Friday, March 18, 2011

T.G.I. Friday Games

No. 4 Texas Longhorns
27-7, 13-3 Big 12
No. 13 Oakland Grizzlies
25-9, 17-1 Summit

West Region
Bank of Oklahoma Center
Tulsa, OK
12:15 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Texas -10
Over/Under: 154

It's not really that long ago, that Texas looked a likely candidate for the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance. The Longhorns opened the season at a scorching 23-3, boasting wins over UNC and Kansas. Through Valentine's Day, Coach Rick Barnes' team had only lost Pittsburgh (by a bucket), USC (rocked, actually) and UConn (by a point in OT). But since then they've scuffled to a 5-4 mark. Those struggles combined with the presence of senior Oakland center Keith Benson make this a popular upset pick.

Standing at a muscular 6-11, Benson is the most impressive player in this game. He averages 18 points, 10 boards and more than 3.5 blocks per game. He's as close as Oakland may ever get to having an actual grizzly in the lineup. In his team's marquee win at Tennessee, Benson went for 26 and 10 with two blocks, he even dropped in a pair of three pointers. Against Oral Roberts in the championship game of the Summit League Tournament, Benson went 10 for 17 for the field and 8 of 12 from the line to score 28. He grabbed 14 boards, doled out 4 assists and blocked 3 shots while playing 38 out of 40 minutes. He is in full bloom and has the skills and the senior drive to lift his team over the Longhorns.

Worth Mentioning: Although I'd more often than not advance the Longhorns in my brackets, I'd be looking for a favorite that I thought would cover and parlay or tease that result with the underdog Oakland squad in this game. If I could tease UNC down to 11.5 and get Oakland up to 16 then I'd feel pretty good about winning that bet.

President Obama: Texas
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Oakland
Nate Silver/538: Texas (84%)
SI's Seth Davis: Oakland
Bill Simmons: Oakland
WWOD?: Texas

No. 8 Michigan Wolverines
20-13, 9-9 Big Ten
No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers
19-14, 8-8 SEC

West Region
Time Warner Cable Arena
Charlotte, NC
12:40 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Tennessee -2
Over/Under: 127.5

For the past few seasons, I've felt like red-faced and manic coach Bruce Pearl was a strength of the Volunteers. Well, him and Wayne Chism's headband. But, that does not seem to be the case any longer. The tangerine bespoke suits have been covering up various NCAA rules violations. And when those were exposed, Pearl attempted to cover them up with lies. As always, the lying has done far more damage than the initial infractions themselves. The Tennessee AD looks poised to sack him once the season is out and turmoil is the order of the day in Knoxville.

Like any program accused of recruiting violations, though, the Vols have loads of talent. 6-foot--8 freshman forward Tobias Harris is from Dix Hills, NY and is an absolute beast for the Vols, averaging 15 and 7. Selected All-SEC Second Team by the league's coaches, Harris is a bona fide first-round prospect.

With another freshman, point guard Tim Hardaway. Jr., leading the charge, the Wolverines have been playing better lately, going 9-4 since late January. Still, their top wins came over Michigan State (twice), Penn State (twice) and Clemson whereas Tennessee has taken down Belmont (twice), Villanova, Pitt, Memphis and Vandy (twice). No matter how exciting Hardaway may be and how much I love point guards, I'm going to go with the SEC school that played a lot of Big East teams over the Big Ten team that swept Penn State.

President Obama:Michigan
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Tennessee
Nate Silver/538: Tennessee (57%)
SI's Luke Winn: Michigan
Dan Shanoff: Tennessee
WWOD?: Tennessee

No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
26-6, 14-4 Big East
No. 15 Akron Zips
23-12, 9-7 MAC

Southwest Region
United Center
Chicago, IL
1:40 p.m. EST

Point Spread: ND -14
Over/Under: 135.5

The number that interests me the most about No. 2 seeded Notre Dame isn't 3 (the number of players on the roster shooting better than 42% from three) or 10 (their national rank in assists per game). It's 77,500. That's the number of dollars that the state of Indiana fined the ND for safety violations that resulted in the death of a 20-year-old student Declan Sullivan, who was killed in a fall from a hydraulic scissor lift while videotaping football practice for the coaching staff. Despite winds of 53 mph in the area, the coaches didn't want to move practice indoors. About an hour before his death, Sullivan tweeted: “Gusts of wind up to 60 mph today will be fun at work … I guess I’ve lived long enough,” he wrote.

President Obama: ND
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: ND
Nate Silver/538: ND (91%)
SI's Luke Winn: ND

No. 8 George Mason Patriots
26-6, 16-2 CAA
No. 9 Villanova Wildcats
21-11, 9-9 Big East

East Region
Quicken Loans Arena
Cleveland, OH
2:10 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Villanova -1
Over/Under: 135

I just don't like the look of Villanova coach Jay Wright. For as long as I've been aware of him, I've disliked him. His smug face and his slick hair and his self-righteousness. All of it. Which is weird. Because I usually like those characteristics in a coach (see: Pearl, Calipari, Pitino). Nova is one of the most enigmatic teams in the field. They were a juggernaut early, exploding out the gate to a 16-1 start. But they flailed and failed down stretch, losing seven of their last nine, including five on the trot heading into this afternoon. So, it's hard to be to confident.

On the other side, the Patriots can score. They averaged 73.3 per game this season and their. 474 field goal percentage was 18th best in the nation. I worry, though, because this team didn't play any Big East clubs this season and lost to NC State, the only ACC school on the schedule. They did sweep conferencemates Old Dominion and split with VCU.

Due to the aforementioned Wright issues, I'll be rooting for George Mason to advance, but I have a hard time believing that the team that ranked 167th in rebounds per game (while playing a style that results in a lot of shots) is going to be able to withstand the physical test of playing a talented, albeit mercurial, Big East squad.

President Obama: George Mason
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: George Mason
Nate Silver/538: Villanova (61%)
Conan O'Brien: Villanova
SI's Luke Winn: George Mason
WWOD?: Villanova

No. 5 Arizona Hoopcats
27-7, 14-4 Pac 10
No. 12 Memphis Tigers
25-9, 10-6 C-USA

West Region
Bank of Oklahoma Center
Tulsa, OK
2:45 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Arizona -5.5
Over/Under: 139.5

When the most compelling case that sportswriters can make for your team's chances is that your young head coach rode the bench as a player several years ago for your favored opponent then I'm not interested in wagering on you.

President Obama: Arizona
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Arizona
Nate Silver/538: Arizona (67%)
SI's Stewart Mandel: Arizona
WWOD?: Hoopcats

No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
30-4, 13-3 ACC
No. 16 Hampton Pirates
24-8, 11-5 MEAC

East Region
Time Warner Cable Arena
Charlotte, NC
3:10 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Duke -23
Over/Under: 134.5

I believed in NYC-schooled point guard Jamal Tinsley and thought that he had his Iowa State Cyclones whirling and wrecking their way to the Final Four in 2001. It was Tinsley's senior year and he was named the Big 12 Player of the Year. In Rucker Park, he was also known as Mel Mel the Abuser. My bracket was filled accordingly. I made my picks around Iowa State, choosing upsets elsewhere to create a path of least resistance for them. This seemed incredibly foolish when they were upset in the first round by Hampton, a place that until then I'd only thought of in terms of Phish concerts. It was just the fourth time that a No. 15 seed every toppled a No. 2.

Odds are long that Hampton will become the first No. 16 ever to topple a No. 1 today when they tip off against Duke, especially when considering the news that highly-rated freshman point guard Kyrie Irving is returning from an injury that kept him sidelined for most of the season.

Born in Elizabeth, NJ, Irving is a dark-skinned Dukie that even Jalen Rose can appreciate. Yet his presence is perhaps the only thing that could help the Pirates. Perhaps Duke will be thrown off their game by reincorporating him into the rotation. Perhaps Nolan Smith would not like being moved back off the ball. Or, perhaps, I just spent more time writing this game capsule than any of us will actually watching this game.

President Obama: Duke
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Duke
Nate Silver/538: Duke (91%)
SI's Stewart Mandel: Duke
WWOD?: Coach Kommercial

No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies
24-8, 10-6 Big 12
No. 10 Florida State Seminoles
21-10, 11-5 ACC

Southwest Region
United Center
Chicago, IL
4:10 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Texas A&M -1
Over/Under: 122

Boston College beat Texas A&M. Boston College lost to Florida State. Ipso facto Florida State should beat Texas A&M. It's elementary, my dear Lunardi.

Worth Mentioning: This game has the second lowest Over/Under of anything on today's schedule. So fasten your seat belts.

President Obama: Florida State
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Florida State
Nate Silver/538: Florida State (56%)
SI's Luke Winn: Texas A&M
WWOD?: Whomever Toney Douglas is rooting for.

No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes
32-2, 16-2 Big Ten
UT-San Antonio Roadrunners
20-13, 9-7 Houston

East Region
Quicken Loans Arena
Cleveland, OH
4:40 p.m. EST

Obviously, I've spent thousands or words and nearly as many at-work minutes making all of this NCAA stuff impenetrably complicated (and hopefully interesting), but sometimes you don't need to overthink these games. Ohio State is the best team in the country. UTSA isn't even the best school in the University of Texas family. Not even close. By the end, these roadrunners may be looking more like Wile. E. Coyote.

President Obama: Ohio State
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Ohio State
Nate Silver/538: Ohio State (99.7%)
SI's Luke Winn: Ohio State
WWOD?: Ohio State

No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
32-2, 14-2 Big 12
No. 16 Boston University Terriers
21-13, 12-4 Am East

Southwest Region
Bank of Oklahoma Center
Tulsa, OK
6:50 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Kansas -22.5
Over/Under: 136

If this were a hockey game then I'd be going BU all the way. But it's hoops, so see Ohio State entry. Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk.

President Obama: Kansas
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Kansas
Nate Silver/538: Kansas (79%)
SI's Luke Winn: Kansas
WWOD?: Kansas

No. 2 UNC Tar Heels
26-7, 14-2 ACC
vs. No. 15 Long Island University Blackbirds
27-5, 16-2 NEC
East Region
Time Warner Cable Arena
Charlotte, NC
7:15 p.m. EST

Point Spread: UNC -17.5
Over/Under: 158.5

Jimmy Fallon picked LIU. Your argument is invalid.

President Obama: UNC
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: UNC
Nate Silver/538: UNC (93%)
SI's Luke Winn: UNC

No. 3 Purdue Boilermarkers
25-7, 14-4 Big Ten
No. 14 St. Peter's Peacocks
20-13, 11-7 MAAC

Southwest Region
United Center
Chicago, IL
7:20 p.m. EST

Point Spread:Purdue -14.5
Over/Under: 120

A boilermaker is a beverage composed of a glass of beer and a shot of whisky. Sea Bass digs them. A peacock is made from banana liqueur, blue curacao, melon liqueur, peach schnapps and chambord.

Despite, this overwhelming advantage to Purdue, as a Jersey City resident, I'm pulling for St. Peter's mostly just to go try to be the random bearded 30-year-old at the college celebration party gassing cigarettes and pulling off a flask.

President Obama: Purdue
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Purdue
Nate Silver/538: Purdue (93%)
SI's Luke Winn: Purdue
WWOD?: Purdue

No. 6 Xavier Muskateers
24-7, 15-1 A10
No. 11 Marquette Golden Eagles
20-14, 9-9 Big East

East Region
Quicken Loans Arena
Cleveland, OH
7:50 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Xavier -2
Over/Under: 140.5

There are two midmajors that aren't. One is Gonzaga. The other is Xavier. The muskateers are regulars in the tournament. They've been so often that their glass slippers have lead toes and are made by Timberland.

President Obama: Marquette
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Marquette
Nate Silver/538: Xavier (52%)
SI's Luke Winn: Xavier
WWOD?: Xavier

No. 8 UNLV Runnin' Rebels
24-8, 11-5 MWC
No. 9 Illinois Fighting Illini
19-13, 9-9 Big Ten

Southeast Region
Bank of Oklahoma Center
Tulsa, OK
9:17 p.m. EST

Point Spread: UNLV -2.5
Over/Under: 132.5

With so much attention being paid to ESPN's Fab Five documentary, HBO's documentary on the Johnson-Anthony-Augmon Runnin' Rebs has garnered little notice. I don't think this game changes that. Five of UNLV's eight losses came to San Diego State or BYU, which is very impressive. The problem is their wins. Yeah, they did beat Wisconsin and K-State but no one else of note. Led by senior guard Demetri McCamey, Illinois vanquished UNC, Gonzaga, Oakland, Michigan State, Michigan while taking Texas to overtime and narrowing losing to Ohio State once (and being rolled the other time). They also beat Wisconsin.

President Obama: Illinois
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: UNLV
Nate Silver/538: Illini (59%)
SI's Luke Winn: UNLV
WWOD?: Illinois

No. 6 Georgetown Hoyas
21-10, 10-8 Big East
No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth Rams
24-11, 12-6 CAA

Southwest Region
United Center
Chicago, IL
9:55 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Georgetown -5
Over/Under: 134

This game taking place just one day after St. Patrick's Day would seem to bode well for the Hoyas. That the Rams had to play the USC Trojans two days before the commemoration of St. Patrick riding the snakes from the Garden would also seem to favor the favorite.

Yet, Georgetown isn't exactly what they seem to be. With senior guard Chris Wright sidelined with a broken hand since late February, the Hoyas have dropped five straight games heading into the tournament. Before Wright went down, Georgetown had knocked off five ranked teams and was 21-6. Since then, though, they've lost to Cincinnati twice as part of that losing streak. Wright was injured in the first loss to the Bobcats and his team floundered, managing just 46 points. In the next meeting two weeks later, Cincy rocked the Hoyas by 22.

In the last game the Hoyas won, Wright scored 26 points while contributing 3 boards, 4 assists and 1 steal. It was a much-needed bounceback win over South Florida, coming right after a tough loss to UConn. Wright was the guy that lifted the team when it needed lifting and tellingly injured himself diving to the floor for a loose ball. Without him they have been rudderless. Even worse, they were meek.

If this team had struggled with Wright down the stretch or even managed to split with Cincy without him then the Hoyas would be the pick here. Even without Wright, the Hoyas are more talented than the Bobcats. It really is telling to me that they lost to them twice in a short span of time. Sort of like the Knicks dropping pairs to the Pacers and Cavs in short order. These things are revealing about a team's fortitude.

The good news for the Hoyas is that Wright is supposed to play tonight. How he'll play remains to be seen, but he should be one the floor. But, this isn't Kyrie Irving returning to play a reserve role on a team hitting on all cylinders and on the fast track to the Final Four. This is a sputtering team time trying to switch drivers will stalling out in the breakdown lane. I think Wright helps but not enough to derail a VCU team already humming.

President Obama: Georgetown
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Georgetown
SI's Stewart Mandel: USC (who lost to VCU in play-in game)
Conan O'Brien: Georgetown

No. 7 Washington Huskies
24-10, 11-7 Pac 10
No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs
21-12, 9-7 SEC

East Region
Time Warner Cable Arena
Charlotte, NC
10:08 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Washington -5
Over/Under: 140

It sends an icy chill down my spine whenever I hear that name. Thankfully most sportscasters, at least around here, are aware enough of the PTSD rampant among hoops fans to make clear that they're not taking about that Isiah Thomas when they're taking about Washington's Isaiah Thomas. This other diminutive Thomas spells his name like the Old Testament prophet and not like the egomaniacal hoops star turned ruiner of franchises and minor leagues.

Not much taller than Nate Robinson, who starred in a Huskies' run to the Sweet Sixteen, Thomas knocked down a stepback winner at the buzzer in the finals of the Pac 10 tournament. The junior dynamo is a gamebreaker who can score and distribute, and he has the scoring talent and charismatic confidence to upset UNC in the next round all on his own.

President Obama: Washington
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Washington
SI's Stewart Mandel: Washington
Bill Simmons: Washington
WWOD?: Kemba West

No. 3 Syracuse Orange
27-7, 12-6 Big East
No. 14 Indiana State Sycamores
20-14, 12-6 MVC

East Region
Quicken Loans Arena
Cleveland, OH
10:30 p.m. EST

Point Spread: Syracuse -12
Over/Under: 129.5

It's true that Larry Bird played college basketball for Indiana State. He was a 6-9 forward. In their last came, an upset over Missouri State that earned them a bid in the Dance, the Sycamores started players with heights of 6-5, 6-8, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-4 while getting key contributions off the bench from guys listed at 6-6, 6-4 and 6-2. The Orange, meanwhile, start dudes listed at 6-9, 6-7, 6-10, 6-2 and 6-4 while bringing in reinforcements measured at 6-4, 6-8 and 7 feet. In this case a bunch or Oranges are going to tower over the Sycamores.

President Obama: Syracuse
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi: Syracuse
SI's Luke Winn: Syracuse
Bill Simmons: Syracuse
WWOD?: Syracuse

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