don't we all
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.
This post is an extended follow up to a comment from Tim in a prior post on the Rivals 250:
"There's no such thing as an 'underrated' guy to the people who do the rating. They're just rated where they are."
That made me laugh, and on its face it is undeniably true. But I'll explain.
A player can be underrated or overrated by a single recruiting service because the services have regional and team-specific sources, but then make national pronouncements. So a regional group may believe a player is a top 100 guy but fail to convince everyone else. Hence that kid is rated 221 or something while local affiliates maintain he is much better and "underrated."
Tim surely knows this better than I, but it is worth remembering: Scout, Rivals, ESPN, etc. are not monolithic entities, one-man shows (does Lemming actually operate that way?), or some mysterious unseen force that gathers all data in a computer and spits something back. It's a room full of guys arguing for the players they're high on. They do not render settled, uniform opinions when they rate comparatively.
I agree it would be stupid if Rivals published a Top 100 and in that same publication declared a player too high or low. (If so, move him up/down.) But the most knowledgeable writers and scouts--the local affiliates--for Rivals may continue to publish "Rivals" opinions stating that a guy should be rated higher and get more respect. Most of my reading takes place on that local level, so I will read that Rivals guys in NY think Mike Hart is no 3 star and is being "underrated." Cameron Gordon with Scout last year is another example that comes to mind.
I do not mean to say a kid is clearly underrated if Tom Beaver or Josh Helmholdt thinks he is better than Scout or Rivals says. But in general, if we get a kid from Ohio or Florida, I value the opinion of the sites for area teams. I think it is worth considering and harmonizing with a national rating. Boisture is a good example. He's a Rivals 100--but where do people within the state rate him? You factor in for team bias, but it is useful information.
I continue to be excited about guys who have huge buzz locally, but can't convince the national office (e.g. Odoms, Gallon after his initial Rivals plummet). I would actually put Big Will in that category. And certainly Devin Gardner. I am always suspicious of hype coming from the fans and writers of the team receiving a commitment, but I like local hype. I think with area hype, smoke often points to fire.
To say I expected Gholston or Anderson to be "underrated" is to say that what I had read to date suggested local evaluators thought the player was terrific but were having trouble convincing the national people. Clearly those two had their cases successfully made.
We've arrived at Friday night. Michigan tips its quarterfinal game against Illinois in a matter of moments. This afternoon brough gifts to the Wolverines in the form of losses by Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Minnesota and Georgia Tech. It's becoming more and more likely than your Michigan Wolverines will be in the NCAA Tournament. Forget about the scoreboard and have some fun rooting the boys on tonight. Michigan basketball is relevant once again. Enjoy it.
The day was good to me as well, turning a small profit off a 3-2-1 record. The Seminoles and Gamecocks let me down. LSU rolled as expected. Evan Turner did as I hoped down the stretch. And, those Virginia Tech Hokies. The lose another heartbreaker. I doubt its any solace to them that they covered yet another spread against a tradionall ACC power. It's become a Blacksburg speciality: losing, but covering against Tobacco Road since 2005. Hopefully, the good times can roll tonight, here's my early night card:
****I see no reason to back off the Beilein Bandwagon tonight. Three March games, three covers. Michigan has shown more energy down the stretch than the Illini. They're peaking now, while the Illini seem to be sputtering out of gas, which seems odd since they're the league's #2 seed. Michigan has more offensive weapons going in the right direction than Illinois does right now. The Chester Frazier injury will hurt them tonight. I think the Wolverines pull away in the final 10 minutes and advance into the semifinals, but I will take the +2.5 for good measure.
*****I split a pair of moneyline parlays yesterday, and I am going to attempt a few tonight, starting with the two early semifinal games in the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA. I like Xavier to beat Temple and UAB to beat Tulsa. I like what I'm hearing from the Xavier crowd, that they're approaching this tournament to win it, rather than take it for granted as they've done in past year. I think they roll by a Temple program, which I've always thought was a touch overrated. Maybe some rare Ohio Pride is coming out in me tonight, but I dont see Xavier losing. In the other game, backing Mike Davis gives me pause, but I'm a bigger fan of Robert Vaden. I love his game and he'll be the best player on the floor tonight. That's enough to get me interested. Xavier is -200, but UAB is a pick 'em. Linking them together pays out at 2/1 should it cash, and I've floated a little coin on just that.
****Maryland +7 over Wake Forest. I like the Terps moxie as an underdog. The Terps remain desperate and could clinch a bid tonight. I love the Deacons too, but this is a young team, and I doubt they're going to have to right intensity tonight. Remember, they have nothing on the line this evening. I think their youth and inexperience in this setting and, in particular, in the role of disinterested favorite will bite them tonight. I think there is as good a chance Wake is looking ahead to a possible rubber match against Duke, than they are focused squarely on Maryland. In this sort of matchup, I'll take the team with more urgency, especially when their best player is in his last go around and can single handedly drag them across the finish line ahead. I love the Terps tonight and would not be shocked to see them win and give the selection committee something to think about over the weekend.
****Lousville -4 over Villanova. Last play of the early night session, and I think the Cards blow the doors off of Villanova. The won in Phily two months ago and are playing much better today, than they were then.
Good afternoon, everyone. Keep checking into this thread as I will be updating it throughout the day with throughs and picks. Hope you're enjoying the hoops. Go Blue!
Is it Sunday? If so, why are we all at work?
Oh, it’s not Sunday. It’s Friday. Friday is a good thing too, but with a couple full days of hoops left before Selection Sunday I’m not counting the proverbial chickens before they hatch regarding Michigan’s possible to likely tournament bid.
Michigan seems a certain lock after their emphatic beatdown of Iowa yesterday. But, I have seen stranger selection snubs in the past. A lot of outcomes can still negatively impact Michigan’s position in this field. Combine enough of those outcomes with a big time Michigan stinker this evening in the quarterfinals and we could be right back where we were when the week started: Unsure, yet hopeful for a bid.
Here’s the deal: Getting a tournament bid is not an exact science. It’s not like a baseball Magic Number that tangibly countdowns. It’s not like fighting for bowl eligibility where a pre-set number of wins magically make you a bowl team. No old man decked out in a gaudy bright orange sport coat waltzed into Michigan's locker room and formally invited them to the Big Dance.
Am I being a Chicken Little? Probably. Am I trying to concoct some drama? Perhaps. Do I think Michigan has done enough to earn a bid and will I scream Bloody Murder should they get snubbed? Absolutely, 100-percent yes. But, until a few more games are in the books or I actually see Michigan’s name on the bracket line Sunday night will I breathe easy on this one.
Let me outline why I remain a worry wart. Raise your hand if you doubt the Big 10 will receive 8 bids into the Big Dance. Mine's up, how about yours?
I know the selection committee does not consider how many bids a league eventually receives. I got the memo loud and clear. But, I won’t believe eight Big 10 bids until I see and count them on the bracket lines Sunday. It seems inconceivable that the league would win the bid count, especially given the negative perception the league still seems to have from coast to coast.
I buy the Big 10. I doubt the rest of the country does. ESPN’s Doug Gotlieb, during one of the dozen halftime shows I dropped my ear into yesterday, said, of the league getting 8 bids, the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is the quality of play in the Big 10 is not that good. If enough of the selection committee shares this mindset, I don’t see how enough of the league's candidates survive the cut downs and gets everyone in the field.
If the reality of the league getting eight bids matches the inconceivable perception I have, one thing strikes me as the quarterfinals get underway: One of these teams will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament. Take a look at the remaining field and tell me which team you would toss if only seven teams make it. I'd worry if I were Penn State. And, I could see the Buckeyes being left out of the field if they get rolled today by the Badgers. Both scenarios would be highway robbery. Dave Revsine, of the Big 10 Network, appearing and the Mike and Mike Show (guest hosted today by Gotlieb who picked up where he left off yesterday regarding the league winning the bid count), defended the Big 10, saying the teams remaining in the conference have all done enough to deserve a bid. In his next breath, however, he labeled Minnesota as the shakiest of the bunch. So did Seth Davis of CBS later on in the show.
How about this situation: Illinois beats Michigan like a drum, Minnesota upsets Michigan State and Penn State drills Purdue. Now, add an Ohio State win. When you regain consciousness, tell me which Big 10 team you would leave out if only seven make it. All I know is, I wouldn’t want to be the cheese standing alone among these Big 10 bubble teams should three advance today while your team gets eliminated.
Heading into today, Michigan might be the most secure position of the league's non-locks. Indeed, Gotlieb, about an hour before he unveiled the Big 10's dirty little secret yesterday, gushed about Michigan and said they were cemented in the field. So, hey, there's that.
Beyond the Big 10, a range of national events could also conspire to squeeze the bubble and put near-lock teams back on shaky bubble footing.
What if these results come in at the wire: Virginia Tech plays itself into Sunday's ACC Championship. Their opponent? Maryland. Auburn snags the SEC automatic bid, beating South Carolina in the finals. Baylor matches Auburn's improbable run and grabs the Big 12 bid. Temple beats Dayton in the A10 finals. Tulsa pitches a perfect game and Memphis finally goes down in Conference USA. Penn State plays Minnesota for the Big 10 Championship. USC wins two more games to steal the Pac 10 auto bid. Wyoming beats San Diego State in the Mountain West Finals.
That’s a long list of hypothetical situations, but I am sure I left out a few. If the right, or, in this case, wrong combination of results goes down, combined with an ugly Michigan loss later today, it could make for an uneasy weekend of waiting until the field formally is announced Sunday night. If you don’t think a string of bad outcomes can hit you fast and furious and completely reverse your fortunes for the worse, then you have not sat at enough casino tables in your life.
The good news for Michigan is that they are on the right side of the bubble this morning while there are plenty of teams already in the clubhouse, with finalized resumes, that Michigan sits clearly ahead of in the pecking order. Teams like Arizona, New Mexico, Providence, Kansas State and Rhode Island all lost yesterday (not to mention mid-majors Creighton and St. Mary’s), putting their bids in jeopardy if they weren’t already. Those events wedged the door ajar for some of the above scenarios to play out with bids still on the table.
Because enough teams lost yesterday, Michigan, and their Big 10 brethren, may be insulated from whatever chaos breaks out between now and Sunday. You could make a case that each crazy outcome detailed above would need to come true in order for Michigan to be in any danger. I’d buy that argument. But, until some of those possibilities are officially crossed off, or, of course, Michigan wins tonight, I won’t formally declare Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought over.
The action gets going early today with a pair of quarterfinal games in the ACC, SEC and Big 10. All six games will impact the final state of the bubble headed into the weekend. Possible bid thieves Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and South Carolina all play games today where their chances to win are somewhere between coin flip and long shot. Minnesota plays Michigan State and Ohio State plays Wisconsin in the afternoon session of the Big 10 quarterfinals.
Let’s hope that enough bid stealing possibilities get taken off the board in those games, that I am less worried by the time Michigan tips this evening. Here’s a rundown of the afternoon session:
#8 Minnesota vs #1 Michigan State, noon, ESPN 2. Line, MSU -8
I could not have been more wrong about the Minnesota game yesterday. To think, my capsule of this game dominated the word count of yesterday’s column. Between that and Big 10 Picks from the football season there is a direct correlation between too lengthy game breakdowns and missed picks. Make a mental note for the future: If I spill ink for more than six paragraphs, you might want to fade that pick.
Anyway, the Gophers looked great yesterday. Westbrook was big down the stretch. Damian Johnson locked down Kevin Coble in the second half. And, their second unit changed the game in the first half, giving the Gophers a nice cushion to play with for the rest of the game. Devron Bostwick was making baskets. If he is on, then the Gophers become an even more formidable foe, similar to how Michigan improves when LLP is on his game.
If Minnesota indeed remains on shaky footing, there’s no hiding the import of this game against the Spartans. Win and they’re in. Lose, and it’s a long weekend of waiting. Gopher fans are thanking their lucky stars the bubble is so weak this season and among the outcomes they’re pulling for today is an Illini rout of Michigan. Thanks for nothing, jerks.
MSU Coach Tom Izzo picked up a Coach-of-the-Year award this week and spent time in the lead up to today’s game not only defending the Big 10 Conference, but also his coaching style. The big question for today is the mental state of Michigan State. Will they be primed to play or will they be disinterested with their focus on that other tournament starting next week. Here’s a stat to ponder as this plays out: No team has ever lost their first league tournament game and rebounded to win a national title.
#8 Virginia Tech vs. #1 North Carolina, noon, ESPN
Doesn’t it seem like the Hokies are playing a power team every time they hit the court? They played great against the Heels in Blacksburg last week, but now have to finish the job and win the rematch today with UNC with their season on the line. Don’t sleep on this team’s tournament chances just yet. A win today may inject them back into serious discussion. Follow that up with a win tomorrow, and they might vault much of the bubble field.
I love watching this team play. They’re one of the most resilient teams out there. They have a great senior leader in AJ Vassalo, the Puerto Rican Assassin and they might have the best trio of sophomores in the entire country with Sean Delaney, Jeff Allen and J.T. Thompson. Against the Canes yesterday, the Hokies played their best defensive game of the season in weeks and proved they could win without a great shooting performance from Delaney.
Those are good signs as they try to knock off the Heels today who may be playing without Ty Lawson. UNC fans appear to approve of Lawson logging a DNP today. The chorus from the bubble teams disapproves.
Kentucky vs. LSU, 1pm, ESPN Full Court. LIne, LSU -1; South Carolina vs. Mississippi St, 3:30pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, USC -2
The SEC pecking order has been difficult to figure out all season. Somehow, Auburn has worked itself into contention. These two games could represent final nails hammered into a coffin, or extend unlikely pursuits of a bid.
In the first game, Kentucky faces regular season champion LSU. The Cats broke a four-game losing streak yesterday, but the damage has already been done. UK needs to win this field and grab the automatic bid in order the notch an NCAA invite. The SEC is so weak and even this year, however, that it’s not an unlikely outcome. For the Cats to advance over the top-seeded Tigers, the Cats need to keep up the defensive intensity rediscovered yesterday in their first round romp over Ole Miss.
In the second game this afternoon, the South Carolina Gamecocks sit in precarious bubble position. A recent check of the Bracket Matrix field reveals South Carolina on the 11-seed line. Hard to imagine them qualifying for the NCAAs if they drop this quarterfinal game. And, like most power conference teams on the bubble, South Carolina mouthpieces are predictably bad mouthing the concept of automatic bids. Whatever. Just win some a game in this sectional and take care of your business. Mississippi State needs to run the table, but would it surprise anyone reading if any of the remaining SEC teams alive get hot and win this sectional? I wouldn’t be surprised, but if it does happen it would cause a bubble hiccup or two.
#12 Georgia Tech vs. #4 Florida State, 2:30, ESPN. Line, FSU -5
The last place Yellow Jackets are the ultimate Cinderella story this weekend. Yet, their advance into this game should not be a total surprise as it’s the third time in the last four years that the ACC #12 seed has won at least one game in this sectional. The Jackets still need three more big wins as heavy underdogs to pull out an improbable bid. Until they’re eliminated, however, their presence will bear watching for bubble tracking purposes.
They need to so a better job of containing FSU’s all-everything Toney Douglas. Douglas killed the Jackets in the only game these clubs played this season, scoring 10 points down the stretch to ease the Noles to a four-point win. Douglas is a guy you have to watch play. He’s an amazing talent, but the Noles don’t get much offensive production from anyone else. If he is off his game, the Jackets will be in this to the end. If Noles remain patient with their offense, the shaky Tech D will eventually cave to open look.
#5 Ohio State vs. #4 Wisconsin, 2:30, ESPN 2. Line, Wisco -2
In the Big 10's 4/5 game today, the first team to 40 may just win. When these clubs played a few weeks again under the ESPN Saturday night spotlight, they played a extremely tight and hard fought contest. But, I swear they counted baskets as just a single point. Eventually the Badgers eased by the Buckeyes, 55-50, in a game that featured 17 lead changes and 8 ties. I like both of these coaches in tournament situations. I like both of these coaches to get the most out of their teams. I expect both coaches to try and put a defensive stranglehold on this game. Despite trending on an uptick the second half of the Big 10 season, there is not a lot of confidence in Cheeseland heading into the game. Are the Buckeyes in the field? I would be shocked if they got left out, but what if they're the only Big 10 bubble team that losses today? Guard penetration, offensive boards and, of course, Evan Turner are the keys today to ensure that does not happen.
Predictions, sure to go wrong. As always, for amusement purposes only. Blindly following may be hazardous to your wallet
The March record is up to 26-18-2 after yesterday's 6-5 day. Here's what I have so far today. Keep checking in as I will be adding picks before each each session begins today.
**** Va Tech +10.5 over UNC. Hey, I love this team. I've already said that. They covered for me last week catching 10 against the Heels. I know that game was at home and today is at a neutral setting, but without Lawson I dont think this game is a mismatch at all. Over one-third of all VT games since Greenberg took over the program have been decided by 5 points or less. None of their last four games have fallen with this mark. To quote the great baseball manager Montgomery Burns, it's called playing the percentages, Strawberry
**** Minnesota +8 over MSU. I am a sucker for these dogs going against the top seeds. I like fading top seeds early in league tournaments. And, in the Big 10, there is history with the top-seed not getting out of the first round. Minnesota's size matches well with MSU and I think the Spartans are just as careless with the rock as the Gophers. I see a drag-out, bloody knuckle, traditional Big 10 slugfest. With points at a premium, I like starting with a 8-point head start.
**** LSU -1 over UK. I fell out of my seat when I saw this line. The Tigers have been a nice moneymaker for me during the bulk of the SEC season. And, you're telling I can invest in them today without a spread against a beleaguered UK team that's struggled against all the SEC contenders the back half of the season. I'm sold. LSU has the most talented roster in the SEC. They prove that today and win BIG over the Cats. Dont fret UK fans, I'm sure there will be plenty of good seats available for next week's NIT game at Rupp.
**** South Carolina to win on the -130 moneyline over Mississippi State. I have come to enjoy watching the Gamecocks play. They will have too many athletes and too much scoring this afternoon for the Bulldogs. In the process, they'll go a long way to making a nice final statement on their resume.
****Florida State -5 over Georgia Tech. Shouldn't the last place team be catching more points than this? I know they played FSU to a four-point game a few weeks ago, but I see the Seminoles laying the wood to the Jackets today. FSU was 11-4-1 ATS in ACC play this season. If I'm going to lay chalk today, I might as well to do with the top profit maker in the ACC this season. Besides, I like it when Toney Douglass is on my side.
**** Ohio State +2 over Wisconsin. I tend to agree with the sentiment that the Badgers lack of a go to guy will do them in this afternoon. With Even Turner, thats not an issue for Ohio State. IMO, he's one of the more valuable players in the nation. The Bucks will be able to lean on him today, when the game is on the line in the final minutes. I dont think either team will pull away, and nobody on the Badgers will be able to trade baskets with Turner in crunch time. I think OSU's physical play matches up well with Wisconsin. Thad Matta is 13-2 in his last 15 postseason games. I'll ride those numbers.
Did I just make a call on all six games this afternoon?!?!? Yikes!! I told you it was going to get crazy at some point this weekend. Welcome to the Jungle.......and, we'll have an update later in the day, unless the repo men have come for my computer.
I've been watching Michigan basketball for about 30 years now. These are some of my memories.
1986. Big Ten Title on the line. Indiana coming to Crisler Arena for the big showdown. Off the tip, Richard Rellford gets the ball on the wing and slams it down as Crisler goes crazy. Michigan blows out Indiana 80-52 to take the title. A freshman named Glen Rice has to tape his fingers because all he does is slam the ball.
1989. Illinois visits Crisler. Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, Lowell Hamilton, etc. Everyone on their team seems to be the same height and they take turns slamming the ball on us all night long as we lose badly. Though we beat them later in the Final Four, anyone who saw this game as up close as I did thinks that Illinois was the better team.
1989. Final Game. Amazingly, we are down to Seton Hall by 5 in the OT. Does anybody remember that part? After the win, a number of us stroll around downtown to soak in the atmosphere. Just the other day I heard that Seton Hall also had a 20-year reunion for their almost-national-championship team. They still are complaining about the call at the end. It is silly
to complain, because we were about to score anyhow. Rumeal had passed the ball to Mark Hughes, who was open for the winning shot. People probably don't remember, but some mystic kook told Fisher to keep Hughes in the game because he would hit the game winner.
1993. Final Four. We drive down for the weekend, which goes perfectly ... at first. The food is great. The atmosphere: New Orleans! Also great. And the first game: beyond great. The Kentucky game is amazing; Webber puts us on his back and carries us in a game not many thought we would win. Webber's final line for the night: 27 points, 13 rebounds. Does anyone remember how Webber won us this game? I do.
After the game, numerous Kentucky fans, in tears, shake my hand to congratulate us. For this, I still think fondly of Kentuckians, despite all the in-breeding.
1993. Final Game. No, they don't remember Webber v. Kentucky. All they remember is this one moment. I still blame Fisher. The entire game is a blur. How come we keep letting Donald Williams shoot three pointers? I recall hearing Coach K. on TV after the game, saying "it is not enough just to tell players once that you have no timeouts. You have to tell your point guard to tell everybody repeatedly during the free throws too. It gets crazy out there on the court." Or something like that. That is why I blame Fisher. It is a long 18 hour drive home.
At a gas station in Ohio, some asshole looks at our plates and outerwear and asks: "how was the basketball game last night?"
The Gap. Somewhere in there we hear about "the next fab five". We hear about a great young coach with "Duke credentials". It is all very forgettable. So I have chosen to forget.
2009. A game at Minnesota no one thought we could win. A loss, and NIT Amaker classic is ours to win again. Down by double digits in the second half. And yet they dig deep. And they do it. Manny, Sims, everyone: they are amazing. And then Iowa. Easy to letdown. Easy to let it slip through our fingers, once again. Instead, a blow out. It is no Big Ten Title, but it reminds me of that Indiana game from my childhood. A big game, with something on the line. A big game, with the fear that all that happened during "the gap" will come back and haunt us. A big game, and a big win. Go Blue. And thank you, to this team, to this Coach, for wiping away those many years in the Gap and giving us something to remember, again.