Friday, April 4, 2014

Altough Unexpected, A Foursome Finale Worthly of this Tournament

It was just three weeks ago when the ferver was a peak, the selection show had started the chaos of who was left home and who had a bad seeding, and Buffet was putting his money where everyone’s mouth was. Now we’re down to just four schools which no one in the world had in their bracket, literally as there are no perfect brackets, but the Final Four will have a little something for everyone including a great finish on Monday Night. South/East National Semi-Final – Florida vs. UCONN When the Huskies lost to Louisville by 33 points less than a month ago they were written out of the post-season script by every sports writer in the country and Kevin Ollie was on the hot seat as the successor to legend Jim Calhoun. Amid the academic sanctions, player transfers, and 3rd place finish in the American Conference, the chances of the program returning to prominence seemed bleak. However in a script that Hollywood would reject as too unbelievable, the Huskies were written back into the plot after three consecutive wins over top 5 seeds including (2) Villanova, (3) Iowa State, and (4) Michigan State the sexy pick to win the region when the brackets were tallied and unbusted. Of course, they don’t see themselves as Cinderella Fellas and certainly don’t think they’re Gator bait as one of the two schools to hand Florida a loss this season, back in December by 9 points (the Gators last), there is no fear there and perhaps that’s what will be necessary to take the overall top seed down. Across the isle the Gators are playing like the overall top-seed should, winning all games en route to the Final Four by more than double-digits while not yielding 70 points to anyone, UCLA coming the closest by scoring 68 points and losing by 11. They also are finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, two major components of schools that have eventually cut down the nets. The lone remaining top seed, Florida’s strong guard play and senior leadership have made the favorite among Vegas prognosticators as the team standing on the ladder come Monday night and for good reason. If you think about the two games they lost, both with key injuries to starters including the loss to UCONN where Scottie Wilbekin left the game with 3:10 to play while it was a one-possession game, and had to watch UCONN win in the final seconds with Shabazz Napier scoring 26 and stealing all the headlines. The way my bracket was blown out I would never wager picking the Final Four but I would wager that the Florida Gators and head coach Billy “the kid” Donovan haven’t forgotten that game and will come out with more than a trip to the finals on their mind. West/Mid-West National Semi-Final – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky West/Mid-West National Semi-Final – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky What can you say other than ‘da kids are all grownz up’? They have become the quintessential hope for every fan of a program in the country for years to come. Where suddenly the light comes on, and the kids suddenly start playing to their potential and moreover, playing together and reaching their full potential just as the tournament tipped off. Well, actually it began with a one-point loss in the SEC Championship to Florida a school they may see again on Monday night but they had better not start looking ahead. If I was a UK fan I would hope that the well didn’t run dry in the regionals as they certainly didn’t shoot that well from beyond the arch during the regular season (only 39%) and suddenly they’re a treat from outside in the dance, hence the game winner as time expired against Michigan. However the rub is that the games they won en route to Cowboy Stadium were against teams that played a similar style in regards to pace and Wisconsin, much like their Rose Bowl win, will try to change the game to a slow grind out pace that favors the methodical and if they can slow down the game the kids from the blue grass state may become fish out of water. So how did Wisconsin sneak up on everyone as a number 2 seed? Just the way we just described the way they hope the game would go, it’s not sexy but effective. In fact, the Badgers are 92nd in the country in points per game, 261st in rebounds, 216th in assist, and 93rd in field goal percentage, so how are they in the Final Four? They’re the NC State, the Butler, the school in hindsight that you wonder how they got there. But much like NC State and Butler if you try to beat them at their game you’ll find yourself in a dogfight. The Badgers have great inside play and timely shooting from beyond the arch and like most great tournament games this will be a matchup of styles and who can enforce their will. If Wisconsin can manage to slow this down and neutralize the athletic advantage that the Cats have we could be looking at another upset for the ages.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wichita State may have a bitter taste, but the rest of us have a sweettooth

All things being equal you’d rather be in Indy…………….. (11) Tennessee / (2) Michigan – The Wolverines can into the dance with a huge tail wind and could arguably make an argument for a top seed. Three weeks ago they calling for Cuonzo Martin’s head, then an incredible run from the First Four, to two games from the Final Four, the talk has turned from termination to extension. The Vols are peaking at the right time, and have looked as athletic and competitive as anyone in the tournament including the top seeds and they can’t say they’ve been doing it all year as they are not in the 150 in the country in any major category other than rebounding. Michigan is known from shooting anywhere in general vicinity of the arena, among the best in country from beyond the arch, and have some big wins under their belt, including two over final four sexy pick (4) Michigan state. If the 3 is their friend they’ll be moving on but if they go sub 40% from deep it’ll be a Rocky Top night. (4) Louisville/(8) Kentucky – The battle of the blue grass state that the NCAA really wanted to see, unfortunately at the expense of Wichita State. It’s the battle of the last two national champions, a civil war, and a rematch. UK beat the ‘Ville earlier this season 73-66 in a Dec. 28 clash. However, that game was at Rupp Arena in front of the Wildcats' faithful. Each team has progressed tremendously. For Kentucky, it's been the aforementioned maturity. For Louisville, it's been honing in on what they do extremely well, and that's defensive pressure, which can fluster even the savviest of guards. Kentucky has the freshman who are too young really grasp the magnitude of the moment, but may have emptied the chamber last week when the knocked off the undefeated Shockers. If they can dublicate that performance which was their best of the season by far, then we look for them to move on but in probability there will be a slight letdown and window may become a gaping hole that the Cardinal use to get to the Elite Eight. For a position that although prestigious, is certainly not glamorous, being on the NCAA Tournament selection committee must be also be a thankless position. All of us fans get to enjoy the fruits of their labor, at their expense, while lobbyist whine about their school’s omission from the dance, low seeding, travel destination, etc. and that’s before they toss up the ball at the First Four. However, unlike the BCS (may it lie restless for all eternity) in two weeks the NCAA will crown a Men’s Basket ball champion and no one will have a viable objection but that doesn’t stop many from trying. So far the loudest objection has come from the former undefeated and top seed Wichita State whom was matched up with an eight-seed that looked more like a one-seed, which is where Kentucky was ranked to start the season, however was seeded down at 8 despite losing by one-point in the SEC Championship Game to the eventual overall top-seed in the tournament Florida. Now normally I would back such an argument but don’t forget how bad UK was playing prior to the SEC Tournament and after coming out of the block as the top seed in the country to start the season with all the hype there was no where to go but down. Moreover, that was by far the best game they had played all season, they actually made their open shots including from 3 (43%) over 10% above their season average. By now you’ve heard the conspiracy theories and what the NCAA has wanted to see in the Sweet 16 and beyond, now I don’t know about all of that but you would be hard pressed to find anyone outside the state of Kansas who didn’t want to see a Louisville v. Kentucky matchup, and now they got it with stacks of checks in the center of the table. In addition to the history, Rick Patino, an interstate rivalry, there is a ticket to the Elite 8 waiting at will call for the winner. Not the only Sweet 16 matchup but the most intriguing, however there still may be better games if the first weekend was any harbinger of what’s coming over the next 4 days. (6)Baylor/(2)Wisconsin – Perhaps the best collection of athletes of the remaining schools, Baylor came into the dance with a ton of momentum and playing their best basketball of the year, while Wisconsin is the pillar of consistency with a methiodical style that takes teams out of their rhythm. This contrast in styles is another example of what makes the tournament great, and the winner will be the one who is able to enforce their will. (11)Dayton/(10)Stanford – The battle of the double digit cienderellas. Had Dayton had the year that many expected this wouldn’t be that big of a surprise but they muddled through the year and fell down to number at least 40 in the nation. Stanford has played their Pac-12 brotherin and Sweet-16 compeers Arizona and UCLA tough and can hang with most teams in the country. Look for this one to be close throughout and similar to the types of games we saw on opening weekend. (4)UCLA/(1)Florida – I’m not sure why no one is talking about this game and it’s flying under the radar, as this could also be the best game of the weekend. The number one overall seed in the dance, taking on a school that has won 12 of 13 including the conference tournament championship against Arizona who was the top ranked team in the nation shortly before. (4)SDSU/(1)Arizona – A West cost battle with a huge twist. On paper this looks like an Arizona 8 point win, but the game happened to fall in Anaheim, less than an hour from the SDSU campus which could make a huge difference. Arizona’s fan base has always traveled well but they will be hard pressed to match the numbers of Aztecs whom may get a 8 point boost themselves if the game is close and the fence sitters start cheering for the underdog. This game will be much closer than people think.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Midwest Region – Rodney Dangerfield Region

Perhaps we should introduce a new adjective in the English language named after the late, great, comedian Rodney Dangerfield termed “Rodneyed” and meaning ‘no respect’ as it seems to come up when discussing sports quite often, and specifically during March Madness. From bubbles bursting to shafty seeding although no longer with us his presence seems ubiquitous, particularly in the Midwest region of the tourney. Since their Final Four run of last year the Wichita State Shockers have been written off as one-hit wonders and not given a whole lot of respect, and one would think being the first school to go undefeated since the 91’ UNLV Runnin’ Rebels would answer those critics but that hasn’t been the case. Despite going unbeaten and really not being challenged, the Shockers have been afflicted with “Mid-Major disease” where the symptoms are, lack of acknowledgment regardless of your record, unless you beat the best in the nation AND cut down the nets in April. Well, they will certainly get their chance as most pundits have labeled the Midwest Region the “group of death” if there was one, where they will have to beat such prestigious universities as Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan if they were to get back to the Final Four. That would and should be enough to silence the critics even if they don’t walk away with the nets. Rodneyed. As much as Rodney would be relating to Wichita St. if he was still with us (God rest his soul), the defending champs also would want to throw a couple back with Rappin’ Rodney and swap stories. Despite winning the American Athletic Conference(which obviously gets less respect than Conference USA) and boasting 29-win season, Rick Patino’s gang could only garner a 4-seed. Now I may have failed bracketology in high school but if you’re number 5 in country in the final poll, then the worst seed you should mathematically get would be a 2 (putting you and best 5 and worst an 8 meaning you would actually drop 3 spots in the polls even though you won your conference regular season and tourney championship) especially if you’re the defending champ and you even resemble the team you were last season, let alone almost winning freakin’ 30 games then you should be on one of the top two lines. Rodneyed. There seems to be a lot more emphasis on the Conference Tournaments this year as illustrated by Michigan getting demoted from a top seed going into selection Sunday to a number 2-seed after getting whacked by rival Michigan State in the B-10 Tourney Final. Alright then shouldn’t have Arizona suffered the same fate after losing to unranked UCLA in the Pac-12 tourney final? Rodneyed? Lastly, how bout’ the pre-season top-ranked team that won 24 games in the SEC despite being perpetual organ donors for the NBA draft? Kentucky fell all the way to the 8th seed (that makes them no better than 32nd in the nation despite being the top 10 for most of the year an finishing at 22? Rodneyed. See it fits! Now of course the antidote to being “Rodneyed” is simply to win on the court. So despite and in spite of people or process you can make a closing argument that you were better than everyone thought and apologies are in order. And that’s what make this the greatest event in American sports, at the end of the day there will be one school singing one shining moment with their coach dancing very badly in front of 50 million people, and able to say that they’re undisputedly the best the country, and not you or their affiliation with the late, great, Rodney Dangerfield can take that away from them. View the complete tournament bracket here......

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ringling Brothers Got Nothin’ On The Madness

Coach and one-time national champion coach Jim Herrick once said the greatest show on Earth wasn’t a circus or a Broadway play but the NCAA Tournament. Many of us would fully support that statement and either have our bags packed for Vegas or reserved the time off of work on Thursday and Friday of next week to watch a back-to-back 12-hour marathon games on consecutive days. If March Madness is the greatest show on Earth then those first two days are the greatest in sport period. Schools that we have never seen before leaving everything they have on the floor with the only reward being the opportunity to play again in a couple of days. In fact this year’s tournament is shaping up to be one of the best round-by-round ever. So good that it might draw all of the focus away from what has started out to be an amazing championship week, where the first tickets to the big dance are handed out. In case you’ve missed it in the course of making your travel plans, for most of the early conference tournaments every game is a Game 7 because only the winner will be getting an Evite for next week. Conferences where injustice amounts to drama and this year is no exception as a school like Davidson can almost run the table during the regular season at 15-1 but get knocked out the conference tourney and watch third place and 12-loss Wofford take snatch their tickets out of their hands. Or Robert Morris (14-2) out of the Northeast Conference, one that only has one ticket to share amongst its ten members, surrender their ticket to 5th place Mount St. Mary’s who will hold the dubious honor of the worst record of all dance attendees at 16-16. But that’s what makes it great the sorrow only surpassed by the elation of the fact that your season’s not over. With that preface in mind here the early RSVP’s for party of the year, strike up the band. Mercer Bears Conference: Atlantic Sun Record: 26-8 Ticket-clincher: Mercer 68, Florida Gulf Coast 60 Leading scorer: Langston Hall (14.7 PPG) Tournament appearance: 3rd (First since: 1985) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Conference: Big South Record: 21-12 Ticket-clincher: Coastal Carolina 76, Winthrop 61 Leading scorer: Elijah Wilson (16.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: 3rd (First since: 1993) Delaware Fightin Blue Hens Conference: Colonial Record: 25-9 Ticket-clincher: Delaware 75, William & Mary 74 Leading scorer: Devon Saddler (19.7 PPG) Tournament appearance: 5th (First since: 1999) Milwaukee Panthers Conference: Horizon Record: 21-13 Ticket-clincher: Milwaukee 69, Wright State 63 Leading scorer: Jordan Aaron (14.9 PPG) Tournament appearance: 4th (First since: 2006) Harvard Crimson Conference: Ivy Record: 26-4 Ticket-clincher: Won Ivy League regular season (no conference tournament) Leading scorer: Wesley Saunders (14.0 PPG) Tournament appearance: 4th (First since: 2013) Manhattan Jaspers Conference: Metro Atlantic Record: 25-7 Ticket-clincher: Manhattan 71, Iona 68 Leading scorer: George Beamon (19.2 PPG) Tournament appearance: 7th (First since: 2004) Wichita State Shockers Conference: Missouri Valley Record: 34-0 Ticket-clincher: Wichita State 83, Indiana State 69 Leading scorer: Cleanthony Early (15.8 PPG) Tournament appearance: 11th (First since: 2013) Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers Conference: Northeast Record: 16-16 Ticket-clincher: Mount St. Mary's 88, Robert Morris 71 Leading scorer: Rashad Whack (17.6 PPG) Tournament appearance: 4th (First since: 2008) Eastern Kentucky Colonels Conference: Ohio Valley Record: 24-9 Ticket-clincher: E. Kentucky 79, Belmont 73 Leading scorer: Glenn Cosey (18.8 PPG) Tournament appearance: 8th (First since: 2007) Wofford Terriers Conference: Southern Record: 20-12 Ticket-clincher: Wofford 56, Western Carolina 53 Leading scorer: Karl Cochran (15.7 PPG) Tournament appearance: 3rd (First since: 2011) North Dakota State Bison Conference: Summit Record: 25-6 Ticket-clincher: North Dakota State 60, IPFW 57 Leading scorer: Taylor Braun (18.3 PPG) Tournament appearance: 2nd (First since: 2009) Gonzaga Bulldogs Conference: West Coast Record: 28-6 Ticket-clincher: Gonzaga 75, BYU 64 Leading scorer: Sam Dower (14.8 PPG) Tournament appearance: 17th (First since: 2013)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wichita State not Shocking Enough?

It seemed almost anticlimactic as Wichita State easily disposed of Missouri State (19-11) at home to finish the season 31-0. ESPN/ABC did their best via hype and hyperbole to make it sound like it was not a forgone conclusion, but all the kings horses and men couldn’t make that game worth watching as it was over from jump street. Therein lies the problem for the first undefeated team since Tark’s Sharks went 34-0 in 1990-91, despite being the ONLY school currently ranked in the top 5 that also made it to the Final Four last year (spoiler alert!), the Shockers get no love because they reside in the Missouri Valley Conference. How else would you explain two-loss Florida being ranked ahead of them in one poll and two-loss Arizona garnishing 4 top-votes in another? Well they say you’re only as good as the company you keep and if that’s the case then the Shockers might not be very good as they will be only one invited to the prom from their conference unless someone pulls an upset in the MVC tournament, particularly with Indiana State (21-9) losing back-to-back games to unranked opponents Illinois State and Northern Iowa. So where does that leave the school with the best record in over 20 years? Well, certainly a top seed but not THE top seed as that honor will go to Florida regardless of what they do until prom night, or Kansas if they can make it to the B12 Conference Tournament, because of their #1 RPI and 13-2 conference record. Going undefeated always demands a certain amount of respect but sadly speak off the record it doesn’t seem like there are very many inside the top 10 that would mind drawing the black & gold as their ticket to the Final Four. Now no one doubts that they play well on both ends of the floor but being 30th overall in rebounding, 69th in ppg, and 112th in field goal pct. leads many to believe there’s more than one way to beat them, particularly if you can pound them inside as they don’t go particularly big. The Joe Lunardi from the mother ship is accurate with his ‘bracketology’ Wichita Sate could be headed for a second round game with either Pittsburgh or Memphis who both could present big problems for them inside. In any case, much like any school that doesn’t play in the ACC or Big10 as is seems like everyone of those conference games are on ESPN nightly, the only way to gain any respect from the NCAA hoops hierarchy will be to make a deep run in the tournament. From the buzz on social media alone it clear the general public feels they’re a product of a soft schedule and softer conference. Which I gotta admit would be the camp I fall into as well as I just can’t see them running the table while facing a Big10, Pac12, or ACC foe twice a week, but that just sets us all up to eat a “man sized” plate of crow, if the Shockers can even get back to the plateau they reached last year. And fair or unfair that’s the task and hand which no doubt, Wichita will be using as motivation….Shock em’ all again or be forgotten.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Madness is Already Upon Us

Hard to believe it but March is almost upon us and this gearing up to be the best tournament in recent years simply because despite the gaudy records that sit atop the NCAA polls recent data proves that everyone can be beaten, particularly when they get outside the confines of their on crib. I mean, everyone was thinking that Syracuse escaped the last time they played Duke at home, and that they would get their just due when they traveled to Cameron Indoor, but it didn’t even take that long as an unranked (2-10 in conference) Boston College team went into NYC and came out with a victory. You just gotta’ love that Boston-New York hatred! So they didn’t even make it to Tobacco Road. Oh, and the Dukies that were so poised to make their statement for a top regional seed? They got knocked off by another unranked team UNC on the road. So now we’re left with the Wichita State Shockers, did I even spell that right? At 27-0 and no one left on their schedule that can keep a game to double-digits, the Shockers should do just that, shock the basketball world and go into the dance as the top seed. Ok, but really, is anyone afraid of Wichita (did I spell that right?) State? I mean if I was a 2 seed, and thinking of all the names I could draw that would stand in my way between me and a Final Four I would opt for the Shockers despite their unbeaten and soon be 30-0 record. I mean, this is just begging for a storyline Saturday Sweet 16 upset is it not? Anyway, I wish the Shockers another run to the Elite 8 and beyond but they’re not flying underneath anyone’s radar anymore and that may have been the best thing going for them last year. So the top seeds will probably be the afore mentioned Wichita State (spell checked), ‘Cuse, even with a loss at Duke this week, Arizona (who doesn’t have to play UCLA again) and Florida, who quietly has amassed perhaps the best resume in the tournament. The rest of the brackets are going to bring a new definition to the term “gorilla warfare” where I don’t know if any of the top 4 will get out of the regionals alive, as there are sooo many schools longing for the respect of Dick Vitale and ESPN that they carry more animosity than a boxer from a 3rd world country. All of this not only makes for great fodder but for an even better dance and if your brackets were busted in the past, you’ve got a better chance of hitting the power ball than calling this one. Oh, by the way the conference tournaments could make all of the prior analysis go out the window. Happy hunting.