The Top 5 Subplots Heading Into Indiana Vs Kentucky

We all know the main plot of Saturday’s second round NCAA Tournament matchup between Indiana and Kentucky: two longtime college basketball rivals who not only share a border but also share a history of winning championships, who haven’t played each other since the 2011-2012 season when Indiana upset Kentucky on Christian Watford’s buzzer-beater in the regular season and the Wildcats outlasted the Hoosiers 102-90 in the Sweet 16. Four years later, the NCAA Selection Committee intervened by placing both as the four and five seed of the same region. Now two teams have been thrusted into an old rivalry that no player on either team has ever experienced and on the line is a trip to Philadelphia to play on the second weekend of the tournament.

Honestly, that’s enough of a reason to get anyone to watch this game, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of subplots underlying the main plot is staggering and cover not only the game but the aftereffects of the game. Here are what I consider the top five subplots (in no particular order) of Saturday’s Indiana-Kentucky matchup.

1) Ferrell vs Ulis: Even if the main plot didn’t exist, this matchup between two of the five best point guards in all of college basketball would be enough to hype this game. Both Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Tyler Ulis are the textbook definition of a “floor general” as both are responsible for scoring as well as helping their teammates score (Ferrell averages 17.1 points and 5.7 assists per game while Ulis averages 17.0 points and 7.1 assists). Both also average around 35 minutes a game so it’s entirely possible neither one leaves the floor unless they get in foul trouble. It will also be interesting to see if they guard each other.

2) Will Players Treat This Like A Rivalry Game?: No doubt both teams will play very hard because this is the NCAA Tournament, but will it go any farther than that? Remember that not a single player on either roster has played against each other so unless any of them were fans of the school before attending, they don’t really know what they are getting into. If one team goes up big, will they coast the rest of the way (how a team may play against someone they have nothing against in the NCAA Tournament), or will they step on the opponent’s throat and try to humiliate them (how one rival would play against another rival in the NCAA Tournament)? Neither team will likely get that big of a lead, but the way the teams treat each other will still be a great indicator of whether or not they see it as a rivalry game.

3) IU’s Turnover Problem Vs UK’s Defensive Rebounding Problem: Both teams are really good at a lot of different things, but both also have one weakness that ranks in the bottom 100 of all NCAA teams. For Indiana it’s turnovers as the Hoosiers turn it over on 16.6% of their possessions (254th in the NCAA). For Kentucky it’s defensive rebounding as the Wildcats allow opponents to grab 30.2% of their misses (274th in the NCAA). At first glace it looks like the Hoosiers can take advantage of the Wildcats’ weaknesses easier, as IU ranks as the 13th best offensive rebounding team (grabbing 36.5% of its misses). Yet while Kentucky doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, it does have a top 10 shooting defense (allowing an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3%) that can make those inevitable turnovers even more devastating. Whichever team does more to exploit the other’s weakness should win.

4) The Outcome May Determine If This Becomes An Annual Rivalry Again: A lot of media members have talked about this possibly sparking a renewal of the yearly rivalry game between the two programs. While some may brush it off as wishful thinking, I do think this game will hold weight in any possible decision. Unfortunately, I think it will require a specific outcome to get the ball rolling on a possible series revival. The Wildcats’ non-conference scheduling approach has been to find teams that can challenge them so they can test their freshmen and make them battle-tested for the SEC and hopefully a long NCAA run. If Kentucky were to handedly beat Indiana on Saturday, would they really bother with trying to get the series with Indiana going again? As weird as it may sound, getting the yearly series back may require an Indiana win or an overtime classic to get talks going again. That scenario also makes sense for IU, as even though the Hoosiers did beat the Wildcats in their last regular season meeting the wins in the series have been few and far between for a long time. When two potential rivals don’t play in the same conference it takes a little extra to keep that rivalry going and competitiveness is the big thing that can get this one going again.

5) Does Loss = Failed Season?: This game feels like an Elite Eight or Final Four matchup because both teams are that good, but the reality is that one of them will see their season end before the Sweet 16. Despite both teams exceeding expectations and winning their conferences, the fans of Saturday’s loser will feel like this season was a failure because they were bounced in the first weekend. But should they? You’d think an exception would be made for the talent level of the opponent, but I doubt either fanbase would accept that as an excuse. An Indiana loss would mean Tom Crean has still not led an Indiana team past the Sweet 16, and a Kentucky loss would mean John Calipari would miss the Sweet 16 for the first time (during years Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament) and would come a year after they fell short of an undefeated season with 10 McDonald’s All-Americans. It’s unfair on a lot of levels, but one team will treat this season as failure after the final buzzer sounds on Saturday night.

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Three Reasons Indiana Will Get To Face Kentucky And Three Reasons It Won’t

The Indiana Hoosiers’ quest for a sixth national championship was already going to be a difficult one as they are one of many who have a legit shot of cutting down the nets in Houston, but the road to the Final Four got exponentially tougher when then the NCAA Selection Committee decided to place the Hoosiers in the East Region (or what FIFA fans would call “The Group Of Death”)

North Carolina, Xavier, West Virginia, and Kentucky are all national championship contenders, just like Indiana. Unfortunately, through a sick twist of fate, only one at most will even make the trip to Houston at the beginning of April. In fact, at least one title hopeful won’t even make it to the Sweet 16.  Indiana vs Kentucky could have made an entertaining Elite Eight or Final Four matchup, but instead it may be a critical Round 2 game with the loser feeling like it’s season was a disappointment.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, both team’s still need to win their round one matchups.  IU drew a very tough opponent in Southern Conference regular season and tournament champion Chattanooga. Can the Hoosiers avoid the infamous 5-12 upset and face off with Kentucky in the second round? Here are three reasons why we will finally get IU-UK and three reasons we won’t.

Three Reasons We Will Get To See IU vs UK

  1. While the Chattanooga Mocs have one of the better defenses in all of college basketball, there is one weakness that can be exploited and that is their defensive rebounding. The Mocs have let their opponents rebound 26.5% of their missed shots, which ranks 113th in the country. While still ranking in the top 50% of teams, it becomes a little bit more glaring when you consider that the Hoosiers are the 12th best team in the country at grabbing offensive rebounds, grabbing 36.5% of their missed shots. Against a good defense like Chattanooga’s, it’s important to get second chance points.
  2. A theme in recent in NCAA Tournament history has been that a team has a chance to go far if they have superior guard play. Well, when you have Indiana’s all-time assist leader and the school’s seventh-ranked scorer in Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, I think you can claim to have superior guard play. Ferrell won’t let the Hoosiers lose in the first round because he knows that this is his last chance at a tournament run.
  3. As I said after the Hoosiers’ loss in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers actually benefitted from the early exit as banged up players like Juwan Morgan and Collin Hartman should be ready to go for IU’s matchup with Chattanooga. If the Head Coach Tom Crean can get quality minutes out of both of them, the Hoosiers can go back to using their depth as a weapon to tire out the opponent. If Rob Johnson is able to play it only tilts the depth advantage in Indiana’s favor.

Three Reasons We Won’t Get To See IU vs UK
  1. Another reason grabbing offensive rebounds is important for IU is because it will help make up for the team’s lost possessions because of turnovers. And there will be quite a few turnovers as Chattanooga ranks 49th in forcing while Indiana commits a turnover on 16.7% of its possessions (which ranks 257th in the country).
  2. With a record of 29-5, the Mocs were a popular upset pick before the NCAA Bracket was announced. While Indiana is a tough matchup, Chattanooga won’t be intimidated as the Mocs have already beaten a couple of power-five conference schools this season (Georgia and Illinois). Maybe even more impressive is the Mocs’s road win at Dayton, who is a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament. For the record, Indiana’s best true road win is also against a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament (Iowa).
  3. Who says Indiana is the only one that can ruin the IU-UK reunion? Kentucky has its hands full too with a first round game against Stony Brook. Just like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats have a lot of strengths but also have one glaring weakness. While that weakness is turnovers for IU, it’s defensive rebounding for UK. Kentucky allows opponents to rebound 30% of their misses, which ranks 260th in the country. Meanwhile, the Seawolves rank 31st in offensive rebound percentage and have a skilled frontcourt scorer in Jameel Warney (who had 43 points and 10 rebounds in the American East championship game).While an upset is unlikely, the Wildcats still shouldn’t overlook their round one opponent.

All In The Cards: Arizona-Carolina Playoff Preview

All season long the talk coming from the Arizona Cardinals has been championship or bust but even those with the utmost highest of expectations should understand that there would be no shame in losing this weekend to the Carolina Panthers. However, despite the disadvantages that await, the Cardinals will still have that “championship or nothing” mentality when they take the field at the near-freezing Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. For this week’s preview of All In The Cards, I will list all of the Carolina Panthers advantages heading into this game and explain how the Cardinals will try to counteract them. Plus I will give some matchups that favor Arizona. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now let’s preview the Cardinals playoff match against the Panthers:

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

Last Meeting: L 27-16 at Carolina (1/3/15)

Carolina advantages and how Arizona plans to counter them:

  1. Panthers have won 12 straight at home: In a season where it seemed that home field advantage meant nothing, the Panthers have been amazing at home. What’s even more unusual is that the Cardinals, a franchise that once threatened the record for the longest road losing streak just a little over a decade ago, finished this season 7-1 in road games and actually averaged better stats than they did at home. The advantage still goes with the Panthers, but these aren’t the Cardinals that historically have played terrible on the road so expect the Cardinals to play just fine.
  2. Cam Newton has thrown 19 touchdowns against the blitz this season: This seems like a big problem for the Cardinals because they blitz more than 45% of the time, the most in the NFL. However, the Cardinals will not shy away from blitzing for two reasons. The first reason is that just like their injured all-pro safety Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu, Bruce Arians doesn’t care about your stats against the blitz because they’re still going to blitz you. The second and more reassuring reason for Cardinals fans is that they have an X-factor in safety-turned-linebacker Deone Bucannon. Bucannon could either use his speed to generate a faster blitz from the linebacker position than what Newton would be used to or the Cardinals could use Bucannon to drop back into coverage and send a corner or a safety on a blitz.
  3. Panthers have rushed for 100+ yards in 30 consecutive games: Despite the Cardinals being a top-10 run defense, the Cardinals have struggled against the run in all three of their losses. That’s a huge advantage for a Panthers team that consistently runs the ball at a high level. Yet there is a way for the Cardinals to at least slow down the Carolina running game and that would be putting an extra defender in the box and trusting your secondary to shutdown the receivers on any play-action passes. Arizona has more than enough practice putting its cornerbacks on an island as that basically happens every time the Cardinals blitz. The Cards secondary is more than talented enough to blanket the Panthers subpar receivers to let Arizona commit to stopping the run game.
  4. The weather and field conditions: The game temperature is expected to be in the high 30s at kickoff and the playing field, which has been terrible at times this season, is expected to be pretty bad. However, the Cardinals took some advice from the Seattle Seahawks (who just played at Carolina last week) and will bring a couple different pairs of cleats to see which will work best so they don’t slip and fall on the grass like the Seahawks did a week ago. As for the temperature, that narrative is a little overblown as many of the Cardinals’ key players have more than enough prior experience playing in freezing weather (including players like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald).

Arizona advantages:

  1. Larry Fitzgerald is set to have another big day: In his illustrious career, Larry Fitzgerald only has more receiving yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and the three other NFC West teams than he does against the Carolina Panthers. However if we were only looking at Sunday’s game, Fitzgerald still has a big advantage. The Panthers are missing half of their starting secondary and their all-pro cornerback Josh Norman doesn’t cover slot receivers. Expect Fitzgerald to get a lot of playing time in the slot on Sunday and a lot of targets when he does line up in the slot.
  2. Revenge from last season’s playoff loss: The Panthers eliminated the Cardinals from the playoffs last season so there is definitely a revenge factor. Also important is that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing that game and Arizona still had a chance to win late in the game. It’s up to Palmer to prove he was the difference in last year’s loss by being the difference in a win this time around.
  3. All the pressure is on Carolina: There is a lot of pressure on Palmer to prove he was the reason for last year’s outcome between the two teams, but other than that all off the pressure is on Carolina. Like the Cardinals, the Panthers have also had a magical season where the expectations are championship or bust. On top of that, the Panthers have the added pressure of being expected to win because they are the home team, they just finished a 15-1 regular season, and they have the probable MVP in Cam Newton. The Panthers have thrived as the “no one believes in us” team and now have the added pressure of being the favorite while the Cardinals are finally back in the comfortable role of underdog. Even if the Cardinals deny it, they do have an excuse if they lose while the Panthers do not.

Nothing will come easy for the Cardinals but they know that. This has been a resilient team all year and this will be their toughest test. I would not be that surprised if the Panthers won this game but after following the Cardinals so closely this season, this just seems like a team of destiny that will find a way to win. I have the Cardinals barley holding on for the win to advance to Super Bowl 50.

Game Pick: Arizona 31, Carolina 29


My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16 – Correct (NE 27-20) (3-2)
  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 27 – Correct (Ari 26-20 OT) (4-2)
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23 – Correct (Car 31-24) (5-2)
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13 – Correct (Den 23-16) (6-2)

My Conference Championship Picks:

  • New England 24, Denver 16
  • Arizona 31, Carolina 29

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Arizona-Green Bay Playoff Preview

It has been a magical season for the Arizona Cardinals, one in which almost every positive franchise record was broken. While they have accomplished so much already, the team knows that all of those records will be forgotten if the Cardinals don’t win a single playoff game. The Cardinals’ goal was and still is to win the Lombardi Trophy, but the unpredictability of the one-and-done format of the postseason means anything can happen. That being said, exiting without a single playoff win would be unacceptable. So the Cardinals look to achieve that first goal this Saturday when they host the Green Bay Packers. This week I’ll recap what has changed for both teams in the three weeks since they last played and how those changes will affect the rematch. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now let’s preview the Cardinals playoff match against the Packers.

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: W 38-8 vs. Green Bay (12/28/15)

Having played each other only three weeks ago, you would think that this week’s matchup between the Cardinals and Packers would go roughly the same way? While there are definitely more similarities in this rematch in comparison to say the Seahawks-Panthers rematch (those teams played back in October), this weekend has no chance of being a repeat of the Cardinals dominating 38-8 win.

Let’s take a look at what has changed for both teams, both positive and negative:

Green Bay changes:

  1. The Packers have a functioning offensive line: It’s no secret by now that part of the reason behind the Packers’ blowout loss last time they played in the desert was because their offensive line was in shambles and got gradually worse when other linemen left partway through the game with injuries. This time around the Packers could possibly have all starting five linemen back if left tackle David Bakhtiari (who didn’t play the first time) is able to play. While Green Bay’s starting offensive line is only average by NFL standard, it will still be a huge improvement over the disastrous group they played the first time.
  2. Aaron Rodgers is playing much better: I’ve written about Rodgers’ body language during the previous matchup more times than I’ve probably needed to, but it’s a fact that Rodgers was not himself during the second half of season. Over his last six regular season games, Rodgers had thrown an interception in all but one of those games and only tossed multiple touchdowns twice. Against the Redskins last week, Rodgers threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. He still completed less than 60% of his pass attempts (something he did in three of his last six regular season games) but the performance was still a net positive, giving Packer fans hope that Rodgers is beginning to play like himself again.
  3. Defense is creating pressure: While the Cardinals’ offensive line is much better than the Redskins’ front five, you can’t ignore that the Packers’ defense looked much sharper last week. Against Washington, the Packers sacked Kirk Cousins six times and hit him 13 times. Compare that to what they did in week 16 in Arizona (two sacks, four QB hits). The big difference between the two games was the play of Clay Matthews. Matthews got 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Redskins but was held without a single tackle against the Cardinals. Don’t expect another donut from Matthews this time around.

Arizona changes:

  1. Cardinals were humbled by the Seahawks: Coming off a blowout win over Green Bay and a Carolina loss, the Cardinals (winners of nine straight) became the talk of the league as possibly the Super Bowl favorite. Then the Seahawks slapped the Cardinals in the face, shoved them in a locker, and took their lunch money. How else do you explain being down 30-6 at halftime in your own building? Obviously the Cardinals are still very confident that they can win a championship, but at the same time it was a reminder that all it takes is one bad game and your season is over. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because Arizona can learn from its mistakes and that playoff success isn’t guaranteed, but it’s bad in that opposing teams now fear the Cardinals less.
  2. Pass rush shakeup: Over the playoff bye week, Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor found himself on the non-football injury list with a toe injury. While Okafor’s production can easily be replaced since his level of play was way down from last season, what it does cause is a depth shakeup at Arizona’s weakest position. Second-year pass rusher Kareem Martin will likely start but it may also mean more snaps for Dwight Freeney and newly-signed Jason Babin. While not the end of the world, the Cardinals would prefer to only play them in situational roles so as to maximize their impacts.
  3. Rashad Johnson is back: He missed the first game against Green Bay and if Rodgers is really back, the Cards will need Johnson in the secondary. Besides Tyrann Mathieu, no other player means more in the defensive huddle for Arizona, as Johnson is basically the quarterback of the defense. He’s also played extremely well, intercepting five passes to tie Mathieu for team-high. Whether or not he’s able to perform at a high level could be the difference between whether or not Rodgers can pass downfield on this defense.

Yet at the same time there are quite a few things that haven’t changed. Green Bay’s receivers still have a hard time creating separation. The Packers were able to manufacture some separation against the Redskins by running the ball effectively, but against Arizona’s sixth ranked rush-defense that’s tougher said than done. What happens if the Packers can’t get the running game going? Also the Packers still have a lot of trouble converting on third down. Green Bay went 3 for 11 (27.3%) on third down against Washington, which actually isn’t that far off from how the Packers did during the regular season (33.7%, fifth worst in the NFL). Arizona has only allowed its opponents to convert on 35.7% of third down attempts (eighth best in the NFL) so that remains a huge hurdle for the Packers.

Meanwhile for Arizona, forcing turnovers still dictates team success. In 13 wins, the Cardinals forced 33 turnovers, but the team didn’t force a single turnover in any of their three losses. While Arizona did generate four Green Bay turnovers during the teams’ first game, that looks more like an anomaly than trend as the Packers have only allowed 17 turnovers all season (fourth fewest in the NFL). Can the Cardinals still win if they can’t force any Green Bay turnovers?

The point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t expect a repeat of what happened during week 16. That game was a perfect storm for the Cardinals where everything went right and represents the best-case scenario for Arizona in this matchup. However, I really doubt things will go so smoothly this time around. Both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians still have to get the “first playoff win” monkey off of their backs. The Cardinals as a team will have to deal with being the playoff favorite for the first time after living in the underdog role for so long. Also, Rodgers has experience taking the Packers to a Super Bowl title when Green Bay was a wild card team, like the team is this season.

I still think the Cardinals will win but it will be dogfight, with the Cardinals possibly needing a fourth quarter comeback to win. Yet the Cardinals know that after the season they have had, losing this game is not an option.

Game Pick: Arizona 34, Green Bay 27


My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Other Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 2-2 (.500)
Total Record: 161-99 (.619)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2