Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Each Knicks' Loss is a Snowflake

Jazz Outlast Knicks, 98-103

Every defeat of the Knicks' long season is idiosyncratic and inimitable. And like snowflakes, they all blend together as soon as you look at them in a group. But before last night's loss to the Jazz in Utah flutters off, joining the impenetrable veil of our Dolan-caused snow blindness let's take a look at a few of it's special traits:

No Retreat, No Surrender
After surrendering 44 first-quarter points and trailing by 14 at the close of that period, the Knicks battled back. They outscored the Jazz by 10 in the second quarter instead of letting this one get away from them entirely. Lately, very lately, the Knicks have displayed a resiliency that has been missing in recent years. And, I'm not just talking about the empty late-in-the-game run that makes the score look more respectable than it should (see the team's last stop in Memphis). I'm talking about taking a stomach punch early and not going to a knee. The Knicks didn't throw in the towel last night after being done 14 after one and they didn't take a knee after Denver came out like gangbusters early in last week's tilt.

The Old Man and the See
Tracy McGrady still has tremendous court vision and anticipation out on the floor (when he is out on the floor). He sees lanes for cutters. He can draw a foul. And he knows when he's got a defender wrong-footed enough to get by him. His savvy seems an innate skill (that someone like, oh I don't know, Chris Duhon does not possess) and benefits this team. Sometimes one timely basket set up by an insightful pass can be the difference between a scoring drought and staying in the game. If McGraddy (and/or his team's training staff) could decipher what is the optimal way to use him in a game that lasts more than two hours in real time then I think that he can be an important member of a good team. He's not there yet and D'Antonio still doesn't quite seem to know what to do with him in the second half but each night you can see signs that this guy knows how to play basketball.

Buckets of Paint
Announcer Gus Johnson used to refer to Al Harrington as "Buckets" for his ability to knock down shots in quick succession. Generally Johnson would opt for this handle when Harrington was dialed in from the perimeter. But lately, Al has been playing in the painted area. Perhaps the emergence of Danilo Gallinari has pushed him inside. Harrington grabbed 17 rebounds last night. And, while he did still somewhere find the time to launch 9 three-point shots, he has gotten his rebounding average back up to over 6.5 per game which is 2 boards better than he's been over any month since early in the season. His interior play was a key (albeit undersold when compared to Gallo's heroics) part of the recent win over Denver. For his own sake, I'd like to think that we're watching the emergence of the veteran version of Harrington down the stretch of this season.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
-Voltaire

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tales From the Clearance Rack

According to the Garbage Project conducted at the University of Arizona, "what people have owned--and thrown away--can speak more eloquently, informatively, and truthfully about the lives they lead than they themselves ever may."

If the things that we own and discard do indeed reveal something about our character then what do the things that were unwanted and unasked for have to tell us? What shortcomings or miscalculations are revealed by the vast swaths of things that were never important to anyone or treasured? What is the significance of the discount rack?

New York Mets camouflage J.J. Putz jersey


















New Jersey Nets 2006-07 Lineup T-Shirt

Monday Mudita

And WWOD's International Football Roundup



England: Premiership
Entering the weekend, the top of the table in the Premiership was as crowded as the Northern Iowa bandwagon.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal were all within 3 points of one another and each knew that a perfect record is the last best chance to raise the league trophy at season's end. With so much on the line, and Champions League ties looming for two of the three clubs, it was time to watch out for nerves. Who would rise to the moment?

Frank Lampard, apparently. The Blues attacking midfielder netted four goals as his side blitzed Aston Villa, 7-1. He was first on the scorecard with an athletic finish to a cross just 15 minutes in and put home his final tally in the 90th minute of play.

Elsewhere in England, United steamrolled Bolton, 4-0, thanks in large part to Dimitar Berbatov, who scored a brace while filling in for the increasingly imperious Wayne Rooney. With Man U. and Chelsea breezing, Arsenal could not hold up their end up of the bargain. They were equalized in the 90th minute at Birmingham and were forced to head home with a 1-1 draw. With Barcelona coming to the Emirates at midweek, one must begin to fear if this is too much pressure in too short a span for the young Gunners.

Spain: La Liga
On the continent, Real Madrid held off intra-city rival Atletico while Barcelona outclassed the methodical Mallorca side that still holds the fourth spot in La Liga. The Catalans and the team from the capital remain locked in a death embrace atop the league standings. They've got a must-see tie in a fortnight (two weeks) at the Bernabéu that could prove the difference.

Italy: Serie A
Embroiled in a tight race for the title, AC Milan squandered a chance to improve upon its third-place standing. With second-place Roma having knocked off first-place Inter, the Rossoneri seemed in fine shape with a fixture against lowly Lazio. But all that Milan could muster was an early penalty and they were held to a 1-1 draw at home. With about three weeks to play, all three clubs are within three points of one another.

Germany: Bundesliga
Where Milan failed, Schalke succeeded. With perennial power Bayern Munich stuttering against middling Stuttgart, Schalke (whose only run of dominance occurred prior to WWII) defeated Bayern Leverkusen and went atop the standings with just a handful of games to play. As fate would have it, Schalke and Munchen meet next weekend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Mudita





Best. Nowruz. Ever.

Northern Iowa, Ali Farokhmanesh and the Vernal Equinox

In and around New York City, the weather was delightful this past weekend. Saturday, in particular, was sun-splashed and warm. It was a glorious day. It was a holy day.

And, no, I'm not talking about those of who us who consider the first four days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to be some sort of civic holiday. Which I do. Rather, I'm talking about the vernal equinox.

March 20, 2010 was the vernal equinox, one of two days during the year when there is a location on the equator above which the center of the sun is directly overhead. The day during which this moment occurs is composed of equal parts day and night. Each year, this occurs once in late March and once in late September.

For centuries this has been a holy day. It was considered the first day of the new year in many ancient calendars and is still commemorated by celebrations around the globe. In Persian culture, the day is called Nowruz which roughly translates into "New Day." Possibly begun by Zoroaster, the holiday is still widely observed in Iran (present-day Persia), throughout the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, large swaths of the former Soviet Republics and even parts of China. It's sort of a big deal.

And for Iranian hoops fans this one had to be the most joyous Nowruz in years. Because Ali Farokhmanesh shot the Panthers of Northern Iowa University into the Sweet 16. The American-born Farokhmanesh, whose father played for the Iranian volleyball team in 1980 Olympic Games, hit key three-point shots in each of UNI's upset wins over UNLV and top-seeded Kansas. His game-killing shot against the Jayhawks was particularly impressive.

With his team leading with less than a minute to play, most teams would have drained as much of the remaining time off the clock before taking a shot. They would have played it safe and looked to seal the game at the free throw line. Farokhmanesh (pronounced fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH) stunned everyone, most specifically Kansas, by lofting an uncontested three-point shot from the wing early in the shot clock. His shot was pure and the game was all but won. It was an amazing show of courage and calculation. His sweet long-distance stroke has endeared the senior marketing major to a national, and perhaps international, audience. His player bio at Panthers' website lists his favorite sports memory as "qualifying for state basketball tournament at Iowa City West."

I'd imagine that he's got a few new moments to add to his list. Best. Nowruz. Ever.

Day 4 Postmortem: Cinderella in Red

The lady in red is dancing with me cheek to cheek
There's nobody here, it's just you and me, It's where I wanna be
But I hardly know this beauty by my side
I'll never for get, the way you look tonight


Complete with two days of frantically maximizing and minimizing windows on my computer and deftly switching feeds to avoid commercial breaks at work, one daylong marathon of drinking cheap draft beer at a bar and one afternoon into early evening of laying around the house with games on the television, the past 96 hours had a little bit of everything that I've come to love about the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Also, a smattering of gambling. There was that, too.

Looking back over the enervating four-day stretch, I'd say the teams that I was most right about were Cornell, Purdue and Murray State. And I was most wrong about St. Mary's and Xavier, having tapped both teams for first-round exits.

I was most impressed by Syracuse and most surprised by Washington. With Wes Johnson having regained his early-season form (he went for 31 and 14 as the Orange rolled the Zags), Jim Boeheim's group have looked unbeatable. Kentucky has looked as explosive as ever while Ohio State, Kansas State, Duke, St. Mary's and West Virginia have all outclassed the opposition. Purdue has shown tremendous resolve on the defensive end while Michigan State, Xavier and Butler are playing like teams that have been on this stage before.

That leaves is with the Panthers of Norther Iowa and the Big Red from Cornell.

Cornell has flat-out dominated matchups with Temple and Wisconsin. The Ivy Leaguers are +13 on the boards after outrebounding both opponents. They are also got to the line a lot more than Temple and made just as many free throws as Wisconsin. These are not the traits of your stereotypical three-point happy Cinderella. And that doesn't mean that Cornell hasn't been shooting the lights so far. They have. But they've also been doing things that midmajors are usually unable to do against big-time competition. With a skilled seven-footer, an elite swingman and a savvy point guard peaking at the right time, the Big Red have as good a chance against Kentucky as most teams (read: not a very good chance).

And as far as NIU, I'll let this shot do the talking:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Day 3 Postmortem: Saturday Night Is Alright For Fighting

We had it with your discipline
Saturday night's alright for fighting
Get a little action in

Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
'Cause Saturday night's the night I like
Saturday night's alright, alright, alright


With Saturday being the first honest-to-goodness it's 60 and some odd degrees of perfection outside day of the Spring, I couldn't have been happier spending the entire day tethered to a stool at the Shannon in Hoboken, NJ. With $2 dollar drafts lubricating a heated and recurrent argument about whether kicking the ball should reset the shot clock (and if you believe that play should be stopped then you must enforce a penalty. right?) and a bevy of flatscreen televisions bringing me and a small group all the Day 3 action, it was a fine time to be indoors. And, no sunscreen necessary.

The struggles of the day (aside from the aforementioned kicked-ball debate) included the occasional walk around the corner for a slice of pizza and the annual moment of bracket-busting truth when one stops rooting to be right and starts getting real embraces the Madness that is March.

I was pulling for Nova to pull it out against St. Mary's. Even though I hate Villanova. Aside from the fact that this program knocked off Patrick Ewing's '85 Hoyas in the championship game, Jay Wright has always struck me as the wrong kind of college-coach cocky. Having grown up a Big East hoops acolyte and attended Boston College before the switch, I tend to pull for all of the conference's schools when watching them play non-BC competition. All of them except Villanova. Because, like I said, I have some renewable wellspring of dislike for that program deep in my heart. Maybe it was the uncle of an ex-girlfriend, who was a Nova grad and seemed every bit as smug as I'd imagined Wright to be. Maybe it's all about '85. I'm not sure.

But I was rooting for them early yesterday. Because I had picked them to advance. Not because I liked them. But because I liked being right. For myself, and presumably for lots of bracketeers out there, this is a common battle during the Big Dance. At what point do you abandon the quest for being right and revel in the unpredictability of it all?

St. Mary's triumph over Nova was the threshold for me. After being the lone person at the bar (there were only a handful of hearty souls in position by 1:30) pulling for the favorite, I embraced the Madness. From then on, I was able to root for Northern Iowa without being bothered that I hadn't predicted that result.

Which brings me too...

WWOD?'s Day 4 Round of 32 Picks:
Syracuse over Gonzaga
The Ohio State University over Georgia Tech
Maryland over Michigan State
West Virginia over Missouri
Cornell over Wisconsin
Duke over Cal
Pittsburgh over Xavier
Purdue over Texas A&M

WWOD?'s Needlessly Complex Wager of Day 4:
4-point teaser with Ohio State (teased to -2.5), Maryland (+2.5) and West Virginia (-2)
Bet $10, Pays $19

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 2 Postmortem: Getting Better All the Time

I used to get mad at my school
Now I can't complain


After an disappointing acceptable 10 out of 16 mark on arguably the wildest (half the games came down to the last possession and three went into OT) Day 1 of the Big Dance, I'm back on track with a stellar 13 out of 16 on Day 2.

And my creditors will be pleased to learn that my Sportsbook account is creeping toward the withdrawal threshold.

Tapping Cornell to advance past Temple was the marquee pick of the day. If you'd been tracking the ramblings in this space instead of working yesterday then you would have been wise to that one before the tip. The other "upset" was No. 4 Purdue over No. 13 Siena. Everyone was in the bag for Siena, including the President of the United States and Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis. I went against the grain and stuck with the Boilermakers. Whiskey and beer? How can you go wrong?

Less impressively, I got my Aggies confused and whiffed on Utah State over Texas A&M. Similarly, I mixed up my Tigers, picking Clemson instead of Mizzou. I also undersold the "all for one, one for all" ethos of the Xavier Muskateers and gave far to much weight to the fact that I had heard of Tubby Smith.

Since I might actually try to accomplish other things today, I'm going to give you the early picks without the window dressing that you've become accostomed to glossing over.

WWOD?'s Day 3 Round of 32 Picks:
Villanova over St. Mary's
Tennessee over Ohio
Murray State over Butler (definitely take the +4.5 points)
Baylor over Old Dominion
Kansas over Northern Iowa
New Mexico over Washington*
Kansas State over BYU
Kentucky over Wake Forrest
*Isaiah Thomas Corrolary prevents me from picking the Huskies even though they looked great in Round One and the combo of Thomas and Quincy Pontdexter is hard to handle.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Night 2: Put on Your Red Shoes and the Dance the Blues

For all you 9-to-5ers, the sweet release of quitting time is upon us. The TPS reports have been filed. The last of the sickly sweet but irresistibly free K-cup coffee has been drank. You should be home on the couch or at the nearest happy hour establishment when the evening tilts tip off. With those games in mind, here's a preview of all the other games that you won't be able to watch while CBS is stuffing No. 1 seeds down your face.

I haven't gone back and tabulated the results from today. Perhaps because I know that I didn't rock anyone's socks off with my picks. Just like yesterday, not bad but certainly nothing to brag about. Had I done better, sweeping the afternoon, then the bragging would have gone...

HERE.

AND HERE.

West Region
No. 9 Florida State Seminoles (22-9, ACC)
vs.
No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-6, WAC)
7:10 P.M. EST
HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY


Last year's Toney Douglas-led FSU club was a No. 5 seed but was upset by Wisconsin in the first round*. Douglas was then drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in order to be sold to the New York Knicks. After showing a few flashes of promise early in the season, Douglas feel off the deep end of the depth chart for months. But he's gotten some big-time playing as of late. Coach Mike D'Antoni finally pulled the plug on the wheezing Chris Duhon era and quickly realized that there was not ever going to be a Sergio Rodriguez era. And, sort of by default, Douglas is starting for the Knickerbockers tonight at the Garden when they face off with the 76ers.

If Douglas was not doing that, and was still playing with the Seminoles then I would pick them to advance past Mark Few's Gonzaga Bulldogs. He is not. And therefore I am not. In this couple the Zags are the major and the Noles are the bottom aspiring small program.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Florida State
SI's Seth Davis: Gonzaga
President Obama: Florida State
WWOD?: Gonzaga

*Badgers are vicious.

East Region
No. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions (18-15, SWAC)
vs.
No. 1 Duke Blue Devils (29-5, ACC)
7:25 P.M. EST
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, FL


I've previously written that I'd be disappointed, as a fan, if certain top seeds were knocked out early. I want to watch Evan Turner. I want to watch John Wall. I want to see Greivis Vasquez. One team that I wouldn't miss is Duke. This is the least novel point that I will make for as long as I can keep up this pace. Anyway, they'll be back on Sunday whereas I imagine most of the kids from Arkansas Pine-Bluff will be in church.

EVERYONE: Duke

Midwest Region
No. 10 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (22-12, ACC)
vs.
No. 7 Oklahoma State Cowboys (22-10, Big 10)
7:15 P.M. EST
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI


Speaking of teams not beating Duke, Georgia Tech seemed to finally get their act together in the ACC Tournament and even looked for a few minutes like they might have toppled Duke in the Final. The bold-faced name on this team is Derrick Favors, a freshman beast who will be plying his trade in the NBA this time next year. He's 6-10 and is learning how to play better and how to better control his body seemingly every minute that he's on the floor.

I think that old chestnut about freshmen not being "freshmen" when the postseason arrives holds true with Favors and I'm going to side with the momentum and NBA-ready talent over a Cowboys side that i admittedly don't know much about.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Oklahoma State
SI's Seth Davis: GT
President Obama: GT
WWOD?: GT

Midwest Region
No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies (22-11, WAC)
vs.
No. 5 Michigan State Spartans (24-8, Big 10)
7:35 P.M. EST
Spokane Arena, Spokane, WA


My team-picking biases (that I am aware of) include a bias toward the Big East early and against the Big 10 (with one exception) as often as possible. I go in heavy for Arizona and UCLA but tend to go against the rest of the Pac 10. I'm a sucker for teams with NBA-ready players and for coaches that preach defense first. I also am in the bag for Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo (despite his conference affiliation).

Which is why I'm not going to root out reasons to pick against the Spartans. Without Goran Suton, this Spartans group can't hold a candle to last years runner-up. But with veteran point guard Kalin Lucas running the show on the floor and Izzo calling the shots from the bench there is no way that I'm going against them this early.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: MSU
SI's Seth Davis: MSU
President Obama: MSU
WWOD?: MSU

West Region
No. 16 Vermont Catamounts (25-9, America East)
vs.
No. 1 Syracuse Orange (28-4. Big East)
9:55 P.M. EST
Spokane Arena, Spokane, WA


One of my younger brothers grew up playing ball with Vermont point guard Nick Vier. I remember him telling me about this kid years ago. This fact doesn't make me rate the Catamounts chances any better. It may even hurt them. There weren't a lot of NBA-ready players coming out of Franklin Lakes, NJ.

Even without injured big man Arinze Onauku, who is out with a quad injury, I just can't imagine that Vermont can hang with 'Cuse in this game. Because for all of the fuss about that quad, Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson. That will be more than enough.

Tyler Coppenrath ain't coming through that door. TJ Sorrentine ain't coming through that door.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Cuse
SI's Seth Davis: Cuse
President Obama: Cuse
WWOD?: Orange

South Region
No. 9 Louisville Cardinals (20-12, Big East)
vs.
No. 8 California Bears (23-10, Pac 10)
9:57 P.M. EST
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, FL


In most years, I would just pencil in any Pitino-coached team into at least the second round. More often than not I'm advancing them straight to the Sweet 16. But not this year. Because I'm deferring to another of my unshakeable biases and adding a new one to the menagerie.

My recency bias is kicking into gear since I saw L'Ville play at the Big East Tournament last week. And that was the most recent game that I saw n person. They were out-hustled by a raw Cincinnati squad and the best thing that I can say about the Cardinals is that Rick Pitino's suit looked terrific. The pocket square perfectly complimented his tie.

Other than that, I was surprised to see a Pitino team that wasn't the aggressor. Cincinnati controlled the boards down the stretch and played with far more energy. Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson even threw a stiff arm at a Cards player as he drove the floor and nothing happened other than a foul being called. Despite the best efforts of eighth-year point guard Edgar Sosa, the Cards were dispatched by the Bearcats, which means I don't see how they can overcome a group of Bears.

Also affecting my decision to go with the Pac 10 champs is that my girlfriend is from Berkeley.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Cal
SI's Seth Davis: Louisville
President Obama: Louisville
WWOD?: Cal

Midwest Region
No. 15 UC Santa Barbara Guachos (20-9, Big West)
vs.
No. 2 The Ohio State Buckeyes (27-7, Big 10)
10:04 P.M. EST
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI


When sizing up Ohio State's chances to cut down the nets there is one glaring weakness on this team: Depth.


Superstar point forward Evan Turner (one of those guys that I don't want to say goodbye to just yet), Billy Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty each play at least 33 minutes per game for a team that won it's ballgames by an average of more than 11 points. Thad Motta doesn't have a lot of faith in the bench and a deep opponent or foul trouble could spell doom down the road. Repeat: Down the road.

EVERYONE: The Ohio State

Midwest Region
No. 13 Houston Cougars (19-15, Conference USA)
vs.
No. 4 Maryland Terrapins (23-8, ACC)
10:36 P.M. EST
Spokane Arena, Spokane, WA


While watching the final regular-season meeting between the Terps and the Dukies, I was obviously impressed with Greivis Vasquez. He made off-balance runner after after off-balance runner to claim the win, and a share of the ACC regular-season title, for Maryland. But I already knew the Venezuelan was good.

What made me think this team could do some damage in the Dance was the moment when freshman center Jordan Williams grabbed an offensive rebound over Duke's senior center Brian Zoubek and broke a late tie with the put back. That bucket opened my eyes to this team.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Maryland
SI's Seth Davis: Maryland
President Obama: Maryland
WWOD?: Fear the Turtle

Day 2: Late Liquid Lunch

South Region
No. 13 Siena Saints (27-6, MAC)
vs.
No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers (27-5, Big 10)
2:30 P.M. EST
Spokane Arena, Spokane, WA


On Feb. 17, Purdue knocked off Evan Turner and Ohio State in Columbus. The Boilermakers were then the No. 4 team in the nation. They would shortly move up another spot. And, now, just a month later, everyone you talk to thinks that they're going to be beaten by the champions of the MAC.

What happened? Robbie Hummel, the junior forward who was faraway and the team's best player, wrecked his knee and went under the knife. Hummel had scored 29 first-half points in the aforementioned win at the Ohio State University. And he will not be playing today. He'll be on the sidelines probably in a suit that his parents bought for him.

Without Hummel, the team looked dismal in a loss to Michigan State, then beat Indiana, Penn State and, Northwestern; before getting rocked by Minnesota in the second game of the Big 10 Tournament.

So, there is a good reason why everyone is so down on Purdue. But I don't think we should be this down on them. Hummel was not the second-coming of Danny Manning. Or John Wallace. Or even Rex Walters. He was averaging 15.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Those are solid numbers but nothing irreplaceable. He wasn't leading the team in any one category. I agree that Purdue is out of the title conversation but I don't think they're out of the Final 32 even if they're facing Siena, a team quickly becoming a name-brand midmajor.

Siena will apply defensive pressure on Purdue, trying to speed up the tempo to obscure their lack of size. They want this game to get into the 70s. But I don't think they get there. I think this Purdue club has got a huge chip on its shoulder and has all of the underdog motivation that would normally inspire the team in Siena's spot. I think that Hummel's teammates want to show you that they're not just a bunch of stiffs who'd been holding tight to coattails all year.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Purdue
SI's Seth Davis: Siena
President Obama: Siena
WWOD?: Purdue

West Region
No. 13 Oakland Golden Grizzlies (26-8, Summit)
vs.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers (24-8, Big East
3:05 P.M. EST
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI


First of all, this so-called "Oakland" is not from the Bay Area or the North NJ suburbs. What gives? This Oakland University is located in Rochester Hills, Michigan and it was founded by the widow of John Francis Dodge, who I would imagine is the man ultimately responsible for the baby blue Dodge 600 I drove in high school.
I'm undecided if I hold this against the Golden Grizzlies. I mean, I loved that car. Bench seats front and back. Baby Blue inside and out.

In his team-by-team breakdowns of the entire field of 65, ESPN.com's bracketologist Joe Lunardi lists a Will Lose When... scenario for each team. For Oakland, Lunardi writes:

The opposition plays a slow, grind-it-out game and gets back on defense. This will prevent Oakland from playing the high-tempo style at which they excel.

Could that be any more Pittsburgh?

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Pitt
SI's Seth Davis: Pitt
President Obama: Pitt
WWOD?: Pitt

East Region
No. 10 Missouri Tigers (22-10, Big 10)
vs.
No. 7 Clemson Tigers (21-10, ACC)
2:50 P.M. EST
HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY


In a matchup of two teams with tiger mascots, I figured that you'd prefer a smattering of of Tiger Woods' sext messages to porn star Joslyn James in place of whatever soft-headed analysis I might have to offer.
Tiger:Sent: 06:01 PM 07/30/2009:
n room 201. You can come down the stair well next to your room. Make sure absolutely no one sees you

Tiger:Sent: 03:19 PM 08/29/2009:
I need that so bad

Tiger:Sent: 03;29 PM 08/29/2009:
Now:)

Tiger:Sent: 03:30 PM 08/29/2009:
Me to. I would wear you out

Tiger:Sent: 03:32 PM 08/29/2009:
I have no idea. I would love to have the ability to make you sore

Tiger:Sent: 07:12 PM 09/07/2009:
No turkey unless it's a club sandwich

Tiger:Sent: 07:32 PM 09/08/2009:
You felt amazing to baby. How much was your flight by the way

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Clemson
SI's Seth Davis:Clemson
President Obama: Mizzou
WWOD?: Clemson

East Region
No. 13 Wofford Terriers (25-8, Southern)
vs.
No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (23-8, Big 10)
3:05 P.M. EST
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, FL


I studied abroad during my junior year in college. I left these shores and went to London to study English literature at Kings College. While there, I played soccer for the Kings College Badgers. Prior to that, I hadn't given much thought to the badger. But there was a Welsh grad student (Since the best players never attend school in the UK, there is no NCAA and the rules allow for lots of "strange" things, like grad students.) called Gareth that was always selling us on the ferocity of our namesake.

Usually he would badger us with this topic while riding the train back from our grounds. With campus right along the Strand, our fields and facilities were out in the suburbs a few stops past Wimbledon out of Waterloo Station. And after a few post-match pints, Gareth would often let us know that badgers were not to be trifled with. If you ever came across a badger, Gareth insisted, you would not want to mess with it.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Wisconsin
SI's Seth Davis: Wisconsin
President Obama: Wisconsin
WWOD?: The Badgers

South Region
No. 12 Utah State Aggies (27-7, WAC)
vs.
No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (23-9, Big 12)
4:45 P.M. EST
Spokane Arena, Spokane, WA


Get your lettuce ready! It's a battle of agricultural schools! Oh yeah. And you know that nobody is as ready to roll after daylight savings time then a bunch of farm folk!

This game provides an opportunity to talk about an evergreen problem of bracket-filling: How do you rate the second-tier team from a top-tier conference versus the top-tier team from a second-tier conference?

A&M played a tough Big 12 schedule and has really established itself as solid program recently. Texas' Aggies have advanced to the second round in each of the last five years. But Utah State's Aggies garnered an at-large bid from the WAC thanks to an efficient offense (8th in field goal percentage) that rarely turns over the ball (5th fewest).

When I look at Stew Morril's methodical State ballclub, I'm reminded of Al Skinner's Boston College teams. They're both disciplined and patient, and (when they've got the right talent) they give themselves a chance to win against anyone in the country. However, they can't come from behind because the whole gameplan is predicated on slowing things down and controlling tempo. At some point that will dump Utah State out of the Dance. Just like it does for Skinner's Eagles.

But not today. Utah State is one of just three teams (along with Kansas and Gonzaga) with 25 wins in each of the last three years. 2010 will be the year that Utah State gets its first tourney win since 2001.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Utah State
SI's Seth Davis: Utah State
President Obama: Texas A&M
WWOD?: Texas A&M

Day 2: And We're Off

East Region
No. 15 Morgan State Bears (27-9, MEAC)
vs.
No. 2 West Virginia Mountaineers (27-6 Big East)
12:15 P.M. EST
HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY


After watching the Ohio Bobcats thrash - and yes, it really was a thorough victory - Georgetown and seeing Villanova get the pants-length shorts scared off of them by Robert Morris, one might be inclined to go away from the Mountaineers in this game. When you throw in Marquette's loss at the buzzer, it has not been a good start to the tourney for the Big East.

You might feel even more strongly about betting the underdog when you learn that the Bears hung 76 points per game on opponents this season and boast a 20 points per game scorer (Reggie Holmes), a double-double player in the frontcourt (Kevin Thompson), and a three-point gunner (Dewayne Jackson).

But don't do it. Stick with the Mountaineers. Not only because they could have (read: should have) been awarded a No. 1 seed after winning the Big East Tournament but also because all of the superlative stats that Morgan State has to show for itself seem a lot less impressive when you consider whom they played.

The Bears were the cream of the MEAC this year and didn't face solid competition from within the league. Their schedule was the just the 203rd hardest in Division 1 and 25 of their 27 wins came against teams outside of the top 201 in RPI. And when they went against the big average-sized boys, the Bears didn't fare much better. Morgan State went 0-3 versus teams in the RPI Top 100.

With a 27-7 record and a Big East Tourney title under its coonskin cap, WVU has the fourth best RPI in the land and is 10th according to the KenPom rankings. Bob Huggins may not have dress shirt but his team does have 5 wins over Top 25 RPI clubs this season. They should give the Big East something to cheer about today.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: WVU
SI's Seth Davis: WVU
President Obama: WVU
WWOD?: WVU

West Region
No. 11 Minnesota Gophers (21-13 Big Ten)
vs.
No. 6 Xavier Muskateers (24-8, Atlantic 10)
12:25 P.M. EST
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI


I look at this matchup and see a school with lots of recent tournament experience, a coach with extensive tournament experience, a team that hasn't been here in a while and a coach that hasn't done this before. But these four items are not paired like you might think.

Veteran coach Tubby Smith is leading the neophyte Minnesota club while first-year coach Chris Mack is trying to keep alive Xavier's run of recent success in the Dance.

The Muskateers have won at least one game in the last thre seasons whereas the Gophers haven't gotten to hear a second song at the Dance in more than a decade. What do you go with? Players or coaching?

Because, in spite of his ouster at Kentucky, I do think that Tubby is a solid coach and that he will give his players every chance to win this game. On the other hand, Xavier has that kid who dunked on Lebron over the summer. Remember that?

An explosive combo guard who once dunked over/around LBJ, Jordan Crawford transfered from Indiana and averaged 19.7 points per game. He's the star player. Minnesota does not have one of those. But they've got the coach. And he's not going to let them take this rare opportunity for granted. I'm going against the numbers on this one.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Xavier
SI's Seth Davis: Xavier
President Obama: Xavier
WWOD?: Minnesota

East Region
No. 12 Cornell Big Red (27-4, Ivy)
vs.
No. 5 Temple Owls (29-5, A-10)
12:30 P.M. EST
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, FL


I had high hopes for last year's Temple squad and senior guard Dionte Christmas. But they were left on the curb by James Harden and Arizona State. No matter how great the A10 was supposed to be this year, I'm not going all in with the Owls again.Especially when they're paired with such an attractive Cinderella.

Those who know me know that I'm partial to redheads, and the Cornell Big Red have a lot to like. For starters they've got a 7 footer in the paint. They've got an NBA prospect in Ryan Whittman and can shoot the three. And all of those guys are probably smart enough to know that they're not going to get another shot at this.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Temple
SI's Seth Davis: Temple
President Obama: Cornell
WWOD?: Cornell

Day 1: A Postmortem

The first day and night of the 2010 NCAA men's hoops tournament didn't disappoint.

Well, except in the way that it did remind me that I don't have the sort of job that allows me to take these two days off or the financial backing to watch the slate of games from a sportsbook in Vegas. And in the way that CBS revealed itself as still painfully beholden to big name schools regardless of the scores of the games being played around the country.

But other than those two things, Day 1 had everything you could want. Seven lower seeds won, including the unheralded Ohio Bobcats shocking upset of Greg Monroe and the third-seeded Georgetown Hoyas. Half the games came down to the final possession, and there were three games that couldn't be decided in regulation. And one of those contests needed a second overtime session to separate the combatants. We had buzzer beaters galore. And an unknown shooting guard from a midmajor school get off for 37 points.

Before we turn our attention to the highlights below, let's address what's really been on all of your minds. How did I fare in my picks?

WWOD? picks correctly accounted for 10 of the 16 results without any rationalization. Among the correct picks were the Murray State upset over Vanderbilt, the Old Dominion upset over Notre Dame.

Of the remaining six games, the picks in this space whiffed on three of them: Ohio over Georgetown, St. Mary's over Richmond and Butler over UTEP. And now here comes the equivocation. I had written Northern Iowa onto most of my brackets but went the other way at the last minute after coming across a story about the local KKK chapter on the home page of the school newspaper. The other two games that I missed (Wake over Texas, Washington over Marquette) were won at the buzzer and clearly could have gone either way.

To sum up: That's 10 correct picks, 3 bad picks and 3 washouts.

All in all, a decent outing considering this may have been the most unpredictable Day 1 in tournament history. Still, not a great effort. But good enough that I'm not going to give this up before we hit the weekend. I mean, if you were paying attention then you knew ahead of time that BYU's Jimmer Freddette was going to go off and that the Irish's new slowdown style played right into Old Dominion's hands.

Had UNLV and Texas not surrendered those buzzer beaters then I'd been feeling pretty smart. Instead, I'll just feel contented that I didn't embarrass myself. Which is a win in my book.

No. 13 Murray State dumps No. 4 Vanderbilt


No. 11 Washington edges No. 6 Marquette


No. 9 Northern Iowa over No. 8 UNLV


No. 9 Wake Forest topples No. 8 Texas

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Late Shows

East Region
No. 9 Wake Forrest Demon Deacons (19-10, ACC)
vs.
No. 8 Texas Longhorns (24-9, Big 12)
9:45 P.M. EST
New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA


A few months ago when Texas was firing on all cylinders, they were the No. 1 team in all the land. They opened the season 17-0. They had national title aspirations. And the talent to fulfill them. But at some point, the wheels came off Rick Barnes' wagon. Conference opponents pulled down the 'horns. Big 12 teams put the clamps on senior center Dexter Pittman, who had been dominant during the team's hot start, and his teammates couldn't make them pay. Seemingly shellshocked by being back in competitive games, the Longhorns scuffled to 7-9 mark after their hot start.

Just like Texas, Dino Gaudio's Wake Forrest squad hasn't been playing well lately. The Demon Deacons were mauled by lowly Miami last week in the ACC Tournament. They have been painted with same underachiever brush as Texas. But, I don't see these teams as being two sides of a coin. Barnes is a proven coach and his team was a title contender at some point. They've got upperclassmen that are established and freshman wit NBA talent. If one of those frosh can step up and help out Pittman then Texas could go far. Then Texas could beat Kentucky. I can't say the same about Wake.

And when faced with a choice between lesser evils when filling out your bracket you should always go with the team that you think might be able to stick around longer.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Texas
SI's Seth Davis: Texas
President Obama: Texas
WWOD?: Texas

Midwest Region
No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs (25-8, MWC)
vs.
No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers (25-8, SEC)
9:55 P.M. EST
Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI


Having beaten Kentucky and Kansas this season, Bruce Pearl's Volunteers boast arguably the two best wins of the season. But they also seem to have mailed in several other games on the schedule, losing to Vandy by 19 and Georgia by 15. I'd like to think that Pearl and his players will approach this game more like a tilt with Kentucky than like a non-conference game against USC (which they lost by 22 in December).

The Aztecs just won the Mountain West Conference Tournament by knocking off New Mexico and UNLV. They're long and rebound the ball, ranking 14th in the nation in rebounding margin. With senior big man Wayne Chism standing just 6-9, the Vols don't rebound well, ranking 169th.

No matter how much I like Pearl coming back to the Northeast (he's a BC grad), the Aztecs rebounding edge makes this a pick 'em for me. I'll advance both teams in various brackets.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: SDSU
SI's Seth Davis: SDSU
President Obama: Tennessee
WWOD?: Tennessee (I'll be rooting for Tennessee with my heart but not my wallet).

Midwest Region

No. 16 Lehigh Mountain Hawks (22-10, Patriot)
vs.
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (32-2, Big 12)
9:55 P.M. EST
Ford Center, Oklahoma City, OK


Rock! Chalk! Jayhawk!

EVERYONE: Kansas (but not to cover 25.5)


West Region
No. 14 Montana Grizzies (22-9, Big Sky)
vs.
No. 3 New Mexico Lobos (29-4, Mountain West)
10:35 P.M. EST
HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA


One of the most covered players of the past week was Montana's Anthony Johnson. The senior guard transferred from a nearby juco a few years back and has blossomed into a superstar. He dropped 42 on Weber State in the Final of the Big Sky Conference Tournament to punch his team's ticket to San Jose. 21 of those points came consecutively. To end the game. Which was a 66-65 win.

And if Johnson's scoring talent wasn't noteworthy enough, his backstory has drama to spare. The Tacoma, Washington native was out of school and out of the game not that long ago. His girlfriend dragged him back to both and eventually transferred with him to Montana from junior college as a package deal. She plays for the Lady Grizzlies.

As nice as it is that Johnson has totally turned his life around in just a few years time, I think the heartwarming aspect of his journey and the shocking way that his club reached the tournament (because they weren't getting an invite if they lose to Weber State) has raised their profile to an unjustified degree. Add that to the fact that the favorite they're playing hails from Albuquerque and not Tobacco Road and you've got a lot of people thinking upset.

I am not one of those people. The Lobos play their home game in a building called The Pitt. They have better than an .800 winning percentage at home because this venue is one of the toughest around. When you walk in the doors you are at the level of the "highest" seats in the building. You will only walk down to your seats. The playing surface is sunk well below street level and the nearly 15,000 fans hover over and around court. The ceiling lays flat just above the top row of seats. The place is like an aquarium. Filled with noise. Any team that plays half their games in that building is ready for the atmosphere of the tournament.

Chad Millman is ESPN.com's gambling guru. You'd know this if you ponied up for an Insider account. Or if you googled "ESPN Insider password" until you found one. Which you can. Trust me. But I digress, Millman appears on Bill Simmons' podcast all the time and his very existence at the Worldwide Leader shows how much sway the Sports Fellas as over there. A fixture of Millman's work is a mysterious person known as Teddy Covers. We're told that he's the best handicapper in Vegas. Here's what Mr. Covers had to say about the game:
New Mexico is really good; it deserves to be a 3-seed. Montana is a "live" dog, though. It has size and good D and a superstar in Anthony Johnson. It has the makings of a 'dog that can hang around. If I'm betting that one, I like the 'dog, but I'm taking New Mexico to advance.

Ditto. I think New Mexico is here to stay and that they'll hit their stride once/if they're playing against Goliaths from BCS Conferences. This one will be tight but I don't think Johnson will come close to duplicating his efforts. I'm thinking about last year when Dionte Christmas of Temple came into the tourney hyped for a huge performance but couldn't keep alive the magic from the conference tournament.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: New Mexico
SI's Seth Davis: New Mexico
President Obama: New Mexico
WWOD?: New Mexico