(Diarist Note: I edited the title. just trying to be a smartass)
Just some thoughts while watching the best team in Ohio destroy Rutgers in their season opener.
Brian covered a lot of ground in The Downgrade about the weekend that was for our Big 10 brethern. I will try to avoid being overly repetitive, but let me add a few more words to the discussion.
Th Big 10 spent the offseason seeing their reputation get skinned alive. Opening weekend only added more blood to the feeding frenzy. The public turned more anti-Big 10 with the early 2009 returns. For proof, lets go to the big betting board. Odds tilted in the favor of Big 10 foes for key upcoming games after the less than impressive debuts Saturday. Lets talk about them on a team-by-team basis.
They say home field advantage is worth three points in the spread, but aparently sleep walking your way through a game and nearly losing to a service academy at the buzzer is worth a few more.
The Buckeyes spent all summer as unshakeable 3.5-point underdogs in their showdown next week with USC. (Real quickly something to keep in mind: Books release Game of the Year Odds in the summer. They stay up all year, but always get pulled from the board sometime before the weekend action kicks in. They get re-released after the weekend games conclude) This morning? Ohio State is now +7, a 3.5 point swing from Friday's line. Even more compelling on what kind of action the experts in the desert expect to see on the game is the fact that Las Vegas Sports Consultants, who release recommended lines, leaned to USC -4.5 just yesterday. Oddsmakers took one look at that, promptly said NOT GOOD ENOUGH and raised the action to a full touchdown in hopes of luring in some Buckeye money, that's not already invested in trailer park safety upgrades.
My take? Keep in mind that I dont see myself betting this game. I wasnt going to be taking OSU +3.5 and I remain unenticed at +7. Besides, I have people on the payroll in charge of slugging me if I ever bet against the Trojans when they're playing a Big 10 team. They are big, mean and goony looking. I am not ready to test them yet.
That said, I do discount some of the lethargy we saw in the Shoe. Keep in mind, they were playing a team that has been to six bowl games in a row. That qualification alone should tell you that Navy brings more game to the table than the stereotypes built up in the public mind. I dont think the Buckeyes played with the right level of urgency coming out of the gates, perhaps a symptom of them coming out of the tunnel together with Navy in solidarity. Tressel didnt have their settings on 'Babby Eating' at the start and it showed as Navy was able to establish their offense. Once Navy does that, you're in trouble, no matter who you are.
Of course, Ohio State did allow a meticulous 99-yard TD drive, were dominated on third downs on both sides of the ball and made the Naval QB, in his second ever start, look like a good passer. He may be a good passer, but the performance eased a lot of fears out there that a Trojan QB making his first ever start could be overmatched on setting alone.
The Hawkeyes own dismal performance against Northern Iowa was also worth a field goal in their own grudge match this coming Saturday. The Hawks travel to Ames to play Iowa State and initially were given the nod as 10-point favorites. The Cyclones have proven a Waterloo of sorts for Iowa backers, not only covering the spot in 10 of the last 11 games, but also winning seven of them outright, including 4-1 SUATS in games at Ames. On series history alone, despite how bad Iowa State appears to be, catching double digits looked mighty mighty tempting. Iowa laying chalk to Iowa State is Dutch for "Its a trap!" Little known fact.
The Hawkeyes were a mess on offense Saturday. They are supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Injuries and suspension forced them to play a brand new interior and the line could not control the point of attack against one the better FCS teams in the land. After playing depth chart games all summer long with their only legit deep threat Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa went more than two full quarters without him even stepping on the field. The Paki O'Meara experience as lead ball carrier went nowhere, giving way to Adam Robinson, a redshirt freshmen who is so obscure he didnt even have a Phil Steele number coming out of high school. And while Ricky Stanzi did get the passing game going, he was in midseason form with his patened 'No Stanzi' moments gift wrapping an early UNI score giving Hawk fans flashbacks to last year's Pitt game. Or was it Northwestern? Maybe MSU? You get the picture.
Kirk Calloway comes off suspension and will be back on the line and they could get injured starter Juilian Vandevelde back as well. Perhaps the DJK thing was a one game thing because they could get away with it against UNI. Ferentz has a history of unearthing sleeper running backs in these injury situations and Robinson's emergence might signal that continuation. Maybe Stanzi stops doing random and unexpected Anthony Morelli impersonations.
Maybe it all suddenly gets worked out this week with the despised Cyclones on the slate. At double digits, this looked attractive. Even though some of the icing have been wiped off, I still might take a bite of the cake at +7. The history is strong in the series. Iowa has struggled to put points on the board against ISU in the past, and it didnt look last week that they're any better equipped to do so this go around.
Talk about laying an egg. Everyone was on Illinois. And everyone lost. When the Golden Nugget released its Games of the Year odds back in June, the Illini were just -2.5 in this game. By game time, the line was nearly a full touchdown. I cant shake the thought the Book came out way ahead on this one.
Somehow all those talented defensive players flocking to Champagne and Juice Williams at QB have done nothing but get worse since arriving on campus. Welcome to the Ron Zook Experience. You could probably still buy real cheap tickets from Florida fans if you want a seat on the ride.
We wont see the Illini back on the betting board until September 26th when they travel to Columbus. They play FCS team Illinois State this week and have a bye in the 19th. We have not seen the impact of the Illini's performance will have on the odds as future games have yet to be released since this weeks games arent officially over. But, they were +9.5 at OSU, +2.5 at home vs PSU and -7 at home vs UM. Those lines are being reconsidered, I am sure.
The Illini are a compelling team for me to follow. They topped Phil Steele's list of most improved team and could figure prominently in my theory of following those teams when they're catching points. After watching them play Missouri, I am expecting them to be an underdog now more often in their games. I cant wait. I need a drink.
Michigan was the most impressive Big 10 team on the day. Wait a sec, did I say that right? Let me try again. Michigan was the most impressive Big 10 team on the day. Really, its supposed to read that? Ok, thats why I trust my writers, I'll go with it. I'll start over.
Michigan was the most impressive Big 10 team on the day.
Like a lot of the Michigan fanbase, everybody on the outside is also trying to manage possible new expectations for Wolverines. Oddsmakers and the betting public, however, have not been impressed yet. At least as it pertains to the Notre Dame game.
If you recall, the summer line for this game opened at ND -2.5. Bettors wasted no time in pumping Irish money into the coffers and the line quickly raised to 3, then 3.5, where it rested for the rest of the summer. Now? It's at ND -4. It actually opened earlier today at -4.5, so maybe oddsmakers pushed it a little too far. We'll see.
Michigan was placed as an underdog in all 6 Games of the Year that oddsmakers released. Based on the intial reactions with the ND line, its hard to imagine a whole lot of movement on those lines. I am still intrigued to see what they look like after Saturday's debut. And, if Michigan adds a win against Notre Dame, it's safe to say that Michigan will probably reverse roles in at least a couple of those contests.
There were a couple other games for this coming Saturday that have seen major line shifts on account on opening week. Real quickly, UGA fell from an 11.5-point favorite to just 7 points against South Carolina last week. Somebody advised weeks ago to get in on the Gamecocks at that first number. TCU was going to be 5.5 -point road chalk at Virginia this week, but after the Cavs were dominated by William/Mary (Sorry, OC. Sorry, MaizeandBlueWahoo), the Horned Frogs are walling into Charlottesville as double digit chalk at -11.
A sure sign that I'm having way too much summer fun is that point spreads for dozens of college football games have been on the Vegas Board for more than a month, and I have yet to break down those spots in a TL;DR MGoDiary. Well, fellow MGoBloggers, here it is, with the season beginning three weeks from tonight, lets take a look at how the oddsmakers have factored the Wolverines' chances in some of their more important games of the season. I know there has been a handful of threads briefly discussing this topic, so I doubt I'm breaking much news with these spreads, but I still felt a more in depth look into these spots was warranted.
Oddsmakers put out lines for six of Michigan's 12 games. What those numbers reveal is just how unconvinced the public remains on a Wolverine turnaround in 2009 and the challenges the Books face in enticing Michigan money to flow through the betting windows. Michigan is an underdog in all six games. Regardless of foe, be it as powerful as Penn State or Ohio State, or maligned as Notre Dame or Wisconsin, the Wolverines are catching points on the early line of every game of that's been released.
Even though that development was not entirely unexpected, it still deserves a sticker shock double take of sorts. Before last season, Michigan had only been catching points in seven regular season games this decade. In last year's disastrous season, Michigan was installed as a dog five times. Before the first ball is even kicked off for the 2009 season, Michigan looks to be the underdog already in at least six games. The only way Vegas can get people to bet on Michigan in any of these games is to give them anywhere between a field goal and a touchdown head start.
None of this should be construed as any real dour news. Well, other than the transfers that will certainly ensue with the further publication of these lines. But seriously, Michigan has historically been a great play when catching points. Even in bowl games. Since 1985, Michigan is 30-17 ATS as an underdog. If you remove any games against Ohio State--a rivalry that tilts to the home team against the spread and during which the Wolverines are a pedestrian 5-5 ATS as a dog during this run--Michigan's record when catching points improves by a few percentage points with a 25-12 record.
History says Michigan will cover more of these games than not. We'll see if Rodriguez's young charges are up to the burden of history this year and whether or not any of the possible underdog covers net upset wins. Without further adieu, lets take a look at the games on the Big Board.
Western Michigan at Michigan, 9/5
Line: Michigan -12
A clarification: This line has only been released within the last few days and not part of the Book Community's Games of Year Board that came out several weeks ago. In those games, the Wolverines are catching points in everyone. But, most online books have updated to include the entire Week One slate and here are the Wolverines laying serious chalk against a team that, unlike the Maize and Blue, played in a bowl game last season.
Of course, the Broncos were absolutley obliterated by Rice last season in that bowl game and my concerns for this game had really subsided for most of the off season. Now that the drum beat of the approaching season is louder and closer, the worry wort fan in me has begun to envision Tim Hiller channeling his inner John Elway and slinging the ball all over the place against the young, retooling Michigan defense.
I still think Michigan has a significant edge in the trenches in this game. As bad as last year was, Michigan still rushed for almost 5 yards a carry against their two MAC foes last season. And, Brandon Minor had a total of one combined carry in the contests. With the Broncos completely rebuilding on defense, Michigan's offensive line expected to make the leap and something in the ballpark of 20 carries out of Minor and I dont think the Wolverines will have problem moving up and down the field.
The question is will that be enough to score points? Last year's offense bogged down in those MAC games and struggled to turn an efficient offense in between the 30 yard lines into points. I believe Forcier will be a difference in those spots. However, he is a true freshmen and could throw a killer pick-6 like Threet did last year against Toledo. Michigan will have enough to finally win an opening game, but can anybody not drunk on Maize and Blue Koolaid (and, trust me, that shit tastes good) really feel comfortable laying 12 points with them right now? I cant. Besides, there are much better investment chances on opening weekend.
Notre Dame at Michigan, 9/12
Line: ND -3.5
There has already been quite a bit of activity surrounding this line. When the Golden Nugget in Vegas released their lines in June, it was reported that the Irish were indeed 3.5 point chalk. However when the army on onlines formally released lines several weeks later, the Irish had been moved down to 2.5 points. It was quickly bet up to 3 and tagged with a higher taxed juice at -120. The extra vig has not stopped the momentum in favor of the chalk and, as of today, the line has been bumped back up to 3.5.
All the seemingly one-sided action the public is placing with the off shores on the Irish flies in the face of the history of this series. The underdog is 20-5 ATS since the modern rivalry resumed in 1978 and has won this game outright as often as the favorite. I've talked about it many times. It is the series identity. It trumps whatever matchup breakdown you can throw out there.
I could go on and list all the times a chalk Wolverines squad got chopped at the knees by the Irish. But that would bring up way too many scars. Besides, short of a Michigan romp over WMU combined with a Nevada upset over the Irish opening week nothing will flip MIchigan into the favorite role. So lets talk about them as dogs in this series.
Notre Dame has only covered once in this series as a favorite. In 1982. I was in the fifth grade. That was a long time ago.
Notre Dame has been favored only once in the Big House and that was back in 1985. Michigan unveiled a dominant defense, crisp offense and let the football world know that day that it was back after a disatrous 6-loss campaign the year before in a 20-12 upset win. I could go for a parallel outcome next month, whadya say Fielding Yost up there in Football Vahalla?
The last two times Michigan has been catching points in this series, Remy Hamilton knocked home a game winning field goal and Yakety Sax 2006 happened.
What intrgiues me about this series is how often the winner ends up playing aruguably their best game of the season. Name me a better win by the 1998, 2002, 2004, 2005 or 2008 Irish team? How about a more clutch game than played by the 2006, 1999, or 1994 Wolverines. The thread in most of those games is the underdog springing the upset or, at the very least, keeping the final score closer than the experts thought.
I'll blindly throw a buck or two down based on the series history alone and wont lose any sleep over doing so.
Michigan at Michigan State, 10/3
Line: MSU -4
It's hard to get past a pair of technical edges when looking at this year's Michigan-Michigan State game. Neither lines up well for the Wolverines.
Michigan will be playing its first road game after four straight home contests to begin the season. Underdogs in that spot are just 12-15 ATS since 1998. That tilts away from the Wolverine's side, but only slightly and not hardly enough to stand alone as a serviceable handicapping angle.
The fact it's MIchigan's first road game is damning enough, however, to make a pick. The Wolverines first road trip of the year has been a nightmare for Michigan boosters with the program checking in with a 9-21 ATS record in their first game of the year in the other guy's stadium.
This dates back to 1979, making it a Michigan tradition as old as great flankers wearing the #1 jersey.
The Wolverines traveled to Cal that season as heavy 9-point chalk. But, Michigan played a sloppy first half, puncuated by a block punt that set the Bears up on short field for an easy touchdown. Trailing 10-0 to start the second half, Michigan finally kicked it in gear. A hit by defensive tackle Paul Girgash gave Michigan the turnover they needed to get it started. Two plays later a Stan Edwards run put the Wolverines on the board. Later in the quarter, a BJ Dickey pass to Doug Marshfield provided the go ahead score. Despite dominating the game statisically (Michigan had nine sacks and nearly twice as many yards), the Wolverines never threatened to score the spread busting points.
After listening to the game on the radio, a young Jamie Mac, while happy his team won, walked down the block to pay off the quarter bet he had made with some loudmoth Buckeye neighbor that Michigan would roll by at least double digits. His main bone of contention: Schembechler burying the cant miss, 5-star waterbug recruit Anthony Carter on the bench as AC rarely saw the field that day. From that point forward, Michigan's misery in their first road game only grew. Here are some lowlights:
- In 1981, preseason #1 MIchigan lost their season opener, on the road, to lowly Wisconsin thanks to a gazillion interceptions thrown by Steve Smith. Later that day, an infant Brian Cook helped his family paint their home pink and collect injured stray kittens from around the neighborhood.
- In 1987, Demetrious Brown tossed two gazzilon interceptions as MSU and Lorenzo White powered past MIchigan 17-11. Somewhere in southern MIchigan, toddler Dex begins chain smoking and swinging whiffle ball bats at whomever mocked his Wolverines. The seeds of an Army were sown.
- In 1993, the Spartans again stymied the heavily favored Wolverines, bottling up Tyrone Wheatley the way no other Big 10 could ever replicate and mandhanled MIchigan in a 17-7 win. This result so enraged Other Brian that he declared, on sight, a war on everything green and started by torching the grass in his parent's front yard. He has been protecting us from the Green Menace ever since.
- In 1998, the defending national champs got smoked in the second half in South Bend as touchdown chalk en route to a 38-20 loss. Magnus pink slipped quarterback Tom Brady for engineering an offense that failed in the red zone, settling for too many field goal attempts and missing a chance to blow the Irish out during the game's first 30 minutes. The quarterback who should keep his job was Drew Henson. Or Jason Kaspner.
- In 2003 Varsity Blu-er, I mean MGoTim consoled himself after the loss at Oregon by pouring over highlight films of a rising junior who was sure to be the steal of the eventual 2005 recruiting class: Johnny Sears.
I mean I could go on and on and on here. There is a plethora of epic, heartbreaking fail here.
But, no. I wont. Instead, I come bearing news of a loophole that could lead us around this historical landmine. Like most of the games in this diary, the Wolverines are an underdog. That's important when looking deeper into these otherwise woeful numbers. When catching points in their first road game of the year, Michigan is 7-2 against the spread, with four "upset" wins and a tie straight up.
Think about that for a second. In all games, Michigan's historic success rate in the role of first road game is less than 33 percent. However, in this specific role as a dog, their success rate shoots up to 87 percent. I'd say those are intrguing numbers.
Penn State at Michigan, 10/24
Line: Penn State -5
The winner of this game has also covered the spread in 12 of the 14 all-time meetings between these teams since the Nittany Lions joined the Big 10. Sometimes its as easy as picking the winner. No problem, right?
The only two times the winning team also failed to get the cash also provided a pair of memorable Michigan Stadium moments: Michigan's overtime win by 3 in 2002 as four point favorites and the inimitable Manningham catch puncuating the 2005 27-25 win. Hard to believe, but the Wolverines were field goal chalk against the unbeaten Lions that afternoon.
I'd like to think Michigan can win this game. We'll know by October if our dreams of an improved season are materializing and whether or not Michigan has the chops to compete here. One thing I will say is that I am not 100 percent sold on Penn State. They are very talented in spots. But they have some holes that also raise eyebrows. They're rebuilding their entire secondary. They're replacing a lot of talent of the offensive line. Daryl Clark still has not made a big throw in a moment of truth spot. I'm not that sold on Clark as a great QB, and with all his targets gone from last year he will see more of the passing game burden fall on his ability to deliver the right ball. Yeah, they can be exposed by good teams. But is Michigan a good team?
Real quickly about those receivers: I generally dont get too swayed on a team's chances based on skill players returning or leaving. But, I cant shake that this will be a big problem for Penn State. They're replacing a trio of wideouts who have finished 1-2-3 in receiving stats for the team all four years they were on the team. That's going to hard to replace this season merely by dipping down on the depth chart.
The biggest blow is Derek Williams, who caught, ran and passed the ball out of multitude of formations. He was as important to PSU's run last year as Michael Robinson was in 2005 and we all saw how inconsistent the Lions were for a couple of seasons without him. The Spread HD was all the rave last season with Clark at QB instead of Anthony Morelli, but I dont think Jay Pa and Galen Hall will know how to call plays as effectively without Williams to lean on. Just epinion.
Michigan at Illinois, 10/31
Line: Illinois -7
A year after Illinois stabbed dagger-in-the-heart play into our hearts one after the other and thumped Michigan to the tune of 45 points, its probably hard to conjure up images of a Michigan win here. But was last year really that much of a blowout?
What happens if Threet and Odoms connect on a wide open pass over the middle in the closing minute of the first half? That's a touchdown and Michigan lead of three going into the half. Instead the connection achingly was off target with another. Or, after Illinois had forged a 10-point lead in the second half, a deep sideline pass to Savoy had connected? Michigan always could connect on those when the chips are on the table. But, on that play, Savoy was so overmatched against Vontae Davis he had no chance to catch the ball, which was thrown so poorly it probably would not have helped had Savoy even been able to get open.
What does all this excuse making mean? If Michigan's offense takes the steps forward many readers of this blog expect, then the Wolverines should be able to do damage against the Illini. They came sneakingly close to going point for point with them in last season's otherwise decisive Illini win. The question is can they keep up all four quarters? Can the defense get enough stops to help the cause? With a lot of fireworks expected in this one, a touchdown head start could come in handy.
Michigan at Wisconsin, 11/14
Line: Wisco -3.5
The home team has won five straight games in this series. That's bad news for Michigan. The underdog has covered at a 6-1-1 clip with five meetings decided by five or less points. That's good news for Michigan.
What's better news for Michigan? Brett Bielema remains the coach for the Badgers.
If Michigan needs the Badgers to forget who their best tailback weapon is, Bielema will be there for them. If Michigan needs the Badgers to fail on third and short by getting too cute with the playcalling, Bielema will be there for them. If Michigan needs extra prep for a field goal at the end of the clock, Bielema will be there to call timeout. If Michigan needs the running game to start working, Bielema will be there with ridiculously wide gapped defensive fronts.
He will be All In for Michigan.
The problem may be the calendar. This game is in early November. That should give Bielema enough time to figure out that Curt Philips is his best bet at QB. Not to mention enough time for Jonathon Clay to become enough of a star that Bielema wont be able to lose him on the bench like he did last year.
Nevertheless, this has become one of the more dramatic series in the Big 10 this decade with three games decided in the final minute, two others by less than five and a sixth by just a touchdown. No reason the trend of tight games with the Badgers will stop. The more points the better in games like that.
Ohio State at Michigan, 11/21
Line: OSU -7
Ah, the big one. After spending the better part of TWENTY YEARS owning this series, Michigan has seen the roles reversed in this rivalry and have been the nail since 2004 with five losses in a row. I refuse to insult you with a pep talk about how we are Michigan and never count us out, especially in a big rivalry. That's rah-rah stuff and wont mean a hill of beans if the 2009 Wolverines dont take the steps forward many are counting on.
Instead, I will repeat the same type of expectations I have for this game as I did last year. If you recall, last summer Michigan opened up as a 14-point underdog. All I had hoped for is that Michigan play well enough during the season to see that line decrease and maybe shrink to single digits by game week. Of course, the complete oppositie happened. The season did not go well. D'uh. By game week, the Bucks were laying three touchdowns instead of just two.
I have the same hopes and feelings here. Hopefully Michigan will play well enough in the upcoming months to see this line get shaved a point or two down. Or how about a little wishful thinking and get it down to just a field goal. What would make that happen? Well, a Michigan team entering the contest with 7-9 wins might do it. I guess so to would a Buckeye team with four losses or so. I wont lie, both those outcomes I would accept. The latter would quiet a lot of locals around my scarlet and gray neighborhood here behind enemy lines.
So, rather than breaking down what might be a matchup mismatch on paper, I'll just lean on the hopes that Michigan improves enough this year to make this spot smaller. Michgian Football 2009: Where We Hope To Play Well Enough To Get Better Oddsmaker Respect By November. Can you feel the excitement? Alright maybe its not as thirlling as 'All In' but its what I'm sticking to.
We'll see what happens. Until then, enjoy the games.
Diarist Note: For more insights on all things college football and hoops related with some NFL thrown in, make sure to visit my new e-blog: justcoverblog.com. I've been sporadic at posting this summer at the start, but will be revving up with daily posts in the next few days. There will loads of content and a few gambling rants once the season begins.
Well, five weeks from today, the college football season begins. We're all chomping at the bit to see and discuss some actual action. Speaking of action, lets get some discussion rolling on these Big 10 out of conference games that are already on the Big Board in Vegas and other odds sites.
Got any best bets among this group? Let's hear them. Here are the games:
Missouri +6 over Illinois (neutral site), Week One.
Iowa -10 at Iowa State, Week Two.
USC -3 at Ohio State, Week Two.
Notre Dame -3 at Michigan, Week Two.
Michigan State +7 at Notre Dame, Week Three.
Illinois -3 at Cincinnati, Week 12.
Wiso -11 at Hawaii, Week 14.
I know, not a lot to choose from.
A couple of points:
1.) We have seen some big movements in the Mizz/Illini and USC/OSU lines. At the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas, the Illini opened at -2.5. It did not stay that way for too long. Very quickly it got bet up to six and when online books finally released lines, that is the number it opened at. The same thing happened with the USC/OSU line, but in the oppositie direction. That line opened at 6 at the Nugget. But all sorts of early money came in on the Bucks and the price fell to -3.
2.) The Michigan/Notre Dame line opened at 3.5, fell to 2.5 and is now holding steady a 3.The ND line is weighed at -120, while Michigan is at even money. That tells us that more recent money is coming in on ND and in order to stem that, the oddsmakers not only boosted the lines, but made the bet more expensive to make as well. Is it worth pointing out the underdog in thise series is 20-5 ATS with a 12-12-1 straight up record? I love seeing the Wolverines catching points in this rivalry. The public can keep pouring money in on the Irish for all I care. I'll fade them and go with the Book everytime.
3.) By matter of principle, I always take the Dog in the UM/ND series. In addition to that, I love, I mean flat out adore the Spartans catching a full TD against the Irish. MSU has won 10 of the 13 games on the scoreboard and really own ND Stadium having won six a row there. Among this small menu of games, it is my BEST BET. Book It!
Any thoughts on these games? Hell, I dont care, lets talk about other games. Whatever. Let's get this season rolling!
I'd like to thank the Texas Longhorns and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers for saving my ass. Chalk ruled yesterday. Not good news for somebody who invested in seven underdogs. But, with the Horns and Hilltoppers nearly upseting higher seeds, the final two dogs cashed, winning me a little money back.
A lot of the dogs I liked weren't even competitive, making for about as uncomfortable day of wagering as you can find. Somehow, I managed a 4-4 record. I breathed a sigh of relief just to get that record.
I misread the action yesterday. I ignored what we had learned for most of the season, that being there's about a handful of power teams in the country, that have played at a level a couple rungs up the ladder than everyone else. This is only a wide open tournament if you limit your group to, say, six teams. Anyway, the teams that have been part of that group all season eviserated their foes yesterday with four double digit win and covers. Duke was to the only club of the crew not to cover their spread, but in Texas that had the m ost established and talented foe. Of the rest, Michigan and LSU were competitive and could have, but were done ultimately, but strong closing kicks. Texas A/M and Maryland were annihilated from the opening tap. Whatever Greivas Vasquez had in mind mouthy off to Memphis clearly backfired.
I have tons of Michigan thoughts, but need some more time to put something together thats not a choatic mess. There's all sorts of post mortem every in the M blogosphere, so give it a tour for your Sunday reading. I know folks have been following my picks, so I want to use this space to quickly throw them out there.
*** Syracuse -2 over Arizona State. A game that students of zone defense will love. Both teams specialize in it and will face huge challenges today. Can ASU slow the explosive Big East attack? Can Syracuse stymie James Hardin, who is expected to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Syracuse has scored at least 80 points 21 times this season, going 18-3 in those games. The Devils allow just 60 points per game. You'll be able to figure out who is winning the pace game by tracking thos numbers. The Orange are 9-6 in their lower scoring games, so they can win at that pace. I dont think the Devils can win at the Orange's pace though. ASU's zone will have its success, but the Orange are balanced and diverse on offense. They'll find enough answers. I'm not sure the Devils can beyond Hardin. Plus, this Orange team came togther in the Big East Tournament. It actually goes back to the Seton Hall game, a chippy game with a couple of fights. This club has been steeled togehter like no Orange team we've seen in recent seasons. Finally, this loaded roster is playing with a sense of team purpose. They win today and will be a dangerous out for Oklahoma next weekend.
*** Oklahoma State +8.5 over Pitt. What was that I said about misreading the board because I ignored how much better the cream was than everyone else? Sometimes you just dont learn. Look, I was surprised by just how poorly ETSU played and still had a chance to beat mighty Pitt. That Panthers have never been great tournament favorites and for whatever reason their style lends itself to trouble this time of year. No Sugarcoat. The Cowboys have been trending upwards for an entire month and have a ton of offense. I think they can showcase enough of it and push the tempo to take minimize the interior advantage of Pitt to stay in this one.
*** Dayton +8 over Kansas. The Hawks needed everything in their bag to stay a few steps ahead of North Dakota State the other day. The offensive going will much tougher to sled today against the D-minded Flyers. Dayton loves to bring the game down to an ugly level. They would fit right in with the Big 10. I was impressed by them on Friday. West Virginia was a KenPom darling, but Dayton was able to exert its style and will and make a team that at times took my breath away this year, into a typical-offense lacking Bob Huggins team. Until last season, KU would eventually give us a typical March clunker. I think Dayton shows us the way to that today.
*** Wisco +4 Xavier. It was good to see an ACC team get a dose we Big 10 teams get at least a couple times a year: Old school street fights with Wisconsin. Wasn't that a vintage Wisconsin game the other night with their win over Florida State. They use that style to compete every year. National pundits hammer the league because they just dont give the Badgers respect. Just epinion. I think they give Xavier a dose of that today and this one goes down to the wire similar to the FSU game from Friday.
*** CSU +3 over Arizona. Better late than never with the Vikings. Man, do I regret not pulling that trigger Friday night. Same situation happened to me last year with Siena. All week, I loved them over Vandy, but had this bizarre last second doubt and didn't bet it. Siena rolled. I grabbed them in the second round, and they could come through. I hope this late-to-the-bandwagon syndrome nets a different result today. It's 50/50 CSU is relentless. I dont think the Wildcats are tough to enough to scrape 40 full minutes with the Vikings. Also: Did you know the CSU Viking mascot is named Magnus.?
I have zero idea who I like in the other three games. But, five bets should keep me occupied until then.
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.