4 NBA Breakout Stars in 2022-2023

Tyrese Haliburton, G, Indiana Pacers

Haliburton has all the ability to be an All-Star in 2023.  He is a talented and versatile third year guard on a team that has no clear star, they are looking to create one and Haliburton is the leading candidate.  Despite showing the ability to play alongside De’aron Fox, it seemed like the Kings had no real interest in turning to Haliburton to run the offense, they moved him to Indiana where he patiently waited for Malcolm Brogdon to disappear to take control of the team. Haliburton stepped right into the leadership role in Indiana, he increased his stats across the board, 17.5 points and 9.6 assists while raising his field goal percentage from 45.7 to 50.2 In his final ten games of 2021-2022 he collected five double-doubles.

The Pacers are not likely to contend but they are building a strong core around Haliburton with Chris Duarte, Jalen Smith, Isaiah Jackson and rookie Ben Mathurin.  Indiana will likely move on from veterans Buddy Hield and Myles Turner in season to add expiring contracts and draft picks.  Haliburton’s increased passing stats show the great potential to help the young Pacers thrive.

Keldon Johnson, G/F, San Antonio Spurs

Everyone knows the Spurs have no interest in winning.  They still have to put a team on the court, when they do, they will be playing around Keldon Johnson.  Johnson has seen an increase in his usage rate over the last three seasons, leading to his highest rate of 21% last season.  With Dejounte Murray now playing in Atlanta, Johnson will now have the chance to handle the ball more.  His ability to create a shot has improved every season in the NBA, he also got some great experience playing with Team USA over the summer.  

Even though the Spurs won’t be competitive, Coach Popevich will find a way to use this season to help teach Johnson how to be a professional.  The Spurs are hoping to land one of the two top prospects in the 2023 draft, this will be the season to develop Johnson as their #2 option.  

Alperen Sengun, C, Houston Rockets

The 20 year old Turkish center was the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft. He struggled with efficiency in 2022, but was still a stat stuffer for the Rocket’s when given the chance to play.  Sengun struggled to play alongside Christian Wood. With Wood being shipped off to Dallas the center spot is wide open for Sengun.  The Rocket’s will play first round draft pick Jabar Smith at power forward, his game is 3-point oriented which is perfect for Sengun to control the middle and kick out to shooters when doubled. 

Sengun spent the offseason playing Eurobasket where he was able to show improved efficiency, shooting 61.8%.  Sengun has also been seen working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his interior footwork.  The Rockets are a young team that will allow Sengun to continue to develop with the young core.  

Jalen Suggs, G, Orlando Magic

Suggs’ rookie season was not very noteworthy. He was hampered with injuries throughout, dealing with a fractured right thumb in the first half followed by an ankle injury that ended his season in the second half.  

Redemption is coming for Suggs, he will be healthy heading into the season and will now share the court with a prolific scorer in Paolo Banchero, as well as another year of development from Wendell Carter and Cole Anthony.  Suggs could be the 3rd option on the offensive end which should open it up for him to get a rhythm against lesser defenders all season. 

The former #5 overall pick will have a great chance to be featured in an upbeat offense full of young talent that will be allowed to run free. Look for Suggs to step it up on both ends of the court.

Washington at UCLA – Prediction

Washington Huskies -3 at UCLA Bruins 

Friday night features a premier Pac 12 matchup between two undefeated teams when the Washington Huskies wil hit the road to take on the UCLA Bruins. 

It’s hard to imagine a better start to a season for Kalen Doer in his first season with the Huskies.  Doer and new QB, Indiana transfer Micheal Penix Jr. have lit up the scoreboard  averaging 44 points per game including a recent domination of Stanford in their first PAC 12 contest.  Penix Jr. is leading the nation in passing after four games, he has dynamic receivers on the outside, three different receivers have led the Huskies in yards, eclipsing the century mark in each game, most recently it was Romeo Odunze that dominated the Stanford secondary. The UCLA defense has not allowed anything on the ground this season, Penix will be looked at to carry the load on the offensive end.

UCLA is led by QB Dorian Thompson- Robinson and RB Zach Charbonnet, both have been spectacular to start the season. Thompson-Robinson is coming off a game where he completed 84% of his passes against Colorado, Charbonnet had an easy night running the ball just 9 times for 104 yards, 3 of those runs ended in the endzone. The Bruins offense is built around the run, they will manage the game and look to keep Penix and the Huskie offense off the field. The more time the UCLA defnese is able to rest the more they will be able to get pressure on the QB. 

Neither team has ultimately been tested by high level competition. The Huskies victory over Michigan State at home isn’t as good as it once seemed to be.  The Bruins have a better defense, a veteran QB and RB. The Washington defense has found success putting pressure on the QB, the mobility of Dorian Thompson-Robinson should be able to negate the pass rush, opening up time for receivers to make plays. This one will come down to the final drive and I think the ability of UCLA to control the ball with their run game will ultimately be the difference. 

Pick: UCLA ML, take the points if you want

Biggest Disappointment in Baseball

It would be really hard for anyone to find a national media outlet that did not think the Chicago White Sox would run away with the AL Central this season.  Chicago was supposed to be a World Series contender.  A loaded lineup, a rotation led by Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Lance Lynn, one of the games best closers in the league in Liam Hendricks.  We sit here in late September, currently the Sox are five games back of the Cleveland Guardians and have no signs of making any sort of surge. Where did it go wrong?  Here are three reasons why the White Sox stink in 2022. 

Rotation was a mess

The White Sox let Carlos Rodon walk heading into 2022.  Rodon was coming off of his best season in the majors but his injury problems made him tough to sign for a longterm deal.  But losing Rodon wasn’t a big deal because the White Sox were prepared.  They planned to bring longtime prospect Michael Kopech into the rotation. They signed veterans to fill in the gaps- Johnny Cueto and Vincent Velasquez.  They also had the always reliable Dallas Keuchel, oh wait he was an abomination. 

Keuchel’s downfall was unexpected but the real surprise came from the regression of ace Lucas Giolito. Giolito’s career has been a roller coaster of performance regression – progression and now back to regression. A lot could be attributed to bad luck, his BABIP during the 2022 season is currently at .350. It has been the walks and poor defense that led to the downfall of the season.   Giolito is walking another batter per game compared to 2021, those runners are scoring at a higher rate compared to his previous stellar seasons.  

With Giolito regressing, Michael Kopech’s inconsistency, outside of Dylan Cease Chicago had no pitcher they could rely on on a weekly basis. 

Offensive decline of Yasmani Grandal

Yasmani Grandal had a remarkable season in 2021.  His OBP was .420, with a 23% walk rate, he was also able to add some power popping 23 dingers.  2022 was a completely different story for the Sox backstop, his 71 WRC+ is an astronomical 81 point drop from last season.  His OBP dropped 120 points which could be due to his walk rate dropping so drastically.

Grandal was the guy that forced opposing pitchers to throw to the power bats in the middle of the White Sox lineup.  Without his ability to get on base and injuries to Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada limiting their production the line wasn’t able to get consistency.

Defense matters

Simple fact, defnese may be the most underappreciated element in baseball. The White Sox have been a complete disaster all season.  They rank 24th overall in defensive runs saved and currently are second to last in the league in errors. 

Chicago took the little league approach, it was more important for them to get their young developing bats in the lineup rather than put out solid defensive players.  Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn are both exciting offensive players, but they both profile as first baseman rather than corner outfielders.  First baseman is a position that is currently occupied by former AL MVP Jose Abreu and the DH spot was occupied by slugger Eloy Jimenez (not an upgrade defensively).  Sheets and Vaughn have combined for a total of 8 errors in the outfield and more than a couple blooper videos on youtube that will live on forever.  

The Sox infield defense has not been much better, shortstop Tim Anderson has been a defensive liability most of his career and despite an injury riddled season he still had ten errors, Jose Abreu accompanied him with 12 errors and third baseman Jake Burger added another 12 errors.  The best offense in the world is not going to help you win games when you are handing over runs every inning.  

Waiver Wire adds week 3

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

Tua threw for 469 yards in a miracle comeback in week 2.  Should we overreact to this heading into week 3?  The answer is yes, but honestly it isn’t actually an overreaction. The Dolphins brought in the fastest receiver in all of football, adding Tyreke Hill to go along with Jaylen Waddle.  Collectively the Dolphins arguably have the two most talented receivers in all of football.  

Miami has a tough matchup with the powerful Buffalo Bills but after that matchup they have five straight awesome matchups.  The Dolphins may have been a sleeping giant that was woken up by the abilities of their QB and receivers.  SnagTua now and stash him as your future starter the rest of the season. 

Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

Remember Elijah Moore? Nope me either.  It has been the Garrett Wilson show in New York.  Joe Flacco targeted the rookie out of Ohio State 14 times on Sunday.  Those targets were productive, Wilson finished with 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.  His breakout performance wasn’t out of nowhere, he had 8 total targets in week one.  

He is the one of only two receivers ever to put up 30 fantasy points in one of their first two games of the season in the last decade. Wilson was a top ten pick in the 2021 draft for a reason, right now he appears to be Joe Flacco’s favorite receiver.  

Evan Engram, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

Every week I am going to keep trying to find a tightend worth the start.  This week I focused on Jacksonville’s new tightend, the often disappointing Evan Engram. Engram is coming off of an 8 target day against the Colts.  He hauled in 7 catches for 46 yards, in a PPR league a TE with those kinds of numbers going along with a snap share over 70% is a need. 

The Jaguars have moved the ball around on offense but the upside of Engram is impossible to ignore.

Why this team can compete in 2023

Baseball is a grind.  Teams can fall into rutes that ultimately end their season.  One bad month and the downhill plunge is quick and brutal for a fanbase.  Unlike other sports, baseball allows you to turn things around almost over night.  A bad season just means that there is no pressure going into the next season.  The Baltimore Orioles are the most recent example of an organization that seemed like they were years away from competing and all of a sudden they are a team that ascended to contention.  They built a great core of young stars and found their niche by building their bullpen.  But who is next?

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks’ decline has not been extremely long.  In 2019 the Dbacks finished 2nd in the NL West winning 85 games.  Arizona then began a subtle decline finishing 2020 ten games under .500 following that disappointment up with a 110 loss season in 2021.  

The Dbacks 2022 had very low expectations in a stacked NL West. They have not been the disaster that was 2021, currently sitting 8 games under .500 but have shown signs of life throughout the year.  With no playoff appearance in sight Arizona has given a glimpse into the future with the call up of top prospects, outfielders Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll and pitchers Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson. 

Arizona has four of the top 100 prospects in major league baseball with Carroll, Thomas, shortstop Jordan Lawler and pitcher Blake Walston.  In total Arizona had a farm system ranked in the top five heading into 2022, the emergence of Jake McCarthy and Stone Garrett have improved the depth of the outfield which has allowed them to move potential star Ketel Marte to 2B. 

Christian Walker, had a breakout season in 2022 and will be the staple in the middle of the lineup to work around. Zac Gallen has emerged as the ace of the staff and Joe Mantiply was an all-star in 2022.  Arizona has built a strong core of position players to build the future.  They will need to add a few starters to help Gallen, Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly. With the young offensive core and hopefully the emergence of some young starters, Arizona could be a competitor in 2023.

Fantasy Football Waiver Wire adds Week 1

Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders

Jahan Dotson exploded onto the scene in week one catching three passes, two for touchdowns.  Dotson had five total targets but the fact that he was targeted in the redzone for his first touchdown and grabbed a 24 yard touchdown for his second.  Dotson ran 40 routes while playing a total of 88% of the team’s snaps. 

His versitility for the scores makes him a feasible addition to any fantasy team, especially  in a three receiver league. 

Jeff Wilson, RB, 49ers

The premier target for most teams looking for an RB will be Steelers Jaylen Warren.  The injury to Najee Harris will open up a lot of options for Warren, but I would prefer going for the proven commodity that is a TD vulture.  Jeff Wilson will never get 20+ carries in a game but with the most recent injury to Elijah Mitchell, Wilson will likely be listed as the starting RB in week 2. 

Wilson will lose carries to the multi-talented Deebo Samuel but it’s more than likely Wilson will see the ball in goal line situations. 

OJ Howard, TE, Houston Texans

Howard was not a snap percentage monster, but at a position where outside of the top three there isn’t much depth a red zone target like Howard is a needed addition on most fantasy rosters . 

Hayden Hurst would likely be my favorite overall addition to a roster but I had him as a sleeper already in a write up, in this instance I think the former Crimson Tide tightend brings so much value in a position that you really just need TD’s he has to be added.  Likely will be most managers first choice.  

NFL Division Picks – 2023

I am a day late on these picks but Thursday’ game confirmed my thoughts on a few spots. Below are the each divisions

NFC West- San Francisco 49ers 

Trey Lance is going to make the difference.  The 49ers and Rams are pretty even if you spread out the overall talent. The biggest difference for Los Angeles is consistency at QB and ofcourse Aaron Donald.  

Lance is a dynamic athlete that is going to challenge opposing defeneses.  Donald will not have a stagnant Jimmy G in the pocket, it will be a bigger challenge for the all-time great.  The Rams will be in the playoffs but it is concerning that your QB had offseason surgery on his throwing arm.  I am going to give the Niners the edge, not by much.  Lance could struggle to start the season but his talent is limitless.

NFC South- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady’s return locked up the division for the Bucs. Even at his senior age Brady can manage an offense loaded with weapons.  The NFC South will have an improved Carolina team with hopefully a healthy Baker Mayfield and a Saints team with a healthy Jamies Winston, but both of those QB’s are unproven in the big moment. 

The Bucs can rely on their run game with Leonard Fournette and rookie Rashaad White.  Give Brady a solid run game and he will be able to pick apart one on ones all over the field.  Tampa also has the best defense in the conference.  

NFC North- Green Bay Packers

The Packers don’t really care who takes the field with Aaron Rodgers.  Put out whomever you want and he will find a way to make them great.  This has been the game plan for the last few years in Green Bay.  Somehow a team that traded away arguably the best receiver in the NFL is a considerable favorite to not only take their division but many see them as a threat to win the NFC. 

There are questions on the offensive line, questions about receivers, questions about Rodgers hair length.  Lots of questions but the only answer needed is Aaron Rodgers is so much better than every other QB in this division.  The defense is legit and they have a two man running attack that will cause teams problems.  Vikings should make it interesting, the Lions are better but in the end Rodgers will lead the Packers to the NFC North title. 

NFC East- Dallas Cowboys

The Eagles made the sexy moves in the offseason, adding WR AJ Brown and CB James Bradberry.  Philly made the statement that they are going to rely on Jalen Hurts to run their revamped offense.  If Hurts can take the next step with his accuracy to go along with his dynamic running ability then the Eagles may have something. 

Philly will be fun on the offensive end but the problems will still be there on defense.  Against quality QB’s they will continue to stuggle.  Dak Prescott is healthy and still has elite level weapons. The x-factor could be the continued use of Tony Pollard in the short pass game, his ability to create will help while the Cowboys figure out their offensive line questions. The Dallas defense has more playmakers that can make a difference. They win the division but it will be down to the last game per usual.

AFC South- Indianapolis Colts

Matt Ryan is super exciting, but adding an MVP QB that seems like he still has the ability to make plays is always a good thing.  Ryan’s biggest attribute will be his leadership.  Compared to Carson Wentz it’s pretty much as solid an upgrade as you can get.

The Jags will be better in 2022 but the only real competition comes from Derrick Henry and the guys that play with him (Titans).  Tennessee lost a big part of their defense when Harold Landry went down with an ACL injury.  Tennessee will have to lean on the run game and hope the defense can hold up.  This is Jonathon Taylor’s division and he will own it. 

AFC West- Los Angeles Chargers

Easily the most competitive division in football. The Broncos added Russell Wilson, the Raiders added Davante Adams, the Chargers and Chiefs have two QB’s competing for the MVP. 

The Chargers will return their entire offense that was tops in the league last season.  Austin Ekeler will be joined by promising rookie Isiah Spiller, while Joshua Palmer is considered a potential breakout candidate.  Oh, they also added a solid TE in former Ram Gerald Everett.  The Chargers also addressed a huge problem from last season, adding Sebastian Joesph-Day and Austin Johnson to slow down opposing run games.  They also added Khalil Mack, he and Joey Bosa will make things fun for Patrick Mahomes.  The Chargers will be a problem on both sides of the football. 

AFC North- Baltimor Ravens

If DeShaun Watson was playing before week 11 the Browns would have a shot at this division. Since he is not this is a two team race between the Ravens and the Bengals.  Cincy has another year of progression for Joe Burrow will make the Bengals offense something fun to watch all season.  They should put up a great fight against the Ravens, but Balitmore has a better coach and better defense.  Lamar Jackson still lacks the weapongs Burrow has but there is enough there for the Ravens to put up plenty of points.  

Don’t sleep on Rashad Bateman and rookie tightend Isiah Likely.  They can both be huge for the Ravens in 2022.  I think Jackson puts up MVP numbers, and the Ravens take the division by one game. 

AFC East- Buffalo Bills

Maybe the Dolphins test the Bills? Ha, no Bills win this division without a challenge if Josh Allen is healthy.  He is too good and the pass rush is ferocious. 

Fantasy Longshots

QB: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

The Raiders added arguably the best wide receiver in all of football in the offseason.  When you add a star like Davante Adams your offense immediately goes to the next level.  Aaron Rodgers former #1 target gives the Raiders a threat in the red zone that they seemed to lack for most of the 2022 season. It also doesn’t hurt that there is a built in connection with Carr and Adams from their time playing together at Fresno State. 

Carr has the most weapons he has ever had while under center with the Raiders, a clear #1 receiver, a freak athlete and tight end, Darren Waller, and a reliable slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow.  He also has a great mind at the helm, new coach Josh McDaniels could be a big factor in his progression to upper level fantasy QB territory.

WR: Skyy Moore, Kansas City Chiefs

Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore was undervalued in the draft, likely due to being a part of a league that is not really known for being very defensive. Moore is “more” than just a product of MACtion.  He fell to the second round in a receiver heavy draft.

Moore will have to compete with fellow offseason additions Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but the speedy wideouts looks like a perfect fit to replace the departed Tyreke Hill. His impressive YAC ability was tied for first with 26 forced missed tackles. Patick Mahomes will need someone to pull the safeties deep to open up the middle for Kelce and company. Moore has the chance to be an immediate impact for the high powered offense in Kansas City.

RB: Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

Rhamondre Stevenson finished the 2021 season with 606 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. As part of a three headed RB attack along with Brandon Bolden and Damien Harris.  Stevenson will not be the everydown back for New England but he should see plenty of opportunities out of the backfield in what they are calling the “James White” role of the New England offense. 

New England QB Mac Jones will likely see Stevenson as his safety net over the middle and on third downs.  Stevenson could become a serious red zone threat as well if he is about to be as productive as the former receiving RB James White was able to be.  Stevenson is also versatile in the running game, his ability to break tackles is on an elite level.  Bill Belichek tends to be unpredictable at times with his RB roles but this one looks like a solid lock as a weekly flex option, with explosive potential. 

TE: Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals

When the Falcons drafted future star Kyle Pitts, most forgot that they actually had a pretty talented tightend on the roster in Hayden Hurst. In 2020 Hurst put up 600 yards to go along with 6 touchdowns, he was emerging into a solid plug and play tightend. 

Hurst now finds himself on a Bengals team with an emerging offensive  and a litany of talent on the outside that will open up opportunities for him to return to his productive form.  Hurst will take over the role vacated by CJ Uzomah.  Uzomah had a route running participation of 78%, which is extremely valuable for any player that is not a primary receiver.  While being on the field doesn’t always lead to production, Hurst could find himself in so favorable one on one matchups because of the speed of Jamar Chase on the outside.  

His 6’4” 245lb frame could also make for a nice red zone target for Joe Burrow.  Hurst will likely go undrafted in many leagues but could be a sneaky addition in season or a late round pick for someone taking a gamble at the position.

AL Teams that benefit from expanded playoffs

Detroit Tigers

Most overlooked the Tigers in 2021.  After a brutal start to the season the young Tigers squad actually put together a respectable season finishing 77-85, finishing third in the division.  Detroit went into the offseason looking to fill out their rotation with some veteran arms and find some pop to add to the middle of the lineup.  They were successful in both. 

The Tigers added veterans Micheal Pineda and Eduardo Rodriguez to a rotation that was highlighted with young arms.  Former first overall pick Casey Mize should still be looked at as the ace of the staff but the addition of Rodriguez is an under the radar move that could make the Tigers a serious threat in the Central Division.  Rodriguez was 13-8 last year with an ERA of 4.74, his expected ERA was actually just 3.50, he was a victim of the short porches of Fenway Park on multiple occasions.  He should thrive in a much more pitcher friendly park in Detroit.  The Tigers also feature two young arms, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal, both project to make huge strides in 2022.  The rotation will also get a huge boost with the addition of gold glover Tucker Barnhart behind the plate.  

The offense needed to add more pop in the offseason, they ranked in the bottom of baseball in isolated power. They added power hitter Javy Baez as well as announced that Spencer Torkelson will start the season on the MLB roster.  Baez brings some baggage, he is a strikeout machine that can be his own worst enemy at times but his speed and gap power should play well in Comerica Park.  Detroit still has the veteran presence of Miggy Cabrera and Jonathon Schoop in the middle of the lineup and a litany of speed throughout the lineup that puts pressure on the opposing defense.  AJ Hinch allows his team to play to their strengths and it paid off last year and should help them get to the next level in 2022.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were supposed to be a few years away from contention.  Top level prospects Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodriguez and Jared Kelenic were “eventually” going to find their way to the show. Rather than wait the Mariners exceeded expectations and put together an unfathomable 90 win season. Now the prospects are ready and the expectations are as high as they have ever been in Seattle.  

The Mariners won 90 games with one of the worst offenses in all of baseball, they were 30th in batting average, 28th in OBP and 22nd in isolated power.  Basically the offense needed improvement.  For the on-base percentage, they added Adam Frazier, coming off an all-star season where he featured an OBP of .368. For the power they added Jesse Winker, coming off a season where he slugged .558 and a .251 ISO, Winker can also get on base a little big with a .398 OBP.  A fully healthy Mitch Haniger will be huge for the middle of the order.  Seattle will rely on their youth to take a step forward but they have done more than enough to fill in a lineup that was loaded with holes. 

The Mariners also bolstered their rotation by adding Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray.  Ray was lights out for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021, he will now have been playing in a much more pitcher friendly ballpark.  Despite his success last season Robbie Ray still has question marks about consistency.  Ray’s overall success can be attributed to his ability to finally throw strikes consistently.  In the disaster that was 2020, Ray’s BB/9 reached as high as 7, in 2021 he had a career best 2.42.  Behind Ray the Mariners feature the top prospect Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzalez and Chris Flexen who are as solid as any 3-4 starters in the entire league.  They have question marks for the 5th spot but overall this is a solid rotation that can compete with any inside of the division.

The Mariner’s bullpen has Paul Sewald, Ken Giles, Drew Steckenrider and Diego Castillo.  All interchangeable parts that can close, go multiple innings or maybe even start if needed.  It’s solid and I didn’t even name everyone.

Sweet Sixteen Bets

St. Peter’s Peacocks vs. Purdue Boilermakers

The Peacocks are a great story.  They beat Kentucky, they beat Murray State but they will not beat Purdue.  The Boilermakers are loaded including star guard Jaden Ivey,7’ 4” Zach Edey, forward Trevion Williams and underrated role players Eric Hunter, Mason Gillis and Stefan Stefanovic.  The Peacocks will not have an answer for the size of Edey, even if the Peacocks star KC NDefo is able to slow down Jaden Ivey they won’t be able to stop the post game of the Boilermakers.

The St. Peters offense has been playing above their level over the last two games, but ultimately they are a below average offense and they foul a lot on the defensive end.  We know after Sunday that Purdue knows how to get to the line. They will do that a lot and they will dominate the interior.  This fun is over for St. Peters, Purdue will win by twenty.

Pick: Purdue Boilermakers  -12.5

Michigan Wolverines vs. Villanova Wildcats

Michigan was left for dead after their 4-3 start.  If it wasn’t for their victories within conference the Wolverines may be playing in the NIT. Nevertheless the Wolverines find themselves in the Sweet 16 led by their All-American Hunter Dickinson. His 27 points and 11 rebounds led the charge in the upset versus Tennessee in the second round, his ability to control the paint while being able to shoot the three when needed makes him a matchup nightmare. 

Villanova has the experience needed to go all the way.  Collin Gillespie and company have been efficient on offense in week one of the tournament and should be able to take advantage of the inconsistent defense of Michigan. The Wolverines rank 170th in effective field goal percentage during the regular season, the Wildcat offense will try to slow them down and take advantage of open shots.  

Michigan has top ten talent all through the roster. They have picked up their intensity on the defensive end especially holding down three point shooters.  The Wolverines size will be a problem for Nova, they will not be able to get inside and that will cause them problems trying to connect from deep.  Nova needs the three to drop consistently because Michigan will be able to control the boards with Dickinson and Freshman Moussa Diabete. The length and advantage on the glass will allow Michigan to keep this close.  I would still take the points but I can see them pulling out the outright upset.

Pick: Michigan Wolverines +5

Houston Cougars vs. Arizona Wildcats

Elite defense vs. elite offense.  Quick pace vs slow pace.  The matchup between Houstona and Arizona is a complete mismatch of styles. 

 The Houston Cougars will look to grind it out and limit possessions. They have the 338th ranked tempo in all of college basketball.  Despite their slow pace they are still a very efficient offense, ranking 9th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Houston is able to put themselves in great position to get the shot they want or at the very least grind down a defense which they take advantage of on the offensive glass.  Houston is merciless on the glass, snagging offensive rebounds on 37% of possessions. This is going to be a problem for Arizona, coming off of a game where TCU was able to dominate the glass and put a scare into the #1 seed in the South.  

Arizona found a way to get by TCU, whether it was a bad call or not the Wildcats still found a way to win behind their star Bennidict Mathurin and Cristain Koloko.  The Wildcats are deep, they have multiple weapons that come off the bench and produce, if they can get the ball moving they will be able to wear out Houston. The key will be to make sure they clean up the defensive glass. When they get the ball they need to let Mathurin loose 

The Houston defense has not  given up over 68 points just once in their last ten games. They have not had to put up the numbers on the offensive end to keep up with teams. They rely too much on dominating the offensive glass.  Arizona has the length and athletes to neutralize Houston’s biggest asset. 

Pick: Arizona ML