NFL Mock Draft 2.0

1. Houston Texans: Khalil Mack | OLB | Buffalo

2. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans | WR | Texas A&M

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney | DE | South Carolina

4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater | QB | Louisville

5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins | WR | Clemson

6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson | OT | Auburn

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Zack Martin | OG | Notre Dame

8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles | QB | Central Florida

9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews | OT | Texas A&M

10. Detroit Lions: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix | FS | Alabama

11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr | OLB | UCLA

12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron | TE | North Carolina

13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor | FS | Louisville

14. Chicago Bears: Jason Verrett | CB | TCU

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandin Cooks | WR | Oregon State

16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy | DE | Missouri

17. Baltimore Ravens: Cyrus Kouandjio | OT | Alabama

18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr. | WR | LSU

19. Miami Dolphins: C.J. Mosley | ILB | Alabama

20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier | OLB | Ohio State

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Green Bay Packers)Darqueze Dennard | CB | Michigan State

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert | CB | Oklahoma State

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Allen Robinson | WR | Penn State 

24. Green Bay Packers (from Cincinnati Bengals)Troy Niklas | TE | Notre Dame

25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix | DT | Notre Dame

26. Cleveland Browns: Kyle Van Noy | OLB | BYU

27. New Orleans Saints: Lamarcus Joyner | CB | Florida State

28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses | OT | Virginia

29. New England Patriots: Dee Ford | DE | Auburn

30. San Francisco 49ers: Jared Abbrederis | WR | Ohio State

31. Denver Broncos: David Yankey | OG | Stanford

32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin | WR | Florida State

NFL Mock Draft 1.0

I’ll try not to bore you with too long of an introduction, but I do need to clarify something about my inaugural NFL mock draft…

I have no sources.

I have no connections. My Rolodex is empty. I’m not in anyone’s war room. I don’t have my ear to the ground. Adam Schefter and I are not buds in any sense of the term. I have absolutely no idea which way NFL teams are leaning with their 2014 draft picks, and I don’t intend to pull any strings to try to find out.

I’m a blogger, not a reporter.

Instead, I present to you my NFL Mock Draft 1.0 (with exactly a month to go until the big day!) which can be best defined like this…

This is what I would do if I were the general manager of all 32 teams.

This is how I think the draft should go, not how it will go. What I like about doing it this way is that it tends to spark more discussion with readers when the narrative is [SPOILER], “The Texans would be much wiser to take Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick,” rather than, “I’ve heard there’s no way they’re passing on Teddy Bridgewater.”

Throw out intent for accuracy on draft day — that’s not the goal here. The goal is for me to play GM for each team and hopefully ignite some debate about who should go where, and why. Fair enough? Let’s do this.

 

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Houston Texans): Jadeveon Clowney | DE | South Carolina

Clowney 1

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews | OL | Texas A&M

3. Houston Texans (from Jacksonville Jaguars): Teddy Bridgewater | QB | Louisville

4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles | QB | Central Florida

Bortles 1

5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins | WR | Clemson

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack | LB | Buffalo

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson | OL | Auburn

8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel | QB | Texas A&M

9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans | WR | Texas A&M

10. Detroit Lions: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix | S | Alabama

11. Baltimore Ravens (from Tennessee Titans): Taylor Lewan | OL | Michigan

12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron | TE | North Carolina

13. St. Louis Rams: Xavier Su’a-Filo | OL | UCLA

Su'a-Filo 1

14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix | DT | Notre Dame

15. Cincinnati Bengals (from Pittsburgh Steelers): Jason Verrett | CB | TCU

Verrett 1

16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald | DT | Pittsburgh

17. Tennessee Titans (from Baltimore Ravens): C.J. Mosely | LB | Alabama

18. New York Jets: Calvin Pryor | S | Louisville

Pryor 1

19. Miami Dolphins: Anthony Barr | LB | UCLA

20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy | DE | Missouri

21. Green Bay Packers: Jimmie Ward | S | Northern Illinois

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ryan Shazier | LB | Ohio State

Shazier 1

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Darqueze Dennard | CB | Michigan State

24. Pittsburgh Steelers (from Cincinnati Bengals): Marqise Lee | WR | USC

25. San Diego Chargers: Ra’Shede Hageman | DT | Minnesota

26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Bradley Roby | CB | Ohio State

27. New Orleans Saints: Zack Martin | OL | Notre Dame

28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr. | WR | LSU

37 LSU vs 27 TCU, Sat, August 2013

29. New England Patriots: Dee Ford | DE | Auburn

30. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Gilbert | CB | Oklahoma State

31. Denver Broncos: Cyrus Kouandjio | OL | Alabama

32. Seattle Seahawks: Brandin Cooks | WR | Oregon State

Farewell, Cyclones

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma State

* as seen first on Wide Right & Natty Light

It’s like when you turn the final page of your favorite book.

No matter how many times you may have read that particular story before, you still close the book and look around in a daze, dejection even. Sure, your life carries on just like it always had. As your brain snaps back to reality, the emotional connections you felt so strongly with the characters still linger, even though the very nature of those connections is completely make believe.

What are you supposed to do now?

Well, now we reflect, Cyclone Nation. And luckily for us this entire story, cover to cover, was real the entire time. There were no make believe connections; no pretend relationships with this Iowa State basketball team. Emotion like this doesn’t fade in this business and it never will.

The 2013-14 season, however fleeting it may seem now, will live on forever, and it’s our duty as loyal sons and daughters to make sure that our children — and our children’s children — know just how special Fred Hoiberg, Monté Morris, DeAndre Kane, Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim, Dustin Hogue, Naz Long, Matt Thomas and the rest of the characters in this story truly were.

Maybe this basketball season will end up drawing more comparisons to the finale of “The Sopranos” than anything else – concluding just as striking as it began. No, there was no fairytale ending here. This team isn’t riding off into the sunset with anything in particular (like a National Championship trophy). Happily ever after? Maybe. That sort of fate will be up to the men that took the floor with “Iowa State” proudly sewn across their chests.

So what do you say, albeit indirectly, behind a keyboard, to a group of men that brought thousands upon thousands of people an insurmountable sense of pride, happiness and excitement?

I simply say thank you.

Thank you first and foremost to Johnny Orr for your years of teaching, coaching and unwavering and unmistakable enthusiasm for Iowa State University. There has been no bigger ambassador for everything ISU stands for, and the world is a far worse place without you in it. I like to think that every modicum of effort and every ounce of blood, sweat and tears shed this season was in your honor. That “JO” patch has seen its final days, but you live on forever.

Thank you, men, for showing us how to carry yourselves in the face of adversity. Melvin, I will never forget turning to my brother with a shared look of disbelief when I saw you check into the game against Michigan. I hyperextended my knee once and barely had the desire to walk on it, let alone help win a college basketball game that meant so much to so many people at the time. Georges, you scored five points on a broken foot. Enough said.

Thank you, men, for bringing Hilton Magic all the way back. I like to think Hoiberg helped raise part of the phoenix from the ashes four years ago, but as that unparalleled winning streak built and built throughout this season, you guys were the ones that gave it its wings again. It will never be proven, but I am convinced 14,384 die-hard Cyclone fans were exclusively responsible for keeping Mike Gesell’s free throws from going through the hoop on that December night. If the baskets weren’t actually shaking then I’m fine with calling it magic. I bet Gesell would rather chalk it up to that, too.

Thank you, men, for being our big, dick-swinging clutch motherfuckers that refused to lose (trademarked by whoever deserves that trademark – you know who you are). I had every intention of being three sheets to the wind for an entire weekend when Northern Iowa jumped out to that 18-point lead at Wells Fargo Arena. For the life of me, I’ll never be able to figure that one out, nor how you ended up winning. And let’s just apply that same sentiment across the board, shall we? Every hair-pulling, teeth-grinding, seething rage-inducing, God awful start to a game that you ever had this season – every lead you gave up and subsequently recaptured. Countless times, whether we liked it or not, you refused to say die and that is a quality that I have never known this team to have as long I’ve been alive.

Thank you, DeAndre, for that time you not only went balls-to-the-wall against a guy who looked exactly like Drago from Rocky IV but actually dropped him to the floor like Drago from Rocky IV. I don’t encourage flagrant fouls, but when obvious parallels can be drawn to one of my favorite films of all time, I’m okay with a thousand inadvertent eye pokes.

Thank you again, Melvin, for your leadership in every sense of the term. I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to express the importance of everything you’ve done for this university. Alley-oop your way to a big fat paycheck, buddy. I’ll come watch you on the Clippers.

Thank you, Georges and Naz, for being both the closer and THE FUCKING CLOSER. You put band-aids on perfectly healthy foreheads and “3sus” t-shirts in dresser drawers, all thanks to an unprecedented will to win basketball games. Never seen anything like it. These next two years are going to be something else.

Thank you, men, for winning a championship – two of them actually. At the conclusion of the Diamond Head Classic, this fan base began to realize that something special was definitely in the air. But watching everything come full circle when that clock hit triple zeros at the Sprint Center is a feeling that I hope everyone gets to experience in their lifetime. You made me simultaneously cheer and cry like an absolute bitch.

Thank you for your commitment to excellence, your desire to take the floor for reasons that go beyond your personal satisfaction. As Naz said about Cyclone Nation during the Big 12 Tournament, “They love us and we love them.” You’ll never know just how much, Naz.

Thank you for every moment I chucked a throw pillow at my TV (That’s what they mean by “throw pillow,” right? I’ll see myself out.). For every bellowed curse word I was sure would garner a noise complaint from my neighbor. For every high-five that made my hand sting, every hug I gave to a stranger, every time I lost my voice.

Every lob, every no-look pass, every assist, every three, every and-one, every unfathomable drop-step spin move, every rebound, every karate kick, every steal, every middle finger (or just that one) and that fateful day The Mayor accidentally created his Dancing With The Stars audition tape — thank you.

Personally, I don’t really need a happy ending to a story. Nothing really needs to come full circle. I don’t need closure. The guy doesn’t need to get the girl, the underdog doesn’t have to win it all. As long as I was on the edge of my seat with every turn of the page – those heart-pounding moments when you just can’t put it down – I can live with whatever is written on that last page.

Like how this was the greatest Iowa State men’s basketball team I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

If you can think of anything else (and I’m sure you can), add it to the comments below. Fred, Monté, Dre, Georges, Mel, Hoguey, 3sus, Ice, Dozer, SDW, Percy and yeah, you too Doc – you have embodied what a true family and a true brotherhood looks like in this sport, and we simply thank you for the ride.

On behalf of Cyclone Nation, our hearts are very full.

Sweet Sixteen Previews and Predictions

Wisconsin 1

*as seen first on Cyclone Fanatic

How sweet it is to still be relevant in late March.

Welcome to the Sweet Sixteen. Of course, no game is more important than the first one that tips off in Madison Square Garden on Friday evening but I have previewed the other seven for your reading and viewing pleasure, ranking them in order of quality.

No, Arizona and San Diego State is not going to be eye candy of any kind, but you should watch it anyway. To the games…

1. (3) Iowa State vs. (7) Connecticut | Friday, 6:27 p.m. | My pick: Iowa State, 75-72

As incredible as this season has been for ISU, there’s no need to complain about what’s fair and what’s not. But the fact that this game is a stone’s throw from Storrs is just a tad bit sucky. Still, this is a matchup that bodes well for the Cyclones, with or without Georges Niang. UConn has four guys who get regular minutes that are taller anyone on the court for ISU, yet they still don’t rebound particularly well. Pulling a raw seven-footer in Amida Brimah away from the basket often and containing Shabazz Napier will be the two biggest keys in this one. Capitalize on that, control the glass and Iowa State should have one more game in MSG.

2. (2) Michigan vs. (11) Tennessee | Friday, 6:15 p.m. | My pick: Tennessee, 71-68

This is a Volunteer team that scored 59 and 49 points in two SEC Tournament games yet is averaging 82 thus far in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan does not win games defensively nor will they beat you up in the interior — neither quality being particularly conducive to handling this Tennessee team. They are scorching, much like the VCU team that carved up everyone in its path en route to the Final Four as one of the “last four in” in 2011. In the end this will come down to Michigan’s finesse vs. the Vols’ physicality, and I tend to lean toward the latter. You won’t find a much better matchup Friday than Jordan McRea vs. Nik Stauskas.

3. (2) Wisconsin vs. (6) Baylor | Thursday, 6:47 p.m. | My pick: Wisconsin, 71-67

Take absolutely nothing away from what Scott Drew and the Bears have accomplished in the tournament thus far — it’s tough find a hotter team anywhere. But they have faced both a maligned Nebraska offense and an invisible Creighton defense up to this point. The Badgers are a far more balanced squad with an entire lineup of guys that can beat you from any spot on the floor, from Frank Kaminsky down to Traevon Jackson. What I think will ultimately hurt Baylor is their inability to defend the three-point shot (243rd nationally), and Wisconsin is hitting 10 of them a game in postseason play.

4. (1) Virginia vs. (4) Michigan State | Friday, 8:57 p.m. | My pick: Michigan State, 65-61

I don’t remember the last time we saw a 1-seed as much of a perceived underdog as Virginia is in this game. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Michigan State is finally healthy and clicking at the right time. The individual matchups in this game are phenomenal, but Sparty’s team defense will be the key. At 347th nationally in tempo and 20th in offensive efficiency, UVA basically plays a chess match in their half court sets — and they’re good at it. Tom Izzo has never gone without taking group of four-year players to the Final Four, and I don’t see that trend being bucked this year with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling.

5. (4) Louisville vs. (8) Kentucky | Friday, 8:45 p.m. | My pick: Louisville, 72-67

The selection committee knew what it was doing. Throw Wichita State in the “Midwest” to make them feel good, load it up with both teams from last year’s title game and make them play Kentucky in the Round of 32. You saw this coming. Pitino vs. Calipari. Red vs. Blue. “Right way” vs. “wrong way,” if you so choose. Simply, Louisville’s ability to force turnovers, defend the perimeter (2nd nationally in both departments) and their experience should be enough to control this game. The Cardinals have lost once since January.

6. (1) Florida vs. (4) UCLA | Thursday, 8:45 p.m. | My pick: Florida, 74-58

Florida is putting teams away at an alarming rate, now boasting a 28-game winning streak (and 33 of their last 34). Incredible. Nothing is more critical than the Gators defense in this one. At 20.2 seconds per, Florida forces the second-longest possessions in the entire country, rendering opponents ineffective in the half court. UCLA doesn’t shoot a ton of threes so if they fail to get penetration (a likely fate facing Patric Young) and settle for perimeter looks, expect the Gators to notch another sub-65-point defensive performance, something they’ve accomplished in nine straight games.

7. (10) Stanford vs. (11) Dayton | Thursday, 7:15 p.m. | My pick: Stanford, 75-69

I thought I would have a chance to be in Palo Alto for tipoff of this game (which would be pure insanity), but my flight lands later than I thought. As far as what’s important here: Stanford and Dayton are actually alike in a ton of ways. The Flyers will have the edge offensively and should get a lot of production from their bench, but neither team will blow you away in any statistical category. I’m slightly more impressed with Stanford’s ability to handle physical New Mexico and Kansas teams than I am with Dayton’s wins over a couple under-acheivers in Ohio State and Syracuse — still spectacular in its own right. Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell is the most underrated 1-2 punch left in this tournament.

8. (1) Arizona vs. (4) San Diego State | Thursday, 9:17 p.m. | My pick: Arizona, 64-57

It’s hard to get excited for this one. These two met back in November (a nine-point win for Arizona) and was actually SDSU’s lone blemish until the month of February. What you get in a matchup like this is 40 minutes of guys punching each other in the mouth and eating up 20+ seconds of the play clock every time down the floor. Arizona has a massive advantage on the interior and Steve Fisher’s guys don’t shoot threes, so I don’t foresee any way the Aztecs remain in this game offensively. This should set up an Elite Eight date with Wisconsin where the Badgers pose a completely opposite complication for Arizona.

Bear Hunting in Hilton

Niang `

*as first seen on Wide Right & Natty Lite

One of the first things I did when the clock hit triple zeros at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 7 was text my dad to declare, “This might be the best Iowa State basketball team ever.”

I knew it was a bold proclamation. Fifteen years ago my life consisted almost entirely of Pokémon cards, fudgesicles and playing house with the girl next door. I wasn’t oblivious yet was certainly not tuned all the way in when Marcus Fizer, Jamaal Tinsley & Co. led the Cyclones on a crash course through the Big 12 at the genesis of Larry Eustachy’s far-too-brief tenure [raises glass].

Nope, I couldn’t give two ripe farts about college basketball back then. Maybe one. Not two.

But as with most guys and gals about my age who bleed cardinal and gold, if you weren’t fortunate enough to know those turn-of-the-century Cyclones all that well — you eventually came to know of them.

And what I knew for certain when the buzzer sounded after that home opener on Jan. 7 is that this group of guys — the eye-gouging thug from Marshall, Fred Hoiberg’s mini-me who can’t find his stroke, that undersized forward with the huge ass who used to play with Nerlens Noel, the JuCo transfer nobody cared about, the “glue guy” Canadian who never dunks, and others — might actually be the best Iowa State basketball team I had ever laid eyes on.

There’s no denying that night against Baylor — an 87-72 win — shaped the expectations for the remainder of the season. The Cyclones built on an already record-setting undefeated start by luring the seventh-ranked team in the country into Hilton Coliseum and punting them into the rafters. Three days prior, Iowa State had squandered a gigantic lead and eked by a mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock, leaving some fans to wonder if maybe that 13-game winning streak was a fluke after all — perhaps a couple lucky wins and a cupcake-ish non-conference schedule wasn’t ideal preparation for what we would eventually come to dub the best conference in college basketball.

At the time, Baylor was a month removed from a win over Kentucky and a close loss to Syracuse, remaining otherwise unblemished (however you would like to view those games now is your prerogative). Perhaps this was going to finally be a Scott Drew team that played to its full potential, using its size and athletic ability to both dominate opponents in the frontcourt and also fall back on a solid core of jumpshooters.

It was all a terrifying possibility on paper that never came to fruition, at least not on that night.

DeAndre Kane dropped a season-high 30. Baylor couldn’t exploit Doc Sadler’s patented double team. But one thing stood out above anything else…

As far as X’s and O’s, this was going to be a new kind of Fred Hoiberg basketball team.

What the Cyclones once had in Korie LuciousChris AllenChris BabbScott Christopherson and Tyrus McGee is gone, and quite frankly, it’s probably never coming back. All you heard about Iowa State basketball at the onset of Hoiberg’s coaching career was that this was going to be a team that lived and died by the three — just as he did in the NBA. The Cyclones were going to be a team hereby constructed in their coach’s image — able to spread defenses thin and shoot the lights out from the parking lot.

But the narrative changed in 2013-14, and that change was most recognizable against a team it probably shouldn’t have been.

All of a sudden, Iowa State was top-10 nationally in two-point field goal efficiency. Twenty-four total two-point buckets to the Bears’ 17 was the line that night. Paint points. And we’re talking about a Baylor team that has height advantage over 343 college basketball teams in the country.

THREE HUNDRED FORTY-THREE — and this Cyclone team didn’t flinch. The first top-10 matchup in the history of Hilton Coliseum and this Cyclone team didn’t flinch. A unblemished record to protect from the seventh-ranked team in the country and this Cyclone team didn’t flinch.

That night was the birth of everything we didn’t know about Iowa State basketball. Who was Monté Morris going to be exactly? A career-high 13 points (which still stands) and four assists in 27 reserve minutes became a pretty successful audition for the eventual starting point guard job. How was this group of guys going to stymie teams that were terrifying mismatches on paper like Baylor? Ball movement — 23 assists. What kind of workload should we realistically expect from an undersized junior college transfer in Dustin Hogue? How about 36 minutes — seven more than any BU player and one shy of DeAndre Kane’s game-high 37.

Beating Baylor was the dawn of a new state of mind for the 2013-14 Cyclone basketball season. You can rebut with the fact that they crapped the bed their next three times out on the floor after that — totally fine, I understand.

But up to that point, all we knew was that Iowa State was a BYU prayer (PUN TOTALLY INTENDED AFTER I WENT BACK AND READ IT) and a coupleMike Gesell free throws away from just another ordinary start. Throw in a loss to Northern Iowa for shits and giggles (though that game was quite literally the least funny thing I experienced all year).

Frankly, we didn’t know who this team really was on Jan. 6.

But on Jan. 7, I think everyone did. And we never forgot.

2014 Major Conference Tournament Previews and Predictions

*as seen first on Cyclone Fanatic

Let me just take a brief moment to say thank you to everyone who read (and hopefully utilized!) my weekend viewer’s guides for the latter part of this season. I was thrilled to be brought on as a college hoops contributor here at Cyclone Fanatic and hope to continue regular articles for you all, even though the regular season has wrapped up.

So without further ado, here’s a little primer for the major conference tournaments starting today. If you’re hoping for a Mountain West preview, I apologize (I’m kind of on a word count, you see). Plus, we all hate UNLV now anyway, right? Let’s just say I pick them to get blown out in their first game. And we love Larry Eustachy, so Colorado State it is!

In all seriousness, enjoy these conference tournaments as they carry us right on through to Selection Sunday. See you for the big dance!

American Athletic Conference (AAC) | Mar. 12-15 | Memphis, TN

Top Seed: Cincinnati | My Pick: (2) Louisville | Player to Watch: Russ Smith, Louisville

Kind of crazy that they actually flipped a coin to determine the top seed here. It was between Cincy and Louisville, and luck was a lady for the Cardinals. Russ Smith has been in full-on beast mode over the last month, capping off his senior season with a 13-assist performance against Connecticut. I like Louisville’s balance, and running the table in Memphis would be a great way to silence the haters who have condemned them for a weak schedule.

Dark Horse Scenario: (5) Memphis advances to the championship.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) | Mar. 12-16 | Greensboro, NC

Top Seed: Virginia | My Pick: (3) Duke | Player to Watch: Jabari Parker, Duke

Don’t let the rumors fool you, this is Jabari Parker’s last hurrah. He’ll be off to the NBA, and if it weren’t for some cat named Doug McDermott, Parker quite possibly could have been National Player of the Year. Duke is 2-1 (and maybe should be 3-0) against UVA and Syracuse, the two seeds above them. The Blue Devils get a double bye, possibly a struggling Syracuse in the semifinals, all the while playing a stone’s throw from Durham. I like Parker and this offense to cut down the nets.

Dark Horse Scenario: (5) Pittsburgh nearly knocks off Virginia in the semifinals.

Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10) | Mar. 12-16 | Brooklyn, NY

Top Seed: St. Louis | My Pick: (2) VCU | Player to Watch: Treveon Graham, VCU

In November, I thought this conference would end up stacked and I was right. What I didn’t expect was the likelihood of the A-10 getting six tournament bids. These teams play the most entertaining basketball anywhere in the country and certainly the best defense. Treveon Graham is just one of maybe five or six guys I could tell you to keep an eye on, but he’s truly an NBA player-in-waiting worth a watch. I can’t say that my cup runneth over with confidence picking the Rams, but I’ll lock it in.

Dark Horse Scenario: Honestly, Massachusetts could win this tournament at the 6 seed.

Big East Conference | Mar. 12-16 | New York City, NY

Top Seed: Villanova | My Pick: Villanova | Player to Watch: Douglas Fresh McBuckets

Marquette coach Buzz Williams said recently that St. John’s roster is the most talented in the league (granted, having just lost to them by 16). So keep an eye on Steve Lavin and the Red Storm at the 5 seed, potentially facing Villanova in the semifinals. Short of that I don’t foresee a lot of parity here, and I’ll probably eat crow for saying that. America deserves another go-around between Nova and Creighton. If we get it, I have a hard time seeing Jay Wright falling to the Bluejays for the third time in less than 60 days. The Wildcats should be a tough out as they have their sights set on an NCAA Tournament 1 seed.

Dark Horse Scenario: (see above) St. John’s runs the table.

Big Ten Conference | Mar. 13-17 | Indianapolis, IN

Top Seed: Michigan | My pick: (2) Wisconsin, I guess | Player to Watch: Frank Kaminsky

I have no clue what to make of any of this. None. Zero. I’m picking Wisconsin maybe because I like Frank Kaminsky so much — I don’t know. There is no bigger enigma in all of college basketball than the Big Ten, I’m convinced nobody really wanted to win it, and despite being the champs, I’m not sure Michigan is even the second- or third-best team in the field! AND THEN THERE’S NEBRASKA. I don’t know. Have fun with this one. Kaminsky is a riot, Iowa could win the whole thing, what if Indiana decides to show up? I don’t know.

Dark Horse Scenario: I don’t know. How about (5) Ohio State to the championship?

Big 12 Conference | Mar. 12-15 | Kansas City, MO

Top seed: Kansas | My pick: (8) Oklahoma State | Player to Watch: Marcus Smart

Despite the loss at Iowa State, I like the direction OK State is heading, and I think a neutral floor against a KU team that’s down Joel Embiid is a perfect scenario for the Cowboys to capitalize on (although, Texas Tech comes first). What more can you say other than that this is a much different Oklahoma State team than we grew accustomed to midseason? They’re obviously underseeded, and Marcus Smart is a man with a plan. Should he lead his team past TTU and then Kansas, I don’t see much standing in his way. How about a little Bedlam for the Big 12 crown?

Dark Horse Scenario: (7) Baylor reaches the semifinals.

Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) | Mar. 12-15 | Las Vegas, NV

Top Seed: Arizona | My pick: Arizona | Player to Watch: Nick Johnson

It’s amazing what the Wildcats have been able to do without one of their best players for the better half of conference play. The Pac-12 isn’t a juggernaut by any stretch, but Arizona has maintained hold of a top line projection all year despite losing Brandon Ashley, and all of their losses have been relatively close. UCLA has a shot but there shouldn’t be any bid thieves here. The Pac-12 was the Cats’ to lose from the git-go. Several impressive offenses showcased in this tournament so that should be a treat.

Dark Horse Scenario: Oregon makes a run to the final and challenges Arizona yet again.

Southeastern Conference (SEC) | Mar. 12-16 | Atlanta, GA

Top Seed: Florida | My pick: (4) Tennessee | Player to Watch: Jordan McRae

I’m sure I’ll catch heat for this, but you have to think the entire SEC is gunning for the Gators at this point. Tennessee is much better than their record shows and is simultaneously one bad loss away from the NIT and a good win or two away from the big dance. Twenty straight conference wins is damn near impossible, and a loss would likely not bounce Florida from the top line on Selection Sunday. It’s a long shot, but I’ll put my name on the Volunteers this week.

Dark Horse Scenario: Need I say more?

NCAA Tournament Mailbag

011312gsuhoops HS16

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s also time to take your NCAA Tournament questions as the countdown has hit FOUR DAYS until Selection Day. Let’s go!

@CallMeMrSpivey: Which current Lunardi 16 seed has the best shot at a run?

Lunardi’s last update was Mar. 10 so I’ll go with Patrick Stevens’ bracket, which just updated yesterday. Of Wofford, Utah Valley, Weber State, Alabama State and Coastal Carolina (Wright State has been eliminated), I’ll take Wofford. A couple things I like to look at when trying to pick monumental upsets like this (however unlikely they may be) is strength of schedule, experience and turnover rate. The Terriers fit two of the three, unfortunately not having many upperclassmen to speak of. If they draw a complacent 1 seed who perhaps doesn’t excel in some of those same facets (Kansas comes immediately to mind, though it would take a miracle to see them on the top line), that could be a fun one.

@TedFlintKansas: Ideal time and day for Iowa State’s first game in the tournament?

Night game, night game, night game. The Cyclones love themselves a spotlight, so I would love to see a Thursday night game — the last thing we need to give a Cinderella-in-waiting is another day to prepare for Fred Hoiberg’s offense. I say Day 1 at primetime would be the ideal time slot.

@sharkweather: Who will go farther in the tournament, Iowa State or Wichita State?

Tough to tell — it’s all about matchups. I hold true to my notion that Wichita State is going to have their hands full with whatever 8 or 9 seed they face in the Round of 32. It will be the best team they’ve faced all year! I’m inclined to say Iowa State based on that but also because I’m nothing if not a homer come March Madness time. I think this is finally the year the Cyclones get over the hump.

@JoeTGordon: I’ve seen the ‘Clones as a 3 seed in San Antonio. Nice place to visit in March. What are the possibilities of that happening?

I really don’t have a good answer for you, Joe, and I apologize. I won’t be behind those closed doors on Selection Sunday, but what I can tell you is that the committee tends to offer some modicum of a “home court advantage” to the 1 and 2 seeds (i.e. Villanova and Syracuse being placed together in the East Region). But beyond that, I don’t think they’ll be looking to do Iowa State any favors sitting at a 3 or 4. More often than not, however, I have seen San Antonio projected as the destination for the Cyclones. So if those bracketologists know something I don’t (which they definitely do), maybe that’s where they’re headed.

@RedDirtCyclone: What does WVU have to do to get in?

Check out the University of North Florida’s NCAA Tournament Dance Card page. I stumbled upon it this year. It’s the most accurate resource on the web for determining which teams are on the bubble and by how much, so ditch Lunardi’s “First Four Out” garbage and get with these guys. As of now, it says West Virginia is the sixth team out, but to be safe we should probably knock them down a couple spots with the expectation that there will be some bid thieves in these upcoming conference tournaments. If you look at the bracket, I think they’re in with two wins. As you can see, they clearly got the cake side of the bracket as a prize for beating Kansas last week, and I think if they carve their way through it all the way to the title game, the Mountaineers are in.

@ChrisHalbur44: Probable seeding scenarios based off our results in KC? Ideal region?

If I were on the Selectio Committee, I would reward Iowa State with the following: a 4 seed if they lose to Kansas State tomorrow, a 3 seed with either one or two wins, and a 2 seed for winning the Big 12 Tournament, especially if Kansas and Oklahoma are two of their casualties. In 2000-2001, the Cyclones were a 2 seed with five losses on their résumé, coming off a one-and-done in the Big 12 Tournament. With a much tougher schedule this year, seven losses and a Big 12 title, I wouldn’t be surprised if the committee got generous for that body of work (not that they would compare the two seasons, I’m just giving you perspective).

@G_Ball12: With Wichita State as a 1 seed, do you still favor them in a Third Round matchup with a team like Kansas State, Oregon or Baylor?

As I referenced in @sharkweather’s question, I’m inclined not to. Whoever the Shockers face in the Round of 32 will be the best team that they have played since last year’s Final Four. That is a fact, unless you really like their win over Tennessee (which is a good one, don’t get me wrong). It’s not a knock on Wichita State’s talent, it’s a judgment based on their level of preparation. Northern Iowa on your home floor in January is a far cry from Baylor in St. Louis in March. Yes, I know they did it last year — as the underdog. The target on their back is enormous this year, and everyone will be gunning for them.

@KodyPederson: Top 1 or 2 seed that we are forgetting about or overlooking?

ESPN would have you believe Villanova is figment of your imagination. They get almost no coverage (thanks in large part to Fox Sports 1) but truly have all the pieces in place to win a National Championship. The vast majority of bracket-filler-outers are going to bounce them in the Sweet Sixteen, and I think it’s a mistake. The Wildcats have a “Big Three” that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone else’s in JayVaughn Pinkson, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard. They’re balanced. They do nothing bad besides the occasional struggle guarding the perimeter (numbers that have been single-handedly skewed by Ethan Wragge). With the right matchups in the tournament, they’ll go deep in my bracket.

@BeeGeeDoubleU: In order to win the billion-dollar bracket, how many upsets should I pick in the Round of 64?

I’d count on anywhere between 5-10. A couple of things to keep in mind: since 1985, there have only been two tournaments in which a 9 seed didn’t beat an 8 (2000 and 2002). So pick one or two of those for sure. Also, the 12/5 and 11/6 games are always sexy upset picks, so sprinkle those in. When picking 10/7 games it’s best to just not even look at the seed, because many times the 10 is actually favored (i.e. Iowa State over Notre Dame last year, if I’m not mistaken). If you’re exceeding 10 first round upset picks, you can probably count on not being the world’s next billionaire — at least not this year.

@mookjnsn: Who are the best and worst potential opening game matchups (prospective 11-14 seeds) for Iowa State?

I’m going chew my fingernails down to the nub next week if Iowa State draws Georgia State, Eastern Kentucky or Mercer. As I mentioned in my response to @CallMeMrSpivey, I like to look at strength of schedule, experience and turnover rate when picking Cinderellas, and all three fit the bill pretty well (it’s rare to find a high strength of schedule among small conference teams). Here’s hoping they’re in another region. Best matchups? I suppose I’d say anybody else. If you’re looking for teams who might actually be over-seeded at 11-14, maybe Manhattan. They’re just not very good. For entertainment purposes, I would have much rather preferred Iona to win that MAAC Championship game.

An Early Look at 2014-15 Cyclone Hoops

Fred Hoiberg has one incoming high school recruit for the 2014-15 season. Not “only” one.

One.

To say “only” is to imply that Iowa State may perhaps be in the midst of a struggle on the recruiting front. The truth is that Ames is not Tucson, Arizona. It’s not Louisville, Kentucky. You’re not going to see four or five or six guys sit in their high school gyms surrounded by friends and family and don a Cyclones cap.

But be certain about two things: First, it’s not for lack of effort on the part of assistant coach and lead recruiter Matt Abdelmassih, who was more anguished than anyone over Rashad Vaughn’s decision to spurn Iowa State for UNLV last month. And second, if Hoiberg and Abelmassih aren’t filling roster spots with 17- or 18-year-olds out of high school, you better believe they will find another way. We’ll get to that in a little bit.

So, one is fine — and he has a name, I promise. Clay Custer — a 6-0, 180 lb. point guard out of Overland Park, Kansas — is your shiny new face for 2014-15. It’s been nearly a year and a half since he made his commitment, and he will join sophomores-to-be Monté Morris and Matt Thomas and junior-to-be Naz Long in a talented young backcourt that will prioritize shooting, high assist-to-turnover ratios and pesky defense — staples of guard play under Hoiberg.

Custer received offers from Houston, San Francisco and Big 12 foes Kansas State and Oklahoma State. He’s a bit more of a slasher than Thomas but not overly creative off the dribble. If you juxtapose the two jumpshots, they’re eerily similar (take a look if you’d like). With DeAndre Kane’s departure, the domino effect will almost certainly allow Custer to fill the reserve point guard role that once belonged to Morris before he was inserted into the starting lineup midseason.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: Iowa State University is Division I basketball’s haven for transfers seeking more minutes, more publicity or a second chance. Call it what you wish — right, wrong or a recruiting cop out — but you can’t say it’s not working for Hoiberg. There’s a list of guys that began with Royce White and most recently ended with DeAndre Kane, and the strategy has resurrected the Iowa State basketball program, plain and simple.

Enter Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader.

McKay comes to Iowa State by way of Indian Hills Community College and Marquette University (where he did not see the floor). He’s a 6-8, 205 lb. combo forward (aren’t they all?) who averaged 16 points and nine rebounds in his final season at Indian Hills. Already enrolled, McKay has been attending classes and practicing with the team this semester but will not be eligible to suit up until spring semester of 2015 — just in time for Big 12 play. The above video for McKay is a mighty impressive collection of highlights. Have a look.

With McKay, Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue, Daniel Edozie and hopefully an improved Percy Gibson, Northern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader will round out what has been talked about as potentially the best frontcourt in the Big 12 entering next season. If you want a body type and style of play comparison, look no further than Melvin Ejim. Nader could improve his perimeter game but otherwise mirrors Ejim’s versatility, quickness and transition game. He led a dreadful NIU team in scoring in his first two years and arrives at Iowa State looking to do much of the same in his final two.

My favorite excerpt from one of Nader’s scouting reports is the following, under Weaknesses: “Nader’s versatility is a benefit but at the same time he does not project to any one position…”

Sound familiar? Forwards have made a living in Hoiberg’s offense by not projecting to any one position, allowing for an inverted style of play that exposes mismatches with opposing defenses. He’s a perfect fit for the Cyclones and should be an immediate contributor in all facets.

So, what does it all mean? What does the 2014-15 Iowa State basketball blueprint look like with the aforementioned pieces in place? If you’ll allow me to play head coach for just a minute, here’s what I think you can expect to see:

The three 2013-14 starters not named Ejim or Kane should remain in place, with Morris occupying a true point guard role that we’ve really only seen from Diante Garrett and Korie Lucious over the past seven years. With the depth expected at the forward position — especially the second half of the season when McKay becomes eligible — look for Nader to join Niang and Hogue in the starting five. Barring injuries, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which McKay starts next season, but he will likely do so in 2015-16 with Hogue’s departure. The tossup remains whether Thomas or Long starts at the second guard spot with Morris. I’m inclined to say Thomas, allowing Long to fill a Tyrus McGee-esque “bench spark” role that, well, let’s just say Oklahoma State has not grown particularly fond of watching.

This then leaves a bench rotation including Long, McKay, Custer, Edozie, Gibson and Sherron Dorsey-Walker — four of which I think could end up with consistent reserve minutes — allowing Hoiberg to comfortably go at least nine deep for the first time during his tenure.

As Seen On WRNL: What Do We Want Out of the Big 12 Bracket?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri vs. Baylor

I don’t know who “mred” is, but he is a godsend in times like these.

No relation to PermRed, I promise.

Our pal mred — evidently an Iowa State alum with a gargantuan amount of time on his hands – has so kindly created a machine that will tell you how Big 12 Tournament seeding will shake out based on who wins each game for the rest of the season.

It’s wonderful because frankly I’m tired of the official “Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Seeding and Tiebreaker Procedures” page showing up as one of the “favorites” on my web browser. Actually, I think I’m more ashamed than anything that I have to constantly revisit the page because I keep forgetting what the tiebreaker procedures are.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

The best case for Iowa State is a 2 seed and the worst is a 6. Considering the preseason poll had them at No. 4 (UNLESS YOU WERE THESE MORONS), I’d say that’s a pretty fitting scenario. Win out and it can’t get worse than a 3 seed — the 2 would require two wins and a little help from our three Texas buddies not called the Longhorns over the next few days.

Again, just punch whatever hypotheticals you can think of into mred’s super-machine and blow an afternoon at work if you want. But for now, let’s take a look at what we know and what we want…

What we know is that Iowa State will not play Day 1 (next Wednesday). For those new to the party, this is called the First Round and it’s reserved for the bottom four teams in the Big 12 — the 7 seed plays the 10 seed and the 8 plays the 9. TCU and Texas Tech have summer homes in this part of the bracket, and they have for some time. The 8/9 winner gets Kansas, the 7/10 winner gets the 2 seed, and the two losers who don’t live to see Thursday start gearing up for football season.

As a 6 seed at worst, Iowa State is guaranteed to play Thursday — the quarterfinals — Day 2, if you prefer. I’m incredibly cynical, so hear me out while I pick off scenarios that make my stomach churn, so we can get down to an ideal Big 12 Tournament path for Iowa State…

First, the Cyclones generally play their best when the lights are brightest. I’ve used this statement in conversation and debate countless times recently, and I have to give credit to my Cyclone Fanatic pal Brent Blum who quipped it (via Chris Williams) prior to the West Virginia rematch in Ames last week. But it’s true.

Give these Iowa State Cyclones a night game.

Virtually nobody is in front of a TV when the 4/5 game tips off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning, and that certainly isn’t the most attractive matchup for Iowa State anyway since it pits two fairly evenly-matched teams against each other (as 4/5 would suggest). At the very least, we should hope the Cyclones’ first game in the tournament is one that offers some sort of discernible advantage. If, by some terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad twist of fate, Iowa State ends up drawing Kansas State for the 4/5 game — in Kansas City no less — I’m taking a week-long siesta and you can wake me up Sunday afternoon before the selection show.

And let’s not even address the fact that the 4/5 winner likely gets Kansas in the semifinal.

No way. Hard pass.

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Get me out of the upper half of the bracket completely. It appears that Iowa State’s most preferable fate may also be its most likely if they win these final two games: the 3 seed. The 3/6 game tips off at 8:30 p.m. against a likely foe that they have proven to beat at least once this season — and certainly could again on a neutral floor (Who am I kidding — it’s Hilton South!). Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State are all three candidates for the 6 seed, and unless mred’s robot is lying to me, the latter two are probably most likely. I’ve said before that playing teams that are in desperation mode in a conference tournament is a less-than-desirable thing, but come next week, all three could very well have their NCAA Tournament fates already sealed.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Something to keep in mind is that, at one point or another this season, this Iowa State fan base has thought their team was good enough to win the Big 12. Folks, there is certainly no better time to rekindle that kind of optimism than next Thursday. I think we can all agree that for the first time in a long time, this team is capable of beating anybody, anytime, anywhere.

Fred Hoiberg will have the Cyclones dancing yet again this year — that much is certain. But next Saturday night at the Sprint Center, somewhere underneath the bleachers, there will be a ladder and a pair of scissors awaiting the victors of the Big 12 Tournament.

And neither of them have Bill Self’s name on it.

March Mailbag 1.0

A wise man named Travis Hines once told me, “You’re not cool unless you do a mailbag.”

That’s all I’ve got for an intro. Onto your questions…

@EthanNarber: What’s the most overrated and underrated team in college basketball?

First off, everyone say hi to my little brother Ethan. He’s the one who got kicked out of Fenway Park with me last summer. He is also my protégé. Anyway, despite sweeping Louisville this year, I think Memphis is wildly overrated. I’ll also give them the neutral court win over Oklahoma State back in December. But the only other impressive feat on their résumé is beating Gonzaga by 6 at home. Seven losses in a so-so conference and they’ll still be ranked on Monday. Not a fan.

As for underrated, look no further than your 2014 ACC regular season champion Virginia Cavaliers, which is still so cool to say out loud. Defensively, they’re as good as I’ve ever seen (truly) and they don’t rely on it completely to win games as teams like Ohio State, VCU or Cincinnati might. Tony Bennett took these guys from the Elite Eight of the NIT last year to legitimate NCAA Final Four contenders this year. They’ll be a scary bunch in a couple weeks.

@TheGabeWhitaker: Is Wichita State for real?

I hate this question (no offense) mostly because I just don’t know. Are they for real in the sense that they’ve proven their dominance over the last calendar year? Absolutely. Are they for real in the sense that they’re going to contend for a national title? I don’t think so. Coasting for two months, carving up mediocre teams in the Missouri Valley Conference is not ideal preparation for playing five or six straight games against some of the 67 best teams in the country. I get that they did it last year, but those odds were pretty astronomical (and Creighton was still a conference foe).

@khaal53: Which likely matchup in the first round of K.C. do you think is most preferable for Iowa State?

Well, here’s what I don’t want: I don’t want a team that has proven able to beat Iowa State, and I don’t want a team that is anywhere close to the bubble (implying they might need a strong Big 12 Tournament showing to get to the big dance). So as of right now, the most feasible draw that sort of matches both of those criteria appears to be West Virginia — if we chalk up the game in Morgantown as a fluke in which WVU hit almost every shot they took. The Cyclones match up well, arguably their best basketball of the year was played in the rematch in Ames, and we can probably count on the contingency of Mountaineer fans in Kansas City being, well, not great.

@mookjnsn: Who should be First Team All-Big 12?

Give me Juwan Staten, Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, Melvin Ejim and Joel Embiid.

@VOlthoff: With Rashad Vaughn out, who are the primary targets to fill out next year’s scholarships?

I’m going to combine this with @Welter89‘s question: Marvin Clark is visiting MSU and Indiana this week. If we miss on him, who’s next?

Marvin Clark was my answer, Vicki. Beyond him, it’s tough because I don’t have my ear to the ground like some recruiting experts do. I would encourage seeking out (and following) Trey Scott on Twitter, as he is the best in the business regarding Iowa State recruiting. DeAndre Kane, Ejim, Bubu Palo and Tyler Ellerman are all leaving. With Clayton Custer, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay waiting in the wings, it would appear Marvin Clark would fill that final spot should he commit to ISU next week.

@TedFlintKansas: How surprised were you at the backlash when you had Iowa ranked above ISU in your Reddit poll?

Surprised? Not at all. Confused? Definitely. If you’re hanging your hat on my Top 25 rankings — and further, if my Top 25 rankings are invoking any sort of malicious feelings — I encourage you to stop reading my material. It’s all for fun. I have made it very well-known that I think human polling is flawed, so I take a much different approach to the way I rank teams (using various ratings indexes, advanced metrics, etc.). I will admit though that, as both Iowa and Iowa State stand right now, I was definitely wrong by ranking the Hawkeyes ahead. No problem admitting that.