Sidelines: The NBA MVP race and the big dance

Sidelines: The NBA MVP race and the big dance

Matthew Barrett

By Matt Barrett ‘17 and Michael Keating ‘17

Collaborative Writers

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook has had 5 triple doubles in his last 7 games, placing him alongside Stephen Curry and James Harden as favorites to win this year’s MVP award. Who take home the award this June?

M.B: Russell Westbrook has been the best player in the NBA this past month–it’s impossible to argue against that. But no one has been as consistent and efficient this year as Stephen Curry.

The Warriors point guard posts 23.8 PPG, 7.7 APG and 4.4 RPG. All of this puts Curry at third in the NBA in PER (player efficiency rating) with a 27.93. Looking past the numbers, Curry holds many of the intangibles that every point guard should strive for in the NBA. Curry might be the best all around shooter in the league—he has a quick release and is able to hit the most difficult of shots. Curry has a high basketball IQ and is able to make decisions quickly. He is a facilitator that can run any offense that he is thrown into. All of this makes Curry the best player in the league.

But what really separates Curry from his competitors is how successful his Warriors have been. Curry led the way for the 50-12 Golden State team that has the second best record in the NBA and best in the competitive Western Conference. Westbrook’s Thunder sit at eighth place in the Western Conference and Harden’s Rockets sit seven games behind the Warriors at third. Come June look for Steph to hoist the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

M.K: One can make valid arguments for Stephen Curry, James Harden or Russell Westbrook as the NBA’s MVP. As of three weeks ago, my pick was easily Curry, as he emerged as one of the best point guards in the game and led the Warriors to the best record in the Western Conference.

That was three weeks ago. Now, the clear cut favorite is Westbrook. In the midst of having one of the best stretches in NBA history, Westbrook has gotten his Thunder into eighth place in the Western Conference. He joins Michael Jordan as the only other player to average a triple double with at least 33 PPG over a 10 game stretch. After notching his fifth triple double in seven games, Westbrook has clearly cemented himself as a top player in the league. He has positioned the Thunder to be in a spot where they will be able to contend when their other superstar, Kevin Durant, comes back from injury. If he is able to lead his team to the playoffs, Westbrook should undoubtedly be named the MVP of the league.

It’s March, and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is right around the corner. It’s hard to predict who will win on a game-by-game basis and almost impossible to predict who will make it to the Final Four. Despite this, it’s still fun to fill out a bracket and see how you stack up against friends and coworkers. Who will dance into this year’s Final Four? 

M.B: The Big Dance every year fails to disappoint the average fan and leaves ESPN analysts like Joe Lunardi stunned. In the past three years we’ve witnessed a few of the great Cinderella runs in tournament history. In 2013, the 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles and 13-seeded LaSalle Explorers streaked into the Sweet Sixteen, while the ninth-seeded Wichita State Shockers danced into the Final Four.

This year I wouldn’t put it past the Brigham Young Cougars to make history. Posting a record of 25-9, BYU has lost just one game this season by more than seven points. Their resume also includes a win against third ranked Gonzaga. Their offense, led by senior Tyler Haws and junior Kyle Collinsworth, ranks second in the country in PPG with 83.8. Haws has been here before in both 2012 and 2014. Both his and head coach Dave Ross’ experience will lead the team through the tournament.

My other three teams are three of the best in the country. Even though I hate coach John Calipari’s guts, Kentucky will make it through to the Final Four with ease. Kentucky returns 12 players from last season, a team that reached the National Championship game as an eight seed. Players include Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins. Not to mention the Wildcats finished a perfect 31-0 in the regular season.

My third team is the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin returns 11 players from their Final Four run a year ago and have two scoring threats in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. And who could bet against Bo Ryan?

My final team that I think will reach the Final Four is Notre Dame. The 26-5 team is led by senior Jerian Grant who posts a scoring average of 16.8 per game. Besides Grant, the Irish have three other players that score in double figures, including Pat Connaughton, Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson. The Irish aren’t afraid to share the love between their players. And I forgot to mention that they shoot 51 percent from the field (second in the country).

The experience and offensive efficiency of all four of these teams make them all capable of going far in the tournament. But then again, it’s March and anything is possible. 

M.K: Every year, the Final Four always has some assemblage of teams that not even the biggest sports fan could predict. Just look at last year, where the seventh seeded Connecticut Huskies took on the eighth seeded Kentucky Wildcats in the Championship Game. That is why I took an outside of the box approach for my predictions this year.

For the 2015 NCAA Tournament, my Final Four is Kentucky, Gonzaga, Maryland and Temple. Although the first rule of Bracketology is that there are no guarantees, Kentucky is easily a shoe-in to reach the Final Four. After finishing a perfect regular season with a record of 31-0, Kentucky has established itself as one of the most dominant teams in recent memory.

Gonzaga, led by Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, should also have few problems reaching the Final Four. The Bulldogs have only lost two games the entire year, one to Arizona and another to BYU. Maryland is my third selection because they are streaking heading into the tournament—success leading up to the tournament usually translates to winning in March. Guard Dez Wells has been playing some of the best basketball this past month and should continue his stellar play during the big dance.

Last, you have to pick a Cinderella team, and my hometown Temple Owls are mine. The experienced team has had little success in the tournament in recent past, but with a convincing win over No. 10 Kansas this season, I have a feeling that this is the year.