Bilas and Digger Not Bleeping Idiots After All

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2008

Two Sundays ago we were first in line to dismiss, excoriate and otherwise belittle Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas when, during ESPN’s selection show, both of them went out on an extremely short limb by picking all #1 seeds to make the Final Four. See the evidence here (first two brackets unveiled).

We felt a little bit like we jumped the gun on Digger/Bilas when we noted that our own bracket ended up with three #1 seeds and a #2 seed, but we still felt that the likelihood of four #1 seeds making the 4 was almost nil, considering that it has never happened before.

We are now prepared to eat crow.


Moving on… is this the best Final Four ever, at least in terms of the quality of teams? Clearly we’ve never had four #1 seeds before, so that’s a great starting point, but how about the fact that the four teams have combined for a ridiculous record of 143-9 (.941) this season? Of those nine losses, only three of the Ls came to teams that were not in the NCAA Tournament this year (Washington, Oklahoma St., Maryland). We need to do some further research on this, but we have to believe this is the first time ever that the top four preseason teams in the AP and Coaches’ polls made the F4. All we can say is that whoever wins this year’s F4 will have definitely earned it.

Now on to the games today…

We have to give major love to John Calipari for somehow convincing his 37-1 team that they were an underdog at the South Regional. The way they were corralling loose balls and attempting to de-Shaqproof rims (mostly Joey Dorsey), it was clear that this team felt slighted. As Vegaswatch pointed out before the Sweet 16, Memphis became publicly undervalued in the last couple weeks of the season, which manifested itself in the Tigers getting unfavorable odds despite the fact that they spent much of the season at #1 in the country. We’re not sure how much life Calipari will get out of playing this card considering the two immolations of Michigan St. and Texas this weekend, but if Derrick Rose and others keep playing like this, it may not matter. Still, UCLA represents an old nemesis of John Calipari (UCLA won 50-45 in the E8 in 2006) and Memphis as a program (UCLA won the title 87-66 in 1973 over what was then called Memphis St.).

As for Kansas-Davidson, we were anxiously awaiting the Kansas collapse along with everyone else (you could have gotten 1:10 odds against Stephen Curry missing that transition 3 with 1:15 remaining), but it looked to us that Davidson finally reached a tipping point where NBA-level talent finally trumped a hardy group of very skilled players who have reached their full potential. Still, with that said, Davidson ended up willing itself into a last-second attempt to win the game. Far be it from us to question the strategy of a #10 seed that damn near made the F4, but we would have loved to have seen Davidson run a penetrate-and-kick/reversal play to get Curry the final shot rather than letting him try to create something himself (not his strength). What a tremendous run for this Davidson team, though – they represented the essence of the Tourney Cinderella better than anyone since the George Mason run a couple of years ago.


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Chalk City

Posted by nvr1983 on March 30th, 2008

It looks like Clark Kellogg will have bragging rights over the CBS Sports studio for the next week as for the first time in the 64+ team era the Final 4 will be composed of all #1s. In the end all four of these #1 seeds definitely seemed to be the best teams in their region.

All Chalk

East: UNC absolutely dominated every game they played. Louisville made it close for a little bit in the 2nd half, but Rick Pitino had no answer for Tyler Hansbrough, who apparently developed a great outside game sometime this year as he started to hit fall-away jumpers against good defense to put the Cardinals away.

West: So we got this game wrong. Out of all the #1 seeds, UCLA appeared to be the most vulnerable during their march to San Antonio. The Bruins looked very beatable between their drubbing of Mississippi Valley State in the 1st round and their beatdown of Xavier in the Elite 8. The one constant for the Bruins during the entire tournament has been Kevin Love, who has made himself several million dollars during this tournament if he decides to leave after this season. While everybody else on the team had at least one horrible game, Love showed up every night and is the reason that UCLA is in the Final 4. This didn’t hurt either.

South: After a shaky game in the 2nd round, Memphis looked like the #1 team in the country. After cruising in during the 2nd half of their win against Michigan State, Memphis dominated Texas in Houston. It seems like almost every analyst had Texas advancing out of this region. I certainly did although I was smart/fickle enough to change my mind and prediction before the Elite 8. Everybody picked on their inability to shoot free throws, but like Shaq they make them when it matters. In the Elite 8, Derrick Rose controlled the game winning the head-to-head match-up against D.J. Augustin ensuring he will be a top 2 pick in the draft if and when he declares (Beasley will be #1 unless a team really needs a PG). They will be a tough match-up for pre-tournament favorite UCLA.

Midwest: After rolling through the first 3 rounds, Kansas finally ran into a challenge in the Elite 8. Davidson put up a great fight, but in the end Kansas just had too much as they dominated the Wildcats on the inside the entire game. Stephen Curry and Brian Barr had great games for the Wildcats, who did a phenomenal job of getting back on defense to prevent Kansas from running the way they like. The Jayhawks took the lead for good on a 3 by Sherron Collins with 6:35 left. Davidson had a chance to win on the last possession, but Stephen Curry made a rare mistake for him in this tournament by taking too much time leaving Jason Richards to attempt a desperation 3 at the buzzer. Tip of the hat to Davidson and Curry who had a great game and tournament. It seemed to me that Curry ran out of gas at the end as he had a great first half, but did not have his usual second half explosion or one of his best shooting days today (4/15 from 3). Congrats to Bill Self for finally getting to the Final 4.

We’ll be back later with a preview of the Final 4 along with some shots at Roy Williams going against his old school Kansas in the late game on Saturday. Check back throughout the week as we’ll be making more posts.

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Elite 8 Preview: Kansas-Davidson & Memphis-Texas

Posted by nvr1983 on March 29th, 2008

#1 Memphis vs. #2 Texas (2:20 PM): The most-maligned #1 seed in recent memory, Memphis looked like they were playing with a chip on their shoulder in the 1st half against Michigan State as they absolutely crushed the Spartans jumping out to a 50-20 lead (that’s not a typo). If they play like that, it doesn’t matter if they continue to shoot free throws like Ben Wallace.

As the Spartans found out, Memphis has the most athletic team in the country. When they are on, they are virtually unbeatable. The problem is that if they aren’t then it comes down to the little things (like the aforementioned free throws). However, they were clicking on Friday night and they were absolutely scary. Honestly, it looked like a good NBA team was playing against a mediocre college team. The Tigers like to get out and run, which they do very well with potential top-2 pick Derrick Rose at point and C-USA POY Chris Douglas-Roberts leading the way. Defensively, they will need to focus on slowing down D.J. Augustin, who is by far the best PG they have faced. I am assuming they will put Antonio Anderson, who held Drew Neitzel scoreless (only 6 garbage time points), on Augustin but it will be a difficult match-up. He will need a lot of help from his teammates as Augustin is difficult to contain with just one man.

For the Longhorns to advance to San Antonio, they will need a big game from Augustin while utilizing Connor Atchley to take Joey Dorsey and company away from the basket. If Dorsey doesn’t come out the defend Atchley he could have a big game. If the Longhorns play their game and Memphis doesn’t play like they did in the 1st half on Friday, they should be in it at the closing moments. At that point, they will have to hope it comes down to free throws and Memphis reverts to its old form.

Opening Line: Memphis -3.5.
Prediction: In my bracket, I had these two teams meeting here and I picked Texas to advance primarily because of the home court advantage. I think Memphis is the better team, but playing what essentially amounts to a home game made it a toss-up. Most sportswriters/bloggers would use the argument that they picked a team at the beginning so they won’t change their pick even if the evidence shows otherwise, but here at RTC we like to use all the data available when making our predictions. The data we’re looking at shows that Memphis gave a good Michigan State team an @$$-whopping. Based on that and the fact that the court configuration makes it seem like the Texas fans are actually in Austin while the game is in Houston, we’re going with Memphis, but it will be close.

#1 Kansas vs. #10 Davidson (5:05 PM): Davidson has had a great run in the tournament so far, which has surprised many observers, but comes as no surprise to some of their fans after the Wildcats ran through the Southern Conference this season. The question is whether they can continue this run against Kansas, which may be the most complete team in the tournament.

While the Wildcats were able to play great defense against Wisconsin in the 2nd half, I’m not sure how they will be able to handle Kansas’s athletes. The Jayhawks go 7 deep (all on Chard Ford’s top 100 prospect list), which should create match-up problems all over the court for Davidson. The Jayhawks don’t necessarily have a star player who they rely on, but they are led by Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush. However, they are so deep that any of the 7 could take over the game for stretches. If the game does come down to crunch-time, the ball will most likely go to Mario Chalmers. The Jayhawks will most likely try to get the ball inside to utilize their physical advantage, but they also have Rush and Chalmers, who both had shot over 40% from 3 for the season.

On the other side of the ball, Davidson has quickly become the media darlings. A small school with an excellent academic reputation and a baby-faced assassin (Curry), everybody in the nation knows about them by now. While their victory over Georgetown was considered by some to be a colossal choke-job by the Hoyas, their victory over Wisconsin was about domination in the 2nd half. I think the key to the game will be how Jason Richards handles the the pressure that Kansas throws at him. Rush will likely draw the assignment of guarding Curry (assuming Bill Self puts Chalmers on Richards), but if Davidson is running him off screens like they did on Friday night to free him up against Michael Flowers then all of the Jayhawk guards will get their shot at him.

Opening Line: Kansas -9.
Prediction: The ride ends here for Davidson. They’ve had a great run knocking off 3 excellent teams, but I just don’t see them getting by Kansas who are very, very good when they play with intensity. I don’t think the Jayhawks will have much problem being hyped up for this game. That spells trouble for Davidson. I think Curry will get his 25-30, but it will come off a lot of shots. I see this game being close for most of the first half before the Jayhawks pull away early in the 2nd half and cruise in from there to win by about 10 points. Davidson just doesn’t have the athletes to match up with Kansas. You could have said the same thing in the Georgetown game (Wisconsin isn’t as athletic as either Georgetown or Kansas), but the Jayhawks won’t give up the ball 20 times like the Hoyas did.

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Elite 8 Preview: UCLA-Xavier & UNC-Louisville

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2008

#1 UCLA vs. #3 Xavier (6:40 PM): Both teams are coming off hard-fought victories in the Sweet 16. Xavier obviously was challenged by West Virginia, who took them into OT and may very well have won if Joe Alexander had been able to hit a FT at the end of regulation (81% FT) or not foul out early in OT. The Bruins were challenged by Western Kentucky, who came back from 21 down at half as Tyrone Brazelton scored 31 pts abusing Darren Collison (before Collison fouled out with 5:39 to play). The Bruins held strong at the end and won with big efforts from Kevin Love (29 and 14–no surprise) and James Keefe (18 and 12–huge surprise).

The Bruins can count on a big game from Love who finds a way to get his numbers because he knows where he needs to be. What the Bruins can’t count on is Keefe coming anywhere near those numbers. They need Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp to really step up their games this round. If they can get this inside/outside balance, they should control this game, but they haven’t looked that good since their opening round game against Mississippi Valley State. However, I’m not sure if that was more UCLA or their opponent. In either case, the Bruins haven’t looked like the team that most analysts predicted would cut down the nets in San Antonio.

As noted earlier, Xavier escaped with a win in their Sweet 16 game with Joe Alexander’s mistakes and some clutch 3 point shooting from B.J. Raymond. Even though Josh Duncan dominated the scoring last round, the Muskeeters are usually pretty good at spreading the ball around leading to their extremely balanced scoring averages. It will be interesting to see how they try to match up against Love, Collison, and Westbrook as that may be the key to the game.

Opening Line: UCLA -6.
Prediction: As Kevin Love said after their last game, the Bruins play has been “unacceptable”. I think that on paper (and when they are on) UCLA has all the makings of a championship team with a nice mix of experience, talent, and an inside/outside game. If they’re firing on all cylinders, the Bruins could blow this game wide open like they did in the early part of their Sweet 16 game. Unfortunately for Ben Howland, they have not been able to do that consistently. I think UCLA has have played with fire one too many times and tonight it will catch up with them. I’m going with Xavier in a hard-fought game earning a trip to the Final 4.

#1 UNC vs. #3 Louisville (9:05 PM): This is probably the best match-up of the weekend on paper. Both teams are absolutely loaded and appear to be playing at their peak. The Tar Heels have been the most dominant team in the tournament so far while the Cardinals have matched them in dominance the past 2 rounds. Both teams absolutely crushed their very capable opponents (Washington State and Tennessee, respectively) on Thursday night.

The Tar Heels’ calling card this season has been their phenomenal offense, but in the last round they showed Tony Bennett’s Cougars that they know how to play a little D too. Offensively, Tyler Hansbrough has been solid if not spectacular although he hasn’t needed to be so far in the tournament. One of the major drivers of the Tar Heels dominance in the tournament has been Ty Lawson who appears to be back near 100%. When he gets in the open court, I’m not sure if anybody can keep up with Lawson. Although those two get all the hype, I think the key to the game for UNC will be if Wayne Ellington can hit from outside. He’s the only great outside shooter that Roy Williams has and his ability to hit from 3 will be very important against Rick Pitino’s 2-3 zone. If he is hitting, Pitino will have a decision to make: let him bomb away or go man-to-man and risk having Psycho T go off.

Louisville is peaking at the perfect time. They made a very good Tennessee team look very bad on Thursday night although the Vols PG issues certainly contributed. They don’t have quite the star power that UNC has, but Pitino’s boys (David Padgett & company) are no slouches. Padgett has a lot of help offensively as the Cardinals have another half dozen guys who can get in double figures on the right night. The key for the Cardinals will be how their defense controls UNC. It will be interesting to see how their press is able to handle Lawson and how their zone matches up against Ellington’s outside shooting.

Opening Line: UNC -5.5.
Prediction: I’m going with the Tar Heels tonight. They’ve been the best team in the country in the first 3 rounds and they weren’t even clicking offensively against Washington State. Louisville has a great team and that line is ridiculously high, but I don’t think Hansbrough will let the Tar Heels lose. He’s had a very good college career so far, but he hasn’t been able to get his team over the hump. This will be a tight game, but I think that Hansbrough will come up big down the stretch giving the Heels the slight edge. The Tar Heels were on the verge of going to the Final 4 before collapsing against Georgetown and I can’t see them letting it happen again. As an added bonus, this sets up a potential national semifinal of Roy Williams versus Kansas. . .(more on that set of Elite 8 games later)

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This is Stephen Curry’s tournament

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2008

I’m not really sure what to say at this point. Even though everybody knew about Davidson and Stephen Curry coming into the tournament, I don’t think anybody outside of the most loyal Davidson fans expected them to run through 3 perennial powers (Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin) on their way to the Elite 8. To be honest, Davidson completely dominated the 2nd half against Wisconsin tonight and if they played again I would probably take Davidson (that was rtmsf predicting a Wisconsin win in the preview although I can’t claim that I would have picked Davidson either).

Curry and Davidson are pushing back against the major conference powers

Curry dropped 33 on Michael Flowers bringing his tournament total to 103 points. I hope everyone enjoyed his ability to move off screens to score against an exceptional defender. It reminded us a little of how Reggie Miller used to operate minus all the flopping and leg-kicking.

While Curry will get all the headlines, the real story for me was Davidson holding Wisconsin to 37.8% from the field. For now, I hope all the Davidson fans enjoy the victory particularly all the kids who the school brought up to Detroit for the game. Next up is the winner of Kansas-Villanova. . .

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Sweet 16 Preview: South & Midwest Regions

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2008

#1 Memphis vs. #5 Michigan State (9:57 PM): It seems like a lot of analysts consider this the best of the Sweet 16 games. I just don’t see it. I’d take either of the 2-3 matchups (Tennessee/Louisville or Texas/Stanford) over this game, but I still think it should be an interesting game.

Tom Izzo has done a good job getting the Spartans back on track after a bad February stretch where they lost 3 of 4 games. The Spartans returned all 5 starters from last year so they obviously have experience, which helped them withstand that rough stretch. However, coming into the tournament not a lot of people were giving them much respect particularly with Pittsburgh waiting in the 2nd round. The Spartans surprised a lot of people, including me, by knocking off the Panthers. The Spartans are led offensively by a pair of 2nd team All-Big 10 players: Raymar Morgan and the more-heralded Drew Neitzel. The duo, who average 14.2 and 14.1 PPG respectively, will need a big performance out of freshman PG Kalin Lucas if they want to try to run with the Tigers (IMO not the best strategy).

If you’re a college basketball fan (and if you’re on this blog you certainly are one unless you ended up here doing a Google search for Erin Andrews), you know about Memphis’s inability to hit free throws. I don’t buy into John Calipari that Memphis won their 2nd round game against Mississippi State at the free throw line because they made more free throws despite going 15/32 from the line. It seems like there hasn’t been a single analyst who picks Memphis to win the title, but when I look at this team I see an unbelievably athletic team that is 35-1 and came very close to being undefeated at this point in the season. The Tigers like to run and utilize a Dribble-Drive Motion offense. Leading the attack are Chris Douglas-Roberts and the ridiculously fast freshman PG Derrick Rose. While having those two along might be enough to sustain an offense, Calipari also has solid players in Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, and Antonio Anderson. The result is an unconvential offense filled with freakish athletes, a combination that is very hard to defend. One big key for Memphis will be is if they can keep Dorsey out of foul trouble as he is their muscle inside (at least as long as he doesn’t try to talk trash like he did last year before he got beat down by Greg Oden).

Opening Line: Memphis -5.
Prediction: A lot of analysts think the Tigers will be the first #1 seed to lose. I could definitely see that happening, but just not in this round. The Tigers have too much talent for the Spartans. If the Spartans have an X-factor, it would be Lucas. Unfortunately, he will be going against Rose who is several levels above Lucas at this point in their careers. The result is Memphis winning by 5-10 points. I think they will outplay the Spartans, but will keep the game close with their “winning” free throw shooting.

#2 Texas vs. #3 Stanford (7:27 PM): Along with the Tennessee-Louisville game, this was our favorite game of the long weekend. Hopefully, this turns out to be more exciting than than the Cardinals rout was.

I’ll get this over with now: nobody left in the tournament can guard Brook Lopez. If he’s on, he should be getting 30 a night for the rest of the tournament. By now everyone knows that his twin brother Robin is the more defensive-minded one, which has led some people to speculate that Robin may be more successful as a pro (think Joakim Noah or Anderson Varejao). While those two will control the inside, the Cardinal use Lawrence Hill, Anthony Goods, and Mitch Johnson to control the perimeter. This trio hasn’t gotten much respect including from yours truly. However, if Stanford wants to beat Texas in Houston, they will need this group to control D.J. Augustin (and for Trent Johnson to stick around for the 2nd half).

Rick Barnes has done a great job making the Longhorns into a national title contender a year after losing Kevin Durant to the NBA. The Longhorns are led by D.J. Augustin, who has taken his game to another level as he has not had Durant to bail him out like last year. Augustin also has great support from A.J. Abrams, Damion James, and Connor Atchley. While the Longhorns don’t really have an answer for Brook Lopez, I don’t know how well the Lopez twins are going to be able to guard Atchley when he steps behind the 3 pt line where he has shot 42.3% (41/97) for the year.

Opening Line: Texas -1.
Prediction: If this game was outside of Texas, I probably would have gone with Stanford and the big guy inside. In the end, I think the homecourt and the Longhorns edge on the perimeter will let them pull away at the end of the game.

#1 Kansas vs. #12 Villanova (9:40 PM): This weekend in Detroit will once again focus all the attention on Bill Self and his heretofore confounding inability to get extremely talented teams into the F4 (o-4 trips to the E8). Considering that this bracket was blown apart by Cinderellas last weekend, the Jayhawks are the odds on favorite to win this region.

Villanova has looked really good in their two games against Clemson and Siena, shooting 52% and holding its opponents to only 37%. Scottie Reynolds has found his stroke, averaging 23 ppg thus far in the Tourney, and dropping eight threes in the two games. Look for Kansas to focus in on stopping Reynolds, as Villanova simply isn’t nearly as good of a team when he’s misfiring (27 total pts in Nova’s last three Ls).

But let’s be serious here. Kansas is the most talented team that Villanova has faced this season, and their season-long inconsistency is the reason they ended up a #12 seed. Their best wins of the year were probably close wins over Pitt and UConn at home, and neither of those teams bring the noise on offense (#1 off. efficency) and defense (#5 def. efficiency) as Kansas does. Villanova will play hard, but by most measures, a run to the Sweet 16 renders their season a successful one, and they’ll be happy to be there tonight. Kansas has much larger aspirations in mind, and as such, we expect a blowout win here tonight.

Opening Line: Kansas -11.5.
Prediction: KU jumps out early and often. Villanova makes a run in the second half to make things interesting, but they never seriously threaten the Jayhawks tonight. Bill Self’s albatross will be judged on Sunday.

#3 Wisconsin vs. #10 Davidson (7:10 PM): The undercard in Detroit tonight could end up being a total washout, we’re afraid. Davidson has looked fantastic in its two come-from-behind upsets of Gonzaga and Georgetown last weekend, and Stephen Curry’s legend is already concretely imprinted into the national consciousness. But we have a sneaky suspicion that the #1 defensive team in the land will absolutely lock up Curry, leaving the rest of the Wildcats struggling to pick up the slack.

The game that concerns us was the 6-19 (3-10 from 3) clunker (15 pts) that Curry put up against UCLA back in December. The Bruin defense (#2 nationally) keyed on Curry, which allowed the other Davidson shooters to get open looks early, as Davidson ran out to a quick early lead. But once UCLA figured out that they were going to have to guard all the Davidson shooters, they took control of the game and pulled away easily in the second half.

Wisconsin will probably employ a similar strategy. They’ll slow the game down to a crawl, and essentially dare anyone but Curry to beat them. You can count on a bruising, grinding, no-mistakes gameplan by Bo Ryan’s team, and honestly, short of a superhuman effort by Curry again, we don’t see any way that Davidson wins their way into the Elite 8. Gonzaga was soft mentally, and Georgetown forgot that they had a 7’3 beast underneath the basket, but Wisconsin is a different story.

Opening Line: Wisconsin -4.
Prediction: As much as we’d like to see the Curry bandwagon continue for another game, we just don’t think it’s possible. The Badgers will bump and grind him into a poor shooting night, giving him and his teammates more motivation for next year’s possible dream season.

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Sweet 16 Preview: West Region

Posted by nvr1983 on March 27th, 2008

– #1 UCLA vs. #12 Western Kentucky (9:40 PM): Already more than one analyst has declared that WKU is going to pull off the monumental upset in this game. And one UCLA blog is seriously tempting the Weauxfgods with its rather brazen mocking of the Hilltoppers’ chances in tonight’s game. (Retracted strikethrough: rtmsf thinks he is the Dennis Miller of the college basketball blog world). So we ask ourselves – is this possible? Could UCLA lose to a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16?

One thing we know for certain is that the Bruins will not score enough points to obliterate the Hilltoppers. The question is whether the Toppers will be able to score enough points to put enough pressure on the Bruins to make something interesting happen. The answer lies in WKU’s backcourt of Courtney Lee (20/5/2) and Tyrone Brazelton (14/3/4), who have collectively averaged 44 PPG in the NCAAs thus far. UCLA’s perimeter defense is notoriously good at shutting players down, but will have their hands full with this pair.

On the other side of the ball, the Bruins have talented guys at every position. While uber-frosh Kevin Love has taken most of the headlines, Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Russell Westbrook have provided solid perimeter play to compliment the Pac-10 POY along with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the inside. The Bruins cruised in their first round game, but ran into a stiff challenge in the 2nd round against Texas A&M. In the end, they survived with some timely shooting from Love and a little help from the stripes. One of the concerns for the Bruins is that while their Ben Howland-designed defense has been as good as advertised, they have struggled offensively in the tournament outside of Love and Collison, who combined for 40 of the team’s 51 points versus the Aggies. UCLA is talented enough and this region is weak enough that they probably can get to San Antonio without bringing their “A” game, but eventually they will need more from Shipp and Mbah a Moute, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle.

Opening Line: UCLA -13
Prediction: I think that UCLA will eventually get pissed off at all the press they have gotten for getting away with calls (looking around . . .). This is a really big spread for a Sweet 16 game, but I guess it is a 1 vs. 12 so maybe it isn’t that big of a spread. Maybe Vegas Watch knows what a typical 1-12 spread is although I don’t think it happens that often. Anyways, the Bruins should be too much for the Hilltoppers and advance by double digits pulling away at the end after a hard-fought game. Even if their offense isn’t clicking, their intensity and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball will rattle Western Kentucky.

– #3 Xavier vs. #7 West Virginia (7:10 PM): The Musketeers may be the least heralded #3 seed of all-time and could be considered a mid-major of Cinderella of sorts, but after West Virginia knocked out Duke I’m pretty sure the Mountaineers have enough national goodwill that the crowd won’t be rooting that hard against them.

As I noted in an earlier preview, Xavier throws out a deep lineup with 5 players now averaging between 10.1 and 12.1 PPG to go along with a solid defense. For those that still doubt they are a legit team, I would suggest that you look at their wins over teams from power conferences in the first 2 rounds. Yes, Georgia’s record was mediocre at best, but they were hot coming off their SEC tournament run while Purdue had been a solid team the entire season in the Big 10, which admittedly isn’t having a great year.

West Virginia will counter with Joe Alexander, a rtmsf favorite, and a set of players who have adjusted well to the contrast in styles between current coach Bob Huggins and former coach John Beilein. As anyone who watched this team come from behind to beat #2 seed Duke in the 2nd round knows, Huggins has a nice stable of guys who can really play as they controlled the 2nd half of that game.

Opening Line: Pick ’em
Prediction: I’m going with the A-10 champs. These two teams are pretty evenly matched. Xavier doesn’t have a “star player” like Alexander, but they probably have a little more depth and experience and I’m going with that for the win.

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Sweet 16 Preview: East Region

Posted by nvr1983 on March 27th, 2008

With the next games coming on Thursday (we don’t count the NIT or CBI), we figured you might want a preview. Since we have more than the usual 4 hours between games and sleep that we usually have before games the first week, we can offer you a little better preview. That doesn’t mean we will do any better with our admittedly awful predictions, but they will be more in-depth. I’ll cover the East Region first with the West Region to come later today and the Midwest/South tomorrow so check back later for our thoughts on the games.

#1 UNC vs. #4 Washington State (7:27 PM): This game should be a battle of contrasting styles. During the first two rounds, no team has been as impressive offensively as the Tar Heels have been (scoring 113 and 108 points). On the other side of the ball, no team has been as impressive defensively as the Cougars have been (allowing 40 and 41 points).

Normally, we would argue that the team who wants to slow the game down could control the pace and consequently the game. However, the Tar Heels have looked unbelievable in the first two rounds. They appear fresh and may be coming together at the right time. Tyler Hansbrough is pretty much a guaranteed 20/10 at this point and Ty Lawson appears to be getting close to 100% (0 turnovers the first weekend). If the Tar Heels have a (relative) weakness, it is that they don’t have a lot of great shooters. Wayne Ellington can certainly fill it up from the outside, but if he is off they do not another reliable shooter. Given the Tar Heels other strengths (including the ability to play defense as shown at the end of the game at Cameron), they can usually make up for it, but they are vulnerable if another team is hitting from the outside.

We would really like this Washington State team to advance to the Final 4 if they were in any other region. If they are to advance to the Elite 8, they will need solid defense and hope that Aron Baynes and the other inside players can find a way to slow Hansbrough and company down. On top of that, they will also need to be hitting their outside shot because UNC will dominate them on the inside even if they do a good job. Fortunately for the Cougars, they have 3 excellent perimeter players who all shoot over 38% from 3. Tony Bennett will need big games out of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Taylor Rochestie to pull off the upset.

Opening Line: UNC -7.5 (O/U 142.5)
Prediction: Tar Heels by 10+. The Cougars have played well so far, but the Tar Heels are on a completely different level than Winthrop or Notre Dame. I think Washington State will keep it close for most of the first half, but the Tar Heels will start to pull away just before half and cruise in the rest of the way. A lot of the “experts” have been telling everyone who will listen that they think the Cougars can beat UNC, but I just don’t see it happening. Of course, you can look at my predictions from last week and draw your own conclusions. . .

#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Louisville (9:57 PM): In my opinion this is the most interesting of the Sweet 16 games. Tennessee has been one of the top teams in the nation all season and in my opinion is/was the top #2 seed in the tournament. Louisville was one of the hottest teams in the country late in the season. Both teams would be legitimate Final 4 threats in any region and against any team. Obviously, potentially having to beat the Tar Heels in Charlotte will be a very tall task. Before they do that, they need to get by each other (and UNC has to win to, but we’re assuming that as almost a given with how good UNC looked last weekend).

While the mainstream media has had fun hyping this up as Rick Pitino in his Colonel Sanders suit versus Bruce Pearl in his orange blazer, the more important point is that they both have really good teams. The Cardinals have done an excellent job rebounding from a shaky early season start when they were slowed by injuries. While David Padgett is their “star” player, it is more of a committee of stars as 4 players average between 10.5 and 11.4 PPG and that isn’t counting the more well-known players like Edgar Sosa, Derrick Caracter, and Juan Palacios. However, the Cardinals calling card may be their defense that holds opposing teams to a meager 38.2% FG (6th in the nation).

The Cardinals will need that strong defense against the Volunteers, who are one of the most athletic teams in the nation averaging 82.5 PPG. While Tennessee doesn’t have a traditional low-post presence, they have plenty of guys who can get to the rim and finish. The Vols are led by preseason All-American Chris Lofton, who to be perfectly honest never really displayed the national POY level of play that he was predicted to provide before the season began as his numbers are down across the board most notably scoring from 20.8 PPG on 1.51 PPS (points per shot) down to 15.5 PPG on 1.32 PPS, a career low. However, he has picked up a lot of additional support from transfer Tyler Smith who averages 13.7 PPG and 6.8 RPG, who is as close to a low-post presence that Bruce Pearl has. With how good Pitino’s 2-3 zone has been, Pearl will need Lofton and JaJuan Smith to hit their outside shots. If they start hitting from 3, I wonder how long Pitino will wait before going man-to-man. One area of major concern for the Vols is their point guard play, which has been spotty at best lately.

Opening Line: Louisville -2.
It looks like Vegas isn’t giving the higher-seeded Volunteers any love. Neither will I. The Vols had a tough 2nd round game against Butler (a team that was much better than its #7 seed), but I just can’t shake the feeling that the Vols just haven’t raised their game to a March level quite like the other teams have. Of course, Bruce Pearl’s boys could come out and drop 100 on Pitino, but I just don’t see it happening. I’m going with Louisville in a close game (less than 5 pt victory).

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Conference Report Card (Sweet 16 Edition)

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2008

Yes, kiddies, the grades are in from the first two rounds, and it’s obvious that some of you haven’t been doing your homework (ahem, SEC), and others of you are instead choosing to rely on your good looks and history (ahem, ACC).  Still more of you are riding the coattails of your top students (ahem, Pac-10), while some of you have a tendency to perform well early while faltering late (ahem, Big East).  Some of you guys there in the back of the class – the quiet ones – it appears you have been doing a little better than we expected (ahem, Big 10); there may even be top of the class potential here (ahem, Big 12)! 

Simpsons Chalkboard

 How do Conferences Stack Up So Far?

Big 12 (6 bids, 2 remaining, 7-4 record)

The Big 12 looked really good in the first round, going 5-1 and only losing one game where Baylor played pretty well.  The second round was only 2-3 for the league, but the twin powers of Kansas and Texas continued to roll, inspiring confidence that one or both will end up playing in the final weekend as well.   Oklahoma and K-State took it on the chin that round, but Texas A&M pushed UCLA to the brink of elimination.  This league has performed very well given its teams’ relatively lower seeding, already exceeding its predicted win total (6.7) with a substantial chance to really destroy it. 

Verdict: this league was probably a little underrated all year in the middle of the pack, but everyone knew what Kansas and Texas were capable of.  Still, a solid to superb performance so far for this league.

Grade:  A-

Big 10 (4 bids, 2 remaining, 5-2 record)

Yes, we know we’ve crushed the Big 10 all season long, and we’re still not convinced this league is worth a damn as a whole.  But we certainly have to give it up for its performance in the first two rounds, going 3-1 in the first round and 2-1 in the second to push half of its bids into the Sweet 16.  Furthermore, both Wisconsin and Michigan St. have looked really solid in doing so.  With an average seed of 5.5, the Big 10 has already achieved its expected win value (4.8 wins), and probably has a fair chance to get at least one more next weekend. 

Verdict:  the Big 10 run probably stops this weekend, but the teams that made the Tourney have performed admirably as a whole (exception: Indiana and their disgraceful collapse this year).   

Grade:  B+ 

Big East (8 bids, 3 remaining, 10-5 record)

The Big East started off tremendously, going a strong 7-1 in the first round, with only UConn dropping out in an upset loss to San Diego.  The second round wasn’t as kind, as Georgetown and Marquette lost close games with Davidson and Stanford, respectively.  As two of the league’s hotter teams, Pitt and Notre Dame’s poor performances in the second round were also surprising.    If it weren’t for the two Cinderellas (WVU and Villanova) taking the place of three protected seeds who were eliminated (Pitt, ND, Georgetown), the Big East could have had a disastrous second round, getting only Louisville into the Sweet 16. 

We can’t shake the feeling that this conference should have had at least five teams in the regionals this year, though, given the relative weakness of most of the other conferences.   Still, its average seed of 5.4 (including four protected seeds of #4 or higher) suggests an expected win total of about 9.6 (1.2 wins per team) through the tournament, and the conference has already achieved that mark with at least two winnable games (WVU and Louisville) upcoming.

Verdict:  major opportunity lost to put 5 or even 6 teams into the Sweet 16 this year.  Three is a nice compromise, especially considering two of them are Cinderellas. 

Grade:  B

Pac-10 (6 bids, 3 remaining, 6-3 record)

The Pac-10 this year is a classic case of haves and have-nots.  First-class teams such as UCLA, Stanford and Wazzu are all still alive (although UCLA and Stanford should feel particularly thankful), while the second-class teams (Arizona, Oregon, USC) were rather easily dismissed in the first round.  Its average seed (5.5) predicts 7.2 wins, and we’re not sure that the league will get there.  Stanford and Wazzu have extremely tough games in the next round against Texas and UNC, respectively, while even UCLA has proven vulnerable and may run into trouble against Xavier or WVU in the regional finals.  No Pac-10 team in the F4 during a year where it was clearly a deep conference with beauceaux NBA talent would be a huge disappointment. 

Verdict:  so far, treading water.  Last second escapes by its big boys don’t exactly inspire confidence for later rounds.  Wazzu has looked the most impressive, but Arizona and Oregon probably didn’t belong in this tournament at all. 

Grade:  B-

ACC (4 bids, 1 remaining, 4-3 record)

Like everyone else, we watched in shock as Billy Packer harangued the NCAA Selection Committee chairman for only including four ACC teams even though the league enjoyed the #1 RPI rating.  Thank God for small favors.    This league stunk up the joint for the most part, as Duke tried to lay its golden egg on Thursday night before getting exposed for good on Saturday, and Clemson manifested its annual collapse into one game against Villanova.  Miami beat St. Mary’s and fought hard against Texas, but they just aren’t that good.  Which leaves UNC, which has been and continues to be the only real class of the league this year.  The ACC’s average seed was 3.8, which means if the league is to reach its expected win value of 6.4, it’s all on UNC’s ample shoulders as the sole survivor.

Verdict:  this league was garbage this year and we all knew it.  UNC may ultimately make the overall record look good, but this wasn’t a good conference and it showed in its performance in the NCAAs.   

Grade:  C

SEC (6 bids, 1 remaining, 4-5 record)

Speaking of terrible leagues, the SEC was a total and complete disaster this year.  Tennessee is the class of the conference, but even they haven’t been playing very well and are an underdog as the only remaining SEC team in the next round.  The SEC went 3-3 in the first round, and 1-2 in the second round, making it the only major conference with a losing record to date.  Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi St…  they all fought hard, but they simply weren’t very good teams this year.  And what can you say about Vandy other than they’re a complete joke away from Memorial Coliseum?  Ugh. 

Verdict:  it wasn’t as apparent just how bad this league was until we saw the results of the last weekend.  Without Florida and a stronger Kentucky, the SEC remains the seven dwarves.     

Grade:  D

Mid-Majors (14 bids, 3 remaining, 9-11 record)

The NCAA screwed the mid-majors this year by pitting six of them in games against each other in the first round, but the little guys still pushed through and managed to put three teams into the Sweet 16 – Davidson, Xavier and Western Kentucky.  We have to wonder what would have happened had teams such as Drake, Gonzaga and S. Alabama gotten a chance to play one of the big boys.  Only Xavier has a significant shot to continue advancing (v. WVU next).   

Verdict:  definitely better than last year, when only two (Butler and S. Illinois) made it to the regionals.  Would have liked to have seen a little more fight from the likes of St. Mary’s, George Mason, Temple and St. Joseph’s, though.     

Grade:  C

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Second Round Wrap

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2008

Saturday 3/22 – Round 2

Day three of the Tourney continued on the same track as the second day, with two upsets by the numbers as well as two classics involving Pac-10 teams. Our new favorite player is West Virginia’s Joe Alexander, in part for these comments:

When Joe Alexander, the Mountaineers’ star forward, was informed that Duke had eight McDonald’s All-Americans, his response was “Who?” When reserve Cam Thoroughman was informed that Duke point guard Greg Paulus was one of them, he said, “Oh my God. Are you kidding?”

  • West Virginia 73, Duke 67. It irritates us to no end how this early game slot is reserved for Duke or Carolina seemingly every single year, but this year we didn’t mind all that much. WVU exposed the Devils as the undersized three-point dependent fraud they are with a 45-19 emasculation on the boards and harassing them into 5-22 from three. Man, you know it’s getting bad for Duke when they’re losing to Mr. Second Round himself, Bob Huggins, at that juncture. One NCAA win in the last two seasons for Duke now – does K need four more McD’s All-Americans to ensure a Sweet 16? And to think that Kyle Singler (6/4 on 1-3 shooting) tied for Oregon POY with Kevin Love last year (see above quotes regarding overrated Dookies).
  • Wisconsin 72, Kansas St. 55. In the same round in which Kevin Durant was eliminated last season, K-State’s two future lottery picks Michael Beasley and Bill Walker ended up scoring 41 of their 55 pts. Wisconsin’s mantra – shut everyone else down. Which they did, easily cruising to a comfortable win.
  • Xavier 85, Purdue 78. We hated to see one of these teams go home. They both play a really fun style and compete at both ends of the court.
  • Washington St. 61, Notre Dame 41. Wazzu held an offense averaging 85 ppg to merely a point per minute. That’s impressive. Can they do similar to the high-octane Tar Heels? UNC shouldn’t take this team for granted after what we saw in the first two rounds.
  • Stanford 82, Marquette 81. Tremendous back-and-forth game including Trent Johnson’s ejection from an overzealous ref, the confounding decision by his replacement to take out both twins mid-second half (coughing up a 7-pt lead in the process), and the punch/counterpunch overtime, where it seemed the team with the ball last would win. Stanford had the ball last, and it won. These Lopez twins are something to watch, and Texas is going to have serious problems with them.
  • Michigan St. 65, Pittsburgh 54. Another Big East Tourney champion flames out early. Is there a correlation? And once again, Izzo manages to turn an inconsistent regular season team into a F4 threat in March. Amazing.
  • UCLA 51, Texas A&M 49. An ugly, ugly game, which is exactly the kind of game that UCLA enjoys playing. We still can’t figure out if all of these close and seemingly miraculous wins for UCLA in the past few weeks are because they’re simply the better team or if they’re being dealt some fortuitous breaks. Even though A&M led for much of the game, we still never felt like they’d pull it out.

Sunday 3/23 – Round 2

The final day of the weekend presented us with two more classics and two other games that became close at the end.

  • Texas 75, Miami (FL) 72. Miami showed more spunk than more highly-regarded ACC brethren Duke and Clemson by roaring back from down 16 in the last four minutes to make Texas sweat for it.
  • Tennessee 76, Butler 71. We had Butler in this one, and were surprised that UT had the tacks to take the hit and actually pull this one out of the fire. As Seth Davis pointed out today, UT has to figure out their point guard situation this week or they’ll be gone by Friday. Louisville’s pressure will eat them up otherwise.
  • Davidson 74, Georgetown 70. Obviously, upset of the Tourney thus far, and we’re absolutely murdering ourselves for waffling on that pick until the eleventh hour and ultimately going with the Hoyas instead. Argh!! Nothing more to be said about Stephen Curry that hasn’t already been said, but we hope that he keeps it up in the next round. Wisconsin will make him work harder than he ever has to get good looks.
  • Memphis 77, Mississippi St. 74. MSU had no business making this game so close (a halfcourt three was in the air to tie it), but Memphis’s well-chronicled struggles at the FT line will ultimately be their undoing. If we’re Tom Izzo and the game is within 10 pts either way at the 5-minute mark, we start fouling their bigs (with the exception of CDR) on every possession. Seriously. That’s how bad they are.
  • Louisville 78, Oklahoma 48 and UNC 108, Arkansas 77. A couple of mercy killings between teams we expect to see in the regional finals.
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