Monday, March 30, 2009

Worth More Than Their Weight In Gold

This morning I awoke to find an email from the New York Yankees. When I sat at my desk at 7:04 a.m., I learned that it had arrived in my gmail inbox -1 minute ago. It was not the email I was hoping for (which we can talk about at another time) but it was from the future so I was happy to see it all the same. It was sent to inform me that tickets were still available for games during the opening week at Yankee Stadium. In fact, this email was letting me know that there were still plenty of tickets available for games throughout the season. I was mildly surprised, but believed the news. I mean, would the Yankees lie to me? Between the multiple on-sales dates that clubs employ as a way to keep your ticket-getting hopes up as long as possible and the dire state of the economy, I didn't think twice about tickets being available. I just started clicking my way towards some seats at the new Yankee Stadium.

Now, I'm no Yankees fan. This is a fact. I am, however, related to Yankees fans. My father and his father are both fans of the Bronx Bombers. So, I figured I would see if I could wrangle us some tickets to a game this summer. And, I felt like I had lucked out as I scrolled through the schedule and saw so many games still on sale. At that point, I assumed that there must have been some tickets released just this morning and that by virtue of having sat down at my computer before shuffling dejectedly to shower that I had put myself in position to score some seats that would probably sell out within a few minutes. I considered myself fortunate. It seemed that everything was working. Ticketmaster.com was flying. There were no virtual waiting rooms or lost places in line. I clicked that I wanted four seats together. I passed the word scramble test. And, then. My seats came up. My $900 seats.
My first reaction was to laugh. And, I did. Long and hard. I needed that laugh on a Monday morning. Nine hundred dollars? Each? Oh, and these are still available? Shocking. Realizing that allowing Ticketmaster to default to "best available" was apparently not an option when dealing with the Yankees, I went looking for more reasonable rates. The search didn't go well. Or take long. The few affordable sections in the ballpark were sold out. The not-really-affordable-but-rationalizable-as-a-gift sections were sold out, too. But, anyone capable of spending $400 and up per ticket could seemingly put themselves together quite a nice a la carte ticket plan for the inaugural season at the third Yankee Stadium.

But, let's get back to those tickets that I was originally directed to after clicking my way from the Yankees' email to Ticketmaster. Those $900 tickets. With fees and shipping, those tickets are actually worth several times their approximate weight in gold. I think. According to my hasty Internet research, the price of gold is around $920 per ounce right now. Not having a scale with me, I'm not totally sure exactly how much a ticket weighs, but I would estimate that the old unused concert ticket in my bag feels a little bit heavier than a paper clip from my desk. According to my poorly recollected grade school education, a paper clip weighs one gram. And it takes 15 grams to equal an ounce (not a liquid ounce, obvi). Which means that a ticket to a ballgame probably weighs around 1/10 of an ounce. Meaning that the New York Yankees are selling tickets that are worth ten times their weight in actual gold.

R.I.P Cinderella (1979-2009)

In 2007, there were no teams seeded worse than third in the Elite Eight for the first time since the NCAA men's basketball tournament began ranking team's comprehensively across all regions in 1979. In 2008, all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four for the first time. In 2009, all 1, 2 and 3 seeds reached the Sweet 16 for the first time and no No. 4 seeds reached the Elite Eight for just the second time.

Cinderella is dying. And our experience of the tournament will forever be changed. With the madness excised from March people will be far less likely to labor over offices pools and take up armchair bracketology.

But from the ashes of our unused 2010 and 2011 brackets will rise something greater than we could imagine. Head on over to my article at BroBible to read more about it.

Monday Mudita



Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Glitch in the Matrix

Like every American professional sports franchise, the New York Knicks have a specially-tailored video montage eternally queued up on the jumbo-tron to play in late-and-close situations. The montage features the usual suspects (but not actually a clip from The Usual Suspects). It's got Rocky. It's got Hoosiers. It's got Will Ferrell in the locker room scene from Old School. It's got Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. The montage even has a few seconds from Al Pacino's perennially underrated life-is-a-game-of-inches speech from Any Given Sunday. Everyone's talking about winning and/or not freaking out. And inches. But, there's also a clip from The Matrix. It's from the scene early in the film when Neo is choosing between the blue and the red pills. Morpheus says something or other about destiny. And that quote is spliced into the pump-up montage, which is generally followed by the soaring, anthemic notes of Europe's "The Final Countdown."

The clip of from The Matrix jumped out at me tonight. Because something else happened that made me think back to that film. Something that wasn't supposed to happen. A glitch. Later in the film, when Neo and his band of be-leathered freedom fighters are returning from his visit to the Oracle, he sees a black cat pass. And, then he sees it again. He's told that deja vu is really a glitch in the matrix. And that it means that someone has changed something. In that case, the recurrent cat means that the bad guys had changed the situation to put the good guys in trouble. The takeaway, though, was that seeing the exact same thing two times was not right. It was the sign of a problem or that someone had bent reality. In tonight's game, there was a similar black-cat glitch. I had a feeling of deja vu. Because I saw the same thing. Twice.
With the Knicks playing a tightly contested - albeit poorly defended - game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Knicks forward Al Harrington emphatically slammed home a bucket with just less than 30 seconds to play that put the Knicks up by three points and seemed to push the game into the win column for the team from New York. But he was called for a technical foul for the manner in which emphatically dunked the ball. The call was unnecessary (because if you look at the picture you can clearly see that Al Thornton is beneath Harrington) but probably/possibly according to the letter (if not the intent) of the rule in the rule books. The Clippers calmly dispatched the free throw that they were awarded as a result of the technical foul. It was, then, a two-point game and the Clippers got the ball to former Knickerbocker Zach Randolph. The inscrutably effective Randolph managed to tie the game, but left enough time on the clock for one final regulation possession. The Knicks squandered that possession (and so much more). And, we were all "treated" to free basketball. In the extra session, the Clippers pulled out that game. The Knicks lost.

This is what happened tonight at the Garden. And, this is also what happened the last time the the Knicks played the Clippers. That game occurred on Feb. 11, just before the All-Star Break. And the same exact thing happened. I'm not kidding. The Harrington dunk for a three-point lead, the tech, the free throw and the game-tying points from Z-Bo. It's entirely inexplicable that two teams could finish a game in this manner twice in one season. Especially if they only play each other twice. It's mind-bottling. Yeah, mind-bottling. You know, when things are so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle?

I mean, those hanging on the rim/pounding the backboard technical fouls seem to be called maybe once a night across the NBA. On a busy day. Maybe? The guy I was at the game with tonight assumed it was far less often than that. But even if it's once a night that's still 1 in 10 games (there were 11 going tonight). And of those type of calls that are made, you can assume that only a fraction of those come with less than 30 seconds to play in game. And of those calls that are made that come with less than 30 seconds left in the game, you can assume that only a fraction of those games are actually close enough for the call to open the door for the team benefiting from the call. And of those calls that are made with less than 30 seconds left in a game that is close enough that the call can open the door for the team benefiting from the call, that only a fraction of those trailing teams are able to capitalize on the opportunity. And of those calls that are made with less than 30 seconds left in a game that is close enough that the call can open the door for the team benefiting from the call and in which said team is able to walk through the door, that the odds of that scenario playing out twice between the same foes in one season is astronomically small. Right?

But it's even crazier than it seems. Because not only did a very, very, very, very unlikely endgame scenario play out twice between two teams in the same season but it played out twice with the same players doing the same things. Al Harrington was called for the tech both times and Zach Randolph scored the tying points both times. I mean are the odds of this happening 1 in 1,000? 1 in 100,000? Do I need to start thinking about trillions again? Does anyone know anyone at the ELIAS Sports Bureau?

I was at tonight's game with the same fellow who I attended Kobe's 61-point (0 rebound) game with. And, we both agreed that what we saw tonight was statistically far more rare than what Kobe did. By several orders of magnitude. After all, Kobe's was the 60th 60+-point game in NBA history. And, I'm pretty sure that what happened tonight (when considered alongside what happened earlier this year) has never happened before. This was history. Or, a glitch.

And, just because I mentioned it...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our Pastime Has Passed Us By

Japan Tops S. Korea in Classic WBC Final

Before we get started, you should know that I did watch the Knicks last night. They lost. And for a team whose playoff hopes were extinguished a few days ago they still managed to make the defeat sting. They're special like that. But, I'm not here to talk about the Knicks. I'm here to talk about a baseball game that I watched last night.

It was as good a baseball game as I've seen in a long time. Better than any of the games in the 2008 World Series. Better than any of the games in either League Championship series. The game I watched was exceedingly well played. And it was tightly contested. There were strike -'em-out, throw-'em-out double plays. There was a helmet-exploding collision at second base. There were strike-throwing pitchers. There was a team going in front four times and the other team tying the score three times. There were batters with a definite and appreciable approach at the plate. There was a phenomenal plays in the field, with the glove and the arm. There were outfielders playing shallow to keep runners from advancing and outfielders making great catches without fear of the wall. There was active managing coming from both dugouts. There was a young ace coming in to close out a game in the bottom of the ninth. And, then again in the bottom of the tenth. Because there was a game-tying rally in the ninth. There was a pitcher/team/nation challenging a superstar in a big spot. And there was a superstar coming through in said spot.

There were even wispy mustaches, long sideburns, and ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan proclaiming from the broadcast booth that he knew better than those on the field. I didn't notice any players stuffing plugs of tobacco into their lower lips, but there was no doubting that this was baseball. Except without two things that we've come to expect: Americans and plodding power hitters in the field (an unnecessary distinction?). And, apparently, this makes the game even more base-bally. I was up until nearly two in the morning watching the final of the World Baseball Classic between Japan and South Korea. And, it was awesome.

The obvious takeaway is that the Far East has pulled far ahead of the USA when it comes to our national pastime. This marks the third consecutive (at least) major international competition won by either Japan or South Korea (the 2008 Olympics and the 2006 WBC) and there is no questioning that the two Asian powerhouses are playing the most effective and consistent ball at the international level. After watching Team USA fail to reach the final, it would be safe to assume that USA baseball is either uninterested or unable to compete. But, I don't think that either is true. I think that our players thought that they were going to win. And, I think that our players are capable of winning.

This country can still produce fundamentally sound athletes and managers with a keen eye for the perfect spot to put on the hit and run. Our problem isn't a lack of fundamental skills it's a fundamental lack of understanding which skills we should value. Ours is an intellectual problem rather than an athletic one. The Japanese team sent nine players into last night's game (six started in the field and three came in during the game) who have won at least one Gold Glove Award during the last four years of play. Not surprisingly, the team didn't commit any errors during the winner-take-all championship game.

Although the US wasn't an exceedingly error-prone team during the Classic, the lineup was one structured around bats not gloves. At the start of the semifinal defeat to Japan, the US lineup contained just 3 players who have been awarded Gold Glove awards: Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter and David Wright. One other gold-glove player would come off the bench to play in the outfield during the bottom of the eighth. Of the three starters, one is actually considered among the worst defenders at his position and another was named the designated hitter (ironically so the statistically feeble guy could play in the field). The USA committed three costly errors in the loss that eliminated them from contention. Arguably the team's best defender (Rollins) was DHing while the team's worst defender (and as natural a DH as there is in the game today), Adam Dunn, was playing in right field where he was peppered with balls during Japan's five-run fourth inning.

As a baseballing nation, our flaw is not about an inability to field or a dearth passion. It is in our concept of what makes for a winner. We think that balls that end up in the stands create wins but really it's about consistently putting balls in play and catching those that the other team puts in play. It's about keeping the line moving when you're up at bat and keeping the ball in front of you when the other team is. It's about the Big Red Machine and the 1996-98 Yankees. It's about the way that we played the game before steroids. And before chicks started digging the longball. Last night's game was thrilling in spite of the fact that I didn't know many of the players and didn't know their back stories. It was thrilling because the relentless style of play was exhilirating. Hopefully, next time I can watch Team USA beating Japan and South Korea at their own game by playing what used to be our game.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Mudita



Sunday, March 22, 2009

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Boop. Bop. Beep.
WW-OD BRO-KEN TO-DAY.
2 MAN EE BASS KIT BALLS
2 MAN EE HED HURT
NO GET MOORE STAT OR JOKE

Picks:
Pittsburgh
Syracuse
Michigan State
Xavier
Louisville
Cleveland State
Kansas
Missouri

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thirty Two's Company

Capsules are being added throughout the day so scroll down for the later games

No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (27-7, Big East)
vs.
No. 6 University of California, Los Angeles Bruins (25-8, Pac 10)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1:05 P.M. EST

If Nova comes out like they did in the second half of their first game, against American, then they should win this game handily. If they come out like they did in the first half then UCLA will take control and have a chance to win a game in which neither team breaks 60 points. Trailing by ten at the half, the Wildcats came out after the intermission and pressed American. They pressed and they penetrated. They turned over the upstart Eagles and got to the foul line, ultimately sinking 23 more free throws.

No. 2 Memphis Tigers (31-3, C-USA)
vs.
No. 10 Maryland Terrapins (20-13, ACC)
Kansas City, Missouri
3:20 P.M. EST

Everyone's favorite Venezuelan-born college hoopster carried the Terps (27/5/4/2) past the Berkley Bears. Greivis Vasquez can fill it up. And, he seems to rise to the occassion (don't forget that triple double against UNC not too long ago). Which means that the Terps have a puncher's chance here.
Defensively they pestered Cal on the perimeter and will try to do the same to Roburt Sallie (who came off the bench to score 35 in round one) and the Memphis Tigers. Although Memphis got a scare put into them by Cal State Northridge I think they survive and advance today. I think they are too strong and too deep for Maryland. I think the Terps focus on defending the perimeter that the Tigers will use their strength inside. And that if the Terps pack it in that Sallie and Tyreke Evans will do their damage from the outside. While the Terps need Vasquez to win it for them, I think that Memphis can make adjustments to whatever Maryland does. And, John Callipari just got me a great deal on a used car so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt for playing in Conference USA (although midseason road wins at Tennessee and at Gonzaga help too).

No. 1 UConn Huskies (27-4, Big East)
vs.
No. 9 Texas A&M Aggies (24-9, Big 12)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3:35 P.M. EST

My favorite philosopher on dark days, Freddy, once said that "whatever doesn't kill your coach makes you stronger." I never really thought about what he meant until today. I think UConn is primed for a deep run right now. The fact that they were able to blow the doors off their first round opponent with their coach in the hospital has to have them feeling like they are invincible with him back on the sideline. Even though they did top Missouri not too long ago, an Aggies win this afternoon would be the most shocking result of the day, in my opinion. And, I did pick them to advance past BYU. Yet, I see the point spread is just 10 (whereas LSU is getting 12.5 against UNC and Siena is getting 11 against Louisville. Maybe (read: it's likely) there is something that I'm missing here.

No. 4 Washington Huskies (25-8, Pac 10)
vs.
No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers (26-9, Big 10)
Portland, Oregon
5:40 P.M. EST

Part of the reason why I thought that Purdue would advance through to the second round of this tournament was because I watched the Boilermakers defeat Boston College at Madison Square Garden in November. Well, last night I watched USC drive right over BC. And, Washington beat the Trojans twice this season in Pac 10 play. Which, right now, seems a bit more impressive. They also beat UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State during the Pac 10 season. Add that to a non-conference win over the apparently formidable Cleveland State Vikings and the Huskies resume looks pretty impressive.
Purdue beat Northern Iowa to get here. Washington beat Mississippi State (who I picked to win). Again, advantage UW.
It should be mentioned that the fact that Washington's leading scorer is named Isaiah Thomas makes me cringe and want to root for whomever they play against. Luckily for them, they've also got a player named Quincy Pontdexter - who dropped 23 in round one - which means that they get a free pass on name-based discrimination from me.
If either of these clubs were playing the mid-major upstarts then I'd probably go for the underdog each time. But, since I've got to pick one of them, I'm going with the Huskies. On paper they are better and in real life the game is being played in Portland. So, I don't think this game breaks today's run of wins by favorites.

No. 1 UNC Tar Heels (28-4, ACC)
vs.
No. 8 LSU Tigers (26-7, SEC)
Greensboro, North Carolina
5:45 P.M. EST

According to the Charlotte Observer, UNC point guard Ty Lawson had not practiced as of lunchtime yesterday. He was going to try later in the afternoon. And then, if all went well, he would be a game-time decision. I assume that he takes the floor to start. And I assume that he is not himself. This opens the door for the Tigers. And, they're going to walk through it for the upset win. Or, at least, they're going to walk through it to cover the 12.5 point spread. Go put a few bucks on that and them come back.
Back? OK. LSU's Marcus Thornton scored 30 in round one and made clutch shots down the stretch as the Tigers held off Butler. They had three players with 3 or more assists and played solid team ball. Chris Johnson blocked four shots and Thornton had four steals. They're athletic enough to play with UNC and they've got the go-to guy to make buckets down the stretch. Although Wayne Ellington had a 25-point game against Radford, I think the ease of that game will not have readied them for the intensity of LSU in the early stages. UNC showed that they could be had this year when teams really mixed it up with them physically and I think the boys from the bayou are going to do just that.

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (27-5, Big 12)
vs.
No. 10 Michigan Wolverines (20-13, Big 10)
Kansas City, Missouri
5:50 P.M. EST

If Michigan had been able to shut the door on Clemson in round one then I'd be very, very tempted to take them here. Mostly because those Griffen-less games that Oklahoma played late in the season made me not trust the Sooners. But Michigan didn't close the door on Clemson. They almost dropped the game. And, they've won two games in row just once (with wins over Wisconsin and Iowa) since the second week of January.
In their opening contest, Oklahoma took care of business. They blazed a wagon trail over Morgan State and Griffen looked like the best player in the country. He scored 28 points and pulled down 13 boards. He was also body slammed. Which was awkward for everyone. Morgan State's Ameer Ali flipped him over his back and to the hardwood in the second half. Ali was ejected. And Griffen got up. He's apparently fine. Which means that the Sooners are fine. Of course, if Griffen gets into foul trouble early and Manny Harris can get going then the Wolverines surely have a chance. But, I'm not betting on it. And, I'm the sort of guy who likes making bets so much that I just bet against UNC.

Parting Shot

Farewell Tyrese Rice. Au revoir Dionte Christmas. Adios Da'Sean Butler. Ciao Jeff Teague. Sayonara emprasario Austin. Njichaabira Tyler Smith. Tofa soifua Gary Wilkinson. Totsiens Ben Woodside. Agur Kevin Tiggs. Farvael Ryan Wittman. Selamat tinggal Kenneth Faried. Hoşça kal Tyler Kepkay. ᑕᕝᕙᐅᔪᑎᑦ James Jones. Fir Milenge Mark Titus. Rub Rakha Tony Douglas. auf Wiedersehen Matt Howard. Ha det Rodrigue Mel. Güle güle Jimmer Fredette. Beannachd leat Jordan Eglseder. Wédersah Stephen McDowell. øis revido Jerome Randle. Да пабачэння Artsiom Parakhouski. Chum reap lhear Jarvis Varnado. Sudie Lawrence Westbrook. Ditën e mirë Terrence Oglesby. Aloha Garrison Carr. Shalom Humpty Hitchens. Adzzislytödz D.J. Rivera. Vale Reggie Holmes. Chjëtji Trent Meacham. Chào ông Chief Kickingstallionsims. Làpìch knewël Jeremy Chappell. Tu heel k'iin Eric Maynor.

Mind Games

Yesterday I wrote fondly of the memory of watching Eric Maynor and his classmates at Virginia Commonwealth University upsetting Duke on the opening Thursday of the 2007 NCAA tournament. I claimed that the result of that game represented all that was pure and wondrous about sport. I wrote about how that game elevated my mood and left my workaday worries to be swept up along with the celebratory confetti that occasionally accompanies such stirring victories. And I stand by those sentiments. There are times when sport can bring out the best in people. When it can wash away stress and quell strife. Both for the participants and the spectators, sports can provide escape from a world that seems too small. And it can bring together a community that seems too large to ever share any collective experience. No matter what the people who think that they're too smart, too rich or too cultured ever say, there is value in the shared experience and the populist nature of athletics. Fandom is not the province of any one select group and not just the crutch of undereducated provincials. It's OK if it makes you irrationally joyful to watch your team win or to watch any team win when logic dictates that they shouldn't. In fact, sports are valuable, in part, because they are capable of eliciting such feelings.

Arguing over whether sport should be important misses the point. What is and what should be are different things. Perhaps it would be better if that were not so. But most of us don't have the luxury of eschewing pragmatism for the sake philosophy. And in this 9-to-9 life that we live eight days a week what is is the most important thing. In other words, I don't care if you think that sports shouldn't be a big deal. Heck, I wish that the internet truly was a meritocracy as it was intended. And that democracy didn't devolve into oligarchy when carried out on a large scale. Things are the way they are. And, it's far more helpful to deal with life that way rather than keeping it at arm's length because it should be as good as you think that you are.

Anyways, night's like tonight really make me realize the meaning of these games. Tonight, Boston College lost in the opening round of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament to USC. Tonight, the New York Knicks lost to the Sacramento Kings in a regular-season game that was crucial to the team's bid for a playoff berth. In and of themselves, these two results mean nothing. My life is unaltered. If anything, these losses might save me some money. But they do bring all my individual frustrations and sorrows up tight. I can feel the breath of missed opportunities on my neck like full-court pressing defenders. And everything that I had hoped a game could make me forget is only made all the more relevant when my team doesn't win. Just as a championship or unexpected upset victory can give us license to crow and be proud, a loss can allow shame and melancholy to walk through that same opened revolving emotional door that Maynor and VCU opened to exhilaration and relief with their shock win two years ago.

The power that sports has allows it to tease out not just our mostly latent capacity for euphoria but also the disappointments that we all feel but do our best to lock away. When they highlight the rewardless sacrifices, dashed hopes and futureless tomorrows that we all face. Which is why you see fans weeping or smashing or otherwise acting as if the loss of one game is far more significant than it is. Those moments are conduits for all the emotions that wouldn't show otherwise. The moment when BC's senior guard Tyrese Rice turns away from his soon-to-be victorious opponent - who is dribbling out the waning seconds of the last game of the season - and tiredly tugging at the headband hugging his furrowed and sweating brow, reminds us all of the times when we face our final disappointments. If we vicariously enjoy their triumphs then we share their defeats. The big losses bring us back to the time that we didn't get the girl. Or, more accurately, when we got the girl but couldn't keep her. When we cast a vote and it didn't matter. When we didn't get the promotion that we worked so hard for. When we knew we were good enough and had prepared but didn't deliver. When Endy Chavez made the catch only for Aaron Heilman to surrender a home run to Yadier Molina. When the veil was pulled between us and the thing that we thought we could have through sheer force of enthusiasm and effort. When the American dream was revealed to be nothing but a literary device. And you found yourself carrying wilted lilies to the grave of Horatio Alger.

Should it take the loss by a sports team, composed of strangers, that I support to make me experience everything lackluster about my life? No. It shouldn't. Should it take the collapse of our financial system to realize that predatory lending practices are not for the best? Nope. Again, things are not as they should be. They are as they are. And my teams are losers tonight. In the end, they always lose. Just like most teams do. And that makes me feel like a loser. Just like many people often feel.

I'm a Knicks fan. I'm a Mets fan. I'm a BC fan. I'm a Jets fan. Tonight it feels like the things in this life that I root for, that I want to see succeed, inevitably fail. Withered relationships with friends and former lovers, potholed avenues towards progress and sports teams may have nothing in common (unless, of course, it really is all my fault each time) but the empty feeling in your gut and the tightness in your jaw. Which means that the experience of one can remind you of the other two. Which means that a flood of emotions unrelated to whatever game you're watching and unasked for on a Friday night might never be farther away than a jump shot for the other team.

Thankfully, the joys of birthday candles, fifth dates and new socks also are never farther away than a Ronald Moore three-pointer in double overtime. Which is why we pay our money down and get in line for the rollercoaster. Because, unlike the other travails of our lives which take months and years to rise and fall, these games can lift us up after forty minutes. The clock is always ticking down towards relief. Or sorrow. But it's always ticking, either way. And there's always another game.

Friday, March 20, 2009

T.G.I.F. Night's Games

No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (28-5, Big East)
vs.
No. 16 Morehead State Eagles (19-15, Ohio Valley)
Dayton, Ohio
7:10 P.M. EST

Rick Pitino's Cards are the top seeded team in this entire donnybrook. They won the Big East. Twice. In the regular season and in the conference tournament. The team's best player was recently featured in Sports Illustrated. These guys are big time. Morehead State, on the other hand, is not ready for informercial hour (don't even thnk about prime time). The school is famous for having produced Phil Simms. They will also be famous for that tomorrow, having accrued no more athletic memories of consequence.

No. 7 Boston College Eagles (22-11, ACC)
vs.
No. 10 University of Southern California Trojans (21-12, Pac 10)
Minneapolis, Minnesota.
7:20 P.M. EST

This site makes me think of goaltending. This matchup makes me think of Kenny Harley driving to the lane when Troy Bell should've been taking a three. Neither of those are good thoughts. But I've got to think that BC can win this game. Even though every talking head employed by ESPN has tapped the LA club. Even though USC is actually giving BC two points on the boards in Vegas.
I penned the BC team capsule for Deadspin. Head over there for a good and thorough introduction to the team. In short, they run a disciplined offense and aim to keep games close and measured. As long as that's the case, they've got Tyrese Rice (and a bunch of youngsters that Al Skinner plucked from relative obscurity) to take over late or to hit the big shots.
BC beat UNC and Duke this year. And they lost to Harvard. Which I think is a heretofore unheard of feat and one that will never be duplicated. USC underachieved relative to the talent on the roster but is hot right now, having just won the Pac 10 tournament. If this becomes a track meet then USC pulls the slight upset. If this game becomes about poise and maintaining for forty minutes then BC should advance. I'm a homer. Let's go Eagles.

No. 4 Xavier Muskateers (25-7, A 10)
vs.
No. 13 Portland State (23-9, Big Sky)
Boise, Idaho
7:25 P.M. EST

Bill Simmons and his buddy House are throwing their support behind the Ken Bone-helmed Portland State club. I'm going the other way (which doesn't make me feel good that we all are pulling for BC) here even though Xavier dropped two of its last three games (one of which, the A10 tourney final, featured a big game by Temple's Dionte Christmas). Xavier's got five players who played more than ten minutes in last year's loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight. They gave us David West. They've got a winning mentality and experience in the Dance as a favorite (3 seed last year) and an underdog (14 seed in 2006). Portland State has... a coach with the last name Bone.

No. 5 Utah State (24-9, Mountain West)
vs.
No. 12 Arizona Hoopcats (19-13, Pac 10)
Miami, Florida
7:10 P.M. EST

There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when Arizona was admitted to the tournament instead of St Mary's. Tonight's hoopcat victory will provide an unexpected addendum to those discussions. Lute Olsen and his teams have historically been one of my go-to groups come March. But Olsen is gone, having retired in shame or shadow or something that was benign but suspicious seeming from here. So, I felt doubt looking at this matchup. Until I remembered that this is still an Olsen team. The players are his players. And Chase Buddinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise bring more the floor than whatever Utah can throw at them. Oh, wait. The Utes have a 7-2 Australian. And, it'll be awesome to watch a red head dunk over him.
My selection of Arizona is also a repudiation of the state of Utah. After submarining BYU, I tried to work things out between me and the beehive state. I really tried. I picked Utah State to win their game. But they didn't and I extend no more olive branches. Which is probably fine with them as they most likely avoid olives because the fruit seems too "ethnic."

No. 4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (24-6, ACC)
vs.
No. 13 Cleveland State Vikings (25-10, Horizon)
Miami, Florida
9:40 P.M. EST

For me, Wake is the great X-factor in this tournament. From mid November through mid January they were the best team in the country. But in March they're going to be knocked off by a mid major. I think.
It's weird. When looking at a bracket, I feel that the whole tournament could hinge on this game in Miami. Because if the Demon Deacons get their footing in this tournament then I think they can upset Louisville and make a run for the Final Four. Jeff Teague and James Johnson are as good a pair as any team can offer. In a fortnight (two week period) they beat UNC, BC, Clemson and BYU consecutively. But they lost five of their next nine games and seemed to have rolled back to the pack. They peaked too early. Way too early.
Cleveland State, on the other hand, has won 12 of 14 and just beat Butler in the Horizon tournament to gain a bid to the Dance. As I've been writing all of these previews I've been going over the regular-season schedules for all these teams and kept coming across vs. CLE. Because the Vikings have played a bunch of solid non-conference games this year. They won at Syracuse. They played (and lost) at Washington and at West Virginia. It looks to me like their coach has been intentionally putting his team in big-time environments all season long.
Using some of the same clearly flawed logic that I used when mistakenly picking 30-win Utah State to upset Marquette (because it just seemed to me like the "best team in school history" would be the one to nab the school a memory, especially against a Big East club sans star), I'm going to say that Cleveland State's senior forward J'Nathan Bullock should be a guy that goes down in CSU history. The forward has led the team in scoring all four seasons on campus. So, WWOD? is picking the Vikings to upset Wake. I think Wake will play down to their opponents seed and I think that Cleveland State's entire season has been geared towards this moment. All of this being said, if Wake Forest wins then I'll probably pick them in the next round. Because I'm consistent like that.

No. 8 The Ohio State University Buckeyes (22-10, Big 10)
vs.
No. 9 Siena Saints (26-7, MAAC)
Dayton, Ohio
9:40 P.M. EST

The team of Ohio is playing in Dayton, coming off a win in the Big 10 tournament. Chalk it up, right? There's no way that the best of the Big 10 could lose in front of a partisan crowd, right? False. Along with just about everyone else, I think the Saints (although their mascot is a St. Bernard and not a saint in the angels and martyrs sense) take out the Buckeyes.
My Big 10 prejudice comes shining through here and blinds me to the fact that the team must be hot if they just beat Michigan State (who I do respect in spite of their conference affiliation) to win the conference tournament.
The Saints upset Vanderbilt last year (who had one marquee win over Tennessee) and they are led by a senior guard who was on the depth chart when Vermont beat Syracuse a few years back. Prior to the Big 10 tournament, the Buckeyes had lost four of seven. After their surprise run, I think they're actually the club that might just be happy to be here whereas the Saints have played through a boring (16-2) conference season just to get to the CBS Invitational. For them, the season starts tonight. For Ohio State it may already be considered a success.

No. 2 Michigan State University Spartans (26-6, Big 10)
vs.
No. 15 Robert Morris(24-10, NEC)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
9:50 P.M. EST

We are Sparta! We are Robert Morris! ‘Nough said.

No. 5 Florida State Seminoles (25-9, ACC)
vs.
No. 12 University of Wisconsin Baders (19-12, Big 10)
Boise, Idaho
9:55 P.M. EST

/in best Berman
“Tone Tone Tone Douglas wouldn’t let the Seminoles lose tonight

(Dionte) Christmas is Canceled

Yesterday I was on the fun end of a few close games. Today, I'm on the short side. Which, apparently, means I may not be as good at picking winners as I had previously thought. Hmm....
If you're last name is Christmas then you should be wearing No. 25 on your jersey. Not 22. Right?

Almost-Quitting-Time Games

No. 6 Arizona State Sun Devils (24-9, Pac 10)
vs.
No. 11 Temple Owls (22-11, Atlantic 10)
Miami, Florida
2:45 P.M. EST

Arizona State’s James Harden is the best player in this game, according to the NBA. He’s 6-5, he scores (20), passes (4), he rebounds (5) and he steals (1.7). He’s the sort of player that is good enough to get a team a round one win in the tournament. He was the Pac-10 Player of the Year, too. And, he supposedly could be a lottery pick next season if he elects to leave school. The precocious teenager, though, is coming off a game (the finals of the Pac 10 tournament) where he missed an armload of shots in the closing minute of three-point loss to USC. He seemed a bit overmatched by the moment.
Not overmatched in the big moment was Temple’s version of Harden, Dionte Christmas. The senior guard dropped 29 points on Duquesne in a four-point win in the final of the A-10 convention. He’s also 6-5. He averages 19/3/6/1.5. And I’d never heard of him until today. Even though his name is Christmas. I predict an Owls upset and an announcer screaming “It’s Christmas in March!” after Dionte hits a run-capping three pointer.

No. 1 Pittsburgh Panthers (28-4, Big East)
vs.
No. 16 Eastern Tennessee State Buccaneers (23-10, Atlantic Sun)
Dayton, Ohio
3:05 P.M. EST

Many of the gambling terms that we know and love go back to the days when ponies were kings. Or, rather when most people did their betting on horses. Before the days of the lavish OTB and electronic boards showing the changing odds prior to a race all information was put up on chalk boards. These were used because the odds had to keep being erased and replaced as the money flowed in. Since most action at the horse track would pertain to the favorite that horse's line on the board would inevitably become a blurry mess. When people wanted to bet the favorite but couldn't decipher the odds on or even the name of the favored horse they would simply ask the person at the counter to give them "the chalk." This is why we refer to as a bracket full of top seeds being "chalk."
I feel like this information is relevant to this game...

No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers (23-11, Big East)
vs.
No. 11 Dayton Flyers (26-7, A10)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
3:05 P.M. EST

I'm torn on this one. RIght down the middle. WVU is a team that I usually ride in my brackets. But Dayton has the look and the feel of cotton a Cinderella. Or, at least, I thought they did. Until I looked a little closer. They don't have a player that averages more than 14 points per game. And I feel like a Cindy-squad needs someone capable of taking over. Also, the difference between Dayton's points scored and points allowed was just six points. It would seem that they won close games against teams that aren't very good. Like, for example, that one-point squeaker with Fordham. Still, I can't shake the idea that they've got something to offer. I'm not sure if it's the color scheme (red and white like Western Kentucky), the name of the school or what. But for some reason the Flyers just feel like a team that makes some noise.
But, since I can't find any reason to back this up, I'm sticking with the people that brought us Kevin Pittsnogle. I'm going to resort to my lesser instincts and confirm my choice of the Mountaineers because I could see them taking down Kansas in the second round (which is never a good reason to pick a first round game).

No. 3 University of Missouri Tigers (28-6, Big 12)
vs.
No. 14 Cornell University Bears (21-9, Ivy)
Boise, Idaho
3:10 P.M. EST

Remember that time that I told you about chalk?

And on the Second Day...

UPDATE: Ugh.
UPDATE #2: Double ugh. I just dropped two upset picks by a combined three points.

No. 3 Syracuse Orange (26-9, Big East)
vs.
No. 14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (24-7, Southland)
Miami, Florida
12:15 P.M. EST

If Syracuse were to drop their first round game to a college with a middle initial then the writers covering the team would have their stories filed within one second of the final buzzer. All the game stories would lead with the notion that the Orange were wiped out from their Big East tourney run, that they had nothing left in the tank. People would point to the epic six-overtime tilt with UConn and marvel that the players didn’t turn to dust even sooner. Others would recall what happened to Gerry McNamara’s club after a similarly exhausting run at the Garden in 2006. We already know how to explain this loss. If it happens.
I don’t think it will, though. Because this Syracuse team is better than the ’06 club and because Stephen F. Austin are not as good as the Texas A&M club, featuring Acie Law, that they faced in the first round that year. The Orange beat UConn, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Last week. They’re good.
The Lumberjacks, on the other hand, play at a school named after the guy who finished third in the election for President of Texas in 1835. And while I do think that Eric Devendorf seems like a tool, I don’t think that even he would have the pebbles to refer to himself as an empresario like Austin did.

No. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys (22-11, Big 12)
vs.
No. 9 University of Tennessee Volunteers (21-12, SEC)
Dayton, Ohio
12:25 P.M. EST

I usually root for Okie State to pull off an upset in their late-season matchup with Oklahoma. In football. On the basketball court, I tend not to think of them. Vegas doesn’t rate them too highly on the hardwood either, setting them as two-point dogs today in spite of being the better seeded team. They earned that seed in part because they’ve got four players averaging 10+ points — led by James Anderson, the third-leading scorer in the Big 12 with 18 an outing — and score 81 points per night.
Still, I’m going against the selection committee and the stats (but listening to the oddsmakers) and picking Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers. While the Cowboys have lost three years in a row in the opening round of the NIT, the Vols — under Pearl — have become CBS Invitational regulars. And, you know what they say about Jewish guys from the Northeast who rise to success in the South, by way of Milwaukee. Oh, you don’t know that wives’ tale from the Red Sea? I’m pretty sure it was about many blessings coming in Dayton. And there was something about unleavened bread in there too.

No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles (24-9, Big East)
vs.
No. 11 Utah State Aggies (30-4, WAC)
Boise, Idaho
12:30 P.M. EST

About a month ago, Marquette was the tenth-best team in all the land. They were hosting No. 2 UConn in Milwaukee and had a gilt-edged chance to make a statement. But star guard Dominic James broke a bone in his left foot in the first half. The Golden Eagles dropped the game to the Huskies and then lost four of their next five. Metaphorically and literally this team is limping into the tournament. And their best player couldn’t lace up his dancing shoes because he’s wearing a protective boot.
The Aggies of Utah State, on the other hand, are feeling like world beaters (disclaimer: they haven’t actually beaten anyone yet). The team has 30 wins and is reportedly the best in the history of the school. I think the stars are aligned for an upset. We’ve got an injury-depleted club from a power conference, an uber-confident team from a small conference, and a clear location advantage for the underdog (Idaho might as well be Utah). This pick should also square me with the state of Utah, who I have bashed already (and will likely bash once more).

No. 3 University of Kansas Jayhawks (25-7, Big 12)
vs.
No. 14 North Dakota State Bison (26-6, Summit)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
12:30 P.M. EST

Folks in the plains states know much of the bison (commonly, but incorrectly referred to as the buffalo). After all, they killed most of them. Thankfully, the world has a sense of humor. And Kansas fans have grown to fear the bison. It was the Bucknell Bison that upset the Jayhawks in the first round a few years ago. And it is the North Dakota State Bison that threaten them today.
But, I don’t see NDSU doing much more than threatening. Like the actual bison they will fall to the men from the plains. I mean, they actually lost a game to Stephen F. Austin University this year whereas Kansas—whom everyone seems to be rushing to pick against—triumphed over Texas, Temple, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Can't Stop. Won't Stop. Don't Stop

I covered 16 games. It took me 3,812 words. But, I picked 14 correctly. Oh, and I took my mom to go see Fleetwood Mac at the Garden. Yup. And then I came home and watched the late games, which I had recorded. That just happened. Let's do it all again tomorrow.

Dont stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Dont stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterdays gone, yesterdays gone.

Dont you look back,
Dont you look back.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Open All Nighters

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (28-6, ACC)
vs.
No. 15 Binghamton Bearcats (23-8, America East)
Greensboro, North Carolina
9:50 P.M. EST

My glibness regarding the Villanova/American contest seems to have tempted fate earlier in the evening. So, I'll tread lightly (or rather more thoroughly) here.
The Bearcats leading scorer, D.J. Rivera, who also led the America East in scoring at 20 per game. He's good. And he's got a chip on his shoulder. Not a blue chip (or else he wouldn't be playing for Binghamton). He was left off the all-conference ballots and not named America East Player of the Year (which apparently he was) by the conference's coaches as some sort of asinine boycott. You see, Rivera wasn't forced to sit out a year after transferring from St. Joe's. This was not his decision. But don't tell that to the coaches. They know what they're doing. Because there is no better way to teach the NCAA overlords a lesson than to punish a youngster. Works 60% of the time every time.
If Rivera can have a Stephen Curry against Georgetown sort of game then Binghamton could upset Duke, who has had a penchant for letting lower-ranked teams hang around in the tourney (see one-point win over Belmont last year and loss to VCU the year before). And, there is no single result in the first round (besides a BC win over USC) that would bring me as much joy as a Bearcat over Blue Devil result. But, it ain't going to happen. Just like most things that would bring me joy.

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (27-5, Big 12)
vs.
No. 15 Morgan State Bears (23-11, MEAC)
Kansas City, Missouri
9:55 P.M. EST

On Valentine's Day, Oklahoma beat Texas Tech. They were 25-1. They were the No. 2 team in the nation. And everyone was in love with them. And, then all-world forward and future No. 1 pick of the NBA draft Blake Griffen was concussed during the next game against Texas. The Longhorns edged the Sooners with Griffin on the bench during the endgame. With the 21/14 superstar sidelined, the Sooners dropped the next game to Kansas. And no one loved them anymore. They were officially a one-man show. Just like last year's Kansas State club with Michael Beastley. And like last year's KSU club, the Sooners will roll to a first round win in the dance.
Although I have no big picture confidence in Oklahoma in the Big Dance, I just can't see how the Bears can win this game. They did beat Maryland early in January and DePaul late in 2008 but I don't see it tonight. They've only got two guys who can shoot better than 35% from beyond the arc and you know that Griffin is going to dominate in the paint.

No. 6 University of California, Los Angeles Bruins (25-8, Pac 10)
vs.
No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth University Rams (24-9, CAA)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
10:00 P.M. EST

Being stuck in the office during the opening day of the NCAA tournament is a terrible thing for a certain sort of guy. Like, for example, the certain sort of guy that one day might use copious amounts of free time to write a sports blog when he is fairly certain that no one is reading. It's worse than being in the office on your birthday or on Christmas eve. Like way worse. And having to work a moment past 5:00 P.M. on the first day of the tournament actually constitutes legal grounds for most low-grade acts of inter-office violence. At least in this state. Two years ago, I was stuck at my old job late on the day the tournament opened. I was slaving away on something that would ultimately yield little reward other than the satisfaction of a job well done (which apparently VISA does not accept as payment). And, then I had to commute home. Meaning I not only missed the lone 5 o'clock game entirely but I missed the start of the 7 o'clock games too. I was none too pleased when I walked in the door of my apartment. But then VCU rescued my day. Thanks to a last-second shot in the lane, by point guard Eric Maynor, they upset No. 6 Duke. The Rams outscored the Blue Devils 9-6 in the final two and half minutes. And in that small amount of time they undid hours and hours of frustration. Moments like that are why I love the tournament. It's about the unexpected. It's about forgetting your troubles. It's about schadenfreude. It's got it all. And, I'll always think on VCU and Maynor fondly.
And, so will lots of other people. Which is why they are the trendy pick to upset the UCLA Bruins. I think this game will be a battle and I think VCU can win it. But, I'm not ready to write off the Ben Howland-coached club that has made three Final Four appearances on the bounce. I think that Darren Collison (unlike Greg Paulus) is just the point guard to cancel out Maynor. And I think that will mean the difference.
As I wrote earlier, I tend to overrate UCLA just as much as I tend to give short shrift to clubs from the Big 10 (except for Purdue this one time). There is no doubt that the 2008-09 Bruins are not in the same class with previous incarnations of the team. They're not going to the Final Four. But I think with Collison and Howland (whose Big East meets Pac 10 style is like the college hoops version of peanut butter cups) that UCLA is not ready for a first-round exit.
Also, I don't want to ruin what I already have with VCU by opening the door to disappointment. If I pick them and they let me down then the luster might come off our one shining moment together in 2007.

No. 5 University of Illinois Fighting Illini (24-9, Big 10)
vs.
No. 12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (24-8, Sun Belt)
Portland, Oregon
10:18 P.M.

After an unexpected choice of Purdue earlier, we are now returning to our regularly scheduled Big 10 bashing. The Illini will not have enough fight in them for this game. It's the Hilltoppers here. And, I'm not even sure if it's close. Illinois has lost 4 of its last 7 games and has nothing on its regular-season resume that impresses me. The Hilltoppers meanwhile, have won 15 of their last 17 and were perfect at home this year. It's true that the competition in the Sun Belt isn't the stiffest but that record shows me that these guys are TCOB. Most importantly, the Hilltoppers aren't just happy to be here. They advanced to the Sweet 16 last year. So, after passing on VCU - and lamenting the trendiness of that pick - I'm keeping up with the Joneses and making the popular upset pick in this one.
5/12 is the new 4/13. And the Big 10 still sucks. Tell your friends.

Buzzer Beaters at the Dinner Bell

No. 7 University of Texas Longhorns (22-11, Big 12)
vs.
No. 10 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (22-10, Big 10)
Greensboro, North Carolina
7:10 P.M. EST

I never cared for Tubby Smith when he was with Kentucky. But I'll admit that I even found Ashley Judd tiresome after a while so maybe it's just that I never cared for Kentucky. Which is probably because the coach that they all pine for down there was named Adolph. Yup, that might have something to do with it. Regardless, all my Tubby aversion seems to have been washed away by the waters of the Minnetonka. Now, I find myself pulling for his Golden Gophers. And, they did beat Louisville in December, which means there is hope for them against the Longhorns. Right?

Over at the Worldwide Leader, NCAA hoops maven Andy Katz named Texas "the hardest team to figure" in the East bracket. He's talking about the way this team has beaten Villanova and UCLA but inexplicably lost to Nebraska. And the way that A.J. Abrams and company never really got to full speed en route to their 22 wins. I've also not been able to figure out Texas. But, not just this season. I've never been able to correctly gage how good they are. Ever. I'm not really sure how I feel about Rick Barnes. I don't really know what I think of him as a coach. I know that the team has been blessed with decent guard play (T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin) in recent years and that Kevin Durant was the cat's pajamas. But, I don't really know what I know about the program other than that they bring in good talent.

Ultimately, I could see Texas upsetting Duke in the next round and I can't fathom Minnesota hanging with Coach Kommercial's kids. So, if T > D and D > M then wouldn't T > M? Picking a first round game because of something having to do with the second round has to be the one of the top five of worst ways to fill out a bracket, but that's the way we do things around here. My heart says Minnesota (and one of the brackets I filled out) but my blog (and the rest of those brackets) will say Texas.

No. 7 Clemson Tigers (23-8, ACC)
vs.
No. 10 University of Michigan Wolverines (20-13, Big 10)
Kansas City, Missouri
7:10 P.M. EST

Whoever comes out of this game alive will get a lot of attention and be given a decent chance to advance through to next week. It's just one of those games. But's that mostly because the winner of this tilt plays an Oklahoma squad that people think can be had on any given night (but not consistently over time) like the Michael Beasley-led Kansas State squad from last year.

Through Feb. 24, the Tigers were 22-4. Their only losses were to Wake Forest, UNC, Florida State and in OT to Virginia. They were ranked. And they were good. From that point, though, they lost four of their next five. Which brings us up to date. I tend to think that they're more of a 22-4 club than a 1-4 one. And I think that they're up-tempo style could have tired them out at the end of a grueling ACC season. If that's the case then a few days of rest will have done them some good. If not, then they could be had by the Wolverines, who have beaten Duke, UCLA and Minnesota this year.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Manny Harris (17/7/4 per game) led Michigan to a win tonight but I'm going to take Clemson. I think they remember all-too-well the sting of losing to a lower-seeded team from a power conference. It happened to them last year when they got dropped by Villanova. And, I don't think they let it happen twice.

No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (26-7, Big East)
vs.
No. 15 American University Eagles (24-7, Patriot League)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7:20 P.M. EST

This game is in Philly at the Wachovia Center. Where Villanova sometimes play home games. American's marquee win came over Holy Cross. Let's not waste words. I mean, normally I love wasting words. In case you hadn't noticed. But, not now. Not on this game.

No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-5, WCC)
vs.
No. 13 Akron Zips (23-12, MAC)
Portland, Oregon
7:25 P.M. EST

It would be far more ironic if Gonzaga's title hopes were dashed by the unheralded Zips of Akron than if I were to be dining and found myself with several spoons when all I needed was a knife. Mark Few and the Bulldogs reinvigorated the glass slipper business in the past decade. But, I think the Zags will be wearing steel-toed boots tonight. They've won 18 of their last 19 games (the loss being to Memphis) and are probably better off for not having an Adam Morrison-level superstar. They're balanced and have managed to go underreported this year. Which is an upset in and of itself.

Happy Hour Game

No. 4 University of Washington Huskies (25-8, Pac-10)
vs.
No. 13 Mississippi State Bulldogs (23-13, SEC)
Portland, Oregon
5:00 P.M. EST


Logic says that Washington will enjoy a meaningful home court advantage in this game. The Huskies only have to travel 144 miles from campus. The Bulldogs? Mississippi is way farther away. On the other hand, maybe familiarity will breed contempt at the Rose Garden. It's possible that local neutrals will go against their Pac-10 rival and get behind the hot Bulldogs, who just played their way into the Dance by running the table in the SEC tournament.

After eschewing the 5/12 upset pick earlier, I could see myself tapping Mississippi State here. Mostly because I'd like to see Jarvis Varnado play through the weekend. Partially because his last name sounds like a weather phenomenon. And partly because he is the leading shot blocker in the country, with 4.7 rejections per contest, and stands just 6-9. It's hard to overlook Washington's resume, though. They've beaten UCLA, USC, Oklahoma State and Arizona State. Those are nice wins. But, this club finished last year 16-17. And, I'm having a hard time trusting them.

As the day progresses, I've been able to unburden myself of some long-standing prejudices. It's been cathartic. Another is that I can never trust a non-elite team from the Pac-10. Just like in football, I think this conference is top-heavier than Barb Wire-era Pam Anderson. I'll almost always pick against the mid-seed dance entrants from out West while tending to overvalue the top-seeded UCLA and Arizona clubs.

For me, this game is all about Mississippi State. Are they too tired from the travel? Are they happy just to be here? If the answers to these questions are "No." Then I think they take this. I think that Varnado is unlike any other player in the game and that the Bulldogs defeat a Pac-10 foe in the first round of the NCAA tournament just like they did last year (when they vanquished Oregon).

There figures to be a few upsets in Day 1 and I think that Mississippi State is hot enough (coming off SEC tourney wins over LSU and Tenn) to get one of them. Oh, and 4/13 is the new 5/12. Tell your friends.

Midafternoon Games

No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers (25-9, Big 10)
vs.
No. 12 Northern Iowa Panthers (23-10, Missouri Valley)
Portland, Orgeon
2:30 P.M. EST

Just as you're sobering up from your illicit lunch beer, we've got a 5/12 game featuring a team out of the little-thought of Big 10. Upset alert, right? Meh. These Northern Iowa Panthers are no Wildcats. And, by Wildcats, I don't mean hoopcats I mean 2008 Davidson Wildcats, who went all the way to the Elite Eight last year. The Panthers got hot after a slow start (and were co-champs of the MVC regular season with Creighton) but still needed to win the MVC Tournament - topping Illinois State in OT - to assure themselves a place in the CBS Invitational (Creighton, with a better overall record, didn't get in).

The Boilermakers topped Illinois (who, if my math is correct, is better than Illinois State) to reach the title game of the Big 10 tourney. They lost to Ohio State in a close game, but still earned an at-large bid. They were runner up in the regular season to Michigan State, who they did beat once this year. They also beat Boston College (and Ohio State and a bunch of other Big 10 also-rans). And they went to overtime with Oklahoma. But, it's that win over BC - which I witnessed at Madison Square Garden during an early-season tournament - that is probably pushing me the Purdue way. Normally, I pick against the Big 10 when filling out a bracket. I believe in that strongly. Against long-held Big 10 prejudices, I'm going to tap Purdue to fight off the upset-minded Panthers and their big 7-1 center. They've got the superior wing players and have far more experience.

According to ESPN.com, the No. 12 seed edged the No. 5 seed in 13 of 32 games since 2001. Another way to look at this is to say that the No. 5 seed has won 19 out of 32 times. I'm a glass half full sort of guy. Especially when that glass is half full of beer and and contains a shot of whiskey.

No. 1 University of North Carolina Tar Heels (28-4, ACC)
vs.
No. 16 Radford Highlanders (21-11, Big South)
Greensboro, North Carolina
2:50 P.M. EST

Apparently the Highlanders have a 6-10 center of Belarusian extraction. His name is Artsiom. That's his first name. He'll be battling America's (non-Tebow) golden child Tyler Hansbrough in the paint. Few things would make me happier (today) than Arty taking over this game and going for 25 and 20 (he averages 16 and 11). I don't anticipate this happening, though. Just like I don't anticipate many things that could make me happy today happening.

No. 1 University of Connecticut Huskies (27-4, Big East)
vs.
No. 16 University of Tennessee - Chattanooga Mocs (18-16, Southern)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3:00 P.M. EST

The big news pertaining to this game is that UConn coach (and noted altruist) Jim Calhoun was rushed to a hospital today. He won't be coaching the Huskies this afternoon. Still, I don't think if Artsiom Parakhouski was called upon to coach UConn, sans translator, that Chatanooga could take these guys. The Mocs entered the Southern Conference tournament with a sub .500 record. The Huskies, meanwhile, have the best paint presence in the nation (but not the best shot-blocker, that's Mississippi State's Varnado) and four players scoring 13+ points per game. Maybe if UT- Chattanooga comes out 5 for 6 from behind the arc (if this were to happen it would probably be thanks to 5-11 senior guard Stephen McDowell, who shoots 43% on three-pointers) and things get a little harried right away then Calhoun's absence could become a problem. Maybe. Otherwise, I think not. Huskies advance.

No. 7 University of California Bears (22-10, Pac-10)
vs.
No. 10 University of Maryland Terrapins (20-13, ACC)
Kansas City, Missouri
3:00 P.M. EST

Ah, finally something worth really considering. As I mentioned earlier, going away from the Big 10 (just not today) is something I do this time of year. It's one of my bracket strategies. Just like siding with senior guards and experienced coaches when possible. And not putting too much faith in hoopsters from Belarus. Another strategy is follow the best players, at least through Round 1. And Maryland's General Greivis Vasquez the best player in this game. He recently registered a triple double in an upset win over UNC. He can win this game for his team. Unfortunately, if he doesn't win this game for his team then his team won't win this game. I'll pick Maryland in more brackets than I'll pick the Bears. Technically this would be an upset, but it's hard to think of a 20-win ACC team really being that much of an underdog on the first day.

UPDATE: WWOD is still perfect on picks through seven games. And has officially put the kibosh on later selections.

Pencils Down. Brackets to the Front of the Room.

No. 9 Butler Bulldogs (26-5, Horizon League)
vs.
No. 8 LSU Tigers (26-7, SEC)
Greensboro, North Carolina
12:20 P.M. EST

And, we’re off. Out to jump the opening tip of the opening game of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will likely be 6-11 Chris Johnson from LSU and 6-8 Matt Howard from Butler. It’s the 8/9 game, which means that there is no true upset here.

Butler has knocked off Xavier, Ohio State, UAB and Davidson this season and edged the Green Bay Phoenix and the Cleveland State Vikings for the Horizon league regular-season title. They were upset by Cleveland State in the conference tourney and entered the Big Dance thanks to an at-large bid. Any school that feels they should’ve been in the field of 65 should feel free to blame Butler for dropping that last game. The Bulldogs drubbed South Alabama in the opening round of last year’s tourney before coming up five points shy of Tennessee in the second round. The two top scorers from that team were seniors. I don’t know what they’re up to right now.

This dancing experience may be why Butler is only a 1.5-point underdog to the regular-season champs of the SEC. Like the Bulldogs, the LSU Tigers also lost in their conference tournament after sewing up their league’s regular-season crown. LSU’s best win is probably their road triumph at Tennessee. Looking over their schedule there aren’t too many marquee wins. And someone over at Sports Illustrated wrote that they mailed it in after clinching the SEC regular-season title. Nevertheless, I took the boys from the power conference in most brackets that I filled out. They play a lot of upper classmen and should have the horses (or Tigers) to win this one against Butler. And they’re better than Cleveland State. For sure.

No. 2 Memphis Tigers (31-3, Conference USA)
vs.
No. 14 Cal State Northridge Matadors (17-13, Big West)
Kansas City, Missouri
12:25 P.M. EST

The Matadors are getting 20 points in this game. And, I don't think that I can take them. This season the team's leading scorer was arrested for armed robbery, the senior point guard was in a car accident that killed someone else in his car, and the coach (whose son was also implicated in that robbery) was nearly killed in a separate traffic accident. They've got issues. Is this a what-doesn't-kill-us-makes-us-stronger group? Maybe. Probably. But I still don't think they're strong enough to knock off (and maybe not even to cover the spread) a 31-win Memphis club that thinks they should have been a No. 1 seed.

No. 8 Brigham Young Cougars (25-7, Mountain West)
vs.
No. 9 Texas A&M Aggies (23-9, Big 12)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
12:30 P.M. EST

These teams met in the opening round of the tourney last season. The Aggies won that mathcup. But here we are again. Weird. BYU is favored by 3 points this time around. The school is located in Provo, Utah. And composed of 98% Mormon students. Although I wouldn't be shocked if 76% of that non-Mormon 2% played on the basketball team, I can't pick a team whose out-of-bounds plays may have been revealed on a set of golden plates that was dug up somewhere in New York state during the nineteenth century. And, I'm not saying that isn't a perfectly reasonable way to uncover information. I'm just saying that the game has evolved so much. Right. Aggies are the pick.

UPDATE:All three WWOD picks are looking good as these three games head into their respective halftimes. The one surprise is the Matadors of Cal State Northridge. They trail by just three points, 34-31, to Memphis and look solid.

UPDATE #2: Butler is out the gates hard in the second half. They've got the lead, 44-43, from LSU.

UPDATE #3: WWOD is 3-0 in picks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Battle for the Eighth Seed

Looking at tonight's slate of NBA games, there are five games to keep an eye on. First and foremost, is the Nets @ Knicks tilt getting underway at the Garden around 7:40 p.m. The Nets, who are a half game behind New York in the chase for No. 8, will be playing without injured All-Star PG Devin Harris. And the Knicks need to take this game, especially after Chicago upset Boston last night.

The Bulls are in the driver's seat at the moment. They lead the Knicks by two games and we only play them once more. Tonight, they are in Oklahoma City to battle the StolenSonics. Another reason why the Knicks really, really need to beat the Nets tonight.

A half game back of Chicago is Milwaukee, who hosts the Orlando Magic this evening. The Knicks dropped the season series to the Bucks and need to clear them by a game in the standings to avoid a tie-breaker situation. Tonight is a good opportunity to hack away at the current 1.5 game deficit.

The only other team between the Knicks and the eighth spot is the Bobcats. Larry Brown's crew is taking on the Sacramento Kings in Charlotte. Thanks in large part to a recent win over the Knicks at the Garden, the 'Cats hold a half-game edge of NY. There is one game remaining between these two teams.

Knicks Fans Should Be Rooting For:
Knicks
StolenSonics
Kings
Magic
Blazers (the Pacers are just a game behind NYK)

Visualization

When constructing an NCAA bracket it's important to think through each choice that you make. Especially an upset or anything that seems unlikely on paper (and your personal bracket doesn't really count as "on paper" for these purposes).

If you want to tap 4th-seeded Wake Forest to knock off Louisville, the top-ranked team in the Dance, in the Sweet 16 then try to visualize how this game could play out. Knowing what you do about the teams, the personnel and the respective styles of play, can you picture a plausible version of this game - played out over 40 minutes - that produces the result you're looking for? If you engage in this exercise you'll see that there is most definitely a scenario in which point guard Jeff Teague tilts the backcourt battle in the favor of Wake, exposing Louisville's reliance on a forward, the admittedly awesome Terrance Williams, to do most of their playmaking. If Demon Deacon swingmen Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson can hound T-Will and keep the ball out of his hands then this game could surely go Wake's way. After all, this team beat UNC, Duke, Clemson, Boston College and Maryland this year.

Obviously mad things happen each March and someone will inevitably win your office pool by picking teams based solely on the sexual prowess of the school mascot. That's the beauty of the tournament. But, if you're like me and you enjoy worrying over these brackets and trust that logic (and hours upon hours spent watching hoops over the years) can trump chance (which it can't) then it will always help you to visualize. This way you will realize that some picks are far less likely than others. I can't, for example, visualize how Illinois could topple UNC if those two squared off in the Sweet 16.

My day has been all about such visualization (and, um, dutifully fulfilling the tasks of my regular job). Until I happened upon something that I couldn't fathom. At all. And, no. I don't mean that Binghamton over Duke upset that I picked. I mean the email alert that I received from The New York Times whose subject line was "News Alert: Fed to Buy More Than $1 Trillion in Securities."
I cannot comprehend this. I cannot visualize $1 trillion. Nope. And, it's not that I just can't imagine what that much money would look like. I'm not really even sure if I know how much money that really is. I know it's actually more than the contract that Allan Houston signed in 2001 and I think it's less than the average number of krill that Jerome James eats per hour while swimming in the ocean. After that it gets fuzzy.

In a country using the short scale, one trillion is defined as one million million, but it is considered one million million million in a country using the long scale. I'm pretty sure that the United States is a short scale country. Which means that the amount of money that the Federal Reserve is pumping "into the mortgage market and longer-term Treasury securities" could also be referred to as one thousand billion dollars. I think. But, I surely can't picture it.

I'm going to stick with basketball.

The Kid Stays In the Picture NIT

Curry's 32 Keeps Davidson Dancing Invited

Last year's belle of the ball, Stephen Curry, opened strong and closed stronger in Davidson's road win, 70-63, over South Carolina in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament. It's been noted that the Knicks love Curry by ESPN's Chad Ford and others. Last night wouldn't have made the team's brass any less smitten.

After scoring 12 of Davidson's first 23 (and helping stake them to a double-digit lead), Curry picked up some early foul trouble. In his absence, the Gamecocks stormed all the way back, trailing by just two at the intermission. From the on, it was on. Until Curry flipped a switch and turned the light out on the other USC. The baby-faced friend of Lebron scored 13 of Davidson's final 17 to lift them clear of a 51-51 deadlock. He went 5 of 9 from three-point range, had three assists, three boards, two steals and one block.

And, this was actually a below-average postseason game for Curry by last year's standards, when he averaged 34 points per contest through four games.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Right, the leprechaun"


In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, the journalism mavens over at ESPN have made the Notre Dame leprechaun available to answer your questions over on their Sportsnation page, which hosts the daily chats with various analysts and "experts."

Sure. Why not? I'm sure the sprightly fellow could tell you everything that you ever wanted to know about preparing to cheer on a middling team in the NIT (where ND opens up tonight) or the best way to feign enthusiasm after a last-second home loss to an awful Syracuse football team. Yup. It's a good thing they went and got this guy. Thanks.

So, You're Saying There's A Chance!

Knicks Have 13.9% Chance to Reach Playoffs

According to the published calculations of ESPN's resident hoops number cruncher, John Hollinger, the Knicks still have a decent-ish shot of reaching the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the East. New York enters tonight's action 1.5 games back of Milwaukee and Chicago for the final opening in the (L)Eastern.

The Knicks still have to leap over Charlotte (who they play once more) and hold off the Nets (who they play tomorrow and to end the season). It's not going to be easy. But it's aparently not impossible. There's a chance.

In today's Daily Dime over at the Wordlwide Leader, mediocre NBAer-turned-overly-self-assured analyst Tim Legler tips the Nets for the eighth spot. He gives the "edge to the Nets based on the presence of a big-time point guard in Devin Harris." Um. You'd think that Legs would have noticed that Harris left Sunday's loss to the Clipppers with a shoulder injury that looked serious to quite serious. He's likely out against the Knicks tomorrow night at the Garden.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"I'll See You in the Fort, Nate."

Knicks Latest to Fall in Cleveland, 93-98

Just one team has beaten the Lebronaliers in Cleveland this season. Quicken Loans Arena is an impregnable fortress. It's on par with the Chittorgarh Fort in India, Skull Mountain on Eternia and Fort Wagner in Glory.. And like the soldiers under Robert Gould Shaw, the Knickerbockers seemed, even if just for a moment, like they were going to win the day. They breached the outer defenses. And came pouring over the wall. The scored was tied with 6 minutes to play. It was a one possession game with four minutes to play. And with 2:45 it was still a one-score game. Nate Robinson was getting to the rim. David Lee finally canned a 17-footer after an abysmal start from the field. Al Harrington had been playing well. The team defense continued to impress (by Knicks standards).

At the last second, when Lee, Nate and Wilson Chandler came charging around a bend, there was Anderson Varejao (flanked by Lebron and Delonte West) lighting the fuse of a cannon pointed right at the onrushing Knicks. Boom. Game over. The Knicks fell short in Cleveland. Undone by a pair of timely King James buckets, a inexcusable tip-in by Sasha Pavlovic and a pair of layups by Varejao.

Likes
-Al Harrington played a solid game. He led all scorers with 26 points and his 14-point third quarter gave the Knicks the confidence to keep fighting in the fourth quarter. Although he cooled in the fourth, I'm glad that he was on the floor in the fourth. There have been too many times since the Hughes/Wilcox acquisitions, as D'Antoni's tried to set a rotation, that "Buckets" is tethered to bench late in the game. He's arguably the most talented guy on the roster and we need to keep him out there.
-The Rotation. Chris Wilcox got a DNP-CD last night and it seems that D'Antoni has settled on a rotation again. Without Duhon, we're going with eight players. I think that 8-9 players is the comfort zone for D'Antoni. I'd like to see Gallinari's minutes get upped a bit more (just 6 last night) but am OK sacrificing some of them to Quentin Richardson if we've decided that we can and will play defense.
-Nate the Great. That put-back dunk at the end of the first quarter was a thing of beauty. And the diminutive guard is holding his own at the point. With 20 points 7 assists and just 1 turnover last night he acquitted himself well. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Duhon comes back on Wednesday in a must-win game against NJ.

-Wilson Chandler dealing from the have-to. When the Knicks have to get a bucket the ball is increasingly in the hands of Will. He's not exactly wearing his emotions on his sleeve but he does seem too have a good feel for the ebbs and flows of the game. And last night, he did a phenomenal job of keeping Lebron in front of him. LBJ had more assists than made field goals (10 to 9) and I think that's because Will made it difficult for him to get into the painted area.

Dislikes
-David Lee's post defense. He was victimized by Anderson Varejao three times in the final three minutes (two easy layups and two made free throws).
-The officiating. Eep.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Leap Frog


The Knicks jumped the Nets, Pacers and Bobcats in the Eastern Conference standings with their win last night in Minnesota. They're now just 1/2 game out of the No. 8 spot in the East. The Bulls and Bucks are currently tied for that slot. Every single team that the Knicks are battling with lost last night. And, the Knickerbockers were able to scratch their way to a win, in which they covered the spread as road favorites.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Friday the 13th. Again.

Cook for 2,384 Minutes. Insert Fork


Chris Duhon Is done. And D'Antoni needs to get him out of the oven before the Knicks playoff hopes are burned.

PAAA-TRICK CHEWWW-INGGG

The Big Fella Pushing Candy Bars



I'm amazed. I'm saddened. I'm confused. I'm envervated. I'm ashamed. And, then I'm amazed all over again. Hunger is not one of the things I'm feeling. Although if the people at Snickers have developed a candy bar wrapper that tears like that then I would have to buy one.

Hopefully the ad wizards that came up with this one will convince Pat to stay in the shilling game and re-establish his line of sneakers. Those things were the hotness and they are now fetching hundreds of bucks a pair on eBay.