Sports with Chuck McGill Dedicated to the stats and the silly in sports

March Sadness, not-so-Sweet Sixteen

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My bracket is like yours: busted.

My South Region final is OK, but that’s it.

Baylor, one of my Elite 8 teams, is gone. WVU, one of my Final Four teams, is gone. Utah, one of my Elite 8 teams, has vanished from the bracket.

I do, however, still have my national champion — Virginia. And the team I have losing to Virginia is Oklahoma, which is still alive.

But overall, man did I whiff here.

I called for chaos — and it came. Never before had there been 10 double-digit teams win on the first two days, so I was right about the madness that was sure to ensue.

I just missed on where it’d come from.

Like, for instance, I picked UNCW over Duke. I did not pick Yale over Baylor or Little Rock over Purdue. Obviously, I did not have WVU losing to SFA, although I tried to warn of the possibility. I had Michigan State ranked lower than any AP voter for weeks, but never did I think the Spartans would fall to C-USA’s champion.

So here is where my bracket stands:

South Region: Kansas vs. Miami after the Sweet Sixteen. That’s what it still could be, and it’d be a doozie. I think I’d gamble with Miami if I had to do it over again, but I have Kansas winning on my bracket. I also thought Villanova would be gone by now, so the Wildcats will probably be in the Final Four, instead.

West Region: Oregon vs. Oklahoma. I had Baylor taking out the Ducks. Should’ve given the Pac-12 regular season and tournament champs a little more credit. Or maybe I should’ve just recognized the Bears’ stretch run. Pro tip: the stretch run matters. When you make your bracket selections, check how a team has fared over the last two or three weeks. If one would look at Baylor, they’d see a team that, with losses in the Big 12 tournament and NCAA tournament, finished 5-8 in the last 13 games. That’s from the start on February. Pay attention, Chuckles.

East Region: I really thought WVU had a favorable draw here … except for SFA. That was dangerous, as the Mountaineers couldn’t get SFA out of its comfort zone because they play a similar style. But that’s not the only thing that derailed this region. I had Providence over UNC in the second round. Wrong. Pitt over Wisconsin. Wrong. Xavier over Pitt. Wrong. UK over Indiana. Wrong. UK over Providence. Wrong. WVU over Xavier. Wrong. UK vs. WVU in the Elite 8 — not happening. Tear this region up.

Midwest Region: So I thought my Virginia vs. Utah regional final could happen … and then my beloved Zags happened. Can’t be even mad about this one. Virginia vs. Iowa State is going to be an all-time matchup in my book … and I can’t wait to see Few vs. Boeheim for a regional final spot.

So, how’d you do?

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The game was played in Kansas City and involved Georgetown College (from Kentucky) and Mid-America Christian (from Oklahoma). It wouldn’t seem the NAIA men’s basketball championship game would have ramifications here in the Mountain State, but it did.

Mid-America Christian hit a basket with 0.1 seconds left late Tuesday night and defeated Georgetown to win the title. It marked the end of the collegiate career for Noah Cottrill, the oft-traveled basketball star who got his start right here in the Kanawha Valley.

His journey is one I’ve followed closely, and I documented it in a story in our sports pages last January (link here). Cottrill is an intriguing story, and when I wrote about his ups and downs I was impressed with his confidence and candor about the good and the bad.

If you’re unaware — or didn’t click the above link — he battled drugs and it derailed his playing career and life until he regained control.

“It’s the best thing in the world when you’re blinded to it,” he said. “You feel like it’s your best friend, sometimes your only friend. You do it alone, behind closed doors. You don’t want anyone knowing. It clouded my brain and my vision. I would do things on a day-to-day basis, make promises or talk to people I don’t remember talking to. It clouded my judgment.”

He consumed oxycodone, Lortab, hydrocodone and Percocet. It was a gradual reliance on prescription drugs. First he used the pain pills to treat injuries sustained in a car crash, but it soon escalated. He’d take pills to deal with general soreness, to sleep, in anticipation of a challenging workout.

“You start making excuses to find ways to take it,” Cottrill said. “When you start making those excuses, it starts taking over your life.

“It helped me play through the pain. It helped me cope. It numbed me.”

Who knows where Cottrill’s career could’ve gone if he had stayed clean and stayed with Bob Huggins at WVU. Maybe he would’ve developed into an All-Big East or All-Big 12 performer. Maybe not.

But one cannot argue with his path now. Cottrill is an all-conference performer. He had a tremendous senior season, averaging 18.7 points per game (team best), while shooting 48 percent on 3-pointers and 87 percent from the line. Surely someone will pay him to play basketball, if that’s what he wants to do in the coming years.

But methinks his best work still remains outside of the lines of a basketball court, where he can influence far more people. That’s his journey now, and no matter the losses in a championship game or any other, each day is a new beginning.

Meeks: I’m just stupid enough to dream

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Since I returned to West Virginia in 2009, I’ve covered my share of girls high school basketball tournaments. I’ve covered my share of St. Marys and coach Howard Meeks.

The state tournament stage offers coaches and players a taste of the collegiate and professional post-game media setting. There is an elevated platform, microphones and a table with a skirt. A coach will sit with his players and field questions from the media, and this produces a wide range of outcomes because the athletes are teenagers and aren’t used to staring back at media members and cameras.

Meeks, however, has always pumped life into these press conferences. He is known for his candor. He can be blunt. He is certainly opinionated. He cannot stifle his passion for topics related to Class A girls basketball.

St. Marys defeated Madonna easily Thursday night in the last of the 12 quarterfinal games that stretched across two days. On Friday, St. Marys will face No. 1 seed St. Joe, which has won the last seven Class A state titles. St. Marys lost four of those championships.

It is a common opponent for Meeks, so maybe that is why he recently let some words slip that he admitted he shouldn’t have.

Unprompted, Meeks discussed those words with the media Thursday night as the clock drifted toward midnight. He could’ve sidestepped the topic, kept it to himself, but what resulted was a few minutes of authentic human emotion. It was real and good and a breath of fresh air.

Below are Meeks’ words:

I apologized to these girls earlier in the week because I had some words come back to me that I didn’t like. An esteemed coach, a friend of mine, won the conference this year was talking and he goes ‘I heard maybe you got it right, maybe we’re all playing for second place.’The good Lord woke me up last Sunday at 3 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘Coach, I believe in dreamers. You’re a dreamer and you started this. These girls need to have the dream. If you don’t believe they can win it, you think you’re really playing for second place.’

Why are we doing it for? I got down on my knees and cried and prayed and thanked Him for reminding me. It’s about those girls up there. Every one of them are in the gym trying to get better …

It still boils down to one of these days someone is going to get over that mountain, and maybe it won’t be against this St. Joe team, but someone is going to get over that mountain. Hopefully it’s this team tomorrow.

I just thank God that he reminded me that, not only that I still need to climb that mountain, that He put the same mountain in front of me. And so I’m going to do what I teach these girls: give it all I got, they’re going to give it all they got, they’re going to play their butts off, and tomorrow someone is going to win and someone is going to lose and life goes on.

Maybe the Lakers will beat Golden State tomorrow. If not, I’m back to dreaming, we’re going to keep working, and no one can sit there and say that we don’t do it hard and in a special way. If that’s not good enough for anybody else, you want to right something different, that’s OK. That’s OK.

I’ve learned it’s not about me, it’s never been about me, I’m just stupid enough to dream.

St. Marys and St. Joseph will square off at 7:15 on Friday night at the Charleston Civic Center.

West Virginians make mark on college hoops

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This has been a year our little state has made a big mark on college basketball.

The Mountain State isn’t going to produce dozens of college hoops stars each year, but this year seems to represent a spike in production from homegrown basketball talent. Why, just yesterday (Tuesday) former George Washington High School basketball player Dequon Miller was named the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year, and Miller also took home honorable mention all-conference honors for his performance during his first season of Division I basketball.

About 15 months ago I wrote a piece on Miller, which you can read here. It detailed Miller’s rise from a student who didn’t participate in sports his senior year in high school to a junior college standout at Motlow. He landed at Missouri State in the MVC, a solid program in one of Division I’s top mid-major leagues.

Miller, though, isn’t alone.

Also yesterday, former Ripley star Chase Fischer was named to the West Coast Conference all-conference first team. Fischer leads BYU in scoring (18.1 points per game), 3-pointers (93) and shoots 36.9 percent from long range. He ranks fifth in the league in scoring and 13th in the NCAA in 3-pointers made. The Gazette-Mail’s Rick Ryan told a wonderful story about Fischer’s rise through college basketball earlier this season, which you can read here.

Here are a few other former West Virginia hoops stars who are doing the state proud:

Noah Cottrill, Georgetown College — Yours truly wrote about Cottrill’s journey early in 2015, which you can read here. Cottrill is in his senior season and is averaging 18.0 points per game. That ranks 28th in NAIA. He is also shooting an incredible 51.6 percent from 3, which is second nationally, 88.0 percent from the free throw line, which is fifth nationally, and has made 81 3-pointers, which is 13th nationally.

Luke Eddy, Elon — The former George Washington star is averaging a healthy 10.5 points per game, which is second at Elon and 29th in the CAA. He’s also averaging 4.6 assists per game, which is third in the league.

Jon Elmore, Marshall — Also a GW product, Elmore has been on a tear since gaining eligibility. When only counting Conference USA games, Elmore ranks 10th in the league in points per game (16.8), second in assists (6.4) and 15th in 3-point percentage (41.6). The Herd started the season 0-6 and had a 2-6 record when Elmore became eligible, but Marshall is 13-8 with Elmore in the lineup and 11-5 in C-USA play heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

Nathan Adrian, West Virginia — The Morgantown native has now started 10 of 29 games this season, and his current 10-game stretch has been impressive. While Adrian averages 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds for the season, he is averaging 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in the last 10 games. In that same stretch, Adrian has connected on 14 of 22 3-pointers — 63.6 percent.

Donte Grantham, Clemson — The Martinsburg product is a key piece for the Tigers. He is averaging 10.2 points per game, which is second on the team, and averages 4.0 rebounds. He has also made 53 3-pointers at a 35.8-percent clip.

Also, don’t forget C.J. Burks, who has emerged as a crucial part of Marshall’s team. Burks is averaging 8.6 points in mostly a bench role.

As for next year, keep an eye on junior college star Jarin Hilson, a former Fairmont Senior star who is averaging 12.0 points per game. He’ll be at a Division I school next season.

Any others? Fire away in the comments.

 

Why Michigan State?

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There is a fantastic website called collegepolltracker.com (click and check it out) that lists the ballots of all 65 sportswriters who vote in the Associated Press men’s basketball poll. The website also allows the public to give ballots a thumbs up or thumbs down, and then lists the three most popular ballots, three worst ballots, three most extreme ballots and three least extreme ballots.

My ballot falls under two umbrellas this week: most extreme and lowest rated.

This probably has a lot to do with my ranking of Michigan State, which is No. 2 in the AP poll but No. 9 on my ballot. My ranking of the Spartans is the worst in the country by two spots, and most have MSU in the top three or four. Two voters even ranked Michigan State No. 1.

I just don’t get it, though, and it’s not really a slight to Michigan State.

Last week the Spartans were No. 6 overall and No. 8 on my ballot. They then picked up wins over Ohio State (RPI: 74) and Penn State (RPI: 98) while four teams in front of them — Villanova, Oklahoma, Virginia and Xavier — took one loss for the week. So, the collective votes pushed Michigan State past those four teams into the No. 2 spot.

Me? I saw no reason to penalize the four teams that lost. Villanova lost to No. 5 Xavier. No big deal. Oklahoma lost to No. 25 Texas, which has been one of the hottest teams in the country. No big deal. Virginia lost to No. 12 Miami, which also defeated No. 11 Louisville last week. No big deal. Xavier might’ve lost to Seton Hall, a sure-fire NCAA tournament team that is knocking on the door of the top 25, but Xavier also defeated top-ranked Villanova.

What did those teams do that deserved to fall behind Michigan State? How do wins over the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions convince a voter the Spartans are that much better than a week ago?

I severely underrated Michigan State in the preseason at No. 17. I corrected that mistake by ranking the Spartans at No. 1 for four consecutive weeks in December, and then I refused to harshly penalize Michigan State for losing at Iowa and had the Spartans at No. 2 in the next poll — the team’s highest ranking among the 65 voters at the time. That was three spots higher than the Spartans were actually ranked — No. 5.

Popularity is fleeting.

 

AP hoops balloting — Feb. 29

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There are only a few editions of the Associated Press Top 25 poll left this season (this last poll comes out prior to the NCAA tournament). This week, there are six Big 12 teams the Top 25, which has been the norm of late. WVU moved up four spots to No. 10 after a perfect 2-0 week.

Here is the full AP Top 25, as voted by 65 sportswriters around the country. My ballot is below:

1 Kansas
2 Villanova
3 Xavier
4 Virginia
5 Oklahoma
6 North Carolina
7 Miami
8 WVU
9 Michigan State
10 Oregon
11 Utah
12 Texas
13 Iowa State
14 Wisconsin
15 Iowa
16 Louisville
17 California
18 Purdue
19 Duke
20 Indiana
21 Texas A&M
22 Baylor
23 Kentucky
24 Maryland
25 Seton Hill

AP hoops balloting — Week 15 of 19

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We’re in the home stretch of the college basketball season, and there are only a few polls left before the start of the NCAA tournament (there are no updates to the Associated Press top 25 poll during or after the Big Dance).

This is the second season I have held the honor of being West Virginia’s representative in the AP poll (there are 65 voters nationwide), and it has been one of the craziest seasons I can recollect.

What I was met with in crafting my most recent ballot has not been uncommon: 17 teams in my previous ballot lost at least one game last week, and Oregon, Louisville, Texas A&M, Texas and Southern Cal lost twice last week.

There was a new No. 1 in my poll (Kansas), a team that jumped from No. 7 to the top spot. Four of the six teams in front of the Jayhawks last week lost. Heck, Texas lost twice and held onto its No. 16 ranking on my ballot. Of course, the Longhorns’ losses at Oklahoma and at Iowa State aren’t really worth penalizing.

You can find my full ballot here.

Where’d I go wrong? What did I get correct? Chime in.

The best names (possibly) entering college football

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Wednesday’s National Signing Day festivities reminded me how much I enjoy the introduction to a wave of new names that might become household over the next four or five years of competition.

The Mountain State did quite well in this regard. Marshall signed Sir Patrick Scott and Pro Wells. West Virginia locked up Toyous Avery and Zach Sandwisch. Even here in the Kanawha Valley, Mister Merriweather will take the field at the University of Charleston this fall. Mr. Mister might line up next to UC’s new receiver, Keyshawn Johnson.

It has always amazed me how apropos names can be in college football. Of course Jawon Pass will play quarterback at Louisville. Of course Isaiah Goodspeed is a fleet-footed receiver headed to Air Force. Players with the last names of Fries and Mayo? Well-fed linemen. Tank Smith? He’ll be pushing people around in the trenches, too.

Here are my picks for the best names at each position, with a few runner-up nominations. Please note that not all of these players signed Wednesday, but may do so in the near future.

Quarterback

Winner: Messiah deWeaver — strong first/last name combo here puts this one over the top. He’ll play at Michigan State.

Also considered: Feleipe Franks, Jett Duffey and Gunnar Hoak. The last of those three is listed only because my son is named Gunnar and my wife’s maiden name is Hough, which is pronounced “hoke” like this Gunnar’s last name.

Running back

Winner: Tre Nation — the backs had the weakest offerings, but Tre Nation is marketable.

Runner-up: Armond Weh-Weh.

Receiver

Winner: Dock Luckie — this Floridian is headed to Florida A&M, and, like Messiah, gets points for the first/last combo.

Also considered: Goodspeed deserves mention again, as well as Eddie McDoom, Allenzae Staggers and the unsigned Jerry Hippolyte.

Tight end

Winner: Pro Wells — his real name is Provonsha, but he gets extra credit for being bold enough to go with “Pro” while still an amateur.

Also considered: Mister Merriweather, who is coming all the way from California to catch passes at UC.

Offensive line

Winner: Sage Doxtater — The 320-pound Canadian is headed to New Mexico State, but he sounds like a movie villain.

Also considered: Dixie Wooten, Tiller Bucktrot, Dakota Birdyshaw, Nigel Warrior, Gentle Williams, Michael Jordon and Rowdy Frederick. Doxtater received the strongest pushes from Wooten, Bucktrot and Warrior, while Rowdy Frederick might be the perfect linemen name.

Defensive line

Winner: Handsome Tanielu.

Also considered: Brodarius Hamm, Shug Frazier, Boss Tagaloa, Raekwon Davis (!), Bo Peek and Naquez Pringle. I wish I was confident enough to pull off Handsome McGill or Boss McGill. Also, this list makes me want ham and some Pringles.

Linebacker

Winner: Pookie Maka — If his real name isn’t Pookie, I couldn’t find it.

Also considered: WVU’s Sandwisch, Tuck Tucker and Majestic Jordan.

Defensive back

Winner: DiCaprio Bootle — What? Awesome. And he’s prompt … the first to fax his letter of intent to Nebraska on Wednesday.

Also considered: Gilbert Gildersleeve, Montavius Smoke, Cycoby Burch and Raleigh Texada. Smoke probably posed the biggest threat to Bootle. Don’t forget Marshall’s Sir Patrick Scott and WVU’s Elijah Battle here.

Special teams

Winner: Jet Toner — By default. He is headed to Stanford, and no one posed a threat to this punter.

Also considered: None.

Athlete

Winner: Lil’Jordan Humphrey — Also appears to be a given name. Well done.

Take a bow, fellas. Especially those linemen.

Signing Day rundown

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National Signing Day 2016 — indeed, a holiday for college football fans who passionately follow recruiting — has come and gone. Of course, there are still stories to be told, like where former Capital High School star and Kennedy Award winner TyRhee Pratt will head next.

Pratt’s murky situation threw a wrench into the Gazette-Mail’s Signing Day coverage plans. You see, we initially planned a five-story-per-day, two-day assault on recruiting coverage from WVU to Marshall to the Mountain East Conference to the high school level. Pratt, of course, was at the core of our high school plan, and it was doubly delicious for us because the player voted as the state’s best in 2015 was headed to Morgantown to play in the Big 12.

Then on Signing Day eve, as we planned to send a photographer and videographer and sportswriter to Capital High School for Pratt’s signing ceremony, we learned of the news that Pratt would not be signing with WVU. Our Rick Ryan broke the story, which you can read here:

Capital’s Pratt will not sign with WVU

Even with Pratt out of our National Signing Day lineup, the Gazette-Mail still produced 10 stories leading into and coming out of National Signing Day. In addition to Pratt, here are the other nine:

Point Pleasant’s Cody Mitchell follows family example to Marshall, by Doug Smock

“They’re the same in that they’re very smart football players,” Point coach David Darst said of the Mitchell brothers. “Derek was a kid that really understood the game, and that’s about where the similarities of the two stop.”
“The hardest decision was turning down WVU because that was my dream growing up and always having that vision of coming out of the tunnel holding the Flying WV flag,” he said.

“When I committed, I had a couple reporters call me, and one said he did some research and I’m the first player to come to play football from Missouri,” Behrndt said of his factual distinction in the program’s history.

“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a big role for me. If I do well, maybe they’ll think about recruiting some more out there. And if I’m terrible, they’ll probably leave it alone.’”

Facilities play a big part of Division II recruiting, by Derek Redd

“I went around this summer to look at other Division II facilities, and you’d be amazed at what I saw,” he said. “I saw schools with indoor facilities and weight rooms that look like the size of gymnasiums. It’s a big deal.”

“We had a lot more holes on defense,” Holgorsen said. “We loaded up on four quality high school guys at [linebacker]. Obviously the one this morning, Brendan Ferns, was big for us. He’s a little bit of a legacy kid [with brother Michael already on WVU’s roster], but had lots of options.

“Secondary is probably the biggest need on defense. You lose K.J. [Dillon], Karl [Joseph] and [Terrell] Chestnut. We’ve been down the road of having to play freshmen there in the past and it didn’t work out very good, so that’s where we attacked the junior colleges more than anything.”

National Signing Day was filled with signature moments, by Mitch Vingle

“The nice thing is, we’ve really been able to experience a lot,” said the father. “We’ve met five Heisman Trophy winners. We’ve been everywhere from Oklahoma to Georgia and the SEC. It was cool for the first wave, but then it gets exhausting.”
“There are more players in a 45-minute radius than there’s been in the last 10 years,” Holliday said. “They’re good enough to win a conference championship, and that’s what we go by.”
“A lot of those guys, I’ve had a good relationship with, whether it’s their parents, their families or their coaches,” Kirkland said. “That’s exciting that we’ve got some of those guys who have that experience.”
“Our guys that are within our program right now, they know they have to compete to earn everything they get,” Anderson said. “And we tell that to the guys we’re recruiting. If you come in here and truly compete and truly earn a spot, we’ll play you.”
After you’re finished clicking on those links, go find Thursday’s edition of the Gazette-Mail. The recruiting coverage takes up the entire front page and two inside pages, which you can see below. The page on the left is full of capsules for each player who signed with WVU and Marshall. You’ll find lists of UC and State signees on the opposite page.
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OK, now I need a nap.

Monmouth and AP hoops poll history

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The Monmouth men’s basketball team has been one of college hoops’ best — and most entertaining — stories this young season.

First, check out the Monmouth bench mob:

That’s lovable March Madness stuff right there … but Monmouth isn’t a brief tournament fairytale. This is a good basketball team. So good, I thought, that I ranked them No. 25 on my ballot for this week’s Associated Press poll.

I didn’t know I was going to be part of the school’s basketball history.

My vote — the lone one from the 65 sportswriters who hold ballots in the AP poll — is Monmouth’s first-ever for the men’s hoops program. The Hawks received five total points from the coaches, and I feel like coaches know a thing or two about good basketball.

I decided to rank Monmouth on the strength of a 4-2 start. Now, we can’t ignore the two losses, but they’re hardly huge hiccups: at much-improved Southern Cal and against Dayton. Monmouth owns wins at UCLA, at Drexel, against then-No. 17 Notre Dame and then, Sunday, against USC in a rematch.

Look at the schools in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC who have at least three wins against Power 5 schools.

Iona was picked to win the MAAC this season, with Monmouth a close second. The Hawks have December games at Georgetown and Rutgers, but if they run through the MAAC schedule, I have no problem keeping them in top 25 consideration for the long haul.

It’s what a team does on the court, not the name on the front of the jersey, that should determine a team’s qualifications for the top 25.

Consider me in.