Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCAA 2010: Mid-Day Madness

The Noon-ish Games of Day 1

Alright, let's put some lipstick on this pig, lace up our dancing shoes, and get ready for a big weekend.

With the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament set to tip off, your brackets should be turned into your neighborhood bracketmaster and/or your trusted online sports company. Hopefully you've managed to cross the T's and dot the lower case j's of your daily workload and can coast until quitting time. If so, there is live footage of the games being simulcast over at CBS

We've got a manageable three midday games to keep tabs on from our cubicles, officles, work stations, and assorted places of business. Without further ado, here is everything you need to know to act like you know something about these games.

West Region
No. 10 Florida Gators (21-12, SEC)
No. 7 Brigham Young Cougars (29-5, Mountain West)
12:20 P.M. EST
Oklahoma City, OK

BYU played in the first set of games in last year's tournament as well. They were matched up with Texas A&M (just as they were in the first round of the 2008 tournament). When previewing that game, I wrote:
"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."
And my snarky anti-Mormon cracks (although I'm going to guess that the hoops team isn't quite as Mormon as the rest of the student population) were rewarded as the Aggies defeated the Cougars. Just like they had the year before.

This year, however, I'm leaning towards the boys from Povo, Utah. BYU's Jimmer Fredette is the best player in this game. The junior guard from upstate New York dropped 49 on Arizona this year and 45 on TCU. He's played heavy minutes since his freshman year and can shoot free throws if it gets close. And the rest of his squad isn't too shabby either. They may end up with more wives than years of pro ball when all is said (although Freddette will get a long look from scouts and probably will get a shot at the next level) and done but this is a solid team. They play hard. They play smart. And they excel at both ends of the floor.

Ken Pomeroy's predictive rating system (which you should have been using when filling out your bracket) has BYU as the No. 8 team in the country heading into today's games. Ken Pom has Florida ranked as the 49th best team in the land. Billy Donovan is trading on past success and his current squad doesn't seem to have the profile to match up against a potentially underseeded BYU team. The Gators played soft non-conference schedule and the only wins over tourney teams came early on against intra-state rival Florida State and then later in the year against the erratic Tenneseee Volunteers. Could Donovan amp these kids up enough for an upset? I guess he could. It's also worth noting (while still being largely irrelevant) that Florida is riding a 12-game tourney win streak that goes back to its two national title runs a few years back. It they manage to survive and advance then they would tie Duke's early '90s streak.

But after first-round exits in the last two years, BYU's star is mature and this group is primed for its run. This is the year for this group and they seem to realize it. On the other hand, this tournament berth seems a reward in itself for the Gators. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson went as far as to write that "If BYU doesn't beat a fringe Florida team, a team that probably had no business getting into the tournament, a team that was issued a favor by the selection committee because Billy Donovan finally got a little something for the effort from a few seasons back after being left out the past two seasons, the Cougars will never again win a tournament game."

Now. I don't know if I'd go as far as Monson, but I am willing to lay the five points that BYU is giving to Florida and take the Cougars to advance.'s Joe Lunardi: BYU's Game Simulator: BYU wins 71% of the time
SI's Seth Davis: BYU
President Obama: BYU (although he'd written in Florida first on his bracket)
WWOD?: BYU (betting money line and probably laying points as long as they don't give more than 6).

South Region
No. 11 Old Dominion Monarchs (26-8, CAA)
No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-11, Big East)
12:25 P.M. EST
New Orleans Arena

Last Wednesday night, I sat in a very good seat at Madison Square Garden to watch a pair of games in the Big East tournament. Up first on the docket was a matchup between Seton Hall and Notre Dame. Hall had edged the Irish earlier in the year and ND was cruising towards an NIT berth. But they won that game and then knocked off Pittsburgh the following evening. And now they're a No. 6 seed with a huge national following that is penciling them into the Sweet 16. Seton Hall, on the other hand, has since fired its coach and seen a player arrested for charges that include kidnapping more than five folks. So, that happened.

Much has been made about the way in which the Irish hit its stride late in the season sans Luke Harangody. Without its leading scorer, the team became more methodical, limiting possessions and wearing teams down with their motion offense. Sadly for those in South Bend, this is precisely the style that a 26-win ODU team wants to play. They play lockdown defense inside and out. They rebound on both ends of the floor, especially at the offensive end. This is how they knocked off Georgetown, a team that also employs a slower half-court style, earlier this year.

The KenPom rankings give the slight edge to ODU (ranked 33rd while ND is at 40) but ESPN's game simulator gives the slight edge to Notre Dame. There is an argument floating around out there that ND is the "hot" team in this matchup but I don't entirely agree. OD has won 17 of its last 20 and five straight. They won the regular season and conference tournament titles in Colonial Athletic Conference. Aside from a three-game swoon in November, they have been on fire all year long.

But they have a glaring weakness: they can't shoot. Not from the free-throw line. Not from beyond the arc.

Therefore, I think the most pivotal person in this game is ND coach Mike Brey. Does he revert back to his up-tempo style and play Harangody heavy minutes or does he keep the ball in the hands of point guard Tony Jackson and try to edge ODU in slow-down slugfest? If I were Brey, I would at least attempt to speed up the tempo at some point because ODU is notoriously bad from the three-point line. If ND can make this a shootout then I don't think that the Monarchs can keep up. They don't have a stud scorer (leading scorer Gerald Lee averages less than 15 per game) and could be forced to abandon their preferred style (which I think they are better at than ND).’s Joe Lunardi: Old Dominion's Game Simulator: ND wins 53% of the time
SI’s Seth Davis: Notre Dame
President Obama: Notre Dame
WWOD?: Old Dominion (and I'm taking ODU to cover in a close game)

South Region
No. 15 Robert Morris Colonials
No. 2 Villanova Wildcats
12:30 P.M. EST
Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI

I have nothing insightful to say about this game. Along with everyone else, I expect Nova to roll over Robert Morris. Wildcats senior guard Scottie Reynolds is one of those players who I feel like I've watched for 10 years. He's played about 30 minutes per game in each of his four seasons and he's not going down in round one.

There are only two things worth discussing about this game. First, can Villanova cover the 16.5-point spread? And, secondly, who is this Robert Morris character?

To address the first question, I think that Nova can cover the spread playing in Providence in front of a lot of their fans. They had a scare in the first round last year against American and I'm willing to wager, literally, that they've learned from their mistake.

And as far as this Morris character is concerned. Mr. Robert Morris was a financier and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the second Continentla Congress and paid some of General George Washington's troops out of his own pocket just before a series of key battles in New Jersey. Paying the troops, I would imagine, is a crucial but oft-overlooked aspect of the Revolutionary War. Morris is also the man who brought us decimal coinage. Without him, there may have been no penny loafers. Which is why the Brooks Brothers money is leaning heavily towards Robert Morris to cover.

EVERYONE: Villanova

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