The Grain of Salt

It’s now late April, and baseball season has been well underway, although with a small sample data set. Joey Votto still doesn’t have a home run. Logan Morrison has a solid -19 wRC+. It’s the most autonomous time of year to be a baseball blogger because you have an excuse to write about why David Peralta (and his 177 wRC+) is here to stay. I get to try and explain Jake Marisnick’s 53.3% K%! I am in baseball nerd heaven. It’s the time when fans look at Jose Ramirez’s sub-Mendoza line batting average and start to draw conclusions as to why he has suddenly fallen off the cliff. Too many strikeouts? Nope, he has a 5.4% K%. Too many pop-outs? His IFFB% this season is lower than his career rate, so no. Bad luck? As with most of these guys who are being debated on the premature “Panic Meter” segment of SportsNation or whatever podcast you listen to, that’s probably the reason. Ramirez’s BABIP is .151 with lots of room to regress. However, there are some stats that have some legs to stand on. Maybe not Quadzilla size, but a solid Mitch Moreland calf muscle is fair. Baseball Savant just released the 2018 Statcast leaderboards for things such as sprint speed, outs above average, and expected outcomes. I am currently tingling with excitement. Here are a few numbers that are worth dissecting, and maybe say something about the player we didn’t know in January.

 

Sprint Speed

Bryce Harper may not be a 5 tool player, after all. Last year, in 187 opportunities he had an average sprint speed of 27.8 feet/second. Although not blazing, of the 42 right fielders who had at least 75 opportunities, Harper ranked 19th. This year, he is 33rd out of 35 right fielders (25.5) with at least 10 chances on the base paths. Only Kole (not Cole) Calhoun and the out of position Jay Bruce trail him. The lack of speed is showing in the field, with -3 Outs Above Average so far and a -11% catch percentage added. I am starting to think he would be a better fit at DH next year with Giancarlo playing left. You know since he will be a Yankee.

Outs Above Average

Corey Dickerson had 0 outs above average and a -1% expected catch percentage last year. He isn’t exactly the breathtaking athlete that succeeds in a major league outfield. He looked like a good fit for the rebuilding Pirates, who are trying to give off the impression that they give a damn. “Pirates acquire All-Star Dickerson from Rays!” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette played that headline up, huh? This year, though, he has 3 OAA and an added catch percentage of 8%. Of the 67 outfilders with at least 25 opportunites, he ranks 3rd in catch % added. Sustainable? Probably not at this rate. He has, however, registered one win on Fangraphs in only a tenth of the games he played in last year. Dickerson may be a valuable trade piece come July for the Buccos. Oh, and check out this dope catch from last year.

xwOBA

This one is stumping me a bit. Joe Panik has a .429 xwOBA so far this season. xwOBA is calculated through the quality of contact (Exit Velocity/Launch Angle) and BB+K numbers. Panik’s plate discipline numbers are fairly similar to last year, so his dramatic increase in xwOBA must have to do with his quality of contact, right? Not necessarily. His exit velocity and launch angle are essentially the same as last year. So what could it be? Well, he is pulling the ball more, and his xwOBA on balls in play is .433, so he must be producing the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle on his batted balls. On balls to the pull side, Panik has a 231 wRC+.Pulling the ball in the air is usually a recipe for success (see Betts, Mookie). He also has 19 balls hit 95+ MPH, 78th out of 253 qualified hitters.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Baseball Reference, Baseball Outsiders, and Fangraphs. Thanks for reading!

Article written by Cameron Levy

Cover photo credits: The Mercury News

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2018 March Madness Bracket Picks

Filling out a bracket this year is near impossible. Due to the parity across college basketball, almost every single matchup – yes, even some of the most lopsided, 1-2-3 seed games – has legitimate upset potential. Making a bracket, part of you wants to think, Wow, a double digit seed? Making it that far? I just don’t know if it’s possible. Never say never. It’s March. Anything is possible – let’s get down to it. If you think I’m being too crazy, stop yourself right there; nothing is too crazy.

*Sorry for the delayed publication of this article – all predictions were made as of Wednesday night*

 

First Round:

 

(1)Virginia vs. (16)UMBC

A one seed has never lost to a 16. Let’s not waste our time here.

Winner: Virginia

 

(8)Creighton vs. (9)Kansas State

This game scares me. Both teams aren’t particularly hot coming into the tournament, and both have serious big game potential (and serious inconsistent play). Creighton hasn’t been the same since losing Martin Krampelj, but I think Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas will find ways to score anyway against an exploitable Kansas State D. Creighton takes the W.

Winner: Creighton

 

(5)Kentucky vs. (12)Davidson

Kentucky has looked amazing recently, coming into their own when it matters. I’m cautious about writing off Davidson so easily – this is a very efficient offensive team – but the Wildcats are bigger, stronger, faster, and peaking.

Winner: Kentucky

 

(4)Arizona vs. (13)Buffalo

I don’t like this Arizona team. Looking back on their season, they haven’t beaten one legitimately good team (in my eyes), and I don’t believe that Deandre Ayton alone justifies their hype. That being said: Ayton is a physical specimen designed in a lab by Oxford’s smartest mad scientists. Buffalo won’t be able to match up.

Winner: Arizona

 

(6)Miami vs. (11)Loyola-Chicago

Loyola-Chicago is my (and seemingly, everybody’s) sleeper for the tournament. The Ramblers are extremely efficient shooters, have a defense ranked in the Top 25 on Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defense, and move the ball at will. Meanwhile, Miami is 4-4 in their last 8 games and is missing their best player, Bruce Brown Jr.

Winner: Loyola-Chicago

 

(3)Tennessee vs. (14)Wright State

Tennessee has the 4th best defense in the country per Adjusted Defense. Wright State has the 247th best offense per Adjusted Offense. That alone is enough to scare me off of an upset.

Winner: Tennessee

 

(7)Nevada vs. (10)Texas

I want to root for Nevada, I really do. The Martin twins have an incredible story, and Jordan Caroline is one of the most well-rounded guards in the country. Problem is though, they’re going to have trouble attacking the basket against Mo Bamba and they haven’t been the same offensively since Lindsey Drew went down. Texas will find ways to score against the Wolf Pack’s subpar defense and take the win.

Winner: Texas

 

(2)Cincinnati vs. (15)Georgia State

I’m not Cincinnati’s biggest fan, as I believe that analytics have inflated their defensive efficiency because of their generally poor-to-mediocre competition. However, the one thing that the Bearcats have done non-stop this season is assert their dominance over lesser teams.

Winner: Cincinnati

 

(1)Villanova vs. (16)Radford/LIU Brooklyn

Next.

Winner: Villanova

 

(8)Virginia Tech vs. (9)Alabama

Alabama is one of the most inconsistent teams in the country, anchored by their spectacular starting point guard and not much else. They’re 2-6 in their last 8. The Hokies, meanwhile, are dangerous enough to beat anybody and don’t have a bad loss on their resume. I don’t believe Bama deserves to be in this tournament, and unless Collin Sexton decides to take the world of basketball for a wild ride, Tech takes the win.

Winner: Virginia Tech

 

(5)West Virginia vs. (12)Murray State

Yikes, West Virginia got a tough draw. Murray State hasn’t lost a game in an eternity, and the Mountaineers have been strong-but-not-spectacular in Big 12 play. I think here, though, Murray State struggles from a lack of experience against teams this quality. The Racers’ defense isn’t world-class, and being able to stop the Mountaineers from hitting is the best way to beat them. WVU takes it in a close one.

Winner: West Virginia

 

(4)Wichita State vs. (13)Marshall

Don’t get me wrong, Marshall is a very good team. Wichita, however, is on another level. They have too much experience, coaching, and offensive talent to lose here.

Winner: Wichita State

 

(6)Florida vs. (11)St. Bonaventure/UCLA

This is going to be a good one, and Florida is an extremely talented roster that can beat nearly anyone. But they haven’t been that remarkable or consistent for about two months now, and whoever wins between the Bonnies and Bruins will be hungry to prove themselves. Both Aaron Holiday and Jaylen Adams are studs – either one finds a way to move their teams on.

Winner: St. Bonaventure/UCLA

 

(3)Texas Tech vs. (14)Stephen F. Austin

Back when they featured Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker, the Lumberjacks were one of my favorite teams to watch in college basketball. Sadly, that lovable cinderella is no more. These guys are not nearly the caliber of a Red Raiders team featuring a healthy Keenan Evans.

Winner: Texas Tech

 

(7)Arkansas vs. (10)Butler

Arkansas’ offense is lauded by some metrics, but I don’t believe their defense will be able to handle the firepower of Kelan Martin and co. Butler’s been cold as of late, but they typically step up come March.

Winner: Butler

 

(2)Purdue vs. (15)CS Fullerton

Purdue seemingly has been off people’s radars recently, despite looking like the best team in the country for a solid chunk of the season. Easy win here.

Winner: Purdue

 

(1)Xavier vs. (16)NC Central/Texas Southern

Yawn.

Winner: Xavier

 

(8)Missouri vs. (9)Florida State

No knock against Florida State, but this Mizzou team is extraordinarily dangerous right now. Jordan Barnett might be suspended for this game, but the fantastic Michael Porter Jr. is coming back in his place. Rusty as he was in his last game back, the extra time to prepare could only have helped him.

Winner: Missouri

 

(5)Ohio State vs. (12)South Dakota State

I love Mike Daum – and to anyone who believes SDSU can go on a legitimate run this year, I salute you and I agree. However, before you make that call, it’s important to remember who they’re up against. Keita Bates-Diop is a matchup nightmare at the college level, and the Buckeyes don’t have a single bad loss all season. I’m 50-50 on this one, but I give the slight edge to Ohio State.

Winner: Ohio State

 

(4)Gonzaga vs. (13)UNCG

UNCG is underrated – they’ve played hard against legit teams this year and held their own. They play a strong defense, and run a balanced, deep rotation. Gonzaga, though, excels against teams like this. Unheralded, mid-major, and not necessarily the most heralded recruits. They’re used to this situation, and they typically coast.

Winner: Gonzaga

 

(6)Houston vs. (11)San Diego State

Not a knock against Houston, who are efficient both offensively and defensively per Kenpom, but SDSU has been absolutely absurd recently. The Aztecs have won 9 straight, including a dominant recent stretch with victories over Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada (twice). They’re athletic and balanced. I’m picking the upset here.

Winner: San Diego State

 

(3)Michigan vs. (14)Montana

All due respect to Montana, Michigan is the hottest team in the country right now.

Winner: Michigan

 

(7)Texas A&M vs. (10)Providence

Providence is dangerous. Very, very dangerous. In their last 9, they have wins over Villanova, St John’s, Creighton and Xavier. Meanwhile, the Aggies have barely been a .500 team since their hot start.

Winner: Providence

 

(2)UNC vs. (15)Lipscomb

You know, 15 seeds do beat 2 seeds every now and then… just not here.

Winner: UNC

 

(1)Kansas vs. (16)Penn

Penn actually is a pretty good team, but in the matchup that comes closest to resembling this level of play for them (against Villanova) they lost by 28. I say it’s not impossible for a Quaker win here – but very, very, very unlikely.

Winner: Kansas

 

(8)Seton Hall vs. (9)NC State

NC State is a typical all-offense, no-defense team. They’re high-powered, balanced, and can beat anybody. Seton Hall, meanwhile, has struggled as of late against teams like this, with recent losses to Creighton, Xavier, Villanova and Butler.

Winner: NC State

 

(5)Clemson vs. (12)New Mexico State

Since losing Donte Grantham to injury, Clemson hasn’t been the same. I pegged them as an upset pick regardless of who they were playing before the tournament began, as they haven’t defeated tough competition since a January 30th win against UNC. The Aggies, on the other hand, as are a legit a 12 seed as they come. They beat Miami earlier this year and have the 15th ranked Adjusted Defense in the country. I’m taking the Aggies.

Winner: New Mexico State

 

(4)Auburn vs. (13)Charleston

I’m having trouble picking Auburn here, as they’ve (similarly to Clemson) struggled mightily since losing defensive anchor Anfernee McLemore (second highest Defensive Rating on team). Charleston, though, I don’t believe has what it takes to hang with a team with this amount of talent.

Winner: Auburn

 

(6)TCU vs. (11)Arizona State/Syracuse

As a basketball fan, it made me extremely upset watching the selection show to see that both ASU and Cuse made the tournament over more deserving (and better) teams such as Middle Tennessee and St Mary’s. No matter who wins the play-in game, neither has the talent nor the consistency to beat even a mediocre TCU team.

Winner: TCU

 

(3)Michigan State vs. (14)Bucknell

Bucknell is a talented team with a core of 3 high volume scorers in Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland and Stephen Brown. However, their 115th ranked Adjusted Defense won’t be able to handle the firepower of Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston.

Winner: Michigan State

 

(7)Rhode Island vs. (10)Oklahoma

Neither team has been pretty to watch over the last several months, but one has to win. I’m going with Rhode Island. Effectively, Oklahoma is a one-man team. While Rhode Island guards E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin won’t be able to neutralize Trae Young, their combined efforts against Oklahoma’s poor D should be enough to push the Rams over the hump.

Winner: Rhode Island

 

(2)Duke vs. (15)Iona

Of any 2-15 game, this is the one that has me the most cautious. Iona always steps up this time of year, and they are a deep team with 5 guys averaging at least 10 points and 7 averaging at least 8. Duke, though, is just too talented. They might come out flat and unprepared (as they sometimes do historically against worse teams) but they should prevail.

Winner: Duke

 

Second Round

 

(1)Virginia vs. (8)Creighton

Creighton has a good offense. Virginia, though, has a much better defense. I don’t think the Bluejays even stand a chance here, unfortunately. As boring as it is to pick the one seed to win, UVA is ranked so highly for a reason.

Winner: Virginia

 

(5)Kentucky vs. (4)Arizona

I said earlier that I don’t like Arizona – here’s where they meet their end. No Kentucky big man is particularly spectacular defensively, so Deandre Ayton is going to do Deandre Ayton things, but their offense will run right through Arizona’s mediocre-at-best D. Look for Kevin Knox to run right by whoever is guarding him – no Arizona wing has a defensive rating below 100.

Winner: Kentucky

 

(11)Loyola-Chicago vs. (3)Tennessee

Alright, let’s get to the good stuff. As I’ve already discussed, the Ramblers’ offense is better than the analytics paint it as and should perform above expectations against a very strong Volunteers’ D. However, what most don’t know is that Loyola also has the 25th ranked Adjusted Defense in the country; D is actually their stronger end. Tennessee struggles a little on offense, without one special offensive player to carry the load when the going gets tough. The Ramblers pull off an upset here.

Winner: Loyola-Chicago

 

(10)Texas vs. (2)Cincinnati

With all due respect to Texas, the Bearcats are simply the better team. Cincy’s defense will suffocate the Longhorns’ poor offense and prove to be a fairly easy matchup (besides Mo Bamba) for the 2 seed.

Winner: Cincinnati

 

(1)Villanova vs. (8)Virginia Tech

Let’s get crazy here. Oh yeah, that’s right – I say Tech takes it. The simple fact is this: it makes no sense why Virginia Tech plays up to their best opponents. They don’t excel offensively or defensively – they shoot 2-pointers at the 8th highest percentage in the nation, but that’s about it. However, no matter how they do it, they do it. This year, they’ve beaten UNC, NC State, Virginia, Clemson, and Duke. All since January 22nd. Nova is obviously incredible, but they’re too prone to upset for me to pick them and feel good about it.

Winner: Virginia Tech

 

(5)West Virginia vs. (4)Wichita State

This, in my opinion (if it happens) will be the best game of the tournament. West Virginia’s incredible press defense against Wichita State’s wildly efficient offense? *shudder*. It’s going to be incredible to watch. I think Landry Shamet is one of the most underrated ball handlers and scorers in the country, and Conner Frankamp simply doesn’t turn the ball over. If the Shockers don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure (they have the experience not to), those two should be able to power the offense past half court and take the Mountaineers out of their element.

Winner: Wichita State

 

(11)St Bonaventure/UCLA vs. (3)Texas Tech

No matter who ends up playing in this game, Texas Tech’s defense should be able to soundly handle the pressure that Jaylen Adams or Aaron Holiday would put on. That, combined with Keenan Evans having inhuman efficiency, should push Texas Tech onward.

 

(10)Butler vs. (2)Purdue

Butler is very good, but Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms will limit Kelan Martin’s effectiveness inside while Vince Edwards will be tough for him to handle on the perimeter, and the offense will do its thing against an average Butler D.

Winner: Purdue

 

(1)Xavier vs. (8)Missouri

Missouri will be tough to handle at full strength, but figuring out chemistry with all of the new integrated parts against a team as dominant as Xavier will be near impossible.

Winner: Xavier

 

(5)Ohio State vs. (4)Gonzaga

The Zags killed Ohio State earlier this year (that being said, it was before Keita Bates-Diop’s explosion) and look poised to be in for another good matchup. Johnathan Williams matches up favorably with Bates-Diop, and by neutralizing him, the Bulldogs should be able to outplay this Buckeyes squad at most other spots in the lineup.

Winner: Gonzaga

 

(11)San Diego State vs. (3)Michigan

One of the hottest teams in the country matches up against the hottest team in the country. The Wolverines will simply be too talented and offensively strong for this Aztecs team to handle. I wouldn’t be surprised if SDSU has trouble scoring as well, as Charles Matthews’ presence on the perimeter coupled with Jon Teske’s down low will be tough for players like Malik Pope to deal with.

Winner: Michigan

 

(10)Providence vs. (2)UNC

Remember how I said Providence is dangerous? Well, they’re very much dangerous enough to knock off the Tar Heels here. UNC, good as they are, are overseeded. They’re a 10-loss team who is 3-3 in their last 6 and can struggle to defend athletic, offensively talented teams. Providence has the toughness to defend this high-powered offense, and they’ve shown serious offensive skill in recent wins, such as the close one over Xavier.

Winner: Providence

 

(1)Kansas vs. (9)NC State

I can see the Wolfpack making a run here, but Kansas matches up against their offense pound for pound. Devonte’ Graham is steady as they come, and Svi Mykhailiuk is a deadeye. Kansas wins this one in a shootout.

Winner: Kansas

 

(12)New Mexico State vs. (4)Auburn

Let me introduce you all to a man named Jemerrio Jones. Jemerrio over here is a measly 6’5”, 200 pound forward. He also averages 13 rebounds per game. Why, you ask? Because Jemerrio is a tank with more hustle than most players have in their little fingers. Such is the theme for the Aggies – they’re tough, scrappy, and one of the best rebounding teams in the country (7th in Rebound Rate). Auburn has struggled with their physicality since McLemore went down. Watch for New Mexico State to body them heavily on their way to victory.

Winner: New Mexico State

 

(6)TCU vs. (3)Michigan State

TCU is a decent Big 12 team who’s faded in the second half of the season. The Spartans are an underseeded perennial power who spent the majority of the season in the Top 5. They won’t lose here.

Winner: Michigan State

 

(7)Rhode Island vs. (2)Duke

Playing Oklahoma and playing Duke are two different battles altogether – and honestly, the Rams don’t stand a chance here. Duke is bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Rhode Island has had a rough month of basketball. Duke cruises.

Winner: Duke

 

Sweet 16

 

(1)Virginia vs. (5)Kentucky

It’s been a nice run for Kentucky – but, bye-bye. Virginia’s grit and hustle will outclass the edge in NBA talent that Kentucky theoretically has. As long as the Cavaliers can find a way to put a few points on the board, their defense should win them this one.

Winner: Virginia

 

(11)Loyola-Chicago vs. (2)Cincinnati

I want to pick Loyola-Chicago so badly. Coming off beating Tennessee, they will know what it takes to beat a great defense. Even more enticing is that if they can beat both Tennessee and Cincy, they’ll be in a great position to know what it takes to beat Virginia’s D as well. Buttttt, while my heart says yes, my brain says no. Cincinnati feeds off of broken mid-major dreams, and their defense really is suffocating (almost as much so as Virginia’s). If you put the Ramblers, though, I won’t fight you.

Winner: Cincinnati

 

(8)Virginia Tech vs. (4)Wichita State

The Hokies will be high off their victory over Nova and come crashing down to Earth against the unrelenting offense of Wichita State. To those of you who believe that Nova and the Shockers play in similar ways, so Tech should take this win as well – that’s fair, but I disagree. Virginia Tech plays to their opponents – Wichita is less talented than Villanova, and I expect the overall level of the Hokies to fall with that drop-off.

Winner: Wichita State

 

(3)Texas Tech vs. (2)Purdue

As good as Texas Tech is, Purdue takes this one. Purdue did well twice this year against Michigan’s top defense, turning each game into a shootout with spectacular performances by Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and Isaac Haas. Look for Purdue to either dish inside or shoot a 3 every time down the floor, beating the Red Raiders down.

Winner: Purdue

 

(1)Xavier vs. (4)Gonzaga

Xavier chokes here. Good as they are, fact of the matter is that they are nowhere near the level of a typical 1 seed. Bluiett, Macura and co. will be smaller than a tough, skilled Gonzaga team that wants to prove last year was no fluke.

Winner: Gonzaga

 

(3)Michigan vs. (10)Providence

As gritty as Providence is, Michigan is even grittier – shockingly holding a top 5 ranking in Adjusted Defense. The Friars will struggle against the Wolverines’ combo of punishing defense, slow play, and ability to get hot in an instant (it’s almost like the Cinderella-crushing formula).

Winner: Michigan

 

(1)Kansas vs. (12)New Mexico State

New Mexico State is big, tough, and gritty. But, Kansas has so much talent. Udoka Azubuike will gobble up boards and keep his team strong, while Devonte’ and Svi do the heavy lifting on offense.

Winner: Kansas

 

(3)Michigan State vs. (2)Duke

The second best game of the tournament (if it happens), this is going to be an all-out brawl. These are two massive, physical teams full of NBA prospects and pent-up aggression. I think Duke takes it, but this is a toss-up. Wendell Carter and Nick Ward should effectively cancel out, so I think this comes down to which duo can perform better: Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges or Marvin Bagley and Grayson Allen. My money is on the latter, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for picking the Spartans. Hot take: the winner of this game wins the tournament.

Winner: Duke

 

Elite Eight

 

(1)Virginia vs. (2)Cincinnati

Pro-tip: if you like watching games where teams score, don’t watch this one. This is going to be a gritty, grind it out defensive effort between two of the best defensive teams of all time. Overall, Virginia should take it though – while their defense is marginally better than Cincy’s, their offense vastly outranks the Bearcats’ by most measures.

Winner: Virginia

 

(4)Wichita State vs. (2)Purdue

Fresh off of beating Texas Tech, Purdue is going to be exhausted. Look for Wichita State to capitalize on that – they’ll have more energy and be looking to attack on offense every possession. Additionally, Shaq Morris is a matchup nightmare for this Boilermakers squad; Haas and Haarms do a great job of holding their ground inside, but when it comes to the unrelenting toughness combined with the finesse and touch of his offensive game, it’s going to be very tough for Purdue to stick with him.

Winner: Wichita State

 

(4)Gonzaga vs. (3)Michigan

As strong as both teams will likely be playing at this point, Michigan should take this game. Gonzaga is long and full of outside shooters – however, Charles Matthews matches up perfectly with Johnathan Williams, Mo Wagner will take Killian Tillie, and Xavier Simpson can shut down Josh Perkins. A nightmare scenario for Michigan would be this game coming down to the wire and seeing them fall victim to poor free throw shooting and foul trouble; but besides that situation, I have trouble seeing the Wolverines those this one.

Winner: Michigan

 

(1)Kansas vs. (2)Duke

This is a rough game for Kansas. They play small, and Duke is very big – and, unfortunately for the Jayhawks, mobile and agile enough to stick with anyone. Assuming Carter and Azubuike play as about equals, this game is wide open for Marvin Bagley to go bonkers.

Winner: Duke

 

Final Four

 

(1)Virginia vs. (3)Michigan

It’s been quite the run for Michigan, but it ends here. The defense is simply just too strong – look for Mo Wagner to have trouble penetrating, which will lead to him having trouble getting any room off of the pick and pop. Once that play disintegrates, Michigan’s offense could take a nosedive. I give the Wolverines a chance if they tire out a now-shorter UVA rotation and both Wagner and Duncan Robinson hit the 3 at a very high percentage, but it’s unlikely.

Winner: Virginia

 

(4)Wichita State vs. (2)Duke

Similarly to what happened in the Duke-Kansas game, Duke will simply have too much size for the Shockers to handle. Grayson Allen and Landry Shamet, I’m predicting, will have roughly equal offensive outputs – but down low, Marvin Bagley is going to have himself a day against an undersized Wichita State starting frontcourt. Defense has not been the Shockers’ calling card this year – finally, it will come back to bite them.

Winner: Duke

 

National Championship

 

(1)Virginia vs. (2)Duke

Here, in my opinion, is where losing De’Andre Hunter hurts UVA the most. Duke will be the most efficient offense that the Cavaliers come up against, and missing such a big presence is a big deal. And as tough as the Cavaliers are, Duke can handle them defensively and has the size to beat them down on offense. Look for the big men to be key – as we saw in the first Duke-UVA matchup during the regular season, the Blue Devils’ guards were effectively neutralized. It was, however, a big day for Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. This matchup will be more of the same; unfortunately, UVA missing such an important piece will likely be what pushes Duke over the edge.

Winner: Duke

 

Data courtesy of Team Rankings, Kenpom, ESPN, and Sports-Reference. Thanks for reading!

2018 NFL Mock Draft: Post-Combine Edition

*This mock draft was made before the signings of Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints), Case Keenum (Denver Broncos), and Allen Robinson (Chicago Bears)*

  1. CLEVELAND BROWNS – SAQUON BARKLEY, RB (Penn State)

    USP NFL: COMBINE S FBN USA IN
    Photo Credits: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Although Saquon Barkley doesn’t directly address one of the Browns’ significant needs at quarterback, cornerback, or right tackle, this pick is an absolute no-brainer. Barkley, a freak athlete coming out of Penn State, will make his impact felt instantly, as he is the most talented player in this class and should thrive behind the Browns’ highly upgraded offensive line. The Browns, who recently traded for ex-Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, will likely use one of their later picks (4, 33, 35) to address their need for a franchise quarterback, as Barkley is a generational talent that they simply cannot pass on.

  2. NEW YORK GIANTS – QUENTON NELSON, OG (Notre Dame)

    ct-spt-bears-quenton-nelson-nfl-scouting-combine-20180302
    Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

    With Saquon Barkley off of the board after the Browns’ pick, Quenton Nelson becomes the best player available in the draft. With both Eli Manning and Davis Webb still on their roster, the Giants front office won’t feel pressured to fix their situation at quarterback with this pick, as Manning is a veteran quarterback, while Webb has high development potential. Instead, the Giants will likely choose to address their glaring need on their offensive line, which will help to both protect Eli Manning and bolster their lackluster run game. Nelson, the undisputed top offensive lineman in this year’s class, will certainly be able to alleviate this need.

  3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS – BRADLEY CHUBB, DE (NC State)

    NFL Combine - Day 4
    Photo Credits: Colts Wire – USA Today

    The Indianapolis Colts could not have been luckier with their draft position, as Bradley Chubb, an elite edge rusher out of NC State, will almost certainly still be available at the 3rd overall pick. The Colts desperately need an edge rusher to ease their transition to an upfield 4-3 attack, and luckily for them, the best pass-rusher in this year’s class will fall in their lap. Chubb, an absolute wrecking force in college who has drawn comparisons to Joey Bosa and Chris Long, looks to continue his family’s dominance in football (he and Nick Chubb are cousins) at the perfect landing spot in Indianapolis.

  4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (FROM HOUSTON TEXANS) – SAM DARNOLD, QB (USC)

    usp_nfl__combine_98085339-e1520111604810
    Photo Credits: For The Win – USA Today

    Even after the Browns’ recent trade with the Buffalo Bills that sent Tyrod Taylor, a dual-threat quarterback, to Cleveland, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Browns address their glaring need at quarterback with the 4th overall pick. After bolstering up their offensive line, trading for an elite receiving target in Jarvis Landry, and picking Saquon Barkley with the 1st overall pick, selecting quarterback Sam Darnold with the 4th overall pick would complete the Browns complete revamp of their offense. Darnold, albeit a turnover machine, is likely the best quarterback in this year’s class and will thrive under Hue Jackson’s offense in Cleveland.

  5. DENVER BRONCOS – JOSH ROSEN, QB (UCLA)

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    Photo Credits: Yahoo Sports

    After dealing with a frustrating combination of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch at the quarterback position over the past two seasons, it has become clear that the Broncos are ready to move on from all three and look to draft their replacement at the 5th overall pick. Unlike other teams towards the top of the draft, the Broncos have much more of a ‘win-now’ attitude, which makes Josh Rosen, the most pro-ready passer in this year’s class, the perfect pick. Although Rosen certainly has had his share of issues over the past year, he is still a fantastic quarterback who will be a nice fit in Denver.

  6. NEW YORK JETS – BAKER MAYFIELD, QB (Oklahoma)

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    Photo Credits: For The Win – USA Today

    Possibly more than any other team in the draft, the New York Jets need to fill their gaping hole at the quarterback position, as their search for a franchise quarterback has spanned nearly a decade. Mayfield, an electric quarterback coming out of Oklahoma and the most recent winner of the Heisman Trophy, stands to perfectly fill this need, as he is an ultra-talented quarterback with culture-changing intensity. He continues to have his share of doubters, as he is an undersized spread quarterback (that combo has typically not fared well in the NFL), but he flourished in that command system in Oklahoma and should do so at the next level as well.

  7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – MINKAH FITZPATRICK, CB (Alabama)

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    Photo Credits: Pro Football Weekly

    With Bradley Chubb off of the board after the Colts’ pick, no other edge rusher seems worthy of the 7th overall pick, even though that is by far the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ greatest need. Minkah Fitzpatrick, a hybrid defensive back who is quite possibly the most dynamic defensive player in the draft, is the best player available and addresses another need for improving their secondary. Fitzpatrick, a projected safety in the NFL, carries a huge value because of his versatility, which is due to his athleticism and size; he has extensive experience playing both as a traditional cornerback and slot cornerback, as well as in linebacker and safety sub-packages.

  8. CHICAGO BEARS – DENZEL WARD, CB (Ohio State)

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    Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

    Even after recently signing cornerback Kyle Fuller to a transition tag, the Chicago Bears still have a massive hole in their secondary, particularly at the cornerback position across from Fuller, which remains wide open. Denzel Ward, an athletic, lock-down corner out of Ohio State, is undisputedly the best cornerback in this year’s class (excluding Fitzpatrick since he is projected to be a safety in the NFL) and should immediately satisfy this need. The Bears do have a more pressing need at wide receiver, however, they will likely address this need in the 2nd round with a selection, such as James Washington, Michael Gallup, or DaeSean Hamilton.

  9. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – ROQUAN SMITH, LB (Georgia)

    NFL: Combine
    Photo Credits: Niners Wire – USA Today

    With looming news regarding the legal status of linebacker Reuben Foster, the 49ers’ already present need for a stack linebacker has only been expanded. Roquan Smith, a slightly undersized yet ultra-talented linebacker prospect coming out of Georgia, serves as the perfect man to fill this role, as he is quite possibly the best shut-down run-defender in the entire draft. The standout Georgia linebacker has drawn comparisons to Bobby Wagner and Deion Jones in regards to his athleticism and elite play-making ability outside of the hashes.

  10. OAKLAND RAIDERS – TREMAINE EDMUNDS, LB (Virginia Tech)

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    Photo Credits: 247Sports

    The Oakland Raiders have an extremely pressing need at the linebacker position, and Tremaine Edmunds, an incredibly athletic linebacker coming out of Virginia Tech, perfectly fills this need. Edmunds is easily the best player available at this point in the draft and is thought by many to be the best defensive player in this entire draft class, so the fact that he also fills a need makes him a no-brainer pick for the Raiders at #10. Edmunds’s unique combination of size and speed, as well as his versatility and playmaking ability has NFL teams salivating, especially considering he hasn’t even hit his full potential yet due to his mental mistakes.

  11. MIAMI DOLPHINS – JOSH JACKSON, CB (Iowa)

    NFL: Combine
    Photo Credits: Bears Wire – USA Today

    Since cornerbacks Minkah Fitzpatrick and Denzel Ward are already off the board courtesy of the Buccaneers at #7 and the Bears at #8, it would be quite logical for the Dolphins to draft Josh Jackson to address the team’s biggest need: cornerback. Josh Jackson, an absolute ballhawk with very good size for a cornerback, is the top remaining cornerback on the board and would perfectly fill the Dolphins’ void at the cornerback position across from Xavier Rhodes. Jackson’s elite instincts and incredible ability to defend the ball make him a nice fit in the Dolphins’ secondary.

  12. CINCINNATI BENGALS – CONNOR WILLIAMS, OT (TEXAS)

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    Photo Credits: Cincy Jungle

    The Cincinnati Bengals are in a nearly identical draft situation to the Miami Dolphins, as the top lineman in this year’s class, Quenton Nelson, is off the board, but Connor Williams, who is not only the best player available, but also fills the Bengals’ greatest need, is still on the board. Williams, a top-tier offensive lineman out of Texas, is an incredibly intriguing option for the Bengals, as he would fill a massive void on the offensive line, either at guard or tackle because of his versatility. Williams is extremely athletic and has good size, both of which should allow him to be a productive starter from Day 1.

  13. WASHINGTON REDSKINS – DERWIN JAMES, S (Florida State)

    NFL: Combine
    Photo Credits: Raiders Wire – USA Today

    A personal favorite of mine, Derwin James would go huge lengths to alleviate the Redskins’ need to replace Su’a Cravens, a hybrid safety who played in linebacker sub-packages as well. James, a freakishly talented athlete coming out of Florida State, is an extremely versatile and impactful player, who has the ability to single-handedly transform a defense with his presence. James has not reached his full potential and if his play catches up to his talent (which it likely will), he will absolutely terrorize opposing offenses. James, an alpha male leader, will certainly make his presence felt in the locker room as well.

  14. GREEN BAY PACKERS – MARCUS DAVENPORT, DE (UTSA)

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    Photo Credits: Houston Chronicle

    The Green Bay Packers, who desperately need an edge rusher that can provide pressure, have often been linked to Marcus Davenport in mock drafts, as he is an intriguing pass-rusher out of UT San Antonio that can fill this void. After a monstrous performance at the Senior Bowl, Davenport’s stock has been red-hot and has led to comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney and Danielle Hunter. Davenport is still relatively undeveloped, but his incredible upside and untapped potential have NFL teams very excited about his future outlook.

  15. ARIZONA CARDINALS – JOSH ALLEN, QB (Wyoming)

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    Photo Credits: Casper-Star Tribune

    After Carson Palmer’s retirement earlier this year, the Cardinals have been left scrambling to find a quarterback, but have not had much success finding one at the beginning of the NFL offseason. Therefore, the Cardinals are really left with no choice and are forced to turn to the draft to find Palmer’s successor. Since Darnold, Mayfield, and Rosen have already been drafted, Josh Allen is the undisputed top option available at the 15th overall pick. Allen, a gunslinger out of Wyoming, has had limited competition and success against the good teams he has faced, but he has once-in-a-generation arm strength that NFL scouts absolutely love.

  16. BALTIMORE RAVENS – CALVIN RIDLEY, WR (Alabama)

    NFL: Combine
    Photo Credits: Saturday Down South

    Given that the Ravens have one of the most pathetic receiving corps in the NFL, it would be highly surprising if they did not select a receiver with the 16th overall pick. Calvin Ridley, the class’s clear-cut top receiver, had a poor combine showing, which should allow him to fall to the Ravens at #16, but make no mistake, Ridley is an elite receiver. Ridley’s fantastic speed, which allows him to separate from cornerbacks on routes, as well as his rare route-running ability will allow him to excel at the next level. On top of the Ravens’ dire need for a receiver and Ridley’s great fit, Ravens’ GM Ozzie Newsome is known to love Alabama players as well.

  17. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS – RASHAAN EVANS, ILB (Alabama)

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    Photo Credits: Tide 102.9 FM

    Even with an elite set of pass rushers on the edge of the front 7, the San Diego Chargers desperately need help both on their defensive line and at inside linebacker position. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Chargers select Washington DT Vita Vea, however, the need at inside linebacker is more pressing, so it is more likely the Chargers select Rashaan Evans, an incredibly athletic and versatile “new-breed” linebacker out of Alabama. Evans was a crucial part of Alabama’s championship-caliber defense, and his unique size and length that allowed him to fly sideline to sideline should transfer well to the NFL.

  18. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – ARDEN KEY, DE (LSU)

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    Photo Credits: FanRag Sports

    Even with red flags regarding his injury history and character concerns, it would be incredibly difficult for the Seahawks to pass on Arden Key at the 18th overall pick, as he has clear-cut top 10 talent in this class and fills a need on the defensive line. After trading away Michael Bennett to the Eagles, the Seahawks have a massive hole on their defensive line that Key, a dynamic edge rusher with great length, could fill immediately. Key’s potential, if not limited by lack of discipline or injuries, is sky-high as he has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines.

  19. DALLAS COWBOYS – VITA VEA, DT (Washington)

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    Photo Credits: UW Dawg Pound

    With many wide receivers such as Allen Robinson, Danny Amendola, and Sammy Watkins still available in free agency, as well as a very deep receiver class this year, the Cowboys will likely not address their pressing need for a wide receiver with their 1st round pick. The Cowboys likely could pick Vita Vea, an absolutely massive defensive tackle out of Washington, to fill their next biggest need. Vea’s humongous frame, light feet, and overpowering blocking will allow him to be a force at the next level, especially considering that he has great ability, but is still a very raw talent.

  20. DETROIT LIONS – HAROLD LANDRY, OLB (Boston College)

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    Photo Credits: Niners Wire – USA Today

    With many of the premier defensive lineman already off of the board, the Lions look to Harold Landry, a speedy edge rusher out of Boston College, to address their hole at the outside linebacker and pass rusher position. Landry, who has drawn comparisons to Bruce Irvin and Vic Beasley in regards to his pass-rushing style, has the speed, athleticism, and length to be extremely effective at the next level, even with his below average size and strength. Landry has the potential to be a huge steal at the 20th overall pick, as he was thought by many to be the top senior in this class before his performance slowed after injuries at the middle of the season.

  21. BUFFALO BILLS – MASON RUDOLPH, QB (Oklahoma State)

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    Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

    After recently trading quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, the Buffalo Bills have a glaring need at the quarterback position, as the infamous Nathan Peterman is first on the depth chart at the moment. With somewhat limited options in free agency and Darnold, Rosen, Mayfield, and Allen already off of the board, the Bills are left to draft Mason Rudolph, who very well might be the best quarterback this class has to offer. Rudolph, a downfield pocket passer out of Oklahoma State, has consistently improved over his college career and has great field reading capabilities as well as the ability to make everyone around him better.

  22. BUFFALO BILLS – MIKE McGLINCHEY, OT (Notre Dame)

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    Photo Credits: Cincy Jungle

    Since the Bills just addressed their most glaring need with the previous pick, they can now look to draft their biggest hole, which is their offensive line. Mike McGlinchey, a humongous, athletic offensive lineman out of Notre Dame, is the perfect man to do the job, after co-leading the most dominant offensive line in the country at Notre Dame. Although McGlinchey likely needs to bulk up in regards to both his strength and weight, he already has pro-ready talent, technique, and instincts that should allow him to be a plug-in starter from Day 1.

  23. LOS ANGELES RAMS – LORENZO CARTER, LB (Georgia)

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    Photo Credits: Gwinnett Daily Post

    After trading for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, the Los Angeles Rams now look to address their needs at linebacker and edge rusher. Lorenzo Carter, an aggressive, lengthy hybrid linebacker with pass rushing capabilities, is an incredibly ideal fit for the Rams. Although Carter might have not lived up to the sky-high expectations placed on him when he came out of high school, he still excelled during his time at Georgia, especially in this past year. Carter’s lengthiness, toughness, and sideline-to-sideline range will allow him to be highly effective as an edge rusher or outside linebacker in the NFL.

  24. CAROLINA PANTHERS – COURTLAND SUTTON, WR (SMU)

    NFL: Combine
    Photo Credits: NFL.com

    Even after Devin Funchess’s breakout season, the Carolina Panthers are still extremely deprived at the wide receiver position without Kelvin Benjamin, so they will likely look to address that glaring need with the 24th overall pick. This wide receiver class is extremely deep and filled with intriguing options, but Courtland Sutton, a large possession receiver coming out of SMU, sets himself apart from the remaining options. Sutton, although a possession receiver, has the ability to separate both horizontally with his speed, as well as vertically, with his elite jump-ball ability and toughness against opposing cornerbacks.

  25. TENNESSEE TITANS – SAM HUBBARD, DE (Ohio State)

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    Photo Credits: ESPN

    The Tennessee Titans have been missing a consistent yet dominating edge presence for quite some time, and will definitely look to bolster that weakness as their top priority. Sam Hubbard, a very solid pass rusher who played a key role on Ohio State’s lethal defensive line, is the easily the best player available to fit this job, as other intriguing options in Arden Key, Lorenzo Carter, and Harold Landry are already gone. While Hubbard won’t wow anyone with big-time plays or devastating power moves, he is exactly what the Titans need in a consistent edge rusher.

  26. ATLANTA FALCONS – BILLY PRICE, OL (Ohio State)

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    Photo Credits: Cincy Jungle

    The Atlanta Falcons have built a solid offensive line on the foundation of Alex Mack and Jake Matthews, but still lack another elite lineman, which has prevented their run game from flourishing. This has also not allowed the Matt Ryan to Julio Jones connection to be as lethal as it could be, so the Falcons will likely address this need by selecting Billy Price, an ultra strong and explosive center/guard out of Ohio State. While Price plays a little bit impatiently and crazy at times, his power, leverage, and explosiveness put him on another level and should make him a force from Day 1.

  27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – LAMAR JACKSON, QB (Louisville)

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    Photo Credits: The Big Lead

    Although Drew Brees is still producing like one of the top quarterbacks in the league, the truth is that he is 39 years old and is nearing the end of his storied career. Therefore, the New Orleans Saints will likely look to find his eventual successor with the 27th overall pick, and there is no better fit than Lamar Jackson, an elite playmaker with dual-threat capabilities out of Louisville. Jackson, who has drawn many comparisons to Michael Vick, has rare speed and athleticism that allows him to single-handedly win games. Jackson’s talents would absolutely thrive under Payton, who has been known for making the most of unique players.

  28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS – JUSTIN REID, S (Stanford)

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    Photo Credits: NFL.com

    With many of the top-notch linebackers and quarterbacks already off of the board, the Pittsburgh Steelers will likely instead choose to address their need at safety. Justin Reid, a standout safety out of Stanford and the brother of Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid, is far and away the best option still on the board and a primary candidate to fill this hole. Reid, a highly athletic and versatile player, has great size and speed that allows him to be absolutely phenomenal in coverage. Reid has great instincts and a high football IQ as well, which both contribute to his elite ball-hawking skills.

  29. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – D.J. MOORE, WR (Maryland)

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    Photo Credits: DJLA

    With Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee set to leave during free agency, the Jacksonville Jaguars are scrambling to find their replacements in an already weakened receiving core. At this point in the draft, there are still many intriguing receivers still on the board, as Ridley and Sutton are the only ones who have been drafted, however, DJ Moore looks like he is the prime target for the Jaguars. Moore, a quick, speedy receiver with elite after the catch skills, plays very similarly to ex-Terrapin Stefon Diggs and is even a little bigger than him. Moore may move to the slot full-time in the NFL, which would suit him quite well.

  30. MINNESOTA VIKINGS – DA’RON PAYNE, DT (Alabama)

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    Photo Credits: Getty Images

    Given that almost all of the elite offensive lineman prospects have been drafted at this point, with the exception of the rapidly falling Orlando Brown, the Minnesota Vikings will likely instead address their need at defensive tackle with this pick. Da’Ron Payne, a key contributor to Alabama’s championship caliber defense, is likely the best player left on the board and fills a need, which makes this a no-brainer selection for the Vikings. Payne’s premier strength and athleticism for an interior lineman make him possibly the best run-stuffer in this entire draft class.

  31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – JAIRE ALEXANDER, CB (Louisville)

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    Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

    After all the drama between the New England Patriots’ front office and Malcolm Butler, it appears unlikely that he will return next season so the Patriots will have to fill a gaping hole at cornerback. Jaire Alexander, an athletic, tough, and quick cornerback out of Louisville, is the perfect guy to fill this role, as he is the only elite cornerback left on the board. Alexander is an instinctive cornerback who has the speed and recognition to jump routes and make plays on the ball, which will make him a valuable cornerback at the next level.

  32. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – CHRISTIAN KIRK, WR (Texas A&M)

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    Photo Credits: The Phinsider

    After trading Torrey Smith to the Carolina Panthers, the Philadelphia Eagles desperately need help at wide receiver and have been tied to drafting a receiver with the 32nd overall pick in many mock drafts. Christian Kirk, a well-built, tough slot receiver out of Texas A&M, seems like the right guy to fill this role, as the Eagles already have a possession, red-zone threat in Alshon Jeffrey. Kirk isn’t known for his speed but has learned how to use his good footwork, soft hands, and after the catch skills to be an extremely productive receiver in college. Kirk also has high value as a top-notch kick returner as well.

 

Best remaining players:

DERRIUS GUICE, RB (LSU)
ORLANDO BROWN, OT (Oklahoma)
MAURICE HURST*, DT (Michigan)
SONY MICHEL, RB (Georgia
JAMES WASHINGTON, WR (Oklahoma State)
KOLTON MILLER, OT (UCLA)

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, NFL.com, and Football Reference. Cover Photo Credits: Bleacher Report.

Top 25 Teams In The Country

In the spirit of the NCAA tournament coming up next week, let’s take a look at the best 25 college teams, using both analytics and the eye test.

 

  1. Virginia Cavaliers

UVA is not the prototypical “#1 team” – they don’t have a superstar, no Herculean one-and-done players, and they score 68 points per game. How, then, have they made it through this season as the unquestioned best team? Defense. Themselves and Cincinnati (more on them later) are so far ahead of the field in Adjusted Defense (the number of points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent), that the gap between the Cavaliers and the third overall team is the same as the gap between that team and the 63rd overall. That’s domination.

 

  1. Villanova Wildcats

While the team above them excels with their defense, Nova is incredible because of their offense – far and away the most efficient in the country this year by Adjusted Offense. They’ve played a strong schedule, including convincing wins over Gonzaga and Xavier (twice), and have come out with it with only 4 losses. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are studs, and the team as a whole is shooting almost 50/40 from the field. Watch out.

 

  1. Duke Blue Devils

You know that a team is good when every game that they lose is a surprise. “NC State? Really?”. “BC? Wow”. Yes, they have blemishes on their resume, but this is an extremely well-rounded team without a true weakness. Marvin Bagley is one of the top 5 players in NCAA basketball, and Grayson Allen is a former Wooden Award candidate. They’re fantastic on offense and defense; and even though they’re prone to the occasional game-long lapse in concentration (loss to BC, loss to St. John’s), there’s not a team in the field they can’t beat.

 

  1. Michigan Wolverines

Here we go again – a Wolverines team flies under the radar all season long until they explode into the national spotlight in March. When have we seen this before? (Oh, right, last year). For the first time ever under John Beilein, Michigan’s defense is their calling card (ranked top 5 in the nation). When combined with their slow pace and reliance on the 3, teams can get extremely frustrated by their ability to go on a run at any time. Watch sixth man Duncan Robinson’s production as well; when he’s scored 6 or more points in a game, Michigan has never lost.

 

  1. Purdue Boilermakers

Even though the numbers say that Villanova and Duke have more efficient offenses than Purdue, I don’t care. When these guys are hitting, they remind me of UCLA’s fabled offense last year. Two of the best I’ve ever seen. The Edwards’ and Haas are always going to get their points, but watch out for Dakota Mathias, a sniper who’s ability to fly around screens and hit could be a game changer late in some second halves.

 

  1. Michigan State Spartans

A strong, built team that’s going to beat you with their size and power. They’re the only team to rank in the top 10 in both Adjusted Offense and Defense, and they can hurt you from inside and outside (shooting 50/40 as a team). They’re not flashy, but they’re very dangerous.

 

  1. Xavier Musketeers

The analytics don’t agree with me here, as kenpom.com lists them even lower as the 13th overall team. Some pundits have found Xavier’s defense too weak or believe that they are just lucky, as they rank only 59th in Adjusted Defense and in the top 10 in Luck rating. However, at some point, the fact that they just get the job done has to be respected. They only have three losses all season outside of Villanova, and they’ve beaten the top of the Big 12 along with dropping 89 against Cincinnati’s defense earlier this year. This is a well-rounded team and an offensive powerhouse who could make moves in March (unless they run into Nova too early).

 

  1. Kansas Jayhawks

A deep offensive team that can hit from anywhere inside 35 feet. Devonte’ Graham is on the Wooden Watch and Svi Mykhailiuk might be the best college shooter in the country. Kansas is potent, they’re hungry – and they’re dangerous.

 

  1. North Carolina Tar Heels

They have a lot of losses, but they’ve played the hardest schedule in the country by the measure of the Adjusted Efficiency Margin of their opponents. They have wins over Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Clemson, Duke (twice), and Miami. It’s unlikely to win two years in a row, but the Tar Heels can hang with anybody.

 

  1. Cincinnati Bearcats

The main knock against them is that their strength of schedule is too easy, making their record smoke and mirrors. However, they rank in the top 100 in the same SOS rating we just used to measure UNC. They’ve beaten Wichita State once and play one of the most efficient defenses of all time (second this year only to UVA). Any team who believes they have a strong offense would be afraid to play them in March.

 

  1. Wichita State Shockers

Can they shock the world once more? Defense, usually a constant on Gregg Marshall’s teams, has not been a strength of this Shockers squad. However, their offense is top 5 in the country and they can hurt opposing teams in so many ways: Landry Shamet is a machine and when Shaq Morris produces like he has been recently, this is a borderline unstoppable offensive powerhouse.

 

  1. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Save for a recent four-game stretch in which star Keenan Evans was either injured or hobbled, this is a 4 loss team in the toughest conference in the country. Adjusted Defense paints them as (underratedly) a top 5 defensive team in the country, and when Evans is on, they’re one of the best offensively as well.

 

  1. West Virginia Mountaineers

Their full-court press is feared around the country. However, an important key to it – they have to be making their shots in order to set it up and force turnovers, their bread and butter. If they’re hitting, they’re an incredibly tough team to beat and can hang with anyone (even beating Virginia earlier this year).

 

  1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

I’m much less high on the Zags than most other analysts, and that mostly comes down to strength of schedule. They’ve really only beaten two legitimate teams this year: Ohio State (before Keita Bates-Diop’s explosion) and Saint Mary’s. They’re a strong team who can make a run – but nowhere near as powerful as last season’s squad.

 

  1. Ohio State

Placed beneath Gonzaga mainly as a virtue of losing to them earlier this season – but this team was reborn after beating Wisconsin and Michigan back to back, with the aforementioned Bates-Diop taking off as a 20 PPG scorer. Watch out before penciling in the Buckeyes to the Final Four though, as they’re 2-3 in their last 5.

 

  1. Clemson Tigers

Losing Donte Grantham to injury hurt. After starting the season strong, Clemson has faded a little down the stretch, going 4-4 in their last 8. They’ve shown that by virtue of their defense (8th in Adjusted Defense), they can hang with some quality teams, but they’re unlikely to have the firepower to go too far.

 

  1. Arizona Wildcats

Part of me wants to rank them higher. Deandre Ayton is a Greek god brought down to Earth, and Allonzo Trier is a superstar masquerading as second fiddle. However, it’s hard to ignore their lack of quality wins – victories over Texas A&M and Arizona State don’t look nearly as good as they used to, and those were their only victories over ranked opponents.

 

  1. Auburn Tigers

I’m not nearly as high on the SEC as many others. They’re deep, yes, but they lack high-end talent. Auburn, their pride and joy, has failed to impress me – especially recently. After a great start to the season, they’ve gone 2-4 in their last six. And reading deeper into their wins, they haven’t beaten quality opponents besides Middle Tennessee and Tennessee. Nothing they do really sticks out in the numbers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get bounced early.

 

  1. Houston Cougars

Wins over Wichita, Providence and Cincinnati gives you validity in my book. Houston ranks in the top 30 in both Adjusted Offense and Defense, and they’re a balanced team that plays a deep lineup without one player averaging 32 MPG or more. That could help them in the tournament, especially if some of their top guys fail to impress.

 

  1. Tennessee Volunteers

Beating Purdue early in the season is a great win that shows their tough defense (3rd in Adjusted Defense) can put up a fight against anybody. However, they lack another signature win. Similar to Houston, though, they play a deep lineup – without anyone averaging even 29 MPG. Depth helps when it matters.

 

  1. Florida Gators

After beginning the season as one of the projected top teams, Florida has fallen in the eyes of many. Don’t be fooled by their record, though – Jalen Hudson and Chris Chiozza anchor a team that can hang with anybody. They’ve beaten Gonzaga, Cincy, Auburn, and hung with Duke. They could duck out early – but they could go on a run as well.

 

  1. Saint Mary’s Gaels*

Say it with me – Jock Landale is really, really good. The superstar upped his scoring, rebounding, and efficiency this year after already being one of the top players in the nation last year. He’s surrounded by shooters (the team shoots 50/40, with everyone besides Jock over 10 PPG on the team over 40% from 3) and the offense is efficient and fun to watch. Two problems though: they can’t play defense (120th in Adjusted Defense) and their only legitimate win this year is over Gonzaga.

 

  1. Virginia Tech Hokies

One of the most bipolar teams in basketball this year, the Hokies have wins over UVA (on the road), UNC, Duke and Clemson but several losses in winnable games at home and one “yikes” home loss against Saint Louis. They deserve to be ranked this highly, but they’re a team to watch next week – you never know what you’re going to get.

 

  1. Rhode Island Rams

The Rams can be hard to watch at times – they’re a team with two fantastic players in E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, but yet they’ve faded down the stretch and lost against teams they should be outmatching. They have the talent, but they need to put it all together (and fast).

 

  1. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Make no mistake, this team has not played against strong competition. Every criticism I’ve made about a team playing a weak schedule, they fit it. However – the degree to which they’ve dominated their league over the past 18 games deserves recognition. They play at a slow pace, they move the ball, and they shoot almost 50/40 from the field. That’s a hard combination for opposing college teams to handle. Watch out next week – any team playing against them, in my book, is on upset alert.

 

Just missed the cut:

Miami (FL)

Middle Tennessee

Providence

Nevada

NC State

Kansas State

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Basketball Reference

Top Ten Right Now: First Basemen

Sluggers will slug. That is what we have learned, especially in today’s airball revolution. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are some of the best hitters of our generation, and both are first ballot HOFers, but the back 9 of their careers have hit hard. GM’s hopefully have become warier of paying first basemen with players like Ian Desmond, Chris Davis, and Wil Myers giving a negative return on investment with their deals. The position is trending towards the youth, and I expect names such as Bird and Bellinger to make the top 10 next year.

 

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first because as a Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After compiling all of the stats, I found the mean and standard deviation of each statistic. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score). Refer to Top Ten 3rd basemen for how these numbers were formulated.

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
  2. Quality of Contact
  3. Contact Skills
  4. Defense
  5. Games played in 2016 + 2017
  6. Plate Discipline
  7. Base Running

 

The List

  1. Joey Votto
    • Arguably the best bat in baseball, Votto still resides in the barren ozone layer that is Cincinnati. He is an everyday player with the best eye in the sport, and he’s got jokes too.
  2. Freddie Freeman
    • Freeman was on pace for 60 (!) home runs when a wrist injury cut into his unsustainable, yet spectacular, 1.200 OPS. If he can stay healthy, I think that lineup could surprise some people (Acuna, Albies, Inciarte). Although all the panelists put Goldschmidt here, the shredder and I agreed on Freeman’s ranking.
  3. Anthony Rizzo
    • The combination of good defense and excellent contact skills (Z-Score of 1.2) puts Rizzo, a kid at heart, near the top of this list.
  4. Paul Goldschmidt
    • This isn’t really a knock on Goldy, as it is much more of a testament to Freeman and Rizzo. Paul Bunyan is a true all-around player, earning 3.3 Base Running Runs last year.
  5. Jose Abreu
    • With a 148 wRC+, Abreu was only behind Joey Gallo for most home runs at the position in the second half of the season.
  6. Brandon Belt
    • Brandon Belt is severely underrated. He has a great eye, a solid bat, and plays great defense. Unfortunately for him, AT&T Park limits his production, but he still produced a 130 wRC+ in the second half last year.
  7. Matt Olson
    • One of many unsung prospects on the A’s (see Chapman, Matt), Olson may be the second coming of Jason Giambi. The lefty slugger had a .487 xwOBA on BIP and a 183 wRC+ in the second half. Let’s just hope he doesn’t bolt for the money like Giambi did. Only Bill James had Olson listed on his top 10.
  8. Edwin Encarnacion
    • He still does everything well. The contract should be seen as a success by the time it expires.
  9. Joey Gallo
    • Ahhhhh, Joey Gallo. The ultimate lottery ticket, if you will. Gallo had more home runs last year than singles. Take that in. The guy either whiffs, miserably or demolishes the ball through Cowboys Stadium (.587 xwOBA in the second half). Vince Gennaro had Gallo as high as 6th.
  10. Carlos Santana
    • A more contact-oriented player, Santana will bring some much-needed experience to the Phillies.

Just Missed

  1. Eric Hosmer
  2. Joe Mauer
  3. Justin Smoak

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Baseball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Cameron Levy

Cover Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

Top Ten Right Now: 2B

Arguably the most watered down position in baseball, 2nd base is thirsty for talent. With all of the exceptional hitters starting to move to shortstop and 3rd, 2nd base has been pillaged of its talent. 2nd base used to be where more physical guys played, who could handle bunting during the dead ball days. The old guard at the position consists of a few former AL East second basemen who are all but finished, and the new wave has yet to reveal itself. The feeble bats at the position have made second base a more contact and speed oriented position. There is a lack of new talent busting through the pipeline, so the hierarchy for second basemen is still Altuve…and everyone else.

 

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first, because as a Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After compiling all of the stats, I found the mean and standard deviation of each statistic. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score). Refer to Top Ten 3rd basemen for how these numbers were formulated.

In order of importance:

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
  2. Contact Skills
    • 2nd base is not a power hitting position. These guys need to get on base by putting the bat on the ball.
  3. Quality of Contact
  4. Defense
  5. Games played in 2016 + 2017
  6. Plate Discipline
  7. Base Running

The List

  1. Jose Altuve
    • The guy has it all. A younger (and better) version of Dustin Pedroia.
  2. Daniel Murphy
    • Despite a defensive Z-Score of -1.72, Murphy hits the ball extremely hard for his position and the air-ball revolution has guided him to a 146 wRC+ over the last 2 years. Vince Gennaro was the lone panelist to have Murphy above 3rd.
  3. Brian Dozier
    • The Jose Bautista-like switch in Dozier’s previously mundane career has made him a top free agent next winter.
  4. Jed Lowrie
    • I could talk all day about the baseball version of Jarrett Jack, an average player who you always assumed was still playing but had no idea where. This past year, however, Lowrie had the largest increase in average exit velocity, plate discipline (Z-Score of 3 in 2017), and xwOBA among 2nd basemen. Lowrie has graduated from the Courtney Lee journeyman tier. Only Bill James had Lowrie on the list, at 8.
  5. DJ LeMahieu
    • LeMahieu has abused the .300 batting average that Coors serves up on a silver platter. His face value home-road splits are a bit concerning, but all of my stats account for the ballpark. Gennaro was the high man on LeMahieu, placing him at 4.
  6. Robinson Cano
    • The decline is real. He isn’t poor at any one skill, other than base running. However, with injuries starting to take a toll, Cano is approaching the final phase of an excellent career
  7. Ian Kinsler
  8. Whit Merrifield
    • I really like saying his name. Without researching, I’m guessing he was born on a farm in Texas and learned to play baseball with a tree branch and an apple while his dog would shag flies for him. Anyway, he’s fast and young. Exciting piece for the decrepit Royals moving forward.
  9. Dustin Pedroia
    • If he was healthy, Pedroia would be higher. But father time has entered the theater, and the Laser Show is closing its curtains.
  10. Jonathan Schoop
    • This may surprise a few people, but Schoop finished with a negative Z-Score in the wRC+ category. The guy hits the ball hard but lacks discipline and contact skills. Without the run production numbers to compensate, Schoop just barely snuck in. Bill James had him 2nd. Well.

Just Missed

  1. Ozzie Albies
  2. Cesar Hernandez
  3. Asdrubel Cabrera

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Baseball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Article written by Cameron Levy.

Cover Photo Credits: Sporting News.

Top Ten Right Now: Shortstops

The shortstop position has evolved from the Mark Belanger, gotta have range, defensive position. With a flurry of young shortstops already here, the league will be spoiled with excellence by the time guys like Gleyber Torres, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Bo Bichette come up. The top 3 SS are all interchangeable, similarly to the top 4 3rd basemen.

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first, because as some random Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After finding all the numbers, I found the mean and standard deviation of each number. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score). Refer to Top Ten 3rd basemen for how these numbers were formulated.

In order of importance:

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
  2. Defense
    • An excellent defensive shortstop is more valuable than an excellent defensive 1st basemen. Andrelton Simmons defense>Eric Hosmer defense
  3. Quality of Contact
  4. Contact Skills
  5. Games played in 2016 + 2017 and Base Running
  6. Plate Discipline

The List

  1. Francisco Lindor
    • Here’s a guy that had a 2nd half wRC+ of 142. His increased production was a result of excellent contact skills and a swing that fosters more fly balls. He and my #2 were neck and neck.
  2. Corey Seager
    • Seager plays shortstop caliber defense but slugs like a 3rd baseman. His plate discipline Z-Score was 1.88. The next closest shortstop was Brandon Crawford at 1.28.
  3. Carlos Correa
    • The former top pick has put up the best numbers, despite not playing a full 2017 season. Although I personally believe he is best suited at 3rd in the long term, Correa’s offensive skills are exceptional relative to his current position. The elite triumvirate of Seager, Lindor, and Correa is the Nomar, Jeter, and A-Rod of this era. I couldn’t tell you which is which because they are all so damn good.
  4. Andrelton Simmons
    • The gaping hole in Simmons’ game was his bat. The hole shrunk a bit last year, but his defense (2.67 Z-Score) still carries him. He is the best defender in baseball, and it’s not particularly close.
  5. Manny Machado
    • As a future Yankee, this hurts to see. Machado is not in the same $400 million league as Bryce Harper is, another pending free agent. The positional swap with Tim Beckham will make Machado’s bat, which dealt with some bad luck last year, even more valuable.
  6. Paul DeJong
    • Despite only playing in 108 games, DeJong hit 25 home runs. Over a full season, that projects to 37. Only Corey Seager hit balls in play harder than he. The effortless power to all fields profiles extremely well for the future.
  7. Trea Turner
    • The list significantly falls off at this point. Turner’s sprint speed of 29.2 is the fastest among qualified shortstops, but has missed time and lacks enough contact skill to turn his groundouts into singles and singles into doubles
  8. Didi Gregorius
    • The buzz Didi experiences is largely juiced by the “following a legend” narrative. Although productive, he is essentially a better Xander Bogaerts. Didi has greatly benefitted from the fly ball revolution because he can pop home runs just over the short right field porch in the Bronx. Of all players with at least 25 home runs, Didi had the shortest average HR distance. Ben Lindbergh also had him 8th, so I’m not alone on this one folks.
  9. Addison Russell
    • If he stays healthy, his bat will eventually catch up to his glove. Vince Gennaro was the high man on Russell, slotting him in 7th.
  10. Trevor Story
    • Story is a potential 20-20 guy, in my eyes. He has a 28.4 sprint speed and has enough power, especially at Coors, to get back to his rookie year power output. Mike Petriello had him 10th, too.

Just Missed

  1. Elvis Andrus
  2. Brandon Crawford
  3. Ketel Marte

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Baseball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Cameron Levy.

Cover Photo Credits: AP Images.