It’s hard to say goodbye. Senior night, one of the most unique and special days of the college basketball season. One final time to play in your home arena, one final time to tell your teammates and coaches you love them, and one final time, to say goodbye.
However, in the “one and done era”, Senior day has lost a bit of its luster. Freshmen sensations like Jahlil Okafor, Karl Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, etc. have made it easy to forget about Seniors and what college basketball in general is all about. No matter how many star freshmen come through the nation over the next several years, college basketball, at its core, will always be about watching kids grow from immature, raw teenagers, into to polished, young men.
This statement proved true in the “Year of the Senior”, in which five of the ten semifinalists for the Naismith award played their final home games in their respective arenas this week. Malcom Brogdon said goodbye to John Paul Jones arena with a resounding 68-46 victory over 11th ranked Louisville. Georges Niang said an emotional goodbye to Ames, Iowa in a 58-50 triumph over Oklahoma State. Denzel Valentine sent his senior class out with a victory over tourney hopeful Ohio State, had a double-double, and kissed the Spartan at center court to top it off. And I think we are all still crying over Marcus Paige’s moving words to Roy Williams before the Tar Heels dispatched of Syracuse 75-70.
So, yes it is the end. However, the end brings the beginning of a new season. The beginning of a new journey and one final chance for seniors to hang a banner in the place they call home. Welcome to March Madness.
Weekly Stock Report
Buy Stock Now: Oregon
Take a guess how many wins Oregon has against the RPI top 50. Five? Six? No, the Oregon Ducks have nine wins against the RPI top 50, tied for second most in the country behind only Kansas. The outright Pac 12 regular season champs wrapped up their regular season with a 76-66 impressive road win over USC, a 25-6 (14-4) record and a full head of steam heading into the postseason. Although Oregon was unranked in the preseason and has a so called “no name” starting five, make no mistake about it…the Ducks are for real.
It’s time to give this “no name” starting five, which 70 percent of people filling out brackets in a week’s time probably can’t even name, its due. Elgin Cook, a senior, averages 14.2 points per game on 47 percent shooting and recorded 17 points and 12 rebounds in Oregon’s weekend victory over USC. Tyler Dorsey, a four star freshmen who declined an offer from Kansas, averages 13 points per game on 44 percent shooting and led the Ducks in scoring with 19 against USC. Chris Boucher, a senior, averages 12.2 points a game and a team leading 7.5 rebounds per game. Dillon Brooks, a sophomore, leads the team in scoring with 17.2 points per game on 48 percent shooting to go along with 6 rebounds per game. And Casey Benson, a sophomore who averages six points per game, rounds out the starting five.
Now that you know who actually plays for Oregon, let me tell you why to believe in them. Oregon went out of their way to challenge themselves in non-conference play, a rarity in the Pac-12, with a non-conference SOS of 10. To put this in perspective, fellow Pac-12 foe Cal has a non-conference SOS of 84. Arizona, who has owned the conference for years, comes in at 263 in this category. They can outscore you, like in a 91-81 win over Oregon State. They can dig in defensively and win ugly, like in a 68-65 win over Cal. Their head coach Dana Altman is on his way to winning three out of four Pac-12 coach of the year awards. Oregon is not just a good team; they are a great team. Buy stock now.
Sell Stock Now: Ben Simmons and LSU
Maybe one day in the NBA future top overall pick Ben Simmons will be serenated with the three letter chant, “MVP”. On Saturday in Lexington, however, a much different three letter chant was directed at him; “GPA”.
While the cleverness of the Kentucky faithful is amusing, the nose dive of LSU is no laughing matter. The excitement of folks in Baton Rouge was palpable when Simmons accepted LSU’s offer, however 13 losses later, Tiger fans have to be scratching their heads as to what went wrong. Was the loss of Keith Hornsby a major blow to this LSU squad? Absolutely. Did Tim Quarterman’s seemingly bipolar play hurt the Tigers? Without a doubt. However, don’t exonerate Ben Simmons. Trust me, he’s not perfect.
In a must-win game against Kentucky Saturday, Simmons shot under .500 percent from the field and only managed 17 points. The stat line overall looks good as usual, 17-11-4. However, Simmons was not even close to the best player on the floor and was outplayed by Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere who has been a major disappoint for most of the year. In another huge game down the stretch of the season at Tennessee, head coach Johnny Jones did not start Simmons for “academic reasons” and the Tigers lost 81-65.
I am not blaming Simmons for either of these defeats. Rather, I am pointing out that this collective failure does not completely exclude the team’s best player. The 2015-2016 LSU Tigers will be remembered as a team who failed, and like it or not, Ben Simmons and his sub 2.0 GPA can’t totally escape that.
Buy Stock Now: Denzel Valentine’s Case for National Player of the Year
Despite the incredible numbers Buddy Hield has compiled this season, it is time to give Denzel Valentine, the heart of Michigan State, a serious look. In fact, if there was a college MVP award, Valentine would win it going away. When Denzel Valentine has played, the Spartans are an impressive 21-4 and easily one of the top 3 teams in America. However, without Valentine, Michigan State has looked anything but a top ten team. They lost by double figures on the road to Iowa and needed overtime to defeat mid-major Oakland in Detroit.
While Buddy Hield has clearly had the better scoring season, Valentine is a much more complete player. He is averaging eight assists to Buddy’s two and eight rebounds to Buddy’s six to go along with 20 points per game. Valentine has had 7 games this season with double digit assists while Hield has not had a single game with double digit assists all year. In fact, Hield has not had a single game all year where he recorded double figures in any other category except points scored.
I could also argue that Denzel has more signature performances than his competitor Buddy. For example, in the Champions Classic against now top overall ranked Kansas, Valentine had a triple double, 29-12-12, to single handedly lead the Spartans to victory. On the other hand, in a major Big 12 showdown with Kansas in mid-February, Buddy Hield shot 33 percent from the floor and missed a huge late free throw in a 76-72 damaging loss to the Jayhawks.
Although Hield has led the National Player of the Year discussion for the better part of the season, Valentine has significantly closed the gap over the past two weeks. It is becoming clear that sans scoring, Denzel Valentine is simply a better player than Buddy Hield. Buy Stock Now.
Sell Stock Now: Wichita State
In the MVC conference tournament, Wichita State outscored Loyola Chicago (15-17) and Northern Iowa (21-12) by a combined total of three points and fell to UNI Saturday in the semifinals. I like Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker as much as the next guy, but struggling mightily against two mid-majors this weekend has given me major cause for concern.
After averaging 23 points per game in last year’s NCAA tournament, Fred VanVleet looked primed for a major Senior season. However, injuries and diminished play has limited him to 12.0 points per game, almost two less than he averaged last season, and just five assists per game. Also, Ron Baker’s field goal percentage from both the field and three have fallen this season, along with a slight decrease in points per game.
It appears as though the darlings of the NCAA tournament three years ago are saving their worst for last. Barring a very favorable draw, Wichita State could be a first round exit in this year’s tournament. Sell Stock now.
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UNC Seniors Finally Win in Durham
With a gutsy 76-72 victory over 17th ranked Duke Saturday night, North Carolina and its embattled senior class finally got their signature win over Duke. Behind another dominating performance from ACC Player of the Year candidate Brice Johnson, who scored 18 points and had a game high 21 rebounds, UNC avenged its loss to Duke in the Smith Center two weeks ago.
In this recent four game losing streak to Duke, UNC has continuously found ways to lose. From numerous turnovers last year down the stretch in an overtime loss at Duke to their failure to involve Brice Johnson down the stretch of this season’s meeting in Chapel Hill, UNC has found more ways to lose than win over the past few seasons.
After an impressive win in Durham on Senior Night, however, analysts are beginning to jump back on the Tar Heels bandwagon. UNC demolished Duke on the glass, outrebounding the Blue Devils 64-29. While a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium is always impressive, I am not completely sold on UNC’s final four hopes. It is important to remember that North Carolina’s rebounding numbers were greatly enhanced by Duke’s decimated front court. Without Senior Amile Jefferson, Duke has been outrebounded numerous times this year and Saturday was no different.
UNC still is one of the weaker shooting teams in the country, which could be their downfall. On Saturday against Duke, UNC shot an abysmal 4-23 from three-point range. In their first meeting against Duke on February 17th, UNC shot 1-13, or 7.7% from three. These numbers will simply not be good enough against teams who can even come close to matching their size down low, which Duke could not.
Make no mistake about it, UNC has a chance to be special this March. But if they don’t make enough perimeter shots, they will be going home early, wondering what might have been.
Conference Tournament Predictions
New York Life ACC tournament
Champion: North Carolina
Runner Up: Virginia
Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship
Runner Up: West Virginia
Pac 12 Men’s Basketball Championship
Runner up: Oregon
Big 10 Men’s Basketball Championship
Champion: Michigan State
Runner up: Indiana
Big East Tournament
Runner up: Xavier
SEC Conference Tournament
Runner up: Vanderbilt