Wednesday, March 31
The rivers are swollen with rain, drinking well water is being discouraged, it is gray, dreary and in the 50s, it must be time for baseball! Moving to the area of my favorite team should excite me since I will get to see virtually all of their games and will make a trip or two to their ballpark, but then I remember my favorite team is the Mets and the excitement dulls rather quickly. Nothing fancy here, we predict the order of finish for the 3 divisions of the NL (AL tomorrow). Our resident Braves fan and former Turner Field intern Beck sent us this clip from the Braves 9-6 Spring Training win over the Yankees yesterday. Unfortunately the internet fascists over at the worldwide leader made this clip unsharable so the link is the best we could do. You will notice a few things in the video; Bobby Cox taking issue with a call (shocking I know), the general malaise of players who already know they are making the squad, and young Pat Venditte. Pat is an ambidextrous pitcher. He wears a six-fingered glove and gave up two hits and a walk. The sportscasters doing the highlight in the videoclip toss in an amphibious reference at the end. Anytime a reference to our namesake is tossed out there, we feel it deserves attention (which makes me wonder if the NC State fans that swooped in to bitch me out got the reference to our blog name since Charles Shackleford went there). That was a really roundabout way to throw in an amphibious reference but I was not about to let Beck's effort go to waste. Predictions after the break.
[teams listed in order of predicted finish, how off was I last year? see here]
1. Phillies: The Phils have to be considered the front-runners in the NL. While they bid goodbye to their postseason horse Lee, they welcomed Halladay with open arms. That said, I give Roy two bad outings before the fans boo this man. The youthful generation of Philly fans feel they have a reputation and divine right to boo anything and anyone in their city when it comes to sports. "We're the city that booed Santa Claus!" Yeah, that's not a badge of honor. So now anytime anything bad happens, you can hear the crecendo rising from "should we boo this?" to "oh right, we boo everything." That said I see no reason Roy will not continue his incredible mound performances. A lot will be made of his never having pitched in the playoffs, but the way Roy tediously prepares for his outings, I don't think it will matter. Word is his work ethic has rubbed on off on the rest of the rotation. If that is the case lookout. The offense will be just as potent as last year and I like the Polanco addition by subtraction of Feliz. The bullpen could be a question with Lidge recovering from injury, but even then it is still strong. Hard to find a weakness for this team, I think they roll easy in this division.
2. Braves: It's the last hurrah for Bobby Cox. I can't say I will be sad to see him go. The scarlet-faced curmudgeon did have an impressive run thankfully for him and the team they triumphed in '95 or it would be a more dubious distinction to win all those consecutive division titles. I don't think it gives the team extra incentive to do well. Hudson and the arrival of Billy Wagner as the closer have people talking but the big story is Jason Heyward. Media members are struggling for comparisons; I've heard everything from Ryan Howard to Griffey but in bodysize he appears in between the two. He might turn out to be a Dave Winfield type but...actually let's just sit back and wait. The Bravos are having him start for day 1 which starts his FA clock a year early, but it seems they want instant results. The Braves play well in the first half of the season, but fade from the NL title race by August.
3. Marlins: Hanley Ramirez is on the short list for best offensive players in the NL. Most people have him tucked behind Pujols and Utley. The Marlins have just acquired Nate Robertson from the Tigers in their annual "look we made a trade for a player and that means we are trying" exercise. The Fish are competitive once again but not enough for the playoffs.
4. Nationals: The Pirates might have the Nats beat for state of the art stadium that sits mostly empty (there were six teams lower in attendance though!), but the good thing about being at rock-bottom is that any improvement is seen as a giant leap forward. When Stephen Strasburg is called up it will bolster attention, attendance, and maybe the Nationals play. With him and Zimmerman the Nats have the faces of the a franchise, but now they need to win...and spell correctly.
5. Metropolitans: What joy it gives me to bestow the basement prediction on my beloved Amazins. People that know are aware I am a pessimist, so while even the most cock-eyed optimist struggles to see the Mets fielding a winning team this year it is easy to believe it will not happen. The pitching behind Santana was never addressed, Beltran won't be back until May or June, and Reyes luckily will be back sooner but is a question mark even if fully healthy. The Bay signing was mandatory, and despite all the criticisms that can be hurled toward the team I will defend the move and even the contract. I am merely going to sit back and watch the team blow leads, make hideous errors, fail to hit HRs in their own park, and Johan to break down. Then when the smoke clears hopefully Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel will be gone and the team can start from scratch....again.
1. Cardinals: I have no insider info basis for this but when Matt Holliday strode to the plate in Busch Stadium for his first plate appearance as a Cardinal last year, the welcome he got told me he was re-signing. If you are a player who appreciates the fan relationship (probably not a lot of those out there) you cannot argue that St. Louis is one of the best. The fans are knowledgeable, forgiving, and passionate but not insane. The central could end up looking like a jumbled mess from any of the predicted orders of finishes out there, but I think with Carpenter and Wainwright anchoring the rotation and Pujols and Holliday anchoring the line-up, there is enough anchorage to get the Cards to hold ground where they left off last year.
2. Brewers: I view the Brewers this year, not enough to overtake the Cards, but their lineup has just as much pop as ever. Ryan Braun could really take another step in becoming an all-out superstar this year. He is great at the plate and his defense has been solid since moving to the outfield. I'm not sure Randy Wolf is the answer the pitching staff needed, but Ken Macha has the experience with the A's as underdogs to put together a good run.
3. Reds: Ok, I just got directed to a link for the trailer for the movie, The Expendables. I completely am derailed from baseball. Holy smokeless tobacco in a firecrotch that movie can only be awesome. So, the Reds, um, I was picking them to edge out the Cubs for 3rd place in the division but completely lost my sense of thought.
4. Cubs: I won't bother to pile on the Cubs by referring to goats, curses or foul balls that preceded a booted double play ball, but I will say the Cubs will struggle in my opinion. That is how we all want it right? Not Milton Bradley, Sammy Sosa cheating/leaving the clubhouse early Cubs. We want injury riddled, choking down the stretch Cubs. I think we get them this year. Pinella entered a situation where groundwork was set and he was able to steer them in the right direction. The wheels have since fallen off, Chicago had their chances but I don't think you can say this current incarnation is a title contender.
5. Astros: Quick, name the manager of the Astros. You have no idea do you? It's not surprising. Brad Mills takes over the struggling Houston team, coming from coaching the bench for the Red Sox. While many sabermetricians claim that the manager is merely a vacuous conduit for a team's success, I think the man in charge does have vital influence on a team's outcome. This team however did not really improve itself over the offseason. Brett Meyers adds punch (see what I did there) in the rotation but overall the team will struggle like it did last year.
6. Pirates: The Pirates are a baseball enigma. Ever since Sid Bream slid across home in 1992 the team has not crawled above .500. The immensity of their losing ways is overshadowed only by the indifference of baseball and their own city. With the Steelers always getting top billing and Crosby winning on the ice, outside the most devout Pirate fans I don't think many people care if the Pirates ever win again.
1. Rockies: It is time to remove the "Can you believe this team is good?" tag for Colorado. They were a surprise, then they backed up their success, albeit in dramatic fashion. I'm amazed guys like Troy Tulowitzki are not mentioned more often since they clearly have great impacts on how their team performs. Tulo is in the bracket of stars who get very little publicity outside of baseball circles. With pitching becoming healthy again I think the Rockies will continue their success.
2. Dodgers: The Dodgers seem the easy choice for the division because they have a lot of talent, but all has not been well for the organization. It starts at the top with owner Frank McCourt involved in his bitter divorce. As we all know with any bitter divorce it is the children who suffer. The talent of Ethier, Loney, Man-Ram, Kemp, and Martin is great, but not enough. Kershaw is the supposed future in the rotation but he is not the first in the rotation right now, that belongs to Vincente Padilla. The Dodgers win a lot of games this year but Torre is better at steering a smooth-sailing ship than navigating rapids, however mild they may be.
3. Giants: The 88 wins the Giants had last year were a surprise to many, but the pitching duo of Lincecum and Cain is hard to top. The story should be the same this year for the Giants who will have great pitching but struggle on offense behind Kung Fu Panda. The additions of DeRosa and Huff are supposed to bolster the Sandoval-led line-up but no one is holding their breath no that one.
4. Diamondbacks: The D-backs won't be as bad as their 70 win performance last year, but they are not climbing over any humps either. Having Brandon Webb back helps of course, but health is a concern and so is performance after surgery. The young trio of Reynolds, Upton, and Drew is fun to watch and will help them hover around that .500 mark.
5. Padres: San Diego is not a team that is striving for year after year excellence which is not all that different for a majority of teams in MLB. The Padres just happen to have it being thrown in their face at the moment. The team is pretty much waiting until the season floats away in July to unload Adrian Gonzalez and all the riches his trade will bring. There is a new front office and they want to start getting the pieces they want and implementing their plan for the Fathers to get competitive. Unfortunately for Padre fans that means suffering through this year, but hey look, they lowered beer prices!
Phillies over Brewers(Wild Card winners)
Cardinals over Rockies
Phillies over Cardinals
Monday, March 29
Without a doubt the biggest winners of the college basketball weekend were the Final Four teams, but that is just in the competitive side of the sport. As we have all learned when it comes to college sports the money is the most influential element. That is why more people than just the quartet of teams have cause to celebrate about the way the tournament has unfolded. The NCAA has run an ad campaign this year about the amount of money being put back into their membership programs; in the commercial they claim it is 97% and while some may be dubious upon that amount it is roughly accurate. As people often need reminding the NCAA is an organization that is comprised of the member colleges and those colleges dictate the rules by which the organization operates. In the NCAA tournament, more than school pride is at stake for the teams and their conferences. There is a lot of money to be won.
While we know that college football is king when it comes to the ability to generate revenue through the bowl system, that is not an NCAA sponsored enterprise. Like the NCAA though the bowls enjoy tax exempt status but that is a story for another day. The bowl payouts are distributed to the conferences which almost all spread it evenly among their membership institutions. When it comes to the basketball tournament each team begins with a reward and those that advance earn extra rewards. Read rewards as cash. The more a team wins, the more money it gets for its conference which earns them extra money in turn. While the players and coaches are focused on winning in the hopes of raising the trophy at the end, everyone is essentially playing for money.
This money comes in the forms of units. Each team earns its conference a unit for appearing in the tournament. The worth of a unit changes each year depending on the total revenue but it is divided equally amongst the participants. This year a unit is worth $222,502. That means every team participating in this year's tournament, all 65 started off earning that. Yes those cringes and hung heads on Selection Sunday were not just from coaches and players, but school administrators as well. For each additional win, a school earns its conference another unit.
In this economy(!) even the big conferences view this as more than just a drop in the bucket, especially since they have multiple bids. The units are paid out based how many have been accrued on a rolling six year schedule. So if a conference makes a deep run or has multiple bids, a school can add a nice source of income over the next six years.
The smaller schools typically can expect 1 unit each year, 2 if their team manages to win their first round game. Look at Arkansas Pine-Bluff; many would think they would be upset to get into opening round game since some people consider it the play-in game. However, APB got a unit for appearing in that game AND another won for winning it and facing Duke. For one of the lowest rated teams in the tournament, they earned the SWAC $445,004 this year and those units are added to whatever they accrue for the next six years. For the next 5 years, any units the SWAC generates will be added to this year's total and paid out each year.
That is why the Horizon League had to be doing summersaults on Saturday. While Butler has earned the Horizon League a fair amount of units in the past, this year marked the first time they advance to an Elite 8 and Final Four. The Bulldogs have already earned 5 units out of a possible 6 (there is no extra unit if you win, but there is the thrill of being national champions) and reached the Final Four in their hometown of Indianapolis. Did I mention that they and the Horizon League are the official hosts of the Final Four?
Thanks to Butler, the Horizon league added $1,112,510 to the pot. They could add another unit if they beat Michigan State on Saturday. If the Horizon League evenly distributes their money, that is $111,251 per school. If you were to imagine a Horizon League team bowing out in the first round, say if Butler lost to UTEP like many (/covers face) they would get just $22,250.20 for each school in the league.
Now of course we come to the big leagues. According to this, the Big Ten earned 69 units in the previous pay cycle. That earned each school in the conference $1,395,692. They earned $1,863,000 in football bowl money this year as well. Obviously we can see the big 6 conferences have extra incentive to get as many bids as possible. The Big East's success in the tourney is debatable; West Virginia made the Final Four (3rd year in a row for the conference), only they got past the Sweet 16, the 1 seed Syracuse was upset, Villanova got lucky against Robert Morris and then bowed out in the 2nd round. What is not debatable is the Big East racking up huge money from the tournament the last few years. Granted the Big East is a huge 16 team behemoth. The conference entered the tournament with 8 teams. That is $1,780,016 for the conference without taking a dribble. Even with teams struggling and leaving in the first round, some unceremoniously (Georgetown), they still managed 8 more units which doubles their money. So far in this year's tournament alone the Big East has netted $3,560,032.
So whether the money received is a drop in the bucket for a conference and their respective athletic departments or a big payday for smaller programs, there is a lot more money to be won in the NCAA tournament than eternal glory. Memphis recently felt the sting of playing the 2008 tournament with an ineligible player. For the SAT-Derrick Rose situation, not only was the school forced to vacate the wins that led them to the title game where they lost in overtime to Kansas, but they had to return all their tournament revenue from that year. It totaled approximately $615,000 so it is no wonder the school is suing Calipari to get his $350,000 worht of bonuses back. With the possibility of expansion and changing networks, the revenues may change in the coming years, but it is likely the system will remain the same.
Friday, March 26
It's been a tough week. I'm getting sick heading into the weekend, my bracket looks like a septic tank blew up all over it, I made a felonius error in my NC State post which I had to correct (thanks again Wolfpack fans for pointing it out), I misquoted Arnold in Running Man and it might snow here today. If anything can give me a small lift of the spirit it is a nice childhood memory.
Pete and Pete reminds me of a simpler time, when trouncing around the St. Ann's parking lot was all life required. I was thinking of looking up what everyone attached to this show is doing now, but I am afraid of learning the truth as it will most likely not be pretty. Not going to harsh my own mellow while the last few hours in the office tick away.
Thursday, March 25
Something that accompanies this time of year is the coaching carrousel. We hear all the time now that winning is all that matters, and that coaches are given a short time to produce results. Sometimes programs can get ahead of themselves but not seeing their forest for the trees that dot the landscape. With that in mind we take a look at one program as an example that made a quick move and how it has unfolded so far.
When Herb Sendek rode into town in 1996 the NC State program was in complete disarray. Herb immediately produced the program's first winning season since 1990. They also made the ACC Tournament final, a trend of doing well in that tournament that he would continue throughout his time there. In a 30 mile radius, let alone a state where the Wolfpack will never be on the same plane as Duke or Carolina, Herb had a good run. From 2002 to 2006 he had a winning season each year and took NC State to the tourney each year. Wolfpack nation was not happy though. They wanted more. While Herb was taking the program places it had not been since the H.W. Bush administration, fans saw Duke and North Carolina win national championships and make Final Fours. In 2005, Herb and company beat defending champion UConn to advance to the Sweet 16. The very next Sendek went 22-10, 10-6 in the ACC and made the second round of the tournament. Due to the harsh criticism from both fans and the media, Herb made the preemptive move and took the Arizona State job before he could be fired.
I can understand that schools and fans get impatient. Herb was in his 10th season and people wanted results. It is not unfounded that after years of clawing away in the middle of the conference and falling short early in the tournament the athletic department gave into the fans and decided Herb had had ample time to build a program. Once Herb was gone the speculation ran wild about who would be brought in. This is where NC State began their mistake; they thought a brand name coach was entitled to them. The green grass they saw on the other side was not their lawn, it belonged to their neighbors the blue bloods.
The pure and simple fact is that while NC State has a rich basketball history, it will always play second fiddle to its neighbors in Durham and Chapel Hill. With two prime recruits coming in next year Sidney Lowe seems to have a one-year coaching life to live. Lowe was brought in after a coaching search that was publicized more for its failures than its final result. Sidney was then hailed as a savior of the so-called mediocrity the program has wallowed in under Sendek. He was on the famous 1983 team, he had experience on an NBA sideline, and he had a shiny red blazer. Four years later the Wolfpack have yet to reach the NCAA tournament and managed only two NIT appearances. Meanwhile, Herb Sendek brought Arizona State to his customary second round exit of the tournament last year. He has also made two NITs in the past four years. Herb did not come out of this looking like the shining white knight, but compared to his replacement at NC State, he has been successful.
The coaching game is one wrought with good intentions and horrible betrayals. The contracts themselves are drawn up specifically for provisions of if and when one side decides to leave the other flapping in the breeze. Yet as we see teams get further in the tournament and get the national attention and perhaps more importantly extra money cash coming in for them and their conference, it is a price both sides are willing to pay.
Look at Xavier, a team with some recent history of success. They lured That Matta away from Butler but lost him to Ohio State. They promoted his assistant Sean Miller(who was an assistant under Sendek at NC State) who continued their success in the tourney but lost him to Arizona. They promote assistant Chris Mack and are playing in the Sweet 16 this year. So Xavier has collected two buyouts and have their new promoted assistant continuing their success. Of course once Chris Mack is without Holloway and Crawford, his talent will really be put to the test but in the interim Xavier has done beautifully by not seeking coaching outside their limits. Consider that they have a great history of developing coaches who went on to achieve success at other places such as Skip Prosser and Pete Gillen.
There is rarely an instant fix for a struggling program, the exception being this year with Kentucky. The grass was clearly greener (though there was also plenty of dirt and BS to fertilize that grass) on the other side. John Calipari left Memphis and there soon-to-be forfeited games behind and brought hope, excitement, and Cousins and Wall to Lexington. The turnaround has been instant and might yet produce a 9th title for the Cats, but the cost could be hefty down the road.
So as NC State, recently ousted from the NIT by UAB, heads into another year of basketball uncertainty it stands as a testament to how important coaching choices are [Ed. note: whether a guy is fired or run out of town]. People want the quick fix, but looking before you leap is never a bad way to go about your business. Operating under the illusion that you can just buy out the new guy if he fails after a few years and it do no damage to the program in the long run is foolish. You never know what is waiting on that other side where the grass looks fresh and green, but it never hurts to look under your feet and see what you are leaving behind before you run off recklessly for what seems like greener pastures.
Tuesday, March 23
Following a 30-point drubbing at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats, Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio proclaimed, “I’ve been in the ACC 10 years, that’s as good a basketball team as we’ve played against in the 10 years I’ve been here." That span of ten years includes four national title teams, one each for Maryland and Duke and two for North Carolina. If my team had been in a late season death sprial, I'd just barely beaten Texas and Rick Barnes in a battle of whose coach sucks less, and people were starting to talk about me being on the hot seat, I too would probably be eager to proclaim Kentucky the best. It makes explaining a 30-point loss a little easier. Gaudio's comments are actually not that unrealistic from a talent standpoint, but an aspect he didn't consider, it's a new era in college basketball.
While John Wall has been the showstopper (or starter depending on your perspective), being well-rounded makes this Kentucky team truly special. They've got NBA talent at virtually every position, something not available to most teams for the last decade. The addition of the 'one-and-done' rule by the NBA has made it so that talented big men are now forced to make a pit stop in college. There is little doubt that John Wall would have chosen to go directly to the L as well, but no one attracts attention from NBA teams like the 6'10" and over fellas. DeMarcus Cousins would have been a lottery pick this year and Daniel Orton could easily have been drafted instead of playing thirteen minutes off the bench for the Wildcats on the basis of size and potential alone. When three of the four ACC National Championships were being won earlier in the aughts, almost all potential NBA lottery picks with size were going directly to the NBA. In 2001, three high school big men, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, and Eddy Curry were selected ahead of the undisputed leader of the National Champion Duke Blue Devils, Shane Battier. In 2002, following the Terrapins tournament championship two college big men, Drew Gooden and Terp Chris Wilcox, were taken before the first high schooler, Amare Stoudamire, but it's easy to judge who has had the most success at the next level. Players that would have made a huge impact in college, such as Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins all made the leap. Today, they wouldn't be allowed.
Perhaps no team better illustrates how much of an impact the one-and-done rule has had than Kentucky, but one need only look back to the 2005 championship team of North Carolina to see just how different history could have been. The Heels were led by Sean May, Raymond Felton, and Rashad McCants. They were joined in the starting lineup by Jawad Williams and Jackie Manuel, with Melvin Scott and future number two pick in the draft, Marvin Williams coming off the bench. Had the one-and-done rule been in place, J.R. Smith (taken 18th directly out of HS) would also have been on the roster as well as Dwight Howard. That would have given the Heels potentially five lottery picks and six first rounders. People may still be able to argue that Kentucky would be better from a talent stand point, there is no disputing that being led by a core of upperclassmen would be a huge advantage for Carolina over the current Wildcats (and the same goes for the 2009 championship team). It's why Kansas was the prohibitive favorite to win the title this season and not the team with some many future lottery picks... wait, that doesn't prove my point at all. Oh well, screw the Jayhawks.
At this point, this Kentucky team may be the most talented college team assembled in the last decade, but they're not worthy of being considered the best. If they fail to close during the final two weekends of the tournament, they're little more than the Fab 5, and they don't have a nickname to make them immortal like CWebb and crew. Dino may be right but to compare them to teams that won titles as recently as just five years ago is difficult, because it was a different era, not separated by time, but by one rule.
You know why people always complain about other people telling them about their brackets? Because they heard some other person mock people who talk about their brackets. Is it really the worst thing in the world if someone lets you know how the biggest sports pick'em in our country turned out for them? The argument pops up every year because people want to share how their bracket turned out, that is why the whiners still have a voice. It's that I'm too cool for school attitude that makes that midget on the Sports Reporters even more detestable. Yes I clicked on the TV Sunday morning and in addition to my hangover I was greeted with the weasel-faced Liliputian spouting his no doubt recycled rant about people talking about their brackets. He should count himself lucky he still has a place in a medium that has chewed up and spewed out others who plodded along by rehashing old stories and being generally lazy when it came to sports journalism. Okay, rant over. On to a look at each of the Sweet 16 teams remaining and one fact about each of them.
Kentucky: UK seems to be the shoe-drop team still remaining in this tournament, even though Kansas was the top seed that did not survive the first weekend. Kentucky has become the hated mass of this tournament. Before it was simply for winning a lot and being Kentucky, but the Calipari hire has definitely rubbed people the wrong way. It was a Fasutian hire for sure, and it signified the final crossing of the threshold for the winning is the only thing collective of Big Blue. Maybe it is the way it has always been, but in the past college programs were much better at providing a guise of respectful leaders, educational excellence and the betterment of mankind as a means to their basketball/football succeeding. Kentucky threw a good chunk of this out the window when they brought in Calipari. They were tired of losing, and took the path of least resistance and in this day and age they can hardly be blamed. It has brought the hail of criticism, but neither coach Cal, the players, or their fans really care. Winning is the only thing that matters now.
Cornell: People who paid attention to college basketball this year knew that Cornell was a solid team going into the tournament. In no way should they have been a 12 seed. Temple coach Fran Dunphy did all but take a verbal flame-thrower to the committee for pairing his 5th seeded Owls with the Big Red. What is surprising is that Cornell has the most impressive offensive performances overall in the tourney so far. Forget who scored the most points, Cornell laid 78 on Temple (opponents averaged 56.8) and 87 on Wisconsin (opponents averaged 56.9). Two teams known most of all for their tough, half-court defense got ran out of the gym.
Washington: I guess this is the equivalent of an NFL team winning their division at 9-7 and then catching fire in the playoffs. While UW was seeded too low as well, it was not the committee's fault. Washington underachieved all season in a bad Pac Ten. And that is the joke of it, with Washington getting to the sweet 16 and Cal winning their first round game against the chuckers that are Louisville, a big campaign started to try to bolster the conference. The truth behind the Lorenzo Romar soliloquies is that the league had two good teams, and a whole lot of slop behind it.
West Virginia: Bob Huggins is a very good coach, no denying that. He has reached a Final Four and two Elite Eights. However, he has not gotten that far since 1996 with Cincinnati. That year a very talented Bearcat team (Danny Fortson, Corey Blount, Keith LeGree) got Dante Jones'd by Mississippi State. This is Huggins's best chance to reach a Final Four since landing at Morgantown, will he go out like a lion, or a lamb who had a little too much to drink and tried to drive home.
Syracuse: Cannot be anything but impressed with the Orange's blowout of Gonzaga. Not just from a score standpoint but when Rick Jackson was tagged with 3 fouls in the first half, it seemed as though the door was open for Gonzaga. Jim Boeheim knows what it is going take to win the title, a great shooting night from his team, and a less than stellar one from the opponents. It is a good bet to be banking on, considering Rautins and Johnson look very comfortable so far and their length on the zone provides enough of a buffer for them to outscore the other team.
Butler: Butler may present one of the best chances for a team to knockoff Syracuse. They shoot the 3 well, don't turn it over, and play pretty good defense. Against Syracuse though, it is all about the 3. If the Bulldogs want any shot, they have to bomb away from deep. They were 9-14 in their 2nd round game against Murray State. If they shoot at that clip with a higher volume, they have a shot.
Xavier: The Musketeers returned the favor in kind to Pitt on Sunday. It was a little eerie how the game was so similar to last year's with the roles reversed. Xavier just keeps finding a way to make it work. They have been one of the most consistent tournament teams over the last decade and have done it with 3 different coaches.
Kansas St.: Frank Martin is the Frank the Tank for the new decade; big, strong, mean, unfunny, and able to crush small woodland creatures with either his gaze or his hands.
Northern Iowa: Ali Farokhmanesh is now a household name. Many have praised his big brass ones for shooting his open 3 against Kansas(me included), but allow me to go Whitlock for a second. If Ali had a complexion like an American typically thinks an Iranian person would have, would he be getting all this love? The easy answer is no. MSM people would praise his shot, but not throw in all the gritty, and effusive praise. I'm just saying, no I'm telling you that is what would happen.
Michigan State: The last year has played out like a Disney movie for the Spartans thus far. Lose national title in your home dome and see hopes and dreams crushed, come back next year but injuries and internal struggle force a tough year. Hobbled in the tournament they escape in the first game and overcome impossible odds with their star player down and out in the second game to hit a last second shot. So if they carry this on to win an improbably, impossible title it is a Disney movie and if they fall short it becomes a Lifetime movie.
Tennessee: Bruce Pearl is good for college basketball, especially at Tennessee. He gets people talking at a school where football is king and the women's team is queen. He gets good players and his teams have done well. He has painted his body orange and macked on the female population of Knoxville. The one thing he has not done is take the Vols beyond the sweet 16. It will not be easy to get by Ohio State, Pearl can move up one more step in the UT hierarchy by avenging his loss to the Buckeyes in 2007 where they led the entire game.
Ohio State: The path hath opened up for Ohio State. On paper there is no way they should not get to Indianapolis. Will the team with the number 1 pick in this year's draft take Turner over John Wall? If I had the number 1 pick, I would.
Duke: Duke fans are hedging their bets already by talking about next year. Despite losing Scheyer and perhaps Singler, they have coach K's first ever JUCO transfer, Seth Curry, and a top recruit Irving next year. There is reason for optimism, but Devil fans should be excited about now, there have to be one of the favorites left in the field.
Purdue: Right off the bat, in the press conference after they beat Siena, the Boilermakers were throwing the disrespect card on the table. Even the president's bracket was immune from attacks. Whatever it takes to get them motivated but the fact remains they lost their most dynamic player. It was natural for people to doubt them.
St. Mary's: Omar Samhan made himself a nice chunk of change in the tournament so far. While the ears of NBA scouts have pricked, they probably will be most interested to see how he fares against the bigs of Baylor.
Baylor: Scott Drew never played high school basketball, but he knows the game and knows how to recruit. He never hit that amazing shot against Ole Miss like his brother Bryce did, but he has his team playing what is essentially a home game regional with a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four.
Friday, March 19
Note: The video was of the game-winner by Murray St. over Vanderbilt, but CBS decided to make it be pulled down off Youtube. I understand CBS wants to protect their product, but a short vid of one of the tourney's best moments being more accessible to people is not a smart way for them to invest their time.
/obvious internet blog rant
Thursday, March 18
You have to appreciate this year's Final Four logo. It really represents the event being held in Indianapolis; bland, boring, and a little chunky. Somehow I ended up with New Mexico alongside the other 3 number 1 seeds. If it happens I get to leave it up, but again I was saying that about my Gonzaga and Xavier picks from years past.
My final picks are nothing extraordinary, but if it does shake out like this there will be some good games ahead.
Kansas over Syracuse: In a rematch of the 2003 championship game Kansas proves too tough for the Syracuse zone. This Kansas team is not given credit enough defensively, and their ability to limit the Orange from scoring will provide the difference. The 2-3 zone is not terribly complex, and Boeheim has said he wants to get to the tourney so he won't see anymore Big East teams that know how to beat it. Given a week though, and the driving ability of Collins and others, Kansas wins by almost double digits.
Duke over New Mexico: New Mexico would be treated like the red-headed stepchild if this Final Four comes to fruition. I would expect Duke to win in this match-up. The trio of Scheyer, Singler , and Smith, or the reverse oreo line as I call them (a tribute to the Mighty Ducks) have been brilliant and most importantly, when one falters the others seem to bring up the slack. The last few years it looked like only Singler was playing with the confidence of a top team. This year all the Duke players are. It is that Duke swagger, except it is a lot more hokey than swagger. It is that same thing we began hating Duke for in the early 90s. It is pale swagger, Laettner swagger, I'm better than you swagger. New Mexico comes into Indy in awe and shoots horribly, coach K yells at officials and Duke shoots twice as many foul shots.
Kansas over Duke: Not really going out on a limb picking KU to win it all but I have been saying for weeks I was going with them and I am not changing now. CBS would love this scenario, because as we all know conspiracy nuts, Duke is the biggest draw of all time. Of course the pre-game hype will focus on coach K slurpage, the historic nature of the programs and of course, Grant Hill's dunk from their 1991 title game meeting which Duke won 72-65.
In just a few short hours the tournament will begin. It will actually be a few long, agonizing hours. Someday people will sit around and wonder what people did for the tournament when there was no March Madness on Demand. I can't imagine my life without it today. Slow day at the office, the best tournament ever (hyperbole intended) kicking off. Certain days in the American workforce are so unproductive that they should become national holidays. The day after the Super Bowl, the first two days of the tournament, St. Swilling's Day, etc. Our country is one of the tops in least time off. No wonder we are all fat and have high blood pressure. Except for me, I'm doing fantastic.
1 Kentucky over 16 East Tennessee State Kenny Chesney went to ETSU, he is also really close with Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow. Just sayin'.
9 Wake Forest over 8 Texas: I like the "Kentucky better watch out for Texas in the 2nd round" talk. I am going to squash that right now, Wake wins in the team-with-high-expectations-that-went-into-the-crapper bowl.
5 Temple over 12 Cornell: This is really a balls match-up for Cornell. They made the tourney last year, had a strong season this year including almost taking out Kansas at the Phog. They have a good big man and a good scorer. But Temple has no problems playing an Ivy League type slowdown game. Their coach Fran Dunphy used to coach at Penn so this will not be foreign territory.
4 Wisconsin over 13 Wofford: While I consider every tournament game a must-watch game, this one will be the watching-paint-dry game of the tourney.
11 Washington over 6 Marquette: If this match-up was presented at the beginning of the season it would be Washington hands down. I think this will be a case of team getting hot at the right time after a disapointing season, like Arizona last year.
3 New Mexico over 14 Montana: The Lobos are the high seed that people probably know the least about, aside from Steve Alford being the coach. I enjoyed the segment about Alford wanting to be a Pacer in the Reggie Miller 30 for 30. Donnie Walsh has some brass ones for not taking Alford, and if he had one a title with Reggie, it would have been held in even higher esteem. Some people in New York would say taking Jordan Hill knocked Donnie down a few pegs.
10 Missouri over 7 Clemson: Clemson....DO NOT WANT! While Catfish in the past got swindled by the Tigers in the past he now knows as I do, you never bet on Clemson. In football and basketball, they are the quintessential let down team. Like small airplanes I never trust them.
2 West Virginia over 15 Morgan State: There are a lot of nervous couches in Morgantown right now.
1 Kentucky over 9 Wake Forest: Although people like to knock Calipari for not winning the title at Memphis (among other things), but he rarely lost to teams as inferior as Wake is to the Wildcats.
5 Temple over 4 Wisconsin: This game will not be poetry in motion either.
3 New Mexico over 11 Washington: Iowa fans would be quick to point out that Steve Alford was never able to take the Hawkeyes far in the tournament. So taking New Mexico, who is kind of an unknown to begin with is a dangerous pursuit, but the little I saw of new Mexico this year was enough to know they have athletic playmakers and a solid leader.
10 Missouri over 2 West Virginia: Last year Missouri used their hectic, speed it up offense to bounce Memphis. They are not as good as they were last year, but I think they shoot lights out, and the Mountaineers turn it over too much. This has all the makings of a classic Bobby Huggins let down tourney game.
1 Kentucky over 5 Temple: I think this game will end up looking a lot the close calls Kentucky has had against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. They will play really bad and the game will be low scoring, but in the end they edge it out on some bullshit shot/foul call by Wall.
3 New Mexico over 10 Missouri: If New Mexico gets past Washington, I think it gives them the confidence an inexperienced tourney high seed needs.
3 New Mexico over 1 Kentucky: I never fill out my bracket looking ahead to see if the final result "makes sense" or is balanced. If I go region by region and all 4 teams I have making it are Big East teams then so be it. I don't like having New Mexico making it to Indy and it probably has no chance of happening, but I just envision in my gut as what will happen. Maybe I am too high on the Mountain West Conference. I banged the drum for TCU during football season but their ginger QB decided to play like ass in the Fiesta Bowl. I assume I will get burned similarly on this one. Darington Hobson is a player who could start on any number of big name teams, and I really like the leadership by Roman Martinez. They are the two leading scorers and rebounders on the team, and I think they lead the Lobos to the promised land.
Wednesday, March 17
It was 20 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, but also the 1990 NCAA tournament was in its 3rd day of competition. Sports greatness when viewed in hindsight is always given more credit than in its current state. There are dozens of coaching greats in this year's tournament. However, looking at the coaching list from the '90 affair, it is most impressive.
First, let's look back at some memorable moments from that tournament.
Rick Fox, before he married Vanessa Williams or co-starred on Oz, hit this game-winner over number 1 seed Oklahoma in the 2nd round of the tourney. Things to note in this video: Hubert Davis rockin' the box and a very happy Pete Chilcutt.
Next we have Dennis Scott, 3-D himself putting eventual Final Four team Georgia Tech ahead of LSU in the 2nd round.
Then, we have the 1st round buzzer beater by Maurice Newby to put Northern Iowa past Mizzou. Could the Panthers experience similar magic this year? Well they were a 14 seed in 1990 and are a 9 seed this year but they will face Kansas if they get past UNLV. Things to note in this video: the cheerleader hair, my lord look at hose bangs.
Of course the most memorable shots from this tournament featured UConn on both sides of the buzzer. The Tate George turn around with 1 second left with the heave by Scott Burrell (Elden Campbell gaurding the inbound pass!). Forward to 2:00 on the vid for the shot.
In the next game, Christian Laettner would squash the Huskies run. The only video I could find of the shot was here, and it is sped up for some reason. UConn did not guard the inbounds passer, who was Laettner.
UNLV ended up winning the whole thing, trouncing Duke by 30 in the title game.
Now to the coaches.
In the East Region: I broke the coaches into legends and memorable names. Team and seed unmber follow in parantheses. Bolded coach and team won the region.
Legendary: Jim Calhoun(UConn - 1), Roy Williams(Kansas - 2), Mike Krzyzewski(Duke - 3), Lou Carnesecca(St. John's - 6), Bob Knight(Indiana - 8), John Chaney(Temple - 11)
Memorable: Cliff Ellis(Clemson - 5), Jim Harrick(UCLA - 7), Mike Jarvis(Boston University- 16)
It's amusing that all 3 coaches in the memorable category left schools under suspicious practices under NCAA investigation. The legendary group is damn legendary but outside of Lou and perhaps Roy seem a awfully crusty bunch.
Legendary: Billy Tubbs(Oklahoma - 1), Gene Keady(Purdue -2), John Thompson(Georgetown - 3), Nolan Richardson(Arkansas - 4), Lou Henson(Illinois - 5), Hugh Durham(Georgia - 7), Dean Smith(North Carolina - 8), Pete Caril(Princeton - 13)
Memorable: Pete Gillen(Xavier - 6), Charlie Spoonhour(SW Missouri St - 9), Tom Penders(Texas - 10), Lon Kruger(Kansas State - 11), Jim O'Brien(Dayton - 12)
So pretty much all but 3 coaches are legends in their own right or recognizable names. Just look at that basketball brainpower in the first category.
Legendary: Jud Heathcoat(Michigan State - 1), Jim Boeheim(Syracuse - 2), Norm Stewart(Missouri - 3), Bobby Cremins(Georgia Tech - 4), Dale Brown(LSU - 5), Digger Phelps(Notre Dame - 10), Don Haskins(UTEP - 11), Rollie Massimino(Villanova - 12)
Memorable: Clem Haskins(Minnesota - 6), Terry Holland(Virgina - 7), Les Robinson(East Tenn. St - 13)
Come to think of it, more often than not these coaches ran into NCAA problems.
Legendary: Jerry Tarkanian(UNLV - 1), Lute Olson(Arizona - 2), Denny Crum(Lousiville - 4)
Memorable: Steve Fisher(Michigan - 3), Randy Ayers(Ohio State - 8), Rick Barnes(Providence - 9), Paul Westhead(Loyola Marymount - 10)
I decided to not put Fisher in the legends category. He doesn't have 400 wins yet and although he reached the Final Four 3 times(once according to the NCAA) I don't think he is there yet.
Hey there, random internet link list. Haven't seen you in awhile. In between joinnig the regular American workforce and still finding quoting Dave Chappelle funny, things have been going on in what the Germans call "das interenet". Let's start things off with pure internet win(audio NSFW)...
Reggie Bush a Seahawk? It would give him the opportunity to cost Pete Carrol another title by pitching a dumb lateral. [Rumors and Rants]
Staying on the NFL topic, some underrated moves from Free Agency. [TBL]
It's trivia Wednesday! Honestly it kills me not to be able to play trivia at the grad every hump day. Can you name the cities that have hosted tournament games the most? [Sporcle]
Tiger returns for the Masters. Television execs at ESPN and CBS rejoice. Golf fans dance. White trash sluts pack suitcases and descend on Augusta. And some gambling site is picking him to win. [Sportress of Blogitude]
Say what you want about soccer players, they can get awfully creative when they score a goal. [Sportige]
It may be possible that some old media crumudgen will dust off an article about the lamentation of NCAA Final Four no longer being played in basketball arenas. The games have been moved to huge, vast domes. Oh for the days of basketball the way it was supposed to be! As Deepthroat once said, "follow the money". That is all that has to be done, sports are big business, welcome to reality, it is too foolish to not hold the culmination of the tournament in a huge stadium that can hold upwards of 50,000 instead of an intimate arena that holds less than half of that.
In the 80s, a few Final Fours were held in domes but most were still in basketball style arenas. I remember when the Final Four came to my hometown of Charlotte and the city was buzzing. The year was 1994 and Big Nasty and Scotty Thurman led Arkansas over Duke while president Clinton looked on. Those days are a memory now, as is Charlotte Coliseum. The last Final Four not played in one of behemoths was in 1996 in the Meadowlands. While those days are gone forever, the West regional final will be played in a modest 22,000 seat arena in Salt Lake City. Energy Solutions Arena offers a sensible name and a pro-style basketball venue. It is home to the Utah Jazz. The Regional semifinal and final rounds in the West will have a different feel than the others by the way it looks on TV. No better, no worse, just different. The West quadrant picks after the break.
1 Syracuse over 16 Vermont: Here is where one can raise a cocked eyebrow at the committee. They pair Vermont with Syracuse, two teams that met in 2005 when the Catamounts pulled off the big upset over 3 seeded Syracuse. This time there is no Brennan and Coppenwrath (and no Gus Johnson) and this Orange team is much better than that one. This game is being played in Buffalo so plenty of fans from both side should be there. Once the committee placed this game on the final board there had to be at least one that said, "cha-ching!".
9 Florida State over 8 Gonzaga: I'll admit that I was in the bag for Gonzaga for a number of years. I had them in the Final Four multiple times earlier in the 2000s, and even last year I thought they could give Carolina a run for their money. This year, I'm not taking the bait. The Zags over Cuse upset in the second round has been dangled out there for people to take, but this time I won't get fooled again.
12 UTEP over 5 Butler: These next two games are agonizing to choose. I truly think the 5-12 and 4-13 games in the West are a complete tossup. The analysts are shoving Derek Caracter down our throats in this match-up, but the Miners' big man is a big key to their success and Butler does not have a match-up for them. It really comes down to how Butler shoots the 3 and I am leaning toward an off-day considering the midwestern team has to travel to the left coast. Miners in a squeaker.
4 Vanderbilt over 13 Murray State: Like the above game I think this will be close and a lot of people are high on the Racers. While their 30-4 record is impressive, their schedule strength is 263. They lost by 5 at Cal early on but other than that it was mostly blah and their conference schedule. Vandy sometimes gets more credit than it deserves for being consistenly competititve and often times less credit than it deserves because people point to their home court as an advantage. The Commodores were not horrible away from Memorial Colisuem entirely. I think they lean on Beal and Ogilvy to edge out a win.
6 Xavier over 11 Minnesota: This is the 9th straight year Xavier is in the tournament. Impressive run and even more so this year after losing Derek Brown and coach Sean Miller (more on that in a later post). They have only been bounced in the first round once during their current run. First year coach Chris Mack is in an similar position to his predecessor after Thad Matta left for Ohio State. I think the Musketeers triumph over a Minnesota team that got hot for a few games in the Big Ten tournament to get them a bid in the first place.
3 Pittsburgh over 14 Oakland: I just realized my whole first round of this region is all chalk (9 over 8 is not an upset). So much for my speech but surprises are coming, honest! Pitt is one of those teams waiting to break through and every year you think this is the year. Last year I thought it was that year. They nearly made it until Scottie Reynolds took it the length. I really like Pitt as a sleeper this year. No expectations, but the same hard-nosed defense Jamie Dixon always brings.
7 BYU over 10 Florida: The polls don't carry weight like they do in college football(thank goodness) but BYU is ranked 7th in Kenpom and 16th and 17th in the two major polls. They land at a 7 seed, making their quest to get their first tournament win since the Clinton administration. Is it not freaky/cool that you can say "since the Clinton administration" and make something sound dated? It was first term Clinton too for the Cougars, 1993. Florida is quite fortunate to make it in. If they had missed out nobody outside of Gainesville would be arguing their case. Now that they are in they are dangerous for a round or two but I think BYU gets good support in OKC and snaps their streak.
2 Kansas State over 15 North Texas: The Mean Green will more than likely be drubbed by the purple cats. Kansas State is a complete wildcard in this thing. Frank Martin deserves credit for finding a style that plays well with their formidable backcourt, but once the lights get bright on this team, can they succeed outside the Octagon of Doom?
1 Syracuse over 9 Florida State: Onuaku not playing in this game would be a bigger factor if Alabi had a better inside game, the Cuse did not play a long (and athletic!) 2-3 zone, and Rick Jackson was there. Jackson actually had better overall numbers this year. The depth/foul trouble issue is the biggest concern for the Orange, but again the 2-3 zone is supposed to help in that.
12 UTEP over 4 Vanderbilt: An Ogilvy/Character match-up would be great to see and no doubt would be ruined by cheap foul calls resulting in one or both players seeing limited playing time. It is always deflating to see a Sweet 16 pick go out in the first round, especially if they are blown out. I sense a good probability of that happening to UTEP.
6 Xavier over 3 Pittsburgh: Pitt's success in this year's tourney is predicated on the fact that most teams will be taken back by their aggressive and physical defense. Xavier, however will be ready. The A-10 was not the personification of run and gun basketball. Teams like Richmond, Rhode Island, Dayton and most of all St. Louis(coached by Rick Majerus) played similar grinding styles. Xavier and Pitt played a bloodbath last year in the Sweet 16 with Pitt escaping, this year Xavier will take them down.
7 BYU over 10 Kansas State: Like I mentioned before I do not trust K-State and they very well may prove me wrong. Despite the illness to BYU leading scorer Jimmer Fredette, I like what Michael Lloyd Jr. can do to disrupt Clemente. Solid defense and good shooting would lift them over erratic Kansas State.
1 Syracuse over 12 UTEP: It is fun and sometimes fashionable to place low seeds making it to the Sweet 16. In the past few years when the chalk has been flying it makes it difficult to think a 12 would beat a 1. I think the Orange go marching on.
7 BYU over 6 Xavier: So just to recount so far, I have Robert Morris beating Nova and BYU, who has not won a tourney game the early 90s, in the Elite 8. Keep in mind BYU would be playing this game (if they get this far) in Salt Lake City. Any available ticket will be snatched up by any and all members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and 15,000 of their closest friends. The arena will be in a the kind of frenzy only a bunch of white, sober sports enthusiasts can produce.
1 Syracuse over 7 BYU: I'm projecting the Cougars to play in this tournament like they are on a mission (see what I did there? Do you?!) but ultimately I think their hot shooting comes to an end, even against the 2-3 zone.
Three 1 seeds so far in my Final Four. Seems chalkish but tomorrow when I reveal the East and my Final Four picks it will not be all number 1s.
Tuesday, March 16
Conspiracy theorists unite! There has been a strong movement to contend that the draw Duke has gotten in the South was motivated by ratings, money, and slightly by race. Duke has the easiest draw I agree, but that does not make it easy. They are still going to have to beat tough teams to make it to Indy. I think having Purdue and Villanova in the same bracket is a joke considering they are probably the weakest at those seeds, but it is kind of insulting to all the other high seed teams in the region to say it is a cakewalk.
1 Duke over 16 Winthrop: I am picking the Eagles to win the opening round game over Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Don't expect too many fireworks tonight because Winthrop plays a slowed down pace and will try to make this game in the 50s. Duke will no doubt triumph in this game in Jacksonville, but the question is how long will Coach K leave his starters in the game. I'm guessing until about the under 4:00 timeout, when Duke is up by 35. After the game K will then be magnanimous and talk about how great the effort was from Randy Peele's team and that this tournament is all about kids and love, peace, and sunshine flowers.
9 Louisville over 8 California: Really wanted to take the Bears here, but East Coast game, Pitino turning up the pressure and I think the Cardinals get it done. Seems like a long time ago the Pitino fiasco came out in the news. I am sure people still bring it up casually and a few heckler have taken their shots, but is Rick's life significantly worse/altered than it was before? Maybe his home life, but there he stands on the sideline, getting the adoration from the Cardinal faithful because he wins and in the end as much as we don't want to admit, that is what it is all about.
12 Utah State over 5 Texas A&M: Every year we get to hear about how ZOMG a 12 usually beats a 5, how does this happen so often!? It usually happens because the 5 seed was overrated and the 12 seed was better or played better than expected. Utah State is one of those little known teams that has been successful this year. The trouble is they have not played too many people of note for comparison. They have well distributed scoring and they shoot 42% from the 3-point line. Three of their players have hit over 50 this year. Obviously I am betting on the Aggies to have a good outside shooting day. [Insert I bet the Aggies win joke here]
13 Siena over 4 Purdue: Going with the trendy pick here. This is not the Saints first rodeo (they had a double order of onions last year in beating Ohio State) and Purdue seems resigned to its fate without Robbie Hummel. It's a tough break for the Boilermakers. A program that has come short again and again in the tournament since its last trip in 1980 does not even get a valid shot at making it this year. There is nothing fair about injuries though, any sports fan will tell you that.
6 Notre Dame over 11 Old Dominion: The success of Notre Dame at the end of the regular season was built on necessity and urgency, two characteristics that usually cause teams to fold under the pressure. The Irish were the exception as they changed their pace of play and role players stepped up while Luke Harangody recovered from an injury. Notre Dame went from a bubble team to a 6 seed in the "weakest" region. Their act may contain from smoke and mirrors, but it will be enough to get past Old Dominion. I expect this game to be hotly contested.
3 Baylor over 14 Sam Houston State: I think Sam Houston makes a game out of it, but the Bears overcome in the end. People are high no Baylor to come out of this region but I don't know if the Bears are battle tested.
7 Richmond over 10 St. Mary's: Another popular conspiracy running amuck in the media is that the tournament committee puts mid-majors against each other to avoid the big 6 conferences from getting embarrassed and allowing them the opportunity to get more units and hence more money. Again I do not think the committee consciously does this, but there are a good deal of match-ups like that this year. Once reason being these mid-majors are seeded in the appropriate slots.
15 Robert Morris over 2 Villanova: Yes, it's that time. Time to take a flyer. While I would not stake my life on this upset or my vast wealth(read: nonexistent wealth) I stand by my statement that this first weekend will not go close to chalk. The Wildcats draw my death card because they have been struggling mightily of late. Nova does not have the same punch it did last year, and I think they go out early. Maybe not this early, but they remind me of South Carolina in 1997 so why can't Robert Morris be Coppin State. Well, Robert Morris lost by 40 at Syracuse and 24 at Pitt. Shit, too late to change now, go Colonials!
1 Duke over 9 Louisville: Do you like foul fests, 3s being jacked up, and unending trips to the free-throw line? If so this game will be for you. Pitino and company will try to pressure and wear down Duke, but Nolan Smith will help neutralize it and the whistles will be ablowin'. I expect no less than 40-50 FT attempts in this game. Both teams shoot over 70%. Duke wins in a slopfest.
13 Siena over 12 Utah State: If this happens, Fran McCaffrey will be offered a coaching job or two after Siena's run is over. The Saints are not as talented as they were last year but they are tough and experienced. You get the impression that nothing phases them.
6 Notre Dame over 3 Baylor: This would be one of those fantastic 2nd round match-ups. I think Notre Dame has the experience and the defense to slow Baylor down.
7 Richmond over 15 Robert Morris: Even if it is Nova in this spot do not sleep on the Spiders. Gonzalvez and Anderson can go toe-to-toe with any backcourt in the country.
1 Duke over 13 Siena: The dream ends for Siena while Duke continues to fuel the conspiracy-happy population. Duke has their holes, but in a year where everyone admits the field is lacking, this is the time where a team like Duke can rise up. Zoubek (can't believe I'm saying this) does give them an inside presence. As long as he can stay on the court and set his wide-legged, claw-hugging screens he is helping the offense. Scheyer of course needs to stay hot, but if he is cold they need to feed Singler if he can post up his defender. They go away from this way too much and often Singler is relegated to driving or shooting from the outside. He is good at both of those, but if he has the post advantage those are easy buckets.
7 Richmond over 6 Notre Dame: When you make out brackets for money or prizes you always worry about what I call the backtrack scenarios. Your gut tells you something, like you really like Richmond and how their side of the bracket shakes out. But then you realize that all the people picking Notre Dame or Nova to advance will get the points and be ahead of you in the bracket standings. Therefore you either created multiple brackets, which just cover up the same thing you did in other regions making a mish-mash of choices. If you play a small number of brackets which I used to do, it usually eliminates your chances of winning. Since I am not involved in any such contest this year, the freedom is exhilarating. However I am sure the Spiders will let me down, it is fun to just roll it out there with my gut.
1 Duke over 7 Richmond: So in the end I am envisioning the whiners to have it open to them to bitch about how Duke's draw fell out. "Duke against Richmond! I never watch college basketball but I am outraged!"
Monday, March 15
The weather has gone from figid and icy to cool and moist here in the northeast. It is a small change from the cool and windy to mild and saucy weather of my former home in North Carolina. Speaking of North Carolina, no Tar Heel this year. You may ask what is Catfish to do? Don't worry has his rooting interest; seeing Duke go down. No Arizona either, or UConn, or UCLA. The last few years have provided a lot of chalk when it comes to the brackets so naturally most predictors are calling for things mostly to hold to form. I prefer to think that the element of chaos will devastate many brackets this year. Many believe a few teams have seperated themselves at the top, but I saw nothing over the past weekend to convince me that the regions will hold true to seeding.
You can see my picks from last year (where I did not do so well) here, here, here, here and here. The first region of picks after the break.
1 Kansas over 16 Lehigh: I always wonder what the actual, behind closed doors mentality of these 16 seeds are. We know they are riding high from their conference tournament win but they are facing one of the top four teams in the country. Yet Lehigh is not just facing a top team, they are facing the highest ranked team in the tournament. How high is the Hoosier underdog reinforcement pumped? Do they just prepare like any other game? Do they revel in just "being there" when they get flown to OKC and interviewed by the media? I know Western Carolina and East Tennessee St. have had those anything is possible moments but Lehigh has as close to no chance of winning as you can get. In the media they will be throwing out cliches but I wonder what is really going through the minds of the players and coming out the mouth of coach Brett Reid.
9 Northern Iowa over 8 UNLV: Is it not amazing that the Runnin' Rebs are not held in the same esteem as other 90s powerhouse programs? You may point out the sancitons and the Tark but it's not like Kentucky and Syracuse never had sanctions. Despite a strong performance in the MWC tourney, I think the Lon Kruger (no one talks about him except when he brings UNLV to the tournament again) led Rebels get bounced early. Northern Iowa was in last year and while UNLV plays tough defense, so do the Panthers. Northern Iowa has beated people soundly and have only faltered 4 times this year.
5 Michigan State over 12 New Mexico State: It's funny to me that everyone points out how you cannot count out Tom Izzo come tourney time, yet people want to dismiss the Spartans. Others are saying they would like to completely dismiss MSU but the Izzo factor is the only thing that helps them. The Spartans are just one of the riddles to be solved this week, but I don't think they fall to the Aggies here. Too much pride.
4 Maryland over 13 Houston: Look how many points they score! They have the nation's leading scorer! Plain and simple fact is Houston does not play defense and Maryland has superior players headlined by Vasquez. The one thing that made me twitch about this pick was the fact that Memphis rolled Maryland last year in a somewhat similar match-up of styles. But like I said Houston can only win if they put the game genie on and hit over 60% of their shots and Maryland lays an ostrich egg.
6 Tennessee over 11 San Diego State: A lot of people are picking San Diego State here. But before I endorse a Steve Fisher-led run for the Aztecs, I have to say Tennessee has been playing better without Tyler Smith. They are no juggernauts and it has been my rule not to trust Bruce Pearl and Tennessee in the tournament, but I think they escape with this one.
3 Georgetown over 14 Ohio: Georgetown went from early contender to midseason pretender to late season contender. I really liked the fire Greg Monroe was playing with in the Big East tourney, they were just too worn down to keep up with W. Virginia. Four straight games at MSG with Big East competition gives you little shot to take it home, but the Hoyas should be happy with how they came away with it. The Bobcats shocked Akron to take home the MAC title, but will Gary Trent, the Shaq of the MAC be in attendance?
10 Georgia Tech over 7 Oklahoma State: The Jackets remind me very much of the Michael Beasley led Kansas State team from a few years ago. Derrick Favors is a beast down low, but Georgia Tech does not feed him the ball enough and often turn the ball over before they ever get a chance to. The Cowboys were terrible away from Stillwater this year outside the game where K-State had a let down.
2 Ohio State over 15 UC Santa Barbara: I'm sure alum Jim Rome would tout the Gouchos as phe-nomiNAL but Ohio State will end this one early.
1 Kansas over 9 Northern Iowa: The dream run ends early for the Panthers. I am guessing Kurt Warner will make an appearance at some point though.
5 Michigan State over 4 Maryland: This is where I think Izzo rises up and gets the very best out of his team. Despite Roe being hobbled I think Izzo inspires Lucas to outduel Vasquez. Maryland has shown a very streaky characteristc throughout the year which is understandable with General Greivis running the show. The hard part about predicting how a hot and cold team will do is that you cannot predict in what games, against what team, and in what part of the game they hit a streak.
3 Georgetown over 6 Tennessee: I think this would be a hotly contested game, especially with the Chism-Monroe match-up. Ultimately I think Georgetown scores at will and rolls into the Sweet 16.
2 Ohio State over 10 Georgia Tech: Another place where some people are looking for an upset. I don't see it. Tech has enough talent to be sure, but their inconsistent and sloppy play is the reason they are a 10 seed in the first place. Turner will run circles around them and Lighty is the difference because he is a point guard who can handle.
1 Kansas over 5 Michigan State: In a rematch of a solid Sweet 16 meeting last year, Kansas runs through Michigan State. The Spartans are a shell of what they were last year while Kansas is a version of themselves last year on steroids.
3 Georgetown over 2 Ohio State: The small rotation Ohio State is running could end up hurting them in a game like this. There is always a danger if you run with a 6-7 man rotation even if it has brought you success. The obvious problem is foul trouble and if a couple of your guys are struggling big time, you cannot find multiple players to replace them. In-game fatigue is not a huge factor because of the lengthing of time outs during the tourney, but the wear over time of a 40+ game season (the Big Ten tourney could have used up some legs) could have some of the players break down. I like the Hoyas.
1 Kansas over 3 Georgetown: To take the drama out now, I don't feel confident putting any team down to beat Kansas. Doesn't mean it won't happen, but they are the most complete team in the tourney. As long as Bill Self keeps them focused on the brass ring, the Hoyas would not be able to keep up with them down the stretch.
*these picks are made for entertainment purposes only, seriously I am not a part of any pools whatsoever.
Friday, March 12
As we end the week and prepare to delve into a weekend that will culminate with the setting of the brackets, it is tmie to embrace a lofty tradition: photobombing popular sports icons with the throwing of the "U". We have our first example here on an unsuspecting Bobby Bowden:
Perhaps it is not a grand accomplishment to get anything past ole Bobby nowadays but a fun moment nonetheless.
For the pièce de résistance, here is a young lass giving the U business to Tebow at the Super Bowl this year:
Well done my lady. No word on whether Tebow charged $75 for the photo or not.
While driving to work the other morning I heard an interview with Dominique Wilkins. As we have said before, Nique might be our favorite in-game dunker of all time (tied with Kemp). Of the many topics Wilkins covered, one was how the league has changed from the Bird-Magic/Jordan era he played in. Wilkins said that in today's league, the players are more capable of doing many more things. He alluded to the fact that many of the successful players in the league are hybrids and able to do all manner of different things on the court. I could not agree with him more, let's take a look at some of the NBA's better known hybrids.
Dwight Howard: Minotaur
Dwight is simply part man, part beast. Is it any wonder that his mother (according to legend) mated with a white bull inside a wooden cow built by Daedalus? While his hoof-like feet may impede his footwork down low, his brute force and upper body allow him muscle his way to multiple double-doubles and some impressive dunks. Just look at those deltoids, definitely not human.
Kevin Durant: Scorpider
Even though he has been dubbed "The Durantula" Durant is not a one sided predator. The 29.6 PPG is most impressive, but he is also pulling down 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists. The spider part of him is the length and physical ability to move so well and handle at 6'9, but he also has the sting of the scorpion in the ability to hit big shots. The Scorpider is not even real nor a mythical creature, it is just a scientific proposed question that leads to one inevitable conclusion: Kevin Durant was created in a government lab using advanced genetic science.
Kobe Bryant: Hydra(Lernaean of course)
When Kobe dubbed himself the black mamba, many thought the moniker was apropos in more ways than one. What they did not realize was that he as alluding to the fact that he is the many-headed hybrid snake beast of underworld lore. Kobe is not just a snake on the court, he is many snakes on a clawed beasts' body. Cut one of the heads off, and two more take its place. Kobe had the Colorado business, he comes back strong. He feuds with Shaq, he is still on the Lake Show. Bad mouthing Bynum? It's ok he jumped over a car. Hurt his finger? Still shooting. Can't win without Shaq? There was ass tasting to be had after the finals last year. To defeat the snake-beast Kobe truly takes a Herculean effort (The Hydra in Greek mythology was killed by Hercules as one of his 12 labors, you see).
LeBron James: Liger
It is hard to categorize LBJ as to what he is. He is a hybrid for sure, a tank of a being contained in a big, muscular, yet crazy athletic body. While the NBA may have not seen anything quite like him before, it is evident that he is a mash of two of the most powerful and athletic beasts on the planet. Part Tiger, part Lion, Bron-Bron can rip to the hoop like he is taking down a gazelle. His catlike predatory quickness allows him to hunt down the ball when he makes his blocks from behind on fast breaks.
Tracy McGrady: Chimera
When McGrady was at his best, he was ever the fire-breathing, lion-bodied, snake-tailed beast of a Chimera. He was an outstanding scorer and came up big in crunchtime. However, if one is a Chimera, you still have that head of a goat protruding out of the center of your spine. Tracy has been the goat on multiple failed first-round playoff exits. Despite the fact he has averaged 28.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists for his career in the post-season. His teams never got over the hump though, so that hump has turned into a goat. It must have been a weighty goat because McGrady has had to undergo microfracture surgery. Despite technically being on the roster when the Rockets made the second round last year, in the eyes of critics he has yet to lead a playoff winner.
Dirk Nowitzki: Satyr
From one part goat in McGrady to another part goat in Dirk. While Dirk has more of a billy goat appearance to justify this pick, he also has been the goat of a few playoff series. He had blame placed on him after the Mavericks blew the finals against Miami and especially after the top-seeded Mavs fell to the Beard Baron led Warriors in the first round a few years back. In the latter case he did not help himself with this quote and it led to a reputation of being soft despite his great play. Satyrs are sometimes described as "Satyrs are described as roguish but faint-hearted folk — subversive and dangerous, yet shy and cowardly." The critics of Dirk would characterize him as so in certain moments. Another bad side to satyrs are their love for women, and we all remember the sticky situation Dirk got into in that area.
Carmelo Anthony: Griffin
Carmelo has gone unheralded this year it seems. However, most people are citing the Nugs as the top threat to knock off the Lakers in the playoffs this year. They certainly gave it a good run last year in the conference finals. Melo was a troubled Griffin when he first came into the league. Perhaps his lion body gave him more courage than was good for him. He was cited for weed possession and featured in a controversial Baltimore video. His last transgression was when he was travelling down I-25 in Denver and got pulled over for being under the influence of alcohol. Anthony said he has learned from his mistakes, including not operating his dragon wings when he has had too much to drink. On the court, his eagle eye focus has led him to be a force on the court. He has gone toe-to-toe with LeBron and has become one of the league's prolific scorers. If he can lead Denver to a title they will certainly remember him as a lion-hearted legend in Denver.
Stephen Marbury: Chupacabra
Does he exist or does he not? Marbury may turn out to be a creature of legend in the eyars to come in the NBA. I firmly believe that Marbury was transformed into the Chupacabra over the years. He started out with a lot of promise and of course, the talent wa always there. Over the years he suddenly became the hairless, scaled reptilian porcupine that he is now. While the popular legend cites the Chupacabra as sucking goat's blood, this version seems to enjoy vasoline. Marbury is enigmatic and has become increasingly off the wall. He fled to China to continue his basketball career and no doubt reign terror no livestock populations abroad.
Eddie Curry: ManBearPig
The NBA life has not always been a smooth one for the Knicks half man, half bear-pig(although some claim he is half bear, half pig-man). While Curry has been able to elude the persecution of Al Gore, the New York media has certainly taken their shots. The bear-pig bulk of his has hobbled him in recent years, playing in just 10 games the last two seasons. He has also faced numerous off the court problems, including a lawsuit from his former ex-felon chauffuer. While his weight begins to fluctuate around the 300 mark, Curry will need to work hard to make it back to the NBA court. Perhaps Gore is pulling strings against him from behind the scenes after all.