Thursday, August 13, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Clemson

Season Preview: Clemson

Clemson Tigers

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Record: 61-26 (6 Seasons)
Last Year's Record: (10-3, 6-2), defeated Oklahoma in Russell Athletic Bowl, 40-6

Review of 2014 Season- Other than JT Barrett and Cardale Jones up in Columbus, Ohio not too many other QBs made a bigger splash on the national scene than Deshaun Watson last season. Talk about game-changers and you have to mention #4. Clemson literally had the best defense in the nation last year and combined with an explosive offense, the Tigers made it difficult against their opponents in 2014. They came up short on the road at FSU in a game where they made so many mistakes, to be frank, they honestly didn't deserve to win. Had the #1 team on the ropes but couldn't ever deliver the final blow to finish them off. The Tigers finally got back on track against arch-rival South Carolina and ended the season with quite an eyebrow raising thumping of Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl is one of the most dominating performances against a respectable opponent that I can remember seeing out of Clemson in quite a few years. Dabo Swinney with newly appointed Co-Offensive Coordinators Tony Elliot and Jeff Scott along with Defensive Coordinator will look to make even greater strides in 2015.

Key Losses-DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, LB Stephone Anthony, OG David Beasley, WR Adam Humphries 

Key Returners- QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Artavis Scott, WR Mike Williams, DE Shaq Lawson, CB Mackenzie Alexander

Returning Starters: Offense-7; Defense-3

2015 Schedule-

September 5th        Wofford
September 12th      Appalachian State
September 17th      Louisville* (Thursday Night)
September 26th      OPEN
October 3rd            Notre Dame*
October 10th          Georgia Tech*
October 17th          Boston College
October 24th          Miami
October 31st          North Carolina State
November 7th        Florida State*
November 14th      Syracuse
November 21st      Wake Forest
November 28th      South Carolina*

#- Home games in BOLD
*-denotes key game

Schedule Analysis- 
Overall as a fan of the Tigers I'm "okay" with how this year's schedule is set up. The two opening games should, in theory, be blowouts and allow the offense and defense to get a little momentum and back into season mode. Unlike the last two years opening with UGA and having so much on the line, this year's opener will be more relaxed and allow the chance for some of the younger guys and second and third team guys to get some early season reps. That should pay off down the road. The Louisville game is a big one and could be extra tricky especially when you add in the Thursday night road game factor. Last year's game (minus a Watson) came down to a Tiger goal line stand in on The Hill end of the stadium. I point that out because I don't think many understand how loud that place was pre-snap before that play. Still, I see Clemson being the favorite and taking care of business on the road Sept. 17. The early open date hurts a little but being well rested and extra prep for what could be a College Gameday showdown against Norte Dame can only help the Tigers. GT will be a challenge but they get the Jackets at home along with Florida State the first week of November where payback for the last few years will be in order. The Tigers will be due for a win over the Seminoles. Finally, Clemson will head back down to Williams Brice in hopes of making it two in a row over the Gamecocks and the first win in Columbia since 2007.'s been that long.

My Thoughts-

Yes, the defense lost 8 starters but for those that follow the program closely you'll know that's not as clear cut as what you see on paper. Many of this year's starters saw significant playing time last year (LB Ben Boulware and DE Shaq Lawson to name a few) and have the experience in big time moments of big time games already under their belts. 8 of the 11 played at least 200 snaps last season. Most of the hits to the defense came up front on the defensive line but the secondary has the potential to be among the nations best which will help out the defensive line and hopefully make the QB hold on to the ball longer than he'd like. If Mackenzie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and company can hold their ground it will only help the guys up front. The loss of Korrin Wiggins to an ACL injury hurts but next man in line. Tigers should be fine as long as they can stay healthy moving forward.With seven returners on offense and an assumed healthy Deshaun Watson under center along with newcomers such as wideouts Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud, #4 will have plenty of options and help around him to move the ball down the field.

Bottom Line- 
Cautious optimism. You'll hear me saying this throughout the season. This could be a very, very special year in Tigertown. The pieces are in place and lined up for a very successful run towards an ACC Championship and contend for a playoff spot. One game at a time and as long as they stay focused at the task at hand, they should be perfectly fine. One major area of concern however is the offensive line. A lack of depth makes even one injury upfront detrimental to the Tiger's future. The loss of Isaiah Battle at left tackle hurts, but reports out of camp have been positive in regards to the stability of the offensive line. At first glance, it seems like the Tigers could be favored in each game this year. If the bowl game against Oklahoma was any indication, the offense will be just fine without former Offensive play-caller--Now Head Coach at SMU--Chad Morris this year as Tony Elliot and Jeff Scott take over the driver's seat of this offensive locomotive. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables has told the media he likes what he's seen out of his squad thus far. The sky is the limit in 2015. Clemson has been knocking on the door of going from good to great and its time to smash that door down in 2015. The time is now.

Regular season Prediction: 10-2

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Season Preview: South Carolina

Season Preview: South Carolina 

South Carolina Gamecocks

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Record: 84-45 (10 Seasons)
Last Year's Record: (7-6, 3-5), defeated Miami in Duck Commander Bowl, 24-21

Review of 2014 Season- 
You can expect there to be some drop-off when you lose a guy like Conner Shaw on offense and Jadeveon Clowney on defense along with each supporting cast. But I don't think Gamecocks fans were ready for the sorry excuse for a defense that took the field for much of the season last year. After three double-digit season win totals, South Carolina flirted with a losing season last year. All of the sudden, the Gamecocks looked more like the team we are all more accustomed to in 2014. I don't know, but maybe it was a bad omen to raise a over-sized banner of Steve Spurrier on the outside of the stadium before he has even brought the program its first SEC title. Just maybe. Other places hang banners for Championships. In Columbia, apparently a Capital One Bowl win and beating your rival five times in a row is just as worthy of a feat. To each his own.

Key Losses-QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, WR Damiere Byrd, DL J.T. Surratt

Key Returners- RB Brandon Wilds, WR Pharoh Cooper, WR Shaq Roland, DT Gerald Dixon, Jr., LB Skai Moore

Returning Starters: Offense-7; Defense-8

2015 Schedule-

September 3rd        North Carolina (Bank of America Stadium-Charlotte, NC)
September 12th      Kentucky
September 19th      Georgia*
September 26th      UCF
October 3rd            Missouri
October 10th          LSU*
October 17th          Vanderbilt
October 31st           Texas A&M
November 7th        Tennessee*
November 14th      Florida*
November 21st      The Citadel
November 28th      Clemson*

#- Home games in BOLD
*-denotes key game

Schedule Analysis- 
Just like the Bulldogs, South Carolina's season will be made or broken by the month of October and the first week of November. They will be tested in the road trips to Missouri, Texas A&M and Tennessee. The East division of course continues to be inferior to the West....but that means it's up for grabs. The Gamecocks have to go back to Athens this year and bringing an inexperienced QB between the hedges with limited proven playmakers early in the season is a tall, tall task. Just ask Clemson about it last year. Not to mention UGA's defense which should be stout. Spurrier's group will have a three game home stand to close the season ending with a battle with their friends, eh...I mean "enemies" from the upstate. They'll be looking for revenge from last year's 35-17 loss to a one-legged Deshaun Watson and his supporting cast of Wayne Gallman and Artavis Scott and the nations best defense.

My Thoughts-

As expected, last season was somewhat of a rebuilding season with the departure of the best QB in school history, Conner Shaw. Thompson held his own as the Gamecock's new starter but a lack of reliable and proven help sometimes made things difficult. Tied with a just a flat out horrible defense and a handful of fourth quarter meltdowns and blowing leads against Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, things got flat out ugly at times. But with Spurrier on the sidelines you can never really count out his team. Speaking of which will this be his last year? Or maybe he has another 10 years in the tank? Who knows. The HBC himself can't seem to make up his mind. His current contract runs through 2018, though for what its worth. Things should be better this fall but they have to find a new quarterback again. It looks like that will be Conner Mitch. Mitch threw a whopping 6 passes last season. I think I threw more than that in the parking lot of the fairgrounds last year before the game against UT.  He will likely beat out junior walk-on Perry Orth and freshmen Michael Scarnecchia for the starting role.

Bottom Line- 

The good news is that South Carolina's defense literally can't be much worse than it was last year and should be greatly improved this fall. The addition of Co-Defensive Coordinator Jon Hoke to assist Lorenzo Ward along with a handful of new defensive linemen in their most recent recruiting class should help. Of course, they will lack experience but definitely should be pointed in the right direction after finishing the 2014 season ranked 92th in total defense. It also has been reported that the Gamecocks will change to a 4-3 base system instead of the previous 3-4 and 4-2-5. My biggest question outside of the QB situation is who will step up and be that #2 and #3 guy on offense behind Cooper. Sure you can run wildcat and even some read-option with #11 to get him involved in various ways, but he can't do it all alone. Someone else will have to emerge as a reliable option. Cooper flew under the radar last year but opposing defenses will key in on him this year and in theory, things should be a little more difficult for him this time around. Regardless, he'll continue to make big plays but just how many? And will it be enough? Expect some more growing pains in the midlands this year.

Regular season Prediction: 7-5

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Georgia

Season Preview: Georgia

Georgia Bulldogs

Head Coach: Mark Richt
Record: 136-48 (14 Seasons)
Last Year's Record: (10-3, 6-2), defeated Louisville in Belk Bowl, 37-14

Review of 2014 Season- 

Last year was a season of highs and lows for the Bulldogs. They started off the year with an impressive win over Clemson at home before coming up short in their next outing against conference foe South Carolina. From there, they rattled off five straight wins behind a very powerful rushing attack of Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb along with a host of other quality backs further down the roster. Huston Mason proved to me a dependable game-manager, doing what he needed to get the ball in the hands of his big playmakers...although that usually just meant handing the ball off and getting out of the way. An absolutely head scratching loss to the Florida Gators down in Jacksonville along with a regular season finale lost to rival Georgia Tech kept the Dawgs from being a legitimate contender for a playoff spot.

Key Losses-QB Huston Mason, RB Todd Gurley, WR Michael Bennett, CB Damian Swann

Key Returners- RB Nick Chubb, WR Malcom Mitchell, PK Marshall Morgan, LB Leonard Floyd

Returning Starters: Offense-6; Defense-7

2015 Schedule-

September 5th        Louisiana-Monroe
September 12th      Vanderbilt
September 19th      South Carolina*
September 26th      Southern
October 3rd            Alabama*
October 10th          Tennessee*
October 17th          Missouri
October 31st           Florida* (Jacksonville, FL)
November 7th        Kentucky
November 14th      Auburn*
November 21st      Georgia Southern
November 28th      Georgia Tech*

#- Home games in BOLD
*-denotes key game

Schedule Analysis- 
I think if you are a UGA fan, you have to like how the schedule is set up. As always you have the early season showdown with the Gamecocks but you get them at home along with Alabama who is believed to be in for a down year. In addition, Missouri and Kentucky will travel between the hedges this year. Although one might suggest that Missouri's early SEC luck has to eventually run cold. We shall see. Outside of their date with South Carolina in week 3, October will be the tell-tale of the season. If they can go at at least 3-1 in that out for the Dawgs. The Florida game will, as always be one to circle on your calendar, especially after last year's result. Can the Gators do it against UGA two years in a row?

My Thoughts-

While they return arguably the best running back in the nation in Nick Chubb this fall, their offense will have a different look this fall with a new offensive coordinator running the show as Mike Bobo is now the head coach at Colorado State. Brian Schottenheimer, the former St. Louis Rams Offensive Coordinator, will look to keep the Bulldogs rushing attack strong while they adjust to having a new guy under center for the second straight season. They should be solid up front which obviously is the key to their rushing attack and the success of Chubb. Several have said will prove to even better than his predecessor, Todd Gurley. I expect the defense to continue making strides under 2nd year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Bottom Line- 

It seems almost every year we as ourselves the same this the year? Can Georgia finally go from good to great? They came close last season. With what is expected to be a solid defense (that returns seven starters), they should be competitive in each of their games this fall. It helps that the East continues to be weaker than it normally is and significantly weaker than the West. If Georgia is able to get settled on a new, young QB early, this could very well be another 10 win season and beyond in Athens. Especially if they find a way to get it done either on the road against either Auburn or Tennessee. They are picked to win the East division but came up with a third place overall finish in the conference during SEC Media Days earlier last week. Auburn was picked to win it all. Things might not be too flashy on offense early on but I think the Dawgs get off to a favorable start to begin the 2015 season.

Regular season Prediction: 10-2 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Countdown To Kickoff

By: Christopher Hall

With the NBA finals and Draft, College World Series and Women’s World Cup all in the rearview mirror, we have approached what I always refer to as the “dead period” of the sports year.
Sure there is still plenty of Major League Baseball to partake in this time of year, but for me it is just like the NBA. With the long schedule and there being so many games it is hard to get excited about a Wednesday night game where there isn’t all that much on the line.

The NBA is really starting to grow on me and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the playoffs this season. However, I’ll have to admit that during the season I probably watch no more than five games from start to finish and that includes the big games on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So in short, until the playoffs are on the horizon and begin, I’m still moderately interested at best when it comes to both Basketball and Baseball. Outside of a watching a guy fight his way to a no-hitter or someone sending a walk-off grand slam to the parking lot in the bottom of the ninth inning, baseball just doesn’t have enough going on during the summer to keep me interested.

Some may call it un-American and despite playing the sport myself in my younger years in recreation league, baseball overall just doesn’t do too much for me. So each year around this time I’m forced to read up on everything I can to get my football fix. 
From conference Media Days, the way-too-early rankings, predictions and watch list to the guys making headlines for finding their way into trouble during the summer and put their future playing careers.

I’m a big football guy and when fall comes around I can easily sit on the couch every night from Thursday-Monday watching, in my opinion, the best sport in the world. So you can absolutely bet I’m counting down the days and hours until football returns.

The 2015 season should be another one for the record books with the 2nd year of the College Football Playoff system after a well-overdue replacement to the commonly flawed BCS system.
This is the time of year where I look around and file through all the storylines that I think might be worth following throughout the season. Most of which come at the collegiate level where I pay the most attention.

There are plenty of interesting storylines this off-season that will surely develop into some interesting games this year. I guess it is only fair I mention the Champions first.
Who would have thought that the same team that lost its starting quarterback for the season due to injury not once but twice, along with falling to an inferior Virginia Tech at home in week two would end up running the table and winning the first ever college football playoff.
I guess it helps when you have one of the best coaches in the game and a future Hall of Famer in Urban Meyer as your head coach. 

The question this year, though is who gets the starting role for 2015? Sure, Braxton Miller never “lost” his job but you can’t downplay how effective J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones who lead the Buckeyes to their first title since 2002, were in his absence. I can’t wait to see how the competition plays out heading to Fall Camp in Columbus. 

Speaking of the Buckeyes, how about their big rivals over in Michigan? There’s a new sheriff in town that goes by the name of Jim Harbaugh.  He is sure to shake things up for a program that hasn’t been itself for several years now. I still think about the 2007 upset loss at home to Appalachian State anytime I hear about the Wolverines.

Between Harbaugh and Meyer, you can bet that one of the greatest rivalries will return to what it should be in the years to come with these two guys running the show. Florida State prepares for life after Jameis Winston and now looks to Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson to lead the Seminoles this year. It should make for another interesting race in the ACC-Atlantic division as the sophomore sensation Deshaun Watson of Clemson looks to bring the hardware back to Tigertown after recovering from an ACL injury at the latter half of last season.

Over in the SEC, my new home team of Tennessee looks to climb its way back into the elite of the conference in Head Coach Butch Jones third year at Knoxville. With Joshua Dobbs leading the way, this could be the year the Vols make a run for at least an SEC-East title.
I’ve already begun penciling in my schedule for the fall which will hopefully include several road trips and knocking a few venues off my bucket list. 

In addition to heading back to Clemson a time or two to see my Tigers play, I hope to travel up to Louisville for a early season Thursday night showdown with the Cards. I’ll also be making the ride up to Neyland Stadium for the first time. A good college friend of mine is now in Law School at UGA so naturally I’ll be taking the opportunity to see a game in Athens for the first time as well. Finally, the Carolina Panthers visit the Titans in Nashville this year. I’ll cap things off with a return trip to Columbia to hopefully experience my first win in Williams Brice Stadium after an unfavorable 0-4 personal record. Can you tell that I’m ready for football yet?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Manziel finally showing signs of maturity

By: Christopher Hall

June 18, 2015

It took a while and only time will tell how sincere he is but it appears that Johnny Manziel is finally growing up. After a rocky rookie reason that ended with a 10-week stay in Rehab, it appears that the flashy but talented gunslinger out of Texas A&M has finally begun to show signs of maturity.

Dating back to this days in College Station being dubbed “Johnny Football” and flashing the money sign after touchdowns, it was no surprise when his antics and distractions—both on the field and off—carried over to the NFL.

However, speaking out publicly for the first time since his representatives stated he was entering rehab (which he concluded in the spring), Manziel seems to have learned from his mistakes and ready to get to business.

As part of this new start, he told the media Wednesday that he is retiring the money sign and will begin taking steps to be less of a distraction for his teammates and the franchise as a whole.

“The money sign will not be back,” he told reports. “I feel bad about throughout the last months of my life really thinking back and seeing how much of my life outside of this field and outside of this locker room was documented,” Manziel said.

He went on to explain how he regrets the effects his decisions have made on those around him and he bought into all the hype while in college and wants to get back to his roots and focus on the important things.

“I think (the hype) just overtook who I was as a person, I didn’t do my best to push it down. My focus is football. It’s what I’m here to do and what I love to do,” he said. “Its not fair to my coaches and teammates to be out here having to answer questions about me every day.”
Manziel says he ready to turn over a new leaf and become not only a better player on the field but better person off the field as well.  So far, he appears to be pointed in the right direction.

Outside of an isolated event in which Manziel tossed a water bottle at a persistent fan seeking an autograph a few weeks ago, he has remained quiet and out of the limelight since rehab. He even made a few public appearances at Cavs game throughout the playoffs.

As of right now, it’ll be more of a waiting game. He’s been working with the second team offense during summer workouts as newcomer Josh McCown, who signed with Cleveland in the off-season, is expected to get all the first-team reps heading into training camp.
Who knows, maybe he can get back on track and be a valuable asset for the Browns this year. I sure hope so and will be pulling for him to get his act together—and more importantly—keep it together moving forward.

However, don’t expect Cleveland to have a major turnaround this season. But in the least, maybe Manziel can prove to a solid back up for the Browns and see significant playing time. If he can stay out of trouble and the spotlight, he might be able to provide a little excitement for a city that’s desperate for someone other than Lebron James to be proud of.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Big wins could mean big fines in SEC this fall

By: Christopher Hall

I’ve been watching college football nearly my entire life and although I’m just on the cuff of turning 23 next week, I’ve seen my share of big upsets and victories…victories which led to the home team rushing the field to celebrate.

I’ve always seen rushing the field one of the many great traditions of college football. Unfortunately, the scene of thousands of fans, players and coaches on the field celebrating after a big win could become a less frequent scene in the SEC.

Many schools across the country already have collapsible goal post in both end zones. This came into play after a string of injuries over the last decade or so occurred across the nation when fans would storm the field and tear down the goal post after pulling a big upset or win.

Now, rushing the field at all could slowly be coming to a halt, at least in the SEC (Southeastern Conference). The Power-5 conference has been fining its schools for rushing the field or storming the court dating back to 2004.

But according to a new report released by ESPN’s Edward Aschoff Wednesday, the fine is going up, (and I mean way up) beginning this fall. The report states that the SEC plans to “substantially” increase the fines for teams that violate its on-field policy.

Previously, first time offender schools were forced to pay a $5,000 fine which was increased to $25,000 and $50,000 for second and third subsequent offenses. Discussions are still in the works, but all signs are currently pointing to the initial fine becoming a $50,000 offense under the new system. 
Of the 14 league schools, only five (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M) haven’t been fined since the initial rule took effect in 2004. The report from ESPN stated last season, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU were fined for rushing the field following victories.

“It’s an attempt to change behavior,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. “I think we have changed it considerably, but there are times when it happens and I think our folks thought that the current fine structure is not sufficiently large enough to be a quality deterrent,”

I’m not so sure the new system will work. Before moving to Dayton to take my current position at The Herald-News news back in February, I worked part-time for Event Partners, Incorporated; the event staffing/security staffing company for Clemson football and all other athletic and on-campus concert events.I can tell you first hand, there are only so many people you can have on their post and so much we can do when we are so highly outnumbered by fans.

We can tell people all day long, “hey, you can’t jump across that barrier and onto the field but when you have literally thousands of fans coming at you at once, what are you supposed to do?
I tell you what you do. You either move out of the way or get ran over by a stampede of intoxicated and excited fans ready to celebrate a big win on the field.

At Clemson it has even become a tradition to rush the field after EVERY game. That’s right. Win or lose, Tigers fans meet at the paw to face the band in the corner of the East endzone by the Hill to sing the alma mater together following each home game.
There has been a system put into place where you are technically only allowed to enter the field from the bottom of the hill or the opposite end of the field’s endzone. However, we all know everyone doesn’t follow the rules.
Furthermore, after a big win—especially a night game when fans have been “tasting” all day long—they end up coming from each and any direction, and there’s little you can do to stop them.
That being said, I fully understand the reasoning behind the system change; safety. It’s not ideal to have that many people running together in the same direction jumping over each other, etc after a game. People can trip, get knocked over and stampeded in a heartbeat.
Coming from someone who has rushed the court at Littlejohn and stormed the field in Death Valley multiple times after Clemson games, it’s like the running of the bulls. You have to commit to it and just hope and pray you don’t trip and fall.

I think LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva hit the nail on the head, “You can’t have armed guards and horses out there. I hope all the fans realize it is about safety and will comply. There’s only so much you can do, you can’t put up barbed wire or build a wall around the field,” he said.
While I do think the new system will help cut down on the frequency of storming the field or rushing the court in the SEC, I don’t think it will completely come to an end. It will probably take a year or two before we really see a difference or notice how the rule effects post-game celebrations.

Unlike my boys in Tigertown, I’m willing to bet most schools only have a legitimate reason to storm the field or court on average about once per season. Easy for me to say since it doesn’t come out of my pocket, but I think after knocking off a top 10 team or your rival at home, paying a $50,000 fine once a year might not be all that bad.

Monday, May 18, 2015

No shortage of storylines in this year’s conference finals

By: Christopher Hall

The stage is set for the Conference Finals in this year’s NBA playoffs with Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers set to take on the Atlanta Hawks for the Eastern Conference Title. Over in the west, it’s the Golden State Warriors led by league MVP Stephen Curry facing off against the Houston Rockets. 

With the field now set, Golden State has emerged as the favorite to bring home the trophy according to the experts over in Las Vegas.  In order to do that, they’ll have to find a way to get past Houston. A team that just stunned the L.A Clippers coming back down three games to one, to take the series in Game seven behind a 31-point performance from James Harden.

The Rockets became part of an elite group of nine teams that have overcome a 3-1 advantage in a best-of-seven series and won the series in game seven. Harden said after the game it was simply the team’s determination and refusal to give up that made the difference.
 “It was our will to win, we didn’t give up,” Harden said. “We’ve faced adversity all year so we just kept fighting.” 

L.A. was sitting pretty after three double digit blowout wins over the Rockets. They had even built a 19-point lead on their home court with a chance to close things out and advance to the Western Conference Finals in game six.. However they would fold—and fold in a major way—inexplicably letting game six get away from them and unable to withstand the Rocket’s momentum into game seven. But let’s get back to the teams still vying for the hardware. 

You have to tip your hat to the Rockets and how they were able to do the unthinkable. With their backs against the wall, against a squad that had dominated the series nonetheless. It would have been easy to lay down and accept defeat. But Houston continued to battle and Harden, MVP runner-up, continued to make big plays.

In the West, it will be a battle between the MVP Stephen Curry and the Runner-Up, James Harden. Four times in the last 20 seasons, the MVP winner and runner-up have met in the playoffs. 
In two of the last three meetings, (Lebron James/Kevin Durant in 2012, Michael Jordan/Karl Malone in 1998) the MVP prevailed and won the series. 

I’m very interested to see who will rise to the occasion with both guys playing at a high level and putting their teams in position to win ball games. 

Over in the East, there is plenty to discuss as well. First, and what most people might draw to, is Cleveland. The Cavs are four wins away from playing for the title. It would be the first for the Cavs franchise.
 I don’t think I need to explain how big it would be for Cavs fans for James to return home and come through with his promise of a tile in only his first year back in Cleveland. 
ESPN with their obsession with Lebron James and bandwagon fans everywhere would lose their minds. SportsCenter would ultimately become LebronCenter at least until football returns. (Which seriously can’t get here fast enough!) 

But before Cleveland can start lighting fires and rioting in the streets in celebration, first they’ll have to find a way to retire the Atlanta Hawks. Talk about another team that is beyond desperate for a World Title for one of their beloveded Pro Sport teams, you’ve got that right here.  As rough as times have been for the Cavs and Browns it hasn’t been all that pretty for the Falcons and Hawks, either. 

Atlanta is set to play in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time ever and chasing the 1st title since the franchise moved to ATL from St.Louis in 1968. While the Hawks know they are the underdogs, they don’t mind it. 

Furthermore, they know they took care of business against this very team three out of four times during the regular season. That has to give them even more confidence as they enter this series. 
When you throw the health of the Cavs into the mix with Kevin Love out for the post-season and Kyrie Irving battling injuries as well, the Cavs are definitely a little fragile right now. This could be a one-time opportunity for the Rockets; will they be able to take advantage? 

Outside of the games themselves, which are already pretty intriguing in my book, there are plenty of storylines surrounding the Conference Finals matchups. Whether it’s the battle of cities chasing history in the East bracket or Curry v.s. Harden in the West, I’m sure the media outlets in Atlanta, Cleveland, Oakland and Houston will have plenty to discuss as we approach the NBA Finals.