NCAA Tournament Bracket Picks and Analysis

Posted March 15, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

SOUTH

#1 Virginia over #16 UMBC: To refresh, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed, and it’s not happening here to the Cavaliers, who boast the nation’s strongest overall resume by a landslide.

#8 Creighton over #9 Kansas State: We like picking standout transfer Marcus Foster’s new school over his old school. The Blue Jays also enjoy a 2.5 point efficiency advantage.

#5 Kentucky over #12 Davidson: While this is the most likely 12 over 5 upset from a probability standpoint, this is a really bad matchup for Davidson, who ranks 27th nationally in three point field goal percentage and scores 42% of its points from beyond the arc (6th highest in the country). Kentucky’s three point defense is 3rd in the nation and will likely shut this down completely.

#4 Arizona over #13 Buffalo: This won’t be a blowout but the Wildcats are far too talented to let this one slip away and have shown defensive improvement over the last month.

#11 Loyola-Chicago over #6 Miami: This is by far the most likely 11 over 6 upset from an efficiency standpoint as Miami holds just a 0.5 point advantage. The Hurricanes will be without standout guard and future pro Bruce Brown here and figure to struggle against the Rambler defense, which is ranked 25th nationally. Loyola is also a 40% three point shooting team, has a win over Florida in Gainsville and hasn’t lost since January.

#3 Tennessee over #14 Wright State: This looks like by far the least likely 14 over 3 upset, with Wright State perplexingly overseeded.

#7 Nevada over #10 Texas: Nevada holds a 2.7 point efficiency advantage over the talented but inconsistent Longhorns but should pull this out behind the strength of their ball care, as they turn the ball over on a national low 13.6% of possessions.

#2 Cincinnati over #15 Georgia State: Ron Hunter has played Cinderella before, beating Baylor as a 14 seed two years ago. Expect them to give the offensively-challenged Bearcats all they can handle here before falling just short.

 

#1 Virginia over #8 Creighton: Creighton’s 22nd ranked offense would be a challenging second round draw for most teams, but the Blue Jays don’t guard well enough to keep pace against the best defensive squad of the modern era.

#5 Arizona over #4 Kentucky: This feels more like a National Championship game than a second round game. While the analytics point towards Kentucky here, Arizona seems the safer bet based on talent, and while their defensive efficiency numbers appear to be a red flag, they’ve improved massively over the last month.

#3 Tennessee over #11 Loyola-Chicago: The dream ends here for the upset-minded Ramblers against the nation’s 4th ranked defense and SEC player of the year Grant Williams.

#2 Cincinnati over #7 Nevada: To be clear, this is not the team that Cincinnati wants to see in this spot, as the 11th ranked Nevada offense figures to make some headway against the 2nd ranked defense of the Bearcats. It’s a risky upset pick due to the toss-up nature of Nevada’s first game, but a good reason to take Cincy out in the next round from a probability standpoint.

 

#1 Virginia over #4 Arizona: This could be the last team Virginia wants to see here, as the Wildcats have them beat on talent. But despite recent improvement, a defensive ranking in the 70s is a historical eliminator for picking a team much past this point, and something tells us that the pack-line defense of the Cavaliers will find an answer for the absolute monster that is DeAndre Ayton.

#3 Tennessee over #2 Cincinnati: While Cincinnati seems to be a bit of an analytics darling, we are undersold on their entire body of work. Matching up with a team that plays equally tough defense but scores more effectively will be their undoing.

 

#1 Virginia over #3 Tennessee: It’s finally time for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, who ride their stout defense and surgically efficient offense past a worn down Volunteer team who would be on the heels of having to face the nation’s top two defenses.

WEST

#1 Xavier over #16 Texas Southern: This isn’t impossible, as Xavier is overseeded from an efficiency standpoint and Mike Davis has plenty of tournament experience. But again, it’s never happened before and there is a 16 vs. 1 game that we believe has even more upset potential…and aren’t predicting that one either.

#9 Florida State over #8 Missouri: We’ll play contrarian here as the rest of the nation seems to swoon over the return of Michael Porter Jr in a game that is a total toss up in terms of the math. But Missouri will be without its second leading scorer and looked out of sync in Porter’s return at the SEC tourney.

#5 Ohio State over #12 South Dakota State: This will be a trendy upset pick and one well worth avoiding. The Buckeyes have been too solid defensively all year long to succumb to the one-dimensional South Dakota State attack. Look for Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop to neutralize Jackrabbit superstar Mike Daum on the interior as Ohio State wins this fairly easily.

#4 Gonzaga over UNC Greensboro: Disespected no more. Gonzaga is underseeded and dangerous in this tournament, and should cruise here behind their length and experience.

#6 Houston over San Diego State: This is likely to be another tempting upset pick after the Aztecs steamrolled their way to a Mountain West tournament championship. But don’t be fooled, Houston holds a 6.4 point efficiency advantage, played second seeded Cincinnati down to the last possession in their conference tourney championship and looks underseeded here by the metrics.

#3 Michigan over #14 Montana: This is a pretty tough draw for the red hot Wolverines, who face by far the toughest 14 seed and are coming off a two week break, and as a reward for winning could face an underseeded 6 seed in the next round. We’ll give them the edge based on their ability to take care of the basketball and maximize clean possessions, while discounting their chances to advance much further as a result of the draw.

#7 Texas A&M over #10 Providence: The Friars have the look of a “wise guy” team coming off a tough effort in the Big East tournament, beating Xavier in overtime and losing to Villanova in overtime in the championship. But their efficiency numbers would seem to indicate that they would have missed the tournament if things like RPI didn’t exist (one can dream.) As it stands, at 64th overall per KenPom, they are the lowest ranked at-large team in the dance that didn’t have a play-in game, and with an offense ranked outside the top 100, could struggle to score against the Aggies’ 12th ranked defense.

#2 North Carolina over #15 Lipscomb: The defending champions deal Lipscomb, who once beat Indiana at Assembly Hall, a brutal introduction in their first tournament appearance.

 

#1 Xavier over #9 Florida State: The Musketeers appear the most vulnerable 1 seed, but still hold a 6 point efficiency advantage over a Seminole squad that has been shaky against top competition.

#4 Gonzaga over #5 Ohio State: They played this game back in November, and Gonzaga won 86-59. Have the Buckeyes closed the gap that much since then? Playing this game in Boise won’t help their chances, and the Bulldogs carry a 3.8 point advantage in efficiency.

#3 Michigan over #6 Houston: This is actually the closest of the potential 3 vs. 6 matchups, with Michigan owning a relatively narrow 2.6 point efficiency advantage. But, using the same schedule strength argument we used against Cincinnati, we still wonder whether teams from the American Athletic are battle tested enough to knock off a top foe like this in the tournament.

#2 North Carolina over #2 Texas A&M: The balanced scoring attack of the Tarheels should be able to make headway here against a stout Aggie defense. It was impressive the way the defending champs spaced out the floor against the Duke zone and knocked down jump shots.

 

#4 Gonzaga over #1 Xavier: In a battle of previous mid-major programs, the experience and efficiency edge goes to Gonzaga, who amazingly gets to play this game closer to home than the top seeded team in the region. Xavier’s 60th ranked defense is a historical eliminator for a final four contender and it will struggle to contain Gonzaga’s balanced scoring attack that boasts an entire starting five averaging in double figures. All-name team contender Killian Tillie is a stretch four that can really light it up from outside (50.0% three point shooting percentage) and do some damage against a highly penetrable Xavier defense.

#2 North Carolina over #3 Michigan: In another rematch game, North Carolina is able to repeat the 86-71 drubbing it delivered in November. In all seriousness, Michigan’s improvement on defense likely makes this a much closer contest this time around, but a more experienced UNC backcourt makes the difference here. And again, Michigan’s likelihood of advancing this far are greatly less than the Tarheels, making this the correct pick from a probability standpoint.

 

#2 North Carolina over #4 Gonzaga: What a cool Elite 8 contest this would be in a rematch of last year’s National Championship. The teams look fairly evenly matched so we will side with the team that has the easier path to arrive here and expect a game that comes down to the wire. The Tarheels’ ability to crash the offensive glass (3rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage) versus the Bulldogs’ defensive rebounding ability (6th nationally) will be the battle that determines the game. Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Joel Berry all played large roles in last year’s championship run and are beginning to gel at the right time; UNC looks poised to take advantage of the tournament’s weakest region in route to their third straight trip to the Final Four.

EAST

#1 Villanova over Radford: Let’s not be ridiculous. With an explosive offense firing on all cylinders currently, this is not a #1 seed that you want to fade.

#8 Virginia Tech over Alabama: Alabama’s impressive run in the SEC conference tournament brought many aboard the Collin Sexton bandwagon. The lottery pick is the type of player that can take over a game and will his team to win. But the feeling here is that the love is a touch overblown and we will side with a Hokie squad that has wins against Duke, North Carolina and at Virginia, and owns a 2.8 point efficiency advantage in this contest, the largest of the 8-9 matchups that are usually closer to a toss up.

#5 West Virginia over #12 Murray State: The Racers have been hot lately, winning their last 13 games, but get a tough matchup here with the underseeded and defensive minded Mountaineers. This is probably our least favorite of the 5/12 upset possibilities.

#4 Witchita State over #13 Marshall: The Thundering Herd stands a real chance here against a Shocker defense that ranks outside the top 100 in efficiency. Witchita State has underachieved in a season that many believed would be their best ever, but has the talent to pull this one out. Expect it to be a bit too close for comfort, however.

#6 Florida over #11 St. Bonaventure: We are HARD sellers of this trendy upset pick. St. Bonaventure holds the honor of being the lowest ranked at-large team in the tournament in terms of efficiency, and wasn’t included in the field when our Bracketology was finalized based on their subpar body of work profile. Meanwhile, Florida looks underseeded in this spot, showing two wins over Kentucky, a win over Cincinnati and a win over Gonzaga in December. In fact, the 7.1 point efficiency edge that the Gators hold here is the largest of any 11/6 matchup.

#3 Texas Tech over Stephen F. Austin: The Red Raiders were one of the most surprising stories of the year. Despite struggling down the stretch as injuries lagged, they finished with the 3rd strongest defense in the country in terms of efficiency. Stephen F. Austin plays a rugged style and leads the nation in opponent turnovers per possession (25.6%!) by a wide margin and could make this interesting late, but we don’t see Texas Tech dropping this one. This should be a fun game between state opponents as the game is being played in Dallas.

#10 Butler over #7 Arkansas: This just seems like the type of game that Butler wins, weighting mental toughness above athleticism, and the efficiency stats give the Bulldogs a 2.2 point advantage. With a victory over Villanova to their credit, they’ve shown the ability to knock off the best when playing at full capacity.

#2 Purdue over #15 Cal State Fullerton: Senior leaders won’t let the Boilers drop this game, as they are poised for a deep run.

 

#1 Villanova over #8 Virginia Tech: This is a tough matchup for Villanova, as the Hokies have proven the ability to beat anyone on their best day. But Villanova is loaded with experienced players including likely player of the year Jalen Brunson, and boast the greatest offense in terms of efficiency in the modern era heading into the tournament. Virginia Tech struggles to contain opponents from the perimeter, ranking 142nd nationally, and may have met their match against the heavily perimeter oriented Wildcats.

#5 West Virginia over #4 Witchita State: West Virginia’s 39th ranked defense hasn’t been as stout as years past, but that’s nothing compared to the disappointment of the Witchita State defense this season. Just two years ago, the Shockers held the nation’s very best defense, and coming into this tournament, it ranks 109th. That’s quite a tumble! The more balanced Mountaineers have been challenged offensively at times this season but still rank 13th in offensive efficiency and should be able to score with ease in this one.

#6 Florida over #3 Texas Tech: The widespread hate for Florida is difficult to understand considering their resume. Texas Tech holds just a 3.2 point efficiency advantage in this one, one of the smallest of the potential 3 vs. 6 matchups, and comes limping into this tournament. The Red Raiders have lost five of their last seven and health questions abound regarding star All-American guard Keenan Evans. Florida is more than capable of beating the nation’s best on their day and we will give them a shot to pull the upset here. It’s worth nothing that preseason rankings, often one of the better tournament success predictors, had the Gators ranked 8th, and Texas Tech unranked.

#2 Purdue over #10 Butler: A very fun matchup in the Midwest town of Detroit features another early season rematch in which the Boilers prevailed 82-67 in Indianapolis. The stat that stands out here is that the Boilers own the best three point percentage in the tournament field, while the Bulldogs rank 295th nationally in three point percentage defense. Purdue should have a field day from deep.

 

#1 Villanova over #5 West Virginia: Villanova’s three point rate, or the percentage of their three point attempts relative to their total field goal attempts, has been high to a worrisome level for the past several seasons. However, they bucked that trend in winning the 2016 championship while relying heavily on the three. This year’s team is far more accurate than that team was (39.8% vs. 36.2%) and West Virginia’s three point defense ranks 296th nationally. Against a West Virginia team that likes to press, Villanova’s ability to take care of the basketball (7th nationally on a per possession basis) is a huge difference maker here.

#2 Purdue over #6 Florida: The balance and experience of the Boilermakers, not to mention their 2nd ranked offense, figures to get the best of the Gators here. This is yet another opponent that doesn’t match up well against Purdue’s ability to knock down threes; Florida ranks 216th nationally in three point defense.

 

#1 Villanova over #2 Purdue: We’ve been looking for an angle all week to justify picking Purdue to win here, but just simply cannot see it happening. In a matchup showcasing the nation’s two best offenses, Villanova’s seems so much more explosive and athletic, and while both defenses have struggled against higher quality opponents, Purdue really seemed to play down to their competition late in the season. They may not know what hits them here, and Villanova is the rare team that can match up with Purdue’s experience and defend their three point attack (45th nationally in three point percentage defense).

MIDWEST

#1 Kansas over #16 Pennsylvania: We’re not going to go out on a very risky limb and predict the impossible here. We’ll just point out that this matchup is a total nightmare for Kansas. Aside from facing perhaps the strongest 16 seed in recent memory (128th in KenPom which is ahead of 14th seeded Wright State), the Jayhawks also face one that takes away their strengths. Kansas scores 37% of their points from three point range, and Penn is the single best team in the tournament at defending the three. Add in the fact that the Kansas interior is likely depleted due to injury to starting center Udoka Azubuike, which means they will be even more dependent on perimeter shooting than usual, and….let’s just say you will want to tune in for this one.

#8 Seton Hall over #9 NC State: Seton Hall is the highest rated 8 seed in terms of efficiency (27th) and holds a 2.2 point edge in this game. All of these evenly matched 8-9 games start to become exhausting to try to predict so in this case, that’s good enough for us.

#12 New Mexico State over #5 Clemson: Here it is! The lone 12 over 5 upset… because, ya know, there has to be at least one and it’s no fun at all to pick a bracket without trying to guess it. The reasons for this pick are three fold. For one, Clemson finds a matchup here against a similarly defensive-minded team (8th vs. 15th nationally in defensive efficiency). Also, importantly, the Tigers have struggled down the stretch, losing four of their last seven after losing second leading scorer and rebounder Donte Grantham. Finally, the banged up Tigers have to travel to San Diego an play a virtual road game here.

#4 Auburn over #13 Charleston: According to the numbers, this is the most likely 13 over 4 upset, and Auburn has certainly struggled down the stretch, dealing with injuries after overachieving for much of the season. We’ll hedge this possibility by taking out the Tigers next round but don’t want to go too crazy with side by side upsets.

#6 TCU over #11 Syracuse: TCU really isn’t getting enough credit. Ranked 22nd nationally in overall efficiency, this is a team that can really light it up from three (40.0%, 13th nationally). Syracuse shouldn’t be playing in this game (they shouldn’t have even been in the last four out of the tournament) and Jamie Dixon has seen the Syracuse zone many times in his years at Pittsburgh and had success against it. The Horned Frogs shoot it well enough to roll here.

#3 Michigan State over #14 Bucknell: Don’t look for a repeat of the Middle Tennessee upset here. The Spartans are back, and they are loaded, and possibly even better than the team that lost in the first round inexplicably two years ago as the tournament favorite.

#10 Oklahoma over #7 Rhode Island: First thing’s first- Oklahoma absolutely deserves to be in this tournament based on their wins and collective body of work. In fact, we’d even argue they are underseeded, so there! The bottom line is that Trae Young is the best scorer and passer in the tournament and now this team has a chip on its shoulder and faces an overseeded Rhode Island team that lost to some really bad opponents late in the year. End of rant.

#2 Duke over #15 Iona: Duke has the #3 offense in the nation. Iona has the #214 defense in the nation. Any questions?

 

#1 Kansas over #8 Seton Hall: We really wish we liked any of the other teams in the upper quadrant of this region enough to take Kansas out early. The truth is that if the Jayhawks emerge victorious from a very tough first round game they are liable to walk into the Elite 8. Seton Hall poses a formidable inside presence but won’t be able to contain the Kansas backcourt.

#12 New Mexico State over #4 Auburn: New Mexico State got a really great draw here to get to play two injury-ridden squads so close to home, and there’s always a double digit seed in the Sweet 16, so it might as well be this one. Auburn hasn’t been the same since losing center Anfernee McLemore to a dislocated ankle, dropping four of their last six. Auburn was already 163rd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage before the injury and would face a team ranked 11th in offensive rebounding percentage. That’s a horrible matchup.

#3 Michigan State over #6 TCU: This should actually be a closer game than most expect, as the Spartans would hold just a 7.3 point advantage in terms of efficiency. However, that’s still good for the largest advantage amongst potential 3 vs 6 games, and TCU’s ranking outside the top 100 in defense doesn’t exactly lend heavily towards upset potential against the nation’s 9th best effective field goal percentage.

#2 Duke over #10 Oklahoma: Trae Young may cut up the Duke zone here a bit and put on the show everyone wants to see, but the Sooners simply don’t have the horses around him to keep up with the nation’s most talented team. The ride ends here for Oklahoma.

 

#1 Kansas over #12 New Mexico State: See what we mean about Kansas? If they get this far, you can’t possibly pick them to lose. It’s either lose first round, or pencil them in to the Elite Eight. But no further…

#3 Michigan State over #2 Duke: Full disclosure- before the bracket was announced, this was our choice for the National Championship game. If it seems ridiculous to create a bracket with the potential of the nation’s two most talented teams meeting before the Elite Eight, then you aren’t giving enough credit to the most perennially incompetent individuals assembled annually as the NCAA Selection Committee. Nevertheless, if this happens, this is the game of the tournament, and the winner takes the whole thing. So, this is an important pick. It’s another rematch game, as Duke defeated Michigan State back in November by a score 0f 88-82. Amazingly, Tom Izzo is now a shocking 1-11 in games against Duke and Coach K, but we feel this is the spot for the tables to turn. Duke’s defense has improved massively since switching to zone, but Michigan State is not a team that you want to play a zone against. The Spartans are 4th nationally in three point field goal percentage and 24th nationally in two point field goal percentage. Simply put, this isn’t a team that misses open shots, and even when they do, they corral 35.0% of their misses, which is good for 4th in the nation. Duke actually leads in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (37.9%) but Big Ten defensive player of the year Jaren Jackson Jr. may be able to frustrate the manchild Marvin Bagley Jr. on both sides of the ball and take him out of his game a bit. Spartan shooting guard Cassius Winston is the sharpest three point shooter in the tournament, finishing the season at an insane 52.6% from beyond the arc. If Duke tries to go zone here they are liable to be torn apart, and switching defenses may create rhythm issues. This could go either way but Sparty has a slim edge here from a matchup perspective.

 

#3 MICHIGAN STATE over #1 Kansas: This should be a great backcourt battle but if Kansas gets this far, their time is up. Defensively, the Jayhawks sit dangerously close to the dreaded 50 line in efficiency, while Michigan State is one of two teams to be top 10 on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The other is Duke. Again, what was the committee thinking even making that game a possibility so early in the tournament?

FINAL FOUR

#1 VIRGINIA over #2 North Carolina: These teams have played twice already this season, and Virginia has won handily both times. It’s difficult to beat a team three times in one year, but Virginia simply seems to have North Carolina’s number here. It will be ironic indeed to see a Virginia team that on paper doesn’t look nearly as strong as the Malcolm Brogdon or Justin Anderson teams did make it this far. But this is a team that doesn’t turn the ball over and dictates the pace in a style that has been perfected. The Anaconda marches on.

#3 MICHIGAN STATE over #1 Villanova: For as much as we have discussed three point defense, a more important statistic in terms of championship teams has historically been two point defense. Michigan State leads the nation in that category by a wide margin, surrendering only an astonishing 38.4% mark to its opponents over an entire season. (No other team is below 40%). Defense makes the difference here against an admittedly formidable offense. Villanova, on the other hand, has struggled at times defensively, and ranks just 151st nationally in this same statistic.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

#3 MICHIGAN STATE over #1 Virginia: Redemption for the Big Ten and Tom Izzo here, in a game that will be low scoring and defensive. Michigan State simply has more playmakers, and that will be the difference in a game that features the nation’s 1st and 3rd ranked two point defenses. Another stat that jumps out here is that as strong as Virginia is defensively, they aren’t exactly dominant on the boards, ranking just 54th in offensive rebounding percentage. The Spartans prevail 60-53 with late free throws and a few very big second chance put backs and scoring opportunities.

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Bracketology

Posted March 11, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

SOUTH EAST
1 VIRGINIA VILLANOVA
2 MICHIGAN North Carolina
3 West Virginia GONZAGA
4 Auburn Texas Tech
5 ARIZONA Florida
6 Miami Virginia Tech
7 Arkansas Kansas State
8 St. Mary’s Houston
9 Texas Oklahoma
10 Creighton Nevada
11 Alabama/ Providence Butler/ Baylor
12 DAVIDSON MARSHALL
13 UNC GREENSBORO BUCKNELL
14 GEORGIA STATE MONTANA
15 CS FULLERTON IONA
16 NC CENTRAL/ STEPHEN F AUSTIN LIU BROOKLYN/ TEXAS SOUTHERN

 

WEST MIDWEST
1 Xavier KANSAS
2 Purdue Duke
3 CINCINNATI Michigan State
4 Clemson Tennessee
5 KENTUCKY Witchita State
6 Texas A&M Ohio State
7 Florida State Tcu
8 NC State Seton Hall
9 Oklahoma State NEW MEXICO STATE
10 Rhode Island Louisville
11 Missouri LOYOLA CHICAGO
12 BUFFALO SAN DIEGO STATE
13 MURRAY STATE SOUTH DAKOTA ST
14 WRIGHT STATE CHARLESTON
15 HARVARD LIPSCOMB
16 RADFORD UMBC

INDIANA BASKETBALL MOMENTS- The Best and Worst Since The Last Championship

Posted February 24, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

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THE MOST MEMORABLE WINS

#10: Indiana 87, San Diego State 83, 2006

Mike Davis was on his way out, but this one was quite sweet even as the program looked to restructure, blissfully unaware of what the future what hold only a ahort three years later after a disastrous hire. Nevertheless, after being outplayed for much of the game and trailing 83-82 with 40 seconds to go, Marshall Stickland made a great defensive play that resulted in an over-and-back call on the Aztecs. After the timeout, Robert Vaden drained a three to give the Hoosiers an 85-83 lead that they would not relinquish. Although they would go on to lose to Gonzaga two nights later, this win felt fantastic coming off of two consecutive tourney absences, the first time that had happened since the last championship. We would get our revenge on Gonzaga in the first round the following year, but it would be a painful five year wait until the next tournament win.

#9: Indiana 63, VCU 61, 2012

This was, for the most part, a wild, frustrating game against a tough defensive squad in VCU that created a season high 22 turnovers and led this game by 9 points on two separate occassions. Thanks to the tempo of the game going against the Hoosiers’ preferences, such a deficit seemed almost insurmountable. However, on the first occassion, near the end of the half, Christian Watford was able to rattle off two three pointers and convert on an and-one to bring us back, and later in the game, we were able to hang around just close enough. Trailing by 3 with under a minute and with VCU at the line, Victor Oladipo, in a moment that would foreshadow what was to come the following season, grabbed the rebound and went coast to coast, and converted on a tying three point play. VCU ran the shot clock down on the next possession but solid IU defense forced a contested three, which Oladipo again grabbed, pushed back up the floor and passed (or had his shot blocked, but whatever) to Will Sheehey, who spotted up and drained an easy 12 foot jumper with just under 13 seconds to play. VCU had an open look for the win, but another three point miss was hauled in by the Hoosiers, who were off to their first Sweet 16 in ten years, and were officially, once and for all, back.

#8: Indiana 59- Michigan State 58, 2001

This was the defining moment of Mike Davis’ first full year at the helm, as the Hoosiers knocked off the #1 ranked Michigan State Spartans. It was the first #1 ranked team Indiana had beaten since 1993 when they knocked off the hated Kentucky Wildcats. However, this game provided a brief sigh of relief for fans still enraged by Bob Knight’s firing. Trailing by two with the ball, Davis drew up a play to go for the win rather than send the game into overtime at home, a plan that could have easily backfired. Instead, junior Kirk Haston knocked down a three pointer at the buzzer and bedlam ensued as fans stormed the court. Probably the most memorable aspect of this moment, however, was Davis’ reaction, as he dropped to his knees in a combination of relief, disbelief, and probably thankful prayer.

#7: Indiana 76- Michigan 75, 1989

It is easy to forget what a great player Jay Edwards was in his brief time with the Hoosiers, but this was the defining moment of his career. Trailing by two against a Michigan team that would go on to win the National Championship that year, Edwards just barely beat the clock on a three pointer that was nothing but net, and Indiana walked away with a huge victory. This might be the only victory where Coach Knight showed so much genuine emotion at the moment the shot went in; it was a rare occasion indeed to see the General jumping up and down after a win. When I met Edwards a few years back at a bar in the South Loop, I immediately mentioned that this game was one of the high points of my entire childhood, and told him how upset I was when he decided to leave after his sophomore season. He admitted that he regretted that decision, and had nothing but good things to say about Knight.

#6: Indiana 73- Kentucky 67, 2016

Any time you beat Kentucky, it’s a big deal, but this time it was in the tournament, and it was a bigger deal. The hard fought win advanced the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 for the third time in five seasons under coach Tom Crean, and provided some revenge against the rival that put them out of the 2013 tournament in route to their own national title. It was a fitting final win for legendary point guard Yogi Ferrell, who would graduate with two big ten championships and two Sweet 16 appearances. My reaction after this win, several beers deep, could best de described as profanely taunting the television screen and Kentucky players before falling backwards into a table of unsuspecting bar-goers. There were no last second shot heroics necessary here, as the Hoosiers advanced behind a thoroughly solid performance from a team led by its senior point guard before falling to eventual national runner-up North Carolina the following weekend.

#5: Indiana 73- Oklahoma 64, 2002

Does everyone remember how overmatched Indiana was coming into this game? I can’t think of a single analyst that picked them, and for good reason; Oklahoma was many people’s choice to win it all, and Indiana was coming in as a big underdog and seeded #5 in the South Regional. But those of us who believed knew that the Hoosiers had one last miracle left in them during their furious charge to the championship game in 2002. Worthy of note is the fact that Indiana actually trailed by four at the half, but went 8-13 from three point land on the game, a statistic that was key to their success throughout their tournament run. Over a decade later, it is still tough to believe we were heading to the National Championship for the sixth time in history following this unlikely upset. I found myself laying on top of a stranger’s car screaming “We’re in the Final Game!” and I don’t think they were even upset by it.

#4: Indiana 106- UCLA 79, 1992

Bob Knight didn’t know it at the time, but after winning this game, he would make his last trip to the Final Four. Only five years removed from a championship, this was still an incredibly difficult game for a young but talented Indiana team that was just hitting its stride. UCLA had easily beaten the Hoosiers in the preseason, but IU turned the tables this time, and blasted the Bruins 106-79 after putting up a whopping 62 points in the second half. I was in Orlando, Florida with my family visiting Disney World, and I couldn’t ever remember having more fun watching an IU game at any point in my life up to that point. The combination of the significance of the game, the decisiveness of the win, and the fact that I didn’t expect a win in the first place make this game one of the most memorable. It is worthy to note that in November of the same season, the Bruins crushed the Hoosiers, which made turning the tables in such decisive fashion with a trip to the Final Four on the line even more sweet.

#3: Indiana 72- Michigan 71, 2013

It was a very tough call to put this victory ahead of tournament wins that put us in the National Championship and Final Four respectively, but the circumstances of this game and the amount of years it had taken to realize what this win accomplished (20) places it higher on this list simply because of the two decade drought it watered. In 1992, Indiana had been to the Final Four just five years earlier, and the trip to the Final Game in 2002 broke a 15 year drought. But this improbable, heart-stopping win over Michigan clinched the Big Ten regular season title outright for the first time in 20 years, and was the ultimate coronation for a group of players and coaches that had been through hell and literally went from the bottom to the top in what was arguably the strongest edition of the Big Ten conference in its storied history. Trailing by five points with under a minute left, the Hoosiers took advantage of two front end misses at the line by the Wolverines, and played smart, efficient offense. Cody Zeller scored the final six points for the one point win as the team efficiently exploited the mismatch down low in the final minute. Zeller also hit two crucial free throws before hitting the shot that would be the eventual game winner. To add to the drama, Michigan had two very legitimate shots to win game, trailing by one with under ten seconds to play. All-American point guard Trey Burke’s runner missed long, but Jordan Morgan’s tip in rolled in and around the rim for what seemed like an eternity before sweet gravity finally overcame it and Christian Watford came up with the game-saving rebound. I haven’t reacted to a win this wildly, well, maybe ever. As the years pass, it will probably be forgotten that these Hoosiers had the chance to clinch the outright conference title on their home court on senior night against an Ohio State team they had beaten handily in Columbus just three weeks earlier. Indiana lost that game, but cut the nets down anyway. And it was only fitting that a group that stuck together and endured such misery in its first few years together would have to earn this the hard way on the road in Ann Arbor in the most unlikely fashion conceivable.

#2: Indiana 73- Kentucky 72, 2011

In terms of pure shock value, this should probably be number one. Coming off a ten win season, the unranked and overlooked Hoosiers battled the top-ranked and eventual National Champion Kentucky Wildcats in Assembly Hall. Behind a raucous, rejuvinated home crowd, the Hoosiers built a ten point lead midway through the second half behind hot shooting, smart passing and solid defense. Outmatched from a talent perspective, Indiana would give away that double digit lead late as they failed to get stops down the stretch and the offense turned cold. After hitting two free throws, Kentucky held a two point lead with under ten seconds to play, and had fouls to give. In a mental lapse, they failed to get that foul to stop the clock, and Verdell Jones split the defense before unselfishly dishing the ball to a trailing Christian Watford, who knocked down a three pointer at the buzzer for the win. Bedlam ensued  on the court, and Indiana was officially back. We would lose a hard fought offensive onslaught to this same rival in the Sweet 16 round of the tournament three months later, but there is no way to measure the impact that this win had on the program. It was a preseason game that should have had no real bearing on the future trajectory of the team, but instead, it instilled a confidence and left a legacy that will likely never be forgotten. The Hoosiers would go on to knock off another top ranked team at home in the weeks that followed, and carried its momentum into the tournament for its first Sweet 16 appearance in a decade.

#1: Indiana 74- Duke 73, 2002

This was the game that I will always remember most of any game I have ever seen Indiana play. The win here catapulted the Hoosiers into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993 in stunning fashion over the #1 team in the country. At the time, we were all happy just be back in the Sweet Sixteen, and didn’t hold much hope for a win, especially after falling behind 26-8 early. But what made this game so special was the way that we came back; slowly but surely, we chipped away at the lead with threes and smart inside play, and all of a sudden, we were only down by one point with five minutes to play, and then it hit me- we could actually steal this game! The very thought was almost too much to bear, but inched closer to reality when Tom Coverdale hit a layup to take a 72-70 lead with under a minute to play. It was almost happening too quickly to comprehend, but there it was, clear as day- if Duke didn’t score again, Indiana would win the game in an astonishing comeback. But I’d watched way too many IU games over the years to come anywhere near celebration mode quite yet, so instead I braced for the final seconds, which passed like an eternity.

The drama was at full throttle. After we got a huge defensive stop, a near over-and-back on the inbounds saved by Dane Fife resulted in a fortunate foul call on Duke. A.J. Moye knocked down two free throws, and with 11 seconds to play, IU led 74-70. Now, the celebration could begin, right? Not so fast. Any other coach would have essentially pulled his team off the court at this point, but not Davis- the team played defense way too aggressively after failing to retrieve the offensive rebound on Duke’s first missed three and fouled the nation’s best player, Jason Williams, as he drained a three with 4 seconds remaining. Williams, a 90% free throw shooter, needed only to make one free throw to send the game into overtime, which to me would have meant almost certain defeat for the Hoosiers. I was absolutely beside myself, sick to my stomach, but what happened next was nearly an even worse scenario. Somehow, Williams missed the free throw, but in a horrific development, Carlos Boozer out-rebounded Jared Jeffries and threw up a desperation shot that was well within the realm of his accuracy. Now instead of overtime, we were looking at losing the game outright in regulation!! The time that it took for the ball to leave Boozer’s hand until it banked out of the hoop must have taken a year, and Jeff Newton pulled down the rebound as time expired. Then, bedlam set in, as we realized that it was actually, finally, over, and the first of many celebrations on Kirkwood Avenue that spring was the most memorable moment of my senior year, and of the last 25 Indiana seasons. Ironically, it is the same score that gave Indiana their last national title in 1987 over Syracuse in an equally enthralling finish.

THE MOST GUTWRENCHING LOSSES (watch if you can bear)

#10: Ohio State 80, Indiana 78, 2018

In the grand scheme of things, this loss was meaningless. The Hoosiers were looking at an NIT berth at best without winning the Big Ten tournament, which was a highly unlikely proposition. But for this to happen on senior night, in double overtime, in a game where the suddenly scrappy Hoosiers had played so well, it was a real heartbreaker. Both overtimes were back and forth affairs that featured several lead changes. Indiana found itself with the ball, trailing by one with 15 seconds remaining. A smartly designed play featured leading scorer Juwan Morgan backing down to towards the hoop for an easy layup to take the lead. They left 7 seconds on the clock though, which was enough for C.J. Jackson to knock down a game-winning three from beyond NBA range. In a season where Indiana had held late second half leads against top ten teams like Duke, Purdue and Michigan State, this was just yet another instance where they came up just short. They missed a LOT of free throws (ten), too, which always hurts in double overtime.

#9: Charlotte 74 , Indiana 73, 2004

This is what we refer to as a “sky-is-falling” loss. Not only was the fact that the refs allowed this halfcourt shot to count utter and complete bullshit, but the shot effectively ended the season for the Hoosiers before it had even begun. Three days before Christmas, we were an unimaginable 2-6 and on a six game losing streak. Indiana would ultimately miss the tournament for the second straight year, which was an absolute abomination considering the prior year’s absence was the first since I had ever watched or cared about them. I still watch this replay in anger waiting for the officials to reverse the call all these years later. What ended up making this loss even worse is that the team rallied in the Big Ten season, going 10-6 to finish 4th, but it was too little too late. I have always argued that had this game been rightly awarded as a Hoosier victory, we would have made the tournament that year. The differences between a 15-13 and a 16-12 record are vast. (Don’t ask me why they only played 11 non-conference games, and a first round thrashing at the hands of Minnesota in the Big Ten Tourney didn’t help either.)

#8: Iowa 62, Indiana 60, 2002

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I had to do a bit of research to recall why exactly this was as painful as it was. The way I had remembered it, IU had lost to Iowa in the 2001 Big Ten Championship on a last second shot by Luke Recker. But that’s not how it happened. In 2001, (our only appearance in the Big Ten title game in 15 tries), we led most of the game but it gave way late, and it was actually Kirk Haston who had a potential game winning three point shot blocked. That’s what made this game so much infinitely worse, even though it was only a semifinal contest the second time around. Former Indiana Mr. Basketball Luke Recker, who had made the unprecedented move of transfering from the Hoosiers to an interconference rival, sank a three pointer at the buzzer. Not only did the Hawkeyes put us down for the second straight year, this time, they had done it with one of our own. Absolutely brutal. This one would rank much higher were it not for the fact that the loss apparently lit a fire in this team that made my senior year of college a pretty fun spring after all…

#7: Illinois 74, Indiana 72, 2013

Admittedly, at the time, this loss seemed to be more brutal than it actually was. In fact, one could argue the utterly brutal specifics of this loss lit a fire under this team that would lead to successive road wins against much tougher teams in Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. The team was on its way to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and an outright Big Ten Championship despite the outcome here. But with the bitterness of the rivalry between these two schools still fresh despite Bruce Weber’s departure, this was an incredibly tough pill to swallow for die-hard fans. I for one didn’t sleep for at least a couple of days. While everyone wanted to talk about how utterly horrendous our defense was on the last play, that has never been a sticking point with me. We were going to get destroyed in overtime anyway with the way the momentum was shifting. But to control an entire game by double digits, and then to play as though we were trailing while up ten, throwing up quick, ill-advised shots and giving up easy jump shots on the other end, was particularly stomach-churning. The fact of the matter is, no one should have been talking about the last shot, because the last shot should have never  happened. Indiana had the ball with the shot clock turned off and a tie game. That should mean overtime in a worst case scenario. Instead, Victor Oladipo, in perhaps the only mistake he would make in his entire junior season, saw a lane and tried to go behind his back to get there, only to be picked by D.J. Richardson. To his credit, Oladipo made a tremendous play to get back after the steal and make what should have been a game saving block. Then, with under a second left, the above happened.

#6: Maryland 64- Indiana 52, 2002

In all honesty, this loss didn’t devastate me as much as it should have, because I had a feeling that my beloved Hoosiers were about to be exposed. But it was obviously a sad feeling when the ride of the 2002 tourney ended with a loss one game short of a championship. They just didn’t have enough depth to knock off another superior opponent once the threes stopped falling. However, this was the first time Indiana had ever lost in a title game in six tries, and it has to make the list just due to the sheer magnitude of the game. Also, we did have the ball when game was tied with just under ten minutes to play, so we had a real chance to pull the upset in this one.

#5: Wisconsin 68- Indiana 66, 2008

What made this game even worse than the outcome would suggest is that this was also the day that the Kelvin Sampson allegations hit. Indiana was coming off huge back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Purdue, and would be in control of the Big Ten with a victory. The game was tightly contested all the way through, with over a dozen lead changes. Sampson was still at the helm at this point, and the Hoosiers clung to a 66-65 lead with ten seconds left, Wisconsin ball. It seemed that the call would be to go inside for an easy two, but instead, Brian Butch, the only polar bear that I have ever disliked, threw up a deep three-pointer that somehow banked into the hoop. Indiana had a chance to go back ahead, but a hurried three rimmed out, and deflation set in. One could argue that it was the single turning point for that promising season, the moment when the music stopped on one of the most talented teams to ever put on the Candy Stripes.

#4: Illinois 70- Indiana 67, 1989

In 1989, the Big Ten boasted three of the nation’s top five teams throughout the season, and games like this one really were the true glory days of the conference. Trailing 67-65, Indiana went to its star, Jay Edwards, who hit an improbable jumper from behind the backboard, seemingly as time expired to put the game into overtime, and with the crowd and momentum on the Hoosiers’ side. But, before the days of replay or tenths of seconds on the scoreboard, the officials had to rely on their own judgment, and in this case, that meant giving Illinois the ball with one second left. For some reason, Knight chose not to defend the inbounds pass, which turned out to be a perfect one directly to Nick Anderson, who was still well behind the three point line. Anderson had a enough time to catch, plant his feet and throw up a perfect 30-plus foot jumpshot that hit nothing but net as time expired. Ugh.

#3: Minnesota 59- Indiana 58, 2008

As bad as the Wisconsin game had been earlier in the year, this was much worse, coming in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals. The Sampson fiasco had played itself out, and Dan Dakich was running a team that clearly didn’t want to play for him. I’ve seen many frustrating losses to the Golden Gophers over the years, mostly when we had ten point leads with under two minutes to play (that happened twice under Davis), but this one takes the cake because we played poorly and trailed the entire game. Until the last few seconds, that is. That’s when trailing by two with 3 seconds left after a made free throw, Eric Gordon intentionally missed the second in a manner so perfect that D.J. White went up and grabbed the rebound and put the ball back up to tie the game at 57. White was also fouled on the play, which meant that IU now had a chance to win the game! He missed the free throw, but recovered his own rebound and was fouled again. He drained one of the two free throws, and somehow, Indiana had a one point lead, and only needed to play good enough defense to stop Minnesota for 1.5 seconds. The ball flew like a laser beam through three Indiana defenders and through the only possible path to Blake Hoffarber’s wretched little hands. He threw the ball up so quickly that I could hardly even believe that he had caught it, much less believe that the ball was now making its way to the center of the rim and through the net for the Minnesota win. My Hoosiers, once a Final Four favorite in 2008, were then royally screwed by the selection committee and given a #8 seed despite their 25-7 record, and after all of that, lost without much of a fight in the first round to #9 seeded Arkansas. The mass exodus that followed would result in the never-to-be-mentioned 6-25 season next year, but this shot is the moment of that season that completely defined rock bottom. What could be worse than that?

#2: Syracuse 61- Indiana 50, 2013

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I neglected to even post a video for this game, as the above image pretty much explains it all, and it isn’t exactly the sort of game that features any watchable late game dramatics. Simply put, it was ugly, and the final score doesn’t even do true justice to how completely outplayed and out-coached we were here in this Sweet 16 exit. Tom Crean simply had no plan to adjust to the Syracuse zone, and on a night when the outside shots weren’t falling, partly due to senior guard Jordan Hulls’ hand injury, the best offense in the nation had no answers. Syracuse was like an anaconda that slowly squeezed the life out of a Hoosier team that picked the wrong night to put up its lowest offensive production of the entire season, a season they spent most of as the top ranked team in the land. It was as disappointing a loss since the last time an Indiana team had lost before the Final Four as a #1 seed 20 years prior…(see below)

#1: Kansas 83- Indiana 77, 1993

This was actually a tough call, but when I look back over the last 25 seasons, no loss was more painful to take than this one. Coming off a Final Four season in 1992, the 1993 Hoosiers returned all five starters and were ranked the #1 team in the nation heading into the tournament, something than even the 1987 champions could not say. Hopes for a national title were high after a 17-1 Big Ten campaign, but star power forward Alan Henderson’s knee injury prevented him from contributing in the regional final against a pesky Kansas team that had beaten the Hoosiers earlier in the year. Those Jayhawks once again proved too tough for the depleted but determined Big Red, and the most promising season since the last national title ended without even making an appearance in the Final Four. Looking back on that season, I’m not sure we would have won the championship anyway, as Kentucky had also beaten us already, Michigan had the fab five (although we beat them twice in Big Ten play) and North Carolina had it all. But still, it would have been nice to have a chance with a healthy, experienced team, especially considering that Kansas would lose to the eventual champion Tarheels in the semifinal. I still haven’t gotten over this one.

The 10 Best Pork Dishes in Chicago

Posted February 20, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Eats

I live in Chicago. I love pork. There are lots of great pork dishes in Chicago, and that makes me very happy. Here are the ten best, in alphabetical order!

AVEC: Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder (Tuscan kale, gigante bean ribolitta, apple and pecorino cheese)

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BELLY Q: Roasted Pork Butt (curry bbq, Asian giardiniera)

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ENTENTE: Berkshire Pork (savoy, mustards, pastrami spiced pork belly, smoked rye)

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GILT BAR: Slow Roasted Pork Belly (grits, cider jus, parsley)

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GIRL AND THE GOAT: Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face (sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine maple, potato stix)

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PROXI: Slagel Farm Pork Porterhouse (mushroom escabeche, coal roasted onion soubise)

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THE PUBLICAN: Slagel Farm Porchetta (paprika broth, Nicoise olive, pecorino and breadcrumb)

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THE PURPLE PIG: Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder (mashed potatoes, puffed farro)

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ROISTER: Pork Butt (dark and stormy glaze, red peas, fried pecans)

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SMOQUE: Smoked Pulled Pork (baked beans, cole slaw)

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Woodinville Tasting Recap

Posted January 11, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Vino

About a 30 minute drive east of Seattle, the cozy town of Woodinville offers a magnificent getaway for lovers of food and wine. The Willows Lodge is the place to stay, as it is positioned midway between some twenty tasting rooms and a dozen restaurants, all close enough to travel on foot. The late autumn trip we took offered a chance to take in the colors of the season and to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace. With great farm to table dining options such as the Barking Frog and Purple Cafe nearby, it’s hard to go wrong for a long weekend trip.

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The milk-braised pork short rib at Purple Cafe and Wine Bar is to die for, and pairs perfectly with the Sparkman Syrah Untamed 2014 (91 Points, $35), an impressive value wine available right next door. The staff happily opened it for us without a corkage fee. 

For those who love to seek to taste as many wines as possible such as myself, the ability to walk from tasting room to tasting room without ever needing to drive is a dream come true. Be warned that this isn’t exactly wine country- there are no vineyards here and no wine production occurs on the premises- but the massive collection of tasting rooms offers a great opportunity to sample high end wines without making a four hour trek to Walla Walla Valley, and the scenery doesn’t disappoint either.

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The view off the back lobby at Willows Lodge is a picture of serenity, as late autumn colors abound.

For drinkers, Washington wine offers an alternative to the somewhat over saturated (and overpriced) California wine market. Often times those with a keen palate will be able to locate standout offerings in this region at less than half the price of their highly sought after neighbors to the south. There’s a substantial difference in terroir and flavor profile here as well, thanks in large part to the cooler temperatures and forest soils, and some may find this style preferable and more complex. I was able to taste 75 wines in somewhat of a whirlwind two day adventure here. I’ve decided to count down my Top 10 favorites, using my typical combination that considers both price and quality. Spoiler alert: There’s a LOT of Syrah.

Honorable Mention:

DeLille Syrah Grand Ciel Red Mountain 2013, 92 Points, $68: Black fruit, leather and herbs on the nose. Velvety body of blackberry and black cherry that carry an herbal edge are layered above deeply complex undertones of briar, violet and orange peel, lingering long on a black pepper spice note. Lots going on here through the long finish. Texture is weightless relative to the overall power.

#10:

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A seated tasting at the shared Pepper Bridge and Amavi tasting room is a great way to start the day.

Pepper Bridge Trine Walla Walla Valley 2013, 92 Points, $65: Inky purple fruit and leather aromas above hints of herb and cedar. Velvety body of dark plum and black cherry above complex undertones of rosemary, thyme and minty cedar. Finishes with a blast of dark chocolate. Silky but powerful through the long finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec.

#9:

Bookwalter Conflict Columbia Valley 2013, 92 Points, $60: Deep, intense and perfumey aromas of wild berry, underbrush and cedar. Full-bodied, rich and spicy, with acidic red cherry, raspberry backed by briar, herbs and cracked pepper through the long, long finish. The texture is amazing. One of the most sustained finishes on this entire tasting trip, but that finish is all herbs and briar. Unique. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

#8:

Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills 2015, 92 Points, $55: Cedar, wet limestone and black currants on the nose. Silky and deep on the palate, with elegant blackberry and dark plum fruit notes above toasty vanilla and milk chocolate notes. Supple and substantial, with baking spices adding complexity through the long finish.

#7:

Gorman Cabernet Sauvignon The Bully  Red Mountain 2013, 90 Points, $50: Shows some cool climate influences on the nose, with olive, cedar and wet rock above black currant aromas. Silky and elegant, with explosive blackberry and dark plum above cracked pepper, cocoa, cedar and tobacco. Spices linger long underneath.

#6:

DeLille Metier Yakima Valley 2014, 92 Points, $46: Ripe red berry and smoke on the nose with a hint of an herbal tinge. Ultra-silky and approachable, with a pure core of raspberry pie and red plum that picks up complex undertones of white pepper spice, clove, bacon fat and rosemary. Long, zesty finish. This cries for food as cracked pepper lingers for minutes. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

#5:

Gorman Syrah The Pixie Red Mountain 2013, 92 Points, $45: Rich aromas of purple fruit and brown sugar. Big and ripe up front, with fig, licorice and blackberry above smoked meat, leather and black pepper. This is chewy and powerful, my kind of Syrah. Long, intense finish. Thick and tannic, with dusty mocha creeping in late.

#4:

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Fun with friends at the shared Januik and Novelty Hill tasting room, where you can pair pizza with the top notch Syrah and Cabernet offerings, all while watching the football game. 

Januik Syrah Ciel du Cheval  Red Mountain 2014, 92 Points, $35: Huge aromas of smoked meat above mocha and perfumey, violety fruit. Velvety and deep, with black licorice, dark plum and blackberry cascading into rich mocha, leather, smoke and white pepper spice. Displays an incredibly impressive texture throughout the long finish.

#3:

Bookwalter Cabernet Sauvignon Chapter 7 Conner-Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley 2014, 93 Points, $100: Gorgeous aromas loaded with minty cedar, chocolate and black currant. Ultra-silky on the palate, with explosive and intense blueberry, blackberry and black cherry above dark godiva chocolate and wet cedar undertones. Long, long finish.

#2:

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Col Solare offers tastings tucked inside a VIP-style glass enclosure within Chateau Ste. Michelle’s modern tasting room. We were impressed by the quality of wines poured here and were not ashamed to display purple lips after our first stop of the day! (It’s one of the few places where you need an appointment). 

Col Solare Syrah Component Selection Red Mountain 2014, 93 Points, $85: Explosive aromas of dark fruit above leather, smoke and mint notes. Silky and elegant on the palate, with black licorice and dark plum flavors above expressive forest floor, cracked pepper, leather and smoldering charcoal notes that dominate the long finish. Refined but present tannins add grip. This straddles the line between masculine and feminine styles.

#1:

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There’s not a more inviting tasting room in America than JM Cellars, which combines friendly service with campfires, fireplaces and country music all perched above lovely scenery. Oh, and the wines are on point too. 

JM Cellars Syrah Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2015, 94 Points, $48: Purple fruit, smoked meat and wet leather on the nose. Velvety and intense, with dark plum and black licorice flavors above rich chocolate, black pepper, leather and bacon fat. Texture is amazing, with a long, persistent, creamy finish. Wet limestone lingers while blackberry jam notes keep pumping; this is tops now but will be even more amazing with time.

The Top 10 Albums of 2017

Posted December 16, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Tunes

Honorable Mention: Lorde/ Melodrama

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You’re going to be seeing this at the top of a lot of year end lists this month, and as much as mainstream pop from young girls barely old enough to drink in the United States really isn’t my thing, it would be hard to deny that there isn’t a single weak moment on this very strong and impressive record, so I’d prefer to give credit where credit is due. There’s careful thought to arrangement on the anthemic break-up track “Green Light”, which starts with sparse, deep vocals before building into a chorus that truly shows off the singer’s vocal range, and the seamless transition from bittersweet melancholy to bouncy on “Hard Feelings/ Loveless” seems to indicate the emergence of an innovative artist wise beyond her years. Heartbreaking ballads like “Liability” and “Writer In The Dark” are highlights, while “Supercut” and “Perfect Places” deliver pure pop precision. And it doesn’t get any more fun than “Homemade Dynamite”, which starts and stops effortlessly before evolving into an impossibly catchy chorus. Awesome, right?

#10: Alex G/ Rocket

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This sprawling and experimental record harnesses its power from a strong folk rock backbone but adds elements of jazz and lo-fi garage rock that keep it rich, exciting and in full display of many musical influences. Alex G has a particular penchant for the construction of melody, as evidenced by the accessible and catchy piano riffs on “Proud” and “Sportstar,” while boasting a higher pitched vocal sound and style that is a dead ringer for Elliott Smith. There’s fuzzy, discordant violin that create an almost Appalachian sound on “Powerful Man” and on the soaring duet ‘Bobby”, but songs like the raging, distorted “Brick” keep listeners on their toes and don’t allow for complacency, demonstrating the complex array of styles at hand here. Closer “Guilty” pulls it all together with its jazzy bass beat that picks up carefully arranged piano and trumpet riffs.

#9: Thundercat/ Drunk

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Loosely concocted and at times silly over its 23 tracks (there’s a song about cats meowing for heaven’s sake, and another that rhymes “beat your meat” with “go to sleep”), you’d still be hard pressed to find another album that glides along so smoothly this year. Thundercat’s unique style creates a relaxed acid jazz groove on tracks like “Them Changes”, while a faster tempo combines with a submerged underwater lounge vibe on the thrilling “Tokyo.” Guest spots steal the show here, as Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald combine for a most unlikely collaboration on highlight “Show You The Way”, and Thundercat’s trademark falsetto holds its own in this company, while Kendrick Lamar steps in on the more subdued “Walk On By”.  Valentine’s Day revenge song “Friend Zone” sparkles with funk and comedic lyrical delivery that find the perfect balance….And the cat song is actually pretty damn good too.

#8: Fleet Foxes/ Crack Up

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The third full length following a six year hiatus took the folk rock outfit in a new, darker, more complex direction and marked a paradigm shift in style for the band. This reality was immediately evident upon the release of the nearly nine minute single “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara”, notable for lead singer Robin Pecknold’s strained falsetto through the chorus as the tune stops and starts effortlessly, constantly twisting and evolving. The lifted melody on “Fool’s Errand” is another highlight perhaps more reminiscent of the band’s earlier work, but not without its own innovations, constructed around an off-kilter time signature. There’s an argument to be made that this new direction lends itself to being almost too soft and stripped down, although tracks like the delicate “If You Need To Keep Time On Me” and desperate “On Another Ocean” are no less beautiful, while the hushed “I Could See Memphis” is easily the darkest song in the band’s catalog. There’s an element of patience and restraint that permeates through Crack-Up, and it’s evident from the start on opener “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar”, a three-song suite that plays more like an opus, immediately indicative of what is to follow. Whether one prefers the new Fleet Foxes or the old is of little consequence; it’s simply refreshing to see them in motion.

#7: Sampha/ Process

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The debut record from the London vocalist who had previously made a name for himself as a highly sought after collaborator is a soulful and devastating reflection on the death of his mother to cancer. While he could have phoned in any number of guest appearances, Process instead consists of Sampha alone, and the result is a highly personal and often unsettling work. Stand out centerpiece “No One Knows Me Like The Piano” might be the year’s most gorgeous piano ballad, at once a sentimental autobiography and a moving tribute over its sparse frame. “Blood on Me” is an ominous banger that loops two eerie piano keys above Sampha’s cracking falsetto , while opener “Plastic” starts the album on a raw, panicked tone. The unique marriage of pure soul and electronic elements create a style all his own, demonstrated on tense, beat heavy songs like the hypnotic “Under” and anxiety-ridden “Kora Sings.” Elements of regret reveal themselves towards the album’s conclusion through softer, prettier tracks like “Tommy’s Prayer” and “Incomplete Kisses.” A journey laden with grief, power and discovery, Process was easily the year’s best debut.

#6: Vince Staples/ The Big Fish Theory

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Sharp rhyme schemes and poignant social commentary remain a staple on this sophomore effort, but gone are the sweeping, melodic west coast beats and dark lounge grooves of his debut. In their place is a far more spacious album that utilizes repetitive percussion, big house beats and electronica influences. The result is a decidedly more club-ready collection of songs. Opener “Crabs In The Bucket” sounds as though it could be a Burial track with its trappy dubstep beats above ghostly undertones, while the propulsive tempo on “Love Can Be” conjures Azaelia Banks circa “212”. Hollow synths and clap drum percussion move through the upbeat party track “Big Fish”, which offers the most addictive hook here, and the chant-worthy “Yeah Right” showcases a guest appearance from none other than Kendrick Lamar behind its shot gun blast bass explosions. The album ends on an outstanding note, as the threatening “BagBak” calls out the government, the president, and the one percent behind up-tempo synths and a rolling bass line. Closer “Rain Come Down” is riddled with tension, featuring perhaps the deepest bass line on an album full of them, slowing the tempo down a bit with its off-kilter time signature and ambient chorus. Big Fish Theory is so accessible and immediate, a much easier album to get through in a single sitting than its double-sided predecessor Summertime ’05, and even if perhaps sacrificing some of the complexities of that album, such a dynamic shift in style indicates that Staples isn’t short on ideas and won’t be going anywhere any time soon.

#5: Run The Jewels/ RTJ 3

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Hip hop fans were treated to a surprise Christmas gift late last year when this album dropped out of nowhere on December 25th. Released in the weeks just following the shock of the election and preceding Trump’s inauguration, it perhaps perfectly captures the anger and resistance that would define the year ahead, all the while reminding us of the unparalleled flow combination that is Killer Mike and El-P. The duo are at their best on tracks like “Legend Has It”, where the rapid alternation of verses between the two escalates the brimming intensity and almost feels like a full scale rap-off. Guest spots add excitement from the incomparable Danny Brown on the dark and brooding “Hey Kids” as well as TV on the Radio lead singer Tunde Adebimpe on the foreboding “Thieves.” The punches keep coming with the hard beats on “Stay Gold”, “Don’t Get Captured” and “2100”, but the album truly finds its footing in its final third. The boastful “Panther Like A Panther” uses a rolling trip hop beat below its anthemic chorus (“I’m the shit bitch!”) and the hands down best rap lyric of the year (“I got banana dick/ Your bitch go ape shit if she hit it!”) The epic closer “A Report To The Shareholders” begins as a bittersweet jazz track before it shape shifts into an absolute bruiser, complete with transformer robot synths and the album’s most enduring and microcosmic battle cry of revolt, a familiar one for fans of Game Of Thrones, another epic in its own right- “Kill Your Masters.”

#4: Slowdive/ Slowdive

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In 2013, shoegaze kings My Bloody Valentine released their first record in 22 years, a self-titled work that left fans of the genre pleased to see how little swagger the band had lost in their step during their hiatus. Now, an identical 22 years after Pygmalion, Slowdive return with their self-titled record, easily the most melodic in their relatively small catalog. It seems we have uncovered the secret to a successful shoegaze comeback! Lush, cascading soundscapes abound here from start to finish. “Star Roving” is an absolute throwback to the dawn of the genre, with its soaring, distorted guitar arpeggios that reach heavenward. The amazing “Don’t Know Why”, aside from its ethereal beauty, is impressive for its innovation and inverse structure, beginning with a sped up time signature that collapses back onto itself into two distinctly slower layers before picking the tempo right back up again. The absolutely gorgeous chiming guitar line completes the sort of track that you never want to end. Conversely, the soft, gentle “Sugar For The Pill” is another huge highlight but is far more stripped down and delicate, benefiting from a restrained and isolated guitar riff that takes the band’s sound in a new direction entirely. “No Longer Making Time” alternates between its soothing verses and explosive distortion through its chorus in true shoegaze style from a structural standpoint, all the while showcasing an incredibly modern dual harmony, finishing just as it began, while closer “Falling Ashes” beckons Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” with its slow-burn build. If this is the last album we ever get from Slowdive, it is a fitting finale to a defining legacy, and was well worth the wait.

#3: LCD Soundsystem/ American Dream

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James Murphy and his LCD Soundsystem project were one of the most important and exciting artists of the young century when they abruptly retired and played their “final” show at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2011. Rumors of a reunion began to emerge in late 2015, much to the joy of music fans everywhere, and were confirmed the following year when the band began touring and working on new material again. Attentive minds expected them to emerge with a new sound, and so it is on American Dream, from the patiently building and warmly produced opener “Oh Baby” to the spare-framed closer “Black Screen.” There’s no “Dance Yrself Clean” here, and as a whole the songs on this album seem more melody-focused, darkly introspective and slow-burning than the dance-rock defined by its predecessors. This sonic shift is best demonstrated on tracks like “I Used To”, with its paranoid gliding guitar riff and ominous bass, and the savage takedown centerpiece “How Do You Sleep?”, which is an essay in build over its nine unsettling minutes, culminating into a full throttle dance beat that is well worth the wait. You’d be hard pressed to find a song this year that so fully encapsulates intense propulsion with soaring melody any better than “Call The Police”, which combines a ringing guitar riff with a proggy, spaced out bass line as Murphy’s vocals escalate into his trademark strained falsetto. It isn’t all unfamiliar however, as the title track is the band’s loveliest ballad since “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” while the bouncy, sunny “Tonite” probably comes closest to a crowd pleaser for those who have been LCD Soundsystem fans from the beginning, and “Emotional Haircut” delivers the same kind of raucous silliness established on prior songs like “Drunk Girls”. Wherever one stands on the heavier, more serious sound weaving its way in, it would be hard to not be happy to see the band in action again, evolving and expanding their musical horizons in a way that offers a new found variety.

#2 The War On Drugs/ A Deeper Understanding

WOD

The follow-up to 2014’s fantastic Lost In The Dream features rich textures and electronic elements that result in a fuller, lusher and more intricate sound, all the while keeping the dynamics of Adam Granduciel’s guitar at the forefront. Upbeat opener “Up All Night” swells and expands beneath its warm piano riff, leading in to the elegant and vibrantly emoting “Pain”- (“Pull me close and let me hold you in/ Give me a deeper understanding of who I am”). But it’s songs like centerpiece “Nothing To Find” that truly separate this album from its contemporaries, elevating it an echelon higher than typical Americana or Springsteen revival rock. Steady, propulsive percussion reminiscent of the band’s best work (“An Ocean Between The Waves”) picks up an open-road guitar riff that glides along effortlessly. But as the song evolves in constant motion, it gains layers of complexity from shimmering synths, harmonica, a concise and well-timed lead guitar solo, and an electronic organ through its triumphant coda. In similar fashion, after a brilliant synthesizer twinkles through its introduction, glockenspiel chimes add texture, fullness and warmth to the stunning “Holding On”, complete with slide guitar solos and bouncy synths, all a backdrop for Granduciel’s Dylan-esque vocals. 11 minute epic “Thinking Of A Place” features a repeated acoustic guitar riff that is gorgeous in its simplicity and never gets old, an essay in song structure as it builds patiently and magnificently. The presence of slower tracks is notable here, as “Knocked Down” and “Clean Living” aren’t so much weak links but add diversity as they bring the tempo down a notch, but closer “You Don’t Have To Go” is a perfectly understated heartsick ballad. The subtlety and restraint with which Granduciel sings the lyric “into the light” as the song climaxes adds power and depth; a more indulgent songwriter may have taken the opportunity to wail and bloat in this moment, but Granduciel wisely lets the music shine through the vocals. It’s those examples of attention to detail- and they are numerous- that make A Deeper Understanding such a consistently thrilling listen, and the year’s most resonant rock album.

#1: Kendrick Lamar/ DAMN.

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It’s difficult to fully comprehend exactly how rapid the ascension has been for Kendrick Lamar, as the undisputed current king of the rap game has now released three albums in a five year span that all must be considered essential pieces of work for any genre. If good kid, m.A.A.d. City was his homage to Compton’s West Coast style and To Pimp A Butterfly communicated hostility and frustration towards society, consider DAMN. his offering to the masses. Easily his most accessible record to date, there is something here for everyone over its 14 broadly diverse tracks, and without a single weak moment among them. There’s far more attention being paid to melody here than ever before, as Rihanna guests on the synth-driven and radio-friendly hook of “LOYALTY.”, Zacari sings falsetto on the delicate and bluesy “LOVE.”, and even Bono adds vocals through the gorgeous chorus of the otherwise bruising highlight “XXX.” (The moment that the sirens stop and shift completely into jazzy bass in the latter is dazzling). The beats are still on point however, and it was impossible to get away from the addictive and engaging “DNA” in 2017, as the track shifts from its initial straightforward club beat into something much darker and more fascinating. As focused on his skin color as he seemed to be over the entirety of To Pimp A Butterfly, as the first proper track on the album, “DNA” seems to indicate lyrically that he has adapted a broader view of his persona. It’s refreshing to hear him deliver lines like “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA/ I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA” without bringing race into it; Kendrick is the best rapper on the planet whether he is black, white or purple, and he seems like he knows it.

On standout track “HUMBLE.”, hip hop’s top dog has never sounded more bravado-laden as he raps with authority over a haunting, demonic organ beat. The smooth groove on the fascinating “FEAR” features Lamar rapping from the perspective of his mother raising him, conveying a sense of understanding and gratitude, but also demonstrating that we don’t all come from the same place, and that reality tends to have some bearing on how we all turn out. The tension isn’t completely abandoned on DAMN., not by a long shot, as Lamar raps breathlessly, seemingly overwhelmed by responsibility through the conclusion of “FEEL.”, while the unsettling “LUST.” begins to ponder the dangers of materialism in an introspective manner. It all culminates with the awesome closer “DUCKWORTH.” as Kendrick falls back upon perhaps his greatest ability, as a storyteller, recounting the story of his own rise behind a backdrop that starts, stops and changes tone with every stanza. It’s an exhilarating finale, and the perfect way to conclude an album composed of such a diverse array of sounds. There’s a new confidence on display here that makes the delivery of every line and the arrangement of every note seem so effortless, and all that his peers, listeners and rabid fans can do at this point is look on in awe and embrace the best rapper of his generation.

The Top Ten Songs of 2017

Posted December 4, 2017 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Tunes

#10: “BagBak”/ Vince Staples

The raw, hollow drum beats create a threatening air on the standout track from the Compton project’s sophomore effort, which also features one of the year’s most resounding codas. We on now!

#9: “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara”/ Fleet Foxes

Layered and sprawling, this nearly nine minute track took the folk rock outfit in a new, darker direction, marked by Robin Pecknold’s strained falsetto through the chorus as the tune stops and starts effortlessly, constantly evolving and marking a paradigm shift in style for the band.

#8: “Everything Now”/ Arcade Fire

As disappointing as the rest of the new album from the kings of Indie Rock ended up being, it was all worth it just for its title track, and its soaring disco piano riff that combines with some of the band’s most poignant lyricism to date.

#7: “No One Knows Me Like The Piano”/ Sampha

The year’s most devastatingly gorgeous piano ballad came from the talented London vocalist’s debut album, at once a sentimental autobiography and a personal and moving tribute to his late mother.

#6: “Proud”/ Alex G

The standout track from the experimental folk rock opus Rocket is sublime in its simplicity, a highly accessible work that combines an upbeat piano riff on top of a foot-stomping acoustic guitar that screams Americana.

#5: “Slide”/ Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Glistening production reminiscent of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories wove together this bouncy summer beach party anthem behind balanced, timely contributions from R&B superstar Frank Oceanand chart-topping rap trio Migos.

#4: “Holding On”/ War On Drugs

Glockenspiel chimes add texture, fullness and warmth to this constantly moving and evolving rock track, complete with slide guitar solos and shimmering synths, all a backdrop for Adam Granduciel’s Dylan-esque vocals.

#3: “HUMBLE.”/ Kendrick Lamar

You could choose from any of a number of songs from Lamar’s Damn. (notably “DNA”, “Fear” and “Duckworth”) but on “HUMBLE.”, hip hop’s top dog has never sounded more bravado-laden as he raps with authority over a haunting, demonic organ beat.

#2: “Don’t Know Why”/ Slowdive

What makes this track so fascinating, aside from its ethereal beauty, is how innovatively and inversely structured it is. Beginning with a sped up time signature, it collapses back onto itself into two distinctly slower layers before picking the tempo right back up again. The absolutely gorgeous chiming guitar line completes the sort of track that you never want to end.

#1: “Call The Police”/ LCD Soundsystem

Admittedly, any comeback single from one of the most exciting bands of the young century was going to receive a bit more attention than it deserved. But in this case, you’d be hard pressed to find a song this year that so fully encapsulated intense propulsion with soaring melody, combining a ringing guitar riff with a proggy, spaced out bass line as Murphy’s vocals escalate into his trademark strained falsetto. ​Bonus points or not, this was a rock song for the ages, and seeing it live was the musical moment that stuck with me the longest in 2017.