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My Top 4, College Basketball

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

I personally don't like making final four predictions, because nobody knows at this point who will be in which bracket.  So, instead of doing a final four prediction, I will do what teams I believe are the four most deserving.  This is going to be a new weekly addition of the college basketball analysis, coming out every weekend for the next month and a half about who I think are the top four in college basketball at the moment.  This might be the toughest year to determine who is at the top of the basketball world, as there are a lack of true standout programs at the moment.  Teams like Kentucky and Gonzaga will have essential walkthroughs to the NCAA tournament, where the ACC and Pac-12 are full of final four threats.  So here are my top four.

Frank Mason is a true contender for national player of the year, and it makes sense since it usually goes to the best team's best player.  I like his backcourt mate too, in Devonte Graham, and they have the best backcourt (Kentucky has the most TALENTED backcourt).  Kansas has won 18 straight since their only loss to Indiana in the opener and have an inside track on the Big 12 title, again.  They don't have any super impressive wins outside of Duke, but they haven't played a pushover program either (only one game against a 200+ RPI program, Long Beach State).  They can also go deeper than their seven man rotation, but those seven are highly effective.  Their test is this week with road games at West Virginia and a rare non-conference game with Kentucky.

Josh Hart is the other obvious POY candidate, and he is leading his one-loss, defending national champion Villanova team to another probable number one seed in March.  With the injury to Creighton's Mo Watson Jr., Villanova likely loses one of its' three competitors for the Big East title, and at this point seems like it will be only Butler as a real threat.  They still have a road test at Xavier, and a home game with Creighton and Butler, but Nova should find its' way through.  They are the biggest threat to Kansas at this point.

Forget Markelle Fultz and his futile attempts to lead the Washington Huskies back to relevance, if Florida State wins the ACC, F Jonathan Isaac is the favorite for freshman of the year.  He's not even their best player right now, as sophomore G Dwayne Bacon is putting up 17.4 PPG, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes is being a great floor general.  In their last six games, they have beaten Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Notre Dame while only losing on the road to North Carolina.  That's an excellent stretch, and that should put them in the top five in the country in the polls.

There are a lot of choices here, as I will list them later, but with the pure talent the Wildcats have I can't pick anybody else at this point.  Plus, they have the best chance of any power conference team of going through the rest of the season undefeated, and only have a road loss in Louisville and home loss against UCLA at this point.  Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe make one of the best backcourts in the country, and the bench is much deeper than usual this year.  Expect another tournament run for the Wildcats.

-North Carolina

Rodgers vs. Brady, the Rational Argument

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Of course Tom Brady will go in as one of the best to ever play, so don't troll
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers.  Tom Brady.  Green Bay Packers.  New England Patriots.  50 percent chance of bringing home a Lombardi trophy to its' birthplace, or its' summer home.  And yet, Lombardi trophies are not a comparison tool for players, they are a comparison tool for teams.  For instance, is Eli Manning a better quarterback than Matt Ryan because Eli has two more Super Bowls than him?  Bart Starr has more NFL titles, does that make him better than Tom Brady?

I get it, winning a championship is one of the many criteria when discussing Hall of Fame credentials, and winning two championships almost certainly gets you in.  However, it doesn't mean that you are better than somebody just because you have more of them.  Or are you arguing that Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Kurt Warner, etc, etc, are as good or better than the likes of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers?  I hope you aren't, because that would be inexplicable.  

Okay, Tom Brady is capable of playing at a very high level in his age 39 season, but let's take a look at some other great seasons from aging Hall of Fame quarterbacks.  Peyton Manning's second-to-last season, at age 38, threw for 4727 yards, 39TD and 15INT with a quarterback rating (QBR) of 75.12 (pro football reference).  The year before was his last MVP season.  Brett Favre at age 40 threw for 4202 yards with 33TD and 7INT and a QBR of 70.7.  The next year, both of them battled injuries and fell off of a cliff.  Point being, these recent Hall of Fame quarterbacks both played at an extremely high level until their final seasons, and they both came rather suddenly.  In other words, Tom Brady could fall off next year or the year after, it's what the pattern seems to show.

So what does this have to do with Aaron Rodgers?  For starters, I think Rodgers beating Brady in a Super Bowl will shut up about half of you Brady defenders.  Second, Aaron has the talent and takeover ability in a football game that Tom Brady never has had.  Third, some of the throws Aaron can make are throws nobody else can.  And, Aaron is one of the best in the game at avoiding interceptions, has the best passer rating in the history of the NFL, and is more dangerous outside of the pocket than inside it due to his mobility.  As a straight up comparison of talent, IQ and ability, Aaron is better.

The only real argument Brady supporters have is his championships, and that this run in New England has lasted over 15 years now.  Yes, some of that has to do with Brady, but there are other reasons too.  Example A, Bill Belichick.  When Brady was out for the year in the late 2000s, the Patriots went 11-5 without him.  Tom Brady has a complete team, and always has the talent around him to be able to sustain as a franchise.  Remember, the Patriots also went to the Super Bowl just five years prior to Tom Brady's first ring, in 2001, against Brett Favre and the Packers.  

This is probably the best comparison I have of the two: Tom Brady is like Bill Russell and Aaron Rodgers is like Wilt Chamberlain.  The Celtics in the 1960's usually were first in the East, and then went on to win all of their rings, and those teams were led by a great coach in Red Auerbach and a great floor leader in Bill Russell.  Meanwhile, Wilt Chamberlain's teams didn't have as smooth of sailing as the Celtics did, and usually, Wilt had less around him.  Wilt, however, was better than Bill Russell in most athletic and statistical categories, yet Bill always seemed to be on the winning team.  Despite Wilt's heroics, his three teams, the Warriors, Sixers and Lakers only managed to win two rings with him on the team, in part to Bill Russell.  Is saying Bill Russell is a better basketball player than Wilt Chamberlain fair because Bill has more rings?  That's like saying Russell is the best ever, since he has the most of all time.  

In other words, it's not a fair comparison.  You can't judge individual players in team sports based on the amount of rings a player has vs. another player.  Bill Russell was on a dynasty, and so is Tom Brady, where Chamberlain and Rodgers were on great teams that they MADE great.  They are both great players, and anyone who denies that is foolish.  But to compare them on the basis of championships is a franchise comparison, not a individual comparison.

NFC Championship Game Preview

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Anybody else feel way too nervous in the fourth quarter last Sunday?  I have a feeling it will be that way the whole game this time, as Atlanta is the only team in the NFL with an offense that, in my opinion, is better than that of the Packers.  I think that Aaron Rodgers is better than Matt Ryan, and the passing game is better as a whole because of it, but Atlanta also has a good running game, with the best remaining duo in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield.  I don't think we win this game if we can't get to 35 points, but for now, here is my preview on the NFC Championship.

I like the under-the-radar practice squad signing by the Packers, bringing CB Bene Benwikere on this late in the season.  I don't like it so much from the talent perspective, as he went from number one on the Carolina Panthers secondary to being cut week six, I like it from the perspective of him playing defense for the Carolina Panthers.  Why does that matter?  The Panthers are in the same division as the Falcons, and honestly our defensive backfield needs all the help it can get stopping Julio Jones & Co.  Who better than a former division rival?  I bring this up first because this is the MOST important matchup of the game by far, how well can Damarious Randall, LaDarius Gunter and Micah Hyde do against them?

This secondary is incredibly beat up, and I believe that as far as it goes, we almost half to play injured safety Morgan Burnett and corner Quinten Rollins.  Anything is better than Damarious Randall, I'd almost be tempted to put OL Don Barclay on Julio Jones before Randall.  All jokes aside, he couldn't cover a pot roast in the oven, let alone Cole Beasley of the Cowboys on Sunday, and I don't trust him on Taylor Gabriel or Mohamed Sanu either.  Burnett is only questionable, and he is more likely to play than Rollins due to the location of his injury.  Rollins has a head injury, meaning it isn't up to him or the Packers on whether or not he plays, but I believe he is feeling better.  On the offensive side, the only real injuries are at wide receiver, where Davante Adams joins Jordy Nelson on that list.  Adams came back to play late in the Dallas game, so expect him to at least be in a limited role Sunday, but I wouldn't plan on seeing Nelson until the Super Bowl, since rib injuries are tricky and have many factors.

The Falcons are virtually healthy, with only Jones and DL Adrian Clayborn on the injury report.  They are both pretty significant pieces, as Clayborn is second on the team in sacks and Jones is the best wideout in football, but I would expect them both to play.  It's no different than last week, when Dallas had virtually everybody at full strength thanks in part to a week off before.  

Assuming we have Adams and/or Nelson Sunday, our offense should have the edge on the Atlanta Falcons in the game.  The Falcons, although much improved from recent years, are not known for their defense.  In overall defense, the Falcons are 25th in the NFL, which can be a misleading number since they have a lot of impact plays and their scoring defense is not that bad.  OLB Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this season with 15.5, and they have two players with well over 100 tackles in S Keanu Neal and ILB Deion Jones.  Plus, having the likes of Clayborn, DL Grady Jarrett and veteran DE Dwight Freeney rushing the passer with Beasley, it makes their pass rush dangerous.  It will be interesting to see how Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari hold up, and that will ultimately be the key to scoring on the Falcons.

On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have nine players to catch for over 200 yards and a touchdown this season, and everybody from Jones to Freeman to TE Jacob Tamme is a potential threat to breakout.  And it's not like we can force them to try and beat us with the run for two reasons: 1) our pass defense isn't good enough to stop the passing attack of the Falcons and 2) the Falcons running game is dynamic, and have two running backs who have ran for more touchdowns and yards than the best on the Packers.  The only real way to stop them is to get after Matt Ryan with our pass rushers and try to force bad decisions, but even that isn't as simple as it sounds.  The Falcons don't have a line as good as Dallas or the Packers, but it's still pretty good.  

If our offense struggles, we have no chance this Sunday, but that shouldn't be an issue right now the way that Aaron Rodgers is playing.  The other side of the ball is tricky, and I feel like all they can really do there is try to contain big plays and take care of your own assignments.  Playing solid, fundamental defense and not trying to be a hero is all we can really do.  I think I would rather have this be Seattle, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.  I feel like this is once again our year to bring the Lombardi trophy back home, and although my confidence of us winning is about a six out of ten (I was a nine in Dallas), I don't pick against the Packers anymore.  Green Bay 38, Atlanta 35