Bracket Revised (Sweet 16 to the Finals)

Is your bracket busted? If you are like most American’s the answer is probably yes. My bracket was looking positive, all things considered, going into midday Sunday. Then the Madness managed to get the best of me.  The Cincinnati Bearcats blew a 22- point lead with 10 minutes remaining against the Nevada Wolfpack, causing my first Final-Four team to be eliminated and to make matters even worse, my National Championship Runner-Up. In some years this might have been a dream killer but the way things have played out this March, I still will win pretty much all leagues with a Duke victory. It goes to show how much insanity the first week provided.

Teams Remaining and initial thoughts I had on them in my first article:

Kentucky- I had them losing first round to Davidson. This isn’t a pick I regret doing but the way things played out, it is going to be one that punishes me. I didn’t dislike Kentucky but just thought Davidson matched up well and provided great upset potential. They kept the game very competitive, just could not quite pull off the victory.

Kansas State- I had them losing first round to Creighton. This shouldn’t have been anything more than an 8 vs. 9 game, with the winner bowing out next round to Virginia, but after UMBC shocked the world and beat Virginia it managed to open things up for Kansas State. I still don’t like this team but that will be another topic for the rest of the tournament breakdown.

Loyola Chicago- This is what I wrote pre-tournament when discussing Loyola Chicago, “Loyola could be this year’s Cinderella team.” They have definitely been one of them and could continue the run next week with an opened up bracket.

Nevada- I was hesitant about Nevada’s injuries and therefore lack of rotation. I gave them a first-round win against Texas but had them losing to Cincinnati. One of my quotes from the article was this; “Nevada is Elite 8 caliber good.” They have proven to be.

Gonzaga- I had Gonzaga in my Final Four the first time around. Will it be the same this time?

Florida State- Florida State has been one of my better calls of this tournament. I took them over Missouri and then took them in the upset over #1 seed Xavier. I am not surprised that they are here.

Michigan- Michigan needed some luck to get into the Sweet 16. I originally had them in my Elite 8 but they are very lucky to still be dancing.

Texas A&M- This is another team I am not surprised is here. “Texas A&M has all the skill in the world. They just can’t seem to put it together for an extended period of time but If they got hot for the tournament it wouldn’t shock me.” I didn’t have enough moxy to take them over UNC but it is not a huge surprise to me that they beat the Tar-heels.

Villanova- Villanova has looked like one of the best teams in their first two games. I had Purdue beating them the first time around in the Elite 8. 

West Virginia- I didn’t love a potential match-up against Wichita State but when Wichita State stumbled against Marshall, it opened the draw up for West Virginia.

Texas Tech- Keenan Evans injury scared me and prevented me from advancing them past the Sweet 16 matchup, where I had them losing to Purdue. Now that Evan’s looks healthy will I change my mind on that game?

Purdue- Another Final Four team for me. Purdue is now the team with injury concerns after Center Isaac Haas broke his elbow in Round 1.

Kansas- I wasn’t a huge fan of Kansas. I was just worried the region didn’t have enough to challenge them, which is why they were in my Elite 8. Do I think it is more competitive now?

Clemson- New Mexico State was a big letdown for me. I had them over Clemson and then over Auburn. “If Clemson puts up a tough defensive fight I could see New Mexico State wither away but the upset potential is too great to ignore.” I wish I had ignored it!

Syracuse- When the article was initially written, the play in game between Arizona State and Syracuse had not been played yet. I tentatively picked TCU to advance without knowing who the opponent was. When Syracuse won, I did end up picking Cuse over TCU and eventually had them losing to Michigan State. I am not that surprised by the upset though. Michigan State was one of the best teams in the field to me but Syracuse’s zone defense is very difficult to prepare for in only one day.

Duke- My National Champions! I like the way they have looked but will I change my mind when reassessing it this time?

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Sweet 16

5. Kentucky vs. 9. Kansas State
Offensively Kansas State is not that good and defensively they are probably just as shaky. The most concerning stat in this game for me is the following:
Kansas State 309th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage.
Kentucky 8th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
I think Kentucky will manhandle Kansas State. Kentucky to the Elite 8.

7. Nevada vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
The match-up all of America was anticipating! Nevada has gotten off to a slow start in both of their first two tournament games. If they do it again vs. Loyola I don’t anticipate they will be able to make another comeback. Texas and Cincinnati both have shown struggles to score the basketball at times this season. Yes, Nevada did manage to shoot the lights out in each comeback, but if either one of these two teams didn’t go completely stagnant offensively, I don’t think we would have seen Nevada still alive. Loyola Chicago is strategic and methodical both offensively and defensively. I think Nevada will get down and not be able to fully catch up to Loyola. Loyola Chicago advances and Cinderella is still at the ball.

4. Gonzaga vs. 9. Florida State
Here is my initial write-up, “Florida State might be a battle-tested team but being able to overcome Xavier and Gonzaga will be too much for them. Gonzaga will have a week to prepare for the Seminoles and should handle them quite easily. Gonzaga advances.”
I see no reason why this changes. Gonzaga will advance.
3. Michigan vs. 7. Texas A&M
In a weird way, I think this is a more difficult game for Michigan than UNC would have been. With that being said, Texas A&M isn’t immune to a cold stretch offensively. A lack of offensive rebounding opportunities that they are accustomed to and no extra possessions from creating turnovers will leave Texas A&M coming up short. Michigan to the Elite 8. 

1. Villanova vs. 5. West Virginia
Initially, I had Villanova facing off against Wichita State, but this game against West Virginia provides a lot more difficult of a challenge for Villanova. West Virginia will give it their best effort to literally try and steal the game from Villanova but at the end of the day, Villanova won’t fully succumb to the Mountaineers pressure. Nova negates a lot of what West Virginia does well. It isn’t impossible to see West Virginia pull the upset but Give me Villanova to advance. 

2. Purdue vs. 3. Texas Tech
It is funny how quickly things can change. In my initial write-up, I said this, “I don’t think Keenan Evans can possibly get healthy enough to replicate his early season success he provided Texas Tech. They had a better season than almost anyone saw coming but the road will end here. Purdue wins.”

A week into the tournament Keenan Evans looks like his old explosive self and Purdue is now struggling with an injury to Center Isaac Haas. Haas has a broken elbow and is projected out for the rest of the tournament. While it may look like a perfect spot to change my original prediction, I will not be doing so. I think Matt Haarms is a very suitable backup to Issac Haas and in this particular match-up will be able to hold his own. Purdue loses a little something offensively but defensively will be completely fine. Texas Tech is no stranger to bad offensive ruts and Purdue will take advantage of those moments. Purdue still advances on.

1. Kansas vs. 5. Clemson
If you read my initial article, you will know that I have no love lost for Kansas. I think they are overrated and I think they are very fortunate for the draw they received. Their draw is a little more difficult than I fully anticipated though, with Clemson getting here instead of New Mexico State. This is going to be my first change I will make to a team that I had advancing. Clemson is a great defensive team. Kansas lives and dies by the three and is incapable of getting offensive rebounds. Teams that don’t get offensive rebounds, shoot an excessive amount of threes, and don’t force turnovers always struggle come tournament time. Intensity amplifies and shots don’t go in as easily. I look for Clemson to pull another March Madness surprise and advance to the Elite 8.

2. Duke vs. 11. Syracuse
ACC foes Duke and Syracuse face off with a berth to the Elite 8 on the line. Cuse’s zone defense can catch teams off guard that aren’t used to playing against it but this will not be the case here with both teams fully aware of the others style. Duke won a regular season contest in February 60-44. I see no reason to expect anything different to happen. Duke advances. 

Elite 8

5. Kentucky vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
Blueblood Kentucky will take on upset minded Loyola Chicago with a chance to get to another Final Four. It seems highly unlikely John Calipari would be denied a spot in San Antonio from a mid-major team…right? I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Loyola Chicago has a lot going from them defensively that can help to contain Kentucky’s offense. Kentucky is not a good shooting team and plays in spurts throughout the game. The Wildcats are young and inexperienced and the moment just may prove to be too big for them. In a tournament filled with madness, number 11 seed Loyola Chicago will get into the Final Four.

3. Michigan vs. 4. Gonzaga
This is my initial write-up that I will be sticking with. “Michigan is the hottest team in America right now, but if I was them, I would worry about the stop and go nature of the tournament and I would even be concerned with the layoff before the tournament has started. At some point, Michigan will probably go cold, and if they do I don’t like their prospects of being able to create second-chance looks. Gonzaga has some flaws in leaving shooters open around the perimeter so if Michigan can stay locked in there is potential for the Wolverines but I don’t think enough shots will drop. I will have their run come to an end here. Gonzaga advances to another Final Four.”

1. Villanova vs. 2. Purdue
First time around I had Purdue taking out Villanova to reach the Final Four. This decision becomes a lot more difficult with Isaac Haas being most likely out. I hope I am wrong and Purdue still finds a way to get to the Final Four but I, unfortunately, will have to change this pick. Villanova is another one of those teams that becomes a little complacent settling for jumpers and is susceptible to slipping up in any game but metrically they do things slightly better than most Villanova teams of past.  They are the premier offensive team in the nation, grading out 1st in points per possession and 1st in effective FG%. The loss of Haas will be too much to overcome. Villanova gets the win.

2. Duke vs. 5. Clemson
Another ACC battle for Duke is in-store in this Elite 8 meeting. In February Duke went into Clemson’s arena and came out victorious, 66 to 57. I anticipate a slightly higher scoring game but one that yields a very similar result. Duke runs the gamut of ACC opponents in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 to reach another Final Four under Coach Krzyzewski.

Final Four

4. Gonzaga vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
If this is the Final Four contest we get, I don’t love Loyola Chicago’s chances against Gonzaga. I originally had Gonzaga losing to Cincinnati in this game but I think things would be a lot different with these two teams facing off. It is tough to figure out where Loyola Chicago would have an advantage. This, unfortunately, is just a really bad match-up for them and their dream season will come to an end. Gonzaga onto the finals.

1. Villanova vs. 2. Duke
The left side of the bracket may have resulted in chaos but the right side of the draw will pit the best two teams in this tournament against one another with a spot in the finals on the line. Duke’s brute physicality will be matched up against Villanova’s strong shooting. A hot shooting Nova team could shred the Blue Devils zone defense that they implemented this season. While this is an encouraging sign for the Wildcats, they won’t be able to take advantage of the offensive rebounding possibilities that open up from the zone. Villanova may be able to get solid looks but they will still be looking at one and done situations if they miss and will probably be looking to score everything from the perimeter. Stylistically I feel like Duke will be too physical for a Nova team that is either going to shoot themselves in or out of the finals. Don’t get me wrong, the game could go either way and Villanova will have their chance but I will take Duke into the Championship. 

Finals

2. Duke vs. 4. Gonzaga
The redo of the bracket now has Gonzaga making back-to-back Championship games and will be playing my original National Champion Duke Blue Devils. Honestly, it would be counterintuitive to back off of my Duke pick now so I won’t be doing so. Duke to me is the best team in the nation when they are on. It is March and anything is possible but Coach K seems to have his team clicking on all cylinders at this moment. My pick to win the National Championship is still the Duke Blue Devils.

Duke 73
Gonzaga 65

Coach K

 

 

 

NCAA March Madness (Full Bracket Prediction!)

 

The field of 68 teams is officially set for the 2018 NCAA Basketball Tournament! I hope you were lucky enough to have your favorite school make it, but if you follow a team like I do with (UNLV), you will be watching the tournament with no real dog in the fight. Do not worry though, March Madness provides fun for everyone with the opportunity to fill out a bracket and compete against both friends and strangers. Over 70 million people are projected to fill out a bracket this season. Some do it just for fun but most people do it and compete for money in the process.


So how skillful do you actually need to be to win your bracket pool?

This question doesn’t have a direct answer that can be given. All leagues are played under different sets of rules that can either increase or decrease luck that will be needed.  Make sure you understand the rules that your league uses and go from there. The more people in a league the more you will need to find a way to be different from the pack and the more luck you will need to have to actually win. In the end, having both a little luck and skill will help you to win your pool.

The site I play under:

CBS Sports Website

I like CBS Sports more than ESPN because they allow some customization to be done to the scoring. If you want to add a bit of skill to your league I would highly recommend finding a website that allows you to alter scoring. ESPN is just far too luck driven for my liking.

 

My March Madness Picks:

South Region First Round 

1.Virginia vs. 16. Maryland BC
No 16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed. The 1st time won’t be here. Safely advance Virginia to the next round.

8. Creighton vs. 9. Kansas State
Creighton doesn’t get offensive rebounds, nor do they create turnovers (two things very important in being able to survive and advance) but offensively Creighton will still be too much for Kansas State to handle. Advance Creighton to the next round.

5. Kentucky vs. 12. Davidson
Davidson is going to shoot 30+ three-pointers in this game. It is possible Kentucky’s length could cause them issues? Sure, but I think the bigger question is can Davidson keep Kentucky off the offensive boards? If they do Kentucky is on potential upset alert. A very close game that I will take Davidson to advance. (If you are awarded upset bonus points I think Davidson is a no-brainer pick.)

4. Arizona vs. 13. Buffalo
Buffalo can play. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them compete with Arizona early. At the end of the day though Arizona has Deandre Ayton and Buffalo has no answer for him. Arizona to the next round.

6. Miami vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
Size and athleticism could become an issue for Loyola Chicago but they are full of veterans who know how to defend for the entirety of the shot clock. Already boasting a win against Florida this season they know that they can compete with an upper echelon team. There’s a definite chance they get blown out but Loyola could be this year’s Cinderella team. Loyola Chicago pulls the upset.

3. Tennessee vs. 14. Wright State
Wright State grades out defensively as a top 10 team in the nation; unfortunately for them, they are going to be absolutely stifled offensively by Tennessee’s defense. This game has blowout possibilities written all over it. Tennessee advances.

7. Nevada vs. 10. Texas
Nevada is Elite 8 caliber good. The tournament is just coming at the wrong time for them. After suffering countless injuries, they are now only 6 players deep and two of their star players in Caleb Martin and Kendall Stephens come into this tournament with injuries of their own. Foul trouble or the ever-looming prospect of Martin or Stephens getting re-injured makes this team tough to trust. I will give them the benefit of the doubt over Texas but any outcome is conceivable here. Nevada advances. 

2. Cincinnati vs. 15. Georgia State
Cincinnati might be the most physical team in this tournament.  Look for them to have an offensive rebounding field day against Georgia State. Cincinnati to the next round.

 

West Region First Round

1.Xavier vs. 16. Play in winner
Regardless of which team wins Xavier will advance to the final 32. Nothing more needs to be said.

8. Missouri vs. 9. Florida State
Missouri gets back potential top 3 selection Michael Porter Jr. for their NCAA Tournament run. I am not so sure this helps though. Missouri had become accustomed to playing “team” basketball without Porter. The addition of him may scatter chemistry. You can never underestimate star power but in general, I think the SEC was overrated this season. Give me Florida State to win. 

5. Ohio State vs. 12. South Dakota State
South Dakota State lives and dies by the 3. If they are dropping, then a huge bracket buster is possible. If they aren’t they have no foreseeable path to the school’s first-ever NCAA Big Dance victory. I will assume they won’t get enough to go in. Ohio State moves on.

4. Gonzaga vs. 13. NC Greensboro
Nobody is going to give NC Greensboro a shot to pull the upset here and I think that is a real mistake.  Greensboro boasts one of the nations top defenses. Taking care of the basketball will be vital in defeating them. Gonzaga’s Point Guard Josh Perkins is one of the nations most underrated players. In a lot of match-ups, I think Greensboro would have actually pulled the shocker. Gonzaga will end up being too savvy for them but the game could be a very competitive low scoring one. Gonzaga grinds into the next round.

6. Houston vs. 11. San Diego State
Houston is going to have a lot of sleeper buzz attached to them and rightfully so. If they get hot there is no reason they couldn’t make a serious run towards the final 4. I must mention that this game does remind me a lot of SMU and USC last season where SMU had final 4 buzz and slipped up first round to USC. Houston’s Achilles heel is their propensity to commit fouls. In March every whistle matters and free points given away can lose a close game. I’d tread carefully with Houston or at least realize the risk that is inherited by taking them far. I’ll take Houston but am a bit terrified of the hodgepodge uncertainty surrounding them.

3. Michigan vs. 14. Montana
Montana is one of the best teams in the nation in forcing turnovers; Michigan is #1 in the nation not turning it over. The committee did not make it easy for some of these small schools to pull an upset this year. A different match-up for Montana may have given me some intrigue in picking a big upset but I will avoid the temptation here. Michigan will get the win.

7. Texas A&M vs. 10. Providence
Texas A&M has all the skill in the world. They just can’t seem to put it together for any extended period of time but If they got hot for the tournament it wouldn’t shock me. Providence is a rugged team but I expect Texas A&M to be too much for them. Texas A&M advances.

2. North Carolina vs. 15. Lipscomb
I don’t see a path for Lipscomb to pull an upset. UNC into the round of 32.

East Region First Round

1. Villanova vs. 16. Radford
Give me Villanova.

8. Virginia Tech vs. 9. Alabama
Collin Sexton is a stud for Alabama. He should end up being very close to a top 5 pick for the NBA Draft. Virginia Tech is a more complete team though ranking top 30 in the nation in both points per possession and effective FG percentage. Virginia Tech wins.

5. West Virginia vs. 12. Murray State
Murray State will not go easily in this match-up. They grade out top 30 in both offensive and defensive points per possession and FG percentage. West Virginia will have the advantage in offensive rebounding and turnover percentage. I will take West Virginia but won’t be surprised if Murray State pulls the upset.

4. Wichita State vs. 13. Marshall
Wichita State isn’t as good defensively as they have been in years past but should find their way past this match-up. Marshall doesn’t do anything that would make me believe they are a live dog here. Wichita State wins.

6. Florida vs. 11. St. Bonaventure
After winning the play in game St. Bonaventure will now take on Florida. These two teams are mirror images of one another. They shoot the three-point shot well (St. Bonaventure does it better), have good ball possession (Florida controls it better), and can’t get defensive rebounds (both are bad). St. Bonaventure will surely shoot better than they did against UCLA and while I don’t anticipate them being able to turn Florida over I do think they can replicate their success of drawing fouls against a handsy Florida team. If the game gets close late, Florida has done a terrible job of closing. Give me St. Bonaventure in the upset.

3. Texas Tech vs. 14. Stephen F Austin
Stephen F Austin will try to pester Texas Tech throughout the game. Will it work? It is possible but SFA has way too many huge flaws for me to actually see them pulling off the upset. They turn it over at will, allow offensive rebounds, and foul quite often. Texas Tech will grind out a win.

7. Arkansas vs. 10. Butler
Both these teams grade out very similarly according to my spreadsheet. I don’t see a huge edge in either direction. I will lean towards the 10 seed Butler based on the fact they are a little more defensively sound. Butler in a coin flip game.

2. Purdue vs. 15. Cal State Fullerton
Purdue should have their way with Fullerton.

Midwest Region First Round

1. Kansas vs. 16. Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania may be the best 16th seed we have seen in a long time. My spreadsheet gives them a 12.5% chance to beat Kansas. That might not seem like a high percentage but when a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 it is a rather significant number. Just as a comparison none of the other three 1 vs. 16 seed match-ups has a 16 seed over 1% to win according to my stats. I think at the end of the day Pennsylvania won’t have enough offensively to actually pull off the once in a lifetime upset but you never know. Kansas loves to shoot the 3 and with the way Penn defends the 3-point line, anything is possible if Kansas goes cold. I select Kansas to advance but think this is one of the better opportunities we have ever gotten to see a 16 over a 1 and will be dabbling with selecting Penn in any league that awards a big bonus for an upset.

8. Seton Hall vs. 9. NC State
NC State should be able to force turnovers and Seton Hall should control the offensive glass. I lean towards Seton Hall. Seton Hall to advance.

5. Clemson vs. 12. New Mexico State
New Mexico State is one of the best defensive teams in the country but they will only go as far as Zach Lofton and Jemerrio Jones take them in the tournament. This team is better than your average mid-major and also more confident. In back to back days earlier in the season they beat Miami and Davidson on a neutral court. If Clemson puts up a tough defensive fight I could see New Mexico State wither away but the upset potential is too great to ignore. Give me New Mexico State in the common 12 over 5 upset.

4. Auburn vs. 13. College of Charleston
Auburn comes into the NCAA tournament limping after losing 3 of their last 4 contests. I am not a huge fan of this team and think they have already peaked but I also think they draw a very favorable region. This part of the bracket has the potential to bust wide open. As far as this game is concerned, I don’t think College of Charleston will be able to match-up with Auburn on the defensive end. Auburn wins by 10+ points.

6. TCU vs. 11. Play in winner (Arizona State?)
This game would pit two terrible defensive teams against one another. I hate this match-up. No matter who TCU plays between Syracuse and Arizona State it will be against a team that shouldn’t be in the field. I tentatively pick TCU because of their great offense but don’t trust any of these teams and think all options would result in a coin flip.

3. Michigan State vs. 14. Bucknell
Michigan State comes into this tournament as possibly the most under-seeded team in the draw and to make matters worse draws a very game Bucknell team. The match-up isn’t the greatest as far as X’s and O’s are concerned for Bucknell but they have played a very strong non-conference schedule and aren’t strangers to crashing the big dance. Give me Michigan State to advance but Bucknell has a punchers chance. 

7. Rhode Island vs. 10. Oklahoma
Oklahoma getting into the tournament isn’t even the biggest joke of the whole matter. How they actually got a 10 seed and avoided all play in games is beyond baffling. Oklahoma will go however far Trae Young takes them. I guess it is conceivable he could pull a Kemba Walker and just take over the tournament like Walker did for Uconn in the 2010-2011 season but with Oklahoma losing 11 of its last 15 games I don’t think it is likely. Rhode Island onto the next round.

2. Duke vs. 15. Iona
Duke has been known to slip up in these 2 vs. 15 games but it won’t happen here.


South Region Second Round

1. Virginia vs. 8. Creighton
Virginia’s first test of the tournament will come in this battle. It definitely is possible that Creighton shoots the lights out and pulls an upset but most teams aren’t able to do that against Virginia’s hard-nosed defense. Like it was mentioned in the Creighton vs. Kansas State breakdown, Creighton doesn’t force turnovers nor do they get offensive rebounds. Limited possessions vs. Virginia will bounce them from the tournament in the second round. Virginia is Sweet 16 bound.

4. Arizona vs. 12. Davidson
The Davidson Wildcats, after springing the upset against the Kentucky Wildcats, will now face the Arizona Wildcats…. conspiracy theory? All jokes aside, Davidson will look to continue their hot shooting against Arizona. While I do think there is potential that they stay hot, I also think this is probably where the road comes to an end for Davidson. They would need a superhuman effort from their big men to keep Ayton in check. Arizona advances to the next round.

3. Tennessee vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
This is such an interesting game. I want to take Loyola Chicago very badly into the Sweet 16 but I just can’t get myself to do it. Tennessee is able to counteract pretty much everything Loyola Chicago does well. Tennessee might not be a great shooting team but they do excel from the 3-point line ranking in the top 40. Tennessee’s biggest liability is the offensive rebounds they give up. Loyola Chicago ranks 334th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. I just don’t see Loyola Chicago pulling another upset in this one. Tennessee will have its hands full but will advance.

7. Nevada vs. 2. Cincinnati
If Nevada was healthy I would consider this more. With the way things stand, Cincinnati will be too physical for Nevada. They will either break them down with their grueling nature or will get Nevada into foul trouble. Either way, Cincinnati will be too much to handle.

West Region Round 2

1. Xavier vs. 9. Florida State
Florida State is battle tested from being in the ACC and after playing teams like UNC, Duke, and Virginia night in and night out they will not be scared to face #1 seed Xavier. So will they win? I definitely think it is possible. Xavier is the weakest #1 seed of all the teams in my opinion. Xavier is very flawed defensively and is not good enough offensively to make up for that. They don’t force turnovers and they don’t get enough offensive rebounds. Florida State is not great defensively themselves but will not be blown away by what Xavier has to offer offensively, at least compared to what they are used to seeing in the ACC. I think this is a very close game and will actually pick the upset. Florida State beats Xavier and our first #1 seed is gone.

4. Gonzaga vs. 5. Ohio State
Gonzaga’s tournament experience should help them in this tough second-round battle. Ohio State is a very solid team but I am not sure what they do spectacularly. They struggle shooting the three-point shot and don’t create turnovers. Gonzaga making a run in the NCAA tournament is becoming standard. Gonzaga onto the Sweet 16.

3. Michigan vs. 6. Houston
This game has potential to turn into a really good one. Both teams do a pretty decent job of neutralizing what the other team does well. Michigan with the extra week layoff could end up wishing they didn’t have such a long break but I still don’t fully trust this Houston Cougars team. I think Michigan will be too solid in all facets for Houston; that’s if the Cougars even get to this game and don’t slip up round one. Michigan advances.

2. North Carolina vs. 7. Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s Jekyll and Hyde team will take on the defending champions UNC. I expect more Hyde than Jekyll for this match-up. North Carolina is beatable but I don’t think A&M will be able to put it all together. UNC to the Sweet 16.

East Region Round 2

1. Villanova vs. #8 Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech doesn’t get offensive rebounds and they don’t create turnovers. I know it becomes a monotonous statement but teams who don’t do these things have a much more difficult time pulling a big upset. Virginia Tech has the capabilities to get hot offensively so they aren’t drawing dead but defensively Nova may shred them. Nova advances.

4. Wichita State vs. 5. West Virginia
This game could go either way. Both teams bring a unique style to the table. I am going to go with Wichita State for the following reasons: West Virginia usually exits the tournament because their havoc defensive style doesn’t create the number of turnovers it desires. This will be because the team who beats them is a good offensive team that is able to control the ball. West Virginia ranks 4th in creating turnovers and Wichita State ranks 35th in not turning it over. The other key stat that tends to hamper West Virginia in big tournament games is giving up offensive rebounds. West Virginia is ranked 257th in the nation in allowing offensive boards. Wichita State is ranked 13th in creating offensive boards. Wichita State wins a very competitive game.

3. Texas Tech vs. 11. St. Bonaventure
Getting everyone healthy for Texas Tech will be vital in this match-up. Injuries crept up on the Red Raiders late in the season and probably prevented them from winning the Big 12 regular season title. Star player Keenan Evans is the most important player to get back to full health. He suffered a nagging toe injury late in the season. If he is healthy Texas Tech can make a real run at the final 4, if he isn’t their run will end early. I am going with Texas Tech to advance but monitor in the coming days if any bad news comes out about Keenan Evans.

2. Purdue vs. 10. Butler
Purdue has become the forgotten about team in the tournament. A couple of weeks ago they were a popular pick to be a Final Four team and now I hear nobody mentioning them. Butler is a scrappy team but doesn’t have enough statistical strength in any category to make me consider picking them over Purdue. Butler was a top 70 team in most stats I looked at, yet they were not top 30 in any of those categories. Purdue rolls into the Sweet 16.

Midwest Region Round 2

1. Kansas vs. 8. Seton Hall
If Kansas can get by Penn I look for them to dominate Seton Hall. Seton Hall does have an advantage on the offensive boards but Kansas is too deep and too good for them. Kansas cruises.

4. Auburn vs. 12. New Mexico State
Just like New Mexico State beat Miami and Davidson in back to back days early in the season I am looking for them to repeat this by beating Clemson and Auburn during the first weekend. I actually think the harder game of the two for New Mexico State would be their round 1 game against Clemson. NMSU is hard to prepare for and if they can get by Clemson look for them to potentially pull another rabbit out of their hat. New Mexico State is still dancing.

3. Michigan State vs. 6. TCU
I mentioned this in my initial write-up about TCU in their first-round game and I am sticking to the same narrative. I do not like this TCU team. Michigan State will advance.

2. Duke vs. 7. Rhode Island
Rhode Island would need to force a bunch of turnovers and shoot much better than what they are accustomed to doing in order to win this game. Duke to the next round.

Sweet 16

1. Virginia vs. 4. Arizona
I pray this is the game we actually get in the Sweet 16. I think from a skill level standpoint it could turn into one of the great battles of the tournament. Virginia’s lockdown defense versus Arizona’s high-powered offense is an exciting thing to think about. So who wins? I’ve never been one to love Virginia come tournament time but I think this year’s team is the best they have ever had. Arizona will give them some scares but #1 Virginia will march into the Elite 8.

2. Cincinnati vs. 3. Tennessee
This is the game Tennessee will be exposed for their lack of defensive rebounding. Cincinnati ranks 2nd in the nation in offensive rebounding and Tennessee ranks 259th in allowing offensive boards. Give me Cincinnati in what will be a chalky 1 vs. 2 South Regional Final.

4. Gonzaga vs. 9. Florida State
Florida State might be a battle-tested team but being able to overcome Xavier and Gonzaga will be too much for them. Gonzaga will have a week to prepare for the Seminoles and should handle them quite easily. Gonzaga advances.

2. North Carolina vs. 3. Michigan
In another mini-upset, I will take Michigan to get past the defending champion UNC Tar Heels. North Carolina’s defense is just not good this season and their offensive points of emphasis will be negated by Michigan. UNC ranks 20th in points per possession and 3rd in offensive rebounding. Michigan defensively ranks 18th in points per possession allowed and 17th in offensive rebounds allowed. UNC won’t force turnovers and will struggle to get the offensive rebounds they are accustomed to…this is a bad combination and one that reeks of trouble. Michigan to the Elite 8.

1. Villanova vs. 4. Wichita State.
Wichita State will finally have the regression in this year’s defensive unit bite them. Villanova is too strong offensively for the mistakes Wichita will make. Nova advances.

2. Purdue vs. 3. Texas Tech
I don’t think Keenan Evans can possibly get healthy enough to replicate his early season success he provided Texas Tech. They had a better season than almost anyone saw coming but the road will end here. Purdue wins. 

1. Kansas vs. 12. New Mexico State
There is definitely some interest in selecting New Mexico State over Kanas. New Mexico State will play tough defense and just like in the U-Penn game, if Kansas goes cold an upset might be around the corner. I really wish the top part of the region was deeper because I HATE taking the Jayhawks all the way to the Elite 8. If you have a team you love I would consider rolling them out to the final 8 but unfortunately, I don’t. The bracket left me a little tied up and I will default and begrudgingly take Kansas to move on. It may end up happening because I find the bracket so weak but Kansas losing anywhere really wouldn’t shock me. Not having a team I can pinpoint as being one I like is tough.

2. Duke vs. 3. Michigan State
This match-up is downright criminal. The committee putting MSU as the #3 seed is one of the biggest errors of a tournament that is culminated with mistakes. This leaves us to play the guessing game of which one of these two top 5 teams in the country will advance to the Elite 8. My stats say Michigan State will win a close one but my gut is telling me Duke. Brackets will unfortunately be made or lost because of this game. Give me Duke but I can’t say I am thrilled to do so. 

Elite 8

1. Virginia vs. 2, Cincinnati
The #1 and #2 defenses will square off with a trip to the Final Four on the line and while this may seem like the perfect kind of game for Virginia to win I am not so sure that is the case. There’s a lot of spots of encouragement if you a Bearcat supporter. I mentioned this statement above and I will once again for this game. If you live by the three you usually end up dying by the three. This is exactly what snake-bit Virginia in their two losses this season. Cincinnati is top 15 when it comes to defending the 3-point shot.  There is even more reason for optimism if you are rooting for Cincinnati also. While Virginia doesn’t turn the ball over, Cincy still ranks top 15 in forcing mistakes. If Virginia gets behind early and starts having to force situations the Bearcats will be able to exploit a Cavalier team that is not used to playing at a higher tempo. Mix that in with the fact that Cincinnati is ranked 2nd in offensive rebounds and Virginia will not get many second-chance opportunities, I think this game has potential to get away from Virginia early. Vegas will probably have this line at about Virginia -3 or -3.5. Brackets are going to have Virginia over Cincy in this situation at probably an 8/1 clip. From a pure value standpoint and finding a spot to differentiate myself, I will take Cincinnati to make the Final Four.
***Deandre Hunter has been ruled out for Virginia for the NCAA tournament. This will make it even more difficult to get past Cincinnati.

3. Michigan vs. 4. Gonzaga
Michigan is the hottest team in America right now, but if I was them, I would worry about the stop and go nature of the tournament and I would even be concerned with the layoff before the tournament has started. At some point, Michigan will probably go cold and if they do I don’t like their prospects of being able to create second-chance looks. Gonzaga has some flaws in leaving shooters open around the perimeter so if Michigan can stay locked in there is potential for the Wolverines but I don’t think enough shots will drop. I will have their run come to an end here. Gonzaga advances to another Final Four.

1. Villanova vs. 2.Purdue
Villanova has by far the easiest path of all the #1 seeds in my opinion but will finally run into their first big-time test against Purdue. The Boilermakers are led by four seniors but their best player happens to be sophomore Carsen Edwards. Purdue is long and experienced. These seniors carry demons from their first three years based off of some of the dud performances they have laid in the tournament. WIll this be detrimental or will this help them? My answer is this will help them. Purdue for how big they are aren’t a great rebounding team and they are paper thin on their bench, but until a team can out physical them on the boards and put them into foul trouble I don’t see why they can’t keep advancing. Villanova is not that team so give me Purdue to finally get over the hump and get themselves in the Final Four.

1. Kansas vs. 2. Duke
For Kansas, this match-up is probably better than one versus Michigan State but not by much. Both MSU and Duke metrically grade out better than Kansas does. Duke should have been a #1 seed and Michigan State probably should have been the best #2. Kansas, in reality, is more of a #2 and a back-end #2 at that. Michigan State or Duke will manhandle this team on the offensive glass and will be able to shut down their outside shooting. There are many more reasons why Duke would have a huge statistical advantage but it is a bit of overkill to explain the 1000 ways I think Kansas will die in the Mid-West. Duke advances.

Final Four

#2 Cincinnati vs. 4. Gonzaga
Gonzaga reaching back-to-back Final Fours would be amazing, mostly when you consider their first Final Four in school history came last season. Assuming they get to this point, would they be able to replicate their success and once again get themselves into the Finals? Something tells me no… Statistically, this game has very little to separate these two teams. My numbers do have Cincinnati as a 1-point favorite but it’s a razor-thin margin trying to sever these schools apart. Cincinnati’s lack of consistent shooting could absolutely spell trouble against a Gonzaga team that does a great job of limiting second-chance looks but I can’t help but feel like the Zags would get this game stolen from them for a couple of reasons. Cincinnati is very rough and tough and will not back away from a fight. I think it’s conceivable that Gonzaga would be rather lackadaisical in their effort. Part of this would be because they just experienced the buzz of the Final Four last season and some of the hunger would be gone. The other part of it would be because they know what it is like to be in the Finals and may look ahead wanting to get straight into that game. The Bearcats will claw and do what is needed to not come up short. I will take #2 seed Cincinnati to reach the NCAA Finals!

2. Purdue vs. 2. Duke
Purdue vs. Duke would be a very exciting contest. Two gargantuan sized teams that in a weird way play completely opposite of one another. Purdue wants to stretch the court with their big men and Duke wants to attack the paint and muscle their way on the boards. That isn’t to say Duke can’t do a little of what Purdue does but a high degree of physicality is more of their nature. I mentioned this for Purdue earlier but I think both teams come into this tournament under the radar. Duke has gone from everyone’s pick to cut down the nets earlier this season and have now reached a point that people are struggling to figure out exactly what they want to do with them on their brackets. For me, Duke would just be far too physical for this Purdue team. The Boilermakers lack of brute strength will finally catch up to them. #2 Duke is into the Finals.

2018 NCAA Championship Game

2. Cincinnati vs. 2, Duke
After a long season, and frankly a long write-up on my end, we are finally to the Championship game. Cincinnati should have been a #1 seed over Xavier and Duke should have been a #1 seed over Kansas but for all intensive purposes, our National Championship pits two #2 seeds against one another.

How does each team win?

In order for Cincinnati to win they would need to make this game very ugly, kind of like how Virginia does in their games against Duke. Tempo would need to be slowed way down, they would need to expose Duke on the defensive boards, and they would need to shoot much better than they are accustomed to doing. In reality, they need to play their brand of basketball and just hit a few more shots.

Duke can win in a couple of different ways. They win if they manage to speed this game up. If they are able to get to over 75 points in this contest, I don’t think the Bearcats stand a fighting chance. They also can win a hard-fought game. If they can limit Cincinnati’s offensive rebounding and if they hold them to a reasonable shooting percentage, they should still be able to find themselves cutting down the nets.

Who wins?
Both of these teams, if they get to the finals, will clearly have a chance to pull out a win. At the end of the day though, Cincinnati will have to get so much more to go correctly for them to get a victory.

Duke 73 Cincinnati 65

Your 2018 NCAA Basketball National Champions will be The Duke Blue Devils.

 

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Mount Rushmore of Sports

A friend of mine recently contacted me and asked, “You know sports, who do you think would be on the Mount Rushmore of Athletes?” I responded to him and said, “This is easy” and answered the question pretty quickly. The more I started to think about it though, the more I realized how complicated this question was. My mind began to race to different variables that needed to be taken into account. I wrote him back again and inquired for more information about what we were using as a yardstick to gauge athletic excellence. We went back and forth all day and finally realized this question was not only complicated but one that required clear rules for the criteria that needed to be used.

Mount Rushmore Criteria:
On the field achievements
Off the field legacy

We will be looking for the best athletes in their sports but also will be taking into account legacy off of the field. The computation of those two factors will determine our Mount Rushmore.

This is a tricky topic to touch on because different parts of the world would view this question contrastingly. I can only speak from an American point-of-view when putting together this list. The popularity of a sport worldwide will be considered, but dominance in a given sport compared to other combatants, mixed with positive off the field legacy will weigh most heavily. Remember, a Mount Rushmore and The Greatest of All Time are different debates. A Mount Rushmore needs to take into account athletes who transcended their sport.

Mount Rushmore Finalists 

NBA-Michael Jordan
MLB- Babe Ruth
Boxing- Muhammad Ali
Tennis- Roger Federer
Golf- Tiger Woods
NHL- Wayne Gretzky
Soccer- Pele
Track & Field- Jesse Owens
Swimming- Michael Phelps
Tennis- Serena Williams


#10 Tiger Woods

Transcendence in sports describes more than just the ability to dominate. Transcendence is a term to describe climbing beyond ordinary limitations. In this example, it is the capacity to rise above the sporting realm. It isn’t a word thrown around lightly. Very few athletes have ever been considered transcendent. Tiger Woods was just that. Similar to the way Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Woods carried the mantle for golf. Never had the game seen a player mixed with African American, Chinese and Thai ethnicity. He was a marketer’s dream, both on and off the course.

With that being said, it is amazing to think that Tiger Woods sits here at #10. A couple of years ago it would have seemed more likely that he might have been considered #1 for a Mount Rushmore list. Woods in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s single-handily put golf on the map. Everyone in the world from Nike to Gatorade wanted to be linked to Tiger. Unfortunately for Woods and the game of golf, off the field scandals started to catch up to him in 2009. From extramarital indiscretions to DUI arrests, Tiger’s image has taken a significant hit but let’s not forget the impact he has had on the game of golf.


#9 Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth began his MLB career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox but later grew to fame as a home run hitting slugger for the New York Yankees. Ruth set many MLB records during his career, both pitching and hitting. Some of these records still stand today, like slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging (OPS). His larger than life power and personality helped make him one of the greatest sports heroes in North American culture and is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time.

During his playing career, he was subjected to extraordinary press and public scrutiny. A lot of the attention revolved around his affinity for drinking and his escapades with women. He was a known womanizer and a habitual cheater. Ruth did very little to hide his extravagant lifestyle. A famous quote by Ruth was, “its simple kids, if you drink and smoke and eat and screw as much as me, well kiddos, someday you’ll be just as good at sports.”  In defense of Ruth, the press generally ignored the good he did, like often visiting children in hospitals and orphanages. For all the turmoil surrounding Babe Ruth, his on the field prowess is too incredible to ignore. He changed the way baseball was played.


#8 Michael Phelps

If this were a Greatest of All-Time list, Phelps would have to be higher. Phelps has 28 Olympic medals, with 23 of those being Gold. I think Phelps has a couple of factors working against him here though, for why I do not have him higher.

The Olympics are held every four years. When the Olympics were not going on, Phelps would be out of sight and out of mind as far as competitive sports were concerned.
However, during those stretches of time, Phelps wasn’t always out of sight of the public eye. Marijuana controversies and multiple DUI arrests plagued his in-between time till the next Olympics would arrive.
I think Phelps is a fascinating person of where the future will take him. As time goes on, his accomplishments will become even more revered.  He has done a great job of changing up his public image as well. In 2008, he spent $1,000,000 to set up the Michael Phelps Foundation, which focuses on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthier lifestyles. Also, in 2017, he joined the board of Medibio, a company that is focused on the diagnosis of Mental Health Disorders. I believe he has the most room for growth, being only 32-years-old at the time of writing this. If Phelps can continue to develop his legacy positively, it will be interesting to see where that might take him in years to come.


#7. Roger Federer

Roger Federer is undoubtedly one of the most well-rounded individuals to show up on this list. 20 Grand Slams (the most in history for a male player), 302 weeks ranked #1 in the world, 237 of which in a row. Outside of the court, you can expect the same. He has won the ATP’s sportsmanship award a record thirteen times and has been voted by fans to receive the ATP’s fan favorite award for fifteen consecutive years. Federer has redefined longevity in the world of tennis. It was once unheard of to play into your 30’s, but he has dispelled any notions of that being a set in stone rule, by not only winning at the age of 36 but actually having a resurgence back to the top. He is grace and fluidity in a volatile tennis world.

How is it possible that he could land at only #7 with all the accolades that have been mentioned? Longevity is a beautiful thing and not something that I want to dock Federer on.  His ability to play late into his 30’s resonates from the elegance he plays with. His counterparts of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal do not look like they will be able to play very long into their 30’s before they have to retire for numerous reasons, many of which have to deal with the ferocity both players play with.

Nadal is currently 31-years-old, and Djokovic is 30-years-old. Djokovic still has a year to add to his total, but if you compare all three players at the age of 31 (or younger for Djokovic) you get the following:

Grand Slam Titles
Federer 17
Nadal 16
Djokovic 12

Current Head to Head Records:
Rafael Nadal 23 wins vs. Roger Federer 15 wins
Novak Djokovic 23 wins vs. Roger Federer 22 wins.

All-Time Winning Percentage
Federer 82.0%
Nadal 82.5%
Djokovic 82.7%

Yes, Federer is currently the greatest male tennis player of all time, but it isn’t inconceivable that Nadal could catch a second wind late in his career, kind of like the one Federer is going through right now and come very close to matching the exact statistics Federer put up. I don’t think it will end up happening, but for Nadal, and even Djokovic, to be as close as they are to Federer in the same era, I believe it does take away from putting Federer any higher than #7.


#6 Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky “The Great One” is the greatest hockey player of all time. He is the leading scorer in NHL history, with more goals and assists than any other player. Gretzky has amassed more assists in his career than all other players have scored total points and is the only NHL player to score over 200 points in a season – a feat Gretzky accomplished four times. At the time of Gretzky’s retirement, he held 61 NHL records, and currently today he still owns 60 of them.

Gretzky’s biggest downfall for this list is hockey has a smaller pool of players to draw from and isn’t as popular worldwide as any of these other sports that have been mentioned. From a pure individual dominance standpoint, I am not sure if anyone can hold a candle to him. From a team dominance point of view, he won four Stanley Cups in his twenty-year career, outstanding but maybe not as dominant as others in their respective sport. Gretzky is another athlete that would be better suited for a Greatest of All-Time list than he would on a Mount Rushmore ballot. His accomplishments take him to #6, but a lack of hockey interest worldwide will stall him there.


#5 Pele

Pele is universally regarded as one of the best soccer players of all time. In 1999 he was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. That same year, The International Olympic Committee elected him Athlete of the Century. Pele is the most accomplished league goalscorer of all time, scoring 1281 goals in 1363 games. This total includes unofficial friendlies and tour games. During a portion of his playing days, Pele was the highest paid athlete in the world.

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, how can Pele show up at only #5 and just miss our Mount Rushmore? This will surely be a controversial take, but I think Pele is not the most dominant soccer player ever. Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, in my opinion, could both stake claims as being that. Maradona was soccer’s bad boy and often loses points to Pele because of that and Messi still has an active career, and I find it difficult to accurately rank a player until their career is either done or close to over. No World Cup does hurt Messi’s argument slightly to be lauded as the best soccer player ever.

My biggest gripe of Pele from a dominance standpoint comes from him not being challenged in his club career. After the 1962 World Cup, rich European clubs tried to sign him but the government of Brazil a year earlier had declared Pele an “official national treasure” which prevented him from being transferred out of the country. Most of Pele’s club career was spent playing against inferior opponents in Brazil. It must be noted that when his club team of Santos did tour to play European teams, Pele did dominate scoring 204 goals in 195 career games. It is just unfortunate that we didn’t get to see more of that night in and night out. He is very close to being on my Mount Rushmore, and you could make sound arguments for why he should be on it but on my list he will just miss.

Meet our Mount Rushmore of Athletes!

Michael Jordan muhammad ali williams Jesse Owens

Michael Jordan

Not only is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time, but he is also the most marketed athlete of his generation. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson helped to put the NBA on the map, but Jordan took the NBA’s popularity to a new level in the 1980’s and 1990’s. His prolific scoring caught the attention of diehard NBA fans, but his leaping ability captured the imagination of casual and non-basketball fans. His dynamic hops earned him the nickname of Air Jordan and His Airness.

As new fans started to gravitate towards the NBA, they quickly became aware that Jordan was the complete package. Offensively he was a giant, but defensively he was just as stout. Jordan’s individual accomplishments include: five Most Valuable Player Awards (MVP), ten All-NBA First Team Awards, nine All-Defensive First Team Awards, fourteen-time NBA All-Star, three All-Star Game MVP Awards, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP Awards, and the 1988 Defensive Player of the Year Award. Along with all those awards he also holds the record for highest career scoring average of 30.12 points per game and the highest career playoff scoring average of 33.45 points per game. Jordan’s six NBA Finals MVP Awards were the result of his six NBA Championships he won in his career.

As marvelous as his records and stats are, they pale in comparison to his product endorsement power. He fueled the success of Nike’s Air Jordan shoes and in the process incited worldwide sneaker fandom. His influence has made collecting, wearing and buying sneakers a global phenomenon. Endorsements didn’t stop with Nike though. Gatorade, McDonald’s and even Warner Brothers, to name a few, all shilled out millions of dollars to have Jordan’s name attached to their product. His 1996 Warner Brothers film Space Jam, where he starred as himself, became a global hit. All these factors have helped to make Michael Jordan the third richest African-American at 1.2 Billion dollars, behind only Oprah Winfrey and Robert F. Smith.

Jordan’s short retirement from basketball in 1993 and decision to play professional baseball in 1994 only adds to his lore and mystique. Any Greatest of All Time list or Mount Rushmore needs to start with Michael Jordan. His influence across the board is uncanny compared to all other athletes.


Muhammad Ali

Born Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942, the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All-Time” was a towering figure in his prime, with a mouth that was as brash as his stature. Ali was known for being quick-witted and shrewd with his words, but he was equally as nimble and fast with his hands and feet. It is safe to say no athlete has touched as many lives or has been celebrated as widely. This wasn’t always the case though. If you had told someone in 1967, that Ali would become the most beloved athlete in the world by the end of his life, well you would have won yourself a lot of money. The day after defeating Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Title in 1964, he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X, for religious reasons, and shortly after to Muhammad Ali. His true adage comes from his battles outside of the boxing ring, versus the ones that were inside of it. He refused to accept induction into the United States armed forces based off of spiritual beliefs. This decision cost him millions of dollars, his heavyweight belt and years off the prime of his career.

This choice of a “fighter,” who decided to not fight for his country, turned Ali from a boxing phenomenon to a nationwide villain.  On April 28, 1967, appearing for his scheduled induction in Houston, he refused to step forward three separate times at the call of his name. Warned by officers that he was committing a felony that was punishable up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison, he once again refused to step forward when his name was called. That very day he was stripped of his titles.

At his trial two months later, it took the jury only 21 minutes of deliberations to find Ali guilty. The judge levied the maximum sentence possible. After a court of appeals in 1968 upheld the conviction, the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. Between 1968-1971, the countries opinion began to change on the Vietnam War and people turned against the thought of it and started to side with Ali and his stance. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that Ali’s conviction was to be overturned.

Eight months before the Supreme Court ruled, Ali had returned to the ring in Georgia (where there was no state commission.) Having not fought in almost four years, Ali scored a third round TKO over Jerry Quarry. Back into the fight game and still undefeated he set his sights towards bigger and better things and on March 8, 1971, he took on undefeated Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier, in a fight billed as “The Fight of the Century.” Each man received 2.5 million dollars. The fight amazingly lived up to its billing, but unfortunately for Ali, Frazier left with a unanimous decision victory and the belt.

Ali reeled off ten straight wins following his loss to Frazier from 1971-1973, before suffering a shocking loss to Ken Norton. He avenged this loss in his next fight and once again set his sights on a Joe Frazier clash. A lot had changed since their first encounter though. Ali was not the fighter he was once considered to be, and Frazier was no longer the Heavyweight Champion of the World, after being knocked down six times in two rounds by George Foreman. January 28, 1974, the second fight for Ali-Frazier took place. This contest wasn’t as entertaining as the first but still was a thrilling bout. This time Ali gained a unanimous decision victory over Frazier and this set up a clash of Ali versus undefeated Heavyweight Champion George Foreman.

George Foreman was a behemoth of a man. Many feared that Ali’s life was at risk taking on such an impossible task. “The Rumble in the Jungle” was fought on October 30, 1974, in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali was a 7-1 underdog for the fight. During the bout, he introduced his Rope-A-Dope strategy, where he stood flatfooted against the ropes and covered up as Foreman flailed away. His strategy worked. As the eighth round was coming to an end, Ali noticed that Foreman began to look visibly exhausted. With only seconds remaining in the round, Ali took advantage of the situation, knocking Foreman out to regain the belt. Ali was America’s champion once again. The most hated athlete of the sixties was now the most heroic of the seventies. A man that was once denounced as anti-American in 1967 was being invited to the White House in 1974.

Unfortunately for Ali, all the punches he took affected him. In 1984 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder characterized by tremors and slowness of speech and movement. The condition left him a shadow of his former self, but he still attempted to spread goodwill to all. Arguably Ali’s most defining moment in the public eye came at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where he stood front and center in the spotlight. With the world watching and his hands shaking, he steadied them to light the Olympic cauldron, which signified the start of the games. Many in attendance and around the world shed a tear watching. Ali who once divided a nation was now a unifying and beloved symbol.

Serena Williams 

If Serena Williams were a man would this choice even give you a second thought? Williams doesn’t get onto my Mount Rushmore for being a woman, but she most definitely won’t be excluded because of it.

We are conditioned to think “the greatest of all-time” or “Mount Rushmore” has to be a compiled by a bunch of men. In reality, this type of question will always be rigged against any woman. Our culture, unfortunately, does not view sports played by women as equal to sports played by men. Even when a female athlete like Serena Williams, dominates her given sport, we must find a way to put down her accomplishments. It starts with a comment like, “she definitely can’t beat a top-ranked man, how about a top-50 man? Top-100? We even further demean her achievements and start mentioning retired men. The sexism that goes into that thought process is astounding. If you want to compare Serena Williams to a man, compare her by her dominance level against competitors or her contribution and elevation of the game she has provided. Measuring her achievements in any other way is ridiculous.

So let us take a look at some of her achievements:

319 weeks at #1 in the world
72 Career Singles titles
23 Career Doubles titles
783-130 Singles record
185-31 Doubles record
27-4 Mixed Doubles record
Four Olympic Gold Medals
39 Grand Slam titles (23 singles, 14 women’s doubles, and two mixed-doubles)
Held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously (twice)- only Rod Laver and Steffi Graf have achieved this twice. Also did this in doubles with her sister Venus Williams.
She is the only tennis player in history (man or woman) to have won singles titles at least six times in three of the four Grand Slams
Only tennis player (man or woman) to have won seven Grand Slam titles in two separate Grand Slams
Only tennis player (man or woman) to have won 10 Grand Slam titles in two different decades

Serena’s biggest impact astonishingly may come off the tennis court. Tennis has had some great African American influencers throughout the years like Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, but Williams’s influence to young African American boys and girls who see her as a role model and ambassador to the sport of tennis may be unparalleled to any who have ever played the game. Players such as Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, and Donald Young, who have all credited her and her sister Venus Williams for getting them into the sport, have already felt her effect. For generations, African Americans had preferred to play other, but Serena has had a significant influence in showing young children that tennis is another option. It is hard to find someone who has had more significance both on and off the court than Serena Williams has. She is the current face of tennis because of her dominance but also is the future of the sport because of the brigade of young African American boys and girls who she has influenced.


Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens may only have a singular Olympics he is remembered for, but in my opinion, it is the greatest moment in American sports history. Owens during his lifetime was identified as the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field. He specialized in sprints and the long jump. He rose to fame in 1935 when attending Ohio State, by setting three separate world records and tying another at a Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor Michigan. These records happened in a 45-minute span and are called “the greatest 45 minutes in sports ever.”

It is often forgotten that leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, that many African American’s felt that Owens shouldn’t represent the United States at the games. This was based on the thought process that the black community was suffering at the hands of a white racist regime. Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stigmatized the advocates of a boycott as “un-American agitators” and eventually Owens and his other African American teammates decided to go to the Olympics.

In 1936 Owens and his United States teammates set sail on the SS Manhattan and arrived in Berlin for the Summer Olympics. German tyrant Adolph Hitler was using the games to show the world a rejuvenated Nazi Germany. He had high hopes that German athletes would dominate the games in front of the world. Just before the competitions, Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, visited Owens in the Olympic Village. He convinced Owens to wear Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik shoes, the first sponsorship for a male African American athlete.

The first day of competition on August 1, 1936, Hitler shook hands with only the German winners and then left the stadium. The president of the International Olympic Committee insisted that Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler decided to welcome none and skipped all further medal presentations. Owens started his Olympics on day-two (August 2nd) and won gold medals in all four events he was entered in. Hitler came under criticism for failing to acknowledge or shake hands with Owens during any of these wins.  Owens responded to these claims by saying, ” Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100-meter race, but before he left, I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me, and I waved back.”  African-American newspaper editor Robert L. Vann is one of the only ones who claimed to have seen this small interaction. He wrote, “And then… wonders of wonders I saw Adolph Hitler, salute this lad. I looked on with a heart, which beat proudly as the lad who was crowned king of the 100 meters event, get an ovation the likes of which I have never heard before. I saw Jesse Owens greeted by Grand Chancellor of this country as a brilliant sun peeped out through the clouds. I saw a vast crowd of 85,000 or 90,000 people stand up and cheer him to echo.”

Albert Speer later reported that Hitler “was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from the games.” In a 2009 interview, German journalist Siegfried Mischner claimed that Owens carried around a photograph in his wallet of Hitler shaking his hand. Mischner alleged that Owens showed him the picture and told him: “That was one of my most beautiful moments.” Mischner added that the photo was taken behind the honor stands and because of this was not captured by the world press. This picture has never been seen or been confirmed to have ever existed.

However, in 2014, Eric Brown, Britain’s most decorated living fighter pilot, independently stated in a BBC documentary, ” I actually witnessed Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens and congratulating him on what he had achieved. Additionally, an article in The Baltimore Sun in August 1936 reported that Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself. On October 15, 1936, Owens addressed an audience of African American’s in Kansas City and said, ” Hitler didn’t snub me- it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram. Upon arriving back in the United States things didn’t get easier for Owens, he was not permitted to enter the main doors of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York and instead was forced to travel up in an elevator to reach the event that was honoring him. President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to invite Jesse Owens to the White House to celebrate his accomplishments.

Racism was more rampant than ever in the United States, and Owens found it very difficult to get a job. He took on small jobs such as working as a gas station attendant and playground janitor. Later in 1942, a friend and former competitor Willis Ward brought Owens to Detroit to work at Ford Motor Company as an assistant personnel director. He later became a director for the company. In his spare time to make extra money, Owens would race against thoroughbred horses. Owens said, “People say that it is degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”

It is arguable that no athlete has ever suffered more discrimination or exemplified the struggles of cruelty and poverty better than Jesse Owens. His career and life seemingly and regrettably coincide with one another. Generally the forgotten about American superstar in sports history, his life suffered the same fate. Owen’s was pushed to the back burner after standing up to tyranny in Berlin and representing the United States with honor and grace at the 1936 Olympics. It is unfortunate that Owens does not have a better end to his story, but he is a true American icon, who didn’t always get the accolades or respect he deserved.

 

These are my choices for a Sports Mount Rushmore. I would love to hear from you with your selections on Twitter and Instagram @teeoffsports.