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