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March Madness Preview, 2017 Edition

Another year of college basketball comes to a close, and here we sit, on the eve of “The Big Dance”, once again ready to plunge into the greatest sporting event America has to offer. 68 teams enter, and 67 games will determine which one of them will be doing snow angels in confetti bearing their colors, wallowing in their newfound glory, on the platform court at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale in just three short weeks. What a year it has been. We began the season with the Duke Blue Devils anointed as the prohibitive favorites for the crown, the unanimous preseason #1 team in the land, and oh how much has changed since that first poll was released. I’ll get to Duke in a little bit. But here we sit with Villanova, Kansas, UNC, and Gonzaga intent on hanging a banner, looking down at the rest of the field from their lofty perches as the tournament’s #1 seeds and Jim Boeheim relegated to doing SportsCenter interviews because his team was left out of the tournament. Without further ado, let’s dive into some storylines and the bracket itself.

They are who we thought they were?
Can we take a second to congratulate whichever member of the Duke Athletics’ marketing staff came up with the slogan “Uncommon” for this year’s team? He deserves a bonus, because I can’t think of a better word to encapsulate the roller coaster ride of tweets, flashbulbs, tripping incidents, back surgeries, lower leg injuries, shocking losses, and unfathomable ACC tournament runs that was the Duke regular season. Duke was heralded coming into the year as having perhaps the best blend of veteran and diaper dandy talent in a long while, but injuries to Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, along with another knee surgery for the #1 recruit in the class of 2016, Harry Giles, hampered the freshmen’s progress. Add in the fact that essentially the entire Duke roster, Coach K included, spent at least some of this season on the DL, and you find a team that has been trying to get healthy for about the last 3 months. We saw in spots how good the team can be: a 53 point victory over Georgia Tech, and of course the four game run through the ACC tournament in Brooklyn that catapulted the team to a #2 seed and back into the national title conversation. Is this Duke team the collection of McDonald’s All-Americans that we thought it would be at the beginning of the year? Most certainly not, but the most “Uncommon” college basketball season that I can think of just might have an equally “Uncommon” ending.

Will the glass slipper fit?
The task of identifying the “Cinderella” team, the nation’s underdog darlings that make a surprise run in the NCAA tournament, is one of the parts of bracketeering (I just made that word up by the way) that leads millions to pore over KenPom adjusted efficiency rankings, gut feelings, mascot comparisons, and animal handicappers’ picks to get any possible edge about who will ruin everyone else’s brackets. I’m here to burst your bubble and say that this tournament will be one run by the top seeds. Yes, we may have a surprise team in the 8-12 range make a Sweet 16 run, but beyond that, this was a season ruled by the power programs at the top of your brackets like Villanova and UNC: the 1-3 seeds of the tournament. This isn’t to say that I think this bracket will put the chalk in Rock Chalk Jayhawk, and in fact I’ll let you in on my 100% mortal lock of the century guaranteed upset specials (guarantee not guaranteed) as we get to the bracket now.

East Region: The Pilgrimage to Basketball’s Mecca
We begin with the East region, home to the tournament’s #1 overall seed, Villanova, and 15 other teams vying for the right to play in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. (As an aside: how did MSG get to be basketball’s most famous arena? What cool stuff has happened in there? Kemba walker’s buzzer beater? I guess that was kinda cool.) Duke, Baylor, and Florida, as the 2, 3, and 4 seeds respectively, will look to challenge Villanova’s quest to repeat as champions for the first time since Florida in ’06 and ’07. The media is seemingly willing a Duke Villanova Elite 8 matchup in MSG into existence, and I’ll go along with them, but here’s how we’ll get there.

Villanova will beat Mount St. Mary’s (it’s ok to write that one in Sharpie, Seth Davis) and face Virginia Tech after they beat Wisconsin. The Hokies boast a talented offensive club that will present matchup problems, like Zach LeDay, to Wisconsin and shoot the 3 well enough to move on. I’m identifying the Virginia vs UNC Wilmington and Florida vs East Tennessee State games as my annual “this section of the bracket goes to madness” section in which we get a couple of upsets and consequently a double digit seed moving on to the Sweet 16. I like UNC Wilmington, behind its efficient offense, to squeak past a Virginia team that is tremendous defensively but has its problems scoring. The problem with Virginia is that the Cavaliers are the ultimate front-running team: once they’re up 12-4 at the under 8:00 timeout in the 1st half, it’s impossible to come back on them because they’ll slow the game to a crawl and make just enough shots at the end of the shot clock to beat you. I think the Seahawks’ efficient offense does just enough as it wouldn’t surprise me if the first team to 55 wins this game. I like ETSU over Florida in spite of the fact that Florida is a really solid team because they’ve faded down the stretch somewhat after losing their interior force, John Egbunu. Madness ensues and we have UNC-Wilmington and ETSU in the second round. The ponies of SMU will dispatch the winner of Providence and USC to take on Baylor, who will defeat New Mexico St. Wojo, Steve Wojciechowski, a Coach K disciple, and Marquette will shoot the 3 just well enough to get past Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC player of the year, and the Gamecocks to face Duke in the second round. I think Virginia Tech will give Villanova a game, but the Wildcats move on to take on UNC Wilmington, fresh off their victory over ETSU. I like SMU to get the better of Baylor, a team that peaked way too early and also wears highlighter-yellow uniforms, and take on Duke in the other Sweet 16 matchup in the Big Apple. Villanova eases past Wilmington, and Duke plays just enough defense to overcome a versatile but short-handed SMU team to set up the matchup with the defending champs. If it’s possible for any team to match up well with the tournament’s #1 overall team, I think Duke matches up decently with Villanova. Duke has gotten hurt this season by teams that drive the ball relentlessly to the basket and have enough quality big guys to scoop up rebounds and work a pick and roll effectively. Villanova isn’t a big team and relies a lot on the 3-point shot to score its points. Duke defends the 3 much better than you would think, and as a consequence, Allen, Kennard, and especially Tatum score enough for Duke to get to the Final 4 in a thriller.

West Region: Is Gonzaga for real?
The Zags (I think they’re actually the Bulldogs) look to finally break through and make the Final 4 after going undefeated almost the entire year before tripping over BYU in their final regular season game to finish the season with one loss. They face the likes of Arizona, the 2 seed fresh off of their Pac-12 Tournament victory, along with Florida State, and West Virginia. The Zags will best the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State to face Northwestern (have you heard that this is their first year in the tournament? Just a joke, if you’ve watched any ESPN since the bracket was released, the half of ESPN that went to Northwestern won’t let you forget it) after it dispatches a 15-loss(!) Vanderbilt team in the SAT bowl. Some are speculating that Notre Dame may be ripe for an upset by Princeton, but I don’t see it. The Irish are talented and don’t turn the ball over. They make it through to set up a really intriguing game with West Virginia in the second round. These teams were supposed to play each other in the second round last year too, but West Virginia went and lost to 14-seeded Stephen F. Austin, and thus it never coalesced. A hobbled Xavier team will make turtle soup out of Maryland and move on to face the Seminoles after FSU beats FGCU. The Eagles are another trendy upset pick, but I think this is mostly due to the fact that people remember their improbable Dunk City run to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed a few years ago. FSU is too big and too talented for that to happen. In a matchup of mid-major tournament darlings, I like St Mary’s to just squeak past a VCU team that I don’t know enough about to face Arizona in the second round. As we head towards the Sweet 16, Gonzaga is too talented to lose to Northwestern, and will move on to face Notre Dame in San Jose. The Irish are the kryptonite to Press Virginia’s Superman (that’s West Virginia’s nickname. Someone very creative gave it to them because they press a lot) in that they have great ball handlers, shoot well, and will hit their free throws down the stretch. Florida State is no Maryland, and will prove too much for the Musketeers of Xavier to handle, as they reach the Sweet 16. They will meet Arizona as they dispatch St. Mary’s in the round of 32. I went back and forth for a while about this Notre Dame Gonzaga game and I ended up going with Notre Dame. Although I think Gonzaga is very talented, I think the Irish present matchup problems to them as they do to basically every team. For every time Karnowski, Gonzaga’s big man, can take advantage of the size difference over Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame’s All-ACC 6’5″ center, Colson will be able to drag Karnowski or another Gonzaga big out to the 3-point line on defense and shoot just well enough for the Irish and Mike Brey, a low key really good tournament coach, to reach their third straight Elite 8. The Irish will meet the Wildcats as Markannen poses just enough problems to get past a Jekyll and Hyde Florida State team. I don’t think lightning strikes twice for the Irish, however, as Sean Miller gets the proverbial monkey off his back and gets to the Final 4 in the Wildcats’ home state of Arizona.

Midwest Region: (Rock) Chalk?
The Jayhawks, behind National Player of the Year candidate Frank Mason III, headline the Midwest region ahead of Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, who should be well rested after not playing any postseason games last year, Oregon, and Purdue. I fell into a trap a number of years ago of always thinking Kansas was going to win the title just because their bird mascot looks kinda cool and they’re always a 1 seed, but I’m not eating the birdseed this year. HOWEVA (in Stephen A Smith voice), they won’t become the first 1 seed to lose to a 16, and will face Miami after the Canes blow away a strange Michigan State team in the 8-9 game. I always mess up picking Iowa State’s games, so bear with me: I think they won’t fall victim to Nevada, and will make it through to the second round to face Purdue (this means of course that they will be upset and my bracket will spontaneously combust), which does just enough to get past the Catamounts (I think those are just fancy cats) of Vermont. Choo choo. A hobbled Creighton team that lost the NCAA’s assist leader, Maurice Watson Jr, to an ACL injury earlier this year, will fall to a veteran Rhode Island team that has come on strong at the end of the year after having been ranked in the Top 25 to start the year. Speaking of hobbled, the ACL monster bit Chris Boucher, Oregon’s shot blocking big man, but the Ducks are too talented to lose to Iona in the first round. Michigan and Oklahoma State will play a first-to-87 game in which defense will be optional. I like Michigan’s story, and I think Derrick Walton will provide enough veteran leadership to squeak past Oklahoma State to play Louisville in the second round. In my first shocking upset of the tournament, I like Miami to beat Kansas. The reality is that 1 seeds often don’t go as far as we think, and I see this matchup being problematic for Kansas: Miami is a veteran club that will clamp down on defense and slow the game down. They have three quality offensive players in Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy, and Bruce Brown that will compete with Kansas, and for some reason I just don’t trust the Jayhawks this year. In spite of rolling through the Big 12, they seem to be shrouded in controversy following the Josh Jackson story and their early exit from the Big 12 tournament (even though Jackson didn’t play). I like the Canes to upset the Jayhawks as Miami backs into the Sweet 16. Iowa State and Purdue is an intriguing second round matchup because there’s such a contrast in size: the Cyclones like to play small ball, whereas Purdue boasts Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, two enormous big men. I think Iowa State wins the battle in a testament to how weak the Big 10 was this year and moves on. In spite of losing Boucher to injury, I think Oregon has too much firepower, particularly in Dillon Brooks, to lose to Rhode Island, and so they march on to take on their avian friends from Louisville, who clamp down on Michigan’s offense to end the Wolverines’ season. In a matchup of oscillating weather patterns, the Cyclones get the better of the Hurricanes behind the Kansas City crowd to move on to the Elite 8. In what should be a tremendous contest, particularly between Oregon’s offense and Louisville’s elite defense, I think the Cardinals get the win. Louisville has a great formula for winning in March in that they boast two potent guards that can slash or shoot their way past you, and they have long, athletic players that guard like crazy. Pitino moves on to the Elite 8 after breaking out the white suit for the Sweet 16. I also like the Cardinals to clamp down on Iowa State in the regional final and make their way to the Final Four.

South Region: Daggumit that’s a tough draw
Ole Roy commandeered the Tar Heels to another #1 seed, and luckily they wouldn’t have to see Kris Jenkins until the Championship game this year. The South is packed with marquee names in Kentucky, UCLA, and Butler that look to dethrone the Heels from their top spot in the region. The sweet tea-powered offense of the Heels won’t lose to a 16 seed, and they meet Seton Hall, fresh off of their roles as extras in Pirates of the Caribbean 5, in the second round. In a strange choice of seeding, the Golden Gophers were given a 5 seed and matched up against Middle Tennessee State, that team you know because they beat Michigan State last year, in this region. Doing their best Bill Murray impression, the Blue Raiders dispatch the Gophers so Bushwood Country Club is spick and span for the second round in a 5-12 upset. One of the many facts of NCAA tournament life is that Butler doesn’t lose in the first round, and thus they move past the Winthrop Eagles to take on Middle Tennessee. I like Kansas State, fresh off a win over Wake Forest in the First 4, to beat Cincinnati and continue the trend of at least one First 4 team making it to the Round of 32. Apologies, Mick Cronin. The Wildcats will meet UCLA, fresh off of defeating Kent State by an approximate final score of 882-66, in the second round. Wichita State, a 6 seed in a 10 seed’s clothing, gets the better of the Flyers to “upset” Dayton, moving on to face Kentucky in the second round. Resetting, Carolina proves too much for Seton Hall and moves on to face Butler in the Sweet 16 as, just like last year, the slipper will only fit for one night for Middle Tennessee. UCLA will once again prove too hot to handle as they blaze past Kansas State to head to the Sweet 16 in Memphis. Wichita State and Kentucky should be a tremendous second round game. The Shockers are the 8th best team in the country per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric, and Kentucky is also in the top 10. I think the big stage overwhelms the freshmen of Kentucky as John Calipari can’t coach his way past imposter Tom Crean’s Shockers. They get revenge for the Wildcats’ win in 2014. Carolina is simply a better team than Butler and will move on to the Elite 8. UCLA and Wichita State should be interesting once again, but I think UCLA’s offensive firepower will push them past Wichita State and propel them to face UNC in the regional final as LaVar Ball proclaims Lonzo the second coming of Magic Johnson. In what should be a tremendous regional final, UNC demonstrates the need for defense in the NCAA tournament as it does just enough to mitigate the UCLA offense, holding them to a meager 80 points and moving on to Phoenix.

Final Four: Who gets hot in the desert?
To recap, I have Duke, Arizona, Louisville, and UNC, programs that are truly the sport’s blue bloods, in the Final Four. As I mentioned earlier, I see this as a year the cream of the crop rules in the end. Both semifinal matchups should be tremendous, and I see Duke, behind a tremendous defensive performance from Amile Jefferson with the assist from Harry Giles off the bench, doing just enough to stop Markkanen and the Wildcats and getting back to the National Championship game. Louisville and UNC should be a great test to see how well Carolina handles an elite defensive team, but I think UNC, a complete team, gets the better of Pitino and, daggumit, we might just have a Tobacco Road showdown in the tournament for the first time in forever (no, actually). This Final would likely cause the sports media world to self-destruct out of pure hype, but I think, both with my brain and my Duke-fan heart, that Duke gets the better of Carolina one more time behind its versatile offense as it finds its rhythm just in time to claim the 2017 National Championship. I don’t know how we got here, but we’re sure in for a tremendous NCAA tournament. Happy bracketeering, everyone, and Go Duke.

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Mad Marchness, 2016 edition

This year’s edition of The Big Dance, March Madness, Coke Zero’s 3-week ad campaign, or whatever you’d like to call it, got off to an auspicious start when the bracket was leaked before CBS’s two-hour(!) bracket reveal show. Try to tell me karma doesn’t exist after that. And yet, we must push on with all the tools available to us. BPI, SOS, RPI, and other assorted three-letter acronyms attempt to quantify the task before each and every one of us: to determine which team will cut down the nets in Houston three weeks from tonight. Herein, I will guide you through the murky waters that are this year’s bracket (I’m on a 1-year winning streak, so I must be an expert). And this time around, the field is wide open. Let’s do it.

Themes to look for:

Senior presence: This year’s crop of freshmen is not as outstanding as last year’s group was: two of the Final Four teams last year were led by freshmen, but this year’s top freshman, Ben Simmons, didn’t even make the tournament! The teams that have enjoyed the fewest upsets this year and have come out near the top of the field generally feature veteran presence. I like teams with veterans to have the edge this year.

Outstanding Guard Play: A great guard will always help a squad out. Some guards that might have flown under the radar this year include Demetrius Jackson of Notre Dame, Tyler Ulis of Kentucky (if only because he physically flew under the radar at 5’9″), and Kris Dunn of Providence. Look for teams with good guards to weather the storms and make good runs.

Let’s move on to the bracket itself!

South Region: The Committee Failed Maps

We begin in the South Region, headlined by the overall number one-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. The committee did the Jayhawks no favors by loading their bracket with potential roadblocks in Villanova (#2), Miami (#3), Cal (#4), and Maryland (#5), and on top of the difficulty of playing against those teams, the committee forgot that Kansas should have been in the Midwest region, in which the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 will be played in Chicago, and instead decided to send them to Louisville. Kansas will beat its 16-seed victim (you can write that one in with pen) and will play the UConn Huskies after they defeat Colorado in the 8-9 matchup. Cal and Maryland, 4 and 5 seeds respectively, will also advance to the second round. This region seems quite chalky early on, but I think the First Four winner, likely Wichita State, will take down Arizona in the 6-11 matchup. Also, Temple should beat a shaky Iowa team that lost to the 12th seeded Fighting Illini in the Big 10 tourney. I think UConn will give Kansas a run for its money in the round of 32, but the Jayhawks will have just enough to squeak past and play Cal in the Sweet 16. On the other side, Miami and Villanova will advance to play each other in the Sweet 16. Kansas gets by Cal, and in a mild upset, Miami will beat Villanova behind its veteran guard play and experienced, athletic big men. I think Miami has a decent chance to beat Kansas, but I just can’t bring myself to pick it. The Jayhawks finally overcome their early exits and make it to the Final Four in Houston.

West Region: Duck Duck Sooners

Most pundits will agree that the West region seems to be the weakest of the four this year, likely because its one seed, Oregon, seems a step behind the other three number one seeds. Oregon will be tested by Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Duke among others. I see a couple first-round upset opportunities here: in my obligatory 5-12 upset this year, I like Yale to beat Baylor (I don’t trust any teams that regularly incorporate highlighter-yellow into their uniforms), Northern Iowa to take down Texas, and VCU to beat Oregon State. The fact that Oregon State is a 7-seed is a travesty, by the way. Duke gets past UNC-Wilmington to disrupt its current streak of losing in the first round in massive upsets every other year to play Yale in the second round. As a Duke fan, I must address the fact that aside from a potential second round matchup with Baylor, Duke got a pretty friendly draw: Duke has struggled this year against big teams that hit the offensive rebounds hard, and none of the other top seeds really do this: Oregon, A&M, and Oklahoma are all guard-oriented, and so Duke has what I would qualify as a decent chance to make a run. The Sweet 16 here will feature Oregon, Duke, A&M, and Oklahoma. Look out for a feisty St. Joe’s team in the second round against Oregon. I think the Ducks squeak it out, though. I like Duke to surprise Oregon and get to the Elite 8, in which it will play Oklahoma. In many ways, Oklahoma is a lot like Duke: they rely on good shooting from the outside and lack a solid interior presence besides Ryan Spangler. If Duke is here, I think they’ll have found something shooting-wise and they will be able to get past the Sooners. I put Duke through to the Final Four mostly due to their favorable path. If you, unlike me, are not a Duke fan, I welcome you to pick Baylor to beat them. If there is a team that has a good chance to beat Duke here, it seems to be Baylor. In this alternate scenario, I would have Oklahoma in the Final Four.

East Region: Blue Bloods

The East region is headlined by UNC and pits them against the likes of Xavier, West Virginia, and Kentucky, among others. The strength of the higher-seeds here is quite apparent, and so I don’t foresee too many opening round upsets. Of the top six seeds, I think Notre Dame has the best chance to be upset in the first round, but I am not picking that upset. The Friars of Providence will give Carolina a test in the second round, but I think Carolina’s interior strength will prove too much for the Friars, and so Carolina proceeds to the Sweet 16. Indiana and Kentucky will light up the ratings board in the second round, and I think Kentucky gets by Indiana because of its hot guard play behind Tyler Ulis and our friend from the Great White North, Jamal Murray. In the bottom half, I actually like Notre Dame to get by West Virginia. This may surprise some people, but I think Notre Dame is built to beat Press Virginia’s system because it has a tremendous point guard in Demetrius Jackson and other capable ball handlers in Steve Vasturia and others. Notre Dame will meet the Musketeers of Xavier, who will dispatch Wisconsin in the second round. Carolina and Kentucky’s Sweet 16 game will be memorable. Kentucky seems to be a trendy pick for the Final Four, but I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid: Carolina’s veteran, interior presence has the athleticism to beat Kentucky, and the emergence of Joel Berry as a real outside shooting threat gives Carolina a dimension it didn’t have even six weeks ago. Carolina gets by Kentucky in a great basketball game to play Xavier in the Elite 8. Carolina also will dispatch Xavier in the Elite 8 behind its athleticism and up-and-down game to get to Houston as the East’s Final Four representative.

Midwest Region: Third Time’s the Charm?

The Wahoos of Virginia secured the 1-seed in the Midwest region behind the play of Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC, Malcolm Brogdon. The Hoos, unfortunately, drew a potential Elite 8 matchup with their postseason nemesis, the Spartans of Michigan State, which has knocked out the Hoos the last two years in the NCAA Tourney. Utah is the three seed here, and Iowa State is the four. My upset special here is Iona over Iowa State in the 4-13 matchup. Iowa State succumbed to a 3-14 upset last year and I think they were over-seeded (as do my colleagues) as a 4. Iona and AJ English get past the Cyclones and open up the slate of games in Denver with a nice upset. Syracuse and Butler (though only technically) are the only other lower seeded teams that I think will make it through to the second round here. Many are picking Seton Hall to lose to Gonzaga, but I liked what I saw out of the Hall in the Big East tournament: veteran guards are always a good thing to have. I also like Seton Hall to get to the Sweet 16 by beating Utah in the round of 32: although Utah benefits from the inside presence of Jakob Poeltl, their guards won’t be able to keep up with Seton Hall as the Pirates advance to Chicago. They will meet Michigan State. Virginia will play Purdue in the other Sweet 16 matchup. I think Purdue has a decent chance to beat Virginia: those with more intestinal fortitude than I might be willing to pick that upset, but I’ll put the Hoos through to face the Spartans of Michigan State in the Elite 8. Alas, I do not think the third time will prove to be the charm for the Hoos, as Denzel Valentine and the Spartans will get the better of Virginia and get to the Final Four.

Final Four: Who stands alone in the Lone Star  State?

To recap: I have Kansas meeting Duke in one semifinal and UNC meeting Michigan State in the other. I think Duke’s luck runs out as Kansas beats them to face UNC in the finals. The UNC-Michigan State game should be tremendous, but I’m giving UNC the edge again because of its athleticism and inside presence. The Wooden Award candidate for Michigan State, Denzel Valentine, usually provides matchup problems for other teams due to his size and ball-handling ability. I think UNC’s defensive presence has improved a lot this year and the athletic wings/bigs of UNC will be able to mitigate Valentine’s effect on the game offensively. UNC will draw Kansas in the Roy Williams’ Sweet Tea Invitational presented by Lipton Tea (aka the National Championship game). I give Carolina the edge. They put something special together towards the end of the year. They are deep, athletic, veteran, and have found a new guard in Joel Berry to help them shoot from the outside. As much as it deeply pains me (I will likely be excommunicated from Duke University), I think the Heels cut down the nets in Houston.

My overall sentiment on this year’s tournament is that most of the traditional mid-major teams aren’t overly scary for the higher seeds. If the bracket will get mucked up, it’ll occur in the second round and later: we’ve seen throughout the year the shuffling that has gone on in the top 25 rankings, and so I think there’s a shot that someone unlikely in the 1-8 range will make a run to the Final Four. Look for veteran guards to fuel the run. As always, Go Duke (2017 national champions).

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On Jon Stewart’s Departure Announcement

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart is kindofa big deal.

Editor’s Notes:
1. Yes, it has been a long time since I’ve posted. College is busy, man.
2. Yes, this entry isn’t about sports. Sometimes you gotta switch it up, right? 

As a journalism major, I am no stranger to the “Is Jon Stewart a journalist” debate. I’ve listened to the debate, along with its cousins “is Bill O’Reilly a journalist” or “is Stephen Colbert a journalist,” going back to high school. It’s a somewhat silly debate at face value. It invariably become a debate about definitions, with how you define the term ‘journalist’ becoming the key indicator of how you feel about the issue.

I don’t have a bone to pick in this fight. I think the definition of the term ‘journalist’ is as immaterial as it is subjective. But, in light of Jon Stewart’s recent revelation that his time at The Daily Show will soon come to its end, I’m ready to make  a fairly strong declaration: Jon Stewart is the greatest newsman of our generation.

Obviously, Stewart’s show has been a tremendous success, rivaling at times even Fox News’ seemingly untouchable O’Reilly Factor in viewership. His ability to challenge ostensibly more legitimate news shows from the confines of Comedy Central is unquestionably impressive. But his greatest achievement is that he has defined the media for an entire generation. Our generation.

A generation of college kids that grew up getting our news fix from a brainy, snarky, middle aged Jewish guy with slicked back hair, an almost permanently amused expression on his face, and an endearing ability to make the digestion of news as much fun as an Adam Sandler flick. (Well, pre-2003 Sandler, anyway.)

Stewart turned traditional media on its head time and time again. He made fun of it relentlessly. When Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC slipped up, Stewie was there to put them in their place. He put the news world on high alert, and became a sort of highly public watchdog for the media. He turned Crossfire into a punch line. He made Bill O’Reilly look like a fool on his own show.

Then there was also the fundamental role of The Daily Show: to mock the baffling incompetence of the American politicians of our time.

In this respect, Stewart’s success can hardly be overstated. More likable than Bill Maher and harder hitting than his former cast member, the supremely satirical Stephen Colbert, Stewart talked about front-page news. And what Stewart talked about informed what college students and high schools students across America were talking about. Even now, Stewart’s name seems to be near the top of the trending list of Facebook on a near daily basis.

Stewart has managed to blend comedy and news in such a way that he has become, simultaneously, the funniest and most trusted news voice in America for the under-30 crowd. He more or less created the funny-news broadcast, creating a blueprint that Colbert, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, and others have followed. Still, he has showed an ability to channel a serious tone. His solemn first post-9/11 broadcast remains an important moment in American media history. More recently, his commentary on race in America has hardly been standard Comedy Central fare.

For all his success, Stewart cannot be pigeonholed. He is more than a comedian. He is more than a great debater—though he thrives magnificently in that role. He is more than simply a defender of New York pizza. And he’s more than just a liberal foil for the conservative media machine.

Jon Stewart is the voice of news in the 21st century. He’s our Walter Cronkite.

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2014 College Football Preview

We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting end to the BCS era. The culmination of the 2013 NCAA football season was a shootout between offensive juggernauts Auburn and Florida State, ending with Heisman winner Jameis Winston dropping a pass into Kelvin Benjamin’s arms for the game winning touchdown with seconds remaining. Still, as good as that matchup was, the introduction of the long-awaited College Football Playoff for the 2014 season is a welcome change. Four teams, selected by a panel of voters that includes Condoleezza Rice and Archie Manning, will battle it out in January in the brand new playoff. Below are our predictions for what those four teams will be, along with the rest of our preseason top 20. Enjoy our second annual College Football Preview, and let us know which schools we ranked too high and too low in the comments!

The Final Four:

1. Florida State

How beautiful 2013 was for Florida State. The ‘Noles didn’t play a single close regular season game (excluding a decent game with Boston College in Chestnut Hill), beat Duke in the ACC Championship by 38, won their 14 games by an average of 40 points, and overcame a 21-3 second quarter deficit en route to their National Championship victory over Auburn. They weren’t just elite on both sides of the ball; they arguably were the best team in the nation on both! None of that will help them this fall, but the good news in Tallahasee is that the ‘14 team has the talent to match what the ‘13 team did. QB Jameis Winston is back and, while he’s polarizing, he’s also the best player in college football. He returns with 12 other starters. Florida State will still dominate the line of scrimmage. And with their two toughest regular season games coming at home (vs. Clemson and vs. Notre Dame), FSU faces a fairly manageable route to the four team playoff.

Famous Jameis

Jameis Winston seeks another crystal football (after he inexplicably hurled the last one across the field).

2. Alabama

Alabama entered last season as the prohibitive favorites to take home the crystal ball. They started the year atop the polls and won their first 11 games, rolling into the final weekend of the regular season still No.1, despite the dominance of FSU 300 miles southeast. Then, in one of the most epic football games in recent memory, Auburn knocked off ‘Bama in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide were forced to settle for the Sugar Bowl and hardly showed up, falling to Oklahoma 45-31. Redemption time? It could well be. Alabama should be a step better defensively than they were last year. They have a bit of a QB controversy, but a strong O-line and the return of guys like Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon suggests that they could win with Adam Sandler playing QB. They missed out on the threepeat, but four titles in six years would be far from shabby.

3. Oregon

2013 was a relative down year for the Ducks, as they failed to make a BCS bowl for the first time since 2008. The key word there is ‘relative’; Oregon still won 11 games, blasting UCLA 42-14 along the way. Not a half bad way to start off the post-Chip Kelly era. Looking at Oregon as they enter 2014, they’re certainly a favorite to make the football final four. These Ducks might not have quite the multiplicity of offensive playmakers that they’ve had in past years, but they’re more balanced than they were circa 2011 (read: better defensively), and they’re still pretty damn electric on offense. Heisman hopeful QB Marcus Mariota and dynamite CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are both back, and Oregon will be pretty experienced across the board. The Pac-12 is a bear–Stanford and UCLA are both strong title contenders–but we think the Ducks have the stuff to win it.

4. Ohio State

Ohio State has one regular season game against a team that enters the season ranked in the top 25 (@Michigan State on November 8th) . That’s one fewer than Florida Atlantic or East Carolina. So…we think they’ll be fine without Braxton Miller, their electrifying senior signal caller, who injured his shoulder last Monday and will miss the entire season. Sans Miller, the Buckeyes are still talented in every place you can be talented. Their D-line will be vicious, the secondary behind it should be just as good, and, even without Miller, tOSU should score plenty. Lest we forget, the Buckeyes scored 128 points in the two games Miller missed last year. Coach Urban Meyer has led Ohio State to perfect regular seasons in his first two autumns in Columbus. A third is doable and would set Ohio State up nicely for a trip to the final four.

Ohio State v Michigan State

Coach Urban Meyer will attempt to guide Ohio State to the inaugural playoff.

The Next 16:

5. Oklahoma

Trevor Knight picked quite a stage for his coming out party. The redshirt sophomore threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the stout defense of Alabama in the Sooners’ 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory, inspiring hope for a Big 12 championship and playoff run this season. With Knight leading the offensive charge and skilled linebackers Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker holding down the defensive end, those outcomes are certainly in play for Oklahoma. Their success will depend on the development of OU’s skill players after the loss of talented receiver Jalen Saunders to the NFL. If their playmakers can produce against Big 12 challengers Baylor and Kansas State, Oklahoma will be a favorite to reach the playoff.

6. Stanford

David Shaw is, for lack of a better word, the man (er…I guess that’s two words). A Stanford alum, Shaw took over the Cardinal in 2011 and has led them to three straight seasons of 11 or more wins. The formula has been pretty simple: control the line of scrimmage. They’ve done it and done it consistently, picking up big win after big win along the way. This year’s team might be the best one Shaw has had, with a nasty defense and an offense led by Senior QB Kevin Hogan and wideout Ty Montgomery. The concern for Stanford: their schedule is vicious. Road games against Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA loom.

7. Baylor

Bryce Petty, Baylor’s big, sturdy QB, didn’t really have a bad game last year. He tossed for at least 200 yards in every game, more than 4000 in total, and 32 touchdown passes. Along the way he hardly made any mistakes, throwing just three interceptions. Petty is a stud, and he led the most potent offense in college football; Baylor racked up more than 50 points per game. The offensive output allowed Baylor to lock up their first Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, Petty returns for Baylor, along with most of his favorite targets. Baylor will score at will again. Their road game at Oklahoma on November 8th could define their season.

8. Michigan State

Sparty is fresh off a special season. MSU only lost to Notre Dame last year, as they took home a Big Ten ‘ship followed by a Rose Bowl victory. They did it with outstanding defense, allowing just 13 points per game. This fall, they’ll be similarly dominant on D thanks to the returns of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and others. Offensively, the Spartans may be a work in progress early in the year. They’ll have to gel fast though; they head to Oregon on September 6th. A win there could portend a trip to the new final four.

Shilique-Calhoun-Michigan-State-Spartans

Second Team All-American DE Shilique Calhoun returns to East Lansing for both a degree and a shot at the national title.

9. Auburn

It took several last second miracles, the most important being Chris Davis’ unforgettable return of a missed Alabama field goal to win the Iron Bowl, but Auburn returned to the national title game for the first time since Cam Newton’s Heisman year. Guz Malzahn, Newton’s offensive coordinator, excelled in his new position as Auburn head coach, coming within a drive of the national title. Malzahn will have his work cut out for him this year, though. Auburn’s schedule is brutal, with conference matchups against LSU, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Georgia. (Not to mention the annual season-ending showdown versus the Crimson Tide.) The Tigers will miss SEC leading rusher Tre Mason and defensive end Dee Ford, key components of last season’s run, but QB Nick Marshall’s development and a strong offensive line should keep the offense churning. Auburn will be a good team, but it’s hard to consider them playoff favorites in light of their schedule.

10. UCLA

In two years at UCLA, Jim Mora has led the Bruins to a pair of wins over USC. That he’s led them to an overall record of 19-8 is also impressive, if perhaps less significant to some Bruin fans. The challenge now: to get over the hump against Stanford and Oregon. UCLA is 0-3 against those two programs over the past two seasons and got absolutely trounced by Oregon last year (42-14 loss). They play both schools at home this year–certainly a positive sign. Equally positive is the fact that the Bruins return loads of talent and experience from their ‘13 team, including quarterback Brett Hundley. Another win over USC would be nice, but a trip to the new playoff would be even sweeter in Westwood.

11. Wisconsin

I’ll be honest. I, Tim Balk, fear Wisconsin. Maybe it’s because I’m a Northwestern fan. Last year Wisconsin rolled the Wildcats 35-6 when we still thought we were good (then ranked 19th). Back in 2011 the Badgers knocked the Cats off by a final of 70-23. Or maybe it’s because Wisconsin’s pre-4th quarter tradition of jumping around to “Jump Around” is one of the most awesome things in sports. More than likely, though, it’s because the Badgers are simply quite good. They couldn’t finish the job in close games last year, losing by two to ASU, by seven to Ohio State, and by 1o to South Carolina. But those were all excellent teams, and the Badgers still managed a respectable nine wins. This year, they should win more. Running back Melvin Gordon is back. With Andre Williams and Carlos Hyde out of the picture, there’s no question that he’s the best HB in the nation. He’ll power a potent Badger offense. Defensively, Wiscy loses a lot from last year (nine defensive starters departed), but they should continue to run their 3-4 D to perfection with new pieces in place. Their season opening battle with LSU will be huge–after that their schedule is fairly soft aside from a home November date with Nebraska.

12. Notre Dame

Last year we ranked Notre Dame right here–at 12th–and predicted “ Notre Dame will be solid, probably 10-11 win good. Like the good ole’ Brady Quinn days.” Well, that was just about right. The Fighting Irish went 9-4, picked up some pretty impressive victories along the way (including wins over Michigan State, Arizona State, USC) but stubbed their toes against a couple of decent–but far from great–opponents, Pitt and Michigan. The end result was the rare Notre Dame team that was actually a bit underrated for most of the fall. This year they should be better. Everett Golson is back at QB after missing 2013 for academic reasons. He was a near-superstar last we checked. He’ll be throwing to a talented stable of receivers. Defensively, Notre Dame should be stingy. If things break right, a repeat of ‘12 isn’t out of the question, but ND does face a dandy of a schedule. Between October 4th and November 8th, the Irish have only one game against an unranked team in the preseason polls.

Golson

Everett Golson’s return from an academic suspension will lift Notre Dame’s season.

13. South Carolina

One would think losing the Number 1 pick in the draft (Jadeveon Clowney) and a starting quarterback (Connor Shaw) would take a serious toll on a team, and it will affect the Gamecocks to an extent. To say that South Carolina will be much worse, however, would be wrong. Most of the team which came close to a spot in the SEC Championship game is returning, as is long time head coach Steve Spurrier. This experienced SC squad has a difficult schedule, as does any other SEC team, but their depth could lead them to the promised land- the sideline of the Georgia Dome for the championship game. Look for their September 13 matchup with Georgia to set the tone for the rest of the Gamecocks’ season.

14. Clemson

Losing Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins in one offseason isn’t fun, but Clemson fans need not cry quite yet. The Tigers will still boast one of the nation’s best D-lines, loads of skill position speed, and a senior QB who’s supposed to be pretty darn good (Cole Stoudt). This Clemson team might be a bit of a throwback to their ‘09 team (more defense-oriented), but they’ll win plenty. They face a front loaded schedule that includes a season opener against Georgia followed by a roadie against FSU two weeks later. Even if they start 1-2, a double digit win season could still be in the cards.

15. LSU

The Tigers have won double digit games each of the last four years, so there’s not a whole lot of question about whether or not they’ll be good. The question instead is how good? Last year, LSU’s defense let them down in their three losses. This year, they should realistically be better, led by Kwon Alexander and Tre’Davious (aka Tre’Mendious) White. But there are also offensive question marks as the season commences. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger and halfback Jeremy Hill have moved onto the NFL. Les Miles will need his offense to grow up fast in order for LSU to make a title push. Opening the season against Wisconsin may prove to be a baptism by fire.

16. Arizona State

Let’s turn the clocks back to 2011. Arizona State was a defense-oriented team, led by ferocious middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. They attacked relentlessly on that side of the ball and hoped the offense would keep up. Things are a little different now in Tempe. Todd Graham arrived in the desert in 2012 and has since turned the Sun Devils into a potent offensive squad. Last year, they scored 40 points per game en route to a 10 win season. Defense might be an issue for ASU this fall, but with quarterback Taylor Kelly and wideout Jaelen Strong back, the Devils will score enough to hide the D. Between September 25th and November 8th, Arizona State will play six games. Five of those will come against teams that enter the fall ranked. Such is life in the stacked Pac-12. This ASU team is good enough to brave that stretch and still emerge with plenty of wins.

Taylor Kelly

Dual threat QB Taylor Kelly will lead the Sun Devils’ charge in the dangerous Pac-12.

17. USC

Steve Sarkisian inherits a talented team in his first year in LA. He also inherits a tough schedule, one that features road games against Stanford and UCLA. At least the Trojans don’t have to play Oregon in the regular season. The keys for USC will be milking the front-line talent they do have into wins and staying healthy–they’re not deep. Sarkisian is a proven coach, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t do well at USC right away. On the other hand, don’t expect immediate national title contention.

18. Miami

These Hurricanes are a bit under the radar (bad pun intended). The Canes won nine games last year and gave FSU a decent game…for a half (FSU dominated the second half of a 41-14 route). This year, the goal is probably incremental improvement. They’ll need to find a new QB after the departure of Stephen Morris, but a strong defense remains along with fantastic running back Duke Johnson. He missed the second half of last season, but when he’s healthy Miami is a different team. The Coastal is weak, and Al Golden is in year four in Coral Gables. The time has come for the Canes to make an ACC Championship.

19.UCF

Sticking with the Floridian theme, we head north to Orlando. UCF went 12-1 last year, rolling through the AAC and knocking off Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. They lost mega star Blake Bortles to the NFL, but bring back loads of talent from the ‘13 team. Defensively, they should be excellent thanks to the return of CB Jacoby Glenn among others. Even if the offense takes a step back, the Golden Knights should still be the class of the AAC.

20. Georgia

Sooo, 2013 didn’t go as planned for Georgia. The Bulldogs got hit hard by injuries and struggled mightily defensively. Senior QB Aaron Murray had another monster season, but UGA’s porous defense did them in, as they finished the year 8-5. This season, the hope is that new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will shore the defense up. Offensively, there are some question marks on the line and losing Murray is undoubtedly a tremendous blow. The good news is that running back Todd Gurley is back, and he’s filthy. A huge season from Gurley and some defensive improvements could lead to double digit wins.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia

RB Todd Gurley will try to power Georgia into the SEC championship conversation.

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Happy Second Birthday…To Us!

College Sports Town turns two years old today!

Year two of College Sports Town was a great one; we published more than 100 posts and had over 20,000 views. As always, we thank you for visiting our blog, reading our entries, and dropping in the occasional comment!

We hope you continue to keep coming back to the Sports Town as we enter our third year. It should be another fun one in our little corner of cyberspace.

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2014 MLB Preview: Divisional Previews

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to College Sports Town’s divisional previews of the 2014 MLB season. Posted on this page are links to previews for each division. I’ve worked very hard to bring you what I hope are accurate predictions for the upcoming season, and I’d appreciate feedback, as always. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Tim Balk for all his help in making these extensive posts actually interesting. Thank you, and enjoy!

AL EAST

AL CENTRAL

AL WEST

NL EAST

NL CENTRAL

NL WEST

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

It’s Thanksgiving day and we have plenty to be thankful for here at College Sports Town. Thanksgiving

We’re thankful that college basketball season has returned, bringing us new stars like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Julius Randle and the return of old friends such as Doug McDermott and Russ Smith. We’re thankful that Boston has a top 25 quality college basketball team again, thanks to Tommy Amaker at Harvard.

We’re thankful for what promises to be a terrific ending to the college football season, with Alabama, Florida State, and Ohio State all hoping to find their way into the National Championship Game. We’re thankful for Andre Williams, Boston College’s steamroller of a running back who runs like he has a Super Mario invincibility star.

We’re thankful that the NBA is back. Lebron James is putting up ridiculous stat lines, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are emerging, and Jason Kidd is gettin’ creative.

Most of all we’re thankful for you, our readers, for checking out our blog, reading our posts, and commenting! We hope you have a great holiday.

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