Game Of The Week Preview: #23 Kentucky @ #8 Auburn

Although College Gameday may be headed to the FSU-Miami rivalry clash, the true game of the week lies a little northwest, at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the #8 Auburn Tigers will play host to the #23 Kentucky Wildcats. This game is truly an intriguing battle, as both teams enter with a lot of unknowns. For Kentucky, they’ll be seeing the first of quarterback Terry Wilson since he suffered a season-ending injury in Kentucky’s second game last season. Will he spark a Kentucky offense that has been mediocre at best over much of the past decade? For Auburn, they lost stud defensive tackle Derrick Brown to the draft, but they return a lot of talent, and they’ll be anxious to see if Bo Nix’s promising true freshman campaign translates into a strong sophomore season.

History of the Matchup

Auburn has absolutely dominated this series, leading Kentucky 26-6 all-time, with a tie mixed in. The two teams haven’t played since 2015, when the Tigers took down Kentucky 30-27 in Lexington. Auburn has won 17 of the past 18 clashes with the Wildcats, going back to 1967. Traditionally, if Auburn gets any kind of offense, they have little issue with Kentucky – they are 21-0 all-time when they score more than 14 points against the Wildcats. As for Kentucky, they’ve only scored 20+ points seven times against Auburn, eclipsing the 30-point mark just once.

Auburn Offense vs. Kentucky Defense

As mentioned above, when Auburn finds a way to score points against Kentucky, they are traditionally very successful. They’ll be facing a difficult defense that finished 14th in the nation at 19.3 points allowed per game. Bo Nix is clearly the X-Factor here for Auburn, as his dual-threat abilities will be called upon to handle Kentucky’s elite pass defense. Auburn was 5-0 when Nix completed 65% of his passes, so efficiency will be the key against this stiff defense. If I’m Kentucky, my early focus is on stopping the Auburn ground game – forcing Nix to become one-dimensional will be key if Kentucky is to have a shot in this one. The Tigers have bruising freshman running back in Cartavious Bigsby, and if he can be effective running between the tackles, Nix can generate a passing attack off of play-action.

For Kentucky, they return seven of their top nine tacklers from 2019, a year in which they topped the SEC in passing defense. Their secondary core of Brandin Echols and Cedrick Dort, along with safety and leading tackler Yusef Corker, gives the safety position some star-level talent. The X-factor for Kentucky, as mentioned above, will be stopping the run. If they do that early, they’re daring Nix to beat them where they’re best, which is all you can ask for as a road underdog. The pass rush figures to be strong, but if Kentucky can get their big bruisers- 367-pound Quinton Bohanna being the anchor at nose tackle – into the backfield, then Auburn’s going to be facing an uphill battle to reach the end zone.

Kentucky Offense vs. Auburn Defense

This one may very well come down to Terry Wilson, who might have benefited the most from the delayed start to the season, as he was able to ramp himself up to full speed. If he comes back at 100%, he will give Kentucky a tough weapon on offense. However, the argument can be made that Wilson is far too inconsistent to be relied upon. In his full season as the starter in 2018, Wilson went through a five-game stretch where Kentucky couldn’t score more than 17 points, and overall, Wilson threw 11 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Wilson not only needs to be back at 100%, he needs to play at prime Terry Wilson level from the get-go, without suffering from those bouts of inconsistency.

Beyond Wilson, Kentucky has a pretty solid ground game, led by Asmir Rose, who ran for 826 yards last season. Kavosiey Smoke and Christian Rodriguez will complement Rose after combining for 12 touchdowns last season, giving Kentucky a set of viable weapons in the running game. However, Kentucky is full of question marks in their receiving corps, where their top returning pass-catcher racked up just 233 yards last season. That, combined with Wilson’s shaky resume as a passer, does not offer a lot of hope for Kentucky’s air game. As a road underdog, the likelihood that Kentucky can win this with just their backfield is unlikely, so the Wildcats will need to find a way to get things going aerially.

Defensively for Auburn, they’ll lean on linebacker K.J. Britt to lead the charge against Kentucky. Britt forced two fumbles last year and recorded ten tackles for loss. He can be a quarterback spy of sorts for the Tigers, stopping any kind of short passing game or extended quarterback scrambles, if he plays effectively. Kentucky loves their smoke-and-mirror type of offense, and if Britt can be an intelligent leader for the Auburn defense, they’ll force Kentucky to get their passing game going, which is not Kentucky’s strength. In the secondary, Roger McCreary will be one of the major factors for Auburn, as he likely steps into a starting role after nine pass-breakups and an interception as a reserve last season.

Prediction

Auburn is 21-0 when scoring more than 14 points against Kentucky. That’s absolutely absurd to me, and I think it’s a mark that the Tigers exceed on Saturday. I’m not confident that this Kentucky offense is versatile enough to put up more than that against Auburn, even if their defense can limit Bo Nix and Co. Auburn has won three straight season openers, the last two against ranked opponents, and I’m putting my trust in the Tigers in what should be a defensive battle.

Auburn 24 Kentucky 13

Thomas And Lapoint Preview The SEC: Top Defenses, DPOY Picks

To finish up our SEC season preview, lead writer Aidan Thomas and SEC analyst Nathaniel Lapoint take a look at the defensive side of the ball. Which teams will bring the most fearsome defenses into 2020, and which players will spend all season terrorizing opposing offenses? Let’s take a look at the picks. Also check out the top offenses as well as the power rankings and predictions portion of our SEC preview. 

Top Defenses

Aidan Thomas

  1. Georgia
  2. LSU
  3. Alabama

Nathaniel Lapoint

  1. Georgia
  2. Auburn
  3. Kentucky

There’s a fair amount of disagreement in our rankings of the top defenses. We both have Georgia atop the rankings, but beyond that, there are no similarities. I’m riding Derek Stingley’s talent as a major factor in this decision, taking LSU as the second best defense in the conference, as Georgia’s always-strong defense is a clear choice for #1. Alabama is a bit of a riskier pick, having lost a majority of their game-changing talent, with three of their four players who recorded multiple interceptions in 2020 off to the NFL, as well as their top two leaders in sacks. However, the Tide always have a strong line and seemingly just reload defensively every season, so I put Alabama third. 

In Lapoint’s list, he goes with Georgia at #1, which is certainly a safe pick given their history, returning production, and star power in Richard LeCounte, Monty Rice, and others. After that, he goes with a bit of a darkhorse in the Auburn defense. Many consider Auburn a top-5 unit, although I’m not even that high on the Tigers, but Lapoint is elevating Gus Malzahn’s unit to the second slot of his rankings, after Auburn made defensive coordinator Kevin Steele the highest paid assistant coach with 2.5 million dollars per year. And, sliding in third, Lapoint goes with his trusty Wildcats. He’s remained high on Kentucky throughout the preview process, and he doesn’t waver in going with a Kentucky defense that has been projected anywhere from a top-three unit in the SEC to not even a top-5 defense. Kentucky is really a complete unknown this year, but Lapoint goes with the SEC East squad as his third-best defense in the conference. 

Top Defensive Players

Defensive Player Of The Year

Thomas: Derek Stingley, CB, LSU

Lapoint: Dylan Moss, LB, Alabama 

Aidan ThomasNathaniel Lapoint
Derek Stingley, CB, LSUDylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Richard LeCounte, S, GeorgiaDerek Stingley, CB, LSU
Shane Lee, LB, AlabamaRichard LeCounte, S, Georgia
Israel Mukuamu, CB, South CarolinaNick Bolton, LB, Missouri
Dylan Moses, LB, AlabamaMonty Rice, LB, Georgia

The top three players in our defensive rankings are almost the exact same – with both of us being high on LSU cornerback Derek Stingley and Georgia safety Richard LeCounte. We also each rank an Alabama linebacker in our top three – I went with rising sophomore Shane Lee while Lapoint opted for Dylan Moses, who missed his junior season due to injury. Moses was Lapoint’s pick for SEC defensive Player of the Year, whereas Stingley topped my rankings. If Moses returns to his pre-injury form, then he does become an instant contender for the DPOY award, as he recorded 86 tackles – 10 for loss – and 3.5 sacks two years ago.

After those top three, I opted for more secondary talent, going with Israel Mukuamu from South Carolina before rounding my list out with Moses. I neglected to add a popular pick in Nick Bolton of Missouri, who notched 107 tackles and broke up 8 passes while serving as the rock of a quietly impressive Missouri defense. Lapoint slots Bolton fourth, and polishes off his rankings with Monty Rice, the Georgia linebacker who recorded 89 tackles and 14 QB pressures in 2019.

Thomas and Lapoint Preview the SEC: Power Rankings, Predictions, Coach of the Year

Even with the delayed start to the season, college football is – hopefully – creeping closer. To start our preview of the 2020 season, we’re taking a look at the SEC. Lead writer Aidan Thomas and SEC analyst Nathaniel Lapoint previewed the conference. You can find our power rankings and predictions below. Check out our Top Offensive Players and Teams and Top Defensive Players and Teams in the SEC as well. 

Power Rankings

Aidan ThomasNathaniel Lapoint
AlabamaAlabama
LSUGeorgia
Texas A&MAuburn
GeorgiaLSU
FloridaKentucky
AuburnFlorida
Ole MissTexas A&M
South CarolinaMississippi State
TennesseeOle Miss
Mississippi StateTennessee
ArkansasSouth Carolina
KentuckyArkansas
MissouriMissouri
VanderbiltVanderbilt

Where We Agree

Alabama is the team to beat. Ranked at the top of both sets of our power rankings, we believe the Crimson Tide will be out for blood in 2020. We also slotted Missouri and Vanderbilt, in that order, in the bottom of our rankings, with neither of us seeing much potential for the Tigers or Commodores this coming season. 

Where We Disagree

While we have a lot of agreement regarding the middle portion of the SEC power rankings, two major teams cause some differences – Kentucky and Texas A&M. In my season preview of the Wildcats, I was pretty low on Kentucky, and I may be underestimating the effect of Terry Wilson’s return and how much their defense can compensate for a lackluster offense. I remain low on Kentucky here, slotting the Wildcats 12th overall and 5th in the SEC East. On the flip side, Lapoint has Kentucky in his top 5, ranked as the 2nd best team in the SEC East over Florida, who’s considered a Playoff darkhorse entering 2020. This glaring 7-spot difference in our placement of Kentucky was easily the biggest difference in our rankings. 

Meanwhile, the placement of the Aggies was also a cause for disagreement. I remain high on the Aggies, putting Texas A&M third in my SEC power rankings, while Lapoint has the Aggies sliding to 7th. I don’t think A&M pulls out a conference championship, but I believe that Mond does some big things in his senior year, and Texas A&M wins a couple of big games for once. Lapoint is fully off the Aggies’ hype wagon, however, squaring them away directly in the middle of his power rankings. Who has the more accurate power rankings may come down to the performance of these two teams. 

SEC Championship Predictions

Thomas: Alabama over Georgia

Lapoint: Alabama over Georgia

We are in complete agreement on our championship pick. Alabama has not gone back-to-back years without a division title since 2010-2011…and they won the national championship in 2011 anyways. With Mac Jones – or possibly 5-star recruit Bryce Young – under center, as well as Najee Harris in the backfield and Jaylen Waddle and Devontae Smith leading the receiver corps, it seems like a no-brainer to pick the Crimson Tide in the West. In the East, Georgia will remain the favorite. We disagree on the 2nd best team (Florida vs. Kentucky), and that alone shows that there may not be a clear favorite to disrupt Kirby Smart’s run atop the division. Two games are yet to be announced to the SEC schedule, which could factor into this decision, but as of now, give us Georgia in the title game, where they lose to Bama once more. 

Coach of the Year Predictions

Thomas: Nick Saban, Alabama
Lapoint: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Stoops is most definitely a popular pick for Coach of the Year, and Lapoint rides his Kentucky train into the award predictions. If Stoops does indeed have this Kentucky team contending for the SEC East title, then he should be a no-brainer for the award. Stoops also won the award in 2018.

I went with a pick that may be mainstream and boring in Nick Saban. Saban has not won the Coach of the Year award since 2016, but I believe if he guides Alabama to the title this year, he should be heavily considered. Winning the gauntlet that is the SEC West is always impressive, and doing so with a 10-game schedule will be even more impressive. Saban is also faced with a QB battle to navigate, as well as a defense that lost their top three leaders in interceptions and their top two pass rushers. If he can reload that defense on the fly against a division of lethal offenses, then Saban should absolutely earn this award.

2020 Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky put forth a surprising breakout season in 2018 in a 10-win season, but they took a step back after quarterback Terry Wilson suffered an injury. Can the Wildcats rebound with Wilson back under center? We know they’ve lost their major playmaker in jack-of-all-trades Lynn Bowden Jr., who led the team in rushing and receiving and was second in passing, but let’s see what they have to offer in 2020. 

Top Returners: Asim Rose, Jamar Watson

Asim Rose handled a large portion of the running duties when Bowden was busy elsewhere on the field, and he put up very solid numbers, averaging 5.5 yards per carry for 826 yards on the year. Kentucky has two other 500-yard rushers returning, but expect Rose to lead what should be a run-heavy attack in Lexington. On the other side of the ball, Kentucky suffered some losses and features a good pass defense, but there’s questions elsewhere. Jamar Watson will be key to getting the Wildcats off the field, as he had 6.5 sacks in 2019 and returns for another year in Kentucky. Can he elevate a defense that will need to bail out a mediocre offense. 

Biggest Concern: Receiving corps

Bowden led this group with just 348 receiving yards in 2019, and the Wildcats also lost Ahmad Wagner, who notched 254 yards. Terry Wilson returning is great, until you realize there’s very little in the way of proven players for him to connect with downfield. A great running game will only get you so far, so Kentucky will need players like Josh Ali (233 receiving yards in 2019) to step up and become a dangerous weapon within their offense. 

X-Factors: Terry Wilson, Yusuf Corker
Wilson is a relatively obvious choice here for the Kentucky offensive X-factor. How will he fare returning from injury in a physical SEC? The answer to that question could determine the fate of the Wildcats. Defensively, Yusuf Corker returns as Kentucky’s leader in tackles while also ranking fourth on the team in passes defended and one of several players tied for second with 1 interception in 2019. Kentucky will need some versatile weapons to help their defense off the field, and Corker seems like a player who could make that happen for the Wildcats. 

SEC Record Prediction: 1-7
Can you be an overrated sleeper team? I believe that’s the best way to describe Kentucky who had Athlon Sports unanimously rank them as the SEC’s best sleeper team, and Phil Steele rank them inside his top 25. Predictions for Kentucky are all over the board, but I am really not high on the ‘Cats. I’m not anticipating Wilson, who’s at his best as a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, to be able to return in full force in the best conference in America. Road games against Auburn and Florida make for some very difficult conference contests, and a home date with Vanderbilt appears to be their most winnable contest. Maybe Wilson surprises me, but I’m not holding my breath on a big year in Lexington. 

Thomas: Best and Worst Atmospheres in College Basketball

Yesterday, we looked at the best and worst atmospheres in each Power 5 conference in college football, and today we’ll do the same on the court, checking in on the best college basketball atmospheres in the power-6 conferences (including the Big East). 

Big East

Worst Atmosphere: DePaul

A really bad team makes it hard to bring in fans, and the Blue Demons exemplify that, with easily the lowest per-game attendance in the Big East. They were just 3-15 in conference play this past season, have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2004, and they’ve had a share of last place in the Big East in ten of the past twelve seasons. Safe to say the student body isn’t exactly coming out in droves for most of their games. 

Runner Up: Georgetown

Best Atmosphere: Creighton

It was a tough race at the top for the best atmosphere in the Big East, but the nod goes to the Blue Jays who are in the Big East, despite hailing from Nebraska. Nebraska loves their college sports teams – the Cornhuskers were ranked the top Big 10 football atmosphere yesterday – and Creighton is no exception. It didn’t hurt that Creighton was really good this past season, but as the Blue Jays rallied down the stretch to claim the Big East regular season title, CHI Health Center Arena was roaring in Omaha, led by the notorious “Creighton Blue Crew”.

MEMPHIS, TN – FEBRUARY 4: Fans of the Memphis Tigers “Blue Crew” cheer on their team during a game against the Xavier Musketeers on February 4, 2012 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis beat Xavier 72-68. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Runner Up: Marquette

Pac-12

Worst Atmosphere: Washington State

The Cougars are much more of a football school – whether it was Anthony Gordon throwing a million touchdowns, or the iconic Gardner Minshew taking snaps under center, Washington State has had some studs on the gridiron. The same cannot be said on the court, where the Cougars haven’t placed in the NCAA Tournament since 2008. ‘08 was also the last year they posted a winning record in Pac-12 play. Coming of entertaining football seasons, basketball just isn’t much of a product to be watched in comparison. 

Runner Up: USC

Best Atmosphere: Arizona
The Wildcats have the second-biggest arena by capacity in the Pac-12, yet they were one of just two teams to produce a sellout in 2019, and the only team to record multiple, as Arizona home games saw capacity crowds flood through the gates four times last season. The Wildcats are traditionally a contender for Pac-12 glory, and they’re fans get hyped down there in Tucson. Easy call here. 

Runner Up: Washington

Big 12

Worst Atmosphere: TCU
The Horned Frogs aren’t even a top-3 program in their own state, so it’s hard to generate a lot of excitement at their games. Their crowds are among the smallest in the Big 12, which has several teams that just pack crowds into their arenas night after night. It was a battle for the bottom between two Texas programs, and TCU loses out as the worst atmosphere in the Big 12. 

Runner Up: Baylor

Best Atmosphere: Kansas

Was there any doubt? Kansas is one of the toughest places to play, and with a horrific football program, gamedays at Allen Fieldhouse is where it is at, if you’re part of Jayhawk nation, or just a fan of great college basketball. The long-time dominant force of the Big 12, Kansas has one of the best homecourt advantages in college sports, backed by a rocking and raucous crowd every night. 

Runner Up: Iowa State

Big 10

Worst Atmosphere: Rutgers

We spat all over Rutgers in football, and unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, we have to the same here. At least in football, they can be considered the best college team in the state (as sad a statement as that is for New Jersey), but they don’t have that notoriety in basketball, as Seton Hall is a far superior team most seasons. Rutgers was actually not horrible this past season, but years of struggles makes any athletic atmosphere less than electric at Rutgers. 

Runner Up: Northwestern

Best Atmosphere: Wisconsin

Maybe a bold pick, but the Badgers actually in the Top-5 for average attendance per home game. The Badgers are a few years removed from their era of March magic, making a couple of Final Four runs and beating undefeated Kentucky in 2015, but Wisconsin still packs in fans for home games to cheer on a team that is often in Big 10 championship contention. 

Plenty of passionate basketball fans up in Wisconsin

Runner Up: Nebraska

ACC

Worst Atmosphere: Wake Forest

In a basketball-crazed conference, the Demon Deacons’ consistent struggles on the court struggle to bring fans to their ACC contests, where they are oftentimes uncompetitive. Wake pulls an upset here and there, but they are not consistent enough in their success to entice too many fans to come through the gates. 

Runner Up: Boston College

Best Atmosphere: Duke

This is an absolute no-brainer. With a 9,314 seat arena, the Duke Blue Devils pack in 9,314 fans to every home game, with the thundering cheers of the “Cameron Crazies” leading the way. No matter where you sit, you’re close to the action, and you really can’t beat the atmosphere in Durham on gameday, where they also host the biggest rivalry in college basketball once a year. 

Runner Up: Virginia

SEC

Worst Atmosphere: Texas A&M
When basketball season is sandwiched between football at Kyle Allen Field and baseball, where the Aggies have one of the most vocal fanbases, the action on the court tends to play second fiddle to their primary sports. The Aggies don’t have extremely small crowds, but the SEC has some of the best atmospheres in the country, and they simply don’t bring enough tradition to the table to rise out of the cellar. 

Runner Up: Ole Miss

Best Atmosphere: Kentucky

The Wildcats have NBA draft lottery talent playing every single year, and fans are bunching together at the gates trying to get into Rupp Arena. One of the most historic programs in the nation, Kentucky is a must-see team on any die-hard college basketball fan’s to-do list. 

Runner Up: Tennessee

Daily Headlines: Notre Dame and Kentucky Schedule 3-game series in Basketball

Notre Dame and Kentucky set up 3-game series

Two of college basketball’s most historic programs set up a three-game series for the next three seasons, as Kentucky, who has the most all-time wins as a program, and Notre Dame, ranked #9 in that same category, will meet on the hardwood in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Kentucky is, as they usually are, a powerhouse, while Notre Dame is a program back on the rise. The Irish suffer the loss of John Mooney this season, but they have a strong sophomore class and some promising upcoming recruits. Next year’s contest at Kentucky sets the Wildcats up as heavy favorites, but the following two years, at a neutral site and then at Notre Dame, promise to be entertaining clashes. Kentucky leads the overall series 43-19, but the two teams have four contests since 2009. Non-conference battles like this are good for college sports, so it’s great to see this rivalry renewed. After all, who else remembers the last time these two teams met? (Also, if ND could bring back these uniforms along with the rivalry, that would be cool)

Notre Dame will get three chances at avenging this painful memory

Oklahoma sweeps the Big 12 Athlete of the Year Awards

The Big 12 announced some postseason honors on Thursday, and Oklahoma swept the Athlete of the Year awards, with quarterback and Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts taking the male award, and gymnast Maggie Nichols taking it home on the female side. 

Hurts was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this past season, denied a Heisman by Joe Burrow’s all-world season. He put up over 5,000 yards of all-purpose offense and accounted for 53 touchdowns. He led the Sooners to a Big 12 title and the College Football Playoff, and he was drafted by the Eagles in the 2nd round this past April.
Nichols, meanwhile, earned her second Big 12 athlete of the year award, having claimed the hardware two years ago as well. She’s won back-to-back NCAA all-around titles in 2018 and 2019, adding to her trophy case of 11 NCAA trophies she accumulated over her time with Oklahoma. 

JT Daniels Transfers to Georgia

In a decision that made waves across the sporting world yesterday, former USC quarterback JT Daniels elected to transfer to Georgia. The starting job under center in Athens was presumed to belong to Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, but now he’ll be competing with Daniels for playing time. Newman is the presumed favorite, but Kirby Smart’s quarterback room just got a lot better, and the competition got a lot tighter. 

Brown drops 11 varsity sports, adds two

Brown dropped eleven varsity sports, lowering their total to 29 D1 teams. However, the move is unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the administration; rather, they say the decision was made to make the Bears more competitive in the Ivy League. From ESPN: “Varsity sports dropping to club status are men’s and women’s fencing, men’s and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men’s and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s indoor and outdoor track and cross country. Coed sailing and women’s sailing will be elevated from club to varsity status.” 

Recruiting News: Kentucky lands huge in-state prospect

There were some big waves on the recruiting front this past weekend, as a bevy of power-5 conference teams continue to add 4-star recruits. Here’s a rundown of some of the notable commitments made in the past couple of days. 

Dekel Crowdus, WR, Kentucky
Crowdus may have been the most notable signing from a college football impact standpoint, as the Lexington, Kentucky product elected to stay in-state and commit to the Wildcats, choosing the SEC East squad over a bevy of powerhouse squads. Oklahoma was known to be among his top choices, and his preference for Kentucky is a major statement for the Wildcats’ program. As they look to climb back towards SEC relevancy, to land a major wide receiver commit over a team like Oklahoma, which as a receiver-friendly air-raid offense, is a huge boost. Crowdus had also visited and been offered by Louisville (twice), Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia, and Duke. 

Bram Walden, OT, Oregon
While Crowdus stayed in state, Walden turned down offers from both Arizona and Arizona State, opting to head north to Oregon, joining the reigning Pac-12 champions as another Class of 2021 commit. Walden is one of the best prospects out of Arizona, and a top-20 offensive tackle in the recruiting class. He’s a big commitment for Oregon, as the very athletic Walden will fit well with their speedy backfield and rushing attack. 

Jacorey Brooks, WR, Alabama
Alabama continues to reel in top-level talent, picking up a huge Class of 2021 commit in Brooks, a Miami, Florida product who chose the Crimson Tide over in-state offers from Florida and Florida State. Ranked as the second best wide receiver in his class, Brooks could potentially be paired with incoming five-star Alabama quarterback Bryce Young for a season, which would be an electric combination to watch.

OTHER NOTABLE COMMITMENTS

Lonnie White Jr., Athlete, commits to Penn State

Mar’Keise Irving, RB, commits to Minnesota

KaTron Evans, DT, commits to Tennessee

Daily Headlines: Kentucky gets a big commitment, SEC schools make a big announcement

The world isn’t strictly dominated by college football, as NCAA Basketball made some big-time waves yesterday. Olivier Sarr made a huge announcement, declaring that he would be transferring from Wake Forest to Kentucky. Sarr is a 7’0 center who was one of the centerpieces of the Wake Forest offense, and he’s moving from the basement of the ACC to the top of the SEC, filling a big void inside the paint for the Wildcats. Duke, Baylor, Florida State, and Gonzaga were just a few of the powerhouses hoping to obtain Sarr’s services. He averaged 13.7 points and 9 rebounds per game last season.

In recruiting news, Notre Dame is working to rebound from their recruiting loss on Will Shipley. While they continue to search to add a running back to that 2021 class, they landed another four-star commitment from cornerback Phillip Riley. Riley had 38 offers, and he turned down most of the ACC, including Clemson, in favor of the Irish.
Another big commitment came from 4-star inside linebacker Easton Mascarenas, and the California product is going out of state, committing to Oregon State, where he will try to lift the Beavers back to Pac-12 relevancy. He chose Oregon State over ten other offers, mostly from Pac-12 schools, although his only in-state offer was San Diego State. 

And now for your regularly scheduled “we hope and are optimistic sports will return soon” programming: In some exciting news, which should be taken with a grain of salt, a bevy of schools, including many SEC schools, announced their intention to open their doors this coming fall. The list of schools making this announcement included LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina. It’s not anything definitive, but it’s definitely a nice hope for the future. 

2020 March Madness Simulation Starts Final Four on Saturday

After 8 days of simulation, we reached the conclusion of our Elite Eight, and starting Saturday evening, we will play out our Final Four, with the national championship on Monday night. How did we get here? And who is going home with the title? Let’s find out. 

South Region – 3. Duke

Duke’s road to the Final Four was made possible by a series of upsets in the top half of the bracket that took out many of their top challengers. Between #1 overall seed Kansas, 2019 Final Four member Auburn, and a strong Maryland squad, it didn’t appear to be a favorable road for Duke. However, courtesy of 13th-seeded Vermont and 9th-seeded Wichita State, all three of those teams were gone by the Sweet 16 making Duke the favorite. 

The Blue Devils had no issues in their opener, opening up a 14-point lead on Northern Kentucky and never saw that lead dip below twelve in the final twenty minutes, winning 76-54. Their Round of 32 battle was much more challenging, as Ohio State looked primed to pull off the upset. The #6 Buckeyes led by 10 with five minute to go, but a late Duke charge forced overtime, where the Blue Devils took over, holding Ohio State to four overtime points and winning 107-102. 

In the Sweet 16, Duke was matched up against second-seeded San Diego State. The Aztecs were the higher seed, but the Blue Devils were the betting favorite, and they showed why, opening up a nine point lead at halftime and gradually squeezing out their mid-major opponent. San Diego State came within three at one point, but Duke stayed ahead and pulled away, winning 83-72. 

The Elite Eight rolled around and Duke got a very unexpected opponent in 13. Vermont. The Catamounts came brutally close to an upset last year of Florida State, and this year, helped along by Wichita’s upset of Kansas, they had rampaged through the top half of the bracket. They did the same to Duke in the early going, leading 50-37 at halftime and 62-50 with 12 minutes to play. The Blue Devils’ offense picked up, cutting the deficit to six with 8 minutes to play, and then five with four to go. With 2:54 to go, Trae Jones hit the first of his clutch shots, draining a triple to tie the score at 76-76. At 80-80, Duke got the ball with 33 seconds to go and the shot clock off. The Blue Devils let the clock drain before getting the ball to Jones who knocked down the game winner with a buttery step-back jumper. It wasn’t over, as Vermont connected on a full court pass and was fouled on the layup, but they hit just one of two free throws, and Duke survived 82-81 to advance to the Final Four. 

West Region – 1. Kentucky

Kentucky looked nothing like a Final Four team for much of their tournament, as they have truly embodied the ‘survive and advance’ method. Even in the first round, against #16 Siena, the Wildcats only opened up a 6-point halftime advantage, and Siena was as close as four in the second half before Kentucky pulled away to win 87-70. In the Round of 32, the Wildcats looked dead in the water, down twelve to Arizona at half and being outplayed for much of the game. But Arizona never pulled away, and Kentucky pulled back to force overtime, and then Immanuel Quickley hit a runner at the buzzer and Kentucky advanced, 86-85. 

Kentucky got what should have been a welcome gift in the Sweet 16, getting to face #12 Eastern Tennessee State instead of defending national champion Virginia or powerhouse Villanova. However, the game was anything but easy for the Wildcats, who tussled back and forth before hitting another buzzer-beater, this one courtesy of Tyrese Maxes, in a 78-76 win. Their Elite Eight contest was actually probably Kentucky’s best game, or at least their best half, as after trailing Seton Hall by three at half, the Wildcats stormed back to take a 12-point lead. After the Pirates cut it to six, Kentucky held Myles Powell’s squad to just one layup in the final four minutes, winning 80-71 to earn a match-up with Duke in the Final Four.

East Region – 1. Dayton

Dayton had to deal with a lot of pressure as a first time one-seed and our #2 overall seed, but the Flyers handled it admirably, cruising through most of their opening weekend. Obi Toppin was held somewhat quiet by #16 NC Central in the first round, but it was all they could do to silence the AP Player of the Year, and virtually everyone else was open for Dayton, who cruised 77-55. In the Round of 32, Toppin scored 24, and Dayton led wire-to-wire and ended the surprising run of #9 Notre Dame, who made the tournament by virtue of a Cinderella run through the ACC Tournament.

 Dayton trailed for the first time in the Sweet 16, down by two at halftime to a massive underdog in #12 New Mexico State. Both offenses exploded in a thrilling second half, but Dayton couldn’t surge ahead, and the game went to overtime at 80-80. There, however, the Flyers claimed ten of the first eleven points in the period to seize control and take down the Aggies, 93-86. 

The Flyers played a somewhat strange Elite 8 contest against Florida State. They got off to a hot start and led throughout the first half, but the Seminoles narrowed the gap to five points at the break. With 12 to go, Dayton hadn’t surrendered the lead, still up two points. At the Under-4 timeout, Dayton still led by four, and at no point had Florida State so much as tied the game. But at the same time, Dayton didn’t lead by more than five points throughout the half. In the final minutes, the Seminoles came within one point several times, and a game-tying three rimmed out. Trey Landers had 21 and Dayton won an 88-85 game in which they never trailed and never led by more than two possessions in the final 35 minutes. 

Midwest Region – 3. Oregon

After a dicey first game, it’s been largely smooth sailing for Oregon, who did also benefit from the 1-seed in their region falling before the Elite Eight. The Ducks trailed at halftime in the first round to Eastern Washington, but they crawled back to take a small lead, icing the game when Pritchard executed a silky crossover and drilled a jumper for an 86-82 lead with 7 seconds left and the shot clock about to expire. Oregon advanced and got to face #11 Clemson in the Round of 32, but the Tigers never challenged the Ducks, who cruised 78-63, heading into the Sweet 16 with very little second-round drama. 

Against a strong Baylor team whose late-season slide cost them a #1 seed, the Ducks got an early advantage and then clung to a one-point lead at the break. Oregon got up by as many as eleven in the second half, before watching Baylor pull within 69-66 with 1:48 to play. The Bears didn’t score again, and the Ducks went 6-8 at the free throw line to close it out, advancing to the Elite Eight, 75-66. 

Against #4 Louisville, who upset #1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, Oregon got off to a horrific start, trailing 25-12 just twelve minutes into the game. However, the Ducks rebounded and ended the half on a 23-12 run to make it a 37-35 halftime deficit. They started the second half on an 8-0 run before the game settled into a tightly-fought battle, with Oregon leading 75-71 with four minutes to play. From there, the Ducks locked down once more, not allowing Louisville a single point in the final four minutes. They recorded two steals, forced two more turnovers, and blocked a shot while ending the game on an 8-0 run to win 83-71, forging on to the Final Four.

25% of our bracket entries still have a champion in the field, with Duke the only team that nobody picked out of the four remaining squads. Who’s bringing home the national title on Monday night?

SEC Status Report: It’s Wide Open Down South

The SEC might be the most interesting basketball conference this year and, come tournament time, they could have a bevy of representatives. There’s easily five or six teams I think could take the title, and a handful of teams who could be extremely effective spoilers. I believe Kentucky remains a title favorite, with Florida replacing Auburn in that category as well. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas highlight the ‘best of the rest’ in the SEC. There’s lots to be decided here, so let’s take a look at biggest risers and fallers.

Biggest Risers: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State

  • The Gators are playing really well right now, despite their recent 2-point loss at LSU. They are 4-2 in SEC play, sitting third in the conference. They’re 7-1 at home, and I could definitely see the Gators upsetting #1 Baylor this weekend in Gainesville. With a favorable schedule after the Baylor game, Florida has put themselves in good position for a high seed and potential SEC title run.
  • Alabama opened some eyes by staying right with both Florida and Kentucky in road games, and they’ve now won three straight. They broke Auburn’s winning streak in dominant fashion, beating their rivals by 19 points. Games against Arkansas and LSU loom on the docket for the Crimson Tide, who will look to make some more noise in the SEC.
  • The Bulldogs had a bad loss to Alabama and followed it up with a heartbreaking defeat at LSU. That tough sequence could have send Mississippi State into a spiral, but they’ve responded with a pair of dominant victories (72-45 over Missouri and 91-59 over Georgia) and then a resume-boosting win over Arkansas just last night. This team is climbing back into the picture and while I wouldn’t pick them to win the SEC, I could definitely see them getting into the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Biggest Fallers: Auburn, Missouri

  • Auburn is still a very good team, but I dropped them out of the title favorite category after a 2-loss week. It wasn’t just that Auburn finally lost, but they got manhandled twice on the road by unranked teams. I’m pretty high on both Florida and Alabama, but you simply don’t do that as a top-5 team. A four-game stretch in February against Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama could make or break the Tigers.
  • I listed Missouri as a dark-horse title pick after they beat up on Florida 91-75, but the Tigers have not impressed since. They lost by 27 to Mississippi State, by 14 to Alabama, and at home to a dismal Texas A&M squad. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Missouri doesn’t even make the SEC quarterfinals, let alone the NCAA tournament.

Quick Hits

  • I believe the SEC has a lot of quality teams, and I could definitely see them sending 8 teams dancing when all is said and done. Give me LSU, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the tournament.
  • I’m putting Georgia and Missouri on the bubble in the SEC. Both teams have shown potential, but they’ve suffered some ugly losses – I don’t think they’re in right now, but a solid end to the season could change that.
  • For all the talent at the top of the division, there’s a handful of pretty bad SEC teams. Here, I’m listing four that I don’t believe have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Teams that are declared dead are: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.