Wednesday, December 31, 2014

PW's College Basketball Predictions for New Years

By Peyton Wesner

Happy New Years Everybody and to start 2015 let's forget about the Wisconsins, Virginias, and even the Kentuckys, so we can get back to the Mid-Majors programs. Today, is all mid-major action in Division One Men's Basketball with only one ranked school playing, the twenty-third ranked Northern Iowa Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference (Evansville/Northern Iowa Game Preview is on MVC New Years Special). So sit back, relax, and watch the great College Bowl Games January first has to offer, but do not come complaining to me that when one of these mid-majors destroy your bracket in March.

2:00 PM EST
6-7 Southeast Missouri State
at 8-5 Belmont

Team Resumés

6-7 Southeast Missouri State
Solid Wins:
-Southern Illinois 55-54 (Home)
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
-All losses have came against superior opponents that were clearly better than SEMO.
Key Players:
---#23 Jarekious Bradley (SR)
-15.4 PPG & 4.5 RPG.
-He is the Redhawks best player and leader in points per game.
-Best Free Throw shooter at 90.3%.
-He shoots a high volume of shots at a low percentage as he is currently averaging a little over 14 shot attempts per game while shooting at an average of  37.6% from the field.
---#1 Nino Johnson (SR)
-10.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, & 2.2 BPG.
-4-year player for Southeast Missouri State, 3-year contributor.
-Center and rim-protector of the Redhawks despite standing at only 6'9".
-He shoots by far the best percentage from the field (57.6%) (most likely because most of his shots are from close range) but shoots the worst on the team from the charity stripe (42.6%).
---#4 Antonius Cleveland (SO)
-10.1 PPG & 4.5 RPG.
-Started as a Freshman last year while averaging 9.1 PPG & 2.8 RPG.
-All three of his shooting averages have decreased since last season (48.2 FG%, 16.7 3P%, & 45.7 FT% this year.)

8-5 Belmont
Solid Wins:
-Western Kentucky 64-63 (Road)
-Ohio 83-81 (Road)
-Middle Tennessee 63-59 (Home)
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
-Wright State 73-70 (Road)
Key Players:
---#23 Craig Bradshaw (JR)
-19.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, & 2.6 APG.
-He is the best player on the Bruins and is twentieth in the nation in points per game.
-Bradshaw injuried his right calf in Belmont's 63-59 over Middle Tennessee State. The injury caused him to miss the next three games, which all resulted in Bruins' losses.
-Pure scorer, that has the ability to shoot inside (51.9 FG%) and outside the arc (45.9 3P%), take his opponents off the dribble and even post them up.
-Scored 42 points in a 83-81 win over Ohio on November 29, which was a season high in NCAA Division One Men's Basketball at the time of performance.
 ---#35 Evan Bradds (SO)
-12.9 PPG & 5.3 RPG.
-Much improved and more aggresive player as a Sophomore.
-He is not an outside threat but shoots very well inside the arc (63.7%).
-He is the second part of my "Big Belmont B's" with Bradshaw and Barnette.
---#20 Taylor Barnette (SO)
-10.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, & 1.9 APG.
-He is a three point specialist that takes a little under 80% of his shots from beyond the three point line.
-Does not get to the line much for free throws and averages only one attempt per game at 63.6%

Belmont struggled greatly without Bradshaw and Barnette due to injuries but with them being back in the lineup, I see the Bruins rolling on to 1-0 in conference play. Personally, Southeast Missouri State has been average this season and really needs their star, Jarekious Bradley, to have a big game to pull of the win in Nashville. A thing that concerns me for the Bruins is Bradshaw since returning from his injury. I understand that one of the two games with against a tough Butler Bulldogs squad but he had only averaged 13 points per game since returning to the lineup. Belmont will need more production from Bradshaw or the other two "B's" (Bradds & Barnette) to ensure a win this afternoon.
---Belmont 72, Southeast Missouri State 57

Circle November 15th on your calenders as there is a possibility of both teams going into the matchup undefeated when Belmont travels to Murray State to take on the Racers.

4:00 PM EST
8-6 (0-2) Pacific
at 4-9 (0-1) Loyola Marymount

Team Resumés

8-6 (0-2) Pacific
Solid Wins
-Mercer 55-48 in 3rd Place Game of Great Alaska Shootout.
Conference Losses
-San Francisco 77-71
-Santa Clara 57-40
Key Players:
---#2 T.J. Wallace (SO)
-14.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, & 2.5 APG.
---#5 Dulani Robinson (JR)
-11.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, & 3.1 APG.
---#12 Eric Thompson (JR)
-8.4 PPG & 4.9 RPG

4-9 (0-1) Loyola Marymount
Solid Wins:
-DePaul 72-69 in 7th Place Game of Diamond Head Classic.
Conference Losses:
-Pepperdine 69-56 (Home)
Key Players:
---#1 Evan Payne (SO)
-19.7 PPG & 2.8 RPG.
---#24 Ayodeji Egbeyemi (SR)
-9.7 PPG & 3.9 RPG.
---#42 Marin Mornar (JR)
-7.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, & 1.7 BPG.

 In my opinion it will all come down to which Sophomore can score more Pacific's T.J. Wallace or LMU's Evan Payne. I feel like Payne is the better scorer of the two but on the other hand, I think Wallace is the better all-around, efficient player. Today, I think Wallace will shut down Payne on the offensive end since he is few inches taller but nevertheless the Lions have home court advantage, which will play a huge factor down the stretch.
---Pacific 65, Loyola Marymount 64

5:00 PM EST
11-4 (1-1) BYU
6-7 (1-1) Santa Clara

Team Resumés

11-4 (1-1) BYU
Solid Wins:
-Long Beach State 95-90 (Home Opener)
-Utah State 91-81 (Road)
-Hawaii 90-70 (in Salt Lake City)
-Stanford 79-77 (Home)
-Massachusetts 77-71 in Overtime (Home)
Non-Ranked Opponent Losses:
-Purdue 87-85 in Overtime in 5th Place Game of Maui Invitational.
Key Players:
---#3 Tyler Haws (SR)
-22.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, & 2.6 APG.
---#20 Anson Winder (SR)
-14.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, & 1.9 APG.
---#5 Kyle Collinsworth (JR)
-13.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, & 5.6 APG.
---#1 Chase Fischer (JR)
-13.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, & 2.5 APG.

6-7 (1-1) Santa Clara
Solid Wins:
-Rider 68-60 in 7th Place Game of Orlando Classic.
-Washington State (Home) 76-67
-Pacific (Road) 57-40
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
-Cal Poly 69-58 (Home)
Key Players:
---#3 Brandon Clark (SR)
-16.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, & 4.3 APG.
---#23 Jared Brownridge (SO)
-15.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, & 2.1 APG.
---#20 Denzel Johnson (SR)
-8.2 PPG & 3.4 RPG.

I cannot pick against Tyler Haws in his Senior seaon unless he plays a top-ten ranked team in the nation and last time I checked Santa Clara is not a top-ten ranked school in the country. There is no way BYU should lose today with their high-powered offense but the Cougars did refeive all five of last season's conference losses on the road. Today I am also looking forward to see how Santa Clara's Clark and Brownridge play against one of the best teams in the West Coast Conference. Lastly, who knows maybe Kyle Collinsworth will have another triple-double.
---BYU 77, Santa Clara 69

PW's Prediction Record so far: 35-19

PW's MVC Men's Basketball (Dec 31/Jan 1)

By Peyton Wesner

December 31, 2014.
2:00 PM EST-Full Court/ESPN3
5-8 Bradley
10-2 Loyola (IL)

5-8 Bradley
Solid Wins:
Central Michigan 84-73 (Home)
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
Texas-Arlington 86-75 (Home)
Robert Morris 68-61 (Home)
UC Irvine 55-47 in the Semi-Final of the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic
Arkansas-Little Rock 64-54 in the Consolation Championship of the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic
Players to Watch:
--Tramique Sutherland (JR) 15.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, & 2.8 APG. Sutherland is a first year MVC player who transferred to Bradley after two years at Hill College (NJCAA). At Hill College he averaged 19.3 PPG & 7.6 RPG his Sophomore season. With Warren Jones (JR) out four to six weeks with a stress fracture, Sutherland is by far the best player on the Braves.
--Auston Barnes (SR) 11.4 PPG & 4.5 RPG. The former Central Michigan basketball player has seen 31 minutes per game of playing time last season and this season. Barnes is a very good three point shooter that hits 46.5% of the time. Also he is the Braves best free throw shooter (79.4%).
--Omari Grier (JR) 10.0 PPG & 2.8 APG. The majority of his shots come from the 3 point line but from everywhere he seems to struggle shooting (37.3 FG%). Grier's stats so far mirror last year's besides for the ten point dip in his free throw percentage.
--Josh Cunningham (FR) 6.2 PPG & 6.5 RPG. Cunningham was a four star recruit coming out of Morgan Park High School in Chicago last year. Strangly he picked Bradley over other college offers like Crieghton, Indiana, Iowa State, and Oklahoma, but nevertheless the 6'7" forward has been playing solidly and is always a threat to get a double-double
The losses outweigh the wins for the Bradley Braves this season while every key contributor has been hurt at one time of the season. The injury to Warren Jones  has really hurt the Braves as he was their leading scorer at the time of injury. Look for Bradley to really start winning when Jones comes back to play with Tramique Sutherland, who has played very well in his first four games.

10-2 Loyola (IL)
Solid Wins:
Kent State 69-61 (Road)
Texas Tech 62-44 in the Semi-Finals of the Las Vegas Classic.
Boise State 48-45 in the Championship of the Las Vegas Classic.
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
Tulane 83-70 (Home)
Players to Watch:
--Milton Doyle (SO) 13.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, & 4.1 APG. He was the MVP of the Las Vegas Classic and is one of the best players in the Missouri Valley. Doyle is a transfer from Kansas that does everything for the Ramblers while being the best player. Despite his points per game numbers decreasing, his assists per game has increased as well as his field goal (54.7%) and three point percentages (56.7%).
--Christian Thomas (SR) 12.8 PPG & 4.0 RPG. He has really became a key player for Loyola after his Freshman season and has averaged double digit points since. Thomas' play is a good complement to Doyle's.
--Montel James (JR) 9.1 PPG & 4.8 RPG. He does most of his work inside the paint as he shoots 54.2% from the field. Only problem for James is that his free throw shooting is only one tenth higher than his field goal shooting at 54.3%.
Watch out for the Ramblers this season! Loyola has played great to end 2014 and has already the same amount of wins this season as last season (10). Expect Loyola to be in the top half of "The Valley"  as long as Milton Doyle can stay healthy and productive.

Bradley will struggle and not be able to get revenge of last year's opening round game that they lost on Milton Doyle's Buzzer Beater. Personally, I feel Bradley's Sutherland will struggle shooting but still get double-digit points. Expect Doyle to have a solid game leadinf Ramblers to 1-0 in conference play.
---Loyola (IL) 63, Bradley 55

4:00 PM EST-Full Court/ESPN3
4-8 Indiana State
at 8-4 Illinois State

4-8 Indiana State
Solid Wins:
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
Eastern Illinois 60-56 (Home)
Missouri-Kansas City 73-70 in Double Overtime.
Players to Watch:
--Khristian Smith (JR) 12.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, & 2.0 APG.
--Devonte Brown (JR) 12.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, & 2.7 APG.
--Brenton Scott (FR) 10.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, & 1.6 APG.
--Justin Gant (SR) 8.5 PPG & 4.1 RPG.

8-4 Illinois State
Solid Wins:
Old Dominion 64-45 in the Semi-Final of Paradise Jam.
DePaul 78-72 (Road)
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses
Utah State 60-55 (Home Opener)
Players to Watch:
--Daishon Knight (SR) 15.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, & 2.8 APG.
--Bobby Hunter (SR) 9.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, & 1.6 APG
--Reggie Lynch (SO) 8.4 PPG & 6.0 RPG

I feel that Illinois State's Daishon Knight and Bobby Hunter will play just a little bit better than Indiana State's Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown in a mid-50s scoring game.
---Illinois State 55, Indiana State 51

10-2 16. Wichita State
3-9 Drake

10-2 Wichita State
Solid Wins:
Memphis 71-56 in Sioux Falls.
St. Louis 81-52 (Home)
Seton Hall 77-68 (Home)
Alabama 53-52 (Home)
#25 Utah 69-68 in Overtime (Road)
George Washington 60-54 in the Championship of the Diamond Head Classic.
Players to Watch:
--Ron Baker (JR) 16.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, & 2.1 APG.
--Darius Carter (SR) 11.9 PPG & 6.3 RPG.
--Fred Van Vleet (JR) 11.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, & 5.3 APG.
--Tekele Cotton (SR) 9.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, & 2.8 APG.

3-9 Drake
Solid Wins:
"Should Not Have Happened" Losses:
North Dakota 63-62 (Home)
Players to Watch:
--Gary Ricks Jr. (SR) 11.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, & 2.6 APG.
--Reed Timmer (FR) 11.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG & 3.0 APG.
--Jordan Daniels (SR) 9.6 PPG
--Jacob Enevold Jensen (SO) 8.1 PPG & 6.0 RPG.

Drake is a canidate to be the bottom feeder in "The Valley" this season, why would they defeat one of the best? Wichita State has such a deep team and even when Baker or Van Vleet are not performing well Carter and Cotton will pick up the slack. Also, with the Shockers coming off a loss, I do not expect them to lose two in a row.
---Wichita State 67, Drake 50

6:00 PM EST-Full Court/ESPN3
6-6 Missouri State
7-6 Southern Illinois

6-6 Missouri State
Solid Wins:
"Should Not Have Happened" Losses:
Washington State 89-84 in Overtime in 5th Place Game of Great Alaska Shootout
Oral Roberts 80-61 (Road)
Players to Watch:
--Marcus Marshall (JR) 22.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG, & 1.6 APG.
--Austin Ruder (SO) 9.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, & 1.5 APG.
--Dorrian Williams (JR) 7.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, & 4.7 APG.
--Camyn Boone (JR) 7.3 PPG, & 5.8 RPG.

7-6 Southern Illinois
Solid Wins:
"Should Not Have Happened" Losses:
Southeast Missouri State 55-54 (Home)
New Orleans 56-52 (Home)
Players to Watch:
--Anthony Beane (JR) 18.8 PPG & 2.5 RPG.
--Sean O'Brien (SO) 10.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, & 1.8 APG.
--Jordan Caroline (FR) 9.3 PPG & 7.1 RPG.
--Jalen Pendleton (JR) 8.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, & 1.6 APG.

Prediction: You woul think with two of the top three leading scorers (MSU's Marcus Marshall & SIU's Anthony Beane) in the Missouri Valley Conference that it would be a high scoring game but I believe that it will be a game that rests in the high 50s or low 60s. Southern Illinois is actually the team that has the most scoring around their star but I am going to go with Missouri State for one reason...Marcus Marshall. I feel Marshall will show everyone in Carbondale, Illinois, who the best player on the court is tonight. 
---Missouri State 61, Southern Illinois 56

January 1, 2015
11-1 23. Northern Iowa
at 10-2 Evansville

11-1 23. Northern Iowa
Solid Wins
-Stephen F. Austin 79-77 in Overtime (Road)
-Virginia Tech 73-54 in Semi-Final of Cancun Challenge.
-Northwestern 61-42 in Championship of Cancun Challenge.
-Iowa 56-44 (in Des Moines)
Only Loss:
-VCU 93-87 in Overtime (Road)
Players to Watch:
---#10 Seth Tuttle (SR)
-14.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, & 3.3 APG.
-4 year starter with a lot of experience and skill. 2013-2014 All-MVC First Team. -Tuttle is the best player on UNI as he leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks per game.
-His points per game and rebounds per game averages have decreased so far compared to last season but his assists per game and field goal percentage (62.5%) have increased.
-Tuttle is a old fashioned big man without many attempts from the three point line. Much of his production comes from down on the block or just inside the arc.
---#11 Wes Washpun (JR)
-11.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, & 3.1 APG.
-He is the defensive stopper & point guard for the Panthers, who has become more efficient in his second year.
-His field goal percentage has increased in 2014-2015 because he has not settled for long range jumpshots and instead drives the ball to the basketball off of the dribble.
---#4 Paul Jesperson (JR)
-7.3 PPG & 3.3 RPG.
-One of the three clutch three-point shooters for Northern Iowa.
-75% of his field goal attempts come from three-point land, where he shoots 41.3%.
-Best free throw shooter on the team (85.7%).
---#1 Deon Mitchell (SR)
-6.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, & 2.2 APG.
-4-year starter for the Panthers.
-His production seems to have topped out last year as a Junior as his points per game has decreased under the amount he averaged his Freshman year.
-Shares point guard duties with Washpun.
-In non-conference play, Mitchell's shooting has stumbled a bit to the percentage everyone expected him to shoot as he has shot 32.9% from the field and 18.8% when shooting three pointers this season.
---#14 Nate Buss (SR)
-6.3 PPG & 2.2 RPG.
-Like Mitchell his production has decreased but for Buss it is primarily caused by a lack of playing time.
-He received the big opportunity of his collegiate career last season as he averaged career highs in points (10.6 PPG), rebounds (5.0 RPG), and minutes (20.6 MPG).
-Like Jesperson, he is a really good three point shooter that shot 50.6% from beyond the arc last year and is already shooting 41.4% this season.
-Despite being a three point shooter, he is not afraid to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket or pull up a long two point shot.
---#5 Matt Bohannon (JR)
-5.8 PPG
-He is the third really good three point shooter to watch for the Northern Iowa Panthers and he has only taken two non-three point attempts this season.
-His playing time has decreased by five minutes this season, which has caused his points per game average to drop from 9.9 (last year's) to 5.8.
-In my opinion, Bohannon is his best when the game is on the line.
-Great team leader.

10-2 Evansville
Solid Wins:
-San Francisco 79-72 in Third Place Game of Gulf Coast Showcase.
-Wright State 86-78 (Home)
-Belmont without Craig Bradshaw 65-62 (Road)
-Ohio 81-69 in Overtime (Home)
-Green Bay 64-62 in Semi-Final of Gulf Coast Showcase.
-Murray State 81-79 (Home)
Players to Watch:
---#31 D.J. Balentine (JR)
-22.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, & 3.7 APG.
-True scorer (for you Purple Aces fans, Balentine is a Colt Ryan like scorer) that has already surpassed a thousand points for his career. He was a key substitute for Evansville his Freshman year as he averaged 8.1 PPG.
-Balentine was a 2013-2014 All-MVC First Team selection and the highest scoring player in "The Valley" last season. This season he also leads his conference in scoring while having the third highest PPG average in Division One Men's Basketball.
-He is a high volume shooter that averages a little over 16 attempts per game at a field goal percentage of 46.2% and a three point percentage of 40.0%.
-Evansville's offense is about getting Balentine the ball as the Junior from Kokomo, Indiana, cuts off many screens to get open looks off curls.
---#55 Egidijus Mockevicius
-14.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG, & 2.3 BPG.
-The big Lithuanian is one of only a few players to be averaging a double-double going into conference play.
-His statistics have improved year-by-year and he is shooting the excellent percentages of 67.7% from the field and 82.4% from the free throw line.
-Mockevicius cannot shoot well outside and has yet to attempt a three pointer in his career. His outside the paint shooting is average but where he does his damage is inside the paint with post moves or crashing the boards and putting in back in easy layups.
---#50 Blake Simmons (SO)
-8.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, & 2.4 APG.
-Coach Marty's Simmons son, and two-year starter for the Purple Aces.
-His stats have declined compared to last season as his Freshman season he averaged 9.3 PPG & 3.0 RPG.
-Most of his points come on wide open jump shots when Balentine drives and passes it out.
-Simmons is very efficient shooter as he shoots 50.0% from the field and 40.7% from beyond the arc.
---#5 Mislav Brzoja (SO)
-8.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, & 3.4 APG.
-Croatian transfer from Villanova for the most likely reason of receiving minimal to none playing time for the Wildcats.
-Brzoja is a very well-rounded player that can score the ball, rebound as a guard, and facilitate to scorers.
-He has the capability to nail three pointers although his three point percentage does not show it (23.1%).
-One of the better free throw shooters on Evansville (85.7%).
---#12 Adam Wing (JR)
-6.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.1 SPG.
-3-year starter at Evansville and team leader.
-He is a very good defender that has improved offensively season after season.
-Wing can be described as a non-agressive shooter as he is a "pass first" kind of player, but when Wing does let a shot go, he makes it 52.8% of the time.
-He missed last Sunday's game against Coppin State with strained quadriceps and his status is unknown for tonight.
---#4 Duane "Boo" Gibson
-5.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, & 2.8 APG.
-2-year starter for the Purple Aces. 
-He is known for his defense rather than his offense. Pass first point guard.
-Sadly for "Boo" his playing time has decreased as well as his production compared to last season.
-Gibson is no threat from outside the arc and has only attempted one three pointer in his collegiate career. Defenders dare Gibson to shoot but he will only pull the trigger about three times a game.

The game truly could go either way as they are very evenly matched and have sImilarities. Both teams had all five starters returning from last season," and both have an All-MVC player, but tonight I feel like Northern Iowa's depth will stop Evansville cold in their tracks. The Panthers have so many players that can score when desired while Evansville really only has Balentine and Mockevicius that can score at win. Like last year at the Ford Center, I think the Panthers will spread their shooters around the perimeter, run Tuttle and Washpun or Tuttle and Mitchell in a pick and roll, allowing UNI to have three possible plays: point guard passes to Tuttle for a layup/post move, the point guard takes a jumpshot or drives all the way in for a layup, or the point guard can pass the ball out to one of the three pointer shooters for a wide open shot. With one of those options, the Panthers can rip the Purple Aces' defense to shreds.A personal concern for UNI is that even with offense, the Panthers must stop Balentine from getting any shot he wants because they do not want to get into a game where the team that scores the most wins (See UNI at VCU). I encourage everyone to watch on ESPN3 because who knows...maybe this could be the 2015 Arch Madness Championship.
---Northern Iowa 64, Evansville 61

PW's Prediction Record so far: 35-19 (3-1 in the MVC)

PW's College Basketball Predictions for New Years Eve

By Peyton Wesner

New Year's Eve...for some it means the end of another year, for others it means just another night or opportunity to party hard, but for me it means the start of a new season, the conference season. No more college football bowls at a time like this, as it is time to watch some college basketball because today we have some star-studded matchups in the American Athletic Conference, the Big East, the Mountain West, and my personal favorite the Missouri Valley Conference.

7-5 Tulsa
at 7-4 UCF

7-5 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
Solid Wins: 
Auburn 53-35 in MGM Grand Main Event Semi-Final
Creighton 77-64 (Home)
Missouri State 74-70 (Home)
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
Southeast Oklahoma State (Non Division I) 69-66 (Home)
Key Players:
--James Woodard (JR) 14.8 PPG & 4.9 RPG. He is Tulsa's best player and is building on another great season. Woodard has averaged at least 12 PPG every season with the Golden Hurricanes and leads the storm
--Shaquille Harrison (JR) 14.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, & 3.8 APG. He is Woodard's backcourt mate and is the team's main facilitator but can score when he wants. Harrision has improved season after season in his production for the Tulsa.
--Marquel Curtis (JR) 9.1 PPG & 3.7 RPG. He is another guard that can rebound the basketball well. Curtis' playing time has more than doubled since last season and his scoring has tripled.
--Rashad Smith (JR) 7.3 PPG & 6.3 RPG. Smith is the best rebounder on the team and does most of his work inside the arc. Weirdly, Smith's points per game has decreased significantly since his Freshman year but his rebounding has improved.

Can any team be taken seriously when losing to Southeast Oklahoma State at home? Normally not but Tulsa should be. Last season, the Golden Hurricanes started four Sophomore now Juniors on their team that won the Conference-USA Conference Tournament, which gave them a spot in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Their team is guard heavy and has a chance to finish in the middle of the pack of the American Athletic Conference in their first season.

7-4 UCF Knights
Solid Wins:
None Currently
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
Illinois-Chicago 71-60 (Road)
Florida Atlantic 54-41 (Home)
Key Players:
--B.J. Taylor (FR) 14.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, & 2.8 APG. He and Henriquez are both from the Orlando area and lead their home town university as Freshman. Taylor is the better of the two Freshman and is one of the best Newcomers to the American Athletic Conference. He isn't all perfect though and struggles from inside the arc while shooting most effectively from beyond the three point line (47.8%). 
--Adonys Henriquez (FR) 11.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG & 2.5 APG. Another Freshman that joins Taylor in the backcourt with good shooting skills from downtown (47.2%). Unlike Taylor he is a quality shooter from inside the three point line.
--Brandon Goodwin (SO) 8.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, & 4.0 APG. He is the main facilitator on UCF but can become the go-to scorer when the Freshman "disapear." More of a drive first player that struggles at shooting three pointers. In addition, Goodwin shoots poor in crunch time from the charity stripe (63.5%). The graduation of guard Isaiah Sykes has opened the door for his playing time, which has doubled since last season.

UCF struggles significantly at times when Taylor and Henriquez are not scoring the ball. Do not expect the basketball program to be better than their football program as the Knights are likely to finish towards the bottom of the American Athletic Conference.

Tulsa's experienced guards will dominate UCF's Freshman duo while wrecking "The Dungeon."
---Tulsa 70, UCF 58

1:00 PM EST-Big Ten Network
12-1 Penn State
at 12-1 4. Wisconsin

12-1 Penn State Nittany Lions
Solid Wins: 
USC 63-61 in 5th Place Game at Charleston Classic.
Akron 76-72 (Home)
Virginia Tech 61-58 (ACC/Big 10 Challenge)
George Washington 64-51 (Home)
Only Loss:
Charlotte 106-97 in Double Overtime (1st Round of Charleston Classic.
Key Players:
--D.J. Newbill (SR) 21.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, & 3.2 APG.
--Brandon Taylor (JR) 10.6 PPG & 6.6 RPG.
--Shep Garner (FR) 9.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, & 2.3 APG.
--Geno Thorpe (SO) 8.9 PPG & 2.6 RPG.

12-1 4. Wisconsin
Solid Wins:
Georgetown 68-65 in Battle 4 Atlantis Semi-Final.
Oklahoma 69-56 in Battle 4 Atlantis Championship
Marquette 49-38 (Road)
California 68-56 (Road)
Only Loss:
#4 Duke 80-70 (Home) ACC/Big 10 Challenge
Key Players:
--Frank Kaminsky (SR) 16.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, & 2.2 APG.
--Sam Dekker (JR) 12.1 PPG & 4.3 RPG.
--Nigel Hayes (SO) 11.9 PPG & 7.8 RPG.
--Traevon Jackson (SR) 8.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, & 3.1 APG.
--Josh Gasser (SR) 7.9 PPG, & 2.9 RPG.

Wisconsin's Kaminsky dominates the paint against Penn State's Jordan Dickerson while getting a double-double. The Senior Newbill will have 20+ points for Penn State but it will not be enough as Wisconsin's team ball will prevail.
---Wisconsin 73, Penn State 67

9:00 PM EST
10-3 Boise State
13-0 24. Colorado State

10-3 Boise State
Solid Wins:
San Diego 81-75 (Home)
Saint Mary's 82-71 (Road)
"Never Should Have Happened" Losses:
Key Players:
--Derrick Marks (SR) 16.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, & 3.4 APG.
--Mikey Thompson (JR) 9.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, & 1.9 APG.
--James Webb III (SO) 9.2 PPG & 5.9 RPG.
--Nick Duncan (SO) 8.5 PPG & 3.3 RPG.

13-0 24. Colorado State
Solid Wins
Georgia State 80-70 (Home)
UC Santa Barbara 65-63 in the Championship of the Great Alaska Shootout
UTEP 65-62 (Home)
Colorado 62-60 (Road)
New Mexico State 58-57 in Overtime (Road)
Key Players;
--J.J. Avila (SR) 14.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.2 APG.
--Stanton Kidd (SR) 12.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, & 1.5 APG.
--Daniel Bejarano (SR) 11.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, & 3.7 APG.
--Gian Clavell (JR) 10.3 PPG & 3.7 RPG.

Anthony Drmic's (15.0 PPG & 5.0 RPG) back and ankle injuries that will cause him to miss the rest of the season for Boise State will hurt the Broncos as he was a part of their great backcourt with Derrick Marks. Rather than injuries, Colorado State's problem is that they must shoot the ball better than they did last Saturday at New Mexico State (35.0%) or they will gain their first loss of the season. I expect Marks to get his points but I think home court advantage will help J.J. Avila and the Rams get the win and march on to a matchup, undefeated, on January 3 at "The Pit" against New Mexico.
---Colorado State 62, Boise State 61

PW's Prediction Record so far: 29-18

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

PW's College Basketball Predictions for December 30th

By Peyton Wesner

Conference Play has arrived in the first "Power Six" conference, the Big Ten, and the matchups slated for this afternoon do not disappoint as the Iowa Hawkeyes go to take on the ranked high-scoring Ohio State Buckeyes and the ranked Maryland Terrapins head to Lansing, Michigan, to take on perennial Big Ten power, Michigan State. In addition to the Big Ten action, we have top teams taking on solid mid-majors in Charlottesville, Virginia: Lawrence, Kansas: and Waco, Texas.

9-4 Iowa
11-2 20. Ohio State

I hope all teams are ready for their Big Ten opener today, because even the best teams have a chance to lose if they do not show up. The Iowa Hawkeyes struggle against ranked opponents period. So far this season, all of the Iowa Hawkeyes' losses have came against ranked teams or previously ranked teams. The trend started in New York City when Iowa was playing in the 2K Classic against the number nine ranked Texas Longhorns. Iowa played very well in the first half and had a six point lead going into halftime, but coming out of the break, the Longhorns stampeded and outscored the Hawkeyes by twenty in the second half in route to a 71-57 win. The next day in the Consolation Champioship against twenty-third ranked Syracuse, Iowa came three points short as Orange Freshman Chris McCullough had a fantastic game with 20 points and 9 rebounds to avoid back-to-back losses for his team. The Hawkeyes went into the 2K Classic 2-0 and in less than 30 hours after it started they were 2-2. Wouldn't that stat alone leave a team with a bad taste in their mouth going forward? If it did for Iowa, there was no hint of it as the Hawkeyes won six straight games after leaving New York City including their ACC/Big Ten Challenege game on the road against twelveth ranked North Carolina. That would have been a great way to come into Big Ten play but they had two tough games remaining on their non-conference schedule with fourteenth ranked Iowa State and a Northern Iowa Panthers club that was ranked but dropped out of the Top 25 before the matchup. Both were big games not only because of the quality of competition but because they were both in-state rivals to the Hawkeyes. The first game was out of Iowa's control early in the second half as Iowa State's Georges Niang (JR) led his team to a 90-75 victory in Iowa City. Surely Iowa wouldn't lose both games against hated rivals, would they? Early on against UNI, Iowa had the game in hand and was shooting the ball fairly well but then the "bricks" started to occur and the Hawkeyes finished the game shooting a pitiful 27.5% from the field ultimately leading to another loss. Will Iowa be able to shoot well enough to defeat Ohio State in Columbus?

For most teams that lost their top three leading scorers including their four-year starting point guard, this season would be a rebuilding year, but not for Ohio State. The three players that graduated from the OSU last year were LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Aaron Craft, all who were big contributors in the Buckeyes success last season. So what did Coach Thad Matta do to avoid a poor 2014-2015 season? He brought in two Freshman that are averaging double-figures in points (D'Angelo Russell (17.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 5.3 RPG) and Kam Williams (10.2 PPG)) and is playing Sophomore Marc Loving more minutes, which has led to his second year avergaes to skyrocket to 12.4 PPG and 3.1 RPG. Despite being ranked in the Top 25, Ohio State has also struggled against ranked opponents as their two losses have came against number five ranked Louisville at the KFC Yum! center and at home against then number twenty-four ranked North Carolina. In fact, most of the opponents the Buckeyes have defeated in non-conference play have been little inferior schools in exception to Marquette. So for me to really determine what kind of Ohio State club is walking around in Columbus, I will have to see how the Buckeyes perform against their opposition in the Big Ten including today's opener against Iowa.

The Iowa Hawkeyes' keys of the game is to play smart basketball and to shoot for good percentages from the field, beyond the arc, and the charity stripe. I personally think experience could play a factor in today's game since Ohio State's best players are young, minus Sam Thompson (SR), and the Hawkeyes play veterans like star Aaron White (SR), Jarrod Uthoff (JR), and Gabriel Olaseni (SR). In addition to using their experience, Iowa needs to shoot better as in all four of their losses they have shot at or below 40%. For the Buckeyes, I believe the key is to run in transition and push the basketball. Ohio State has one of the more athletic teams in the Big Ten and if they can use it to their advantage without making stupid, young guy, turnovers, they will be in the hunt for the conference crown with number four ranked Wisconsin and number twelve ranked Maryland.

One on One 
Iowa's Aaron White (SR) versus Ohio State's Marc Loving (SO).
Aaron White has been around for what seems like forever (four years) meaning that he has played in almost every situation possible. The Senior from Strongsville, Ohio, (15.8 PPG & 7.2 RPG) does most of his "work" on the block and in the paint as he has a great set of post moves with a jumpshot with a soft touch. Marc Loving has finally received the playing time he deserves with the graduation of last year's Seniors. This season his minutes have doubled while his points average has almost tripled. He is the opposite kind of player than Aaron White as he lives on the wing and shoots the very high percentage of 57.8% from beyond the arc while not being afraid to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. 

---Ohio State 67, Iowa 60

10-3 Illinois
7-5 Michigan

Whoever losses won't make the NCAA Tournament! Who am I kidding both may not make the NCAA Tournament. The Illinois Fighting Illini are the team with the bettter chance of making the "Big Dance" at this point of the season as they have quality wins against Baylor in the Las Vegas Invitational Championship and against their hated rival, the Missouri Tigers, in the "Braggin' Rights game" held at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Coach John Groce is fortunate to not only have a great Senior scorer in hometown kid and former Drake Bulldog Rayvonte Rice (17.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, & 1.8 APG) but young contributors in Sophomores Malcolm Hill (13.0 PPG & 5.7 RPG) and Kendrick Nunn (9.0 PPG & 2.8 RPG) meaning that when Rice graduates the future will continue to look optimistic for Illinois. Despite it being a positive to have young scorers to complement Rice, the inconsistency of support scorers around the three have cost the Fighting Illini in the biggest games this season. When Illinois had its ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown with undefeated number fifteenth ranked Miami while having the record of 6-0, the Fighting Illini shot terrbly from the field (33.3%) and beyond the arc (23.3%), which led to a 70-61 defeat. Later when the team flew to New York City to play the seventh ranked Villanova Wildcats in Game 1 of the Jimmy V Classic, Illinois allowed the Wildcats to shoot 53.7% while only hitting 41.0% of their own shots. Finally, in Illinois' last loss at the United Center against Oregon, the team had another bad shooting percentage except for Rayvonte Rice as the Illini shot 35.9% from the field. Will all the players finally perform together efficiencly in time for a harsh beginning to the Big Ten season (@ Michigan, @ 20. Ohio State, and home against 12. Maryland)?

No Nik Stauskis (8th pick overall by Sacramento), Glenn Robinson III (40th pick overall by Minnesota), nor Mitch McGary (21st overall pick by Oklahoma City) equals BIG PROBLEM. All three of the previously mentioned players were drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft while being underclassmen with two more years available to play at the University of Michigan. Just imagine the team Michigan would have if these three players stayed and Utah Jazz starting point guard Trey Burke (9th overall pick in 2013 NBA Draft) who would be a Senior this season stayed as well. Now that team would have gone undefeated and would have challeneged Kentucky this season. Even though the best players from the Michigan's program has left the last two years, the Wolverines still have a good trio of guards in Zak Irvin (SO, 15.3 PPG & 3.6 RPG), Caris LeVert (JR, 14.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, & 3.9 APG), and Derrick Walton Jr. (SO, 11.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG). The season started off very well for Michigan, like their opponent on this afternoon, as they also had an undefeated showdown but against then twelfth ranked 4-0 Villanova in the Championship of the Legends Classic. The game was back and forth but basically Villanova's Senior forward  JayVaughn Pinkston was the difference as he had the go-ahead basket and game saving block in the final moments of the game that propelled the Wildcats to a 60-55 win over the Wolverines. After the loss, Michigan bounced back and defeated the Syracuse Orange in their ACC/Big 10 Challenge matchup on a Spike Albrecht (JR) three pointer with about half a minute remaining in the game. Michigan was rolling out wins when diaster struck in the form of N.J.I.T. The New Jersey Institute of Technology is an independent school that will probably never make an NCAA Tournament but on December 6, they faced their first ranked opponent since they moved to Division I since Michigan was ranked seventeenth at the time. Easy win for the Wolverines right? WRONG! N.J.I.T. ended up hitting eleven three pointer and shooting 58.7% from the field to get the 72-70 win. Well that was bad news for Michigan but do you know what is worse? A loss to Eastern Michigan at home in the Crisler Center after a loss at home to N.J.I.T. The back to back losses led the Wolverines into a matchup in Tuscon against the number three ranked Arizona Wildcats...Loss. Then the next weekend, Michigan lost at home again to Larry Brown's SMU squad. So coming into today's matchup Michigan is 1-4 in their last five games.

My key of the game for Illinois is to dominate the Michigan guards offensively and specifically that will come from Senior Rayvonte Rice. Rice will be the best player on the floor this afternoon and I believe that if he keeps on playing like he has been, he will be able to score the ball at will on the Michigan guards. Also the Fighting Illini must shoot a good percentage as a team because if not, and the stats show it, they will lose this game. For the Wolverines, the key is to play solid defense on the whole Illinois offense and to defend the three point line since the Fighting Illini shoot 37.7% from  downtown. Specifically Michigan needs to always keep an eye on Rice, Hill, and Nunn because these three players each shoot over 40% from beyond the arc.

One on One
My matchup to watch is not only one on one but three on three betwen Illinois' guard mixture of Rayvonte Rice (SR), Kendrick Nunn (SO), and Malcom Hill (SO) versus Michigan's Caris LeVert (JR), Zak Irvin (SO), and Derrick Walton Jr. (SO). Both sets of guards score and rebound the ball very well but Michigan does have the advantage when it comes to assists and Illinois has the advantage when it comes to efficient shooting from the field, free throw line, and three point line. Really, we can nit-pick these stats all we want but whichever trio scores the most points will most likely win the game.
---Illinois 69, Michigan 65

PW's College Basketball Prediction Record: 29-16

Monday, December 29, 2014

PW's NFL Week 17 Predictions

By Peyton Wesner

Is there anything better than a Week 17 in the NFL? Think about it for a moment. It is the only week all 32 are playing on Sunday and a bonus is that all teams play a division rival. Although the majority of who's in and out of the Playoffs has been decided, seeds, byes, division crowns and the sixth seed in the AFC will be decided today.

7-8 Cleveland Browns
at 9-6 Baltimore Ravens

Looking back at the first sixteen weeks of this NFL Season, Week 13 really hurt both teams' chances of making the Playoffs this season. The Cleveland Browns were 7-4 and is the mix of an AFC North Division crown going into a Week 13 matchup with the Buffalo Bills. Much speculation was swirling around the organization on whether to start Rookie Johnny Manziel or to stick with the struggling veteran, Brian Hoyer. For the Bills' game, the Browns started Hoyer over the Rookie from Texas A&M and early on it proved to be the right decision as Cleveland took a 3-0 lead. Later though, the game turned ugly for the Browns as Buffalo scored twenty unanswered points to take a 20-3 lead. The game was "over", which called for Johnny Manziel to get into the action. Manziel would drive the Browns down the field for his first career NFL touchdown on a ten yard rush. The Bills then tacked on two more Dan Carpenter field goals to end the game with the score of 26-10. The loss against Buffalo sent Cleveland into a tailspin that saw them be defeated 25-24 by a fourteen-point Colts comeback, shutout 30-0 to their in-state rival Cincinnati in Johnny Manziel's first career start, and edged 17-13 by Carolina in a game that saw Manziel pull a hamstring and Brian Hoyer hurt his shoulder. So Cleveland is out of contention for the playoffs for another season but if the Rookie from South Carolina, Connor Shaw, can get the win in his first career start without 2013 Pro Bowl Wide Receiver, Josh Gordon (failed to go to morning walk-through), the Browns will achieve their first winning season since 2007 when they went 10-6.

Week 13 hurt the Ravens more now than it did then. In Week 13, Baltimore allowed the San Diego Chargers to come back from ten points down by scoring twenty-one points in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. A loss is a loss but after last week's defeat in Houston, where Joe Flacco threw three passes to Texans' defenders, the Ravens are no longer in the drivers' seat to get the last seed in the AFC and now need help to get into the NFL Playoffs. Even if the Ravens win today, they need back-up Chase Daniel to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a victory over the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead, to get the opportunity to play the winner of the Cincinnati Bengals/Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday Night Football Game in the Wild Card round next week.
---Baltimore 34, Cleveland 17

11-4 Dallas Cowboys
at 4-11 Washington Redskins

The Cowboys did it, they hung on to win the NFC East Division and clinched it with last week's blowout 42-7 win against Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts. Another positive is that Tony Romo looks like he may be healthy for the NFL Playoffs this year and DeMarco Murray is playing effectively with a broken hand. Amazingly, Murray, who has had an MVP season with 12 touchdowns on 1,745 rushing yards and only needs 29 rushing yards today to break Emmitt Smith's franchise record for rushing yards, played well in low usage as he scored a touchdown on 58 rushing yards without fumbling the ball...WITH A BROKEN HAND. To me that is very impressive. Another positive Dallas has coming into today, is that today's game means practically nothing since they are already in the Playoffs. This will be the first game since 2010, that Dallas does not have to win to get into the NFL Playoffs, which is always a good feeling when their is no pressure in Week 17. Now there are some unlikely scenerios that can give Dallas a first round bye such as Arizona and Seattle losing with a Cowboys' win or a tie in the Green Bay/Detroit game with a Cowboys' win but nevertheless next week Dallas will be rocking at AT&A Stadium or celebrating a playoff team at the confines of their home waiting for the matchup the next week

Will Jay Gruden get fired tomorrow? Speak up Redskins' fans, do you want him fired or is RG3 the problem? I will be honest, coming out of Baylor I was not that high on Robert Griffin III, in fact, I would have drafted Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M over the Heisman Trophy winner. Despite my lack of faith in the Griffin III, I have supported him more than his own coach. When Griffin III was hurt in Week 2 against Jacksonville, Kirk Cousins received his chance to show teams around the NFL what he is made of and threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Jaguars. Everyone was hyped that Cousins was the real deal and better than RG3. The thing NFL fans and scouts forgot in the moenent was that Cousins was facing one of the worst teams in the league. After the Jacksonville performance, Cousins threw nine interceptions and eight touchdowns in a five game stretch where his team saw the win column only once and that was because Gruden made another change at quarterback by putting former Texas star Colt McCoy into the game. McCoy led the Redskins to a comeback victory against Tennessee and later on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys. McCoy is the guy at Quarterback right? Well he was until he got injured against the New York Giants after two concecutive losses to Indianapolis and St. Louis. The carousel was back to the beginning as Griffin III was back at the helm for the remainder of the Giants game after McCoy's injury and for the Eagles game last Saturday. Impressively Griffin III and the Redskins defeated Philadelphia, in a game that was a must win for the Eagles to get unto the playoffs. Can Griffin III play well enough to defeat the top team in the NFC East with a right shoulder sprain?
---Dallas 34, Washington 20

10-5 Indianapolis Colts
at 2-13 Tennessee Titans

The most important scenerio in this game has to do with the Titans, not the Colts. With a loss and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers win at home against New Orleans, the Tennessee Titans would get the number one pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, which would essentially give them the preference of whether they want Junior Quarterback from Oregon, Marcus Mariota, or Sophomore Quarterback from Florida State, Jamis Winston. The lack of a quarterback has been the main problem for the Titans in 2014 as injuries have spread throughout the players who wear the red uniforms in practice. The season started out well for Tennessee as they upset the Kansas City Chiefs 26-10 on the Opening Sunday but since then Jake Locker has been hurt twice, and the veteran back-up, Charlie Whitehurst, as well as the Rookie from LSU, Zach Mettenberger, has both received multiple starts for Tennessee while they have lost thirteen of their fourteen games since Week 1. So really I think most Titans fans will be rooting for a struggling Indianapolis Colts team that was completly embarrased, dismantled, and wrangled by the Dallas Cowboys to pull of the victory against the hometown team.

The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the most streakiest teams in the National Football League this season. After dropping the first two games this season to Denver and Philadelphia, Andrew Luck and the Colts won five straight games until a loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field ended the run. Then going into the Dallas last week, Indy was on a four game win streak that was quickly erased by four Tony Romo touchdowns in a 42-7 loss at "Jerry's World." Despite the negative of being destroyed on the national stage, the Colts are receiving their best wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton, back from injury just in time to make a Playoff run but to make that run it is essential for the Colts to win this afternoon so they will have some kind of momentum against the loser of the AFC North Championship in the Wild Card round. But if Indianapolis somehow losses today, I guess they always have "Luck" on their side so no need to worry.
---Indianapolis 35, Tennessee 16

3-12 Jacksonville Jaguars
at 8-7 Houston Texas

The Texans are actually not mathmatically eliminated but they need some serious help to face the winner of the AFC North Championship Game next week. For Houston to get the sixth seed they need the Kansas City Chiefs and back-up Chase Daniel to upset Phillip Rivers' San Diego Chargers and a practice squad Rookie from South Carolina, Connor Shaw, to lead the Cleveland Browns to a win in Baltimore over the Ravens. Despite the uneasiness of relying on back-ups today, it is no new feeling for Houston as they have counted on second string quarterbacks to lead them to victories this season. The Texans started off the season 3-1 with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center but then the losses started to pile up and Houston found themselves 4-5 going into Week 11. This was when First Year Coach Bill O'Brien made a change and finally started Ryan Mallet, who was traded by New England to Houston earlier in the season. Mallet played very well in his first two starts as a Texan against Cleveland and Cincinnati but the problem for the four year pro from Arkansas is that he suffered a season-ending chest injury in his second start against the Bengals. (Sigh) Back to Ryan Fitzpatrick as starter, but the "new" Fitzpatrick was improved as he threw not one, not two, but SIX touchdown passes in his start after Mallet's injury. In fact, Fitzpatrick led the Texans to two wins but then injury struck him at Lucas Oil Stadium causing a Rookie from Pittsburgh, Tom Savage, to take over. Savage made the game close but Luck and the Colts ultimately prevailed 17-10 making Houston's playoff chances slim to none. On top of the loss news came out that not only Ryan Fitzpatrick would be out for the final two weeks but Tom Savage as well causing who to be the quarterback...Case Keenum, the former Texan and Houston Cougars quarterback. Case Keenum is no stranger to the Houston Texan organization as he started eight games last year (all losses) and was waived by Houston late in August. Welcome Back! Keenum welcomed himself back to the Texans' fan base pretty well as he won his first ever start week in an upset win over the Baltimore Ravens. But even with last week's win, Baltimore still has a better chance to make the playoffs since they have one more win than Houston. As I just recently noted, the Texans look unlikely to make the Playoffs, but that doesn't mean they haven't had a great season behind MVP canidate, J.J. Watt. Watt has really helped the Texans win games in 2014 not only on the defensive side of the ball but the offensive side by catching touchdowns as a Tight End. Watt has caught three touchdowns on offense this season while having one more on defense meaning that he has more touchdowns than the Tampa Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, and today's opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have wins. Crazy right? In addition to his touchdowns, Watt has 17.5 sacks coming into today with the chance to make history by being the only player in NFL history to have two seasons of 20+ sacks if he can get 2.5 more today on Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

From Oviedo, Florida, to Orlando, Florida, to Jacksonville, Florida, that is the path of the Jaguars Franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles. Originally, Jacksonville's Coach Gus Bradley said this would be Blake Bortles' "red-shirt year" and he would sit behind veteran from Michigan Chad Henne as back-up but halfway through the third game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts, Bradley made the switch to the 2013 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and the rest is history. In his first starts Bortles struggled like the majority of rookie quarterbacks that ever suited up in their first season. His problems consisted of staring down his receivers or in other words telegraphing his passes, which allowed for defenders to grab his passes as interceptions, and not being able to step up in the pocket with a bad offensive line surrounding him. As he received more and more experience, he eventually solved the issues and has played very well with good passing and rushing stats. He has even won three games for the Jaguars so far which is an accomplishment on its own. With Bortles another good player emerged in former Michigan quarterback turned running back, Denard Robinson. With a fast running back that is clutch in the Red Zone (Robinson) and a quarterback with a strong arm (Bortles), the Jaguars come into today with three wins and three losses of less than one possession in Bortles' starts. Will the former Knight be able to bring a win to a UCF fan base that had a tough loss in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl against NC State or will J.J Watt do his dance and make history.
---Houston 27, Jacksonville 14

6-8-1 Carolina Panthers
at 6-9 Atlanta Falcons

This is how divisions should be decided. At the Georgia Dome this afternoon, the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons will face off for the NFC South division crown, a spot in the Playoffs as well as a home playoff game next weekend.

For Carolina, the season started out great as Derek Anderson led Carolina to a Week 1 victory over Tampa Bay while Cam Newton was hurt. Then the following week with Newton back at the helm, the Panthers soundly defeated the Detroit Lions. The Panthers were on top of the world...and then everything came crashing down quick and hard. After Week 2, Cam and the boys went 1-8-1 in their next ten games. I don't play professional football but I am pretty sure that isn't good. The Panthers even lost to Teddy Bridgewater's Minnesota Vikings! Despite the poor performances of the past, Week 14 was the turning point in the Panthers' season. The opponent was the New Orleans at the Superdome. The Saints were 5-7 going into the game and with a win they would have been one step closer to winning the division. The problem for the Saints was that Carolina had other plans and shocked the football world by scoring 41 points on the Saints in a 41-10 win at the Superdome. After the win, Carolina was 4-8-1 and had to win every game for the remainder of the season to even have a chance at the division crown. Anything is possible I suppose but what if Cam Newton gets into a car accident. No one would have predicted that. The car accident to Newton caused him to miss the following game, throwing Derek Anderson into battle for a second time against Tampa Bay. Carolina commanded the game for the majority and despite a Buccaneer rally late, the Panthers survived 19-17, setting up a matchup with Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns for a chance to play in the NFC South Championship game. The game was very close and the Browns actually were leading 13-10 in the fourth quarter against the Panthers but Cam Newton then drove the Panthers down the field and gave Carolina the lead with 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter. After the score, the defense stepped up and stopped Brian Hoyer on the fifty yardline. Cleveland Coach Mike Pettine decided to punt the ball to Carolina with the hope that his defense could stop Newton and the Panthers. The stop never occurred and Carolina was all set for the NFC South Championship game.

I don't know what is more amazing...that the Atlanta Falcons have a chance to make the playoffs or that five of their six wins are against their division rivals and with a win today, Atlanta would be a perfect 6-0 against division opponents. The Falcons were 2-6 to start the season but then they won four of their next seven games (not impressive but as good as it is going to get in the NFC South) including wins at Carolina and at New Orleans. The win at the Superdome was important not only because it clinched a Week 17 opportunity for the Falcons but because it also mathmatically eliminated the Saints from being in division championship contention. In fact, Atlanta's defense was the side of the ball that really got the job done last week in the Superdome as the Falcons forced two fumbles in addition to two interceptions from Drew Brees. Another positive for Atlanta is that wide receiver Julio Jones is returning from a hip injury that sidelined him last week in New Orleans. Obviously defense will be the key for Atlanta since at times this season it has been nonexistent leading to loses. No matter what the defensive side of the ball brings, Atlanta will need a good performance from Matt Ryan to host a playoff game next week. 

---Atlanta 23, Carolina 20