For the last three years, I have wondered how in the heck did Michigan fritter away that Indiana game at Crisler Arena to close the 2006 regular season. I'll carry the same puzzlement for a while in the wake of yesterday's game. From a Wolverine perspective, its good to be on the other side of that equation this go around. Michigan's karma is now even steven, at least in that regard.
It helps when you have one of the best coaches in the college game.
Laval-Lucas Perry, this next round is on me.
Name dropping alert; Name dropping alert. When the Gophers played at Crisler Arena a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting with WLA Goons Dex and MRG. Among the talking points, was a whole lot of chuckles at Tubby Smith's timeout pattern. He let Michigan rip off a scoring run to close the first half without even trying to stop momentum. Yet, he called a TO with 3 seconds in the half to diagram a play. It didn't work. He continued to react slowly the whole second half, but at least still had a TO in his pocket to use in the final five seconds with his team hopelessly behind double digits.
His TO yesterday took place well before Westbrook even began his shooting motion, so its probably not as big a gaffe as its being made out. But, how typical of Smith. Your guy is loose in open court, nobody has picked him up. Just trust your players. Quit over coaching! One of your money shooters is going towards the rim and is free enough to measure up his shot, and your first instint is to take the ball out of his hands? Thank you, Orlando Smith.
Check out Yinka Double Dare's Diary for all the seeding possibilies in the Big 10 Tournament that will be impacted by the final three league games played today. I know Iowa would be a tougher out, but I am spinning bad mojo on ice in my head at the prospects of playing Indiana in the 6/11 game. As many of you know, yours truly is an Indiana University Grad, circa none of your business. Anyway, as much as I have loved and admired the effort of the kids this season, it would not give me any satisfaction to see them spring an upset and advance in this field on the backs of Michigan. While I am not superstitious enough to believe in live blog curses, I am deathly afraid for Michigan because of my own bad karma. I've gone into Crisler to cheer for Indiana over Michigan before. At some point the sports gods will want some blood in return.
Make no mistake, regardless who the Hoosiers play in that 6/11 game, Conseco Fieldhouse will be filled at the tip with Cream and Crimson clad fans. Hoosier faithful knew the score heading into the season and they've still showed up in droves to root for their team. They had the best fans out in Maui. And, they serenaded the lone outgoing senior as the final seconds of the Assembly Hall season ticked off the clock. Let's admit it: how many of us would have been willingly to do the same to the Michigan seniors this past football season? It will be close to a road game for the opponent on Thursday. I'm comforted by the fact that if its Michigan, there will be several thousands Wolverine fans, so the players will at least have a lot more support than a true road game.
If Northwestern does win later today against Ohio State, it would create an intriguing lineup of games to open the tournament Thursday afternoon. Ohio State and Minnesota would start in the 8/9 game in what could be an elimination game. Northwestern/ Iowa would play in the 7/10 game with the Wildcats probably still needing a win to clinch their first ever tournament bid. We've seen what Iowa can do in recent games. That game could go either way. And, then Michigan-Indiana to cap the day with Michigan also trying to clinch a long awaited bid. I dont think there's been a first round of this tournament that's had as much possible stack on the line. Now, I just need a plan to get out of work.
My foray into handicapping small school championship games ended unsuccesfully yesterday, logging a 1-2 mark in three showdowns. I went with my heart for the second straight game with the Loyola Marymount reincarnate VMI Keydets in the Big South. This time, it burned me as Radford sprinted right by the Keydets in a game that outscored five of the 11 NBA games played last night.
Pick that should keep its job: East Tennessee State dominating Jacksonville. That wager was never in doubt. Anytime I think of the Buccaneers, I think of tiny guard Keith Mr. Jennings who nearly led ETSU to a 1/16 upset over Clemson in the 1990 tournament and lost in the second round in the 1992 tournament to a team that played a lot of freshmen. You may have heard of them.
For most of the Ohio Valley Finals, it looked like I would coax out a winning record in these games. Austin Peay controlled the whole game and seemed to play the whole second half up somehwere between 6 to 10 points. The final six minutes rivalled the UM game, however. as APSU stopped converting and Morehead State began making shots. The bid to the field was finally decided in double overtime on a near buzzer beater. Morehead has not advanced into the tournament in a quarter century and three years ago they won just 4 games. From a March Madness perspective, it was exactly what I love about this month. My bank account, however, is not as pleased.
I lost the gambling battle in those games, but won the overall war yesterday. My picks from yesterday's column ended 7-4. I'll take a record like that any day.
Valley Title to be Decided; Unease in Omaha
Needless to say, the folks in Omaha will be anxious all week. Creighton's resume will be among the most scrutinized as we bat around bracketology topics this week. Expect it to be one of the most common arguments of the week. I'm not sure the Blue Jays are in any better position than Illinois State was last season when the Redbirds guady record, and a second bid for the MVC, was denied in the wake of a bowing out of this sectional with a blowout loss. That loss was in the title game, though.
Creighton's eliminated, but their two games in Arch Madness left an impression. First, the amazing sequence of events and eventual win at the buzzer over Witchita State. Then, in the final minutes of yesterday's embarrassing loss being dually serenaded by Redbird fans yelling 'ISU, ISU' and by a nice sized contigent of WSU fans who stuck around chanting 'NIT, NIT.' Classic.
In that same courtside CIL, it was reported that a straw poll of on-site media had the Blue Jays out of the NCAA field. FWIW.
Moving to this afternoon's title game between Northern Iowa and Illinois, i am undaunted by the failures in picking the title games right yesterday. I have a strong feeling ISU takes this game today. I know the Panthers have beat them twice already, but both those games went down to the wire and could have gone either way. After being snubbed last year, ISU is on a mission to get into the tournament and have been waiting to peak during Arch Madness to ensure their ticket gets snapped.
NIU has a large 7-foot presence in the middle with Jordan Egleseder. But, he's a bit of a pylon. He's called Floor Jordan for a reason. Illinois State's size and athleticsm of their own front line will be a tough matchup for him. Overall, I think ISU has matchup advantages with Osiris Eldridge and Champ Oguchi, and I really like they play of rugged forward Dinma Odiakosa who can impact the game without having to score a point.
I think Illinois State has the better team, and this weekend they've been playing better. I like the roll they're on right now.
Quick Bubble Hitters
With teams like Maryland and UNLV losing yesterday and the overall bubble carnage of the week, Virginia Tech is in position today to really make a move up the charts in advance of the ACC Tournament. The problem is they have to go on the road against Florida State to do it. Tech's chore today is similar to Michigan's yesterday where a road win against a good league foe will clinch a .500 league record. If they win, their road map to a bid will also rival Michigan. Just dont go one-and-done in the ACCs. If they do win, they would play NC State in a 7/10 game Thursday.
Tennessee is losing at home by 10 right now to Alabama. Are they playing themselves out of a bid? Or, just down the seed line? Discuss.
Northwestern plays its most important game in program history today in Columbus. There's no reason for me to add anything else.
More Mid Major Drama
The real excitement for me today is the conintuation of the mid major tournaments. Almost 100 teams have been eliminated since Thursday thanks to these fields. Only 213 remain standing by my rather unofficial, possibly off by a team or to, Sunday morning count. Regardless, we'll see more teams fall throughout the day with semifinals of the Colonial, MAAC, WCC, Southern, American East, NEC and quarterfinals in the Sun Belt and Summit.
The Colonial, MAAC, Southern and WCC semis are on ESPN2 or ESPN Full Court. I'll be keeping my eye on all those games.
It's March, his team is facing elimination and he drops 44 points. All in a day's work for Stephon Curry. Can the train live another day today against College of Charleston?
A Cinderella run is taking place in the CAA where the 11-seed Towson plays perennial power George Mason in the second semifinal today. Towson, led by former Depaul and Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, has upset Drexel and Northeastern the last two nights. That latter result takes a small bite out of Michigan's SOS. This is the farthest an 11 seed has ever advanced in the CAA sectional.
The first semi between ODU and VCU (3 pm) can go either way and ought to go down to the wire. The Rams must play on a higher level than they did yesterday, or Old Dominion will knock them out. Other than Towson, I think the other three teams are more than capable of winning a game in the NCAA Tournament.
In the MAAC, its all about seeing if the two heavyweights, Siena and Niagara, both big favorites, can advance into a showdown tomorrow night.
The game with the biggest bubble impact will take place in the nightcap between St. Mary's and Portland. Gonzaga might get pushed by Santa Clara in the opener, but eventually will tuck away the Broncos. Then, all eyes will be on the Gaels, to see if they can get make a statement. This team was cruising to an at large bid until their best player Patty Mills went down with an injury. Predictably, they began losing. The ship has steadied in recent weeks, including a big win in the Bracket Buster event over Utah State. Will the selection process cut the Gaels any slack due to the Mills injury. There is some precedent to do so, but the Gaels need to take advantage of the next two days and make own last on-court statement of their own. A loss tonight to the third place Portland squad probably would do them in. A win, and a nice showing over Gonzaga tomorrow night, might put them in the final bracket.
As you can see, there's a fun day of hoops still ahead. To think, I rambled on about my excitement about today's games with nary a mention the fact that Clemson is playing Wake Forest and, more importanrtly, Duke and UNC face off. Tar Heels versus Blue Devils. Shares of the ACC Crown on the line. National Spotlight on CBS. No Dick Vitale or Billy Packer on the call. Oh yeah, today will be a blast.
Predictions to feed to the addict, er, I mean the instinct
We're 13-7-2 on our handicapping this March season, If you're going at 100 a pop, thats a +490 profit.
***As I outlined above, I like Illinois State to win over NIU. They're a slight favorite today, and I will play them on the -150 moneyline.
***Yep, that's me on the Purple Bandwagon. They might win this straight up, but I'll take the Wildcats +6 over Ohio State. Game starts at 5:30 on the BTN
***Virgina Tech +6 over Florida State. Yes, I have been on the Noles a lot lately. But, usually when they're catching points. Both of these teams are underdogs I like to play. So, I'll buy in with the Hokies who always play close games and 7-4 ATS this season as an underdog with road covers at Boston College, Miami, Wake Forest and Clemson to go along with a neutral court cover against Xavier. This game starts at 2pm and is on ESPN Full Court.
****Give me VCU -4 in the first CAA semifinal today. The Rams lost a tight one on the road to the Monarchs, but blew them out at home. Yes, ODU is the hottest team in the league right now, but the Rams have won six of eight, so its not like they're lukewarm. The Rams are 8-3 ATS in this tournament if favored by single digits. In Eric Maynor I Trust.
***** As much as I hate betting against Stephon Curry, I'll grab the 10 points with College of Charleston over Davidson. These clubs played arguably the two best games of the SoCon season with each winning close games on the other's home court. I dont buy any chance of Davidison blowing out the Cougars today. While Davidson remains the team to beat in the league, we've seen they're not rolling through the conference the way they did last year. Davidson is just 9-14-2 ATS as a favorite this season, 3-7-2 the last dozen times out. Meanwhile, the Cougars are 15-8 ATS the last two seasons as an underdog. I expect Davidson to win, but they'll need every point they can get out of Steph.
**** I also think Portland will stick with St. Mary's tonight. I'll take the Pilots +8.5. The Gaels at large bid wont come easy. These teams handled each other pretty well when armed with home court advantage. That tells me these are even teams. Expect this one to play out close to the final buzzer.
And, I am sure to have a call or two on some of the other mid major tournaments. That action does not begin until later. I have only seen the lines for the first time a few minutes ago. I am going to chew on them for a few more minutes and update my predictions section at the half of the MVC game coming up here after the MSU game.