Archive for March 2007

MARCH MADNESS- And then there were Four

March 26, 2007

Two wild weekends of craziness and general uphoria for the average sports fan have ended, and the field has narrowed itself down to a very worthy four teams, two of which are #1 seeds and the other two of which is are #2s that had strong arguments to be #1s. This certainly wasn’t a tournament filled with upsets as last season’s was, and in return we are likely to receive a much more exciting Final Four weekend. I picked seven of the Elite Eight teams correctly and then managed to only get one team into the Final Four. Oh well.

The most interesting story of the whole weekend had to be Georgetown, who pulled off an improbable comeback against North Carolina after trailing by 10 with only seven minutes to go. The Hoyas hit a deep three late in the game to tie and force overtime, and were no match for the Tarheels in the extra period, outscoring them 15-3. This comes two days after star forward Jeff Green hit a controversial last second shot (he clearly traveled before the release) to beat a game Vanderbilt team that led most of the game. But, that’s the nature of the game- sometimes you get a second chance that you may not have deserved, and when you make the most of it like the Hoyas did today, everyone forgets about the controversy. North Carolina’s youth definitely showed late in this game, although one has to wonder how many of its players will return to gain more game experience.

Ohio State’s story is equally intriguing. The never-say die Buckeyes were seemingly beaten to gigantic underdogs Xavier in the second round and almost certainly beaten when trailing by 20 to a fast-paced, athletic Tennessee team in the Sweet 16 round, but pulled together and miraculously won both games. Then they trounced an inferior Memphis team that was lucky to get as far as they did and was way overmatched. Since I no longer have any chance of winning any of the pools I am in, I suppose I be rooting for the boys from my high school alma mater, Greg Oden and Mike Conley, to win it all.

Of all the games that really surprised me over the weekend, I would have to say that I was most taken aback by Kansas’ performance against UCLA. The Jayhawks had no excuses as they were outplayed wire to wire by a team with inferior talent but much better coaching and team play. UCLA joins East Regional Champs Florida (who beat a fiesty Oregon team that should be very proud of their season) for a rematch of last year’s championship game. A couple quick pieces of trivia here:

1) When was the last time two teams returned to the final four in consecutive years?

2) When was the last time we had a national championship rematch in the Final Four? (Answers at the bottom after my picks).

So let’s weigh both of these matchups. First of all, the aforementioned battle between last year’s title game should be a classic, although I can’t help but thinking what I’ve been thinking all year about these two teams: Florida has all five starters back from a team that was no match for UCLA last year in the championship, while UCLA was probably more talented last year. That analysis would lead me to conclude about a 20 point victory by the Gators, but the more I think about it, maybe UCLA actually is better this year. Nick Collison has proven to be every bit as good as Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo has improved and shown his ability to absolutely take over a game, and the rest of the team remains very experienced deep in the tourney. I still think Florida will win, but probably in narrower fashion than they did in last year’s championship.

The Georgetown-Ohio State game is also incredibly interesting but for different reasons. I for one can’t wait to see how the matchup between the duo of seven footers Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert plays out. Oden is probably the more explosive player, but Hibbert’s ability to rebound offensively has been absolutely killing in this tournament. It will probably come down to the foul situation. Ohio State’s backcourt has a huge edge in this one, although they don’t have a swingman player like Jeff Green which almost makes it a draw. Additionally, Georgetown will be able to play their game in this one, which is a slow down, stingy defense, half-court game that they had to adjust against a fast-paced team like North Carolina. In the end, something tells me the Buckeyes have the basketball gods on their side and also have the slightly deeper team. I expect a low scoring, small margin victory for Ohio State.

And saving the best for last, did anyone just realize the possible scenario that I just predicted? That’s right, Ohio State vs. Florida for the National Championship of college basketball. A second chance for the Buckeyes with a different shaped ball? The whole situation is just sick. Which brings me to trivia question #3:

When was the last time that two teams played for the National Championship in college basketball and college football in the same calendar year?

Answers:

#1: North Carolina and Kentucky, who both made the Final Four in 1997 and 1998.

#2: UNLV vs. Duke, who played in the 1990 Championship and then again in the 1991 Semifinal. Anyone remember who won the rematch?

#3: Never, to my knowledge/ research.

Tourney Talk

March 13, 2007

The field is set and now it is time to get down to business. Here are my thoughts on each region and the tournament as a whole:

 MIDWEST

Upset Alert: 11 Winthrop vs. 6 Notre Dame

This seems to be becoming a trendy pick for a lot of the nation so I’m  not sure how much of an upset this would be. Nevertheless, Winthrop is a dangerous squad looking for their first ever NCAA tourney win, and this is likely the best team they’ve ever had. Expect a lot of three pointers in this one, and I really feel that Winthrop will be hungrier.

Best Predicted Matchup: 10 Georgia Tech vs. 2 Wisconsin

What an intriguing contest this has potential to be, pairing two incredibly diverse styles of play against one another. The young Yellow Jackets run a speedy, fast-paced offense while the wiser, more experienced Badgers rely on defense and smart shooting within a half-court offense. Without Brian Butch, the Badgers aren’t quite the force they once were, and I could see this one going either way.

Regional Final: 1 Florida vs. 3 Oregon

You’d have to be crazy not to pick Florida at least this far, as the Gators return the same team that won the title last season, and that team is clicking once again. Oregon looked sharp in the Pac-10 final and might have the scariest perimeter game in the country right now , but in the end Florida’s experience will likely prove too much for the Ducks. I think Florida’s size and offensive efficiency will get the job done and move on to a second consecutive final four. Pick: FLORIDA

WEST

Upset Alert: 9 Villanova vs. 8 Kentucky

I don’t really like any of the lower seeded teams in this region to win their first round games. Illinois doesn’t match up well with Virginia Tech in my opinion, and as much as I want to, I just can’t bring myself to pick VCU over Duke. And obviously I won’t be picking Gonzaga over my beloved Hoosiers, especially since I didn’t last year when Gonzaga was much better and Indiana was worse. So this is the best I can do.  Villanova rolls with the more talented team.

Best Predicted Matchup: 4 Southern Illinois vs. 5 Virginia Tech

This battle of up and coming programs rewards its winner with a likely matchup against top-seeded Kansas. Southern Illinois relies on its staunch defense while Virginia Tech has the ability to run with one of the nation’s best backcourts, and it should be interesting to see how that balance plays itself out. I’ll give the slight edge to the Salukis as I believe their play is a bit more consistent and that their defensive intensity will be able to neutralize Dowdell and Gordon’s sharp shooting.
Regional Final: 1 Kansas vs. 2 UCLA

The Bruins struggled down the stretch but should have enough gusto to get to this game against arguably the nation’s hottest (and deepest) team. Both teams have incredible backcourts in Afflalo and Collison for UCLA along with Rush, Chalmers and Collins for Kansas. I give the Jayhawks a slight edge in the frontcourt behind the play of Julian Wright and Darrell Russell. Kansas also seems to be the hotter team entering the tourney. I expect a low-scoring battle with Kansas winning narrowly, although UCLA could benefit from the game being in San Jose.   PICK: Kansas

EAST

Upset Alert: 12 Arkansas vs. 5 USC, 14 Oral Roberts vs. 3 Washington State

The hardest region also seems to have the most potential for shake-ups. Arkansas is the talk of the tourney after grabbing what many see as the final spot in the field in undeserving fashion. Teams in this situation often come out with the feeling that they have something to prove (i.e., George Mason in a similar situation last year). Aside from that, they get a USC team first round that looked depleted as they were utterly pounded in the Pac-10 championship, and I like the Hogs in this one. Could this one also be a preview of next year’s college football championship?

Oral Roberts hasn’t gotten much respect, but they boast an athletic and talented team capable of hanging with the nation’s finest (they beat Kansas at the Fieldhouse earlier this season). Washington State has overachieved all year in an overrated conference, and looks ripe for the picking here.

Best Predicted Matchup: 1 North Carolina vs. 4 Texas

This is arguably the best game of the entire tournament, and if it happens the two teams will meet relatively early in the Sweet Sixteen round. Both of these talented squads rely heavily on freshman which should make for an interesting battle. Look for all-world forward Kevin Durant to match up with Carolina’s Brendan Wright and for the young backcourts to put on quite a show in what is likely to be a high scoring affair. The Longhorns have played incredibly well down the stretch despite losing twice to Kansas and once to Texas A & M in their final six games of the regular season. The Tarheels have certainly had their problems, but I expect the combination of talent, depth and coaching to give them the edge. I hope this game happens because it certain to be a classic.

Regional Final: 1 North Carolina vs. 2 Georgetown

Many feel that North Carolina is the deepest and most talented team in the nation, and in picking tourney games I usually choose to assume that teams will play to their highest possible level. If that is the case, the Tarheels should be in good shape, but this one won’t be a gimme by any means. Youth and inexperience are always a reason for pause, but in this instance they will face an experienced, incredibly athletic Georgetown team that was the only squad that gave eventual champion Florida a close game last year. I still think Carolina’s speed and athleticism will be the trump card here, but I’ll probably have the Hoyas winning in a lower stakes bracket for a hedge. PICK: North Carolina

SOUTH

Upset Alert: 10 Creighton vs. 2 Memphis, 2nd round

Assuming Creighton gets past Nevada, which is somewhat of an upset in itself, I really like their chances to knock off an athletic but untested Memphis team. This Memphis squad has accomplished a lot without half the talent from last year’s top seeded Elite Eight team, but I fear that they won’t be ready for a fundamentally sound team such as Creighton or even Nevada for that matter. I like the Blue Jays chances a touch better as they seem to be on a hot streak entering the tourney coming off a trouncing of a highly respected Southern Illinois team.

Best Projected Matchup: 1 Ohio State vs. 4 Tennessee

This rematch of a hotly competitive contest earlier in the year should provide fireworks. Greg Oden is healthier than the first time around which will probably prove to be the difference, but Tennessee had this game in the bag in Columbus before the Buckeyes hit a game winning three as time trickled away. It remains somewhat of a mystery how Tennessee contained Ohio State’s frontcourt so effectively, but one thing is for certain, and that is that Chris Lofton is a major force to be reckoned with. The Buckeyes seem to have finally hit their stride, but being a team that defends heavily on the three, they are always susceptible to an off night and can’t take games like this one for granted.

Regional Final: 1 Ohio State vs. 3 Texas A & M 

As much as I wanted to, I refuse to pick all four #1 seeds to the final four, even though I truly believe that one day this will happen and it will produce am unforgettable weekend of hoops. Luckily for me, the selection committee, who seem to have misplaced their atlases, sent the 30-3 Buckeyes to the San Antonio region. If a deep and talented Aggie team can overcome another scheduling mishap and beat Louisville in Lexington in the second round, I really like how they match up against Ohio State in what would be a virtual home game. Acie Law is the most clutch player in the country and knows how to win games down the stretch. Josh Carter leads the country in three point percentage and A&M has a formidable presence in the paint between Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliasukus. Something is trying to tell me that the college basketball gods won’t allow it, but I’m going out on a limb.  Pick: Texas A & M

Projecting the Field…

March 10, 2007

Heading into this evening’s action, here is how I see tomorrow’s seedings panning out. Teams in bold are the last four in. Should Arkansas or NC State pull upsets tomorrow afternoon, those last spots will disappear.

(Automatic bids in caps)

1 OHIO STATE    Ucla    KANSAS    FLORIDA
2 MEMPHIS    GEORGETOWN    NORTH CAROLINA    Wisconsin
3 Pittsburgh    Texas A & M    Southern Illinois    Washington St
4 Texas    OREGON    UNLV    Louisville
5 Virginia    Nevada    Maryland    Tennessee
6 Virginia Tech    Byu    Usc    Notre Dame
7 CREIGHTON    Kentucky    Marquette    Vanderbilt
8 Duke    Arizona    Boston College   Butler
9 Indiana    Villanova    Michigan State    Xavier
10 Purdue     Texas Tech    Syracuse    Georgia Tech
11 WINTRHOP     Illinois    Old Dominion    Kansas St
12 GONZAGA    VCU    RHODE ISLAND/GW    UTAH ST/NMSU
13 DAVIDSON    WRIGHT STATE    HOLY CROSS    ALBANY
14 PENN    LBSU/CAL POLY    ORAL ROBERTS    MIAMI/AKRON
15 NW STATE/ TEXAS A&M CC    EASTERN KENTUCKY    BELMONT    DELAWARE ST/MISS VALLEY ST
16 NIAGARA    CENTRAL CONN ST    WEBER ST    NORTH TEXAS/ SWAC (play in game)

Last Four Out:

  1. Air Force
  2. Florida State
  3. Stanford
  4. Arkansas

Next Four Out:

  1. West Virginia
  2. Oklahoma State
  3. Missouri State
  4. Drexel

Bubble Babblings…

March 9, 2007

Let the Madness ensue!!! We have three days left until the selection show, and the room left for at large teams is dwindling. Assuming Nevada, Xavier and Memphis (who all appear to be at-large locks now) win their conference tourneys and don’t need an at-large, and assuming nothing crazy happens in any of the major conferences, here is my analysis:

Syracuse and Air Force both suffered tough losses today, but should be still be okay, the latter being mostly saved by a big preseason romp at Stanford. Texas Tech is probably safe, but might want to beat a desperate Kansas State squad to be totally sure. Stanford and Georgia Tech both appear to have done enough.

With those teams rounding out the 10 and 11 seeds, there are four spots left that I see nine teams battling for. Clemson did itself in today after losing to Florida State and it looks like Oklahoma State will have to pull off a miracle to get in after losing its last two to sub-par opponents, so they are now on the outside looking in:

LAST 4 IN:    RPI    vs top 50    bad losses    Marquee wins
PURDUE          49        5-6                   2            Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State
ILLINOIS         33       4-8                   0            at Bradley, Indiana
OLD DOMINION    37    4-2              3            at Georgetown, VCU, Drexel twice
MISSOURI STATE    36    3-5            2            Wisconsin, Bradley twice

LAST 4 OUT:    RPI    vs top 50   bad losses  Marquee wins
FLORIDA STATE    40    4-9                    1       Florida, Virginia Tech, Maryland, at Duke
DREXEL                   42    3-3                    2        at Villanova, at Syracuse, at Creighton
WEST VIRGINIA    53    2-5                    1         UCLA, Villanova
KANSAS STATE    61    2-6                      2        at Texas, at USC
MICHIGAN     52    4-9                             1        Purdue, Michigan State

Full analysis with seedings coming in the next 36 hours.

BUBBLE WATCH

March 5, 2007

We now sit one week away from selection Sunday, and several teams are going to have to battle their way into the tournament as many failed to win important games over the weekend. Going into conference tournament week, here is the complete bubble situation as I see it:

ACC

Locks: North Carolina, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Duke, Boston College.

On the Bubble but in for now: Georgia Tech (21-10, 8-8, 34 RPI, 8-8 against RPI top 50), Clemson (21-9, 7-9, 37 RPI, 4-7 against RPI top 50)

Missing the cut: Florida State (19-11, 7-9, 45 RPI, 4-9 against RPI top 50)

BIG EAST

Locks: Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova, Notre Dame

On the Bubble but in for now: Syracuse (21-9, 10-6, 47 RPI, 3-4 against RPI top 50), West Virginia (20-8, 9-7, 58 RPI, 2-4 against RPI top 50)

Missing the cut: DePaul (17-12, 9-7, 62 RPI , 3-7 against RPI top 50)

BIG TEN

Locks: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana

On the Bubble but in for now: Michigan State (21-10, 8-8, 20 RPI, 7-8 against RPI top 50), Purdue (20-10, 9-7, 46 RPI, 5-6 against RPI top 50), Illinois (21-10, 9-7, 36 RPI, 4-8 against RPI top 50)

Missing the cut: Michigan (20-11, 8-8, 53 RPI, 4-9 against RPI top 50)

BIG TWELVE

Locks: Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas

On the bubble but in for now: Texas Tech (20-11, 9-7, 41 RPI, 4-8 against RPI top 50)

Missing the cut: Kansas State (21-9, 10-6, 59 RPI, 2-6 against RPI top 50), Oklahoma State (19-10, 6-9, 52 RPI, 5-6 against RPI top 50)

PACIFIC TEN

Locks: UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Arizona, USC

On the Bubble but in for now: Stanford (18-11, 10-8, 57 RPI, 6-7 against RPI top 50)

SEC

Locks: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Van derbilt

Missing the cut: Alabama (20-10, 7-9, 42 RPI, 2-3 against RPI top 50), Georgia (16-12, 7-9, 52 RPI, 2-9 against RPI top 50)

MISSOURI VALLEY

Locks: Southern Illinois, Creighton

On the Bubble but in for now: Missouri State (21-9. 12-6, 36 RPI, 3-5 against top 50)

Missing the cut: Bradley (20-12, 10-8, 39 RPI, 1-8 against RPI top 50

MOUNTAIN WEST

Locks: UNLV, BYU

On the bubble but in for now: Air Force (22-7, 10-6, 26 RPI, 2-4 against RPI top 50)

Missing the cut: San Diego State (19-9, 10-6, 55 RPI, 3-4 against RPI top 50)

OTHER AT LARGE CONTENDERS:

Locks: Nevada, Memphis

On the Bubble but in for now: Xavier (23-7, 13-3 , 31 RPI, 2-4 against RPI top 50), Old Dominion (24-8, 15-3, 34 RPI, 3-2 against RPI top 50), VCU (26-6, 16-2, 48 RPI, 2-3 against RPI top 50)

Missing the cut: Gonzaga (21-10, 11-3 , 68 RPI, 3-6 against RPI top 50), Drexel (22-8, 13-5, 46 RPI, 3-2 against RPI top 50), UMass (23-7, 13-3, 56 RPI, 1-4 against RPI top 50), Appalachian State (22-7, 15-3, 63 RPI, 4-2 against RPI top 50), New Mexico State (21-8, 11-5, 71 RPI, 1-2 against RPI top 50

LAST FOUR IN

  1. Purdue
  2. Illinois
  3. Old Dominion
  4. West Virginia

LAST FOUR OUT:

  1. Clemson
  2. Kansas State
  3. Florida State
  4. Drexel