shot 44 percent from three-point range against Texas A&M. Oregon can't let Oklahoma get going from deep or the game will get out of hand quick.

 

Play unselfish

Being unselfish on offense helped Oregon pull away from Duke in the second half. The Ducks had 22 assists on 32 baskets, which was more than in their previous two NCAA Tournament games combined. Five players scored in double figures – led by Dillon Brooks with 22 points. The Ducks also need to spread it out against Oklahoma. They will need efficient and unselfish offense to counter the potent attack showcased by the Sooners.

 

Final Analysis

 

Oregon and Oklahoma met in the first NCAA Tournament championship game back in 1939. The Ducks won in that meeting and history could repeat itself again. The Sooners tend to rely too much on their outside shooting and having Hield overwhelm opposing defenses. Oregon has a good track record for shutting down opponents on the perimeter and can do the same to Oklahoma.

 

Prediction: Oregon 80, Oklahoma 74

 

— 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 @johncoonsports.

 

(DIllon Brooks photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Oklahoma Sooners vs. Oregon Ducks: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 25, 2016 - 14:30
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/country-music-star-sam-hunt-played-college-quarterback
Body:

Sam Hunt, 31, was a pretty good quarterback. The Cedartown (Ga.) High School star was named first-team All-State Class AAA by the Georgia Sportswriters Association as a senior. He then spent two years as a backup at Middle Tennessee before transferring to UAB, where he passed for 2,560 yards, 12 TDs and 19 INTs, and rushed for 446 yards and three TDs in 19 career games for the Blazers. The 6’3”, 215-pound country crooner signed with MCA Nashville in 2014 and has since had three platinum singles — “Leave the Night On,” “Take Your Time” and “House Party” — while also writing songs for Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Reba McEntire.

Teaser:
Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sam Hunt played football at UAB and MTSU.
Post date: Friday, March 25, 2016 - 12:21
All taxonomy terms: Brooks Koepka, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-10-brooks-koepka
Body:

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

 

No. 10: Brooks Koepka

Born: May 3, 1990, Wellington, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (1 on the European Tour) | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,571,900 (19th) | World Ranking: 20

 

Gary Williams' Take: Koepka was on the cusp of representing the U.S. in the Presidents Cup before missing back-to-back cuts at the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship. After plowing his way into the top 50 in the world in 2014 by competing on the European Tour, he is ready to become a star stateside. He suffered an injury two weeks before The Masters in 2015, and it produced his worst result in the majors for the year, a tie for 33rd. He finished T18, T10, and T5 in the next three majors — very impressive stuff for a player who was exempt in all four majors for the first time in his career. Koepka has the firepower of Jason Day and Dustin Johnson and is a very good putter. This will be his first full season picking his schedule in America instead of globetrotting. He told me in December that winning a major and being on the Ryder Cup team were his primary goals. I expect him to fulfill one or both them, and if he achieves the first then the second is a mere formality.


Major Championship Résumé

Starts: 10
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T33
    U.S. Open – T18
    British Open – T10
    PGA Championship – T5
Best Career Finishes
    Masters – T33 (2015)
    U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
    British Open – T10 (2015)
    PGA Championship – T5 (2015)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 5
Missed Cuts: 2

 

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. BUY IT NOW.

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Washington is a team on the rise and one of the frontrunners to win the Pac-12 in 2016. After an 8-6 debut in Chris Petersen’s first season in Seattle (2014), all signs pointed to a rebuilding year for the Huskies in 2015. Despite returning only eight starters, Washington took a step forward last season. Sure, the Huskies only finished 7-6. However, this team matched its Pac-12 record from the previous season (4-5) and lost four games by 10 points or less. Petersen went with a youth movement on offense last season, with quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin emerging as two of the Pac-12’s rising stars. With an offense expected to take a step forward, along with a standout defense in place, Washington is poised to push Stanford in the Pac-12 North.

 

4 Storylines to Watch in Washington’s Spring Practice

 

1. Jake Browning’s Development

A year after a quarterback battle dominated the spring practice headlines, the Huskies open offseason workouts with zero doubt about their starting signal-caller. Jake Browning started 12 of Washington’s 13 games as a true freshman last season and finished the year with 2,955 passing yards and 16 scores. Browning closed the year with a strong performance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, completing 23 of 34 passes for 284 yards against Southern Miss. With 12 starts under his belt and another offseason to work as the starter, how far will Browning develop as a sophomore for 2016?

 

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

 

2. The Receiving Corps

The receiving corps is the biggest concern on offense for coach Chris Petersen. Washington generated only 17 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2015, which tied for ninth in the Pac-12. Adding to the concerns for Petersen is the departure of receiver Jaydon Mickens (58 catches) and tight end Darrell Daniels (36 catches). Dante Pettis (30 receptions) is the team’s top returning option, with Brayden Lenius (26 catches), Chico McClatcher (eight receptions) and Isaiah Renfro (13 grabs) also in the mix. Tight end Darrell Daniels is poised for a bigger role after Perkins’ departure, and the receiving corps should get a boost from the return of John Ross from injury. Ross was the team’s top big-play threat in 2014, averaging 21.8 yards per catch on 17 receptions. How quickly will Ross return to full strength? Can Washington develop another receiver or two to replace Mickens and give Browning more targets to stretch the field?

 

3. Finding the Right Mix on the Offensive Line

The development of quarterback Jake Browning and the receiving corps is essential to Washington’s hopes of winning the Pac-12 North next year, but the offensive line also has to take a step forward. The Huskies surrendered 34 sacks last season and only one player (Siosifa Tufunga) started all 13 games in the same position. Four starters return in 2016, including promising tackles Kaleb McGary and Trey Adams. Both players saw extensive playing time as freshmen last season and should take a step forward in their development. Coleman Shelton is expected to slide from guard to center to replace Tufunga. This spring is the first opportunity for Petersen and line coach Chris Strausser to find the right mix in the trenches.

 

Related: Pac-12's Pre-Spring Top 25 Players for 2016

 

4. New Faces at Linebacker

With eight starters returning in 2016, Washington’s defense is poised to be the best in the Pac-12. The Huskies led the conference in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) and limited opponents to 4.9 yards per play last season. Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski shouldn’t have too many concerns about this group in spring ball, but Washington is losing two key members of its linebacking corps. Cory Littleton (65 tackles) and Travis Feeney (56 tackles) expired their eligibility and leave big shoes to fill this spring. Not only were both players near the top of the defense in tackles, but this duo also accounted for 14 sacks. Who steps up to replace that production?

 

Pre-Spring Washington Outlook in the Pac-12

 

It’s easy to pencil in Stanford as the favorite in the Pac-12 North next year. After all, the Cardinal have won at least 11 games and claimed at least share of the North title in four out of the last five seasons under coach David Shaw. However, with Stanford losing three starters on the offensive line, quarterback Kevin Hogan and only five starters back on defense, the door is open for Washington, Oregon or Washington State to push for the No. 1 spot in the North. The Huskies have a few voids to fill on defense but should remain the best in the conference next season. The offense experienced its share of growing pains with a young lineup last year and improvement is expected with Browning and Gaskin returning as sophomores. Washington should be squarely in the mix for the Pac-12 title in 2016.

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Post date: Friday, March 25, 2016 - 10:00
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Disappointing does not even begin to describe 2015 for the Georgia Tech football team. Following a week 2 pummeling of Tulane, the Yellow Jackets were 14th in the AP poll and positioned for a run at the ACC crown. But a 30-22 loss to Notre Dame was the beginning of a downward spiral that saw the Jackets lose eight of their last nine games with the only win coming in miraculous fashion against Florida State.

 

While last fall is in the past, the problems that led to the 3-9 season must be addressed.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Georgia Tech’s Spring Practice

 

1. Restoring Justin Thomas’s Confidence

The troubles of 2015 were far greater than simply the quarterback from Prattville, Ala., and his level of play should rise as he develops a stronger belief in those around him. At times last year Thomas seemed unsure of who could be relied on and that led to an indecisiveness in his own decision making, which became apparent both in the running and passing games. This spring, head coach Paul Johnson and his staff would like to develop the offense as a whole so that the senior signal-caller can get his swagger back.

 

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2. The Offensive Line

The development of the offensive line will be a high priority for Johnson and company this spring. Despite returning four starters from 2014, something was missing last year. They enter 2016 looking to replace three starters: left tackle Bryan Chamberlain, left guard Trey Braun, and right tackle Errin Joe. Freddie Burden returns at center after enduring a tragic 2015 season that ended with his father losing his life while waiting for a heart transplant. Massive right guard Shamire Devine will team with Burden to give Georgia Tech some experience inside while Trey Klock and Will Bryan look to build off the promise shown during their freshmen seasons.

 

3. Increasing Backfield Production

Georgia Tech finished last season No. 8 in the country in rushing offense. But their 256 yards per game was down 90 yards from 2014. Part of the issue was that the Yellow Jackets struggled to find replacements for Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey, two players that were very productive two seasons ago. On a positive note, two freshmen emerged as the leading ball carriers last season. True freshman Marcus Marshall led the team with 654 yards and four scores while redshirt freshman Clinton Lynch was right behind Thomas for third on the team with 457 yards and five touchdowns. Tech fans are hopeful that both of these players can become dynamic threats as the two A-Backs. C.J. Leggett was expected to be a key contributor last season but missed the entire year due to injury. He should help at the B-Back position.

 

4. Rebuilding the Secondary

The Jackets’ pass defense was 35th in the nation last fall, allowing a shade less than 203 yards per game. But four of the five starters in Tech’s 4-2-5 scheme are gone. The only returnee is Lawrence Austin, who started nine games as a nickel back. Safety Corey Griffin and corner Lance Austin have seen extensive action during their time in Atlanta but will need to step forward this spring. Also, freshman A.J. Gray will get a bigger opportunity heading into the 2016 season.

 

5. Finding a Pass Rush

Though Georgia Tech defended the pass pretty well last fall, it did so with limited pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. The Yellow Jackets finished the year with just 14 sacks, a total that ranked 120th nationally. Moreover, their most impactful defensive lineman, tackle Adam Gotsis, has exhausted his eligibility. Patrick Gamble and KeShun Freeman are now the leaders of the defensive line and linebacker P.J. Davis will look to generate some heat from the second level. Coupled with an inexperienced secondary, the lack of a pass rush could be a big problem for the 2016 Jackets.

 

Pre-Spring Georgia Tech Outlook in the ACC

 

No one should ever doubt Paul Johnson. There have been a few times during his coaching history where his programs seemed to be heading off the tracks and in each case he has found a way to put the train back on the rails. But this may be his greatest challenge since he arrived in Atlanta. His trademark offense sputtered in 2015 and the defense took several hits at graduation time. In order for this to be a successful campaign, the offense must get rolling again and that all starts with Thomas. Expecting to contend for the ACC Coastal Division may not be realistic. Getting back to bowl eligibility is.

 

— 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 Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

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In the long history of Kansas basketball, Wayne Simien will have a special place. In his first two seasons, he played for two Final Four teams under Roy Williams. When Williams left for North Carolina, Simien was the first great player of the Bill Self era, reaching the Elite Eight in 2004.

 

In 2004-05, Simien was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American, but more important he was the leader of Kansas’ Big 12 championship team that year. That Jayhawks’ squad started a run of 12 consecutive conference titles. If KU wins a Big 12 title next season, the Jayhawks will tie John Wooden’s UCLA teams for the record of 13 consecutive titles.

 

Simien played two seasons in the NBA before returning home to Kansas when he quickly became involved in the Called to Greatness ministry. A transformative meeting during his sophomore year led him on a path that now sees him as the campus director of Called to Greatness back at his alma mater.

 

Before Kansas plays in the Sweet 16, Athlon Sports talked to Simien, who appeared on our College Basketball preview cover in 2004-05, about his call to ministry and his connection with Kansas now.

 

 

I understand you’ve been traveling for mission work earlier this week.

 

I was gone six days. Now I’m getting my feet under me and getting caught up on emails and messages. Of course, we’ve got the NCAA Tournament and we’re alive in it. The Madness isn’t just happening on the basketball court. It’s all over.

 

Where were you for your mission?

 

We took a group of 50 students who are involved in our campus ministry and took them to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. We were doing some campus outreach there at the University of Northern Kentucky and then we were doing some service projects in the Cincinnati area.

 

What kind of organization is Called to Greatness and how did you get involved with them?

 

It’s a campus ministry. We do ministry mentoring and leadership development with college students. I had something like that really impact my life when I was a college student here at KU. That was something that gave me and my wife an affinity to do that sort of thing. We’ve been doing that the last seven years since transitioning out of professional basketball. Our main focus is here at the University of Kansas, but we also have some chapters at some other college campuses with in the Midwest.

 

What happened in college that led you down this path?

 

I really had someone when I was in a difficult time at the end of my sophomore year to come alongside me and mentor me and shared the gospel with me about who Jesus is and what he’s done for life and how that impacts every part of our life. I had someone mentor me, not just in faith-related things but in character and how to handle responsibility and how to walk as a leader in every part of my life. My wife had a similar kind of experience at Florida State where she went. That gave us an excitement and passion to see those kinds of things happen in the next generation.

 

Was faith a big part of your life before that sophomore year in college?

 

It was all new. I would say prior to that basketball was my god. It was the No. 1 priority in my life. I came to a point where I had everything that the world says should make you happy as a 20-year-old big-time college athlete at one of the top programs in the country. I had it all, but I was bored and broken and looking for something greater to live for than myself and basketball. It wasn’t until someone shared the gospel with me that I was able to recognize that. It was also an identity transfer. I used to get so much of my identity in how I performed and what people what people would say about me and future potential. Really finding my identity in the opinions of others led me on a roller coaster ride. I was looking for something that was steady and stable and would anchor my life and emotions and motivations beyond the game of basketball.

 

Was this a goal to get into ministry when you were in your final years at Kansas or in the NBA?

 

I would say it happened more than when I was in the NBA. My passion changed. My competitive nature changed. I would come back during the offseason and come back to Lawrence and train, but I would be working and doing things on the college campus. When that became more exciting to me than putting a ball through a hoop, I knew that’s when it was time to make that transition full time.

 

Is Called to Greatness athletic-focused?

 

No, we serve all students. There’s an athletic niche to it because we have some guys with collegiate and professional athletic backgrounds, but we serve regular students, international students, graduate school students. It’s not exclusive to athletes.

 

Was it also a goal to get back to Lawrence?

 

I’m from Kansas. I grew up not too far away from here. I have a lot of relationships here. I would say it was the relationships that brought us back.

 

Obviously, this has been another big year for Kansas. It looked like their streak of Big 12 titles would come to an end, and they ended up winning by two games. You were at the started of that run under Bill Self. What does that mean to you that Kansas is on this streak of Big 12 championships?

 

It’s something that’s unprecedented. I don’t think that anyone, myself or coach Self included, would have thought that this run would have been sparked in 2005. We’re certainly glad it has. It’s just a real testament to coach Self and his coaching staff and they’re vision and core values and continuing to bring in guys who play the game the right away, tough and unselfishly, and really value all the things this program has had to offer.

 

What were your initial impressions of Bill Self when he got there? You were recruited by Roy Williams and played two years for him. Self before he got to Kansas was an established coach, but not to the degree of Williams. Was there a little bit of anxiety with the new coach?

 

Of course, I didn’t know him. Coming off a tremendous amount of success with coach Williams, back-to-back Big 12 championships, back-to-back Final Fours, it’s one of those things were if it isn’t broke, why fix it. Why do we have do things different? It was pretty jarring at first. Quickly we came to realize that he’s great coach and that he does care about his players. It was an honor to play for two Hall of Fame coaches and usher in a new generation of KU basketball which is still being played at a high level. [Williams was inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame 2007. Self is not yet in the Hall of Fame, but likely to be inducted once eligible.]

 

I’d image the list of guys who played for two Hall of Fame coaches in their college careers is pretty short. How much did you recognize that it was part of your college experience?

 

I got a chance to play for coach Self for two years, but once he started bringing in his own guys and sustain the winning culture here and winning a national championship in 2008 and getting to the championship game in 2012 and winning coach of the year honors and pumping out All-Americans, you can’t argue that. If anything, it’s made me appreciate him more.

 

You mentioned watching the NCAA Tournament coming up. What is your experience watching Kansas? Do you get nervous, do you have watch by yourself, are you pacing around?

 

I watch it in a variety of settings. Sometimes I’m with my family. Sometimes I’m with college students. Sometimes I’m by myself. I don’t have a ritual or routine. My experience is different in that I grew up a fan. I had a chance to play here and experience the highs and lows of March, and now I’m back to being a fan. I just enjoy it like anyone else.

 

When you’re around the Kansas program, do the players know who you are and that you were there at the start of this run?

 

I’m around quite a bit. One of the things I appreciate about coach Self is that there’s no one player or one coach that’s bigger than the entire program. He’s constantly having former players around, former coaches and letting the current guys now that they’re stewards of things that were built before they got here. He reminds them of things I did when was there back in the day. There’s an understanding. He even orchestrated it this year that once they clinched the Big 12 championship, they had myself and a few my other teammates from 2005 that started the streak hand the trophy to the guys.

 

Did you every have an experience like that at Kansas, where you met someone from an earlier time who made an impact on you?

 

I can remember meeting, after I signed a letter of intent and was coming to games as a high school player, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn and Paul Pierce when they came back over All-Star Break. It was up to me to carry the baton. Meeting guys like that is pretty cool for 17-year-old at the time, especially growing up in Kansas. There’s a lot of generational transfer that happens at Kansas. We make an effort to make it a family environment, to have former coaches and players to be encouraging and challenging the next guys coming up.

Teaser:
Athlon Cover Catch-Up: Wayne Simien talks Big 12 Championships, Joining a Ministry
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 13:17
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We might as well call the second night of Sweet 16 matchups "ACC Friday" with each game featuring a team out of the conference. It's hard not to find a Sweet 16 pairing not involving the ACC anyways with the success the conference is having. Friday also features the best game of the Sweet 16 with Indiana taking on North Carolina. I know the folks in Philadelphia and Chicago are happy with how everything turned out in the first two rounds.

 

NCAA Tournament Friday Sweet 16 Games

Note: All times Eastern, some start times are approximate

 

No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia

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

Site: Chicago (Midwest Region)

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

Prediction: Virginia 67-63

 

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame

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

Site: Philadelphia (East Region)

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

Prediction: Notre Dame 66-65

 

Related: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview and Prediction 

 

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse

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

Site: Chicago (Midwest Region)

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

Prediction: Syracuse 67-63

 

Related: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Syracuse Orange Preview and Prediction

 

No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina

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

Site: Philadelphia (East Region)

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

Prediction: North Carolina 80-75

 

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

 

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

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Tournament Friday Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
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College basketball elitists are already giddy about this Sweet 16 pairing of No. 1 North Carolina and No. 5 Indiana, a matchup between two of the game’s greatest traditional programs.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Where: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

TV: TBS

Line: North Carolina -6

 

Keys for North Carolina

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

 

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

 

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

 

Keys for Indiana

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

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

 

So something has to give.

 

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

 

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

 

Prediction: Indiana 82, North Carolina 80

Teaser:
Indiana Hoosiers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:45
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How good is the ACC this year? Consider this: If Syracuse beats Gonzaga on Friday the worst place they could technically finish in the NCAA Tournament is eighth. That would be two spots higher than their 10th-place finish in the ACC this season.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Where: United Center (Chicago)

TV: CBS

Line: Gonzaga -4.5

 

Keys for Gonzaga

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

 

Keys for Syracuse

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 71, Syracuse 66

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Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Syracuse Orange: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
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Through four combined wins so far in the 2016 NCAA Tournament No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 6 Wisconsin have outscored their opponents by a total of 15 points. These programs just have a knack for getting it done in March, as well as a flair for the dramatic.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Where: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

TV: TBS

Line: Notre Dame -1

 

Keys for Wisconsin

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

 

Keys for Notre Dame

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 64, Wisconsin 62

 

(Stefan Jankovic photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:15

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