Friday, March 20, 2009

And on the Second Day...

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

No. 3 Syracuse Orange (26-9, Big East)
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)
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)
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)
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.

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