Final Four Preview
The Madness is down to just four teams as one of the biggest sports weekends of the year is upon us. The Final Four field is, interesting, to put it lightly. The four teams have a combined six tournament championships amongst them, which seems like a decent amount given the parody in recruiting nowadays, until you realize that North Carolina has accounted for five of those championships. The other one? Oregon, in the very first NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1939. The lack of experience, the underdog story, the emergence of long-awaited respect, and a continued pursuit of success all headline the coming weekend.
South Carolina vs. Gonzaga
Line: Gonzaga -6.5
Two first-time Final Four participants battle it out in a clash of the underdog of old vs the Cinderella of now. Gonzaga has never really been able to shrug their overrated stigma; based on wonderful regular seasons in a weaker conference, only to follow those seasons up with post-season failure. Now, the Bulldogs play the role of goliath as they take on underdog South Carolina. The Gamecocks began the season with 300/1 odds to take the title, and after losing five of their last seven games prior to the tournament they opened with 150/1 odds. The game will come down to whether South Carolina is able to score in transition against a stifling Gonzaga defense. Gonzaga has far more pure scorers than South Carolina, but a big game from star Sindarius Thornwell along with finding a way to force turnovers could fuel Cinderella’s next dance.
Nick’s Pick: Gonzaga -6.5
Oregon vs. North Carolina
Line: UNC -4.5
The second national semi-final features two teams known best for their high-tempo offense. Interestingly enough, both teams reached the Final Four with solid defensive performances in their last two games. I thought Oregon was extremely fortunate to get past Michigan in the Sweet 16, but played excellent in a semi-route of Kansas. The Ducks defense was able to neutralize an excellent shooting team in Michigan and the team that I thought looked the best through the round of 16 in Kansas. North Carolina is winning games without playing nearly to their potential; a frightening thought this time of year. The loss of Oregon’s Chris Boucher may loom larger in this spot, but I think that this game will come down to whether or not Dillon Brooks can continue to play the role of Mr. Clutch for the Ducks. Oregon can shoot themselves in to a dog fight here, and I think they keep this game very close.
Nick’s Pick: Oregon +4.5
MLB Season Predictions
AL EAST: The addition of Chris Sale really separates an already loaded Sox team from the rest of the division. Even with David Price being out for the first part of the season, this team should be firing on all cylinders come mid-summer with a great rotation and plenty of money to make a deep playoff run
Nick’s Pick: Boston Red Sox
AL CENTRAL: The World Series runner up made a huge splash in the offseason signing a perfect fit in Edwin Encarnacion. The Tribe is poised to make another October push despite their average bullpen.
Nick’s Pick: Cleveland Indians
AL WEST: This may be the most difficult division to pick in all of baseball. The Astros, Mariners, and Rangers can all make a case to be the early favorite. Despite their rotation injuries, I like the Astros overall youth and eventual pitching to carry them to at least a Wild Card and the division title.
Nick’s Pick: Houston Astros
AL WILDCARD: Toronto Blue Jays
AL WILDCARD: Seattle Mariners
NL EAST: Bryce Harper and the Nationals remain one of the best teams in the league. If Stephen Strasburg and the rest of the rotation, which may be the deepest in the league can stay healthy, this is their division to lose. The Mets will contest if Neil Walker can follow up his first season in New York.
Nick’s Pick: Washington Nationals
NL CENRTAL: The defending champions lost some players to free agency, but the addition of Kyle Schwarber to the lineup (full-time) still makes the Cubs the odds-on favorites to repeat as Champions.
Nick’s Pick: Chicago Cubs
NL WEST: The Dodgers are very similar to the Red Sox in the sense that they have a very talented lineup and a ton of money to spend at the deadline.
Nick’s Pick: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL WILDCARD: New York Mets
NL WILDCARD: Pittsburgh Pirates
AL CHAMPION: Boston Red Sox
NL CHAMPION: Pittsburgh Pirates
WORLD SERIES CHAMPION: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates quietly have one of, if not the best, outfield in baseball with Gregory Polanco, all-star gold glover Starling Marte, and former MVP Andrew McCutchen. If McCutchen can return to his MVP form, the Pirates boast a very dangerous middle lineup, flanked by budding stars Jung Ho Kang (assuming his legal hearings move smoothly) and Josh Harrison. The health of ace Gerrit Cole and the emergence of Jameson Taillon (and hopefully Tyler Glasnow at some point) will be critical as well. If Ivan Nova can be a solid third starter, and the lineup produces to their expectation, then the Pirates can be just as good, if not better, than the Cubs.
Nick’s Picks of the Week
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned next week for a Master’s preview and Draft Kings lineup, as well as an Stanley Cup Playoff preview!