Friday, March 20, 2009

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

No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (28-5, Big East)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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

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