Pictured: Jaylen Nowell
Source: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images North America

Take a look at the matchups set in the First Round Midwest Region.

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Huskies and Aggies set to face off in Columbus

One of the better No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups will be played on Friday as the Washington Huskies and the Utah State Aggies are set to face off against each other. The Huskies (26-8) are coming off of a loss to Oregon in the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament while the Aggies (28-6) won the Mountain West Tournament to extend their winning streak to 10 in a row.

Washington made it all the way to the final game of the Pac-12 Tournament but the Huskies have had their issues recently. They are just 4-3 over their last seven games with all of those wins coming by no more than five points. But Washington doesn’t lack for talent as the team features Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell as well as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Matisse Thybulle.

Meanwhile Utah State is in the midst of a 17-1 run that has the Aggies in the polls for the first time since the 2010-11 season. This also is the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Buckeyes take on the Big 12 Tournament champs in Tulsa

Two of college basketball’s premiere conferences will go head-to-head in the NCAA Tournament when the Big Ten’s Ohio State and Big 12’s Iowa State face off in the first round on Friday. While both teams haven’t been strangers to the Big Dance it’s been a few years since either has made a deep run. The Buckeyes (19-14) made it to the Elite Eight in 2013, were in the Final Four the year before that, and haven’t won a national title since back in 1960. The Cyclones (23-11) last made the Sweet 16 in 2016, the Elite Eight in 2000 but haven’t been to the Final Four since 1944.

Ohio State was the last of the eight Big Ten teams to get an invite to the Big Dance. The Buckeyes tied for eighth in the conference with a 8-12 record and after stumbling down the stretch (3-7 in their last 10), appeared headed for the NIT. But Chris Holtmann’s team’s total body of work, which includes wins over NCAA Tournament teams Cincinnati, Iowa, and Minnesota, was enough in the selection committee’s eyes. Another contributing factor to Ohio State’s late-season kid was the three-game suspension of Kaleb Wesson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.

Iowa State (23-11) won its way into the NCAA Tournament, taking the Big 12 Tournament title for the second time in three years to get the automatic bid. Steve Prohm’s team went 9-9 in the regular season, but took down higher seeds and fellow NCAA Tournament teams Baylor, Kansas State, and Kansas to cut down the nets in Kansas City. After a one-year absence, the Cyclones are back in the Big Dance and don’t want to be one and done.

Both of these teams have something to prove and the NCAA Tournament is the perfect stage to make that happen.

Pirates look to slow down the streaking Terriers

There probably isn’t a hotter team in the nation than Wofford heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Terriers own a 20-game winning streak and feature an offense that scores in bunches. Seton Hall gets the not-so-simple task of becoming the latest team to try and contain the Southern Conference champs.

Wofford earning a No. 7 seed is no fluke. The Terriers lost only to North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma during the regular season. They went unbeaten in conference play and have one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams.

Seton Hall teetered on the bubble with several bad losses before winning four of five and reaching the Big East Tournament championship game to nail down an at-large bid and a No. 10 seed. The Pirates are a strong defensive team, but also struggle on offense enough to cancel it out at times.

Seton Hall is seeking NCAA Tournament victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1993. A win for Wofford would be the school’s first in six NCAA Tournament appearances.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Markus Howard
Source: Drew Hallowell / Getty Images North America

Take a look at the matchups set in the First Round West Region.

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Two of college basketball’s most exciting players lead their teams into an opening round showdown

At 25 and 24.6 points per game respectively, Marquette’s Markus Howard and Murray State’s Ja Morant are the two highest-scoring players in the 2019 NCAA Tournament field. They headline a first-round showdown on Thursday that has all the makings of a classic 12-over-5 upset.

Marquette limps into the Tournament with losses in five of its last six. Howard told reporters on Monday he was ready to go at full strength despite suffering a wrist injury in the Big East Tournament, and there’s no doubt the Golden Eagles need him. He went off for more than 50 points twice in the regular season, showing an offensive repertoire similar to that of Arizona State legend and longtime NBA mainstay Eddie House.

Howard’s an intriguing NBA prospect; so, too, is Morant. Morant burst onto the scene this season, generating draft talk in league with noteworthy names like Duke freshmen phenoms Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. The high-flying Morant and his Murray State teammates aren’t thinking about June’s draft, though. The OVC champions want to dance on.

Nevada, one of last year’s Tournament darlings who lost by one point to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16, are the ones on upset alert.

On Thursday, the Florida Gators and the Nevada Wolf Pack will get together for a traditional No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Although the Gators finished their SEC season with a 9-9 record, the club made it all the way to the semifinals of their conference tournament before losing to eventual champion Auburn.

Nevada, on the other hand, has been ranked in the Top 25 of both polls for the entire season (the majority of that time in the top 10) and has already collected 29 wins. The Wolf Pack were upset in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament by San Diego State and hope to avoid a similar fate on Thursday.

A pair of teams looking to put disappointing regular-season finishes behind them face off in Salt Lake City

Neither Baylor nor Syracuse are strangers to NCAA Tournament success during this decade. For that reason, their matchup on Thursday in Salt Lake City promises to be one of the must-see first-round games.

The Orange made Final Four runs in 2013 and ’16. They also reached the Elite Eight in 2012 and the Sweet 16 in ’10 and ’18. The Bears made a Sweet 16 run a year ago and in 2014. Before that, Baylor reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and ’12.

Both teams landed lower seeds after key injuries caused them to pile up losses late in the season. The Bears lost four straight coming into the tournament and the Orange dropped five of seven.

Baylor is making its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bears earned their lowest seed since being awarded a No. 11 seed in 2008. Syracuse is in the 68-team field for the third time in four seasons. The Orange are a No. 8 seed for just the second time in their history after being awarded the same seed in 1999.

Sun Devils look to ride momentum of First Four victory when they take on the Bulls in Tulsa

Can Buffalo take the next step forward and solidify an identity as an emerging basketball power? That’s the question facing the Bulls as they take on Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Arizona State enters the game with major momentum after crushing St. John’s 74-65 in the First Four on Wednesday. The Sun Devils held the Red Storm to 25 first-half points on 30 percent shooting and led by double digits for most of the game.

Buffalo is no stranger to facing Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls obliterated Pac-12 champion Arizona in the first round a year ago as a No. 13 seed. This time around, everything is a bit different. Buffalo has taken on the role of the hunted instead of the hunter. The Bulls eclipsed 30 wins and rose to No. 15 in the final AP Top 25 Poll.

Adding an interesting wrinkle to the mix is that former Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley will be facing his old school for the first time. Hurley led Buffalo to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015 before departing for Arizona State. He has sparked a renaissance in Tempe, leading the Sun Devils to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1981.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

First-round previews

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils

From first overall pick to first playoff berth in six seasons, the surprising New Jersey Devils are set to take on the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning. The series features a pair of Hart Trophy candidates in Nikita Kucherov and Taylor Hall, but the X-factor should be Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid, who emerged as the starter down the stretch and played phenomenally, but will now be tasked with shutting down one of the league’s most potent attacks.

Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs

The cruelty of the playoff format pitted two of the top teams in the conference against each other in Round 1, but this one should be a doozy. The Maple Leafs won three of four contests versus Boston this season, and Mitch Marner led the way with nine points. However, the red-hot Bruins were merely one point away from capturing the East’s top seed. Don’t be shocked if this one goes the distance.

Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets

Metropolitan Division adversaries are poised to do battle in what should be an evenly contested matchup. The biggest questions for this series lie between the pipes, as Washington has elected to lean on backup Philipp Grubauer as its starter, while Sergei Bobrovsky’s career postseason save percentage is a dreadful .887. Whoever wins out in goal is likely moving on.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

The defending champs begin their quest for a three-peat against their most bitter rivals, a spectacle that was can’t-miss television last time they met in the playoffs in 2012. Pittsburgh holds a notable depth advantage, emphasized by the acquisition of Derick Brassard before the trade deadline. That said, five of the NHL’s top 15 scorers are in this series, so buckle up.

Play our NHL Playoffs Contest 

Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche were dreadful a season ago, but, to the surprise of just about everybody, have qualified for the playoffs in a year when nobody gave them a chance. Their reward? A matchup with the NHL’s most complete team, which is looking to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup disappointment. If the task wasn’t already tall enough, the Avs will have to get by without starter Semyon Varlamov, who was ruled out for the season.

Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild

The Jets concluded the season with the second-most points in the NHL (114), and have plans far beyond earning their first series win in franchise history. To do so, though, they’ll need to take down a Wild squad that went 14-6-5 down the stretch. While they’re missing their top blue-liner in Ryan Suter, the animosity between these Northern rivals should make for quite an entertaining series.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings

Even though it’s been decided for weeks, the Golden Knights making the playoffs in their inaugural season is nothing short of astonishing. The atmosphere in Vegas should be rocking to get things started, but the NHL’s 31st franchise has a tall order on its hands. Shutting down MVP candidate Anze Kopitar will be tough, but it could make the difference in what promises to be a fast-paced, intense series.

Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks

The start times are late, but this West Coast battle should be fought tooth and nail. Both the Ducks and Sharks match up quite evenly and know each other quite well, but health will be a big factor. San Jose is doubtful to have Joe Thornton in the lineup, while Anaheim starter John Gibson is banged up as well. Regardless of who’s in and who’s out, expect this one to be neck-and-neck.

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Posted in NHL

NBA Playoffs 2017

First Round Preview

The NBA Playoffs starts Saturday. FanPicks will offer fantasy basketball post-season draft for every matchup. We’ve got you covered with the key storylines for the first-round hoop action. Get ready and reserve your spot for the upcoming contests now (Play now).

 Memphis Grizzlies (43-39) vs San Antonio Spurs (61-21) 

Season matchups (2-2 Tie)

The San Antonio Spurs weren’t very sharp while ending the regular season with three straight losses and four in the past five games. However, second-seeded San Antonio is known for being sharp in the postseason. The Spurs topped 60 victories for the seventh time in franchise history despite the late-season decline and know the series with the seventh-seeded Grizzlies will be a battle after splitting the four regular-season meetings. Memphis, which lost its last two regular-season games, will be counting on Mike Conley to lead the way after the point guard averaged a career-high 20.5 points.

 Indiana Pacers (42-40) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) 

Season matchups (3-1 CLE)

The defending champion Cavs were flat-out beatable down the stretch, under .500 and 17th in the NBA in win percentage (12-15) after the all-star break. It seems there are more questions surrounding this team than ever, but they still employ LeBron James, who is still the best player on Earth. He had his best season since returning to Cleveland in 2014 and “quietly” averaged 26.4/8.6/8.7 while shooting 55 per cent from the floor and 36.3 per cent from deep.

The Pacers, meanwhile, were unimpressive throughout much of the season and at one point appeared on the brink of blowing it all up when GM Larry Bird reportedly engaged in trade talks for star Paul George. Until last week they hadn’t won consecutive games for nearly two months but reeled off five straight wins heading into the post-season.

 Utah Jazz (51-31) vs Los Angeles Clippers (51-31) 

Season matchups (3-1 LAC)

The fourth-seeded Clippers enter the postseason with an NBA-high seven straight wins, which helped them stave off the Jazz for home-court advantage in the first round, and have won 11 of 13 overall. However, the talented bunch must overcome a recent history of playoff failures that have prevented a perennial contender from getting no further than the second round in five straight appearances. Injuries to power forward Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul hurt Los Angeles in a first-round exit against Portland last season and the Jazz – who won seven of their final nine in the regular season – are hoping to do the same as they enter the playoffs as healthy as they’ve been all season.

 Milwaukee Bucks (42-40) vs Toronto Raptors (51-31) 

Season matchups (3-1 TOR)

With Kyle Lowry healthy and DeMar DeRozan continuing his scoring assault, the Raptors are rolling heading into the playoffs. A pair of mid-season trades for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker bolstered a roster that seems tailor-made for playoff basketball as the Raps look to continue to build on their trip to the East Finals last season. Their opponent boasts a younger core and is thinking longer-term. Thanks to a breakout season from Giannis Antetokounmpo – who became the only player in NBA history to finish in the top-20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks – and a surprise campaign from rookie Malcom Brogdon and others, the Bucks were the East’s second-best team after the all-star break and enter the series wholly un-intimidated.

 Portland Trail Blazers (41-41) vs Golden State Warriors (67-15) 

Season matchups (4-0 GSW)

After suffering a knee injury in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, Steph Curry returned against Portland in game four of the following round. Golden State had managed to win their first two games at home, but Portland had taken advantage of the reigning MVP’s absence by taking game three and looked to even the series. Curry had 23 points in regulation, but was obviously laboring and didn’t seem to be 100%. Portland forced overtime and were threatening to take a second game, but instead, Curry sprung back to life. In the midst of a record-setting 17-point overtime, Curry yelled those iconic words at the silenced Portland crowd. “I’m here! I’m back!” And back he was. The Warriors won the game and finished the series in five.

In the 2017 NBA Playoffs, Golden State and Portland will meet once again, and that moment won’t be forgotten by either side. Golden State will remember fondly when they reasserted their dominance, and Portland will undoubtedly have revenge on their mind. Golden State is heavily favored, but does Portland have a chance to overthrow the Western Conference kings in the 2017 NBA Playoffs?

  Atlanta Hawks (43-39) vs Washington Wizards (49-33) 

Season matchups (3-1 WAS)

The Wizards were on a tear earlier in 2017 and seemed like a lock to make the conference finals before falling back to earth slightly down the stretch. John Wall has played like an MVP candidate while backcourt mate Bradley Beal has emerged as a legitimate go-to scorer, but the Wiz will have to deal with a Hawks team that is playing out of their minds at the moment, going 4-1 in their last five including wins over the Celtics and Cavs (twice).

 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35) vs Houston Rockets (55-27) 

Season matchups (3-1 HOU)

Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden. Friend vs. Friend. The Beard vs. The Brodie. Their 2017 NBA Playoffs series, which kicks off on Sunday, is the night cap. This series will surely be one of the more must-see and entertaining playoff matchups as it will feature two MVP candidates.

 Chicago Bulls (41-41) vs Boston Celtics (53-29) 

Season matchups (2-2 Tie)

The Celtics are the improbable No. 1 seed with an improbable superstar in point guard Isaiah Thomas, whose 28.9 points per game (third in NBA) and fourth quarter prowess helped propel Boston to first place. But the Celts have struggled against other East playoff teams down the stretch with losses to the Bucks, Cavaliers, and Hawks. They’re the top seed, but only have the third-best odds to advance to the Finals, behind the Cavaliers and Raptors.

The Bulls’ season has almost been the opposite, with a late-season surge lifting them to the post-season. Amidst rumours of issues between the locker room and front office, Chicago traded two assets for a prospect and appeared to be ready to forget the 2016-17 season ever happened. They ended up going 7-3 over their last 10, climbing into the final playoff spot.

Posted in NBA

NFL Draft

LA Rams acquire first overall pick from Titans

Talk about respect.

Making a trade for the first overall pick in the NFL Draft is usually the biggest news in the sports world. But, the Rams even held off announcing the move until they deemed fit.

What could possibly be more important than announcing Los Angeles had just acquired the first overall pick?

Well, Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher was quoted as saying “the night belonged to Kobe”.

Respect.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, let’s break down the momentous move.

laramstrade

The Titans received picks number 15 (1st), 43 (2nd), 45 (2nd), 76 (3rd), and 2017 1st and 3rd rounders. They already hold the 33rd overall pick (second pick in 2nd round), and 64th (first in 3rd round). The Rams received the first overall pick, pick 113 (4th), and 177 (6th).

The Titans now own six of the first 76 picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, enough ammo to rebuild any franchise let alone one with a few solid building blocks already in place. Namely, a (potential) franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota.

We knew Tennessee wasn’t in love with consensus top pick OT Laremy Tunsil, but that wasn’t enough to pull the trigger just yet. New GM Jon Robinson played his cards just right, and optimized the return for a position he didn’t need to be in. Word is they like the next set of best available OL, and taking Tunsil at number one didn’t necessarily optimize their needs. The Titans and Jack Conklin apparently have mutual admiration, news that surfaced yesterday sparking trade talk among fans and media alike.

When asked if any NFL Head Coaches have made an impact on him through the draft process he responded with “One [NFL head coach] that’s really stood out to me is Mike Mularkey. I really liked him because I see a lot of similarities between him and [Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio]. That really intrigues me because that is somebody that I trust and thrived under.”

While there it’s no sure thing that the Titans draft an offensive-lineman, their strategy was spot on. More importantly than the 15th overall pick, is perhaps the three second-rounders they now own. The 2016 draft is the kind you want to own a plethora of early to mid-round picks. A number of potential stars will be plucked between numbers 32 and 98.

A young running back to groom behind Demarco Murray, a talented wide receiver to pair with the developing Dorial Green-Beckham, and an athletic tight-end are all needs on the offensive side of the ball. While a youth infusion is needed on defense, as their linebacking core and secondary could use a serious upgrade after letting a few veterans go via free agency.

The Rams logic was simple. Get a franchise quarterback, now!

I’ve heard whispers that projected number two overall pick Carson Wentz will now go one, but I think Cal’s Jeff Goff will be the man.

Goff was the consensus top QB all season long, and the only reason Wentz name has been glued to the Browns is because new Head Coach Hue Jackson is enamored by the North Dakota State QB. He’s a great fit in Cleveland, as the more steady, blue-collar type. If in fact, the Browns opt to select him at number two, he would become the highest-drafted non-FBS quarterback in NFL history.

In my opinion the hometown Goff is a perfect fit for the Rams, as his gunslinger style is made for the lovely people of California. The fans will be able to deal with his growing pains, and by handing the ball off to Todd Gurley the team can limit his responsibilities early-on.  A luxury the Cleveland Browns certainly do not possess.

No matter who goes where, the draft process has been especially exciting this year and it can only get better the closer we inch to draft day.

Posted in NFL