Posted on: March 25, 2012 12:20 pm

Uniformity or Deformity? The Tourney of Unis

It's quite apparent the University of Oregon has started a trend amongst colleges across the land. When you think of the Oregon Ducks, you might think of the LaGarrette Blount punch after the loss to Boise State, or you might think of that crazy basketball court with the looming forest graphics embedded in the hardwood...or you probably think of the bold and attention-grabbing uniforms donned by the football and other sports teams. And if you notice their uniforms, you have likely taken equal notice of the maker of said apparel...Nike (whose co-founders are alumni and former athletes at the University of Oregon).

Recognizing the implementation of such eye-popping and statement-making uniforms are a powerful recruiting tool in this era of college sports, other schools have followed Oregon's trail, including Texas Christian and Maryland, for example, on the gridiron.  And just as other schools have recognized the value, so have competing athletic apparel & equipment companies. 

Back to the hardcourt, the most audacious uniforms of this tournament season have been worn by Baylor, Louisville, and Cincinnati...and by "most audacious" I mean hideous. Adidas, the maker of these uniforms has cited their Adizero line as being "super-lightweight" to help give teams an edge during tourney time - they for got to mention super-ugly. And who knows, maybe super-lightweight and super-ugly have combined to both help performance of the team wearing them while also distracting the opponent. After all, Baylor, Cincy, and Louisville all found themselves in the Sweet 16, while Lousiville has advanced to the Final 4, and Baylor will try to do the same today against Kentucky.

So I thought it would be interesting to see who is winning the uniform bracket in the NCAA Tournament. I didn't feel like going back to the field of 68, so I'm going to start with the Sweet 16 (if someone else wants to do the rest of the research, have a blast). In the field of 16, Adidas led the way with 7 teams: Wisconsin, L'Ville, Baylor, Cincy, Indiana, North Carolina State, and Kansas. Nike was right on their heels with 6 teams: Syracuse, Ohio State, Kentucky, Xavier, Michigan State, and Florida. Now, if you want to get technical, Nike actually has 8 teams, because their Jordan Brand has both North Carolina and Marquette in the mix (but for our purposes, we'll keep Jordan separate). If you're keeping cout, we're up to 15 teams, so there's one remaining...Ohio University. And who is the uniform provider of the Bobcats? None other than Russell Athletic! Yeah, I know, I didn't think they still existed either.

It's pretty clear to see that Nike and Adidas have a stronghold on the college hoops market in the same way they dominate markets globally. Under Armour deserves some honorable mention as a growing team gear sponsor and actually had two teams in this tournament - Temple and South Florida - who actually met up in the "second" round. I'm sure the UA execs had a skybox for that matchup...which was actually a great game as USF had a monster 2nd half to notch a comeback victory in the upset. But what's really cool is that underdog, Russell Athletic, had a sleeper in the Sweet 16.

And that Ohio University team almost pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, losing to UNC in OT. The entire game I was thinking, "there's no way Russell Athletic can beat Jordan, right"? 

The Elite 8 was comprised of 4 Nike schools, 1 Jordan, and 3 Adidas. Funny enough, only 1 matchup in the Sweet 16 was cannibalistic - NC State vs Kansas. Nike guaranteed itself at least 1 spot in the Final Four when Syracuse met Ohio State yesterday, but Louisville's comeback victory over Florida ensured Adidas a spot in the four as well. Later on today, Kentucky (Nike) will take on Baylor (Adidas), while UNC (Jordan) will see Kansas (Adidas). For my bracket's sake, I'm hoping Adidas has already seen it's lone team reach New Orleans. 
Posted on: March 20, 2012 8:14 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2012 8:15 pm

Bracket Envy - How Sweet is Your 16?

There is so much swirling through my head right now regarding the last four days of March Madness...more specifically, the events related to the NCAA Tournament (no offense to the NIT, CBI, CIT, SAT, ACT, NAACP, NAIA, NABC, ECAC or any other acronym sponsored tournaments). I hope my recall allows me to cover everything I wanted to touch on, but either way, having so much to tourney talk to digest is a problem I'll take any day.

LEHIGH, Hello, and Good-Bye

How can I not start off with giving a huge Court Vision shout out to the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh University? The fact I just referenced this blog in third person is laughable. But anyway, the 15th seeded representative of the Patriot League taking down the 2nd ranked evil empire of college hoops was one of my favorite all-time tournament moments by far. As a UNC fan, I obviously enjoy every Duke loss...but in the first round of "the tourney" to a 15 seed? That's the stuff dreams are made of. Watching K and his Collins and Wojo mini-me's stew on the sideline in controlled contempt brought such a menacing smile to my face while I prayed the refs would not somehow screw Lehigh in the waning minutes. Thankfully, the did not.

I stated in my last blog that CJ McCollum would be the 2nd best player on the court in this matchup. I was wrong. He was the best player on the court. 

Congrats to him and his teammates on a spectacular, historical tournament moment....a moment ever so slightly dulled by all of their coach's air time following the upset. I mean, I'm glad you're a doctor and all Coach Brett Reed, but does that mean you have to talk like a verbose robot whose operating system was based on a Tony Robbins & Dr. Phil co-seminar? Was the teleprompter really scrolling that slowly with the mind-numbing empty rhetoric you were spewing? Coach, we just want to hear "We felt we had a good game plan, our guys were confident, and we were able to execute and come up with a big win. I'm very proud of my guys." That's it. Nothing else needed. Instead we have to listen to this guy mechanically regurgitate his psychology about "suspending disbelief" and spread offenses and blah blah blah. Way to egocentrically bore your 15 minutes of fame to an agonizing death. But again, congrats...good job!

Also deserving significant attention for their upset of a highly-touted 2 seed is the Norfolk State Spartans. Taking out what many considered to be the top 2 seed in the tournament in Mizzou was certainly an event that will live on in the anuls of tournament history and lore. I won't liken it to a heavyweight fight, because I can't remember the last heavyweight bout where I saw two boxers teeing off on each other. This was more like Ward-Gatti...exciting, full of return blows, and seemingly no one defending. An oustanding job by the MEAC champs - congrats.

It was a good day to be a 15 seed and Irish apparently (McCollum and O'Quinn).

Bracket Envy

Before last night, I was not even aware that Bracket Envy existed. While exchanging texts with a buddy and fellow college hoops enthusiast (we'll call him Keaf), we came upon the topic of the MidWest Region. While I stated the news of Kendall Marshall's wrist injury (we'll get to that later) put UNC's chances of making it out of the region in serious question, Keaf retorted he had Kansas coming out of that region anyway. I mentioned that Kansas was lucky to make it by Purdue, and then followed it up with the fact that the Purdue win over SMC was the only game I had wrong so far in that region. Keaf called me a liar. I told him that the proof was in my blog from last week where I stated my expectation to see Temple and Michigan upset in the first round and for Ohio to make some noise along with NC State. Still not convinced, I took a photo of my bracket sheet with my BlackBerry and sent it to him. It showed that 12 of my 16 remained, 7 of my predicted final 8, all of my final four, and so on. Still reluctant to believe, Keaf fired another claim of "liar" in my direction.

I didn't see the big deal. Most years, my bracket is quite busted after the opening rounds. It would only be right that I have a decent bracket once every 4 years or so. But Keaf didn't want to see that. Then it occurred to me, Keaf didn't really think I was being dishonest - he was simply blinded by Bracket Envy caused by his own prognosticating shortcomings. I texted him the next morning with the message "you have Bracket Envy". At this, he finally broke down and admitted his own bracket was in shambles overall. I reassured him there was nothing to be ashamed of...after all, even the experts can't get a bead on this thing. He agreed.

Keaf and I are in a good place now.

A Girl Named Trifecta

Let me tell you about a girl named Trifecta. She is beautiful and enticing. She's a game to captivate the room and turn the tables in any situation. She's fun and outgoing, and you feel on top of the world when she's on your arm. No matter what the situation, she can seemingly make it better. It's easy to see why anyone would want to be with her. But even with all the great things she brings to your life, there is one thing you must never do - you must never fall in love with her. You see, Trifecta is a free-spirit and not looking for eternal commitment. The moment she feels like you are too heavily invested in her, she will desert you - like a groom stranded at the alter wondering "how did this happen"? 

I can think of three such grooms who are asking that question right now...Duke, Michigan, and Missouri. Each of these guys were head over heels for Trifecta. They all showed up to the dance expecting her to be their date, but they all went home solo after watching her dance the night away with other guys who weren't going to smother her with expectations of going steady. If they would have given some of the other girls a chance, they would probably have been dancing a lot longer into the night.

So the moral of the story is it's okay to date Trifecta, but you must never try to put a ring on her finger...especially when your really attractive friend named "Interior Size Advantage" wants to be "more than friends". 

If you need anymore clarity, simply watch the movie "Teen Wolf". An offense dominated by and contingent upon making 3 point shots = Pamela. A well-balanced attack that utilizes your superior size while still showcasing your individual talents and shooting skills = Boof. 

Pulling the Charge Card

While I won't get into how I believe this phenomenon can be directly and negatively linked to the evil empire of Duke basketball, we are all witnesses of a completed paradigm shift regarding the charge call in college basketball. Without a doubt, I have seen more questionable charge calls whistled in the first rounds of this tournament than I've seen in the past two entire tournaments combined. And why is this? Because players have noticed that the officials are now siding with the defender more often than the offensive player in these situations.

At this current juncture in the college hoops timeline, it is advantageous for a player to step in front of a driving player...or even airborne the last moment because the odds are now in your favor for drawing a charge call. The officials love calling charges - the announcers lavish the defender with praise for giving up his body - the coaches and teammates rip up in applause at the call - momentum can shift just that easily.

Here's the thing, most of these charge calls are questionable at best and outright ridiculous at worst. The undercutting, the flopping, the officials' desire to make the spectacular call - it's all hurting the game.

The best calls I've seen so far have been the "NO CALLS". That's right, the "no calls". Not every instance of contact needs to be called one way or the other. Basketball is a contact sport. By definition, there can be contact without a foul being committed. A foul is supposed to be when the contact gives one of the players a clear advantage. So where is the advantage either way when a guy shoots a floater in the lane and, when he lands, makes contact with a guy standing at almost the exact spot where the shooter lands? There is no advantage either way. The shooter's shot was not affected, and the defender has no case either as he was not pushed away or barrelled over. So swallow the whistle and let the game go on!

One more time for all the NCAA officials: Just because there is contact, does not mean there is a foul. Sometimes the best call is no call. Stop this ridiculous epidemic and put the whistle away when it comes to meaningless contact. I promise you will see the flops and dangerous undercutting decrease (except in the case of Duke players, who are just following orders from the gestapo K).

Achilles Tar Heel

As if Kansas wasn't lucky enough to escape from Robbie Hummel and the Boilermakers of Purdue, they then get the news that they have become the favorite to make it out of the Midwest Region and onto NOLA. Why? Because the one indespensible player for North Carolina - the keystone for the Tar Heels structure - point guard, Kendall Marshall, broke a bone in his right wrist during the win over Creighton.

Carolina has been hit extremely hard with injuries this year at the guard spot with Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland both suffering season-ending injuries. The injury to Dex was of particular importance as he was not only the #1 shooting guard but also the team's backup PG. While Reggie Bullock has filled in nice at the 2 spot, Marshall has had to assume all responsibility at the 1 - only being spelled by freshman Stillman White for blips at a time during the season. 

If Marshall, who had successful surgery already performed, can not go for the Heels, it puts a serious damper on their national title hopes. It was a widely-help opinion even before this injury that he was the one piece of the North Carolina puzzle that had to be in place for the Tar Heels to achieve any level of success in the tournament. Even if they can make it past Ohio, which is certainly not a gimme, it would seem near impossible for them to beat a team like Kansas without their primary ball-handler and playmaker. Without Kendall Marshall facilitating easy buckets for UNC and controlling tempo and composure, it's a steep climb for ol' Roy and company.

For the Heels to advance to the Final Four without Marshall, the following needs to happen:
1. Their defensive intensity and efficiency needs to increase drastically.
2. EVERYONE needs to step up offensively...not just one guy. BUT, if there's one person that everyone will look to to take his game to another level and really lead the way, it's got to be Harrison Barnes. 

I remember watching the NJ Tournament of Champions semi-final in 1996 between St. Anthony's and Rancoacas Valley. The guards from RV were not even able to get the ball up the court against the pressure and quickness of Rashan Burno and Delvon Arrington of St. Anthony's. So the RV coach actually had his 6'8" sophomore forward Danny Miller bring the ball up for the rest of the game against the less athletic St. Anthony's forward. Coach Williams may have to implement a similar gameplan with Harrison Barnes.

Final Thoughts

Can't wait for the Big East/Big 10 tournament coming up this weekend. Oh I'm sorry, I meant the NCAA tournament, I just got confused for a moment when I saw the lineup: Syracuse vs Wisconsin, Cincy vs Ohio State, and Louisville vs MSU.

I'm sticking with all of my pre-tournament predictions for the most part as I expect Baylor, Kentucky, Louisville, Florida, Ohio State, UNC, and Kansas to advance. However, I did have Vandy beating Syracuse...but I expect the Orange to get by Wisconsin (who has been seen in Madison clubs with Trifecta a lot lately...Wisky could be catching feelings!).  

I don't have any reason to pick Louisville over MSU besides the fact that I hate MSU, and I have L'Ville in my Final 4. Also, I would not be surprised if NC State beat Kansas - Lorenzo Brown vs Tyshaun Taylor will be a spectacular matchup.
Posted on: March 12, 2012 12:36 am
Edited on: March 19, 2012 12:48 pm

Who's Making All That Bracket?!!!!!

I'm never gonna get to Club Trill status if I keep blogging only once a year at tourney time. And apparently, I didn't write anything last year. Wait, that's not true...I found the following written on the back of my red-ink splattered bracket of integrity sheet from last year's NCAA Basketball Tournament:
  • You changed WVU, Washington, and Michigan at the last second. Don't do that.
  • UNC is making me sick with their lack of effort and urgency in the 1st round.
  • Don't worry about where the game is being played.
  • Don't trust Pitt, Vandy, or Wisky.
So there, I did do some writing last year. I wish I had written down some better notes for myself, like how to identify which region is going to have the most upsets or how good it felt to watch 5-seeded Arizona and D-Will dismantle a 1-seeded and overrated Duke team in the sweet 16. You know, it's funny when you look at last year's bracket...the way the landscape of college hoops changes so rapidly, it seems like last year's tournament was 5 years ago. For example, I had completely forgotten that St. John's was in the tourney...let alone a 6 seed! And Michigan State was a 10 seed that took a first round "L" from UCLA. But let's forget last year's tourney, as it culminated in possibly the worst championship game my memory can recall over the last 15 years or so.

Okay, so I haven't had more than a few moments to take a look at this year's bracket so far. That being said, my initial thoughts...
  • I will never understand the NCAA tournament committee's logic...ever
  • I feel bad for Drexel and Oral Roberts (not Seton Hall or Washington or Miss St.)
  • I like that Iona is in, but they probably shouldn't go win some games, Gaels!
  • Is it just me or does UNC seem to have a pretty advantageous road to at least the Elite 8? This must be what it's like to be a Duke fan (I feel a bit guilty).
  • The halftime entertainment of Vandy vs Harvard will be an Academic Bowl with students in varsity sweaters.
  • Kentucky and Michigan State both have very tough second round games.
  • How great of a game will Mizzou/Florida be if that matchup is to be had second round?!!! It's like they put all the top guard-oriented teams who lack height in that region (Mizzou, Florida, Marquette, Murray St.).
  • If Creighton is ranked in the top 25, how do they get an 8 seed? (as that would indicate they're only a top 29-32 team). We can also ask how Florida is a 7? Are there really 24 teams better than Florida?...again, I'll never understand the committee's logic.
  • How about FSU and St. Bonnies playing for the Atlantic Coast/Atlantic 10 Championship...nice.
  • When Duke plays Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks will have the 2nd best player on the court in CJ McCollum. 
  • When Kansas plays Detroit, it could be a showcase of the best athletes on the court at any time in this tourney.
Anyhow, let's get down to some pick theory and projections (keep in mind I haven't put any ink on the paper yet). I do my best to watch as much college hoops as possible, but the truth is I can maybe name one guy on SDSU (no, not San Diego, but South Dakota). So without having access to every team, I can only go on what information I have available to me. And that's fine because even the guys whose jobs revolve around college basketball can't get this tourney thing figured out. So without going through every single game, I'll try to just highlight a few things I think could be interesting or noteworthy or flat out AUDCACIOUS...

  • UNC goes to the Final Four and cuts down the nets (and I don't think it will be Kansas facing them in the Elite 8, although I'd love to see that matchup). IF Kansas gets by Detroit and makes it to the Elite 8 to see Carolina, they can't exploit the Heels' glaring weakness of 3 point shooting defense.
  • Kentucky or Michigan State will exit in the 2nd round (my guess is MSU) - it's not a knock on either team, but Kentucky will face 1 of 2 teams very capable of beating the tops teams in the country, and Memphis is scary with their length, skill, and athleticism (the Bilikens can play too).
  • Syracuse's road is too tough to make it to New Orleans, although I don't think it will be Vandy taking them out. I think Ohio State will have that chance. (Now with Melo out, I'll take Vandy over the Cuse).
  • I picked every 11 seed to win their first round game last year. Only Mizzou let me down. This year, I think Texas and NC State have the best shot at upsets from that slot. 
  • Most likely 5 seed to lose first round - Temple.
  • Typically, you'll get a region where there is both a 5/12 and 4/13 upset OR a 6/11 and 3/14 upset adjacent to each other which inevitably sends a darkhorse to the Sweet 16. I think the best chance of this occurring is in the MidWest Region with Michigan and Temple being upset.  
  • I don't know why, but I really like this Montana team. Maybe it's the fact they have a 7 footer with a grizzly beard who hit's threes like they're layups. I love Bo Ryan and usually like Wisconsin to make noise, but the Grizzlies are going to make that game very interesting.
  • Low seeds that could make some noise - NC State or Ohio
My Final Four: Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, North Carolina
Championship: North Carolina over Kentucky in a rematch of a very entertaining matchup from earlier this season. UNC and Kentucky are the most talented teams in the country, so we deserve to see this game. And I'd really rather not see a Final Four or Championship vacated, so I'm hoping UNC beats Kentucky and Calipari (there's just something so "used car salesman" and shady about him).

So that's it...just a few so-called jewels being dropped from Mikey's proverbial marble bag. Enjoy the tournament as this next 3 weeks marks the end of real basketball on TV until the next college hoops season (although I hear this league called the NBA is playing a game that somewhat resembles basketball - I tried watching recently and it just seemed awful). Ah, the most wonderful time of the year is here!
Posted on: March 23, 2010 9:18 pm

Dusty Chalk and the Return of the Mid-Major

After a few year hiatus, it would appear that the mid-majors are back and relevant again. They must be. How else can we explain UNI, the Missouri Valley regular season and conference champ taking down national powerhouse and tournament overall #1 seed Kansas? And what about Cornell? They picked off the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference champion Temple...then put a whooping on Bo Ryan's Badgers of Wisconsin! 
Let's also not forget about Ohio University taking down Georgetown, Murray State racing past Vanderbilt, and St. Mary's taming the Villanova Wildcats with a ringmaster named Omar.
So it's safe to say that true parity is alive and well in the land of college hoops, right? And it's about time - because we were getting sick of all that dusty chalk remaining into the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, and championship game.
But wait a minute...something's not adding up here. Are the mid-majors getting better...or are the big conferences getting worse? Or maybe it has something to do with the tournament seeding. Maybe it's a combination of all of these.
The simple answer is, YES, there is more parity in the overall landscape of Division 1 NCAA basketball. This is due to a number of factors including:
  • The reduced number of scholarships given out to each school
  • The number of "one-and-done" talents leaving for the NBA after one year and costing their school that scholarship for 3 more years
  • The increased television coverage of mid-major programs like Gonzaga, Butler, Western Kentucky, and VCU along with their respective conferences and cohorts
  • The success of teams like Davidson and George Mason in the NCAA tournament's recent history

The above elements aid in distributing the national basketball talent among a wider range of schools...and weakening some of the perennial powerhouses. 

But here's the issue...with all this evidence supporting the idea that the college basketball landscape is leveling off, it doesn't explain how the basketball rich are remaining rich.

Let's be honest, the NCAA still remains very much top heavy. Look at the number 1 seeds in this year's tournament: Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Duke. While respectfully excusing Syracuse, you're looking at three of the most dominant programs in the history of college basketball...and Syracuse in their own right has an incredible basketball tradition. The bottom line is that teams like Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Duke will continue to remain head and shoulders above the rest of college basketball by and large. So what, UNC was bad this year - they still had more HS all-americans than any other team. And they'll be adding more next year.

Furthermore, the loss to UNI by Kansas in the tournament means nothing. Kansas had a bad night. They're still much better than UNI and probably beat UNI 8 or 9 times out of 10 tries. We all know anything can happen in a single elimination tournament. And many of the "upsets" that occur come at the hands of teams that were severely mis-seeded. For example, UNI and Cornell were top 25 teams for the majority of this season, so why would UNI get a 9 seed and Cornell a 12? If they're top 25 teams, how can you rank 32 and 44 teams ahead of them respectively in the tournament? 

Asides from Kansas and Nova, all the other 1 and 2 seeds remain in the much of the chalk is still prevailing. And I would love to see the day where it's not unusual for a 15 or 16 seed to win their first round matchup, but that day is not coming anytime soon. 
As long as the big time coaches are getting big time money to coach at big time schools who get big time money from the television networks to air their big time games, the mid-majors can only hope to carve out a small piece of respect by taking out a Big East or Big 12 or ACC giant in the NCAA tournament. But you know what, the top 10 HS prospects are still gonna sign with a handful of schools.

So here's to parity (except when talking about the very top teams year after year).
Posted on: March 18, 2010 11:10 am
Edited on: March 18, 2010 11:13 am

Last Minute Bracket Blog

A wise man once told me that our friend Joe could help us start an advertising agency because he had connections in the industry. When I replied that our friend Joe was in a band and his connections were in the MUSIC industry, that same wise man responded "Oh yeah, you're right."
That anecdote really has no bearing on anything except for the fact it was that same wise man who emailed me a few minutes back and asked me if I was going to update my blog with my picks before the tourney kicks off I just wanted to pay him a little homage. Hi, Keith!

Okay, let me first start by saying that the NCAA tournament committee did a bad job in several areas of the bracket this year. By now you've heard them all, but here are a few of the lowlights:
  • Duke gets 3rd #1 seed over Syracuse
  • As the 3rd seeded #1, Duke gets the play-in game winner in the first round
  • As the 3rd seeded #1, Duke gets the weakest 2,3, and 4 seeds in the tournament in their bracket (Villanova, Baylor, and Purdue respectively)
  • 4 Mountain West teams made the pool (I hope they all lose in the first round and prove me right that the MWC sucks).
  • There are 3 Big East teams in the South bracket (Louisville, ND, and Nova). With 8 Big East teams in the tourney, there is no excuse for this.
  • Temple was seeded as a 5. How does the A10 regular season and conference tournament champion who is ranked in the top 13 get a 5 seed? 
  • UTEP got a 12 seed. Going into their conference tournament championship, UTEP was ranked 24 in the country. Did the loss to Houston really drop them 20 spots in the rankings? Because by giving them a 12 seed, you are saying that 44 teams are better than them in this tournament.
  • Kansas, as the unanimous overall #1 seed received a treacherous bracket including Ohio St., Georgetown, Tennessee, Maryland, and MSU.

Enough of that. Obviously the committee doesn't have a clue. Let's get down to my picks, that I fully admit, I am not uber-confident in:

1st round winners: Kansas, UNI, MSU, Houston, Tenn, GTown, GTech, Ohio St.
2nd round winners: Kansas, MSU, GTown, Ohio St.
Sweet 16 winners: Kansas, Ohio St.
Elite 8 winner: Kansas

Notes: Kansas is the best team top to bottom in the country. As for Houston over Maryland, I just saw something I liked in them in the Conference USA tournament final. They reminded me of Western Kentucky of two years ago with Courtney Lee.

1st round winners: Syracuse, Gonzaga, UTEP, Vandy, Xavier, Pitt, Florida, K St.
2nd round winners: Cuse, Vandy, Xavier, K St.
Sweet 16 winners: Vandy, Xavier
Elite 8 winner: Vandy

Notes: I realize Vandy may very well lose in the first round to Murray State, but if they can get past them I feel that they could make a run to the final four with their balance and experience. If Vandy falls, then UTEP goes to the Sweet 16. Xavier vs Pitt will be a great game - I love this Crawford kid. Not sure why, but I feel like the Cuse may stumble.

1st round winners: Kentucky, Tex, Temple, Wisky, Marq, New Mex, Mizzou, WVU
2nd round winners: Kentucky, Wisky, Marq, WVU
Sweet 16 winners: Wisky, WVU
Elite 8 winner: WVU

Notes: I love that WVU just seems to have ball players. They play tough D, can score, and have a bunch of NY/NJ guys. Temple vs. Wisconsin will be a great game, and I think Wisconsin has the size, skill, style, and coaching to bring down Kentucky.

1st round winners: Puke, L'ville, A&M, Purdue, ND, Baylor, Rich, Nova
2nd round winners: Puke, A&M, Baylor, Nova
Sweet 16 winners: A&M, Nova
Elite 8 winner: Nova

Notes: I picked Nova last year for the Final 4, and they came through for me - I'm hoping they do it again. I see a run in them despite late season stumbles (to all good teams btw). I think the development of Yarou is going to pay dividends for them. As for Puke, I think A&M has a good chance to knock them off in what will essentially be a home game for them in Houston. Otherwise, I'd love to see a rematch of Puke/Nova (assuming the same result as last year). 

Kansas over Vandy
WVU over Nova

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk - KANSAS (this is their tournament to lose)

Postscript Re: Upsets - Most of the experts will tell you that they expect the following upsets to occur in the first round: 
  • Siena over Purdue
  • SDSU over Tennessee
  • Murray St. over Vanderbilt
  • Cornell over Temple
While none of these upsets would surprise me, I try not to jump on the upset bandwagon. I feel pretty strongly that Purdue will be able to beat Siena even without Robbie Hummel simply because of their great defense. I also think Tennessee deserves a little more credit as the only team to beat Kansas and Kentucky this year.

I really like UTEP over Butler because I think Butler struggles with size and athleticism, both of which UTEP is full of. In the end, it's gonna be a crazy tournament, so who the heck knows.

Enjoy the games!!!!!
Posted on: February 24, 2010 9:23 pm

Syracuse vs Villanova

According to a certain New York area sports radio host, the Syracuse/Villanova matchup scheduled for this Saturday is now meaningless because of Villanova's back-to-back losses this week to UConn and Pitt. Yeah, okay. Both are top 10 teams, they're #1 and #2 in the Big East, they both have hopes of being a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament...but I guess that means nothing.
At the moment, I'm more concerned with the snow storm that is about to blast the East coast for the third or fourth time this winter. You see, I have plans to drive up to Syracuse this Friday with my wife and newborn so that my brother-in-law and I can attend what will be the highest attended regular season college basketball matchup in history with over 35,000 scheduled to be on hand in the Carrier Dome.
As if 1ft plus of powder wasn't obstacle enough, add to the pot the fact that my brother-in-law came down with some sort of virus this week. While he's now feeling better, he has 5 young daughters in the house plus his wife that will no doubt take turns picking up the virus over the next few days to a few weeks. 
So my wife says to me, "I'm not sure this trip to Syracuse is going to happen. My brother is sick, and I don't want Luke getting sick as the virus works its way around the it looks like the weather might not cooperate."
After a few minutes of silence, I get up the nerve to ask "But what about the game?" I did not receive a verbal response, but the look on her face was worth a thousand words...many of them probably containing only 4 letters.

I wonder if it's a good idea to bring up the option of me hitching a ride to Syracuse with my friends Steve and Garrett...that way, I get to go to the game, we all avoid the sick household, and my baby boy and wife are safe from the treacherous, snow-covered Interstate 81. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Posted on: February 15, 2010 6:00 pm
Edited on: March 13, 2012 10:14 am

Chalk Talk

As the NCAA Tournament picture begins to take form, I like to submit my two copper pennies on who will be dancing. And while just being invited to the dance is an honor in itself, we all know it's those who are dancing well into the night with the prettiest girl who have the most fun. So with that in mind, I will provide you with my take on who the dogs and kings of the dance will be.

If you're reading this, I bet you've done pretty well on your bracket picks the last couple of years. How do I know that? Because even the receptionist at my office did well on her bracket the last few years...and she isn't from this country nor does she watch basketball. The point is, since 2006 and George Mason's miraculous run to the Final Four, the tournament has been a chalk fest with a pseudo-Cinderella sprinkled in here and there. Save Davidson, high-seeds have dominated the Elite 8, the Final Four, and the championship game. Sure, there have been some early upsets and some runs into the Sweet 16, but there will be no George Mason this year.

Obviously, it's easy to predict that the improbable will not happen...I realize that. Picking the Final 4 these days is as easy as picking from a pool of about 6-8 teams and feeling invincible about it. I myself missed last year by 1 team...I had L'ville instead of Michigan State. The point is, the chalk continues to remain in the long run, and the real challenge and skill remains in picking the 1st and 2nd round filler games as the 1 and 2 seeds dominate their opponents. Although there seems to be more parity in the greater college basketball landscape as a whole, the top remains in the hands of a select few each year. So let's take a look at the brass, the hopefuls, and the darkhorses...

The Brass (teams who have what it takes to make it to the Final Four and win it all)

Kansas - the best team top-to-bottom in college hoops. They have a top PG who can make the big shot, a front court that is second to none, and a lottery pick coming of the bench. This team is reminiscent of the 2005 UNC championship team...for all the reasons they have better defense. They should be the last team cutting down the nets. 

Kentucky - probably the most talented team top-to-bottom in the country. However we all know that youth and inexperience can be an achilles heel. Honestly, I'm more concerned that Demarcus Cousins will do something stupid to get kicked out of a game and award the other team 2 shots and the ball to lose a game rather than John Wall or the others buckling under pressure. Kentucky should cruise to the Elite 8 before they really have to win a pressure-filled game.

Villanova - guard play is king in the tournament, and Nova's guards could be the best in the country with Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fischer leading the way. With the improvement of their primary big man, Pena, Nova is poised to make another run to the Final Four.

Purdue - I was impressed with this Purdue team when they were Freshman. I really liked them last year as Sophomores. And, even though they bowed out a bit prematurely last year, I love this Purdue team as their key players are now Juniors. They have one of the most athletic big men in the country in Johnson, and are just incredibly balanced at each spot with solid players...although they're not terribly deep. It would be a disappointment for this team not to make it to at least the Elite 8.

Syracuse - a favorite to make it to the Final Four certainly. We all know how tough it can be to figure out this zone, and especially hard if you only have a day to prepare for it (although teams with good outside shooting can follow Louisville's blueprint to beat the Cuse). Aside from the zone defense, this Cuse team has great balance, talent, and experience...and a star in Wes Johnson. (Great game would be: Cuse vs Purdue in Elite 8 or Final Four)

The Hopefuls (teams that could definitely make it to the Final Four, but not sure they have what it takes to win it all)

- nevermind the early exits in recent tournaments, this Duke team will make it past the second round guaranteed. (Disclaimer - I am a card-carrying Duke hater, but I still try to remain objective). People forget that Duke is full of All-Americans...just because they look like a bunch of dorks, doesn't mean they can't play ball, and play it well. They still rely on the 3 ball too much, but they have some good big men who can rebound and get them some second shot opportunities. Take into consideration, though, this Duke team is not nearly as good away from Cameron. A team with great perimeter defending and a good big can take them out...but I think they'll probably make it to the Elite 8...unfortunately.

West Virgina - this is the type of team that could go to the Final Four...or lose second round. But I don't think Desean Butler is going to let the latter happen. He is the type of player that can will a team to a tournament win. Playing in the Big East always prepares you for NCAA tournament atmosphere and I think their toughness will carry them to the land of 8 as well. (Great game would be: WVU vs. Duke in the Elite 8)

Kansas State - I like this team a lot. They're athletic, fast, like to push the ball, play tough D, etc. I really like their PG play. I'm not sure if they have the consistency to make it past the Sweet 16 but I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the Elite 8 - this is clearly a team to watch.

Ohio State - this team has all the pieces to go to the Final Four. Evan Turner is one of the best all-around players in the country hands down...and his supporting cast is very talented as well. They will have a healthy David Lighty this year, in addition to a deadly shooter in Diebler, and improved players in Buford and Lauderdale. I do think not having a pure PG hurts them, but show me the PG who can stop Evan Turner.

Georgetown - talented and well coached, but a bit inconsistent against weaker competition. I feel like Monroe has a beast inside that has yet to be released. I say they go 2-1 in the tournament.

Michigan St. - I don't like MSU, but the bottom line is they're the most consistent program over the past 10 years. They're very well coached and have very good talent, and I think the Big 10 gets less credit than it deserves.

Texas - formerly #1 in the country, Texas will make a run in this tournament. They are FULL of talent, although they do have some question marks at the PG spot with Balbay. Either way, I think they have enough talent at the other spots to get to the Final Four. They're hit a rough patch a few weeks back, but they're playing solid basketball now and no one will want to see them in the tourney.

Vanderbilt - there's something about these guys that I really like. They have a very well-balanced squad. I think they could make a run to the 8.

Baylor/Texas A&M/Wake Forest - very dangerous teams. Slightly inconsistent, but very talented. They will be a tough out for anyone.

New Mexico/BYU - I don't get to see these teams very often, but from what I can tell they're both very talented and well coached. I would not be surprised if either went to the Elite 8...nor would I be surprised if both got knocked out 1st or 2nd round. 

The Darkhorses (Teams outside the Top 25 that can make some noise in the tournament)
UTEP, UConn, Georgia Tech, Richmond, Murray St., Mississippi State, and Old Dominion.

We all know that the tournament comes down to matchups, so who knows what the final picture will look like come March/April. What I suggest you look for when filling out your brackets are:
  • Strong guard play
  • Defense/Rebounding
  • Ability to beat tough teams away from home
  • Don't put too much into the "hot" teams. There have been a number of teams that tear through their conference tournament only to be ousted in the first round.
  • Talent wins.

I will post Final Four and Champion predictions when the brackets are released.

Posted on: January 18, 2010 10:55 pm

The Tarheel State

I haven't attempted a blog since last year's NCAA Tournament. I'd like to post a NCAA Tournament preview blog within the next few weeks, but I just became a father on December 28th, and the number of hours in the day seem to have diminished. I can say it is with great frustration and waning hope that I pen this narrative on the Tarheel state...or should I say, the state of the Tarheels...
It all started at the pre-season Coaches vs. Cancer tournament final at Madison Square Garden. I attended the contest with about 5 friends...all Syracuse fans. UNC was perplexed by Cuse's zone that night sorta like a 7 year old might be mesmerized by a Rubik's cube. And UNC figured out that zone maybe once out of every 5 or 6 attempts, like that 7 year old getting all the green squares on one face of the Rubik's cube while the other 5 sides are still a mess. And that's when this pit in my stomach took root...when I witnessed a supposed top 10 team with no true outside shooters, no true point guard, no answer to Wes Johnson, no defensive grit, and no resolve get run out of the Garden by a hungry, well-balanced, better yet unranked Syracuse squad.
Now, I can accept losing to a better, more talented team. I can accept that it was early in the season and there are a lot of young players getting rotated in. I can accept the pressure of living up to last year's team. But what UNC fans should never have to accept is a team that is ill-prepared, careless, unintelligent, and lacking heart. As the season has progressed since that night, I have witnessed a Tarheel team that embodies the following:
  • Lack of a true, quality PG
  • Lack of leadership
  • A love affair with turnovers
  • Lack of development of returning players
  • Lack of heart & toughness
  • Lack of outside shooting
  • No sense of urgency
  • Poor coaching (yup, I said it)

I understand that when you lose arguably the best backcourt in the nation in Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, you are going to have to lower your expectations and deal with growing pains...but the play the Tarheels have gotten out of Larry Drew II is unacceptable. Apparently he worked all summer on shooting with his ex-NBA'er dad. Well, he should have worked with John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, or even Bobby Hurley for God's sake in order to learn what it means to be a point guard. He does not understand how to settle a team, how to lead a team, good shot selection, and he does not take care of the ball. Freshman, Dexter Strickland, has outplayed him the entire year as a 2 guard converting to the 1 spot. But hey, at least Larry's jumper is better.
Deon Thompson. Marcus Ginyard. Will Graves. Three seniors, zero leadership. I would like to say that Ginyard leads by example by how hard he plays on the court, but it doesn't seem to be infecting the others the way you'd hope. And his defense has not been shutting anyone down this year. And I don't want to knock Graves, because he's been a pleasant surprise this year with his 3 point shooting and toughness - but again, his toughness isn't infecting anyone else. And Thompson has looked beyond soft this year with all of his 15 foot turnaround jumpers.
Ed Davis continues to play hard. I love just about everything about Ed...except for the fact that he has done NOTHING to improve his right hand. He is not a complete player yet. Right now he is getting by on his superb athleticism...well, he does more than just "get by", but imagine if he honed in on some of his weak areas!
The turnovers this season...atrocious, and even comical at times. Lack of outside shooting...well, we knew that coming in.
Has anyone seen this team really dig in and get stops on defense? Has anyone seen someone knock a guy to the ground trying to get through a screen? Are opponents scared to come in the lane? Are they intimidated to play at the Dome? Have you seen them come back from a big deficit and win the game? Where is the heart and toughness? Where is the sense of urgency? Why has tentative finesse taken the place of determination and swagger? Did Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington take those things with them when they left Chapel Hill?
On a bright note, Dexter Strickland has been excellent. This freshman was the only guy to even show up for the Clemson game. He should be starting. Leslie McDonald has shown some real promise as well...he's confident, plays hard, and has a nice outside shot.
Let me close this rant with Roy Williams. Coach, I love you. I love that you bleed Tarheel blue and I love that you brought home two NCAA Championships in only a few short years. And I definitely love that you can recruit your butt off....but in terms of the X's and O's, I'm just not seeing it coach. If the team doesn't get something off of their primary and secondary breaks, the halfcourt offense is uninspired and sloppy - full of lazy screens and poor spacing. And do you even work on a zone offense at practice? What is so hard about getting into the gaps? Even if your guards are incapable, you should have been hi-lo'ing the Cuse all night with Davis and Thompson and Zeller. The X's and O's need to be better. The defensive principals need to be better.
The Tarheels need to be better.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or