1-3-1 Sports Midweek Review

THE 1-3-1 MIDWEEK REVIEW

1 Thought From the Games Earlier this Week

Texas A&M looks like the only SEC team capable of advancing past the first weekend. The Aggies currently sit alone atop of the SEC, though LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida are all within two games. Having seen the majority of SEC teams play this season, (thanks a lot for the SUPER HIGH-QUALITY basketball, ESPN!), I can safely rule out all other teams in the conference from receiving an at-large tournament birth. Now that we’ve narrowed the field down to five eligible bachelors for that pretty lady in March, we can talk about who’s likely to advance the furthest. The answer: Texas A&M, but only by default. LSU will be lucky to make the tournament with their abysmal Non-Con SOS, and if they do so, it’ll most likely be on the Ben Simmons hype train – hello TV ratings! South Carolina appears to be quite the fraud, having gone 4-3 after starting 15-0 with their Charmin soft early season slate. Who saw that coming!? (Spoiler Alert: 1-3-1 Sports Midweek Review on January 14th, 2016) Kentucky has lost three of six, including games against SEC bottom-feeders Auburn and Tennessee, and they no longer have talent quite like the Harrison twins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Finally, there is Florida, who may be the best bet to prove me wrong; their distinct flaw is an offense that becomes very complacent and stagnant too frequently.

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3 Games to Watch this Week

i. Columbia @ Yale (Friday @ 5 pm EST, TV – FS1)
I have to admit, I’m a real sucker for watching quality mid-major and low-major college basketball. A televised game between the two leaders of the Ivy League, both of whom are undefeated in conference… count me in! The highlight of this game for me will be the opportunity to finally see German guard sensation Maodo Lo. Though he is a senior, I have yet to see him play; he may be the key to leading the Lions to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1968. I feel like the blurb highlighting this game would be incomplete without a reference to these two teams also featuring some of the smartest basketball players in the NCAA. For some, it even runs in the family. The younger sister of Columbia’s senior leader Grant Mullins, Missy, plays basketball at fellow Ivy league school and academic juggernaut Harvard. The cousin of Yale’s Brandon Sherrod, Derek, is an offensive tackle in the NFL who graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in financial risk management, and a 3.54 GPA to boot.

ii. Michigan State @ Michigan (Saturday @ 2 pm EST, TV – CBS)
This is one of the most heated rivalries in not only the Big 10, but in all of college basketball. The recent resurgence of the bad blood has been facilitated by the Wolverines experiencing great success under John Beilein. This year is no different, as the two teams have a combined 36-10 record and both sit in the upper half of the Big 10 standings. The Wolverines will look to avoid back-to-back home losses after the debacle against Indiana earlier in the week. A loss in this one could cause a bit of panic in Ann Arbor in regards to making the tournament, and rightfully so – the Wolverines have struggled mightily against quality competition (2-5 against the RPI top-50). On top of that, there has been nothing definitive that could generate realistic optimism regarding the return of team captain and leading scorer Caris Levert. The Spartans are dealing with a significant injury of their own, as point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn is likely to miss his sixth straight game due to a painful case of plantar fasciitis.

iii. Baylor @ West Virginia (Saturday @ 8 pm EST, TV – ESPN2)
These two top-15 teams need a victory in this game to keep pace with top-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 conference race. This match-up offers quite the contrast, as Baylor’s potent inside-out, slow tempo offense will be matched up with West Virginia’s fast-paced, press-oriented defense. West Virginia leads the country in steals per game, averaging over 10 – the ability to turn teams over at high rates is a demonstrated staple of Bob Huggins’ teams in recent years. Baylor ranks 141st in the nation in turnovers per game, so they’ll have to be smart with the ball if they want to go into Morgantown and steal a victory. The counter to the turnover issue could end up being the rebounding advantage Baylor should have inside. Baylor is 4th in the country in offensive rebound percentage, pulling down 41% of offensive rebounds that are available to the team; the Mountaineers will need to find bodies and block out to prevent second-chance opportunities.

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1 Bold Prediction for the Week

Diamond Stone continues his coming out party and meteoric rise up NBA draft boards with a great performance in a Maryland victory over Purdue. Freshmen phenom Diamond Stone has slowly been getting more playing time from Mark Turgeon, and the increase of his contributions to the success of the Terps has coincided with the bump in minutes. He will have an opportunity to prove his worth when the Boilermakers roll into town on Saturday. Purdue’s strength is definitely inside, led by senior big man A.J. Hammons, who is coming off of a 32 point, 11 rebound, 4 block game in a lopsided victory over Nebraska. Though he may not lead the team in any one category, I think that Diamond Stone will use his skill set to be a key contributor. This can be achieved by limiting Hammons and making key plays down the stretch, both of which may not show up in the box score, on the way to a Maryland victory.

Prediction:

Maryland – 73
Purdue – 67

Who in the Hell Decided on the Paul Bunyan Trophy?

Tomorrow, two football teams will take the field in Ann Arbor, MI and wage a battle for one of the most abominable-looking trophies in all of sports. Those two teams are the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans, and that trophy is the Paul Bunyan Trophy (not to be confused with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the ill-conceived replacement reward for the winner of the Minnesota/Wisconsin game, which replaced the apparently outmoded, but nonetheless fantastic, Slab of Bacon they used to play for).

Make no mistake about it – this is a rivalry game for both teams, regardless of what some Michigan fans may say otherwise. Yes, Ohio State is a more loathed (and respected) rival, but that doesn’t take away from the ferocity and barbarity on display between fans and players when these two in-state adversaries meet on the gridiron.

Through my experiences in the rivalry, I can say that the fan bases from each respective school love nothing more than to make sweeping generalizations about each other. Michigan fans seem to believe Michigan State fans and the school itself both have an inferiority complex, and wish so desperately that they could be as cool as the University of Michigan and their fans. In perfect contrast, Michigan State fans tend to believe that Michigan fans and the school itself could not be more pompous and full of egocentrism, like the over-confident popular kid in high school. I’m of the belief that both of these widely-held viewpoints hold some validity; however, to say that they are representative of even a majority of the fan base of either side would be a gross hyperbole. The whole “Little Brother” fiasco is a perfect example of this.

I’m not going to beat around the bush or try to hide my affiliation; I am a University of Michigan alumnus. Thus, I do get a kick out of referring to Michigan State University as little brother, but only because of how bent out of shape Spartans get when I do this. It’s just like what they teach you in elementary school as a kid – when someone teases you, if you react strongly, they’re going to keep doing it to get on your nerves. When you learn how to ignore it and show them that it no longer bothers you, then odds are they will stop doing it. Another potentially effective method is to win four consecutive games in the rivalry.

In any of the most recent football-related tete-a-tetes between fans from these schools, the Spartan representative is almost certainly going to bring up the last four years. A young, naive Wolverine will inevitably resort to one of two responses – (A) Highlighting the prestigious history of the University of Michigan football program, or (B) Belittling Michigan State academics and the students who attend the university. It’s identical to the “Little Brother” theory, but is achieved simply as a result of a different mechanism. Michigan fans are unnecessarily embarrassed about losing to Michigan State in football 4 years running now, so they get defensive and resort to desperation; it’s just silly. Michigan State had a better football team than Michigan in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and they outplayed an evenly matched Michigan team in 2011 – it’s really that simple. The best thing to do as a Michigan fan right now is to stop rubbing salt in your own wound and focus on forward-thinking, i.e. what’s going to happen this year?

Brady Hoke is undefeated at home as Michigan’s head football coach. Unlike the past 4 years, Michigan is back to having a better, more athletic football team this year than Michigan State. Michigan is coming off two blowout victories and Michigan State just suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Iowa on their homecoming weekend. The majority of sportsbooks in Vegas are giving the Spartans 10 points. All signs point to Michigan finally ending the streak.

Nevertheless, signs have been wrong before in sports. All you have to do is take one look at the Cleveland Indians from back in the day – who would have thought in mid-July of that fateful year that Ricky Vaughn, Willie Mayes Hayes, and Pedro Cerrano would lead the Tribe to the postseason? But, I digress. I’m going to be cheering on the Wolverines as vigorously as possible come 3:30 PM on Saturday, and I hope for my own personal sanity that they are able to finally put this thing to bed, so I can stop hearing the conveniently arbitrary number of days since Michigan last won a game in the series.