Thursday, April 22, 2010 – Final 2010 NFL Mock Draft!

April 22, 2010 on 8:05 pm | In NFL Draft | No Comments

Here is our FINAL NFL MOCK DRAFT!!!  Check it out as the Draft is finally here – team-by-team selections with rounds 1 through 4 and it’ll be updated on Friday for rounds 5 through 7.  See the link below for more!

http://matthewhatfield.com/Football/NFL_FinalMockDraft_003_4-22-10.pdf

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 – NFL Draft Eve BUZZ

April 22, 2010 on 8:03 pm | In NFL Draft | 1 Comment

The 2010 NFL Draft will be on Thursday, April 22, and it has become one of the most anticipated football days of the year, even though there isn’t any actual on-field action.  There’s always plenty of trade buzz, rumors and projecting from talking heads and fans alike.  And for the first time ever, this year the draft  is in prime-time, televised on both ESPN and NFL Network at 7:30 PM EST as Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to split the pick bonanza up into three days.

Before our Final Mock Draft hits the site on Thursday afternoon, let’s go over some of the hot topics and things to watch out for as well as my Top 5 players and Top 5 sleepers in this year’s NFL Draft . . .

 

Hat’s Hit:  The 2010 NFL Draft – 24 Hours Before the Spectacle

*** Assuming the first three picks go as expected (Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford to St. Louis at #1 overall, followed by Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh to the Detroit Lions at #2 and Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy to Tampa Bay at #3), what Washington does at #4 overall triggers the next three picks in my opinion.  Word has it that Kansas City GM Scott Piloli will steer away from off-field issues of Trent Williams, the offensive tackle from Oklahoma.  Piloi is familiar with Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and he knows his Head Coach Kirk Ferentz very well, but my feeling is they will go with safety Eric Berry, the second best player in the draft on my board and a can’t miss selection.

*** NFL Network expert Mike Mayock believes Earl Thomas, the defensive back out of Texas, has better ball instincts plus skills and range than Berry.  Thomas led the NCAA with 24 passes defended last season and he also made eight interceptions.  While Berry is probably the quicker, more vicious hitter, it could be interesting to see which DB goes off the board after Berry, most likely either Thomas or Florida corner Joe Haden.  If one slips past #20, then a team might be getting themselves a major steal and a player that could be Defensive Rookie of the Year.

*** Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll would love to get Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, considered the top running back in the draft, at either pick #6 or #14 overall.  While #6 could be a tad high, Jacksonville at #10 has their eye on Spiller as a nice complement to Maurice Jones-Drew because the Jags have to find a way to manufacture yardage, and who better than the all-purpose yard producer from the Tigers.  Oakland at #8 could be the darkhorse to nab Spiller.  After all, Raiders Owner Al Davis is as unpredictable as they come.

*** Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen, once thought to go #4 overall to the Redskins before they traded for Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia, is starting to slip the experts are saying.  Clausen should go between 6 and 17 . . . both Seattle and San Fran each have two picks in that range.  Buffalo at #9 has an interesting decision to make if they want to go quarterback or not.

*** Cleveland is a team in the second round that could look to move up late first round to get Texas QB Colt McCoy or Florida’s Tim Tebow.  Likewise for Jacksonville, which knows they would sell a ton of tickets by moving into the ladder part of the first round and taking the hometown, Gator favorite.   Minnesota may take a look at Tebow at #30 as well.  Also don’t rule out Buffalo trying to move back up in the late stages of the first round to get one of them if they think neither will be available in the early second round when they pick.

*** Notre Dame’s Golden Tate reminds many people of Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Hines Ward and his college production last year (93/1496/15 in catches, yards and TD’s) speak for themselves.   He struggles with press coverage and route running, and thus will likely go middle of second round, but because of his playmaking ability could be a steal for someone.  My favorite wideout in the draft after Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant, who the scouts say has some character issues and has the look of that ‘boom or bust’ type receiver, is Illinois’ Arrelious Benn.  He’ll make some team in the second round very happy they chose him.

*** Another one of the players I’m high on that should go off in the second round is Penn State linebacker Sean Lee.  PSU is known for sending linebackers on to the NFL, but Lee is mobile and an impact defender that will help a team defend the run immediately.  He’d be a good pick up for a team like the New York Giants, which lost Antonio Pierce.  Durability concerns about a bad knee could keep Lee from going late first round.  Another player moving fast up the draft board is Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu.  There’s also some talk about the Giants moving up to 10 or 11 and taking Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, also high on the Jags board.  Kyle Wilson of Boise, Jason Pierre-Paul of USF and McClain are high possibilities for G-Men.  Brandon Spikes in 2nd round could be an option if they don’t take a linebacker there and Lee isn’t available.

*** Denver with Coach Josh McDaniels is a team that will be worth watching as they have dealt wideout Brandon Marshall to the Miami Dolphins and most believe that he won’t take Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant with their #11 overall selection.  What will they do?  They could trade down from #11 and try to get McClain or Maurkice Pouncey, the Florida interior offensive lineman, at a later pick.

*** South Florida’s Jerome Murphy and Virginia’s Chris Cook are mid-late second round, maybe early third round prospects that are long, man-to-man coverage guys who could be major surprises in the NFL.  The Jets are unlikely to reach in the late part of the first round for one of them, but keep an eye on Florida State’s Patrick Robinson for Rex Ryan’s team and also watch out for Jared Odrick, the defensive lineman out of Penn State to be a potential choice if he gets past San Diego and Baltimore, two fellow AFC contenders looking to add depth and talent to their d-line.

*** If Dallas doesn’t take USC safety Taylor Mays at #27 he may slip out of first round completely.  Mays has good look to him, runs, but isn’t a super playmaker even though he’s 6-3, 231.

*** Who is flying up the draft board?  Rodger Saffold of Indiana blocked everyone at East-West game, has 41 straight starts and can play four spots on the line.  All of the sudden he can go as high as #23 to the Green Bay Packers, won’t probably go past 31, which is impressive to say the last since he was initially projected as a late second round to mid third round prospect. 

*** One quietly rising quarterback is John Skelton of Fordham, slated to go somewhere in the third round.  Some feel he has Joe Flacco type comparisons, partly because like Flacco, who went to Delaware, he went to an under the radar school not part of a BCS conference and is actually I-AA.  My QB to watch out for is Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour, but let me caution folks that I was high on Charlie Frye coming out of Akron, another MAC QB who reminds me a little of him.  Here’s hoping for LeFevour he has a better impact in the NFL.  

*** This year’s Darren Sproles?  It is Dexter McCluster of Ole Miss . . . 2nd or 3rd round, may sneak into 2nd round.  His speed is game-changing . . .  but there are questions about his size.  He’s a super sleeper who can be used as a return man, scat back and be dynamic in open space.  Put on the film from the bowl game against Oklahoma State and you’ll be a fan of his, too.

 

MY TOP 5
#1 – Suh
#2 – Berry
#3 – G. McCoy
#4 – Spiller
#5 – Tie with Dez Bryant and Earl Thomas
HM:  Jerry Hughes of TCU

MY SLEEPER 5
#1 – M. Iupati
#2 – A. Benn
#3 – D. McCluster
#4 – S. Lee
#5 – Sean Lee and George Selvie

HM:  Rob Grankowski and Javier Arenas

Saturday, April 17, 2010 – NBA Playoff Picks from Hatfield Sports

April 22, 2010 on 8:01 pm | In NBA Playoffs | 1 Comment

Hatfield Sports 2010 NBA Playoff Picks:

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE: 

#1 Los Angeles Lakers over #8 Oklahoma City Thunder – - 5 games

#4 Denver Nuggets over #5 Utah Jazz – - 7 games

#3 Phoenix Suns over #6 Portland Trail Blazers – - 6 games

#7 San Antonio Spurs over #2 Dallas Mavericks – - 6 games

 

2nd Round:

#1 LA Lakers over #4 Denver Nuggets – - 6 games

#3 Phoenix Suns over #7 San Antonio Spurs – - 5 games

 

Conference Finals:

#3 Phoenix Suns over #1 LA Lakers – - 7 games

 

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers over #8 Chicago Bulls – - 4 games

#4 Boston Celtics over #5 Miami Heat – - 7 games

#3 Atlanta Hawks over #6 Milwaukee Bucks – - 4 games

#2 Orlando Magic over #7 Charlotte Bobcats – - 5 games

 

2nd Round: 

#1 Cleveland Cavs over #4 Boston Celtics – - 7 games

#2 Orlando Magic over #3 Atlanta Hawks – - 6 games

 

Conference Finals:

#2 Orlando Magic over #1 Cleveland Cavs – - 6 games

 

 

NBA FINALS:

#2 Orlando Magic over #3 Phoenix Suns – - 6 games

FINALS MVP – - Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 – NFL Mock Draft #002

April 22, 2010 on 7:43 pm | In NFL Draft | No Comments

Check out our second 2010 NFL Mock Draft, done on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 and be sure to check back for our FINAL Mock Draft next week…

http://matthewhatfield.com/Football/NFL_MockDraft_002_4-14-10.pdf

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 – NFL Mock Draft #001

April 22, 2010 on 7:25 pm | In NFL Draft | 2 Comments

Check out our first 2010 NFL Mock Draft, done on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 and be sure to check back for more Mock Drafts…

http://matthewhatfield.com/Football/NFL_MockDraft_001_4-7-10.pdf

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 – Hatfield Sports MLB Season Picks 2010 Edition

April 22, 2010 on 7:22 pm | In Baseball | No Comments

Hatfield Sports 2010 MLB Season Picks:

 

AL EAST:

#1 – - NY Yankees
#2 – - Boston Red Sox (Wild Card)
#3 – - Tampa Bay Rays
#4 – - Toronto Blue Jays
#5 – - Baltimore Orioles

 

AL CENTRAL:

#1 – - Detroit Tigers
#2 – - Minnesota Twins
#3 – - Chicago White Sox
#4 – - Cleveland Indians
#5 – - Kansas City Royals

 

AL WEST:

#1 – - Seattle Mariners
#2 – - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
#3 – - Texas Rangers
#4 – - Oakland Athletics

 

NL EAST:

#1 – - Philadelphia Phillies
#2 – - Atlanta Braves
#3 – - New York Mets
#4 – - Florida Marlins
#5 – - Washington Nationals

 

NL CENTRAL:

#1 – - St. Louis Cardinals
#2 – - Milwaukee Brewers
#3 – - Chicago Cubs
#4 – - Cincinnati Reds
#5 – - Pittsburgh Pirates
#6 – - Houston Astros

 

NL WEST:

#1 – - Colorado Rockies
#2 – - Arizona Diamondbacks (Wild Card)
#3 – - Los Angeles Dodgers
#4 – - San Francisco Giants
#5 – - San Diego Padres

 

POSTSEASON PICKS:

AL:  NY Yankees over Seattle; Boston over Detroit in ALDS
Boston over NY Yankees in ALCS

NL:  Philadelphia over Arizona; Colorado over St. Louis in NLDS
Colorado over Philadelphia in NLCS

WORLD SERIES:  Colorado over Boston in 7
WS MVP:  Ubaldo Jimenez – - Colorado Rockies

 

AWARDS:

AL CY YOUNG:  Felix ‘King’ Hernandez – - Seattle Mariners
AL MVP:  Kevin Youkilis – - Boston Red Sox
AL ROY:  Austin Jackson – - Detroit Tigers
NL CY YOUNG:  Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay – - Philadelphia Phillies
NL MVP:  Troy Tulowitzki – - Colorado Rockies
NL ROY:  Jason Heyward – - Atlanta Braves

Monday, April 5, 2010 – NCAA Basketball Championship Preview & Pick

April 6, 2010 on 2:42 am | In College Basketball | 1 Comment

It’s time for the 2010 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship game, between the Duke Blue Devils of the ACC and the Butler Bulldogs from the Horizon League.  Duke, the only #1 seed to reach the Final Four, hammered West Virginia 78-57 on Saturday night, while the fifth-seeded Bulldogs outlasted Michigan State 52-50.  Before we go to a Preview with my Pick for the game as well as ‘Keys to Victory,’ let’s review my record in this tourney heading into Monday night . . .  

26-6 in First Round
6-2 in Sweet 16
1-3 in Elite 8
0-2 in Final Four
Total:  33-13 (69%)

 
#5 Butler (33-4) vs. #1 Duke (34-5) – 9:21 PM:  It’s the classic David vs. Goliath in the National Final on Monday night.  Duke, going for their first National Championship since 2001 and fourth ever, has been in 93 NCAA Tournament games, 15 Final Four games and appeared in the title game 10 times.  As for Butler, they’ve played in only 13 tourney games, making both their first trip to the Final Four and Championship, and never won the NCAA title.  Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s Head Coach, looks to join elite company with John Wooden of UCLA and Adolph Rupp from Kentucky as the only men to ever win four National Championships.  Butler Coach Brad Stevens, only 33 years of age, came into this tournament as a relatively unknown sideline general.  The hometown favorites from Indianapolis have won 25 straight, the longest winning streak in the NCAA by any team this year.  A couple other storylines to watch . . .

Duke is led by the ‘S-Trio’ of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.  While Scheyer is the only senior of that threesome, it could be the final collegiate game for each as Smith and Singler could elect to forgo their senior season and entre the NBA Draft. 

For Butler, which has rallied in the second half to beat each of their opponents in the NCAA Tournament – - UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State – - the Bulldogs do not enter this game completely healthy.  Guard Shelvin Mack, who scored 14 points in the National Semifinals, went out with cramps, and Matt Howard is coming off a concussion.  Both are expected to play for the darling underdog.

Duke’s Keys to Victory: 

#1 – Force Butler to Shoot 3’s:  This Butler team is not that great shooting from beyond the arc.  In fact, Butler shot about only 30% from the field and beat Michigan State.  Why?  Well, because nothing really phases them and they don’t hurt themselves with a lot of mistakes.  Conversely, they are able to capitalize off your mistakes, as indicated when they beat the Spartans 20-2 in points off turnovers.  Mack is the guy on the perimeter they have to key in on because other than him they really don’t have a three-point threat that scares you.  If Duke is able to make Butler settle for three-point looks instead of punching it in the paint and get one of the Blue Devils’ bigs in foul trouble, that favors Coach K’s bunch.

#2 – Get to the Free-Throw Line:  When Duke gets to the free-throw line a lot, like they did in the Elite Eight against Baylor, it not only stops the clock and keeps teams from running out for points in transition, but most importantly it gives them a chance for easy points and possibly get one of Butler’s main contributors like a Howard in foul trouble.  Plus, it puts less pressure on them having to shoot so hot from deep, which they’ve done the last two games by going 24-of-48 from long distance.  That’s 50%, but they also have had a rough time shooting from long range for stretches in the this tourney when Cal limited them to 2-for-9 from three-point land in the first half and when they went 3-for-9 from 3-range vs. Purdue in the Sweet 16.

#3 – Cause the Bulldogs to Turn it Over:  Duke is at its best when they are able to apply ball pressure and make their opponent turn the basketball over.  More times than not, Butler protects the basketball very well, however, when Kansas St. turned up the heat defensively they were able to cause 20 turnovers on the Bulldogs.  The more turnovers Butler has – - and they are a team that likes to play in the 50’s – - the fewer possessions they have, and the more likely they are prone to going through a spell where they struggle to score.  Remember, Murray State held them without a field goal the final 6:30 of the first half in their second round matchup, so if Duke can really dig in defensively, they can put Butler in their first real hole of the tournament where they are down by eight or more.  Butler isn’t built to come back from a large deficit, thing is nobody has gotten them in a position or situation where they’ve got to go on a run and really get hot shooting from long range in order to win.

 

Butler’s Keys to Victory:

#1 – Shot Selection:  Getting off to a fast start is imperative and a must, but if they are trailing early, the Bulldogs can’t panic and start pressing to the point where they rush shots and don’t value the clock.  That will play into Duke’s hands.  The real key guy with the ball in his hands with the clocking ticking down will be Gordon Hayward, who’s averaging 19.3 points per game over the last three.  Mack also can’t be forgotten as he hit 7-of-9 from three-point land in the opening round victory over UTEP . . . they will need good dribble penetration and try to get him open off drives through the lane that make the defense collapse.

#2 – Defensive Rebounding:  Duke’s Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas have been outstanding on the offensive boards over the last couple games as the Blue Devils grabbed 22 offensive rebounds against Baylor in the Elite Eight and then followed it up by holding West Virginia to only 19 boards in the last game out.  Butler may lose the battle in the boards and still have a chance to win.  They can’t give up a huge advantage in that category though, especially since Duke gets a lot of offensive boards and then kick out to Scheyer, Smith or Single off those second chance opportunities for open 3’s.

#3 – Get a Bench Spark:  Butler really relies heavily on their starting unit of Hayward, Howard, Mack, Willie Veasley and defensive specialist Ronald Nored, they got a real lift off the bench from 6-foot-1 junior reserve guard Shawn Vanzant.  He doesn’t have to score and have a 20-point game like he did a year ago versus Valparaiso, but if he can make a couple key plays like he did late in the Michigan State game, including an offensive rebound with less than two minutes to go that led to them going up by four, then his impact will be felt.

Pick:  Duke 64-52 – While Butler hasn’t given up 60 points in a game yet in this NCAA Tournament and their team plays superb defense, constantly proving me wrong as they beat the likes of Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State (I even picked them to lose in the opening round to UTEP), Duke is mighty good offensively.  The Blue Devils have scored no fewer than 68 points in any game in the NCAA Tournament, and even when they don’t shoot the ball exceedingly well, they crash the offensive glass for second chance points.  And as West Virginia found out in the last round, when each guy in their S-Trio of Singler, Scheyer and Smith is on, you can’t go through any offensive drought or you’ll lose by double-figures.

Saturday, April 3, 2010 – Final Four Preview & Picks

April 4, 2010 on 12:17 am | In College Basketball | No Comments

Fans it is Final Four time!  The 2010 Men’s College Basketball Final Four takes place LIVE from Indianapolis with tip-off set at 6:07 PM between a pair of #5 seeds in the National Semifinals, the Butler Bulldogs and the Michigan State Spartans.  Following that game, it’ll be the lone top seed left in the tournament, the Duke Blue Devils, against the West Virginia Mountaineers. 

Here’s the updated picks record before Saturday night’s Final Four games . . . here is the Preview and be sure to follow the BLOG of the games as they take place with post-game reaction as well, so stay tuned and enjoy . . .

26-6 in First Round
6-2 in Sweet 16
1-3 in Elite 8
Total:  33-11 (75%)

#5 Butler (32-4) vs. #5 Michigan State (28-8) – 6:07 PM:  Clearly having to travel only six miles to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy, the Butler Bulldogs are the hometown favorite for this year’s Final Four and the surprise darling.  Thirty-three-year-old baby-faced Head Coach Brad Stevens has gone 88-14 in his three seasons as the program’s Head Coach, and they bring in the nation’s longest winning streak this year at 24 straight victories.  He has an undersized team and one that is not great at shooting the basketball from the outside, but their defense is playing at a high level.  Case and point, they’ve held four teams under 60 points in the NCAA Tournament, including #1 seed Syracuse and #2 seed Kansas State.  They have a balanced attack with Horizon League Player of the Year award winners in Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard, along with hot scoring guard Shelvin Mack (16.8PPG in the NCAA Tourney), stellar defender Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley.

Michigan State comes in with much more Final Four experience than Butler.  Head Coach Tom Izzo has guided this team to the Final Four six times, and now has a 364-145 record in his career, including a terrific 35-11 in the NCAA Tournament.  A year ago the Spartans beat Kansas, Louisville and Connecticut on their way to reaching the National Championship, where they lost to North Carolina.  This team has battled even more adversity, losing starting point guard and last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas to injury with two minutes to go in the first half of their second round game against Maryland, which they won on a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer from his replacement, Korie Lucious.  Forward Raymar Morgan has provided the senior leadership, while Durrell Summers is in a groove dialing it up from the outside with 16 3’s on 30 attempts from long distance in the NCAA Tournament.  Draymond Green, the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, brings a spark off the bench, and his hustle and intensity were big in the 70-69 win over Tennessee in the Elite Eight where they held the Vols to 19 points over the final 15:48 after giving up 19 points in the first 7:41 of the game.

I give Michigan State the edge for several reasons in this game.  Butler has not shot the ball exceedingly well in the tourney, and they’ve had to rally from three second half deficits against Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas St. to get to this point.  While they have won close games, nobody has done it better than Izzo’s team in this tourney with four victories by a total of 13 points.  No Coach in the business probably makes better in-game adjustments that him.  They thrive in those situations, and if they are able to get Howard in foul trouble (which plagued Butler in its last loss to UAB and also nearly cost them in the second round vs. Murray St.), then that may allow them to push tempo and pull away late.  Shot blocking could be the underrated factor in this game, too.  MSU had a season-high eight blocks in the Elite Eight against a Tennessee team that was doing quite a bit of damage in the paint in the NCAA Tournament, especially against Ohio State when they outscored the Buckeyes 50-22 in the Paint.  Butler doesn’t get bothered by much, and you have to like how the pass the ball and use their skill, but in order for them to win, they must stay out of foul trouble and match Michigan St. on the backboards.  I can see them doing it for 32-35 minutes, though for the whole 40 is going to be quite a challenge.  Pick – Michigan State by 10


#2 West Virginia (31-6) vs. #1 Duke (33-5) – 8:47 PM: 
After losing Gerald Henderson to the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and seeing Elliot Williams transfer to Memphis, some wondered whether or not Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski had a legitimate Final Four contender on his hands for the 2009-2010 campaign.  Well, they are the last #1 seed standing after outlasting Baylor 78-71 in the Elite Eight to earn Coach K another trip to the Final Four.  His 11 Final Four appearances are now tied for the second most all-time.  This Duke team has three really talented, All-ACC level players in senior Jon Scheyer and juniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, but none are All-American or Player of the Year material, that ‘superstar’ guy that they’ve known to produce in the past like Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Jason Williams or J.J. Redick.  Nonetheless, the mixture has worked, and they overcame a 0-for-10 shooting game from Singler against Baylor thanks to the career-high 29 poured in by Smith (whose dad Derek Smith played in the NBA and helped Louisville to a National Championship in 1980).  Also, Duke’s work on the boards paid dividends, getting 22 offensive rebounds and eight from Lance Thomas.  Both he and Brian Zoubek have progressed in their roles as the season has gone along.

Bob Huggins guided the West Virginia Mountaineers to their first Final Four since 1959, the days of Jerry West and ironically they have West’s son (Johnnie West) on their team.  Huggins, with a 670-240 record in his career and now 80-29 with the Mountaineers and 26-17 in the NCAA Tournament, became one of only four coaches ever to take two different teams to the Final Four.  Their 73-66 triumph over a Kentucky team loaded with future pros opened some eyes, particularly the way they did it as they shot 8-for-15 from long range and 0-for-16 from inside the arc in the first half of that game and led by two.  The West Virginia bench outscored Kentucky 36-18, and they also had eight assists from their reserve, which means they know how to make that extra pass, and some of their parts are interchangeable at times.  Kentucky shot only 4-of-32 from deep and misfired on their first 20 three-point tries.  This West Virginia team has grinded all year long and their shot selection has improved throughout the tourney.  Six-foot-7 senior Da’Sean Butler has been the all-around forward that’s able to score on the perimeter, in the lane or find the open man.  Six-foot-9 sophomore Devin Ebanks is a matchup problem for opponents with his length, and he’s a still a force rebounding as well as scoring despite sub-par shooting numbers of late.  Forwards Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones have also contributed in the areas of shooting, defense and rebounding, but what has really energized this team of late is the point guard play of Joe Mazzulla in the absence of sophomore starter Darryl ‘Truck’ Bryant.  Mazzulla, deadly with his left hand in transition, has regained his swagger after suffering a serious shoulder injury.  He’s coming off a career high point total in the last game out.

It’s hard for me to forget about the meeting between these two teams a year ago.  Granted, a handful of players from both teams have graduated and gone on to the NBA, but there are a few of the same characters involved as well.  The Mountaineers won 73-67 as a #7 seed over the then #2 seeded Blue Devils, and did so by destroying Duke on the glass 45-19.  That seems to be hard to imagine happening again, but with so much talk about how well Duke did on the backboards and how Kentucky did a nice job on the glass against WVA, watch for the Mountaineers to more than hold their own in that crucial category.  Keep in mind West VA was +16 on the boards in the Sweet 16 vs. Washington and they went from committing 23 turnovers in that 13-point win to only having three turnovers through 20 minutes in the Elite Eight.  Additionally, Mazzulla, then a freshman, gave Duke fits with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, nearly producing a triple-double.  The Blue Devils shot 5-for-22 from deep, and unless all three pieces in their S-Trio (Scheyer, Singler and Smith) that accounts for 69% of their scoring perform at or above their normal level, Huggins’ team has the advantage in my opinion.  One shouldn’t under estimate the physical brand of basketball they are used to playing in the Big East, and how they blitzed Kentucky to end the first half and start the second half in their Elite Eight matchup to beat a Wildcats team many considered to be the most talented in the country in spite of their youth and inexperience.  Another stat that stands out is Duke is 0-3 vs. the Big East in the Sweet 16 or later in the NCAA Tournament since 1999.  Look for the WVA defense, whether they use a 1-3-1 zone or man, to give Duke problems with their length, athleticism and inside-outside versatility.  Pick – West Virginia by 8

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