Todd Graham’s Troubles

Patrick Breen/azcentral sports

By Tyler Wiese

After disappointing results for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Arizona State University football head coach Todd Graham will be coaching for his job security coming into the 2017 college football season.

During Graham’s first year in Tempe (2012), he was able to turn around the ASU program quickly, as he led the Sun Devils to their first winning season since 2007.

Graham ended his first season with an 8-5 record, winning the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy.

Over the next two seasons as head coach, Graham led the Sun Devils to two consecutive 10-win seasons as ASU went 10-4 in 2013 and 10-3 record in 2014 for a combined record of 28-12 over his first three seasons.

Arizona State went 8-1 in conference play in 2013 while losing its last two games in the Pac-12 Championship against Stanford and the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech.

Since the beginning of the 2015 season, Graham found himself struggling to find wins as ASU ended the 2015 season with a 6-7 record and 2016 with his worst record yet at 5-7.

Over his time at ASU, Graham has found himself homesick, for only two out of their last 11 wins have come away from Tempe.

The Texas native has made ASU relevant in the recruiting game, placing ASU in the top five in the Pac-12 ever since his arrival.

With slight declines of recruiting over the past couple seasons, Graham has produced a solid 2017 class that is headlined by former five-star Alabama recruit Blake Barnett.

While injuries were a reoccurring theme last season for the Sun Devils, more depth in the secondary and a plethora of quarterbacks to choose from this year will not help Graham’s case if he doesn’t get the team to a bowl game.

Added pressure from one of the worst statistical defenses in a college football season and his roots coming from the defensive side of the ball, Graham can’t afford to let his defense give up an average of 39.8 points per game like the team did last season.

ASU

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With upcoming 2017 home tilts against Washington, USC, and Colorado, Graham will need the team to be playing some of their best football in recent years as their schedule is unforgiving.

Washington is coming off one of their best seasons in school history, making the college football playoffs only to get trampled by the Crimson Tide.

USC has reached national college football relevance as the program won its 25th Rose Bowl along with bringing in the fifth-ranked recruiting class in college football.

Finally, Colorado and AP Coach of the Year, Mike MacIntyre, have the Buffaloes running away from their terrible past into Pac-12 South Division Champions.

Arizona State has given Graham full control over his staff during his time with the team. Going into his sixth season, Graham has replaced his staff with six new assistants and a new offensive coordinator in Billy Napier and a new defensive coordinator in Phil Bennett.

Graham and the rest of the Arizona State football staff will need to be able to synchronize quickly in order to produce promising results for the Sun Devils in 2017. Otherwise, we can expect Todd Graham to be looking for another job outside of Tempe.

Big Things to Come For the UCLA Bruins

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

By Tyler Wiese

In a year in which college basketball is at a high in the “Conference of Champions,” the UCLA Bruins didn’t get any respect over the weekend from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee.

The Bruins were the #15 overall seed out of the top 16 teams released in the mid-season bracket. A #15 seed means that they were projected a #4 seed in the tournament and ranked lower than teams like West Virginia (14), Butler (13), and Kentucky (12).

The Bruins currently hold a 23-3 record and are coming off one of their biggest wins of the season against #5 Oregon Ducks.

While the NCAA Tournament Committee stiffed the Bruins over the weekend due to their poor resume, these bears are not hibernating.

Potential top lottery draft pick, Lonzo Ball, and company are on the homestretch of their relatively easy Pac-12 schedule and look to head into the tournament with less than five losses. Even if the Bruins were to suffer a defeat to the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson in a couple of weeks and also lose again in the Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins would be in a solid position.

Lonzo-Ball-UCLA

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the game in Tucson will most likely have a large influence in the Bruins seeding come March, their potent offense paired with an improving defense will be a spectacle to watch in the tournament no matter what number is attached to their name.

While, the UCLA Bruins do not have a tough schedule that really will stand out to a seeding committee member, they have played valuable games that will definitely translate in the tournament.

Pre-conference games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Texas A&M all passed the eye test as UCLA took care of them easily as well as taking down then #1 ranked Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

Home and away games against Arizona and Oregon are vital to the Bruins as they will have played in some of the most hostile environments in college hoops.

Well for the rest of the Pac-12, the Bruins have taken care of business. Besides for the 84-76 loss coming to their rival USC and a one point win at Colorado, UCLA has won all their games against Pac-12 opponents not named Oregon or Arizona by at least ten points.

“What more could the tournament seeding committee be asking for at this point?”

The UCLA Bruins are undoubtedly the best scoring team in college basketball and have been tested by many quality teams. They have a scoring margin of plus 16 points per game which would put them at fourth in the nation behind Gonzaga, West Virginia and Wichita State respectively.

The Bruins are loaded with scorers that include Lonzo Ball (15.4 ppg), Bryce Alford (15.8 ppg), TJ Leaf (16.6 ppg) and Isaac Hamilton (14.3 ppg). Unless there is a cover on the basket, NBA level defenses will be needed in order to stop UCLA from scoring all over the court.

What is most impressive when you take a look at the Bruins offense is how much they share the ball. UCLA leads college basketball in assists per game at 21.7. Purdue is second in the nation at 18.8 assists per game which is almost three assists less per game.

What more could the tournament seeding committee be asking for at this point?

The Bruins may be young, but they got the leaders they need to make a run in the tournament with Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton.

These senior guards are poised and ready to finally make some noise come March.

Over their first three years, Alford and Hamilton have had back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances with an early exit in the first round to Minnesota in 2013.

Expect to see UCLA much further than the Sweet 16 this year as this is their most talented roster since the days of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Darren Collison back in 2007-2008.

Love-and-Westbrook

LISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES

With two projected first round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf will want to make the most out of their likely one-and-done college careers.

A recipe for success during March Madness is streaky shooting, and favorable matchups. What UCLA has is many talented and lanky guards in Lonzo Ball and Isaac Hamilton followed up with a solid post presence from TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh.

Do I need to mention again that they have the best offense in college basketball?

A sharp-shooting offense paired with veteran leaders and an improving defense that has proven they can buckle down in the last couple minutes to win a game translates well to a Final Four run.

Not even an undervalued UCLA team will be stopped in the upcoming months because it is time that these Bruins deserve attention on the national stage.

Watch Out for the Washington Wizards

Photo via Washington Times

On January 11, 2017, the Washington Wizards were 19-19 and posed no threat in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs. A core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat is not exactly a starting lineup that keeps LeBron James awake at night.

After the game last Monday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards have the NBA talking about a potential matchup in the playoffs with Cleveland. The Wizards are hot! They’re winning games and have played themselves in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings with a 31-21 record.

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#2 John Wall (Courtesy of SB Nation)

How have the Wizards gotten so hot?

Let’s start out with the eccentric all-star leader, John Wall. The former number one pick in the 2010 draft has averaged 23 points and 10.5 assists which would both be a career high if this trend continues.

Wall has turned a young and talented team into a dangerous unit that can dominate every aspect of the game. He has given the Wizards the leader the team needed and he has the experience to take Washington on a playoff run that could ultimately lead them in for a series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

Home Court Advantage

Going into the Cleveland matchup on Monday night, Washington had a 17-game home win streak. While the Cavs won the game, there is no doubt in any fan’s mind that the Wizards put up a fight and fell a little short due to what will be considered, shot of the year.

Before the shot heard around the league, Washington was rolling at home; taking down opponents like Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Boston. When the playoffs roll around, the Wizards will be hard to beat at home. In a big market city like Washington D.C., winning in the playoffs is hard to come by. Don’t be surprised if there are big fan turnouts come April and May.

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(Courtesy of NBA.com)

Money Ball

Bradley Beal signed a massive contract this summer which included $128 million over five years. Otto Porter Jr. is a Restricted Free Agent this summer coming off his rookie contract and John Wall is proving that he is worth more than the five-year, $80 million contract extension he signed in 2013.

It makes sense that players will perform better than he usually does when a payday is on the way, and that is the case with the Wizards. Beal’s contract appeared to be a very questionable move by Washington going into the season, but a campaign without injuries is exactly what Beal needed as he is having a career year. Beal has been proving all of his critics wrong as many were appalled by the huge contract Beal received in the offseason. Otto Porter was the third overall pick in a very weak draft. While Porter hasn’t been as disappointing as Anthony Bennett or Alex Len, he hasn’t lived up to his expectations he had at Georgetown.

“Don’t be surprised if you see a seven game series between [Cleveland and Washington] in the Eastern Conference Finals.”

What to Expect for the Rest of the Season

The Wizards have struggled against the top teams in the NBA (Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Toronto) with a 0-7 record against these teams and still have four pivotal matchups against Boston, Toronto and Atlanta left to determine the playoff seeding.

Other than that, the Wizards have been tested by the western conference and have a fairly easy schedule to close out the season besides the two matchups with Golden State.

If Washington can stay healthy, they will be a lock to host in the first round of the playoffs. Washington has proven they can beat most teams (especially teams in the Eastern Conference) and that is what will send them far in the playoffs.

This year won’t be an early exit for the Wizards, they are playing good basketball and are only 2.5 games behind the Celtics for the two seed. If you liked what you saw in the Monday night matchup against Cleveland, don’t be surprised if you see a seven game series between the two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Monday, February 13, 2017