There's very little Bubble News to report. And, frankly, I am thankful for that.
We're five hours away from the Selection Show and the official end of Michigan's NCAA Tournament drought.
According to this morning's update of the Bracket Matrix, the Wolverines are holding steady and solid along the 10-seed line. The final at large bids in the Matrix are Maryland, San Diego State and Creighton. Lunardi, meanwhile, subs in St. Mary's for the SDSU. The teams that look to be just short of a bid include Penn State, Arizona, Florida and Auburn. All four were just one win short.
We have three title games going on this afternoon in advance of the pairings announcment.
ACC Championship: Florida St vs Duke. Line, Duke -6
A few things to think about when watching Florida State play Duke in the ACC Championship.
Michigan may hook up with the Noles next season. Both will be in the 2009 Old Spice Classic, played in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend. Matchups have not been announced, and the remainder of the field includes Xavier, Marquette, Creighton, Baylor, Alabama and Iona.
Michigan will be relieved to know that all-everything talent Toney Douglas will be in the NBA by then, but the Noles will enter next season with a lot of expectations, and more importantly, a lot of talent. Rivals ranked this season's freshmen class as 11th best in the country. They've been able to ease into their roles due to the presence of Douglas and fellow senior Uche Echefu, but next year expect a leap in production out of all of them.
Added to the mix will be Marcus Snaer, the 11th ranked overall player on next year's freshman list who will start right away and has a Johnny Flynn-type game. That's three straigt years that Leonard Hamilton has pulled in a top-25 recruit. As a result, the Noles will have one of the best centers, forwards and scoring guards from recent recruiting classes. That's a nice core to build around once Douglas departs. This team will be a load to handle should the Wolverines meet up with them eight months from now in Orlando.
Northwestern bitch slapped this club back in December by 14 points back in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The Wildcats. Northwestern, University of. In Evanston.
The last time Florida State won a league title of any kind was in 1991 when they played in the now defunct Metro Conference. They competed in the league against the likes of Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati and South Carolina. The Noles won the title in the league's last season before teams split into various ACC, SEC and Great Midwest destinations. The Noles had a stacked roster back then that included Doug Edwards, Sam Cassell and Charlie Ward. They dove head first into the ACC and finished in second place the first two years they were league members. It helped that the precocious Bobby Sura was added to the core in those years. They advanced into the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 those first two years in the ACC. But, other than a random NCAA appearance since, the program has not been all that relevant.
It's taken Leonard Hamilton a year or two longer than he expected, but it appears that FSU is ready to become the ACC player that they expected to be when they joined the league during a peak time for the program. One thing is for sure: in the immediate future, the team is poised to do damage in March for the first time since those days.
As far as this game, I think they're every bit as good as Duke. These teams played twice this season and for 30 minutes in each game, the Seminoles were the better team. The problem? In the first game, Duke built too big a lead in the first 10 minutes for FSU to come all the way back from. In the rematch, Duke caught fire in the game's final 10 minutes to earn a comeback win.
I think third time is the charm for Florida State today. They have the best player on the court in Douglas. They have ridiculous size and length on the interior that will create problems for Duke. They play great defense. If they can close out on the defensive glass like they did against the Heels, they will win today's game comfortably.
The Pick: Florida State +6.......the Noles are 12-5-1 ATS in ACC games this season, including a pair of covers against Duke. I've been gushing about this team through the Bubble News Chronicles. Hopefully they can pay off one more time. I think they'll win, but I'll take the points anyway.
SEC Championship: Miss. St vs. Tennessee. Line, Vols -6
The remaining drama around the final makeup of the NCAA field will center on the SEC Championship Game. For the second straight season, the SEC looks to send a champion into the field that otherwise would not get an at large bid.
The difference between Georgia from last year and Mississippi State this season is the UGA Dawgs were a last place team. The Cowbell Dawgs from Starkville are a quality program with a good team. They did have a winning record in conference play, so its not like they're playing above their heads advancing into this final.
There's a lot of anxious Creighton and St. Mary's boosters keeping an eye on this one. Conventional wisdom this morning hailed one of those two mid majors as NIT-bound should MSU pull through.
Last season, the Bulldogs bowed out in the NCAA second round to Memphis, giving the Tigers one of its closest games of the season. Expectations for this season took a big hit due to some unexpected departures (including Hansborough's Lil Bro, who transferred to Notre Dame.....oh, let the hate begin). They looked depleted in OOC play going winless in key games against Wassau, Texas Tech, and Cincy. They played well in league play, but were undone by an 0-4 record against LSU and Auburn. If just a few of those results go the other way, then maybe MSU is already sitting on a bid.
Nobody is really talking about it, but I think the SEC West ended up the better division this season in SEC play. Just my e-pinion.
The Vols got through a desperate Auburn team yesterday. Today they face another, but I think the Bulldogs inside presence and physical play is something the Vols did not have to face against Auburn. Jarvis Varnardo did not play great earlier this season in an up tempo game agaisnt the Vols. I dont think we'll see the same pace today. The Bulldogs will throw the kitchen sink at the Vols to keep this a half court game. I dont like the Vols in those types of games. The way Varnardo is playing, I dont want to go against him.
The Pick: MSU +6....the Bulldogs went 6-0 ATS vs the SEC East this season. They lost by 5 to the Vols in Knoxville, so I think they can stay within six at a neutral site
Big 10 Championship: Ohio St vs Purdue. Line, PU -6
The Big 10 continues to take lumps. Watching the Sunday Gameday special right now, they pundits started the show gushing about Florida State and the depth of the ACC. However, when they got around to the Big 10, they weren't as kind. Digger Phelps said Michigan State getting whipped proves to him the league isn't that good.
So, FSU advancing is proof of ACC depth. But, OSU beating Big 10 Champ MSU is proof the league is weak. I need some aspirin. The Buckeyes do, after all, have one of the nation's top all around players (a la FSU) and also have a high-end recruiting class (a la FSU) thats lived up to its billing as much as anyone else's incoming freshmen. Unlike Florida State, the Buckeyes at least beat Northestern, and also came within single digits off them on the road. Thad Matta is a great coach.
Yet, Digger Phelps thinks them beating Michigan State proves how weak the Big 10 is. What a tool.
Anyway, I'm staying on the Bucks today. I've had them in each of their tournament games and they won and covered both times. I have been impressed with Purdue's play this weekend too, but I just think this will be a low scoring game. I just like Matta in tournament situations. From Xavier to Ohio State he's always cashed.
The Pick: OSU +6.....for this Michigan fan, Indiana grad, this final represents pure evil. But, if the Bucks cover, I can take solace that I will have been 4-1 in both these teams games this weekend. If my rivals are going to succeed, I might as well profit off of it.
ok watching the video of the first day of practice, from mgoblue... i thought id take you through the drills we are watching in order that they are apearing, what is being worked on, and what fundamentals are being emphasised.
starting from the first drill..
15 secs......dline board drill. (done here with a pad) punch and attack.. sometimes done with boards, and often times later in shoulder pads will be done against a live body... empahsis is on stance, and start, proper foot placement and step, proper weight distribution and wieght transfer, proper hand punch low elbow...... feet stay under arm pits straddling something to keep players from getting to narrow...
18 secs.... wr drill, catching the flair pass.. the maintstay andmost important route in a zone read offense.. proper stance and start, proper angle on release, proper hand placement on catch, seeing the ball in, tucking and get eyes up field and vertical after the catch...
21 secs... wr getting off press, proper stance tighten up stagger when defense shows press, proper foot attack, set up for the slap and rip, or slap and swim...
40 sec.....qb zone read play action.. proper footwork, hand placement on ball for the play fake, proper get away step, elbow tech. and release point on throw...
51 sec.... fumble recovery drill..... emphasis, getting down...surrounding the ball with body and arms, tuck to the side... DO NOT JUMP ON TOP OF THE BALL, surround the ball and attack and pull in...roll over it if neccesary under the pile, but do not jump on top of the ball..
53 sec... repeat of 15 sec drill
55.. oline block step technique... drive block, zone block... proper helment placement foot steps and hand attack placement..
110..... w drill... backpeddle, low arms pump off at 45 angles, dont hammer and nail your arms... shoulders over knees, do not lean back... eyes ahead, when you see the cone in your periphial vission, quick chop your feet to gear your momentum into a forward motion, like pushing in the clutch, quick hard chops, then drive out, drop your hips to stop, drive lead foot towards the target...sprint through target, or form tackle...
120.... stalk block drill... db has attack your stalk block, proper hand placement is acheived... stop backwards momentum, sink hips, drive forward on the block.... low man wins...roll hips towards defender...
207.... pursuit drill.. up down on snap... find the ball, follow proper pursuit angles on the sweep...
230 dline, stance start drill... on the ball, move on movement, attack proper shoulder depending on technique gap control.... watching stance, foot work hand placement.. see ball out of corner of eye, eyes on target... attack the shoulder of the gap blocker, turn his shoulders..
240... qb zone read play action drill again... same as earlier...
248 under center. play action waggle pass.. proper get away steps, proper play fake, proper arc angle on the waggle, get shoulders square and up field... release point...
300 3 step drop passes... throwing mechanics.... ball placement... foot work..
340 zone read... eye placement, readding the backside de for give or keep... carring out fakes...
408 under center, zone stretch. proper get out... putting the ball in the belly carring out fakes...
424 more quick step drop stuff... same as before...
502... drive block drill.. low hips, quick steps, hands low, elbows low... driving till the whistle...
515 oline chute drill, zone blocks.. keeping low, low legs, getting to the proper level, attacking the defender... with proper hands and steps...
535 stance and start, proper first step, hand placement, and elbow level... punch...
545 w drill again.. drop hips when moving forward to stop quick...
hope this helps you understand what you are looking at a little better...
Who is the most worried right now in the moments before the Pac-10 and Big-12 championship games start and a pair of bid thieves hit the court?
Is it mid-major teams Creighton and St. Mary's? The Bluejays and Gaels are 11 and 12 seeds in the Bracket Matrix. A total of 30 brackets updated before today's action began. Creighton logged a seed in 20 of those brackets; St. Mary placed in 16.
Is it Big 10 rivals Penn State and Minnesota? Both are dogged because nobody seems to like the league. The Gophers played terribly down the stretch. That nuetral site win over Lousiville over the Christmas holidays kicks into gear for sure. Only two of 30 dropped the Gophers in the most recent straw poll. Penn State lost at lowly Iowa and were non competitive against Purdue in their final two legit March auditions. Will a poor OOC resume come back to haunt them? Like Creighton, 20 of the updated brackets give Penn State an invitation.
Is it Dayton? The Flyers might have seen their bid go right into the hands of another Atlantic 10 team last night.
Is it Maryland? The Terps received more votes than most of the above teams in this morning's update with 22 out of 30 bids. Does anyone of that support wither in the wake of another loss to Duke.
What we do know id two teams sitting in the field right now could be tossed aside if the underdogs when in L.A. and Oklahoma City tonight.
Meanwhile, we're within the 24-hour window of the formal selection and we can put to bed any notion of Michigan getting snubbed. The Wolverines received near unanimous support in this morning's vote with 29 of the 30 updates seeding Michigan. Twenty-six of those had UM either seeded 9th or 10th, showing a large line in between Michigan and the final cutline. Tomorrow will be a fun and gratifying Selection Show for long suffering Michigan Basketball fans.
And, they can enjoy the hoops tonight without worry.
Big 12 Championship: Baylor vs. Missouri. Line, Missou -6
Somebody is going to win their first ever Big 12 Tournament Title today. And, if its Baylor, somebody will also lose their NCAA at-large bid. Missouri endured a survival of the fittest test and a hostile partisan crowd to ease by Oklahoma State last night. Baylor snapped a decade-long plus losing streak to rival Texas. The win required cooler heads to step in and settle down the masses in Austin dealing with defeat. Its also causing some bubble quesiness.
The fact is, however, Baylor should already be in the field.......had they lived up to preseason expectations.
This team was ranked in the polls and returned intact from last year's record breaking team that qualified for the tournament. They impressed in November and December. In the Anaheim Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, they lost to Wake Forest in the finals after picking apart Providence and Arizona State earlier in the field. Upon their return, they visited the Paloose and avenged a loss from last year by beating the Cougars in a game heralded to have March impact.
When January started this team seemed a lock to earn back to back bids. Then, wheels started to fly off. They lost a heartbreaker to South Carolina, got thumped in College Station, hit rock bottom on a six-game losing streak with five double digit defeats. and wheezed to four losses in the final six games to close the regular season.
But, three wins in Okalahoma City the last three nights have put them 40 minutes away from their first ever consecutive NCAA bids. This should be a track meet all night. The O/U on shot clock violations is 0.5. Will Baylor have the legs?
Pac 10 Championship: USC vs. Arizona State. Line, ASU -2
In the USC Trojans, we have a similar to story to Baylor. The Trojans, based on preseason expectations bouyed by a core of talented returnees bolstered by the nation's top recruiting class, should already be in the field. But, they're not. Last night, however, they showed the type of passion against rival UCLA that had it been a more permanent fixture of their identity this season, they wouldnt be in this precarious position.
Meanwhile, courtside observers watching Arizona State highlighted another dominant effort from James Hardin, a long hopes for Ty Abbot Renaissance and Ambler Alert for Rihards Kusiks and a thankful prayer that the Sun Devils first half lead was large enough to absorb a dominant second half from the Huskies.
Atlantic 10 Championship: Temple vs Duke. Line, Temple -4.5
This hit is a done deal with the Temple/Duquence A10 Final already topping off a successful execution of an at large bid. Neither team makes the Big Dance without the automatic but. Both teams took out this sectional's top seeds last night. Does one of these teams getting a bid just swipe the bid out from underneath league rival Dayton? If so, that's a break even result for the rest of the bubble.
Duquense is a lot like Florida State in that they're led head and shoulders by a senior scorer, whose dragging a talented, but inexperienced group of underclassmen to a drought breaking NCAA appearance. The man to watch is senior Aaron Jackson. He leds the team in scoring, shoots close to 55%, leads the team in assists and second in rebounding. He can be a big time matchup chip since he can point and wing.
For Duquense, it would be their first NCAA bid in over three decades. Norm Nixon paced the Dukes last time we saw them in the NCAAs. And, if they win, the city of Pittsburgh will have remarkable placed three teams in the final field with Pittsburgh and Robert Morris, auto qualifiers from the NEC already there. They need to keep rolling threes in Atlantic City tonight to win and they've already hit 31 of those during the weekend.
For the Owls, there startegy is to let Dionte Christmas dominate. Even during a subpar game, he was called on the step up and hit the big shots late. He did. And, Temple advanced. They're a game away from turning an uneven season into another NCAA bid. Another helping of their quality effort they got from an assortment of role players can get them that next step.
Mountain West Championship: SDSU vs Utah. Line, Pick 'EM
Thanks to their run into this final, the Aztecs are finding themselves in a lot of final 4 in groupings. Can they stay in with a loss tonight, especially a convincing beat down at the hands of the regular season champion Utes?
Let's consider the resume. They're 23-8, 11-5 in league play, good enough for fourth place one behind a three-way logjam at the top. They lost all three of their key OOC games, dropping contests to Arizona, Arizona State and St. Mary's. Otherise their OOC slate consisted off patsies like Western Carolina, Hampton and Northern Colorado. They went on the road in those games which helps inflate that #31 RPI ranking. They have 7 RPI tip 100-wins, but a breakdown of that record shows a 2-5 mark versus the top 50 and 5-3 mark against the 2nd 50. Their SOS is an eye opening 38th, but a listing of their top seven wins reads Utah, at UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, UNLV, at UNLV and BYU.
That begs two questions. Can a team in a tweener league between the majors and the mid majors get an at large at the strenghth of conference wins alone? Is a 3-0 record against UNLV enough to vault SDSU past other bubble teams and into the field.
I say no to both. I feel the Aztecs need to win tonight or they wont make it. No SugarCoat. Just Epinion.
Big East Championship: Syracuse vs. Louisville. Line, L'Ville -7
Another fascinating season in the Big East comes to a close tonight under the lights of Madison Square Garden. And, we have two great storylines.
Lousiville has been the most impressive and have shown flashes of Final Four promise. No more was that evident in the routing of Villanova last night in the second half. Card Chronicle, uh, chronicled the assualt.
Then, there's Syracuse, whose played the about a dozen games this weekend. After battling from behind for six overtimes before beating UConn, the Orange needed another extra session last night to outlast West Virginia. Troy Nunes cries Uncle on the overtimes, but must have pulled his own OT session providing a one-stop shop reviewing last night and looking ahead to tonight.
I cant add anything else that either SB Nation Blog blog already has said. I love watching the talent on both of these teams and really hope the Orange have enough left in the tank to give us another show tonight.
Predictions, sure to go wrong
Thanks for nothing, SEC. Two teams that have been my best friends the last 3-4 weeks, cost me dearly today. Sweeping the board in the Big 10 and ACC games gave me an energy drink boost. But, foolishly stepping in front of the Memphis Freight Train. I still have to ML parlay going thanks to Binghamton's win earlier today. If Alabama State can finish it off in the SWAC this evening, remarkably I will come out pretty clean.
So, I got that going for me. Let's try and turn some profit with these:
**** USC +2 over ASU Tim Floyd is one of the best underdog coaches out there. Devils have the best player in Hardin, but the I'd take the Trojans roster because its better stocked. They'll have the home court behind them tonight. They grab an auto bid and shrink the bubble.
**** Duquense +4.5 over Temple I had a hunch about the Dukes all weekend, but have been too reluctant to play them. I hope I am not too late to the party.
**** Baylor +6 over Missouri If you can beat Kansas and Texas in back-to-back days you can hang with a Missouri team has been on the down tick for the better pasrt of the last month.
**** Syracuse +7 over Louisville Somehow, someway, the Orange will have the legs to hang in there. I'm one of those guys who always expects Syracuse to win, so when I see them catching points I have a hard time laying off. Louisville has not had huge fan support this weekend, but MSG will be packed with Syracuse fans. I give them a 50/50 shot to win straight up.
***** Utah pick 'em over San Diego State With all that bad mouthing of the Aztecs, you know I'm taking the Utes.
Earlier I said I would make a call on each small school and mid-major title game. I lost track of a couple of these the last few days on account of all the other action. But, with five going tonight, lets get that Magic Coin out again
MAC Title: Buffalo +3 over Akron The magical college season of the Buffs continue. I wrote Tuesday the Bulls would win this sectional. Mouth, meet money.
MEAC Title: Norfolk State +10 over Morgan State Hey, its the MEAC. Its time to learn a little bit about Delaware State's conference. Some bizarre bubble implications here, I suppose, when the fact the Maryland's resume is plagued with a bad loss to Morgan State. I'll take a stab with the big dog. Hey, its March.
SWAC Championship: Alabama State -3.5 over Jackson State I already have Bammer State, just to win straight up, on that parlay the Binghamton win activated. If ASU finishes this, it pays 8/5. I'm not adding anything else into the pot on this one.
WAC Championship: Utah State -1 over Nevada I admit it has not looked good for USU this weekend. But, they're here, and proved all season the best team in this league. I'll take them in a coin flip, regardless of venue, against anyone in this conference.
Big West Championship: Cal State Northridge -1 over Pacific Same as above. CSN gets revenge after losing a rather meaningless game to Pacific last week.
Semifinal action is underway in the ACC, Big 10 and SEC. Here's a preview. We'll breakdown some of the latest bracket updates in the Part Three later today.
Its already been a successful day for bubble teams with Tulsa being denied in the Conference USA. Ed Dechellis says thank you Memphis. So does Dana Altmann. In thise semis, we have three legit bid stealers hitting the floor. Do wins put them in? Do losses keep them out? We'll be discussing that in the comments section as the games unfold.
ACC Semifinals. Florida State vs. UNC. Line, UNC -10; Maryland vs. Duke. Line, Duke -9
The biggest news out of this sectional is the rising stock of Maryland. Did their woodshedding of Wake Forest yesterday elevate that stock enough to earn an at large bid? Or, do they need to find away to upset Duke this afternoon in order to crash the dance? Duke handled the Terps pretty weill in both games this year, including handing Gary Williams his most lopsided loss ever as Maryland head coach. Anxious bubble teams would like an order that, with fries, today for last ditch hopes to keep the Terrapins from stealing a bid.
Public opinion is swaying in favor of the Terrapins. B101 placed the Terrapins on one of his bracket lines in his update this morning, noting that yesterday's win launched their RPI up 10 spots. But, he does not have them in 'lock' category yet. The Bracket Board has also moved them into the field, but not into their plush lockbox accomodations. On ESPN Gameday, Joe Lunardi said no team helped themselves as much as Maryland did yesterday and moved the Terrapins into his Final Four In category. The locals are already punching their ticket in the aftermath of yesterday's Deamon Deacon beatdown.
Maryland started the season with a bang, upsetting Michigan State in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic back on Thanksgiving weekend. Georgetown and Gonzaga handed them their lunch during the rest of the weekend. By following that with a gutty win over Michigan in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, the Terps did solidify themselves with a sporty OOC resume. Trouble began when the calendar turned to 2009. An ambarassing home lose to Morgan State began January. A uneven, at best, ACC season netted Maryland a losing ACC mark and a 'meh' 9-10 record since the new year began. But, late wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest gave the Terps life. Helping their resume is a 30th ranked SOS and a 7-10 record against RPI top-100 teams.
It's been a soap opera all season in College Park. Williams job security has been a hot radio loudmouth topic. He openly fueded with his Athletic Department through the newspapers. The team itself has gone back and forth from looking like a sleeper Sweet 16 team to NIT fodder. This team's obituary has been written a few times this year, but storylines are being rewritten again after a pair of ACC Tournament wins.
Maryland has really struggled against Duke both times this season. Will the Terps go even further with the packed in, zone defense they used the thwart the athletic Deacons yesterday? We've seen what a crafty zone defense can do to force Duke to shot treys out of their own comfort zone. Can Greivas Jazquez outperform the guards of Duke. Will they get anything on the inside? We'll see, but one thing I know: As a college basketball fan, I dont care what the stakes are, Duke knocking heads with Maryland in an ACC Tournament game makes for good theater.
In the first game in Atlanta today, North Carolina plays Florida State. Once again, the Heels will be without Ty Lawson. Coach Roy Williams just confirmed on ESPN Gameday that the toe injury will keep Lawson in his warmup suit for the second straight day. He went as far to say that if today were the Final Four, he still would not be able to play.
This opens the door for Florida State to continue its run in this sectionl and maybe even earn a top-4 regional seed. FSU has not played this deep into the ACC Tourney since 1992 when Bobby Sura ran the point as a freshman. They have their best player since then with senior Toney Douglass. He's one of the best scorers in the nation and is a great on-the-ball defender.
We're also on record alert in this one today as Tyler Hansborough is 25 points shy of the all time ACC scoring record. FSU has a lot of size, bulk and length and bothered Hansborough quite a bit in their only meeting this season, holding him to 8 points in a rare single digit scoring night.
SEC Semifinal: Mississippi State vs. LSU. Line, LSU -4; Auburn vs. Tennessee. Line, Vols -4
LSU and Tennessee are locks in the field. Their respective opponents today are not and look to continue their late charge up the charts and surprising run to an NCAA bid. Auburn might notch a bid with a win today. The Bulldogs need to win the league's automatic bid.
Are you a Bubble Team? Then Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler and learn the lyrics to Rocky Top. Victories by the chalk today in Tampa would knife down Auburn and MSU giving their bid hopes a lethal stab.
In the first game, a lot of league hardward is on display as the coach of the year, player of the year, and defensive player off the year take the court. LSU swept the Bulldogs this year, including winning a double overtime win in Starkville that continues to haunt the Bulldogs today. The win launched LSU's season while the loss hungover the Bulldogs who proceeded to lose five of its next six games to fall out of at large bid contention.
How focused are the Bulldogs on exacting some revenge? ESPN reported their morning shootaround was so intense and strategic focused that instead of the usual 45 minutes, it went for almost twice as long. For them to win, the need a big effort out of big guy Jarvis Varnardo.
In the second game, Auburn has finally dragged itself into legitmate bid contention. Many of the promiment Bracketologists place the Tigers today just on the fringe of the field, within their final four our categories. Partisans consider their stock still stuck nuetral. All those tides change for the better should they knockdown the Vols today. Indeed, Bilas on Gameday just claimed a War Eagle bid should they win later today. Kansas State and Syracuse have seen 22-win stay at home in recent years. Guess how many wins Auburn has right now? Yep.
The Vols, meanwhile, showed last night how dangerous they can be when their big 3 of Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and JP Prince are hot at the same time.
Big 10 Semis: Ohio State vs. Michigan State. Line, MSU -8; Illinois vs Purdue. Line, PU -3
The Big 10 semifinals offers both the best and worst of the league.
On the good side, we have the league's dynastic power in Michigan State, with its usual stocked roster. In Purdue, we have another team with loaded with young and up and coming talent. In Illinois, we have one of the nation's most efficient offenses which is downright ruthless when its going in the right direction, as we saw in yesterday's game with Michigan. In Ohio State, we have the league's most valuable player, IMO, in Evan Turner and perhaps its best pro prospect in BJ Mullens. All four of these teams play great defense.
There lies the rub, however. Because of those defenses, and overall game strategies of these coaches, all of whom seem to derive way too much pleasure in strangling games into wrestling matches, we're just as likely to see a pair of games played in the 50s. League critics will use that style to bash the Big 10 over the head as it tries to make the case for seven or eight bids.
I would not be surprised to see any of these teams make a tournament run, but you can bet that across the nation, most will pencil these teams as losers next week.
Predictions, sure to go wrong
Late last night, the gambling gods finally clubbed me and I logged a 1-4 record. That, with the Tulsa debacle that just ended in CUSA, drops the March record to 32-27-3. After a solid March, I am reeling on a 1-5 run right now. Yikers! Today is a big day, so as always, for amusement purposes only, I offer the following picks on the above semifinal games:
**** Florida State +10 over UNC. Yes, the Noles hurt me yesterday. But, I love them back in the underdog role today. They are 11-5-1 ATS in the ACC this season, including 8-2 when catching points. I expect Douglass to star and the loss of Lawson to hurt in that matchup.
****LSU to win over Mississippi State. I am playing a rather expensive moneyline on this one, -160. Basically I have to risk more than a unit and a half to win one unit, but I think its worth it as LSU eases by the Bulldogs. The folks at the WWL leader raved at the MSU intensity and long shootaround, but I'm going to other way. That leaves them playing way too tight against the most talented team in the league.
***** Ohio State +8 over Michigan State. In a low scoring, defensive game, I like the do-everything Evan Turner, brawn of Mullens and late game shot making of William Buford to push Sparty to the limit today. It will look like they're counting baskets by 1 in this game, so an 8-point head start is too attractive to pass up.
**** Purdue will beat Illinois. I have a strong gut feeling that March will redeem this Boiler season that underachieved a bit due to injuries. I think they win this tournament this weekend. And, yes, I am aware the Illini swept them this season, but I think they get over that hump today.
**** Auburn +4 over the Vols. Why get off the War Eagle bandwagon. They have the best team defense in the conference. They turned the game around against Florida with their active hands, causing steals. I think the sometimes sloppy Vols will be vulnerable to that. I cant fade the team in the league thats playing the best right now, which Auburn is, especially when they're catching points.
****Maryland +9 over Duke. This will be a classic game and much more competitive than their earlier meetings. I give the Terps a 50/50 chance to pull out the outright win, so I'm more than willing to invest in them +9.
Diarist Note: I will have two other parts as we get going in the day. One, in advance of the league semifinals this afternoon and another discussing the numerous title games marching off the board this tonight. We'll discuss whatever relevant brackets get updated as the day evolves. And, of course, many more predictions. Enjoy the Hoops
Amid this mucky, hazy bubble season, Championship Week Saturday carries as much dramatic intrigue as I've ever seen in my time. On Selection Day Eve, at least six games will have a direct impact on the final at large bids doled out tomorrow. Throw in a dozen conference championship games, half taking place in winner-take-all one bid leagues and you have a day laced with all the juicy dramatics expected in March. It also promises to be a day of answers. Only three games will be played tomorrow with nothing but seeding likely on the line. All the relevant resumes applying for the final bids will have been turned in by night's end. Today, final statements will be made.
Basketball communities in Happy Valley, Minneapolis, Omaha and Columbia will be especially sweating the day out. Penn State, Minnesota, Creighton and Sout Carolina are among the final at large teams currently placed in the Bracket Matrix. All are in the clubhouse, after landing with a dull thud in their league sectionals. They are ripe to be passed today, if teams have not done so already.
Twenty-four hours after being dubbed by Bracketology 101 as the biggest winner of the day, the Big 10 saw their stock plunge all day on Friday. Penn State, Minnesota and even Michigan and Wisconsin have cracked the door open enough so a bid thief can creep in and steal their stash. A posse of bid hunters roam with the Big 10 bids the game. Yesterday, folks touted eight bids for the league. Today, only six bids look assured, maybe less.
Want to have some fun proving today's import? Lets check out the Bracket Junkie and use his latest field from yesterday morning as a guide. Seven of his final 10 teams in the field lost Friday. An eighth, Creighton, remains in limbo after its shaky semifinal loss one week ago. A ninth, Texas A/M, suffered the proverbial bad loss to 11th place Texas Tech in the Big 12 first round Wednesday night. Only one team, San Diego State, the last team placed in his field, won yesterday, On the other side of the fence, five teams teams picked up huge wins that infused their at large hopes with energy.
Lets play the results forward. Tulsa wins, good bye Florida. Maryland wins, good bye Penn State, Mississipi State and Auburn advance to the SEC Championship (followed by a Bulldog win Sunday), good bye Creighton and Texas A/M. USC wins the Pac 10. Good bye Minnesota. Duquense wins the Atlantic 10, good bye South Carolina. Baylor wins the Big 12, good bye Wisconsin. San Diego State wins the Mountain West Conference, good bye Michigan.
What the hell? Did I just say that? Yep. As I was tossing brackets last night in the closing minutes of a WAC semifinal--or was it Big West, everything is starting to melt into a dream, I cant remember. There was a California school playing. I think--that's the progression line I came up with. The lesson here is never stay up that late, this often watching obscure college hoops. What's weird is that it didn;t take a lot of crafty bracket manipulation to sketch that road map. At face value, it might not really be enough to knock Michigan out. A surprise at large bid or two mght still need to be rewarded for Michigan to fall out, even if all the above happens. But, what if that does happen. And, what if Michigan isn't last in the pecking order as speculated above?
Can you imagine Michigan's bid in doubt due to a late charge from a Steve Fisher coached team. Talk about a whole new Michigan Blank Hating God genus.
If it plays out like that, yours truly guarantees to promote a whole new round of fixing conspiracies. Nobody wants hear anymore of that, right.
Let's err on the side of caution and root for the Utes to smack down the Aztecs by 30 something.
Two big games going on right now with the Conference USA and American East Championship games. Here's why should watch:
Conference USA Championship
Tulsa vs. Memphis, 11:30am, CBS. Line, Memphis -14
The last time Memphis lost a league game they played in the Great Midwest. Cincy Bearcat Nick Van Exel dropped 35 over the Tiger's Anfernee Penny. At least I think that's their last league loss. Maybe next time I'll do some research, so just trust me on this one.
The Tigers have won 60 Conference USA games in a row and 25 straight games overall. If Memphis adds to that streak, they may end up a #1 seed when the field is announced tomorrow. You'd think winning time and time again in this league would bore the Tigers. If their demolition of Houston is any indication, the Tigers still have the killer instinct and don't care who they take it out on. When your coach chews you out at half, despite being up a dozen points, and you proceed to thump your opponent 27-2 to start the second half as happened in yesterday's semifinals against Houston, then its safe to say you have a pretty damn strong team. Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier have won more games than anyone else in the history of the sport. Tyreke Evans is one of the most electrifying underclassmen in the country. They've won 30 or more games four years in a row.
The real drama in this event centers around the Golden Hurricane's chances. Can Tulsa stop the streak and, in the process, seize a surprise bid, sending a team currently in the field to the NIT? Its the fault of bad marketing and lame scheduling practices that limits the discussion of the league's at large hopes, to the detriment of this streaking Tulsa squad.
In easing by UAB yesterday, and killing one of my parlays, Tulsa received production from a variety of unexpected places, needed because of the 1-game suspension of Bishop Wheatly for a flagrant foul earlier in the sectional. They need some of the numbers to repeat today, as well as a good bounceback performance from Wheatly, to spring this upset today.
Tulsa has been on an interesting arc as it pertains to the bubble. As early as Joe Lunardi's first mock bracket of February, Tulsa was considered part of the final eight teams out from the field. A smackdown delivered by Memphis on this same court, folllowed by a road loss to UCF cooled any at large hopes from simmering. The Golden Hurrican have not lost since then, reeling off seven in row to set them up in this high stakes showdown with a bid on the table. For the last 10 days, their case has been made by various members of the ESPN punidtry class. In the middle of last week, Andy Katz had Tulsa in the final group of teams fighting for the last at large bids; Lunardi in a recent bracket update reported things were looking up for Tulsa; and, Jay Bilas in his sanctimonous plea for Tourney reform, debunked deftly here, called for changes that would put a Tulsa team in the field.
Whatever you think of those opinions, Tulsa can make it a moot point. A win gives them automatic entry. Fans of Creighton, Penn State and really any bubble team already in the clubhouse with a loss this weekend (meaning, just about everyone) should begin to rock some Memphis pom-poms shortly.
Can Tulsa still compete for an at large bid should they lose a classic type of game? I'm not sure. But, I dont think their case is any weaker than some of the Altantic 10 and Mountain West teams either already on the bubble or in the field today. In a Thanksgiving tournament, Tulsa beat Texas A/M rather handily before dropping a final possession affair to Illinois. They have a key loss to BYU and were swept by in state big boys Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They do carry a bad loss to Ohio around like a stigma and cynics would point out that haven't won a truly imrpessive since that win over the Aggies, nearly four months ago.
Their #64 RPI does not jump off the page, but it is ahead of Auburn, Penn State and New Mexico heading into the weekend. They are 5-6 versus the RPI top 100, albeit just 0-6 against the top 25.
There's a lot to like with this Tulsa team on the court. Seven-footer Jerome Jordan is a legit NBA prospect and a defensive force. They have a nice collection of rugged, yet undersized forwards who play bigger than their size, thanks to the presence of Jordan. Ben Uzoh is a nice scoring guard who can lock up on defense. Four guys score in double digits.
A big key in this game is can they keep the athletic Memphis slashers from getting to the goal cleanly. They have the ultimate backstop in Jordan, but Anderson got the better of him with a driving, game-winning lay-in to give Memphis a 54-53 in back in January. Also, keep count of the Hurricane's turnovers. They coughed it up 24 times when these clubs played last month in Memphis. It led to a highlight reel of Tigers fast break and a 63-37 rout. Thats the lowest point total scored by Tulsa in 58 years. Tulsa, your mission, try taking better care of the ball.
The Pick: Tulsa +14. I am a sucker for a big underdog in this spot. Based on the previous games, this will be a buzzer beater or a historic beat down. I'm guessing it lands somehere in between and catching a pair of touchdowns gives me a lots of wiggle room to cover once the Tigers get rolling. I give Tulsa a puncher's chance to pull out a win if they value their possession and cut the turnovers from the last matchup in half. My final thought on this was Memphis, as talented as they are, is not as good as the last couple of seasons. In Tulsa, we're going to other way as they're the best and most capable foes the Tigers have faced in this spot. Hurricanes keep this closer than the experts thinks and stay withing double digits.
Parlay alert, parlay alert Despite being 1-2 on these suckers, I've rolled another moneyline parlay, linking Binghamton and Alabama State in a pair of one-bid championship games. Binghamton is playing UMBC right now in the American East Finals and they're solid 8-point favorites. The Bears have players who have been tossed out at other schools for durg arrests and bad grades. Its all very Tarkanianish. Their recruiting practices caused controversy and their story has become a bit of a moral play in mid-majority circles. You cant argue with the absolute on court results as this 14-win team from last season is on the verge of an NCAA bid. In the end, they have too much talent for the defending AE champ Greyhounds today. I'm putting it on the parlay card witth Alabama State in the SWAC Title Game much later tonight. It pays out 8/5 and Binghamtom, according to the experts in the desert, will be the easiest of this two to put to bed.
That was a so-so, at best, final impression for UM before selection day.
And, there is bad news everywhere right now for teams clinging to the bubble aiming for an at large bid.
Maryland curb stomping Wake.....this might write their dance card.
Temple beats Xavier. They can steal a bid tomorrow without the A10 losing any. And, should Duquense win in the night cap, it will be a done deal anyway. One at large swiped.
Baylor upsets Texas in the Big 12 semis. They've broke a 24-game losing streak to Texas. They were the #9 seed. They're in their first ever league championship game. And, I bet against them two days ago in the tourney opener. Good call. It's hard not to pull for them, but fans of bubble teams need them to lose tomorrow or they will take a bid from somebody who thought they were in the field.
Penn State, USC, San Diego State, Wyoming and Florida all play later still tonight. Gotta get some losses out of that group if your team is on the bubble.
A lot of teams not in the field can lock bids perhaps tonight, or get a game away with a win....and there are a few bud thieves out there lurking in these league sectionals.
Who gets pushed out, if all these chips fall? The rest of the night will determine if I remain nervous about Michigan's bid or not.
Predictions to keep the buzz going late into the night
With the Louisville cover in the books, that's a 2-2 mark in the early evening session. Record on the day, 5-4-1. Record for March, 31-22-3. Let's be careful out there people.
**** Penn State +8 over Purdue. The Boilers have not been good frontrunners this seasons. The Lions have been profitable underdogs and have had enough success away from home. Playing in Purdue's home state wont scare them. They'll go blow for blow with Purdue and be there the whole way through.
**** BYU -2 over SDSU. Is Steve Fisher a win away from swiping a bid, possible from his former emplyer. No. Cougars outshot the Aztecs tonight and kill that storyline.
***** UW pick 'em over Arizona State. Huskies are the best team in the PAC 10 and can beat in different ways with different styles. They'll showcase that game and pull away in the final minutes over the Sun Devils.
**** Auburn +3.5 Florida. They're sneaking around the chicken coop trying to steal a bid. War Eagle gets closer to that reality tonight with a big win over the Gators. They've evolved into a better team than Florida and peaking at the right time. The Tigers have been a money train the closing weeks of the season. After winning with them against the Tide and LSU to close the regular season, I'll stay with them tonight.
**** BGSU +3 over Akron. Local pick for me. BG has been the best team in the league all season. I think they squeeze out another one tonight. But, like Auburn above, I'll take the three-ball head start.
A five-pack for the night. For now. No Sugarcoat.