Midwest Region: Champions Classic Region

The Midwest Region will give us a matchup of blue blood teams.  Featuring three of the teams that participate in the Champions Classic at the beginning of the season.  Kansas, Duke and Michigan State will compete in a bracket that is clearly top heavy.  Matt Boeding and I looked at this region, we are ready to break it down!

First Round Upsets to watch: New Mexico State over Clemson, College of Charleston over Auburn, Kansas second round (Seriously)

Potential Bracket Buster: New Mexico State Aggies

Clemson had a great season, but they have been scuffling down the stretch, 3-5 in their last eight games. New Mexico State plays aggressive defense they are 6th in the nation in effective field goal percentage defense. New Mexico State has proven that they can hang with the power conferences this season. The Aggies upended Miami on Dec. 23 and fell by only five points to USC two days later. We saw recently in Clemson’s matchup with Virginia that they can be held in check on offense.  New Mexico State will bring it, Clemson will have to have a big performance from Gabe Davoe.  This will be our 12 over 5 upset.

Most Intriguing Potential Matchup: Duke Blue Devils vs The Fighting Trae Young’s

I am a believer that Oklahoma shouldn’t have made this tournament.  But they are in so who doesn’t want to see Trae Young vs, Marvin Bagley? Rhode Island might have a backcourt that can combine to rival Young’s offensive firepower. In Jared Terrell, the Rams have a first-team all-Atlantic 10 guard who can strain defenses by knocking down three-point shots, getting to the free-throw line and converting his attempts once there at a favorable rate. And at full strength, fellow senior E.C. Matthews gives Rhode Island another dangerous perimeter scorer. The Rams are going to have their hands full trying to contain Young, but Oklahoma also has to reckon with a big defensive challenge.  But when you have the dynamic talent of Trae Young you have to think that Young will overcome a Rhode Island team that we believe is a bit overrated.

Duke has had a problem with dominate guards for the last few seasons.Grayson Allen’s length will be an asset if Coach K decides to go man to man vs Oklahoma, but with Duke’s tendencies to switch on screens we may see a lot of Young vs Bagley which will be a problem for Marvin.  Duke should handle an Oklahoma team that is a one trick pony.  Still this game will be marketed through the roof.

Bracket Winner: Duke-Kansas

I know this isn’t a pick but we couldn’t agree on a winner of this bracket.  Kansas has looked dominate over the last few weeks.  There is no way the Jayhawks should have won the Big12 Tournament without Azubuike, but they did.  Devonte Graham is a true leader in college basketball, he can lead this team very far.

The problem I see with Kansas is Duke or Michigan State can be a tough matchup for them. The bigs will be dominate against KU.  Whether it is Bagley and Carter or Michigan States 20 different bigs they throw at you Kansas does not have the depth to handle the offensive skill sets.  I love a senior guard, I picked KU, Matt picked Duke.




South Region: The Wildcat Region

The #1 overall seed, the #1 NBA prospect in the NCAA, the #1 team in the American Conference and the #1 team in the SEC (tied with Auburn in regular season).   The South region of the 2018 NCAA tournament has some real hard nosed competition.  I Talk Sports and That’s It contributor talked with me about the highlights of these region.  Let’s break it down!!

First Round Upsets to watch: Wright State over Tennessee, Loyola- Chicago over Miami

Potential Bracket Buster: Loyola- Chicago

Loyola-Chicago, champions of the Missouri Valley, come into the tournament with a lot of confidence. The Ramblers play a ball control and efficient style.  MO Valley player of the year Clayton Custer leads a team with multiple long range threats, while freshman Center Cameron Krutwig plays at a 5 star recruit level. Miami can sometimes have problems scoring, this matchup favors Loyola.  If they get by Miami , most likely Tennessee will be waiting, another matchup that can be favorable for the Ramblers.  Remember this team took down Florida this year, they are not afraid of the big boys.

Most Intriguing Potential Matchup: Kentucky vs Arizona

If the south plays out a we all hope a potential Wildcat matchup could be the highlight of the first week of action.  John Calipari seems to be pushing the right buttons of late for Kentucky as they impressively took care of business in the loaded SEC tournament.  Arizona has the scandals behind them, while also featuring the hottest player in the Country right now Deandre Ayton. The future lottery pick led his team through the PAC12 tournament without breaking a sweat.  NCAA fans coaches and multiple agents would really enjoy this matchup.  A game of great talent and great controversy, but damn it will be fun.  Keep your fingers crossed we get to see this.

Bracket Winner: Arizona Wildcats

The selection committee made it clear, if you are being investigated by the FBI we are going to make excuses why you don’t belong.  Arizona got a 4th seed,  most would argue that they really were more of a 2 or 3 seed.  Arizona, has the best player in the country and is loaded with talent at multiple positions.  Virginia is a great team but Arizona has so much size and athleticism, its is going to be tough to matchup.  Virginia will breeze into this matchup but they do not possess the scoring necessary to stick with Alonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton.  The PAC12 Champs toughest matchup will be Kentucky, but we believe Kentucky will be tested big time by Davidson.  Deandre Ayton will dominate this bracket.





ACC Tourney Day 1 Predictions

The ACC Tournament begins today with three matchups that most people won’t give a second look to when passing it on their TV screens.  While the big boys of arguable the best conference in college basketball are waiting for their matchups to develop, we think there is not only some entertainment value today but also some betting value.  Let’s break it down.

12- Boston College (-3) vs. 13-Georgia Tech

This game stood out to me right away.  Two teams without much to play for.  Boston College opens as the early favorite in this one, gaining a point over night.  The fact is that while Boston College is the closer of the two teams to the bubble, neither will most likely make the tournament unless they win out.

My early lean was on Georgia Tech, the better defensive team, but as I dug deeper the numbers don’t seem to match my gut reaction. Boston College won the only matchup between the two teams in a game that took place in early February.  The three headed attacks of guards, Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman and surprising leading ACC scorer Jerome Robison all put up 17+ points.  At 6-foot-6 Robison causes real mismatches for Georgia Tech, his ability to score as well as facility should allow the Eagles to score at will.

If Georgia Tech cannot make the stops needed on defense, they will be forced to rely on what was one of the worst offenses in the nation.  The Yellow Jackets are riding a modest two game win streak into this matchup, but I think the dynamic guard play of Jerome Robison and leadership of Ky Bowman is to much for Georgia Tech.

Boston College -3

10- Notre Dame (-17) vs. 15-Pittsburgh

There really isn’t much to say about this matchup.  Notre Dame is a dangerous team with Bonzie Colson back and Pittsburgh’s team and fanbase want to forget this season ever happened.

Pittsburgh has not won a game in the ACC, their is no reason to think they will win this one.  The Fighting Irish are favored by 17,  normally in an ACC game I would say that is to much but in this one I am taking it.

Notre Dame -17

11- Syracuse (-5) vs 14-Wake Forest

It’s March that means three things, the weather is getting better, day light savings time and Syracuse being on the bubble.  The Orange enter a matchup with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons today in a must win situation.

Syracuse’s main issue today will be containing sharp shooter Byrant Crawford. Crawford has lit up the Syracuse press in both meetings this year averaging 21.5PPG in the two previous meetings. If Wake Forest comes out firing in the first half the Orange will have to make an adjustment defensively.

Tyus Battle will have to carry the load offensively for the Orange as he did int he previus matchup with Wake Forest scoring 34 points.  Battle will must penetrate the Demon Deacon defense and make good decisions.  If Syracuse settles for 3-pointers they may find them selves in the NIT next week.

These two teams split the season series, both winning on their home courts. This tournament being in the Barclay’s Center should make it a pro-Syracuse crowd.  The Orange have a lot more to play for tonight an as we saw last night in the BYU vs. St. Mary’s game that can make a huge difference.

Syracuse -5


NL Central Infield Rankings

Spring training has begun, before you know it the 2018 season will be upon us.  Last week we took a look at the NL Central’s top outfields, the St. Louis Cardinals coming out on top of our rankings, now lets dip into the infields.

5.Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 WAR: 6.6

Projected infield: Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Colin Moran

Potential Starter: David Freese

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a rebuild. Players like Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will claim roles on this infield most likely until the trade deadline hits.  Two players that can play multiple positions have become a hot commodity in the MLB.

The emergence of Josh Bell at first base has given this infield a bright spot for the future. Bell’s season went under the radar to most baseball fans, clubbing 26 Homers while driving in 90RBI’s solidified his place in the middle of the Pirates order for many years come.  Bell very well could be the new face of this franchise, fans love the long ball and Bell will hit a lot of the them.

Mercer, Harrison and now Bell have become proven MLB players.  The biggest question facing the potential of this infield will be at third base.  Jung Ho Kang was set to be the 3rd baseman of this team for many years, until a drunk driving incident in his native Korea caused a loss of his work visa.  This unfortunate event opened up the chance for veteran and former World Series hero David Freese to assume the starting job. Freese put up solid numbers last season, but ultimately the Pirates are hoping Colin Moran, acquired in the Gerrit Cole deal, will take over the starting spot. Moran, 25, will have a chance to be the starter right away.  Projections show that he has the power of a major league player, but can he consistently hit.  The main reason the Pirates rank last in our projections is that we don’t think 2/4 of this group will even be on the team by the end of the season.

There is some young talent here but overall it’s not great.

4. Milwaukee Brewers 2017 WAR: 7.8

Projected infield: Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Oswaldo Arcia, Johnathon Villar

Potential Starter: Hernan Perez

The Milwaukee Brewers have a stacked outfield, but the infield has question marks.  Third Baseman Travis Shaw and potential second baseman Hernan Perez had career years in 2017.  Shaw’s power is for real, but he his lefty’s at a much more solid clip then he has in previous seasons.  If Shaw can keep those splits where they are we could see a future star in the making.  Perez on the other hand seemed to come out of nowhere for the Brew Crew in 2017.  His 14 homers and 13 steals were a nice boost to the team in spots starts.  He has to work on pitch selection though as his .289OBP is not something you want to see from a starter.  My guess is he keeps his role as spot starter in 2018, leaving the door open for former hight level prospect Jonathan Villar.

Villar entered 2017 with some high expectations, moving over to 2nd base was going to help him with his defensive issue and allow him to focus on getting on base.  The 2016 stolen base champ with a measly .293OBP, losing at bats the previously mentioned Perez as well as career backup Eric Sogard.  Villar still stole 24 bases in 2017, that part of his game is going anywhere.  But with uncertainty at the plate, expectations can’t and won’t be to high in 2018.

The final pieces of the puzzle, Korea’s Godzilla Eric Thames and Oswaldo Arcia round out an high upside infield core.  Thames proved to be worth the money handed out by the Brewers, bashing 31 homers in 2017, backing it up with a respectable .359OBP, Thames will most likely platoon for the Brewers in 2018, unless he figures out how to hit lefties, still not a bad option at first base.  Finally rookie Oswaldo Arcia impressed in his first full season.  Arcia, could very well be the best shortstop in the MLB one day, we don’t believe that will be in 2018 but very shortly we could see a version of Francisco Lindor on the National League side.

The Brewers have a lot of potential in the infield but with multiple platoon situations coming and the uncertainty of the 2nd base position, we can’t put them higher then 4th.

3. St. Louis Cardinals 2017 WAR: 10.5

Projected Infield: Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyroko

Potential Starter: Jose Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals made efforts this offseason to improve their offense.  Reports of potential deals for Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado were being reported nearly everyday of the offseason.  But by the time spring training began the only real additions to the infield were prospects, Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.  While Munoz has been a bright spot early in spring training the infield lineup seems pretty set.

Paul DeJong emerged from out of the shadows of the Cardinals prospect system taking over previous years rookie phenom Aledmys Diaz’s starting spot.  DeJong, has power and a solid glove, but his pitch selection is similar to Diaz’s, he will have to work on the strikeouts to finalize his potential.  While Dejong has the tools to be a star, his double play teammate Kolten Wong has slowly developed into a productive player with star potential.  Wong, is coming off a steady 2017 season, nothing flashy about his numbers, .285BA to go along with .375OBP are both hug improvements for Wong.  Both of these players should see a huge growth on the defensive end as well.  The Cardinals have brought back 3rd base coach and “secret weapon” Jose Oquendo.  Oquendo is well known for his ability to coach up players are the defensive end.

While the middle infield of the Cards is showing potential the real backbone of the organization is on the corners.  Veterans Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyroko both have there strengths and their flaws.  Gyroko, has found a home at 3rd base, ranking in the top 3 in defensive runs saved, with the addition of Marcell Ozuna, Gyroko will also have less pressure in the lineup, moving down to a role that suits his attributes much better. Matt Carpenter is one of the best lead-off men in baseball, that’s really his only good attribute.

The Cardinals are good on the infield, but they are much better in the outfield.  Third is a fair assessment.

2. Cincinnati Reds 2017 WAR: 13.3

Projected Starters: Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza

The Cincinnati Reds were a surprising second in total war for Central infielders in 2017 and this total was added up without All-Star Zack Cozart who left for California in the offseason.  The Reds have built a very strong in field heading into the 2018 season.  Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez are perfect fits for the hitter friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Both supplied power in 2017 and there is no reason to expect anything less in 2018.

The question is can Peraza filled the void of Zack Cozart.  Cozart not only brought production at the plate but he also brought it with the glove.  Peraza has been a utility player for most of his career, establishing a position for him in 2018 could be the push he needs to make him a consistent major leaguer.  With the long time troubles of Billy Hamilton to get on base, Peraza could be thrust into the leadoff role in 2018, while his OBP doesn’t make him the clear canidate, his speed and 30 point higher BA gifts has to make him the frontrunner over Hamilton.

Finally we have Joey Votto, arguably the best first baseman in baseball.  Votto has every offensive tool. He alone, propels this group to the near top of the list.  Such a shame he seems to be wasting away in Cincinnati, hopefully they begin the track back to the top.  A player of this ability needs to have a chance at a World Series

1. Chicago Cubs 2017 WAR: 14.4

Projected Starters: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell

Potential Starter: Ben Zobrist

The Cubs are the most talented defensive and offensive infield potentially in the league.  Their ability to plug in a plus defender at any position is second to none.  The Cubs may plan to use Ben Zobrist or Javy Baez and super utility men in 2018, rotating them as they see fit.  The argument can be made that both players would be plus starters at multiple positions.  We are going to assume they go with Baez at second base and Russell at short.  Both players have limitation at the plate, but the upside far out weighs those limitations.

Russell and Baez make the best defensive middle infield in baseball, Baez took major steps on the offensive end in 2017, his 23 homers along with a .273BA showed a glimpse of his offensive potential.  Baez’s continued emergencs along with a healthy Addison Russell could make the Cubs infield incomparable.

Rizzo and Bryant are MVP contenders every year.  This team’s questions are on in the infield.  The Cubs are the best in the Central, maybe the league.



Time has come to Fire Paul Lusk

In 2010-11 Missouri State University was able to win its first and only Missouri Valley Championship behind Cuonzo Martin’s leadership.  I was at JQH Arena storming the court as we took down the mighty Creighton Blue Jays and their star Doug McDermott on ESPN2.  The Bears fell short of making the NCAA tournament despite an RPI of 44, Martin was able to transition his success to a job at the University of Tennessee, then University of California, finally ending up at his current position as Head Coach of University of Missouri. With Martin gone, Missouri State hired Purdue Assistant Paul Lusk, at the time a hiring made sense as Lusk came from a similar coaching tree as Cuonzo Martin.  The results however have not been as favorable.

Paul Lusk entered the 2011-2012 season with lofty expectations as the Missouri Valley Player of the Year, Kyle Weems was returning for a senior season.  The team did not live up to expectations finishing a feeble 15-16, highlighted only by their victory over 21 ranked Creighton.  It was understandable that a first year head coach can have struggles out of the gate, but the struggles continued.  Entering the 2012-2013 season Lusk had begun to rebuild his team, a roster of six incoming freshman and one returning senior made the Bears the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference.  The Bears played like a young team, taking until December 30th to get their first Division 1 victory.

In Lusk’s third year at the helm, he lead the Bears to a 20-13 record and an invitation to the CIT (losing in the first round).  That highlighted Lusk’s coaching career as over the next three season the Bears finished middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley.

As Missouri State entered the 2017-2018 season hopes were high.  Missouri Valley’s last powerhouse team Wichita State had moved on to the American Conference, leaving the door open for the conference title.  The Bears entered the season as the preseason favorites, winning their first game against a strong Western Kentucky team, beginning the season 15-3 (3-0 MVC).  They then proceeded to take major steps in the wrong direction, finishing the season tied for 7th place.  This marked the first time in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference that the team picked to win the conference in the preseason finished any lower then 5th place.

Lusk’s inability to even live up to the most modest of expectations has to be the final straw at Missouri State.  Blessed with a roster that includes the only real NBA prospect in the Missouri Valley, forward Alize Johnson, he was unable to build around this superior athlete.  Lusk will enter the Missouri Valley tournament on Thursday against Valparaiso, if this is anything less then a blowout, it has to be the final straw.  As Missouri State continues to grow, exceeding previous years enrollment every year for the last three years, the sports programs have to grow with the university.  Missouri State has made a commitment to improving itself it is time to stop settling in it’s athletic programs.  Lusk’s time in Springfield has to come to an end unless he can make a miracle happen and get this team to play to it’s preseason expectations over a week in St. Louis.  Missouri State is not Mizzou, the alumni and the fans understand that but 7 years with a combined record of 88-106 shouldn’t be acceptable.  The time has come to fire Paul Lusk.

NL Central Outfield Rankings

The NL Central has been one of the most continuously active divisions in an offseason that has been mostly dull.  As we begin spring training we have to decide which teams stand out from the rest in each category.  We are going to begin with the outfield, additions and subtractions have set a few teams apart from the others.  Let’s get to ranking!

5. Cincinnati Reds, 2017 combined WAR: 5

Projected Starters: Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton

Fourth Outfielder: Jesse Winker

The Cincinnati Reds currently sit last in our rankings due mainly to the fact that they are unsure of the future os speedster Billy Hamilton. Jesse Winker proved that he is ready for the big leagues but with Hamilton still in the fold manager Bryan Price may be forced into a platoon situation.

Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler combined for 61 homeruns in 2017, both however showed that they can be boom or bust a large percentage of the time.  Schebler and Duvall both hit just above .230BA and hovered around .301 OBP.  While they have been tasked with driving in runs the lack of production from speedster Billy Hamilton left them with few options to drive in.

The Reds have a solid future to grow on in the outfield but right now it is full of unproven potential.  Great American Ballpark will help them provide the power but outside of that and Duvall/ Hamilton’s solid defense, there is much to like about this outfield core.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2017 Combined WAR: 3.3

Projected Starters: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier

Fourth Outfielder: Jordan Luplow or Daniel Nava?

It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat on top of this list.  Andrew McCutchen claimed that they the best young outfield in the game.  Now he sits in a San Francisco dugout wondering what could have been.

The Pirates still have two potentially dynamic players in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but with Polanco’s injury history and lack of true star production you have to question whether his ability will ever match expectations.  Polanco still has never hit above .258 in three full major league seasons.   Marte entered 2017 as the potential breakout star of baseball senior circuit, a gold glover with the ability to one day be a 30/30 man in the majors with a strong .350OBP.  Sadly a early season steroid suspension put a hole in a season that looked to have big time promise.  Marte has now taken on the role of team leader and star as he shifts to centerfield for 2018, can he pick up for the lose of McCutchen not only on the field but also the locker room?

The Pirates also have to determine whether Adam Frazier, infielder by trade, is the answer in left field.  Frazier provides stability but pretty much no power for a team that will be looking to replace 28HR from its lineup.  The Pirates just added veteran Daniel Nava to it’s roster to compete for the position but, let’s be honest, Daniel Nava is what he is and that is not a consistent MLB starter.

Rookie Austin Meadows is still developing, but as of right now, the Pirates have to options in the outfield and the rest is a coin flip.  Marte and Polanco’s ability though allows them to stay ahead of the Reds for last place.


3. Chicago Cubs, 2017 Combined WAR: 5.4

Projected Starters: Jason Heyward, Albert Amora, Kyle Schwarber

Fourth Outfielder: Ian Happ

The Chicago Cubs have a lot of potential players that could spend a lot of time patrolling the outfield in the friendly confines.  But I see Ben Zobrist as more of an infield option at second base.  That leaves us with a few question marks with serious potential.

While I am sure the Cubs regret the amount of money spent on Jason Heward, they will never admit it because you still get the best defensive outfielder in baseball.  While Heyward has been great defensively his offensive output has been subpar over the last two seasons and there is no reason to think it will improve.

Luckily for the Cubbies Albert Amora showed flashes of brilliance in 2017, defensively he has the talent to play center and he bat has begun to show signs of life, his .338OBP and .298BA lead all cubs outfielders in 2017, with another year of experience under his belt he can only improve.

Kyle Schwarber will be the greatest mystery of the bunch.  While Schwarber supplies the power that fans and GM’s drool over, he has not developed as a complete hitter.  Being sent down last season seemed to do him some good but the Cubs need an improvement from the .211BA.  Schwarber’s limitations defensively will force Joe Maddon to sit him in big situations of games as well as limit his overall usage.  Reports say that Schwarber has come into spring training in great shape, but does that really magically turn him into a viable outfielder?

Ian Happ is good, if the Cubs can find AB’s for him he will hit 30 homers, but who do they sit to make room?

2. Milwaukee Brewers, 2017 Combined WAR: 13.7

Projected Starters: Chritian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun

Fourth Outfielder: Domingo Santana

It’s hard to argue with the depth of the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers.  The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain vaulted them right into the stratosphere of athletic/dynamic outfields.Yelich and Cain immediately provide upgrades in the lineup as well as defensively.  The Biggest question about this new look outfield is who is what Ryan Braun is going to show up in 2018

Braun featured career lows in every statistical category in 2017 outside of his injury riddled 2013 season.  Braun will have less pressure as the big names come into the fold but for the Brewers to overcome the arch rival Cubs they will need some form of the former MVP.

Another question that comes is what to do with Domingo Santana. Santana smashed 30 dingers for the Brew Crew in 2017 and now he has to relegated to a bench role.  Finding holes in the Brewers outfield depth was tough but, Cain has only played two full seasons in the majors without any injury issues and Braun seems to be a shell of his former self.  They are dynamic and talented but there are a lot of questions that still have no answers.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 Combined WAR: 14.3

Projected Starters: Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna

Fourth Outfielder: Jose Martinez

The Cardinals entered the 2017 offseason with a goal to add a power bat.  They were successful and now Marcell Ozuna will play in the most talented outfield in the NL Central.

The biggest question about the Cardinals outfield is whether or not Tommy Pham’s monster season was a fluke or not.  The fact is that Tommy Pham has his on every level in professional baseball.  If not for his injury history then he would have been in the majors a long time ago.

Now you may ask, What if he does get hurt again?  The Cardinals feature a stable of young talented outfielders ready to step in on a moments notice.  Guys like Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader have come to the majors and made an impact.

The pickup of Ozuna gave the Cardinals the flexibility in the lineup and defensively, what gets lost in Ozuna’s gaudy power numbers is his defensive ability.  The pickup of Ozuna allowed the Cardinals to move Pham to center and Fowler to right.  Each of these players made MLB’s top 10 outfielders by position and they are set to dominate the league.  The Cardinals have their flaws but the outfield is not one of them.