Before getting into the Michigan-Oklahoma game, lets take a quick tour of the Michigan blogosphere. The WLA is sending its insane leader to Kansas City for the game. Dylan at UMHoops laments the Wolverines date with the nation's top player, but is quick to point out that Beilein has eliminated top players before, such as Chris Paul and Wake Forest back in 2005. Varsity Blue's Tim's foray into tempo free stats reveals a matchup of doom for Michigan. Brian's is contemplating the similarities between Blake Griffin and Eric Puls. Maize 'N Brew is still partying over the Clemson win. And, why the F not, I tell ya. Meanwhile, in Sooner land, they're pleading for better guard play to dice Michigan's patented zone defense.
I am not ready for this to end. The team has exceeded all my expectations. I can honestly say I have never had this much fun following a basketball team and its season. Did you know that by getting this far, Michigan puts itself in the top-10 percent of all basketball programs this season? That is some achievement to earn in the wake of one of the worst seasons's in team history. They are a win away from the Sweet Sixteen. And, I cant stop lauging about it. I am not ready for this to end today. To quote the song, "such a long long time to be gone, and a short time to be there."
You know what I find goofy? In the first round, Michigan was the biggest underdog on the board in those 7/10 games. In the second round games, they're the smallest puppy (OU -6.5, O/U 136) of the the four teams facing the mighty #2 seeds. What gives there? Does Vegas expect smart money to fall on Beilein's acumen and they've deflated to numbers to rope in as much Sooner money as possible? We can only hope. I like being on the side of the professional gambler. Well, the profitable ones, anyway.
Not for nothing, but my strategy would be let Griffin get his stats and force the others to beat you. Griffin's awesome talent has taken the team to another level. They're still good without him, but nobody else has shown they can carry the club. Let him gobble up something close to a 20/20, but if the rest are contained, Michigan will be there in the end.
Oklahoma does not get a ton of three-point production. They dont score a bunch of points off of turnovers. If Michigan can come out and put together a stretch of three point makes, they can play with a lead and build confidence. Expect Beilein to give his shooters the early green light in an attempt to do just that.
I find confidence in this game in the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Pokes are more limited up front with bigs than Michigan. They have less at their disposal to counter Griffin than Michigan does. In three games with Oklahoma, the Cowboys performed better each time, nearly springing a February upset in Norman and beating them in the Big 12 tournament. The Cowboys play at a faster tempo than Michigan does, but I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan is instructed to run a little today because it eliminates Griffin from locking down the inside. The Cowboys are a better offensive team than Michigan, but Michigan is a much stronger defensive outfit. My only point: If a doughnut team like the Pokes can hang with the Sooners on the road and in a nuetral setting, than so too can Michigan.
The Pick: UM +6.5 Look, I'm not going to blow smoke up your you-know-what. This would be a huge upset according to rankings and bracket expectations. But, I refuse to get off the Beilein Bandwagon. You know, the one that is 38-21 ATS in March games, including 4-1 this season. Michigan is on a 9-3 ATS run. Burn the boats, indeed.
#1 UNC vs #8 LSU. Line, UNC -11.5, O/U 158
Powerful North Carolina's Achilles Heel may be a big toe. Ty Lawson, still nursing a sore toe, is a game day decision today in advance of their second round game with the LSU Tigers. Despite a boatload of talent, the Heels lose a big weapon in their arsenal without Lawson. He's the engine that gets everyone else involved. Without him, they become too much of a jump shooting team and they can be had. The Heels really could use a return to form from Danny Greene. LSU likes to pack it inside on defense and are willing to give up a lot of three-point attempts. In the first round, Butler launched two-dozen treys. If Greene and Wayne Ellington come out hot, this game coule become an early rout.
The ACC and SEC regular season champs meet in this one today. You would expect this to be later in the tourney, but the SEC mediocrity, combined with zero wins over ranked teams this season by LSU, downgraded their championship season all the way down to the 8-seed line. Nevertheless, LSU is similar to Michigan in the fact that they've already exceeded expectations and have had a successful season. They're playing with house money today.
We all know about the Heels. Here's a thumbnail of the Tigers. They're not a bulky team, but they are athletic, versatile, tough to guard in the halfcourt and, to lean on a cliche, play larger than they really are. The main gun is Marcus Thorton. He can hurt you from the outside, but is also a crafty enough of a scorer to hang down low on the baseline and still get points. Sometimes, he plays point guard in the offense. He's a great passer, so doubling him can lead to trouble if the supporting cast is kncoking down jumpers. Ellington has been a spotty defender all season, so the Tigers could have an advantage if that's who draws the D assignment on Thorton.
He needs to have an All-American performance for the Tigers to have a chance today.
The Pick: LSU +11.5 I think they get that type of performance. Last year, the Heels smoked an ACC team in the second round. But, LSU is so much better--especially on the defensive end--than Arkansas was last year. The Hogs wanted to go up and down the floor with the Heels. Trent Johnson wont let the Tigers do that and it will allow LSU's athletes a chance to shine in the half court. Speaking of D, yeah, I dont trust UNC. It always lets them down and it will allow LSU a chance to stay in the game.
#5 Purdue vs #4 Washington. Line, UW -1, O/U 139.5
The Pac 10 regular season champ meets the Big 10 tournament champ with a Sweet 16 bid on the line. Can Chris Kramer for Purdue check Isiah Thomas? Who will be more of a difference maker inside, JuJuan Johnson or Jon Brockman? Can Robbie Hummel and Etwaun Moore, two guys who I feel give UW matchup problems, step up and deliver like the All-Big 10 performers they can be. Can Purdue's defense slow the tempo and keep the high octane, aggressive Huskie guards from running up the floor and driving to the goal?
Those are the questions to keep in mind as this gets underway. The the tale of the tape is as close as you can in this one.
The Pick: Purdue +1 Well, I need the Boilers to win this or my Big 10 Prop bet of over seven wins will have zero chance. Last season, the Boilers broke my heart and a little of my bank with a second-round loss to Xavier. I think they make amends today. This is the most talented team in the Big 10. They're healtier and more in synch with one another than at any other time in the season. They're peaking and have been working all season to get back to this point of the year to correct last year's wrongs. I am feeling a big Robbie Hummel game and he will run Brockman ragged, taking the Huskie big guy out of his comfort zone. Here's hoping the Boilers add to the Big 10's growing March resume.
#2 Duke vs #7 Texas. Line, Duke -7.5, O/U 139.5
There are at least a dozen players on the court today who were on a top-150 list when they were being recruited. Doesn't this sound like a Final Four game? Two monster programs, with one bowing out before the Sweet 16. This has potential to be a classic.
The Horns have struggled this year, especially finding an offensive stride. But, they've always been live underdogs, mostly because they have so much talent on the roster than the no-respect card motivates them to play above their heads. On one hand, they have physical mismatches on the inside. On the other hand, expect Duke to go small, play Singler at the 5-spot in order to negate that. Either way, Dexter Pittman's game will go a long way in determining the Longhorns fate today. So will whether or not Texas uses its athletic advantage to pressure the ball to take Duke out of its rythmn.
The Pick: Texas +7.5 Duke has had a fantastic season. Texas has had a lot of head scratching performances. By all accounts, the Devils have a chance to run the Horns out of the building. But, I love Texas as an underdog in hoops. It's always been something that's treated me well. I have no problem backing them today. Really, ask this question: With Texas, dont I have the more talented team?
#4 Gonzaga vs #12 Western Kentucky. Line, Zags -10.5, O/U 143.5
A classic mid-major battle. And, its WKU, not Gonzaga that has the longest Sweet 16 streak going. Ok, its just a 1-year streak, but the Hilltoppers are a game away from repeating, which would be a huge achievement for this Sun Belt program.
In their way is mid major royalty in the form of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Hard to believe its been a decade since the Zags burst onto the national scene. They're as strong as ever and desperate to make another run deep into the field after two straight first round departures.
The Pick: WKU +10.5 The Zags have not been great tournament favorites. No way I lay double digits with them. The Hilltoppers looked great against the Illini, but at the same time I didn't feel they were maxing out. I think they can hang all the way through with the Zags. I doubted the Hilltoppers new players on this stage the other night, but they more than proved me wrong. I'll grab them with a 10-point head start and take my chances.
Alright, apparently my handicapping skills were simple this morning: Take all the underdogs and let the chips fall where they may.
I did take one favorite today, Villanova. That was easy money. Hopefully the other favorites aren't as dominant. Adding that win--along with the no 14-15-16 seed wins prop--I am now 53-38-4 in March, including 10-3-1 in the Big Dance.
You know the best part of blogging? I can throw my Saturday round up in a couple of parts throughout the day. Sorry I could not get it all done at once, but expect the second half of this preview, with plenty of UM/OU commentary sometime within the next couple of hours.
You know the best part of NCAA Tournament? In my opinion, its the Saturday Second Round session. You finally get bigtime matchups between power schools. It does not matter what your seed is, you have a legit chance of going down. Today, we have a clash between the ACC and SEC regular season champions. We have Texas-Duke with about a dozen top-150 recruits combined on their roster. We have the Pac 10 regular season champ playing the Big 10 tournament champ. We have final four contenders Memphis, Oklahoma and Connecticut facing talented, well-coached schools from power conferences. And, with Gonzaga-Western Kentucky we have legit mid-major flare. It is all on tap today with Sweet 16 bids on the line.
The Tournament gained a lot of momentum last night in the final session of the first round. A pair of dramatic overtime games, the first real upset that turned brackets upside down (folks, CSU undressed Wake. Combined with another Big 10 school beating an ACC school, I bet Billy Packer is rolling over in his grave) and a couple more 12 seeds pulled out wins. The buzz carried over well into this morning. I made three stops this morning before I sat down to write, and at all three, tournament discussion was on everyone's lips.
Today's quadrupleheader provides great action, starting with a classic East Coast, West Coast battle between Big East and Pac 10 heavyweights.
#3 Villanova vs. #6 UCLA. Line, Nova -2, O/U 145<.b>
This is a Sweet 16 game disguised as a second round game. Before the season began, you would have assumed a March game between these clubs would take place at least somewhere in the second weekend of the tournament. Instead, we're here in the second round and some of the college game's marquee players over the last couple of seasons will be taking an earlier-than-expected departure from the dance stage. Both programs have greater dreams and expectations than the second round. The Bruins have made three straight final fours, so this elimination game will be a dramatic way to begin Saturday's action. In order to extend their careers and seasons, the task will monumental for both clubs.
Bubble News tracked UCLA most of the winter because of its relevancy to Michigan Strength of Schedule. Its pretty easy to figure out the Bruins. They still play insane defense and demolish what you want to do offensively. The problem with the Bruins is they go through too many Dust Bowl-like droughts. Worse, they all seem to come in the second half. They flat stop scoring for long stretches and it cost them a number of times in the Pac 10 season. We saw that in their first round survival against VCU. The Bruins were up comfortably by 10 with five minutes to play, but they went cold. Empty possession followed empty possession until VCU had a final shot to win at the buzzer. How many more games in this tournament can they survive with that pattern? Despite the usual Bruin high expectations, UCLA observers urge to Bruins to enter the game feeling no pressure.
What struck me about the VCU game was how spent Darren Collison looked at the end. Despite Collison being slowed by a bruised tailbone, Howland matched his point guard up exclusively with the Rams Eric Maynor on Thursday night and it gassed Collison. They're going to need more energy out of him down the stretch to get by the Wildcats. Will Collison go head to head for 40 minutes against the Cats Scottie Reynolds or will Howland look to mix up his defensive assignments a bit more? The Cats have a better perimeter supporting cast than the Rams did beyond Maynor. They need to run whomever Collison guards around the court all day because I dont think the Bruins will have enough in the final minutes if Collison is on empty.
The Wildcats prefer a faster pace to the game than UCLA and expect them to sprinkle in plenty of full- and half-court press to both up the tempo and wear out the Bruins. Nova is efficient from behind the arc, but the main focus of their offense is beating teams off the dribble with an assortment of guards. They get a ton of points from the free throw line. Thursday, they spent the final 12 minutes of the game in the bonus. They remind me a lot like the Washington and Arizona State teams which went 3-1 against the Bruins this season. Those teams attacked the goal all day with their own collection of guard superstars and, in turn, upset the balance of power in the Pac 10. Collison struggles against strong guards and in Reynolds and Corey Fisher the Cats have some of the more muscluar guards on the east coast. Reynolds has been turnover prone, though, and Collison has made a college career causing perimeter turnovers, so this is the matchup edge to watch.
The Pick: Villanova. I hate, hate, hate going against the Bruins and Ben Howland. But, let's face it, this is not a vintage Bruin squad. I worry about their energy level late as Howland has drastically shortened his bench latey. I worry about their ability to contain Nova's guards and keep them off the free throw line. Make no mistake, playing in Phily, the Cats will get the calls. Mostly I worry about the inevitable scoring drought. Here's where these fancy efficiency stats fail the eye test. UCLA is one of the best on offense, but every time I see them they struggle late with empty possessions. KenPom's black and white stats dont account for that. Even so, according to him, Nova has one of the most efficient defenses. I'll take defense over offense in this one.
UCONN vs #9 Texas A/M. Line, UCOO -10, O/U 139
What a strange and goofy scenario the Huskies faced with their coach being hospitalized the morning of their opening round game. They sure did not miss a beat in their torching of Tenn-Chatanooga. Thankfully, Jim Calhoun returns to the sideline today in what ought to be an interestng chess match between him and Aggie coach Mark Turgeon.
Turgeon coaxed a Wichita State team into the Sweet 16, so dont assume he cant coach this club up today to spring the upset. Also, dont forget the Aggies played in a 1/9 game last season and nearly upset UCLA. They were hacked on their final attempt, but the refs swallowed their whistle. A year and a bumpy road (the Aggies were 3-7 in Big 12 play on Valentine's Day) later, Texas A/M finds itself in the exact same position as last year.
The last three seasons seen the Aggies eliminated from the tournament by a total of four points. They look to avoid another heartbreaking loss today.
The Aggies love to run a lot of ball screens and motion offense. That's the best way to handle the Huskies size by forcing guys like Thabeet and Adrian to play defense away from the basket. One team that gave the Huskies trouble all season was the big, physical Pitt Panters and their assortment of wide bodies. The Aggies bring that to the table with the mixture of Bryan Davis, Chinemelu Elonu and David LeBeau. That's a trio of 6-9 or taller guys who expect to scrap with Thabeet all day. Pay attention to how the refs whistle this game. The Aggies will have no problem blooding up Thabeet, but will the officials allow that kind of play. If so, the Aggies will be in this sucker.
Of course, the Huskies will bring it up front as well. They wont shrink from what ought to be an amazing battle of frontcourts this afternoon. We all know about Thabeet and Adrian, but now Stanley Robinson has found his stride. Playing a lot like former Huskie Josh Boone, Robinson has given the Huskies a third, and more athletic presence, to go with an already imposing group of bigs.
The key today for the Huskies is how well they do from the perimeter. With Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Derrick Roland and BJ Holmes, I like the Aggies back court and permieter attack much better. The Huskies have really struggled shooting jumpers since the Dyson injury. A.J. Price has been able to shoulder some of the outside scoring burden, but nobody else is picking up the slack in the wake of Dyson's injury. Craig Austerie is less than 20-percent on his last 70 treys attempts and Kemba Walker has clanked 17 misses in a row from behind the arc. These are their #2 and #3 guys right now and they will need one of them to break out thir slump today in order to advance.
The Pick: Texas A/M +10 I just cant see the Huskies running away from the Aggies today. Expect the Aggies to turn this into as ugly a game as possible, limit the possessions and hope their perimeter advantage gets it done. They probably wont win in the end, but the Aggies match-up too well with the Huskies too well to forecast a double digit win at all for the Huskies.
#2 Memphis vs #10 Maryland. Line, Memphis -10, O/U 131.5
Want some fighting words? Greivas Vasquez A HREF="http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2009/mar/21/talks-a-good-game/">has you covered. In the lead-up to today's match with #2 seed Memphis, Vasquez sent a shot across the Tigers bow, saying if the Tigers played in the ACC, they, like the Terrapins, would have a losing league mark. You know what that is? That's just Greivas being Greivas.
It's also prime bulletin board material for the Tigers and John Calipari, who inspires his team playing the no respect card better than any coach in America. The Tigers are getting accustomed to winning 30 games a season and are in prime position to maintain that streak for the next couple of seasons. As for this season, its been said the Tigers have the best defense in America, but it didn't show in their sleepwalking scare against UCSN Thursday. We'll see if Vasquez trash talk wakes them up. I suspect it will and the Venezuelan Sensation will be a marked man all day long.
I really am going to miss Vasquez when he leaves College Park after this season. He's been must see viewing. He might go off for 35 points. He might single handedly doom his team with sloppiness. He's a soul mate, of sorts, with his coach and he plays with the exact same kind of chaotic emotion that Gary Williams coaches with from the bench. He's a showstopper, a lighnting round of discussion and controversy amid his own fan base and somebody I just have not been able to steer my eyes away from the last couple of seasons. I have both buried and exalted Jasquez in this blog this winter. The college basketball world will lose a ton of personality when he leaves.
Can he extend his career past this weeked? Does he have enough magic in his bag to keep his team alfoat against the big bad Tigers? Can he and the Terps puncture the Tigers defense with their space the floor, draw and kick stlye of play? The Terps are certainly more battle tested than Memphis having played a dozen more games against tournament teams than the Tigers did. After going 12 rounds with ACC heavyweights and a tough OOC slate, the Terps will at least feel like the belong on the same court with the Tigers.
Vasquez is a sensation, but so his mighty freshmen Tyreke Evans for Memphis. These may be the two most razzle dazzle guards in the country. I set the O/U on jump-out-of-your-seat highlights between these two at 3.5 today. Don't expect them to match up head to head today, however. You have to think Calipari will put stopper Antonio Anderson on Vasquez. Anderson shut out Robert Vade, a prolific college game scorer from UAB, earlier in the year and he should draw the Vasquez assignment often today. What a great battle that will be during Maryand's possessions.
The Pick: Maryland +10. I do feel Memphis will harass Vasquez into some bad moments. But, there's also no reason to expect that Maryland cant thwart the Tigers with their own defense. Against CSN, Dozier and the rest of the Tigers inside game was irrelevant thanks to the Matadors zone defense. Gary Williams, I am sure, was taking notes. I just dont trust this Memphis offense and they've been shorting out from the perimeter lately. And, as well as Evans has played this year, he is no Derick Rose. I think the freshman struggles on this stage today. Memphis might pull out the win, but I dont think this game ends up a blowout. The only teams that have crushed the Terps this season have been ones on fire from the perimeter and the Tigers just dont have that type of offense.
Hey all, kinda had a goofy day and couldn't really do a full update for tonight. I will offer up a few picks for tonight, but otherwise I'll be back late morning with a full roundup for Saturday's action. Until then, enjoy the hoops tonight......but DO NOT FORGET to root on the Hockey Team!! Go Blue
Well, looks like we went 1-0-1 with the picks today. Oklahoma State got in done in the final minutes, but NDSU earned a push against KU. No harm, no foul there. Weird, though, the line was 10.5, but had moved down to 10 when I grabbed it. But, I noticed it closed at 9.5. Wow, I bet there were some anxious sportsbooks with that ending. I am always amazed at just how dead one the experts in the desert can be. Tourney record is now 6-2-1 and the overall March record is 50-37-3.
*** Ten down, two to go in my prop bet that no 16-15-14 seed will win a game. We've survived scares from Memphis, Villanova and Pitt and now we're two wins away. Louisville over Morehead and MSU over Robert Morris. If I lose, I wont mind. We'll either be seeing an historic upset, or I get to buy a round of Robert Morris t-shirts to wear around northern Michigan this summer. I wouldn't even give a darn about all the Big 10 bashing that would ensue.
***I need five wins to tie, six to win by prop on the Big 10 total number of wins. Three chances to add to the tally tonight with OSU, Wisco and MSU, all playing in the late night session. Come to think of it, a Bob Morris win might hurt me on two fronts. You know what? It would still be worth it if they sprung the upset.
*** USC -2 over Boston College. So far, I've been on the right side of most of these coin flips. I never have been a fan of this year's BC team. I just think they're average, living off a couple big wins and soft ACC schedule. Plus, I feel their coach Al Skinner is great at doing more with less, but he tradionally maxes out in the regular season. He has not had a ton of success in the NCAAa. USC, I like. I love Tim Floyd as a college coach. He has great numbers as an underdog. And, his team has more talent tonight than BC. They have a great defensive identity out on the floor and the team really took off as DeRozan, the freshmen, started to find his game. Floyd has always been a solid guy to back in March. Fight On!
*** Arizona +1 over Utah. Dont dis the Cats for being here. They skidded down the stretch, but it was during a road trip against the top end of the Pac 10. Arizona is a good team who took a while to find its stride with all the goffiness surrounding its coaching situation. It's a coin flip and I'll take the team with a pair of future pros on it. Arizona becomes the second #12 seed to advance.
*** OSU -2 over Siena. Siena is a trendy pick and we all remember them steamrolling Vandy in last year's opening round. It wont happen again. There is no way Thad Matta allows that team to play its run up and down the floor game. Using Lauderdale and Mullens, he is going to throw the kitchen sink at the Saints to keep this a half court game. In that setting, I love this defense to show Siena what the Big 10 is all about. I relly like how the Turner/Buford combo is shaping up as well. I rolled 3-0 with the Bucks last weekend, and I am staying on the bandwagon for at least one more night.
I really want to grab the points with Cleveland State. I might have to think about that over a workout. And, for the Big 10 (not to mention my prop) I really want Wisco to win tonight. But, if you've been reading all along, you know how much I like this Seminole team. Both late night starts, so I have time to address that conflict as well. If I pull the trigger on either, I will update the Diary.
So, what did everyone do last night?
I kid because I know what we all were doing: watching this improbable Michigan season continue to live at least another day. Once again coach John Beilein proved his March mettle, coaching and coaxing this club all the way to the final horn. He made one last substitution in the closing seconds last night, taking out CJ Lee in favor of David Merrit. Did you notice who harassed the Clemson shooter into taking a game-tying attempt that had chance? Yep, David Merrit. It's good to have some sideline acumen. It might be the first time we've had that from the Maize and Blue bench since the Johnny Orr days. I'll let other was poetic on this club today as I will some more Michigan centric thoughts in a second round diary. Wow, just saying that made me tingle a bit.
We're moving to the tournament's second day and we are still on the hunt for the bigtime upset. Oh sure, WKU took down the Illini last night, but that's not a richter scale required fault on the bracket lines. After all, everybody seemed to be picking the Hilltopppers, the Illini were without their best player and WKU was in the Sweet 16 last season.
While we're desperately seeking Cinderella today, its worth noting that midmajor guru Jerry at the JCCW highlighted North Dakota State and Cleveland State as teams destined to make noise. Both go off the board today, so pay extra close attention to those clubs today.
Speaking of the NDSU Bison. They play Kansas today. And, I am scared to death this club might bust my prop bet where I wagered than no 16-15-14 seed would win a game. You know how they say political candidates just look presidential. Well, NDSU just looks the part of Cinderella: A bunch of seniors, ruthlessly efficient on offense, ability to take over the game from behind the arc, balanced scoring across the board and in their first year ever eligible for this tournament, coming from an obscure area of the country, the Bison come with a made for March Madness storyline. They just feel like the proper Cinderella candidate.
Oh, and Gus Johnson is courtside for this one. You can feel Cinderella in the building. or, maybe its the truckloads of NSDU fans who have flocked to next door Minnesota for this game. I really hope all the doors are locked back home in Bismark.
The last time Kansas was a 3-seed, they were upset in the first round by the Bucknell Bison. NDSU's nickname: The Bison. Crap, now I am more nervous. The Hawks being the defending champs offers no comfort. IU lost in the first round as a 3-seed when they were the defending champs in 1988 and, well, have you even seen Florida in the field recently. Besides, the Jawhawks overachieved all year in what was expected to be a transition year for them. Other than Sherron Collins, none of the Hawks have their own March Madness experience to lean on. Can their new players step up to the March Madness pressure?
There were no shockwaves from the tournament on opening day, just like last year. But, during the noon games last year on Friday, Davidson and Western Kentucky hit the floor and turned the brackets upside down. Will today bring those same moments? We'll find out as the Bison and Hawks tip off in minutes (KU -10.5, O/U 147.5). Here's a rundown on the other seven games today:
#6Marquette vs #11 Utah State. Line, MU -4.5, O/U 142.5
Ever since guard Dominic James went down people have been downgrading Marquette. The Golden Eagles validated those demotions by losing five of their last six games down the stretch. One can’t come down too hard on Marquette for the slide as three of those losses are to #1 seeds in this tournament and the other two were to #3 seeds. That’s not the easiest stretch to face as you try to re-evolve your team in the wake of losing your senior leader to injury. With Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews, the Eagles still have plenty of scoring and high-end perimeter play to damage in this tournament.
However, a lot of people aren’t buying Marquette this weekend. Everyone seems to be picking the Aggies, including a round of computer simulations, which play out Marquette winning just 55-percent of the time. Those same simulations have the other three #6 seeds winning over 70 percent of the time, so that illustrates a bit why people have been circling USU as an upset.
This is kind of a bizarre matchup as far as power schools vs. mid-majors go in the NCAA Tournament. Typically it’s the size and brawn of the power school battling quick, guard heavy mid majors, but this game is the opposite. It’s the Aggies that bring a lot of size and scoring production in the frontcourt, while Marquette has a clear backcourt advantage.
Regardless of how they go about it, Utah State and Marquette are among the more efficient teams offensively in the country. The Eagles are 14th in the nation in scoring; the Aggies are the top-shooting team in the nation. The Aggies have done it in the WAC, while Marquette survived the Big East wars and still had a nice statistical resume. You have to wonder if that experience will give the Eagles an edge this afternoon. Even without James, this is far and away the toughest club Utah State has seen all season. It’s a primary reason Marquette fans are pushing the drug of optimism today.
#8Tennessee vs. #9 Oklahoma State. Line, Vols -2, O/U 157
Track meet, anyone? When the Vols and Pokes tip off today, a pair of top-20 scoring offenses will run the floor against defenses in the bottom 20-percent of all 343 NCAA teams. The result being the highest over/under total on the board today and a coin flip that’s almost to close for good ole KenPom to call. A preview of the game reveals a near statistical dead heat as well. I will be disappointed in this game does not outscore at least a couple of the BA games on the docket tonight.
The Vols have been a goofy outfit all season. They had to replace a lot of core guys this season and the results showed with an uneven record against one the hardest schedules anyone had to play. On one hand, they’re more than steeled for the challenges of the tournament. On the other hand, they continued to throw clunkers on the table as they plodded through a mediocre SEC. Bruce Pearl has proven to be a great tournament coach, so I don’t expect an egg out of the Vols today.
The Cowboys are a team in transition. New coach Travis Ford has installed an up tempo attack, which at the very least, makes the Cowboys a more pleasing team to watch, as opposed to the slow-paced, strangulating the game into a wrestling match style preferred by the Sutton mafia. Early on, this tempo backfired against the Pokes. They could score, but not defend. They lost conference games throughout January despite scoring 80, or even 90 points. But, they’ve tightened up that side of the game. During the 8-2 streak to close the season, the Cowboys allowed just 69 points per game, a significant improvement. No coincidence, but with that defensive effort, the Cowboys began to regularly outscore folks as well. If they can maintain that presence, they should outlast the Vols today.
#3 Syracuse vs $14 Stephen F. Austin. Line, Cuse - 11.5, O/U 131
No team in American has had as much talent sitting on the tournament sidelines the last two years than the Syracuse Orangemen. Congrats, Billy Donovan, your team now takes this mantle! The Orange returns to the NCAAa for the first time since 2006, where they were bounced as a 5-seed in the first round by Texas A/M. Back in the final, evidence abounds that this is a Sweet 16 team.
A lack of defensive intensity and overall inconsistency has doomed the program in the Big East wars in recent years. Those issues seemed resolved this year as the Orange navigated a difficult slate to earn the #3 seed in this bracket. Nobody shoots well against that 2-3 zone, at least not well enough to overcome the Orange’s powerful offense that ranks in the top-10 in scoring, shooting and offensive rebounding. This March has been a time of second impressions for this team and one of its beleaguered stars, Eric Devendorf.
Not many clubs out there can match the inside-outside combination the Orange bring to the table. I don’t expect them to lose today, although they might get more of a workout in than one would expect, going up against an SFA squad that’s been stingy all season long allowing points and three-pointers.
#3 Missouri vs #14 Cornell. Line, Mizz -12.5, O/U 146.5
Cornell is the only time still alive that lost a game to Indiana University this season. That fact alone ought to eliminate the Ivy League representative from further contention. Even if it does not, expect the full-court fury of the Missouri Tigers to take care of them this afternoon. The Tigers return to their first NCAA Tournament in six years. Despite the absence, they might look familiar. Coach Mike Anderson, who orchestrated UAB’s Sweet 16 run four years ago, has finally fully implemented mentor Nolan Richardson’s 90-feet-of-hell style of ball in Columbia. The dividends returned this year in the form of a Big 12 Tournament Title and #3 seed in this field. The Tigers are loved by tempo free geeks for their efficiency. Eye ball folks, like me, love them because, well, they’re a gas to watch. This club is a sleeper Elite Eight team in my bracket.
#6 Arizona State vs #11 Temple. Line, ASU -6, O/U 123.5
In one corner, ASU’s James Hardin. In the other corner, Temple’s Dionte Christmas. Whichever star guards wins the battle will likely lead his team to winning the war this afternoon.
The Owls enter the field looking to make amends from the dud they played in last year’s opening round loss to Michigan State. Temple was a trendy upset pick last year, but fell behind by double digits before the first media timeout. They were never in the game and their entire season was focused on returning to this exact point.
On paper, this match up seems to skew in the favor of the Sun Devils. They’re deeper and more talented. Christmas is goof for Temple, but Hardin is projected to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Both teams play great defense, but the Devils had to do so all season against some excellent Pac 10 offenses. Plus, ASU is one of the best shooting teams in the country.
I would be surprised to see Temple advance; I would not be surprised to see the Sun Devils still playing next weekend.
#6 West Virginia vs #11 Dayton. Line, WVA -9, O/U 126.5
Dayton plays nothing but close games, and they squeezed out enough of them to earn a bid into the field. They wont be intimidated by the Mountaineers today. But, with a spread close to double digits, this is alleged to be the biggest 6/11 mismatch in the bracket. The Flyers are coming off a Tournament drought as well with a lot of heartbreak along the way trying to get back over the hump. Speaking of returns, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins returns to the tournament after a several year hiatus. And, per usual, he brings physical, front-court tilted, defensively geared squad. This game just smacks as a bad match up for the Flyers. They don’t shoot the ball well, so WVA’s zone defense ought to be effective. Statistically, WVA does everything well, while Dayton does nothing well. That sorta sounds like a game we all watched last night, right?
#1 Pittsburgh vs #16 East Tennessee State. Line, Pitt -19.5, O/U 148
I have really have nothing on this game. The Panthers D should break the Bucs in pieces. Considering nobody expects them to cut the nets down in Detroit, the Panthers sure do have a lot of pressure on them. Seven straight NCAA trips without getting past the regional semifinals will do that to a program. As for the Bucs, they used to be one of my favorite mid-major programs. Back in the early 1990s, they had a great little guard named Keith “Mr” Jennings. They lost in overtime as a #16 seed to Clemson, so maybe this year’s bunch can channel some of that history this afternoon and give us a competitive fight. One other historical footnote to those old ETSU teams: In 1992, they lost in the second round to a bunch of freshmen. From Michigan. Univeristy, of. Ann Arbor.
Predictions, sure to go awry
As stated above, were 5-2 in the tournament and still have a pair of prop bets in play. I need 7 total wins out of the Big 10 and got 2 of them yesterday. This prop really needed the Illini to win, so I am feeling dicey on this one. Later tonight, I could use a 3-0 sweep from the Big 10, or this one might end up a loser. The other prop was no to the 16-15-14 seeds winning. I am half way there, thanks to an electric second half last night by Villanova. Thanks to yesterday’s winnings, the overall March record is 49-37-3. Here’s what I am adding to the stew this afternoon.
*** North Dakota State +10 over KU. Primarily because I think the Hawks could go down, killing that prop bet. If it goes down in flames in this one, I want to collect something in the ruins. But, I do believe the Bison have a shot at this one straight up. They played so clutch and calm with their season on the line in the Summit Finals, that I dont doubt they'll fight the Hawks all the way through. Plus, I love efficient teams in this dance who are senior laden and can shoot the rock.
*** Oklahoma State +2 over Tennessee. Lot of offense in this one, but I like the Cowboys, despite their disadvantage on the inside to get it done. One thing I dont like about the Vols is their defense has a tendency to sag down low. The Cowboys are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and will make them pay for that. Basically, this game is a coin flip. But, expect the Cowboys to be more prolific from behind the arc, giving them extra points, and the Vols to struggle per usual from the stripe, taking points away. That's huge in a tight game.
Eight games are in the books. Are your brackets screwed yet? I am sure anxious Memphis boosters lost a few pounds in sweat this afternoon. Not to mention schmuks like myself who wagered NO on the prop bet that no 16-15-14 seeds would win a game. The funny thing is as I was getting caught up in the game, I naturally found myself pulling for the Matadors. For about 20 minutes, I had forgotten all about that bet.
March Madness, where we prove that Jamie Mac has a heart.
That first highlight clip is from all the way back in 1999, during what was Gonzaga’s debut in the NCAA Tournament. What an entrance indeed as the Zags fell a few possessions shy of the Final Four. They’ve been a fixture in this tournament every year since, evolving from underdog darling to Final Four contenders.
And, during that time, the University of Michigan made nary an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. That will change in a few hours. We’re moments away from finally seeing the Maize and Blue chase a shining moment.
You know what? It feels freaking awesome. I’m not going to bore you with a preview as MgoBlog, UMHoops, Maize ‘N Brew and Varsity Blue have been breaking down this game all week. Everything you need to know you can find somewhere on those sites.
My quick take on the game is that Michigan has a better puncher’s chance than a breakdown of the numbers would indicate. If ever a team was on the downturn, it’s Clemson. They’ve labored to a 7-8 record in the final 15 games and dropped four of five entering this tournament. They were run off the court by last place Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, a result that caused finger pointing, multiple team meetings and surprise practices.
Clemson will come in refocused, but there is so much more pressure on them. Their fans are grumbling about hot starts leading to late winter fades. They were trounced in this tournament’s opening round last season. Michigan, meanwhile, is playing with house money. Nobody expected them to get this far. I’ll take the loose team with nothing to lose any day in March Madness over a team that’s a few bad possessions away from a self-implosion.
The Tigers have a ton of scoring and look like an imposing collection of talent on paper. But, I remain unconvinced that Manny Harris and Deshaun Sims wont be the two best players on the court. Trevor Booker is a great forward for the Tigers, but he was ranked more than 20 spots lower than Sims by the recruitniks when they both arrived in the same freshmen class. Tonight would be a nice night for Sims to prove those projections correct. As for do-it-all Manny Harris, he can easily outshine his perimeter counterpart KC Rivers and it would not come as a shock.
Clemson has not seen any zone since league play began. They have seen no examples of the 1-3-1 zone, let alone a team that runs it as well as Michigan. The Tigers are a good three-point shooting team, but we’ve seen the Wolverines use that zone to push teams out of their comfort range and force them to throw up junk treys.
If Michigan can contain Clemson’s long range shooting and value the basketball when they’re on offense, they will be in this game and have a chance to win in the end.
Besides, I’ll take Beilein over Purnell in a coaching matchup every day of the week. Will Michigan win? It’s 50/50. But, I have no qualms backing them at the window catching 5.5 points.
Go Blue and enjoy the game.
Here’s some quick links to get you prepped for the rest of the action tonight.
The former Big 10 Wonk breaks down the tournament leaning heavily on efficiency stats. I wonder if he's uneasy about his pick of Memphis after today?
#4 Gonzaga vs. #13 Akron. Line, Zags -14, O/U 133.5
Zag bloggers are asking who exactly are the Akron Zips. I’ll tell you: they’re a surprisingly deep team, that’s battled inconsistency issues, well, forever and are currently coached by Lebron James’ high school coach. Despite their depth, I cant imagine this team throwing together a perfect enough game to keep pace with the Gonzaga thoroughbreds.
#5 Illinois vs. $12 Western Kentucky. Line, Illini -5, O/U 123
The other side of the Portland brackets pits Illinois against Western Kentucky out of the Sun Belt. A preview of the entire Portland subsets reveals the Illini to only have a 33-percent chance of surviving the weekend. Without lead guard Chester Fraizer those odds appear better than most are willing to give. The Hilltoppers have become the trendy upset pick by all the experts. Channeling his inner Chuck-D, our Illini blogger compatriot don’t believe the Hilltopper Hype. For my Big 10 total bet on wins, I hope they’re right.
My take: Playing without Frazier did not hurt the Illini against Michigan. And, this is not the same WKU team that won a couple games in last year’s field. They’re hot shot guards have departed and I don’t know if the youth of WKU in those spots is ready for the March Madness spotlight. Of course, the same could be said about the Illini, whose main core is making its debut in this field. I like the interior presence of Davis and Tisdale a lot in this game. Eventually those jum;s shots that Tisdale appears to jump downward in will push the Illini across the finish line first.
#7 Texas vs #10 Minnesota. Line, Texas -4.5, O/U 126.5
In their comprehensive overview of this game, From The Barn illustrates the different perceptions these two programs and fan bases have of tonight first round game. The Gophers hope to continue a successful season. The Longhorns, meanwhile, are trying to salvage what has been an uneven campaign.
In an in-depth commentary and Q/A exchange I’ve seen, Burnt Orange Nation and Gopher Nation pepper each with back and forth commentary. BON also has the scoop on who The Wire characters are pulling for.
There’s an obvious talent disparity in this game. The Longhorns have a roster full of former Rivals top 150 recruits. The Gophers have just one, Lawrence Westbrook. Despite all the talent, the Horns have been prone to clunkers all season long. They don’t really have a leader on offense. Dogus Balbay emerged as a point guard, but he will not shoot the ball. Look for Tubby Smith’s defense to play a four-on-five game until Balbay begins to hurt them from the outside. Both teams have great size up front and if the refs let some of the action go, this is going to a war of wills all night on the interior. This might just be the most physical first round game on the docket.
#6 UCLA vs #11 VCU. Line, UCLA -8, O/U 136.5
There wont be many one-on-one matchups better than the one we'll see in Philadelphia tonight between Bruins Darrin Collison and the Rams Eric Maynor. Both point guards could be first round draft choices in May. It's a scout's dream.
The Bruins have some injury issues, though. Collison is nursing a sore tailbone. Drew Gordon has a shaky knee. Both appear to be ready to go and their situations, among many other game-day issuea are spelled out in Bruins Nation latest edition of Ben Ball.
Other than the Michigan game, this is the first round game I've looked most forward to.
#3 Villanova vs #14 American. Line, Nova -15, O/U 128
Playing in Philadelphia, the Wildcats have an obvious home court edge tonight. Its hard to conjure up an upset here. Villanova's best and worst case scenarios for the weekend are outlined by a partisan blogger. As for American, expect alums Judge Judy, Goldie Hawn and the chick from Ugly Betty to be waving the pom-poms.
#2 Duke vs #15 Binghamton. Line, Duke -22, O/U 137
Can Duke regain its March mojo? They probably wont be threatened tonight by Binghamton (although we haters can hope). It might sound backwards, but none of the guys on this year's team have experienced any of the tradional Duke March moments. The message out of Durham states that Duke is refreshed and in its best March position in several years.
You still have a couple hours to get down on onre of the more fascinating prop bets on the board. Will Binghamton ever have a lead tonight. I hope this wins easy for whomever backed Binghamton. At any rate, it makes the opening moments of this game that much exciting to follow. Duke is favored by 22 tonight. They've failed to cover in their last four NCAA first round games. Interesting.
#2Oklahoma at #15 Morgan State. Line, OU -15.5, O/U 136.5
Should Michigan advance, they could be in trouble against the Sooners. No, not because of all-orld Blake Griffin. I'm concerned that legendary bad ass Samuel Jackson picked OU to win the whole thing
Crimson and Cream (which sounds like an IU blog.....hey, fawkers, you can have Kelvin back!) gives us everything you ever needed to know abot tonight's game with morgan state
The compelling storyline with Morgan State revolves around the return to the NCAA Tournament of head coach Todd Bozeman.
For those who dont remember him, he was the coach of the Cal Bears when Jason Kidd was there. The club had a large upset of the two-time defending champion Duke Blue Devils en route to the Sweet 16. Unfortuneatly, Bozeman could not keep the Bears at such heights after Kidd left. Desperation led to recruiting violations. The punitive damage to Bozeman was akin to a ban. Finally removed of a show cause restrictions (meaning schools would need to convince the NCAA why they should hire him. Trust me, no school will do that), he landed as head coach of the MEAC Morgan State Bears. It's a nice story of redemption. But, if Kelvin Sampson recovers from his show-cause punishment and returns to the tournament as a head coach, I will biiter.
Predictions, sure to go awry
Hey, hey! Cashed the first three. But, I wont be throwing a perfect tournament as it looks like UW +6 is going down. I'll take the 3-1 start.
Three dead Cinderellas gets me closer to the 14-15-16 prop, only nine to go. And, good for Purdue to not choke that game away. That's one Big 10 win, six to go.
Which brings me to tonight's conundrum. There are three Big 10 games tonight, but I've already invested somewhat in their results. To I add to the pot? Do I hedge? Or, just sit back, enjoy the games and invest elsewhere? I like that last option the best.
*** VCU +8 over UCLA. I hate going against the Bruins in March. But, I like backing Colonial teams just as much. The Colonial is 10-4-2 ATS this decade in the tournament. Their tourney champ is 6-2-2 ATS in the first round. VCU is 4-0 ATS in three appearances since 2000. My favorite mid-major conference, my favorite mid-major player in Eric Maynor, it all adds up. The Bruins are not vintage. They have gone through long dry spells in every big game this season and have had a hard time finding its second half scoring touch. That's not good news against the relentless Rams. Maynor will keep coming at them and any scoring drought will put UCLA on serious upset alert. Maynor will outshine a banged up Collison. I like Larry Saunders up front going up against UCLA. He's a lot like Sims in that he's a one-man show up front. I would hate this matchup last year for Saunders, but this season against the young Bruins, I think he stars like he did in the CAA finals.
*** Michigan +5.5 over Clemson. I've documented Beilein's profit making numbers in March enough to know I will take him catching points against a coach who has never won an NCAA Tournament game.
*** Minnesota +4.5 over Texas. If Kansas State can win in Austin, the Gophers can win this on a nuetral court. But, I'll gladly take the points. I'll always take Tubby Smith in the postseason when people doubt him. I learned my lesson fading him last week. Sorry, Orlando. I think Nolan locks up Augustine and the Gophers turn Texas into enough of a rudderless ship to make this a final possession game.
So, yeah, I guess I grabbed some Big 10 action after all.
Happy March Madness, everyone! The madness has been going on for a few weeks now, but today the Main Event starts. May all your brackets be delivered from busts and the Cinderella you’ve circled makes it past midnight. I know there are plenty of folks stuck at work or without TV access. In between refreshing scoreboard pages and fuzzy video streams of the games, I offer some quick previews, links and picks for today’s afternoon sessions.
#8 LSU vs. #9 Butler. Line, LSU -1.5, O/U 127.5
This is a second round game disguised as a first round game. Both clubs were solid top-20 teams for much of the last half of the season, but after failing to deliver in their respective league tournaments were downgraded on the seed lines. For the Bulldogs it might be an unfavorable draw, but at least they get a rare chance to take down a team from a BCS league. LSU fans aren’t to stoked about being placed in the 8/9 game either and feel their Bayou Tigers stack up better than most of the other clubs on this seed line. One fan base is going to be even more aggravated in a few hours.
Can Butler make enough treys to survive? Can the Butler Way prove production again in March? Can LSU’s length and athleticism on the front line make a difference?
#8BYU vs. #9 Texas A/M. Line, BYU -3, O/u 139.5
This is a rematch of a first round game last season, won by the Aggies thanks to the hot shooting of Josh Carter. You can bet stopping him will be part of BYU’s defensive strategy this time around.
The Aggies were buried as recently as Valentine’s Day, buried in the Big 12 standings with a 3-7 record. But, they’ve turned it around thanks to the steady leadership of coach Mark Turgeon who finally has things going to his way in College Station in the post-Gillespie/A.C. Law era. With the Aggie fanbase, we have another groups of fans steamed at being placed in the dreaded 8/9 game.
Interesting shoot-around glimpses from a BYU beat reporter who reports that side-by-side, it’s pretty clear why the Aggies should be favored. Good to see the rest of the media is on the ball, debating if they should ask Cougar players about polygamy. Oh, mainstream media, don’t go changing.
According to one former Cougar, today’s game is huge to maintain momentum for the program
#2 Memphis vs. #15 Cal State Northridge. Line, Memphis -20.5, O/U 121.5
Don’t worry, Memphis, CSN forward Willie Gallick says don’t take the national perception of you to heart. You’re still a great team.
I’m sure the Tigers appreciate the compliments, but brown nosing and getting in their good graces probably wont help you much in this game today.
Many experts claim the Tigers as the best defensive team in this field. They might need that to come through this month as they still have not shed their reputation of having a less-than-stellar offense. But, consider that since freshmen Tyreke Evans was inserted as point guard, the club has had 13 games where they shot better than 45-percent. And, with improved free throw shooting this season, the Tigers have no qualms packing it in down low and playing a little post game. I don’t expect the “poor” offense to bug them much this weekend.
This game is all sorts of trouble for CSN. It’s an early east coast start for a California team. The Tigers are pissed at their seed. In the Big West Title game, CSN struggled often with scoring droughts against Pacific. That reeks of bad news going against a Tiger team who gets off on dismantling your offense. I set their longest field goal drought at 7:30 minutes today. Any takers?
#1 UCONN vs. #16 Tenn-Chatanooga. Line, Uconn -20.5, O/U 145.4
Twelve years ago, the Mocs embarked on the ultimate Cinderella run. As a 14-seed, they beat South Carolina in the first round. In the second round, they dug out of a big halftime whole to nip Illinois (way to represent, Illini). Ultimately, the Mocs bowed out to Texas in the Sweet 16, but it was one of the more memorable mid major runs in recent seasons.
To duplicate that feat this season, the Mocs would need to pull off an historic upset in the 1/16 game. If they want to win, they can’t lose the game in their minds first. Uh, yeah, it probably wont matter how confident they are. The only doubt is whether or not the Huskies can cover the large number.
Huskie fans are so confident they Moc like a Hurricane this morning.
#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Radford. Line, UNC -25, O/U 162
The drama in this 1/16 game is whether or not Tar Hell uber point guard Ty Lawson will play and how effective he will be. Scratch that drama as all indications are Lawson will sit again this afternoon. I doubt they’ll need him against Radford, but they wont live up to preseason title hype without their little point guard. Tar Heel bloggers are a bit down on the prospects of the rest of their precious conference. Naturally, they like the Heels chances if Lawson returns.
#7 California vs. #10 Maryland. Line, Cal -1, O/U 140.5
A Pac 10/ACC showdown will help determine which coast hoops it up better.
Terrapin coach Gary Williams is fired up and takes a few shots at his detractors, including fans who boo. It doesn’t sound like he feels that helps the team perform. Win or lose today, put me in the camp who feels this has been one of Williams better coaching jobs to keep the Terrapin ship from sinking and still making this field.
The Bears are an excellent shooting team. Can their usual team effort overcome the one-man show that has become Greivas Vazquez?
The standard Q/A between Sports Nation Blogs Testudo Times and California Golden Blog will get you set up for what to expect this afternoon. A Pac 10 Blogger Roundtable deciphers the chances of the entire Pac 10 field.
#5 Purdue vs $12 Northern Iowa. Line, PU -8.5, O/U 124
The Missouri Valley traditionally provides us with a March Madness upset or two. Maybe not this year, however, as the Panthers might just be the weakest entrant the MVC has put forth in several years. Purdue observers think so, and despite being in the traditional 5/12 upset window, expect a comfy 15-point win.
Like their west coast counterparts, the Big 10 Bloggers did a roundtable of their own to dissect the conference, including some insightful thoughts from Maize ‘N Brew Dave about coaching upgrades in the league.
#4 Washington vs. #13 Mississippi State. Line, UW -6, O/U 148.5
Expect a great frontcourt battle in this game with the Huskies Jonathon Brockman and the Bulldogs Jarvis Vernardo highlighting the action. Hopefully the refs will let this game play out and not shackle the big guys.
One key to keep an eye on is will the usually aggressive-to-the-goal Huskies maintain that mindset going up against Varnardo, who has more blocks than two-thirds of the 343 NCAA teams, including what might have been the highlight of the season in the SEC Championship game against Tennessee.
If facing the SEC Champion with an all world shot blocker isn’t hard enough, will local Portland fans come out to root against the Huskies? UW Dawg fans don’t think it will matter as they expect Brockman and Varnardo to cancel each other out. Claiming that UW has speed and matchup advantages everywhere else, they expect a 9-point UW win. The game might come down to which freshmen point guard, Dee Bost for MSU or Isiah Thomas for UW, plays better. The pair is familiar with one another having gone head-to-head in both high school and prep school.
Predictions, sure to go awry
*** LSU -1 over Butler. I think Butler is just a bit too young a bit too less-than-vintage to make noise this March. I've loved the Tigers all winter in the SEC and they'll nudge by the Bulldogs today. The line dropped to -1.5 when I went to bet, but I shaved the hook off. So, I have LSU -1 at -120 juice.
*** Texas A/M +3 over BYU. I think the Aggies are the better team and have enough defensive stoppers to thwart BYU's guards. I've dogged the MWV all season, might as well put my money where my mouth is.
*** Mississippi St +6 over UW. There's a chance I have fallen too in love with the Bulldogs based on what I saw out of them last weekend in the SEC sectional. They're coming togather at the right time. The inside presence of Varnardo and their thre-point ability will cause problems all day for the Huskies. I would not be shocked to see an upset.
*** Maryland +1.5 over Cal. The Terps were hot for me down the stretch. I'll stay on them in this one. Williams and Vasquez can squeeze out one more win. Besides, it's smart to take an ACC team over a Pac 10 team i a coin flip. Right?!?!
*** And, refering to my previous post, I took the bait on Over 7 wins for the Big 10 and No to any 16-15-14 seed winning a game. Yes, I am a March Madness, Cinderella Scrooge.
Pop Quiz Time: Which conference has put more teams and more programs in the Final Four in addition to never having a losing record in the first round in the last 12 tournaments?
Alright, I'm not one for drama, so I'll spill the beans. It's the Big 10, silly. A lot of these numbers have been mentioned throughout the week on this site, so if you've been lurking around you're already familiar with them. For everyone's sake, I will repeat them: In the last dozen years, the Big 10 has qualified nine teams in the Final Four, including six different programs. No other league can top the Big 10 in that regard.
At the front end of the tournament, the Big 10 has not been too shabby either. In the last 12 years, the Big 10 is a remarkable 48-13 in first round games. That record sounds great. I have no idea if it stacks up to other leagues, though. I didn't do research on that. Next time, I promise.
But, I don’t really care how that mark compares to other leagues. That's not why I bring it up. There are more important things than bickering numbers to death trying to prove conference superiority. Like, uh, investment opportunities, and I'd like to direct your attention to one that I've spent way too much time tossing around in my hoop-mush brain that last day or two.
Over/Under 7, the total number of wins by Big 10 teams in the 2009 tournament. Odds are even money either way.
At first blush, I thought about going 'over' all the way. Any thoughts?
In the last dozen years, the league has averaged over 8.5 wins per tournament. That's good. Last season the league had only five wins. That's bad. Only three times in 12 years, would 'over' on seven wins have been a losing bet. That's good. All three of those times have occurred in the last five tournaments. That's bad.
Based on that last fact, you can make a case taking the over would be a lousy bet. After averaging 10 wins over a seven-year span, the Big 10 has netted less than 6.5 wins per tourney the last five postseasons. The more recent trend within those numbers say to expect less than seven wins.
I feel comfortable bucking those recent numbers. With seven entrants, the league has its most teams in the field over the last dozen years. By most accounts, the Big 10 is top-to-bottom stronger now than in any of the previous five seasons. We have more league teams, coming from a stronger league. Big 10 teams ought to be able to outperform its recent tournament production. Right?
I can't get past that first round winning percentage: 48-13. That's four first round wins each year and more than half way to seven after the first round. Only once in this span has the Big 10 not had a winning record in the first round.
That was in 2006 when the league logged a 3-3 mark in first rounders. That season, Indiana, Ohio State and Illinois snagged opening round wins with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa losing. Those latter two are intriguing because the Hawks lost to Northwestern State on a dramatic last second shot that sprung one of the tourney's biggest upset. As for MSU, they were the first victim of the stirring George Mason Final Four run, losing to the Patriots in a 6/11 game.
Based on the rest of the history, isn't it reasonable to expect at least a 4-3 winning record in the first round over the next two days? I think so. If the favorites all win the next two days, that's exactly the record the Big 10 will have after round one. The Daily Gopher predicts a 5-2 record for the Big 10 in the first round. Uh, yeah, I'll take that mark, too.
The problem arises after the first round. We've all memorized the brackets by now. You know that if chalk holds form, only one Big 10 can expect to advance as far as regionals. Michigan State, the only team with a top-4 seed, would have to reel off a Final Four run to eventually win this bet.
The Big 10 going over seven wins can be broken down into three fronts: Can the Spartans play up to their seed, can the league's two 5-seeds outperform those numbers (or anyone else, really), and can the remaining four clubs notch a split in their first round games.
I feel strong about the Spartans playing to their seed. After a Functional Do Not Play in the opener against Robert Morris, they would face the winner of the BC/USC game. They'd run BC off the court, but it wont matter. They'll be playing the Trojans. This will be a tougher game than whomever MSU would likely play in an eventual Sweet 16 match up, probably either Kansas or West Virginia. Sparty has already picked the Jayhawks apart clean this season. As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers don’t shoot well enough, brick a lot of free throws and its hard to believe their edge on the offensive glass wouldn't be negated during 40 minutes of classic Izzo-Ball. It all goes back to the second round game against the Trojans. This team is finally peaking with freshman phenom DeMar DeRozan finally hitting his stride and giving this club four legit double digit scorers. Still, the Big 10 regular season champion should be able to ease by here. That's 3 wins.
Can either of the five-seeds make a run?. Absolutely, especially if you're talking about Purdue. The Boilers will easily dispatch Northern Iowa in the first round. I hate to sound so sure about a game in the traditional 5/12 upset window. But, I tend to agree with the intimations that hint Northern Iowa as one of the Missoui Valley's weakest entrants in recent seasons. In the second round, I have bad visions of Washington's Jonathan Brockton being a load to handle or Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnardo blocking Robbie Hummel into the fourth row of seats. Nevertheless, the Boilers will have too much firepower and defense for those squads. Can they get by UCONN in the regionals? Probably not, but this team has as much talent and versatile parts as just about anyone else in the field. They're peaking as a team, and in the case of pivot man JuJuan Johnson, individually at just the right time. I think they find an extra gear in this tournament. They notch at least 2 wins.
Illinois, the other 5-seed in the Big 10 may be in trouble, especially without guard Chester Frazier. At some point, that will cost them. They're a trendy pick to go down in the first round, but there's enough left over guard play, combined with interior play from Davis and Tisdale to squeak by Western Kentucky. You know the Illini will find a way to make this game ugly and thwart the Hilltoppers up tempo game. That's what they do. I don’t know how much more we can expect out of the Illini. Let's hope they get out of the first round and give us the sixth win.
That leaves the other four clubs, none seeded higher than 8th, to find a way to earn a 2-2 first round split. Only one team, Ohio State, is favored, so they experts in the desert are trying to push me in the direction of something less than a 2-2 split. Let me make a case for each team.
The Buckeyes size and ability to create a physical half court game will grind Siena's up temp greyhounds to a halt. They wont be able to roll up and down the floor against Matta's club. He wont let that happen. Wisconsin and Florida State appears to be a coin flip and the Badgers have a lot more tournament experience. It's a tough draw for the Badgers and some are expecting a Champs Sports Bowl Redux, but Bo Ryan has a strong March track record. Leonard Hamilton and the first-time dancing in over decade Seminoles do not. Clemson was besieged by in fighting in the wake of their ACC Tournament loss and may have peaked way too early this season. The Tigers aren't playing their best ball right now. The President might like Clemson, but Kodos likes Michigan. I dont know about you, but I dont want to go against powerful aliens. In the Texas-Minnesota 10/7 game, I like Rick Barnes to out recruit Tubby Smith, but not to out coach him. Two wins out of this bunch is not unreasonable.
That gives us eight victories and a winning ticket on the Big 10. What does everyone else think? Am I crazy for taking this bet or not. I cosign this open letter to Big 10 players to prove the doubting punditry class wrong. While we're debating, here are a couple interesting prop bets that caught my eye.
Win Totals in other Leagues
The Big 10 win total is set at 7. How about the other leagues?
The Big East's bar is set the highest with 15.5 wins. The ACC's bar is 11, the Big 12 is 8 and the Pac 10, 6.5. The SEC is just 1.5, which is somewhat attractive because would anyone be shocked if Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi St came up with two first round wins between them. The Vols and Tigers are favored, albeit slightly. Conference USA is 2.5, so if you have Memphis in your Final Four, why not throw down on this over? You're already projecting it to hit. The West Coast Conference is also 1.5. That looks like easy money especially if you factor Gonzaga as a Sweet 16 team. The drawback is the juice. The odds on the over are -240, meaning to win $100, you have to be willing to put up $240. That's a big loss to absorb if the Zags can’t get out of the first weekend. I'd be crying like Adam Morrison if I lost with those odds. Away from total conference wins, the O/U on total wins by #1 seeds is 13.5.
What kind of scrooge picks against upsets happening
This kind of scrooge might. Considering how much we all love seeing March upsets, picking opposite that likelihood smacks of betting against the shooter at the craps table. That's bad karma. But, wagering that nobody seeded 14th or worse to win a game conforms solidly to history.
Here's the bet: Will a 16-15-14 seed win a game? I am salivating at this one. A bet of 'No' only comes at favored odds of -120. This seems too easy. No 16-seed has ever won a game and only 4 #15 seeds have pulled out a win. Teams seeded on one of these lines are 19-269 in the tournament since the current seeding process began. Is Vegas slow playing me on this one? Do they know something about Morgan State, North Dakota State and American that we're not seeing? I don’t know, but I would expect odds on this to exceed -200. This close to even, I feel obligated to play it and hope the overwhelming historic evidence plays out the way its supposed to.
My one worry is North Dakota State beating Kansas. The Bison are seeing a lot of love. Many feel the slipper may fit. KU has been victimized before under Bill Self. Our mid-major guru Jerry at the JCCW goes as far as placing NDSU is on his surprisingly short list of mid major upsets. Maybe I'll put some coin on the Bison and back myself up here. Otherwise, I don’t care if it makes a sound like Billy Packer by rooting against Cinderella. Besides, she's a bit of a Butterface anyway.
Who cares if Binghamton wins, but can they take a lead?
Isn't this the equivalent of betting the coin toss in the Super Bowl. Think about. Duke wins the tip and dorky Kyle Singler drains a trey. Do you have any chance of winning this bet if you're backing Binghamton? This bet can be over quickly either way. Duke is favored by 22 in this one, so you know the Bears aren't clawing back from a hole to take a second half lead. It's probably not relevant to this prop, but its worth noting that Duke is 0-4 against the spread in their last four frst round games. I'm just mentioning it, that's all.
Head to head wins
Just about every Book out there gives you the chance to take schools, heads up against each other, for most total wins during the tournament. I could not find Michigan matched up with anybody, or that many Big 10 schools on the lists. The most UM relevant prop out there in this regard is Clemson vs. Texas, where the Tigers are a solid -150 favorite to have more wins than the Longhorns. I don’t know if this makes me feel more sure the Gophers can take the Horns or less sure about the Wolverines chances tonight against Clemson. Or both. Both first round games go off at the same time this evening. I have to think I can combine a bet on the side of both of those games and find a way to insure myself through this total win prop. I have all day to figure out the math, so we'll see.
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.