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.