Monday, April 6, 2015

The Final No One Saw Coming

The Madness has almost come to an end as the NCAA Tournament Championship has reached its final game. Of the plethora of questions that arose starting on selection Sunday, including the tournament field of 68 itself, only one remains, and that is who will be the National Champion. The others, like can Kentucky finish the season unbeaten and are they the best ever? No and No. Because of the parity in this year’s field will there be a sleeper that makes the Final Four? Yes, Michigan State. Will Villanova break their curse and get out of the round of 32? Nope. Suddenly one of the most coveted coaches may be on the hot-seat next season. Is this the best field of two-seeds ever? Well despite the big names, neither Arizona, Kansas, Virginia, or Gonzaga could get out of the elite 8, and the list goes on. Now we just have to see if Wisconsin can get it’s first title in over 75 years? Can Coach K take one more step to becoming the greatest college coach of all time? Here is what will need to happen for either of those questions to be answered with a yes. Wisconsin needs to get over themselves. In other words, imagine if the USA had lost to Finland in the Gold Medal 1980 Olympics, there never would have been a “miracle on ice”, the incredible win over the Russians would have been nothing more than a footnote. Not that this is on the national scale like that was but if you reside in the state of Wisconsin it’s pretty close. However they need to recognize that there’s still more work to do and one very tough game left that may in many ways be more difficult, if that’s possible. Change the history of the school or become another footnote. Duke needs to Finish. They got off to a slow start after Coach K got back from coaching the World Championships. They weren’t very good defensively, and didn’t fully utilize their talent, and had a 3-3 stretch in January that dropped them out of the top 15 and had even fans wondering how far they could go. Then they won 17 out of 18, managed to avoid Notre Dame the school that hung two of their four losses on them, and now find themselves in the NCG, again. People were beginning to question the caliber of the Devils after losses to Mercer (1st round), Louisville, Lehigh, and Arizona (by 16) over the last four years. Well this is their chance to put it on display as for the first time since they lost to Arkansas in 1994, they are underdogs going into the Final. Our pick? We’re done pickin’. This could be one of the best finals in the history of the tournament, a great contrast in styles, with a good potential for free basketball at the end. Only time will tell what kind of pros the Okafors and Tanks of this game become but we’re looking to see a great conclusion to a month of madness that makes it the greatest event in sports bar none.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Final Four - Big Favorites are Far From Sure Things

This year’s Final Four is a microcosm of the entire the entire NCAA Tournament, should be highly competitive, one clear favorite, and look for an upset en route to the Final. The NCAA Committee has to feel good with what the final outcome of what was a very controversial field has been. Four storied programs, four great coaches (3 sure fire Hall members), the Wooden Award winner, and only time will tell how many NBA players spring up from this crop. Oh, and did we mention 2 great game matups? Only the Pac-Man v Mayweather fight is a more anticipated event so let’s look at the matchups. The early game is a rematch of a December matchup between Duke and Michigan State which Duke won quite handily but as you already know things are quite different now as Duke plays much better defensively and the Spartans don’t even resemble the same team. That is what makes this one so tough to call. No doubt the Duke starting five can match up with anyone in the country but get to their bench and although good, there is a noticeable drop off. How can there not be with 2 potential first-rounders in the starting lineup and probably the #1 overall pick? Additionally, this game screams matchup problems for State as they don’t have a deep front line and if they get into foul trouble against Okafor there simply isn’t the deep bench there to help them out. Not to mention Justise Winslow’s sudden ability to hit the 3-point shot makes if very difficult to double down low. Michigan State’s best shot is to get into a transition game with BlueDevils and try to steal one down the stretch. This will be tough because despite the marquis names pacing the sidelines, Coach K actually owns Tom Izzo 9-1. Travis Trice will need to come up huge for the Spartans but that six-point line is there for a reason and not because Izzo fouls at the end of games. We like the Devils to advance to the championship game on Monday night. The second game pits the second of two rematches for the Wisconsin Badgers as they relived the 2014 tournament with a victory over Arizona in the Regional Final again this year but hope to change the final two chapters of the 2015 sequel by defeating Kentucky and advancing to the Finals on Monday. Last year, it was Wisconsin that was the favorite and Kentucky that was the upstart, 8-seeded, freshman laden school that wasn’t supposed to be there, advancing to Final Four with victories of only 7,2,5, and 3 points respectively, but advanced as a last second (good look) jumper bounced off the rim. However this sequel could also be titled “The Empire Strikes Back” as that Kentucky team that lost the Finals last year has brought back that freshman backcourt, only now they are sophomores and more seasoned, even after all of the last second heroics of last year, better and perhaps the best in all of college basketball. And that 8 seed? Now they’re all growns’ up, undefeated at 38-0 and perhaps the best in history. An the Empire wants a title. In other words, Luke may go down with the ship in this version, but what the Badgers need to do force the Wildcats to shoot outside, because if they have a weakness this is it. Conversely, it was 67% shooting from beyond the arch that propelled the Badgers past the favorite Arizona in the Regional Final and they will need a repeat performance if they are to keep playing on Monday. Although most pundits, bracket tacticians, and fans in general have the Kentucky cutting down the nets, if there is someone left who has a good shot at beating them it’s Wisconsin. A team with a similar makeup to Notre Dame, whom lead UK by 5 with 5:18 to play, has Senior leadership and runs that slow “Princeton style” backdoor pick, style of offense that stifled the Cats until the final minute of the game when Kentucky took the lead back. However as good as the Player of the Year is, Frank Kaminsky will have two or three big athletic kids thrown at him and will need to stay out of foul trouble but still create a presence defensively. In the end we think Kentucky will simply have too many weapons to throw at Wisconsin, and from all angles, and if they don’t shoot lights out again it could be a long day, as they don’t force many turnovers and the Cats will kill you in the paint if they get their normal amount of game possessions. We like Darth Vader to advance against Duke in the finals on Monday. Get the Highlights, Stats, Scores, Betting Lines, and more on the main site.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Opening Bands Set the Stage for the Headliners

For all the carnage, upsets, bloodshed, and tears that embodied this year’s NCAA Tournament for the first five rounds what’s left is three tops seeds that even then novice would have had in their brackets, and one school that has become synonymous with the Final Four. In fact, after more one-point games in the first two rounds than ever before and all the upsets it almost seems anti-climatic but once the dust settled it was (1) Kentucky, (1) Wisconsin, (1) Duke, and (7) Michigan State left standing. Perfectly understandable, yet unremarkable. However, even those of you that wanted to see Cindy or one of her friends walk down the velvet carpet to Indy have got to admit, these are going to be three really good games. For those that are the traditionalist, you’ve gotten a good dose of your UKs, KUs, Dukes, and UCLAs. Coach K’s, Rick Ps, One-N-Done Joh Cal, and Tom Izzos with three top seeds left standing and 7 that plays like 1 every March. Everyone should be happy especially those that don’t affiliate with either side and just want to see a good game with a ton of enthusiasm. You kidding me, how great were those Arizona/Wisconsin and Notre Dame/Kentucky games? This dance as already lived up to the hype, which is tough to do and the main course is still to come. That said, here are the Final Four matchups and the way we think they will go.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Not Your Daddy's Sweet 16

Although most of the school names may be familiar the components of the teams are totally different so part of calling the tournament this year has been to separate the names on the jerseys from the players that wear em’. Firstly, Wichita State may be coming off the biggest win in the school’s history since 1981 but this team may not be as good as the 2013 team that was a top-seed and victim of a bad draw in the 2nd round taking on a #8 Kentucky team that made it all the way to the finals. Conversely, they will give Notre Dame all they can handle on Thursday but that is where the run should end. Notre Dame is back in the National Spotlight but this isn’t football. The Irish had a great regular season but struggled to beat a feisty Butler squad and many think they should be watching this one from home for their play during the final stretch of regulation but their here and they’re going to be the Shocker’s opponents. I’ll tell ya, after looking at the size Wichita State, they actually may want to borrow the Tight End from their football team as does anyone doubt that the Admiral’s Kid would make a great addition at power forward? The Tar Heels are where they always seem to be, in the Sweet 16, but Jordon, Worthy, and Perk aren’t coming out of the locker room, or even Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, or LD2 that won the title in 09’. This year’s club is not quite as solid in the top 5, or deep on the bench and hobbled by injuries and will struggle against a big, deep, and experienced Wisconsin team. Doesn’t it always seem that Arizona rolls into the dance as a top seed with only 2 or 3 losses but never seems to end up in the Finals? In that regard to that this year’s team may be similar but unlike their predecessors we do think they have the combination of a strong backcourt and one of the most athletic big front lines that will not only make it to the Final Four but the toughest test for Kentucky. Speaking of Kentucky, they have been the cornerstone of conversation during both the regular season and during the tournament with the possibility of going unbeaten for an entire season, but they are young and kings of the “one n done” may be exposed if they run into a team with Junior Leadership (Junior is the new Senior) who can give them a run for their money. The Friday Matchups Eleven National Championships, too many Final Fours to count but as intimidating as the for letters on the front of the jerseys USED to be there are not many that fear this year’s version of UCLA. The only other unanimous selection of the entire NCAA tournament field, Kentucky was the unanimous overall tops seed, and the Bruins were the unanimous pick for the one school that shouldn’t have been there. I don’t buy that the goaltending call got them through the first round, as Looney had the rebound anyway and would have followed up with a dunk plus SMU missed two shots after that which could have won the game, but they did beat a UAB team that played it’s best game of the season against Iowa State and was hardly the competition most faced to get this far. Last year the Bruins were here as well but had a stock cupboard of young talent that left for the NBA Levine, Anderson, and Powel that on any given night had the athleticism and power to give anyone a run for their money. They are still young but don’t quite have the guns to stay with Gonzaga, who actually may be better than the “Morrison Teams” of 2005-6 that rolled 30 wins and were among the favorites to win the whole tourney. In fact many believe this is Mark Few’s best team ever and the fact that they’ve already beaten this UCLA team by double digits in Westwood this year (their only home loss of the season) would make this loss far worse than the 2006 loss where they led by 17 points only to fall in the final minute. Keep in mind that starting Bruin lineup had more NBA players in it than the entire Gonzaga roster. Once again not the same makeup, the Zags should roll in this one. or view all of the Tournament Previews and view comments on the Main Site.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rock Chalk Shock and the Rest of The Sweet 16

We warned you last week that if the “First Four” games of the NCAA Tournament were a harbinger of things to come and the carnage to your brackets over the next two rounds would be severe and it was. The amount of accurate brackets among the tournament contest is the lowest since their inception and the East Bracket has become a bigger free-for-all than the toga party at Delta Phi House at Faber College. One top seed is gone, two 2 seeds, and two 3s but all could be forgiven if Kentucky and Duke meet in the Finals. Until then, we have to take a step back and look at how we got here with more 1-point games than we’ve ever seen at this stage in the tournament and probably a record for tears shed as well. The good news is we have until Thursday to catch our breath before the roller coaster starts again and here are some the games that took our breath away. #7 Wichita St. over #2 Kansas – As big a prize as a birth in the Sweet 16 is, for some Kansans, particularly the roughly 400,000 in the city of Wichita, there may have been something much more important on the line. Pride. As for only the third time in history, the Wichita State Shockers beat the University of Kansas in basketball, and the fact that it came in the tournament only made it that much sweeter. To understand the magnitude of this you have to dig a little deeper and understand that Kansas pretty much refuses to play Wichita every year for reasons they seem to keep to themselves. True in prior years it wasn’t worth their time, but over the past 5 years the tide has changed a bit as well as their motives. No doubt, KU has always been in the mix but recently the Shockers have been as well and losing to your “little brother” doesn’t do much for your self-esteem, or your recruiting. On this day the Shockers simply were playing like a little brother who was all ‘growns up’ and ready to take his place at the table. They outworked the Jayhawks and dominated the game from the 10 minute mark in the first half on. Now if they are satisfied with this win they can still say they’ve had a successful season, but if they want a shot a Final Four they they’ll need a repeat effort and then some, to get revenge on the school that knocked them out of the dance when they were a top seed, Kentucky. The circumstances are now reciprocal and it’s the Wildcats who are top-seed, but if Wichita State feels loose and like it’s house money then they may have one more shock in them. #1 Nova fails to get out of the opening weekend, again. – Villanova fans have to be wondering what in the world they have to do to get out of the round of 32. They put together a gargantuan 32-2 record against good competition, get a number one seed, and get pitted against a team with 13 losses with a chance to advance in a bracket where the second seed gets sent home early. Tailor made for trip to the Final Four right? Well the woes continue and the Cats are left pondering how their best team in years is sitting at home before the end of the month. Honestly, you could have switched the jerseys and you wouldn’t have been able to tell who was the top seed an who was the 8. NC State didn’t play like a team that finished 7th in their own conference and was barely over .500. They even finished below Miami whom didn’t make the tournament. What they do have is a balanced attack, with four starters in double digits and had a lead at the half they wouldn’t let go away. Now they will take on a Louisville team that has a week to prepare for them so don’t look for Rick Patino and his group to be caught off guard but if the Wolf Pack can duplicate the effort it may not matter. Next up…..Was Virginia the victim of bad bracket seeding?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dance Gets off to a Great Beat

If the appetizers were any indication then this is going to be one of the best tournaments in recent memory. Before we could even get our beer and chips and get in out seats the play-in games, which in prior years were seen as tickets to get into the dance but also early plane tickets home, now have given the school that awaits the winner something to think about particularly in the 11 v 11 games. Yesterday Hampton showed shades of yesteryear as they played 40 strong minutes and beat a good Manhattan team by 10. Now if they weren’t matched up against one of the best top seeds in history they’re may be some whispers of the unthinkable, but not this year. Speaking of beating Kentucky, the school that came the closest played like in on Tuesday as they shut down the highest scoring team in the nation in the 2nd half while droppin’ 62 points of their own after being down 17 points to come back and win the game. They showed both offensive firepower and defensive prowess that may have Xavier asking how on earth are they’re a #11 seed. That is going to be a great 2nd round game and Vegas thinks so as well, setting it at a paltry 3 point line. Closing out the “First Four” on Wednesday both games came down to the wire putting all kinds of pressure for the Thursday/Friday kickoff to measure up the same bar. Robert Morris looked more like the school that took Kentucky out years ago in their 1 v 8 matchup, and Dayton used the mojo of a home crowd to beat Boise State in the final seconds. I’m not sure if the Flyers can pull the same magic away from the confines of their home (where they were 17-0 this season) but Providence will certainly not have a first round bye, and Duke had better not expect a practice. With the games that normally are not worth watching past the first half suddenly looking competitive, let’s look at the rest of the lineup for the Thursday/Friday seedings and hope we get plenty of sleep to last the marathon which will be worth it. 12:15PM (14) Northeastern vs (3) Notre Dame* CBS 12:40PM (14) UAB vs (3) Iowa State* truTV 1:40 PM (14) Georgia St vs (3) Baylor* TBS 2:10 PM (15) Texas Southern vs (2) Arizona* Turner Network Television 2:45 PM (11) Texas vs (6) Butler* CBS 3:10 PM (11) UCLA vs (6) SMU* truTV 4:10 PM (11) Ole Miss vs (6) Xavier* TBS 4:40 PM (10) Ohio State vs (7) Virginia Commonwealth* Turner Network Television 6:50 PM (16) Lafayette vs (1) Villanova* TBS 7:10 PM (9) Purdue vs (8) Cincinnati* CBS 7:20 PM (13) Harvard vs (4) North Carolina* Turner Network Television 7:27 PM (12) Stephen F. Austin vs (5) Utah* truTV 9:20 PM (9) LSU vs (8) NC State* TBS 9:40 PM (16) Hampton vs (1) Kentucky* CBS 9:50 PM (12) Wofford vs (5) Arkansas* Turner Network Television 9:57 PM (13) East Wash vs (4) Georgetown* truTV View all of the scores, stats, schedules, brackets, and more here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Early RSVPs Portend A Wild Party Next Week

The final invitations don’t go out until Sunday and the most coveted party other than the Oscars has had some early RSVPs. Some A-Listers, some gate-crashers, and many regulars to the scene. However the invites that are star struck by the splendor may find themselves on their way home before the turndown service at their hotels, but one thing is clear based on the early commitments, this is going to be one hell of a party. Here is a list of the early RSVPs with the final guest being sent out tomorrow. Albany Great Danes Conference: America East Record: 24-8 Ticket-clincher: Albany 51, Stony Brook 50 Leading scorer: Sam Rowley (14 PPG) Tournament appearance: fifth (first since 2014) Arizona Wildcats Conference: Pac-12 Record: 31-3 Ticket-clincher: Arizona 80, Oregon 52 Leading scorer: Stanley Johnson (14.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: 32nd (first since 2014) Belmont Bruins Conference: Ohio Valley Record: 22-10 Ticket-clincher: Belmont 88, Murray State 87 Leading scorer: Craig Bradshaw (18.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: seventh (first since 2013) Buffalo Bulls Conference: Mid-American Record: 23-9 Ticket-clincher: Buffalo 89, Central Michigan 84 Leading scorer: Justin Moss (17.9 PPG) Tournament appearance: first Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Conference: Big South Record: 24-9 Ticket-clincher: Coastal Carolina 81, Winthrop 70 Leading scorer: Josh Cameron (12.9 PPG) Tournament appearance: fourth (first since 2014) Eastern Washington Eagles Conference: Big Sky Record: 26-8 Ticket-clincher: Eastern Washington 69, Montana 65 Leading scorer: Tyler Harvey (23.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: second (first since 2004) Gonzaga Bulldogs Conference: West Coast Record: 32-2 Ticket-clincher: Gonzaga 91, BYU 75 Leading scorer: Kyle Wiltjer (16.6 PPG) Tournament appearance: 18th (first since 2014) Hampton Pirates Conference: Mid-Eastern Record: 16-17 Ticket-clincher: Hampton 82, Delaware State 61 Leading scorer: Dwight Meikle (13 PPG) Tournament appearance: fourth (first since 2011) Harvard Crimson Conference: Ivy League Record: 22-7 Ticket-clincher: Harvard 53, Yale 51 Leading scorer: Wesley Saunders (16.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: fifth (first since 2014) Iowa State Cyclones Conference: Big 12 Record: 25-8 Ticket-clincher: Iowa State 70, Kansas 66 Leading scorer: Georges Niang (15.3 PPG) Tournament appearance: 17th (first since 2014) Lafayette Leopards Conference: Patriot League Record: 20-12 Ticket-clincher: Lafayette 65, American 63 Leading scorer: Dan Trist (17.6 PPG) Tournament appearance: fourth (first since 2000) Manhattan Jaspers Conference: Metro Atlantic Record: 19-13 Ticket-clincher: Manhattan 79, Iona 69 Leading scorer: Emmy Andujar (16.5 PPG) Tournament appearance: eighth (first since 2014) New Mexico State Aggies Conference: WAC Record: 23-10 Ticket-clincher: New Mexico State 80, Seattle 61 Leading scorer: Pascal Siakam (13.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: 22nd (first since 2014) Northeastern Huskies Conference: Colonial Record: 23-11 Ticket-clincher: Northeastern 72, William & Mary 61 Leading scorer: Scott Eatherton (14.6 PPG) Tournament appearance: eighth (first since 1991) Northern Iowa Panthers Conference: Missouri Valley Record: 30-3 Ticket-clincher: Northern Iowa 69, Illinois State 60 Leading scorer: Seth Tuttle (15.3 PPG) Tournament appearance: seventh (first since 2010) North Dakota State Bison Conference: Summit Record: 23-9 Ticket-clincher: North Dakota State 57, South Dakota State 56 Leading scorer: Lawrence Alexander (18.7 PPG) Tournament appearance: third (first since 2014) North Florida Ospreys Conference: Atlantic Sun Record: 23-11 Ticket-clincher: North Florida 63, South Carolina Upstate 57 Leading scorer: Dallas Moore (15.9 PPG) Tournament appearance: first Notre Dame Fighting Irish Conference: ACC Record: 29-5 Ticket-clincher: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82 Leading scorer: Jerian Grant (16.6 PPG) Tournament appearance: 34th (first since 2013) Robert Morris Colonials Conference: Northeast Record: 19-14 Ticket-clincher: Robert Morris 66, St. Francis (Brooklyn) 63 Leading scorer: Rodney Pryor (15.2 PPG) Tournament appearance: eighth (first since 2010) Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Conference: Southland Record: 29-4 Ticket-clincher: Stephen F. Austin 83, Sam Houston State 70 Leading scorer: Thomas Walkup (15.2 PPG) Tournament appearance: third (first since 2014) Texas Southern Tigers Conference: SWAC Record: 22-12 Ticket-clincher: Texas Southern 62, Southern 58 Leading scorer: Madarious Gibbs (14.2 PPG) Tournament appearance: sixth (first since 2014) UAB Blazers Conference: C-USA Record: 19-15 Ticket-clincher: UAB 73, Middle Tennessee 60 Leading scorer: Robert Brown (12.8 PPG) Tournament appearance: 15th (first since 2011) UC Irvine Anteaters Conference: Big West Record: 21-12 Ticket-clincher: UC Irvine 67, Hawaii 58 Leading scorer: Will Davis II (13 PPG) Tournament appearance: first Valparaiso Crusaders Conference: Horizon Record: 28-5 Ticket-clincher: Valparaiso 54, Green Bay 44 Leading scorer: Alec Peters (17.0 PPG) Tournament appearance: ninth (first since 2013) Villanova Wildcats Conference: Big East Record: 32-2 Ticket-clincher: Villanova 69, Xavier 52 Leading scorer: Darrun Hilliard II (14.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: 35th (first since 2014) Wofford Terriers Conference: Southern Record: 28-6 Ticket-clincher: Wofford 67, Furman 64 Leading scorer: Karl Cochran (14.8 PPG) Tournament appearance: fourth (first since 2014) Wyoming Cowboys Conference: Mountain West Record: 25-9 Ticket-clincher: Wyoming 45, San Diego State 43 Leading scorer: Larry Nance Jr. (16.1 PPG) Tournament appearance: 15th (first since 2002)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Madness Has Already Begun

The brackets don’t officially come out for almost three weeks but it’s been clear for three months that the 2015 tournament will be on of the most highly contested in recent memory. True there is the lone unbeaten team, the first since the 75-76 Hoosiers, putting together the best regular season since the undefeated schools of the Wooden’ era, but they have looked beatable on occasion, particularly away from home. Then there are several “really good” schools including Virginia, Gonzaga, and Duke that are loaded with NBA draft picks and have been playing together as a team a little longer than the freshman laden Wildcats and capable of beating everyone in the field. Speaking of the field, there are a plethora of land mines scattered throughout the brackets and pedigreed programs in unfamiliar territory like North Carolina as a 5 or 6 seed, UCLA as a 12, Louisville as a high 4, and Ohio State as an 8. This will also be the tournament of the sleeper, with Arizona as a 2 seed who could easily be a top liner, Wichita State as a 5 whom has already proven it’s worth an ability to get to the Final Four. Notre Dame as a 4 seed and Villanova as a 2 are both teams that will be a favorite for bracket players looking to pick the big upset. What will hold true this year is that the 8-9seeded games should be among the best of the dance and looking at how the brackets shape up ahead of the conference tournaments all will be must see tv, Ohio St. vs. NC State, Georgia/Iowa, Ole Miss/Indiana, and Oklahoma St/A & M all should be within two possessions. Ironically, because so many teams have tasted defeat this year, it’s hard to gauge a big upset as opposed to a team you just haven’t watched enough this year. That said standard protocol when making your selections is to pick the 5-12 upset that has become more commonplace than shocker, and of the possible options, based on the pundit Joe Lunardi whom normally has these things nailed to the letter, the Tar heels had better study hard so they don’t get caught off guard by the smart guys from Harvard. There are too many great games to start the tournament to name them all but in the one leading up to the dance we’ve already seen some things get shaken up even Gonzaga possibly getting knocked off the top line and getting replaced by Wisconsin, and we haven’t even gotten through the Conference Tournaments yet. Don’t expect to see the ubiquitous cameras on various campuses on Selection Sunday because the bubble list is so long they wouldn’t know where to place them. One thing for sure, don’t expect to see for number 1s standing come April, don’t expect to win the office pool, and enjoy the music because this dance will be one you don’t want to miss.