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

(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)
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)
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)
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)
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 #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.

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.