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Lowe and Outside

Don't need to try to be different

1st Round No Longer a "Gimme"

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets, led by whomever you think is their best player (and you probably have an argument for their top seven guys), are currently sitting at 25-31 for eighth place in the Western Conference scheduled to go against the best team in the NBA, the two-time Western Conference Champions, the Golden State Warriors.  Four games behind them are the San Antonio Spurs, who were the West champs the two years prior.  In other words, whoever wins the West is going to have it easy.  

In this case, you would hear Lee Corso of College Gameday say a classic "Not So Fast", and potentially give a compelling argument for the eighth seed.  Well, Denver doesn't look like it will be able to grab the eighth spot after all, since the 23-34 New Orleans Pelicans (2.5 games back) acquired All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and sharpshooter Omri Casspi in exchange for the multi-positional Tyreke Evans, rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield and combo guard Langston Galloway along with a few draft picks.  This trade just vaulted the Pelicans up past Denver in my mind, and possibly could allow them to put the heat on Oklahoma City even for the seventh seed.  Either way, the eighth seed is no longer a joke, no matter the record.

Having two big men like Cousins and Davis playing together will dominate any other duo that tries to guard them.  The NBA is no longer a place for big men, and normally you have four guys who can move with the ball and stretch the floor and one big man.  Now, New Orleans has two, both can shoot, rebound, play defense, and even move with the basketball.  It's tough to find even one player to guard one of them, and now you will be asking undersized players to guard Anthony Davis or to ask big men to move away from the block to guard Cousins.  I don't know about you, but this isn't a walkthrough for the Warriors anymore.

JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia are nowhere near the talent one of these guys combined, and although Draymond Green is a defensive star, he can't guard Cousins and Davis.  That will be put on McGee, Pachulia, David West, or Kevin Durant (in their death lineup) to help Green cover the other, and that's a clear mismatch.  And although Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson give the Warriors the edge at the guard position over every team and Kevin Durant is the best small forward in the West (and maybe the NBA now), but the Pelicans are going to give Golden State problems now.  If San Antonio were to get there, they'd go up against LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, but neither are known for defense and the edge still goes to the Pelicans easily.

Even if New Orleans doesn't get to the eighth seed and Denver somehow holds on or Portland jumps in, it means that these teams either made an upgrade at the trade deadline to keep themselves ahead of New Orleans, or that these teams are actually playing better basketball than the one with the best two big men in the game.  These teams will be better than they are now, so no matter who you get out west, it will be a tougher matchup than expected.  It's not a gimme anymore for the Warriors.

Three Brief Thoughts

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

1) DESPITE CRITICISM, THIS IS STILL THE BEST ALL-STAR ATMOSPHERE
I know, I know, the Slam Dunk Contest wasn't exciting, the three point shootout is just shooting, and nobody really understand the skills competition's purpose.  The All-Star game itself is full of players under 6'9" that don't play any defense.  However, this is still by far the best All-Star weekend among the big four, easily.  MLB only has the Home Run derby, and the game actually has meaning.  Other than that, nothing really happens there.  The Pro Bowl was so lame it couldn't afford to be in Hawaii anymore.  And what does the NHL even have besides a game?  
There are so many different things that go on for the NBA All-Star weekend, you have a challenge of young players, a celebrity game, and three (pretty much) skills competitions.  The only non-game event during an All-Star weekend of any sport that people pay attention to is the Home Run derby, while the NBA has five events people are aware of.  I'm not saying they aren't flawed or need adjustments, I'm saying that the NBA is doing fine and we might even be holding them to higher expectations causing slight disappointment in the event.

2) A SLEEPER MLB PLAYOFF TEAM
Look out for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in California, or whatever they last chose to name a team that has been in the same location since the 60's.  The Angels are a team that nobody is talking about, and yet could make a real run at a postseason appearance.  Think about it, they have two MVP's in the lineup, one in his prime and one past his prime.  No starting position has a hole in the infield or outfield, and catcher is more than capable defensively.  The rotation is young, but all the starters have had success in the past.  Huston Street has been a great closer and is still on the roster.  Plus, when you have Mike Scioscia and his 14 year championship drought, something has to give, right?  Either the Angels win the World Series or fire Scioscia, and they have more than enough top-tier talent to be a sleeper.

3) REMEMBER THAT MATT CASSEL WENT 11-5 AS A STARTER IN NEW ENGLAND

Remember Matt Cassel, that guy who New England was forced to throw out because Tom Brady got hurt?  That guy who never started in college because of Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer at USC?  That guy who struggled to win, or even earn a starting job elsewhere.  Remember how he went 11-5 during the regular season (and teams that go 11-5 almost never miss the playoffs, and the fact the Pats did was an extreme anomaly).  
I keep hearing people say how Tom Brady never played with Hall of Famers anywhere, how he never was surrounded by great players, and yet he managed to keep winning.  So how is a scrub like Matt Cassel supposed to go 11-5 then if Tom Brady is so great playing with all of these players who aren't "stars"?  How does Jimmy Garoppolo go 3-1?  So were Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Ben Watson that much better for Matt Cassel, since none of them are great players?
Look, I just don't get it.  Matt Cassel started for New England the year after they went undefeated up to that David Tyree Super Bowl loss to the Giants, and let's be honest, that team couldn't be THAT much different.  Point being, a scrub like Matt Cassel who has received similarity scores to Kyle Orton, Josh Freeman, Don Majkowski, and Jake Delhomme can go 11-5 in New England.  In other words, any non-scrub can win a Super Bowl there, because that franchise is all about Bill Belichick.

My Top 4, College Basketball Part 5

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This is a weekly thing that I do, who is in the top four in college basketball at this point in the season?  Last week, it seemed like it was a pretty set group of four, and while that still may be the same, the fight for that fourth spot is wide open now.  After Baylor lost at Texas Tech and at home to the Kansas Jayhawks (who are in this list), everybody now has the all-clear to fight Baylor for that last spot.  To make things interesting, and to change up who I write about, I bumped Baylor out.  Here is my new top four.

LAST WEEK'S TOP FOUR: Gonzaga, Villanova, Kansas, Baylor

1) KANSAS JAYHAWKS: 24-3 (12-2 in Big 12)
For those of you who believe this is strength of schedule bias since I had Kansas jump Gonzaga and Villanova back to their original number one spot, you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  Sorry, but Villanova and Gonzaga didn't play a top ten team combined, and Kansas played two and beat two.  I've really had doubts about the depth of Kansas in previous articles, and had concerns that off-court issues would cause problems here, but Bill Self had out done himself (ha) this year.  Kansas is going to win the outright Big 12 title for the 531st consecutive season under Self, as their toughest game left is a road matchup to end the season at Oklahoma State.

2) GONZAGA BULLDOGS: 28-0 (16-0 in West Coast)
Gonzaga has kept pushing through the West Coast Conference, and Nigel Williams-Goss is the non-Power conference Player of the Year.  Mark Few has few (ha) concerns left at this point en route to a number one seed (that hopefully won't result in disappointment again), with the only real one left a presumed conference championship game against St. Mary's.  Gonzaga has six top 50 wins, which is pretty high for a mid-major.  I don't know what else they have to do to make you believe in them, and they won't have that opportunity until the Sweet 16 to be honest.

3) VILLANOVA WILDCATS: 26-2 (13-2 in Big East)
Is Villanova really worse than the two teams ahead of them?  No, probably not, but due to recency bias added in to the overall schedule, I can't put them ahead of Gonzaga and Kansas.  I really like this Villanova team, they took care of business against DePaul and Seton Hall, and they could be right back in there for a repeat when it is all said and done.  Right now, they just need to take care of business to finish off the regular season and secure a number one seed.  Their next two games are at home with Creighton and Butler, so they aren't out of the woods yet.

4) PAC-12 CHAMPION
I know I'm supposed to pick four teams, but it is really hard to decipher who is the best among UCLA, Oregon and Arizona.  The rest of the Pac-12 is nowhere near that class of play, but these teams have just two Pac-12 losses that are not to each other (at Colorado for Oregon and at USC for UCLA).  All three of these teams could win a national championship, and all three of them have had great seasons.  I'm sure at some point one will stand out from the rest.

OTHERS: Baylor, Louisville, West Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Florida

The "others" are shrinking quickly, Wisconsin has lost twice since I had them as my "de facto" fifth team in my rankings last week.  The ACC is also trimming off the weak, Florida State and Virginia are gone for good I think.  Cincinnati lost to SMU as well.  Kentucky and Florida are long shots due to strength of schedule, and one loss for either will eliminate them.  West Virginia is also pretty much out too.  The only real challenger to overcome the Pac-12 Champion is Baylor should they win out and win the Big 12 tournament, or the ACC Champion if they win out.  As we all know, however, March is so crazy that it is possible none of these teams are around for the Final Four.

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