Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chandler to stay at Rutgers

ZAGSBLOG is reporting Corey Chandler will remain a Scarlet Knight... that's huge news for RU.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NCAA Violation in Storrs?

The Connecticut Huskies men's basketball program may be in some trouble after a Yahoo! Sports report claimed recruiting violations were committed by the school in its signing of former guard Nate Miles.

Miles was expelled from the school last year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Morning Run

It's the Monday after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, you know what that means: anguish, tears and looking at 2010 tournament favorites. Hope your bracket is still okay, mine is hanging on by a thread. An extremely thin, short thread.

Now to the links

The NCAA Tournament proves that the Big East is pretty good apparently
Eric Devendorf doesn't mind if you think he's an asshole
A look back at the weekend, in picture form
Tennessee is now 42-1
Drug Testing may be a little too meddlesome
A line graph to explain the tournament's evolution
Luke Winn tell s you thing five things you've learned

To build on Winn's observation of all the scares that summed up this weekend: I love it. Some have proclaimed this tournament to be boring so far because of the lack of upsets. Poppycock! This is how the tournament should be. Usually only top three seeds have a chance of actually winning the title and so I want to see them advance. I want to see the top teams make it as far as possible so that it is the best against the best to decide it all. But I do want it hard for them. It's great when Louisville is taken to the limit by No. 9 Siena. It was riveting. But it would have been disappointing to see the Cardinals lose. It takes away the luster of the tournament from here on if they weren't involved because it's one less team that could be the champion. All the teams that could possibly win the championship are still alive. Picking a champ now is just as perplexing as it was Wednesday.
And from seeds four, on down, let the upsets begin. Cleveland State beating Wake Forest: great. Arizona upsetting Utah: awesome. So let the upsets come, and in droves. Just make sure that the best teams aren't a part of them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bracket Blowouts

How does the NCAA tournament follow up last night's late-night overtime thrillers -- with blowouts of course.

Top seeds that were slow out of the gate (Memphis and Villanova) proved why they were high seeds and UConn just kept rolling. The Wildcats jumped all over UCLA, physically dominating while routing the Bruins 89-69 (and playing in Philly didn't hurt).

So much for looking vulnerable for Memphis. The Tigers blew out Maryland 89-70 and again look Final Four worthy.

UConn topped its 40+ point beat-down of Chattanooga by steamrolling Texas A&M. The Aggies looked great against BYU, but they fell behind the Huskies early and with 11:21 remaining it's UConn up 72-50.

Congrats to Gary Waters

I'm on my way to the RAC for the NCAA women's basketball tournament, but felt the need to post a congratulations to Gary Waters and Cleveland St. for their 15-point win over Wake Forest last night... cover-to-cover domination.

Asked this morning on ESPN about whether taking his team to a bull-fight in Spain this offseason helped their mindset, Waters responded by saying it taught them "to kill the opponent."

GW is clearly fired up.

Bracket Busters

In case you may have fell asleep and missed the late night madness that took over the NCAA tournament let's take a look.

No.12 Arizona went wire-to-wire knocking off No.5 Utah 84-71.
No.13 Cleveland St. hammered an overrated No.4 Wake Forest 84-69.

And then there were overtime thrillers.

No.12 Wisconsin defeated No.5 Florida State 61-59 on a layup by Trevon Hughes with two seconds left.

In the game of the night No.9 Siena worked two overtimes to eliminate No.8 Ohio St. Siena led only once during regulation and that was at 3-2 after point guard Ronald Moore (#25 above/courtesy of AP) stuck a three with seven seconds left to tie the game.
And it wouldn't be the last thing Moore had to say. The junior delivered again in the second overtime period with another three, this time with 3.9 seconds left to give the Saints a 74-72 victory. Evan Turner had a chance to send it to a third overtime, but his runner rimmed out as the buzzer sounded.
This sets up an intriguing matchup between Siena and top-seed Louisville. The Cardinals had a tough time with Morehead St. in the first half before pulling away. The Saint showed that they can bang beating Ohio St. in a Big Ten style game (poor shooting and physical play), but you have to wonder if they have any legs left after playing two overtimes.
Siena will be game against the Cards, but Terrence Williams and Samardo Samuels are too lethal of an inside-out combo and bury the Saints late. The Pick: Louisville 75 Siena 64

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thoughts From Last Night in Philly

As Mike pointed out earlier I spent last night taking in the night session in Philly so I thought that I would give you a quick run down of two very exciting games.

No.6 UCLA vs. No.11 VCU
VCU stormed back from 11 down with four and change to play giving themselves the opportunity to win the game at the buzzer. Unfortunately, for the Rams' Eric Maynor's last second shot came up short, but here is the problem with that last play.
1. VCU was inbounding the ball under its basket with 11.6 seconds left the play has to be to get the ball in Maynor's hands. They did, but it took to long. The ball came in to Joey Rodriguez who then needed two and a half seconds to get the ball to Maynor. At this point the play was doomed.
2. That could not have been the shot Anthony Grant had in mind for Maynor. Give Darren Collison credit, he did a tremendous job defensively, but the Rams had another timeout so when Maynor is forced up the right hand side of the court, tight to the sideline, why not call a timeout with six seconds left when he crosses half court. You would get the ball back in the postion where NBA teams get the ball after getting to advance after a timeout. They could have got the ball back to Maynor and he could have faced Collison up.
3. With all that being said, credit VCU for not going away. There were several moments in the second half when the Rams had opportunities to cut the lead, but missed a wide open shot or free throw so for them to have a shot at the end says a lot about their character.
4. VCU shot 18-of-25 from the free throw line while UCLA went 17-of-19. There is the difference in the game.
5. Larry Sanders can play. The somphomore center for the Rams was exceptional down the stretch, particularly on the defensive end blocking shots and rebounding. He did an excellent job of not fouling in the final ten minutes of the game as UCLA continuily came down the middle of the lane.
6. Why was UCLA getting into the lane so easily? The Rams chose to press the Bruins after every made basket. I understand that this is their style, but the Bruin guards were more athletic and broke the press with ease and on many occassions going coast-to-coast.

No.3 Villanova vs. No.14 American
American played very well early in the first half becasue it was able to execute its offense. The Eagles run a similar motion offense that Davidson used for Stephan Curry in last year's tournament.
They run the offense very efficiently and they were able to get their sharp-shooting senior Garrison Carr several open looks in the first half as they built that 10 point lead.
In the second half, Jay Wright made an adjustment to go to the 1-2-1-1 pseudo-press that the Wildcats are known for. The pressure didn't necessarily result in turnovers, but what it did was take American out of its rythm because the Eagles were unable to get into their offensive set as quickly.
Once 'Nova began to make its run it was clear that American was rattled. And combine that with tired legs and bad things are bound to happen. Everything that could have gone wrong in the second half did for a game American team, but as Wright said after his guys were simply superior athletes and that took over. Villanova outscored American 49-26 in the period.

This sets up an appetizing Villanova/UCLA matchup Saturday night. I like 'Nova in this game because the Bruins struggle to score especially without Collison, who did have some foul issues against VCU.
The scare that Villanova got from American is a good thing because in the NCAA tournament that first game against a mid-major that has won 14 of its last 15 and is on national T.V. for the first time trying to prove something can be difficult. The Wildcats took American's punch right in the mouth and responded like a good team should. The Cats guards will be just too much for UCLA -- remember it is a home game for 'Nova. The Pick: Villanova 75 UCLA 69

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nova woke up and played like a Big East team, beating American 80-67.

Binghamton-Duke in 12 minutes...
American has looked very good... Derrick Mercer is a guard that I've seen develop since his time in the first year of the Star-Ledger College Player Summer League at Rutgers. He's quick and makes things happen, so having a shooter like Garrison Carr on his team is dangerous.

Dwayne Anderson has been hot for 'Nova and needs to stay that way late... 55-52 American with 8:05 left.

Upset Alert

At the half in Philadelphia it's Villanova with 31 and American with ...41! Where did that come from. The Wildcats were supposed to be a safer pick with them playing the first two rounds in a virtual home game at the Wachovia Center. Woops. American is doing on VU's turf on Nova's terms. They are 8/15 from beyond the arc, while Villanova is only 5/14.
It's not that Villanova is shooting poorly, they are 12/23, but American is just playing better. They are shooting 50% from the field and have taken 7 more field goals. On top of that Scottie Reynolds has been held scoreless. Villanova will need to wake up or it's going to be going home. And ironically, it will be a short ride home.
According to Kyle Franko, who is at the game, American has been very efficient in its motion offense and that is causing breakdowns for Villanova.

Gonzaga holds a slim 24-23 lead with 7:17 remaining the first half. This is unexpected as Zaga is a chique pick to make it to the Final Four and the Zips only have one win all season over a team in the top 75 in rpi (Niagra). Nate Linehart has a game high 8 points.

A look back, and a look ahead

It was a great early stream of games, with 2Memphis taken to the wire by 15Cal-State Northridge and Kyle actually willing to completely disregard the health of his bracket to cheer for the Matadors. But that was all for naught and Memphis pulled it out, 81-70, thanks to 35 points and 10 three-pointers from a guy whose previous season high was 13. There's Robert Sallie's one shining moment.
9Butler and 8LSU was close throughout, with several lead changes. LSU should have taken control of this game much earlier as Marcus Thorton's playmaking and the Tigers' athleticism was difficult for Butler to handle. Still, Butler was spunky and wouldn't go away. But LSU rode Thorton's 30 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals to a 75-71 win.
5Purdue looked like it was going to have a cakewalk of a first round game, leading by as much as 14 in the second half. 12Northern Iowa clawed their way back but had horrible late-minute management to ruin their hopes of an upset. Purdue 61-56.
10Maryland and 7California were close for a while but the Terrapins pulled away midway through the second half and put it on cruise-control to finish out a 84-71 victory.
The rest of the games were blowout city. 1 UConn played without coach Jim Calhoun, who went to the hospital, and used a 46-5 run to get away from 16 Chattanooga for a 103-47 win.
No Ty Lawson for 1North Carolina, no problem. Wayne Ellington scored 25 points and Tyler Hansbrough added 22 to drive a 101-58 win over 16Radford.
9Texas A&M jumped out to an 18 point lead early in the game and didn't give it up as 8BYU never really made it a game. Bryan Davis had a game high 21 points in a 79-66 Aggies win.
4Washington was a trendy upset pick, facing SEC tournament champs 13Mississippi State. Those dreams were put to bed early. The game started out closely but the Huskies took a 40-27 lead into halftime and maintained it. Quincy Pondexter scored 23 points, double his season average, to key the 71-58 UW win.

Truthfully only about half of today's eight games were entertaining. The fraction might not change for the night slate but there will be a few doozies.
6UCLA takes on 11VCU in the awaited game of the day. VCU is a hot pick to beat the higher seeded Bruins but a large portion of this UCLA has made three straight Final Four runs and Darren Collison vs. Eric Maynor is the top 1-on-1 matchup of the first round. That game is at 9:50 ET.
7CLemson and 10Michigan should be a better 7-10 game than MD-Cal. These two are evenly matched and it will be a battle of wills. Michigan is driven by its 1-3-1 zone, which could create room underneath for Tigers star power forward Trevor Booker. Game starts at 7:10 ET.
7Texas-10Minnesota should be another good, if not spectacular game. UT needs AJ Abrams to have a big game to go far. Game starts at 7:10 ET.
The other big upset selection is 12Western Kentucky over 5Illinois. WKU is a hot pick because of its Sweet Sixteen run from last year, but Courtney Lee graduated to the NBA. AJ Slaughter took over his scoring load, and after upsetting Louisville earlier this year, is primed for another run. Illinois will be hurt by the loss of its facilitator point guard Chester Frazier, who won't play. That should hurt a lot. Game starts at 9:55 ET.
A & M wins by 13... giving me a 3-for-3 morning. Break time... Northern Iowa and Purdue underway, 6-4 UNI. Next round of tip-offs at 3pm.
LSU hangs on to beat Butler 75-71 in Greensboro thanks to a 30 point effort from Marcus Thornton. Matt Howard had 22 for the Bulldogs.

LSU just made the big shots down the stretch and were able to outlast a very scrappy Butler team. Tasmin Mitchell had 14 as well for the Tigers. LSU will meet the winner of North Carolina/Radford

The Tar Heels will not have the services of ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson.
Memphis wins 81-70 thanks to Roburt Sallie, LSU wins 75-71 thanks to Marcus Thornton and Texas A &M is using a balanced attack to hold a 13 point lead with 30 seconds left.
Roburt Sallie is going to single-handedly win this game for Memphis... 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting and 10-for-15 from deep. Memphis leads the overachieving CSNR Matadors 78-68 with a minute left.


Put a fork in Cal-State Northridge, it's done. An 8-2 run by Memphis, including back to back threes has pretty much ended this game. It was good while it lasted for the Matadors, but the deeper, better Tigers will win out. The Tournament is still looking for its Cinderella.
A&M in complete control against BYU in Philly. The Aggies started 10-of-10 from the field and jumped all over the Cougars and have gone wire-to-wire thus far. 3:50 to play, 74-59 Aggies.
Memphis has regained the lead and stretched it to three, 67-64, after Robert Dozier tipped a missed shot in over 3 CSN players. CSN takes a timeout. Memphis is using its depth and athleticism edges to pull it out. Mark Hill, the CSN star, had a close up where he looked spent. Describes his team to a T. 5:21 remaining in this one
Matt Howard's knee is bleeding... he's pulling the lower extremity version of Eric Montross.

LSU leads Butler 60-58, approaching four minutes left. The Bulldogs are scrappy.
CSN is up 6 on Memphis, 62-56, with 10 minutes to go and their cheerleaders are pumped. Going into commercial break the CBS cameras went close up on them and that is the most excited and riled up I've ever seen any cheerleaders. I would be scared of them in a dark alley


Cal-State Northridge just took the lead on a transition three by Mark Hill with 13:54 remaining and John Calipari needs a time-out. Willie Gallick adds a layup, CSN up 46-43 with 13:20 left. Butler and LSU are close as well with LSU leading 53-49 with 11 minutes to go. Looks like two great endings in the morning session, because in the third game Texas A&M up big on BYU.

Funny NCAA video

One of the most famous shots of past NCAA Tournaments was Christian Laettner's fadeaway to beat Kentucky and Rick Pitino... here's a funny commercial featuring the shot and the two aforementioned basketball names.
Butler and LSU locked in a tight game as Bulldogs have erased a 13 point deficit and trail by just two, 46-44 with 13:30 to play in the game.

Matt Howard has been dominant inside since reentering the game with four minutes left in the first half after he picked up two quick fouls.

In Philly: A&M still front-running against BYU -- 54-40, 13 minutes to play.

Connecticut to play without Calhoun

The Huskies will play tonight without coach Jim Calhoun. He was taken to the hospital and assistant George Blaney will coach the game against Chattanooga. This is the second time UConn has played without the Hall of Famer. He missed the second half in the team's victory over Rutgers on January 3. In that half, UConn turned a 11 point halftime lead into a 31 point win.
Roburt Sallie has 17 points for Memphis on 6-for-8 shooting, but the Tigers have yet to establish Shawn Taggert. He started 3-for-3 in the first four minutes, but hasn't attempted a shot since. I don't get it.

Foul trouble is killing Memphis too as Evans has barely played.

Kenny Daniels and Tremaine Townsend have nine a piece for Cal St.-Northridge.

34-31 Memphis at the half... can the Matadors channel Hampton-Iowa St?

Get to know Cal-State Northridge

Since they're making it a close game with Memphis, why not take this time to learn a little something about the school.

  • Ken Pomroy has them as his 105th best team. Tightly squeezed between Miami (OH) and Portland. That's 10 spots higher than St. John's and 12 higher than 13 seed Portland State. Pomroy has Memphis as number one.
  • They have a student population of 20,955. Memphis has 15,813.
  • 57.1% of the students are female.
Halftime in Greensboro: LSU 35 Butler 29 -- Butler rattles in a three at the buzzer to cut the lead to six. LSU has dominated the half, but Bulter is within striking distance and should make for a good second half.

Butler had four freshmen and one sophomore on the floor for the last five minutes. Talk about young and as Jim Nantz pointed out the Bulldogs also have a 32-year-old coach.

In Philly: Texas A&M keeping BYU at arms length at the half leading 42-30.
Butler hasn't shot the ball well, but they have clamped down defensively and pulled back within four at 15-13 with 7:30 to play. The Bulldogs have done all of this with Matt Howard on the bench in foul trouble.

CBS also hoping this game stays close so that they can put their new A-team of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg on display. Kellogg took over as the lead color commentator after the network parted ways with Billy Packer.
Texas A & M has hit its first seven shots and 25 percent three-point gunner Derrick Roland has hit two from deep in the first four minutes to give the Aggies a 18-7 lead over BYU in Philadelphia.
Memphis’ staple all season has been defense and up-tempo play. They’ve wanted to play low-scoring games and make teams watch Tyreke Evans carve up man-to-man sets.

So far, it looks as if Memphis will have to rely on the post play of Shawn Taggart. He has experience in the Dance and is the only one in rhythm in the early going of the 2-seed’s opener against 15-seed Cal St.-Northridge.

CS-NR came out hot, hitting three of its first four shots and four attempts from the stripe. It was as if the Matadors were pushing the tempo and dictating the game, something you don’t often see against a John Calipari squad.

The score is 11-11 at the first official timeout… and Memphis really doesn’t want the score in the 70s. Get the ball inside to Taggart and work the half-court game.
13:34 left in Greensboro and LSU has got off to a fast start against Butler leading 13-6. Horizon League Player of the Year Matt Howard just picked up his second foul and is on the bench.
LSU has been one of the most surprising teams this year increasing its win total by 13. The Tigers have forced the Bulldogs into turnovers and have taken advantage in transition.

Let the Madness Begin

So the tournament has finally got started after three days of waiting and mind changing and we are here to keep you updated throughout the day on what's going on around the country.

The Madness begins within the hour...

Stay tuned for content... the NCAA Tournament is minutes from tip-off.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Different Way to Fill Out the Bracket

For the most part people are filling out their brackets qualitatively. Just an intuitive process where your brain strains out all the basketball you've watched and picks games. It's not a bad way to go. Remember, your 4th grade teacher always said to go with your first answer.
But if that isn't enough, there is a site out there that can add some quantitative substance to your decisions. I referenced a bunch of rankings and stats in the prior days and they all came from this site.
Pomroy brings Billy Beane's moneyball to the college basketball court. He has great stats that adjust offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency past just the superficial points allowed and scored. And by way of statistical alchemy creates his own formula for ranking all 344 teams, from Memphis to NJIT.
(Sidebar: my personal favorite stat is effective length which measures how each team's height is functional)
And for all those that are curious about what the stats have to say but don't wanna go to the site, Pomroy's best two teams are Memphis and North Carolina. In that order

A couple games that could be close...

We'll be providing updates on games and thoughts as the Madness starts tomorrow at noon, but before you submit your bracket, remember to be careful with a couple first-round games.

I'm not saying these two teams will win (I actually think both will go down), but I have a strong feeling that this pair of teams will not be out of their respective games at halftime.

No. 14 North Dakota St.-- All the pundits are raving over this team and I guarantee you maybe three of them have seen the Bison play in person. Last year, I had the pleasure of watching Ben Woodside, Brett Winkleman and company at the RAC and they are a special team. With four 5th-year seniors and Woodside's 60-point game cemented in North Dakota basketball history, they will give Kansas all the defending champion wants to handle. There will be no Bucknell repeat though... damn you, Wayne Simien.

No. 15 Binghamton-- Don't sleep on the Bearcats. Don't worry about what you read in The New York Times or saw on Outside the Lines. D.J. Rivera and Tiki Mayben could both play in the Big East. When Malik Alvin thinks before he drives, he can be dynamic. If Reggie Fuller gives Lance Thomas fits underneath and the long Binghamton guards play smart perimeter defense, Duke will have to play a tentative second half. They don't want D.J. Rivera becoming the next Eric Maynor... oh, ouch, I went there.

It all begins TOMORROW!

More Madness

The NCAA is offering free live streaming coverage of all games beginning Thursday with March Madness On Demand. The link is here so if the game you want to see is not on your local CBS affiliate check out the Web site and stay up-to-date with scores around the tournament.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More Bracket Fun

The greatest part about the American democracy is its inherent plurality. The idea of majority and minority. Two dissenting views. Of course there is no greater time for that than when everybody fills out their brackets. Kyle and Danny have already given some of their keys for wining your pool, I'm here with more. And warning: disagreements will occur.

Sleepers to forget:
Cleveland St: Sorry Danny. While the Vikings play tremendous defense, their offense is atrocious. They have the 121st most efficient offense in the country and are not a good offensive rebounding team. That makes for a lot of misses and not enough second chance points. Combined with WFU's large athletic and height advantage, well that equals one and done for Gary Waters. On the bright side, that's still better than what his successor at Rutgers did in the CBI.
Arizona: Arizona does have a great bunch of scorers in Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nick Wise. The problems is that their defense is equally bad. They have the 132nd best D in the country. That just might explain how such a talented team is so mediocre. And while Jordan Hill is a good rebounder, Utah does not give up offensive rebounds taking away second chance points. And one more piece of information. The same argument people are using this year to predict a UA upset was being used last year when they were a 10 seed and had Jerryd Bayless. That ended with a 10 point loss in the first round.

Upsets to ponder later on:
West Virginia over Kansas in Round 2. Both teams should advance out of the first round although the Jayhawks being upset by North Dakota State isn't completely out of the question. But should these two match up, go with the Mountaineers. For intangible reasons just look at the job Bob Huggins did last year in getting his lower seeded team to the Sweet Sixteen. Tangibly, look at how WVU shut down Pitt's inside-out combo of DaJuan Blair and Sam Young. Now think of how they'll matchup with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Also, KU has come in losing 2 of their last 3, not exactly peaking for tourney time.
Connecticut over Memphis in Round 4: I know, I know. UConn is a 1, Memphis is a 2. But everywhere I look has Memphis going to the Final Four and UConn lost in the fray. My piece of advice: don't be fooled by Memphis. Some of their appeal is that they did so well last year. But Derrick Rose is gone and Tyreke Evans cannot dominate a game as well. They also hav e great length and can use it to dominate. But UConn can match them in that department with Stanley Robinson, Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The biggest difference will be the ability to score. The Tigers struggle to do so, While Connecticut is just a bit better. In a matchup like this, it can make all the difference

March Madness Locks and Traps

Since I know Kyle and Mike are giving you in-depth looks at each game, I’m going to take a slightly different approach. I’ll give you my top five trap picks and my top five best upset picks for the Round of 64.

Top Five Trap Picks (Don’t make ‘em)

VCU over UCLA— I love Eric Maynor’s point-guard skills as much as anyone, but let’s be serious. Darren Collison has been to three Final 4s. He just wins games and Ben Howland’s crew wins this one by 10+.

BC over USC—I always thought Al Skinner was slightly overrated, even during the years he roamed the Big East sidelines. Tyrese Rice is extremely talented, but I’m not sure that the Eagles’ wings and posts can hang with Demar Derozan and Taj Gibson. Tim Floyd’s team is just too athletic.

Temple over Arizona St.—For those of you making this pick, why? Seriously, really, why? Dionte Christmas is good, I get that. But A-10 vs. Pac-10 and Christmas versus one of my favorite players in the nation in James Harden—those both swing the momentum in the favor of the Sun Devils. The Owls will get blown out here.

Butler over LSU—Marcus Thornton may be the best scorer in the country that nobody knows about down in the Bayou. I know they ran things in a very weak SEC, but I’ve had enough of the obsession with Butler. Coach Brad Stevens has done an awesome job there and he looks like he’s 20 years old in the process. The Bulldogs took a hit with the loss to Gary Waters and his Cleveland St. crew and will keep this game close. Too much Thornton though…

Wisconsin over Florida St.—The Badgers are probably one of the top three least-deserving teams of a bid in this field and now they’re a trendy upset pick? I don’t get the rationale other than the fact that Bo Ryan finds a way to get it done. Toney Douglas at FSU is a prolific offensive threat and he will single-handedly beat Wisconsin.

Top 5 Upset Picks (Roll with ‘em)

Western Kentucky over Illinois—This WKU team knows how to pull upsets… they bounced Drake from last year’s Big Dance. Illinois will most likely be without superstar point guard Chester Frazier… hurting the chances of an already mediocre team that scored 33 against Penn St. in a game this year.

Maryland over Cal—Greivis Vasquez (pictured) can score in so many different ways and I’m not 100 percent convinced that Gary Williams has let the game pass him by yet. It pains me to bet against Mike Montgomery and his offensive brilliance, but I think that the Terps have what it takes.

Arizona over Utah—Don’t worry about what the pundits are saying—about how Utah was strong in a tough Mountain West, about how they beat LSU by 30, etc… Arizona can score in bunches. I like Chase Budinger and Jordan “Double-Double Machine” Hill to bring the Wildcats through to the Round of 32.

Tennessee over Oklahoma St.—This is purely a by-seed upset. Bruce Pearl’s team has so much talent with Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith and Scotty Hopson. They can light it up from deep, but must limit the stupid mistakes that cost them in the SEC title game against Mississippi St. Pearl’s late-game management was atrocious. A hobbled Byron Eaton tries to keep the Cowboys in it but can’t find a way…

Cleveland St. over Wake Forest—I’m not taking it in my bracket because I’m a wimp, but this is certainly possible for Mr. Waters. St. John’s transfer Cedric Jackson is coupled with hard-nosed post J’Nathan Bullock. Don’t sleep on the Vikings, but I’m worried about the Demon Deacons ability to score, hence why this is my least confident pick.

Enjoy the start of the Madness. I know I will.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Breaking Down the Bracket (cont.)

Here is the other half of the bracket with thoughts on the first round games (I'm also sure that Mike will disagree with me wholeheartedly so check back for his picks later -- it will make for good talk around the water cooler):


No.1 Pittsburgh vs. No.16 East Tennessee St. --
The Panthers are simply to physical for the Bucs and DeJuan Blair will have a big game inside. The Pick: Pittsburgh 75 East Tennessee St. 51

No.8 Oklahoma St. vs. No.9 Tennessee --
Tennessee is a very dangerous nine seed. If they shoot the ball well from the outside they have a chance to spring a few upsets in this tourney. The Pokes' will provide a tough test, but just too much Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith for OSU to handle. The Pick: Tennessee 78 Oklahoma St. 70

No.5 Florida St. vs. No.12 Wisconsin --
This is all about Tony Douglas. The explosive FSU point guard will be a handful for the Badgers. You can never count out a Bo Ryan coached team, but they just won't have an answer for Douglas. The Pick: Florida St. 75 Wisconsin 67

No.4 Xavier vs. No.13 Portland St. -- Portland actually gets to play this game at home and although the Musketeers sleep walked through the back-end of the A-10 schedule Sean Miller can coach em' up in March and the X-Men are battled tested and will be ready to make another deep tourney run. The Pick: Xavier 67 Portland St. 53

No.6 UCLA vs. No.11 Virginia Commonwealth --
Ben Howland's Bruins have been to three straight final four's, but they will be tested right out of the gate. Eric Maynor is one of the top five point guards in college basketball and Anthony Grant is a rising star in the coaching ranks. The Rams knocked out Duke in a 6-11 game two years ago and Maynor and co. will do it again pulling a major upset in Philly. The Pick: Virginia Commonwealth 74 UCLA 72

No.3 Villanova vs. No.14 American -- Combine Nova' in Philly and Scottie Reynolds (right) and Villanova will be just too much for the Eagles. The Pick: Villanova 83 American 65

No.7 Texas vs. No.10 Minnesota -- The Longhorns have been incredibly inconsistent, but if J.J. Abrams can be effective from three than the Horns' will beat Tubby Smith's Gophers. By the way how great is it to see Smith back in the tourney after being run out of town by Kentucky. And where are the Wildcats? N.I.T. The Pick: Texas 76 Minnesota 69

No.2 Duke vs. No.15 Binghamton -- Binghamton probably deserved better than a 15 seed, but Duke is just two talented for a Bearcats squad that won the America East regular season and tourney titles. The Pick: Duke 72 Binghamton 59


No. 1 North Carolina vs. No.16 Radford --
A 16 has never beaten a one, but Radford...just kidding! The Pick: North Carolina 95 Radford 57

No.8 LSU vs. No.9 Butler --
The Tigers were one of the nation's surprise team's, but Butler has been here before and the LSU players have not. The Bulldogs gut out a close win. The Pick: Butler 71 LSU 67

No.5 Illinois vs. No.12 Western Kentucky --
Illinois point guard Chester Frazier has a band hand and the Illini struggle to score without him. Upset alert here -- the Hilltoppers get it done for the second straight year. The Pick: Western Kentucky 68 Illinois 59

No.4 Gonzaga vs. No.13 Akron --
Another potential upset here as the MAC champs enter having won six of eight, but Josh Heytvelt and Jeremy Pargo will be too much down the stretch as the Zags' avoid another disappointing early exit. The Pick: Gonzaga 72 Akron 66

No.6 Arizona St. vs. No.11 Temple -- Christmas in March. Dionte (left) leaves the Sun Devils with a lump of coal after his three point barrage lifts Fran Dunphey's club into the second round. The Pick: Temple 64 Arizona St. 60

No.3 Syracuse vs. No.13 Stephen F. Austin -- Do the Orange have anything left in the tank? They are bound to throw in a clunker and hopefully it comes against the Lumberjacks because they are still good enough to win this game. The Pick: Syracuse 69 Stephen F. Austin 60

No.7 Clemson vs. No.10 Michigan -- Two clubs that are inconsistent, but could be dangerous if they start firing on all cylinders. It has been a while for the Wolverines and they will use that as motivation to get at least a win here. The Pick: Michigan 69 Clemson 65

No.2 Oklahoma vs. No.15 Morgan St. --
Morgan St. beat Maryland this season, but the Terps didn't have anybody like Blake Griffin. It will be close for a half before the Sooners pull away. The Pick: Oklahoma 81 Morgan St. 64

Bracket Breakdown

Now that everybody has had about 24 hours to digest the brackets and listen to the talking heads at ESPN and every other network, it's time for me to take my shot at swaying you to alter your bracket and utterly destroying any hope you had at winning any sort of prize (note: we do not condone gambling here at thebigbeastnj). But here comes a region-by-region breakdown of the first round anyway:


No.1 Louisville vs. No.16 Alabama St./Morehead St.
– The rout will be on early as the Cardinals are too athletic for either of these minnows. The Pick: Louisville 94 Alabama St. 58

No.8 Ohio St. vs. No.9 Siena – The Buckeyes got to the Big Ten finals so they come in with a little bit of momentum, but nothing they have done this season has been overly spectacular. Siena blindsided Vanderbilt last year and played a tough non-conference schedule although they didn’t win any of those games. Kenny Hasbrouck averages 14.8 points per game and three other Saints average in double figures. Hasbrouck will be the difference as Siena advances. The Pick: Siena 68 Ohio State 62

No.4 Wake Forest vs. No.13 Cleveland St. –
Gary Waters makes his first tourney appearance with the Vikings and they will keep it close against an athletic Wake squad, but Geoff Teague will be too much down the stretch. The Pick: Wake Forest 73 Cleveland St. 62

No.5 Utah vs. No.12 Arizona – So Arizona gets in as one of the final teams included and they are a dangerous twelve seed. But the Utes won a very tough Mountain West and have showed up in big games. They beat Gonzaga and LSU (by 30). Picking Arizona looks appetizing, but Utah is going to win this game. The Pick: Utah 75 Arizona 63

No.6 West Virginia vs. No.11 Dayton –
This is an extremely intriguing game because the Flyers have shown brilliance this year, beating a full-strength Marquette, but they backed into the tourney losing four of their last seven. WVU looked good at the BET and Devin Ebanks is star in the making. The Mountaineers will get it done in a close grind-it-out game. The Pick: West Virginia 64 Dayton 58

No.3 Kansas vs. No.14 North Dakota St. – NDSU is led by guard Ben Woodside who scored 60 points in a triple overtime game earlier this year. Mr. 60, as he’s known in Bison territory will keep it close in the first half, but the Jayhawks just have too much talent and will overwhelm the Bison in the second half. The Pick: Kansas 77 North Dakota St. 60

No.7 Boston College vs. No.10 USC – This game is a toss-up. The Eagles have shown they can beat good teams and the Trojans have momentum after playing their way in by winning the Pac 10 tourney. Go with the higher seed. The Pick: Boston College 76 USC 73

No.2 Michigan St. vs. No.15 Robert Morris – Remember how ole’ Sparty lobbied for a number one seed then got clobbered by Ohio St. in the Big Ten semis. MSU is where they belong on the two line and Tom Izzo’s club will beat-up on the Northeast Conference champions. The Pick: Michigan St. 79 Robert Morris 59


No.1 Connecticut vs. No.16 Chattanooga – The last time UConn was a one seed in the west region they won a national title. The last time UConn was a one seed and opened play in Philly they almost lost to No.16 Albany. Jim Calhoun won’t let that happen again. The Pick: Connecticut 81 Chattanooga 63

No.8 BYU vs. No.9 Texas A&M – I can’t seem to place why this sounds so familiar – oh, wait they met in this same exact matchup last year with the Aggies winning. The Cougars want revenge and will get it thanks to Lee Cummard, one of the best players you’ve never heard of. The Pick: BYU 63 Texas A&M 61

No.5 Purdue vs. No.12 Northern Iowa – The Big Ten champs have a lot of momentum and they will need Robbie Hummel to shoot the ball well if they want to get far. The Missouri Valley champs will be a tough first round game, but the Boilers should have enough to avoid the upset.
The Pick: Purdue 61 Northern Iowa 56

No.4 Washington vs. No.13 Mississippi St. – Talk about on a roll and just look at the Bulldogs who played their way in by winning the SEC tourney. Jarvis Vernardo is a beast inside, but so in the Huskies’ Jon Brockman who averages 14.9 points per game. People haven’t got to see a lot of Washington because they play on the west coast, but U-Dub is really good. The Pick: Washington 74 Mississippi St. 65

No.6 Marquette vs. No.11 Utah St. – The Golden Eagles have a clipped wing without superstar Dominick James, but they showed a lot of heart coming back against Villanova in the BET, and Buzz Williams crew will be good for a win here against an Aggies team that has a very inflated 30 wins. The Pick: Marquette 72 Utah St. 61

No.3 Missouri vs. No.14 Cornell –
It took Mike Anderson and his ’40 minutes of Hell’ just three seasons to bring the Tigers back from the dead and with all their athleticism they are primed for a deep tourney run. The Pick: Missouri 87 Cornell 62

No.7 Californ
ia vs. No.10 Maryland – Cal is another team we don’t know a lot about because they are on the west coast, but they do have very good guard play with Jerome Randle who averages 18.4 points per game. The Terps will counter with Greivis Vasquez, a guy who loves to make big shots. He will make one in this game to lift Maryland into round two. The Pick: Maryland 73 California 72

No.2 Memphis vs. No.15 Cal-State Northridge – Too big, too long, too athletic. Tigers roll. The Pick: Memphis 80 CS Northridge 55

An intriguing possibility out of the Midwest bracket

Louisville is by far the favorite as the easiest team to pencil into the Final Four. And considering the way they've played lately, especially the defensive tour de-force they put on in the Big East Tournament. But don't be surprised if they run into a problem in the Sweet Sixteen.
That problem, if it arises, will be Wake Forest. The reason why Wake is so problematic is because the Demon Deacons are almost a mirror image of the Cardinals.
A large part of Louisville's success is its unmatched length and athleticism in the frontcourt. Terrence Williams is a 6'6" point guard of sorts, a slasher and gasher who plays a vital role in running the offense from the wing. Samardo Samuels is the burly 6'9" center who provides the yin to Samuels yang, muscling to get buckets while Williams uses his superior athleticism. And Earl Clark provides a little bit of both. At 6'9" he can score from the perimeter with ease, as he did against Villanova in the BET semis, or finish inside using his length. And having the 6'10 Terrence Jennings coming off the bench to provide rebounding and shot-blockings is certainly not a hinderance to success.
That frontcourt makes the Cards lethal in man-to-man defense or in the 2-3 zone. And the full court press is the biggest nuisance in all of college basketball. Their size gives them an advantage that most teams in the country can't match. Except Wake Forest.
James Johnson is 6'9" and while not as athletic as Williams, will present many problems for him when the two match-up. Johnson sometimes gets happy with the three-pointer but when he puts it on the floor can create trouble for a defense.
Al-Farouq Aminu is lesser developed version of Clark. The 6'9" forward with the wide wingspan can run the floor, finish inside and sporadically hit from the outside. Aminu is a better rebounder though. Seeing these two match up will be tantalizing. One reporter at the BET called Clark Louisville's "plastic man." Aminu is almost his equal.
The big x-factor is Chas McFarland. And by big I mean seven feet tall big. McFarland will most likely match up with Samuels on defense and Samuels has shown troubles scoring against bigger guys. It will be just as hard rebounding defensively for the freshman and trying to keep McFarland from giving WF second chances. Even if the Cards go to the zone, that means finding bodies in order to box out a bigger and just as athletic team.
The reason why this match-up gets extremely troublesome for UL, if it happens, is because of their disadvantage in the backcourt. Jeff Teague is a transcendent player and can take over a game. He averaged 19 ppg and 1.9 spg while shooting 48% and 44% from beyond the arc. That will be tough to guard for any of the Cards' guards.
But while Louisville's zone may be troubled by the WF frontcourt, it can also be the great equalizer. Wake Forest is an atrocious outside shooting team. They're horrible. As a team they are shooting 31% from three-pt land. But that is misleading. Teague is the only one shooting over 33 percent and he has taken more than a quarter of their threes.
If it happens, this should be an epic match-up and one of the best possible ones in the entire tournament.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hypothetically Speaking

Hypothetical question: What would the college basketball world be like right now if Louisville had stayed in Conference USA?
Now that the two have locked up 1 and 2 seeds, it's as good a time as ever to wonder what if?
Usually when throwing around the "What if?" in this part of the college sports country, it's about what if the Big East never lost Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College? How would the football conference look? Would the basketball side be as dominant?
But what if the Cards stayed where they were? At that time Louisville was on their way to national prominence. In 2005, the last season UL was in C-USA, they reached the Final Four. Not too shabby for a mid-major.
At the same time Memphis was also on the rise. John Calipari had turned things around at Penny Hardaway's alma mater. But as off 2005 they were still on the cusp. Who can forget them missing the tournament because Darius Washington missed two free throws in the conference tournament championship game with no time remaining and his team down one? And then collapsing at the free throw line in tears.
Since then Calipari has led Memphis to a championship game and gotten the best player in his class twice, with Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins.
Still, would either program be the same if Louisville had stayed?
For Louisville, I believe it would have. Rick Pitino is a proven winner and he had no problem doing it in the C-USA. He got the program to the final weekend in the conference and seemed prime to make it a constant. It also helped him that Kentucky was on the way down, making UL the power of the region.
But Memphis, maybe not. The player that changed their program, Derrick Rose, came only after Memphis had established themselves as kings of the mid-major. At the same time their success up to that point had been enough to show Rose that he could go to C-USA and not become irrelevant.
Not to say Memphis would have become irrelevant with Louisville there. Just not as important. Unburdened by battling for recruits in the region, knowing full well that if anyone substantial came along Calipari could snatch them up, Memphis moved their recruiting to a nation scope. A program can't be big-time these days without recruiting nationwide.
It seems unlikely that so many major recruits as Memphis and Louisville have been able to grab the last 3 years would have agreed to go to C-USA without a guarantee of dominance and prominence. Look at Gonzaga. They have been able to recruit in the WCC and get some big recruits like Austin Daye but no other team has been as successful.
So what would have become of Memphis and Louisville if the Cards never left? Louisville would be largely unchanged. And Memphis would have been right on their tail, but probably not at the level they are now.

Selection Sunday Morning Run

After a crazy week at MSG and the Louisville Cardinals proving that they’re the best team in the nation (by winning the regular season and tournament in the toughest conference in the nation), it’s Selection Sunday! So, here you go folks, a morning run of bracketology links.

Mark Schlabach’s biggest questions on this Selection Sunday morning.

Dan Wetzel’s coverage of the Big East Tournament couldn't rival Mike Vorkunov and Kyle Franko's, but at least he tried…

Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated pulls his best Joe Lunardi just 12 hours before the field is announced…

The Chicago Tribune chimes in on who deserves No. 1 seeds and who helped their cause to make the field of 65.,0,3396758.story

The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at the Florida-Florida St. NIT-NCAA role reversal.,0,1264821.story

Enjoy your Sunday of title games and the release of the bracket… we’ll provide our upset picks later!

Cards take first Big East Tournament Crown

NEW YORK – It was going to happen sooner or later. And for Syracuse the fatigue set in just in time for Louisville to pull away in the second half and double their delight in the Big East.
But it wasn’t easy for the Cardinals. Much like the semi-final against Villanova they fell behind early and needed a spark after the break to capture their first Big East tournament title 76-66 Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
“We entered the Big East the wrong year coming off a final four where we lost our leadership and talent,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “We had to rebuild in the Big East. People ask me ‘how does it feel to win one’ and they don’t realize we’ve only been in the league four years and these guys came in the NIT year, and are going out Big East regular season and conference champions.”
Trailing by eight at the half, Louisville opened the second half on a tear outscoring Syracuse 21-5 over the first 6:15 of the period. Earl Clark capped the run with a three pointer that put the Cardinals up 51-43 – it was a lead they would never relinquish. Clark finished with 13 points, nine in the second half to go with 10 boards.
Samardo Samuels led the team with 15 points, but it was the balanced effort for the Cards that Pitino was most satisfied with. Preston Knowles, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith and Terrence Williams also scored in double figures for the Cardinals.
“You’re legs are going to give out sooner or later,” said Pitino whose team sizzled in the second half to the tune of 60.9 percent shooting including six three pointers in the period. “They were brilliant down the stretch and I want to congratulate our guys. These two seniors are taking us on a great run – T-will was his brilliant self tonight and Andre [McGee] puts more pressure on anybody than any mother-in-law in the country.
“The guys did a great job in the second half of finding the open man and our key is, stop the three and hit the three. When you look at us you see a lopsided point total from making the three, but the three is of no value if you can’t stop the three.”
But it was the senior Williams who announced his presence on the national stage in front of the Garden crowd.
“We’ve been here three years in a row and haven’t won”, said Williams who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven steals. “To come here [in the Garden] and finally be able to hold that trophy is truly amazing.”
Louisville will now turn its attention to the NCAA tournament, where the Cards are now all but assured a number one seed.
“I think it’s a distinct possibility that we will get three Big East teams at No.1 [in the NCAA tournament], but there is so much banter and talk about seeding,” Pitino said. “I’m amazed that people are getting so into it, but I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t matter where you are seeded – you have to play good basketball.”
For Syracuse, the tired legs finally caught up with them. The Orange struggled to find the basket in the second half after building a 38-30 halftime lead. They shot 36.7 percent from the field and turned the ball over 10 times in the period.
“I thought the first half we played very well on both ends,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “In the second half we made a couple bad turnovers and they converted them. We got open looks, but you have to make shots against them because when you don’t they are going to score on the other end."
But the Orange won’t leave New York without providing the tournament with some of its most memorable moments.
“I’m really proud of what my guys did here this week and Jonny [Flynn] was unbelievable,” Boeheim said. “There are two things people are going to remember about this year – the Syracuse-UConn game and what we do in the [NCAA] Tournament."
Flynn played 34 minutes against the Cardinals, one night after playing 45 against West Virginia and 67 in the six overtime marathon against UConn.
“I was very disappointed,” said Flynn who finished with 11 points and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. “I was so proud of my team for battling this whole week and we put in a lot of work and made it a lot further than people thought. I wasn’t really feeling fatigued, but we just made too many mistakes.”
Eric Devendorf led the Orange with 20 points, giving him 84 for the tournament – a number that broke Ben Gordon’s 81 set in 2004.
Both teams will now prepare for the NCAA tournament and the experience and pressure that comes with playing in the Big East is something Boeheim hopes will translate to wins in the coming weeks.
“We will look back on this as being a great thing for us,” said Boeheim who coached in his 14th Big East championship. “Not just this tourney but the last two weeks.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Orange Slice Mountaineers

NEW YORK - At the very least, the fans in the Garden should expect to get their money's worth when Syracuse is playing. For the second straight night, the Orange needed overtime to get the job done. And for the second straight night, they succeeded.
Syracuse didn't need six overtimes on this occasion but an extra period provided the separation between the Orange and West Virginia.
It did look like there was a chance of another overtime with West Virginia bringing the ball up down three with 19 seconds remaining, but Darryl Bryant's three-pointer was blocked. That led to an easy breakout layup for Eric Devendorf to seal the win.
WVU coach Bob Huggins put the failed game-tying possession on his shoulders. Huggins called a timeout a moment prior but did not outline everything his team was supposed to do.
"It was my fault. 20 seconds to go, I wanna make sure we’re organized defensively," said Huggins. "I should have in hindsight said what we needed to do if we needed a three and I didn’t do that. [Bryant] just wanted to make a play."
The game went to overtime because Devin Ebanks drove into the lane and was fouled with 4.8 seconds to go. He nailed both.
Syracuse jumped out to a 69-63 lead before WVU whittled away at the deficit, starting with a De'Sean Butler elbow jumper.
The Orange helped them out by missed crucial three throws. Paul Harris missed a free throw with 19 seconds remaining, that would have put the game away.
But West Virginia couldn't make it go to a second overtime.
That had to be a relief for Jonny Flynn. The frenetic guard played 67 minutes against Connecticut and followed it up with the full 45 against WVU. He showed signs of exhaust, shooting just 4-13. But he still finished with 15 points, 9 assists and 2 assists.
Flynn got a lot of help from his backcourt mates. Eric Devendorf had a game high 23 points and Andy Rautins contributed 12 off the bench.
The victory showed that talks of tiredness were overblown. Rautins said that his team was feeling pretty good after Thursday night and Kristof Ongenaet believed going to another overtime was somewhat of a blessing.
"Def after last night we’re pretty good in overtime," said the forward after grabbing a game-high ten rebounds, scoring six points, and four thieves. "We’re stronger than yesterday. Yesterday we had 6, today we only had one."
Syracuse went into the half up 36-29, thanks to a half-court miracle. Devendorf unleashed a shot from beyond half-court that went in right at the buzzer to extend SU's lead.
The shot and the halftime deficit wasn't enough to drown the Mountaineers. Led by Butler and Ebanks, who scored 21 and 22 points respectively, they battled back.
It culminated with the freshman at the line, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and a sold out crowd.
"All I tried to do was basically clear my mind, not let the crowd effect me," said Ebanks of his thoughts at the time.
The victory sends Syracuse to the Big East Tournament final for the 14th time, looking for their sixth title. In their way will be Louisville, who decimated Villanova earlier in the evening.

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 4 Villanova -- Big East Semis

NEW YORK -- Whatever Rick Pitino said at halftime worked.
Louisville erased a seven point deficit at the break thanks in large part to a 17-2 run right out of the locker room as the Cardinals went on to beat Villanova 69-55 in its semi-final matchup Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
"At halftime I told the guys I was speechless for the first time this year," Pitino told his team during the intermission. "I said, 'I don't recognize any of you, I don't know who you are.'"
But the Cards found their identity in the second half -- they came out on fire draining consecutive three's -- one by Earl Clark and another from Andre McGee, who finished with nine points -- all from behind the arc.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright immediately called timeout, but the Wildcats were unable to handle the Louisville pressure early in the half. And after a Preston Knowles three pointer with 15:16 to play the Cardinal's had turned a seven point deficit into a seven point lead.
"I think we pressured and dug in," Clark said about the difference between the first and second half. "We got back to what we do -- forcing turnovers and our guards did a great job putting the heat [on Villanova's] guards and we hit open threes."
Clark led Louisville with 17 points including a late tip-in and three pointer that put the dagger in the Wildcats. Jerry Smith added 16 points for the Cardinals.
Louisville forced Villanova into 12 second half turnovers -- 23 for the game, as they held the Wildcats to just 28 percent from the field in the period.
"When we play man or zone we really put great emphasis on pressuring the basketball," Pitino said.
Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham and Corey Fisher each had 14 points for the Wildcats (26-7), but Louisville turned up the defense on Scottie Reynolds limiting the guard to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting while forcing him into six turnovers.
Even without Reynolds, Villanova countered Louisville's punch, steadying the ship and an Anderson tip-in with 8:15 to play tied the score at 50. But the Cardinals proved to be too much down the stretch rattling off 10 straight points creating a deficit that was insurmountable for the Wildcats.
"They really did a great job on him. They doubled him every time he had the ball in the backcourt." Wright said of the Louisville defense against Reynolds who came into the game averaging 15.9 points per game. "They're the best defensive team in the country. On a night like that when they're going to so much pressure on Scottie, our other guys have to step up because there were opportunities for the other guys and tonight we just didn't do it."
Louisville (27-5) was limited to just 30.8 percent from the field in the first half as Villanova built its 34-26 advantage. But the Cardinals heated up after the break -- particularly from behind the arc, connecting on 8-of-15 in the second half.
For the Wildcats, they have a veteran group and Wright does not think this loss will have any effect on his team as the NCAA Tournament approaches.
"We've been good at that this year," Wright said about his team's ability to bounce back from tough losses. "I think we'll be good at it, but honestly this one -- I thought we had a chance to win this.
"We got to get over this one, there's no question. This one is tough, really tough because now you're running out of chances."
That next chance will come when the Wildcats return to Philadelphia and hope that when the brackets are released they remain at home with the Wachovia Center hosting the first two rounds.
The Cards will have one more hurdle before the NCAA Tournament when they meet the winner of No.6 Syracuse and No.7 West Virginia Saturday night. It will be their first chance in the championship game since becoming a member of the conference in 2006.
"In the past couple years together with this group we haven't had a lot of success in the Garden," Smith said. "For us to get to the championship of the Big East Tournament, that's saying a lot for us and what we've overcome."

With win Syracuse sinks to a new low

Great, great, great, epic victory for Syracuse last night over Connecticut. To try to describe it would be almost blasphemy so we won't. That and by now everyone has seen the highlights ad nauseam. But as good as the game was last night, the Syracuse athletic department is just as bad.
On sale not even 24 hours after it ended, SU is selling the box scores in a plaque for $69. And for an extra $30, it will be signed by Jim Boeheim.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big East Locks Up Third Number One Seed

Louisville took care of Providence in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament today but the good news didn't come til later for the Huskies. As sure-to-be number one seed Pittsburgh was on their way to losing to West Virginia, possible number one seed Oklahoma was having a similar tough time with in-state rival Oklahoma State. And just like Pitt, it was not to be for the Sooners. They lost 71-70 and pretty much secured themselves a number two seed.
If the Sooners could have run the table in the Big 12 tourney, it would have compensated for their late season swoon, despite some of it coming without All-Galaxy power forward Blake Griffin. But that didn't happen. Now neither will their top seed.
Coming into tournament time UConn, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Oklahoma were the prohibitive favorites for the four top spots. North Carolina and Pitt are definite locks and Connecticut will most likely get in because their resume is superb as their only two losses since the start of 2009 are to Pittsburgh.
That left the fourth one open. Oklahoma was the front runner because the committee was most likely going to forgive their two losses without Griffin. Unless they couldn't overcome the late season troubles even with Griffin. Now it looks like they can't.
That leaves Louisville, Michigan State and Memphis vying for that final top seed. Memphis gets penalized for playing in a putrid Conference USA, so they're undefeated record in it is irrelevant. On top of that, their best out-of-conference win is at Gonzaga. Not that impressive.
Michigan State has been very good since December. But they play in a down Big Ten. That hurts.
That leaves Louisville. They overcame a horrible first two months to win the Big East regular season championship. And getting to the semi-finals of the BET should be enough to catapult them to a No. 1.

Big East Quarterfinal Night Session

NEW YORK -- Both Pittsburgh and West Virginia are securely in the NCAA Tournament field at this point, so their quarterfinal Big East matchup was purely about playing for a better seed come selection Sunday.
But it was seventh seeded West Virginia that played like the team that could be the potential number one seed tonight as the Mountaineers took control in the second half beating up their northern rivals 74-60 at Madison Square Garden.
Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Alex Ruoff all scored in double-figures for West Virginia (23-10) with the freshman Ebanks leading the way with a game-high 20. Ruoff added 18 and Butler chipped in 16.
Ebanks was a force all night using his athletic build to trouble Pittsburgh defenders throughout the game. Ebanks got his 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but was able to get to the free throw line 11 times, making 10.
Second seeded Pittsburgh(28-4) was led by Sam Young's 15 points. Co-Big East Player of the Year DeJuan Blair was held in check thanks in large part to foul trouble. Blair scored six of the Panthers first nine points as Pitt jumped out to a 9-4 lead, but the sophomore picked up his second foul with just over 15 minutes remaining and was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the half. He finished with 14.
Midway through the second half Blair's frustration boiled over when he was hit with a technical foul at the 11:06 mark that sparked an 8-0 West Virginia run extending what was a seven point lead at 53-47 to 61-47.
The Mountaineers delivered the dagger minutes later when John Flowers drilled a three that gave WVU its largest lead at 68-53 with 5:18 remaining.
West Virgina shot 48 percent in the second half as they outscored Pitt 38-26 in the period. The Panthers struggled in the second half connecting on only 34.8 percent of their shots after hitting at a 53.6 percent clip in the first half.
WVU led at the half 36-34.
The Mountanieers will meet either sixth seeded Syracuse or third seeded Connecticut Saturday night.

Big East Tournament notes

Some interesting notes from the Big East Tournament so far.

  • The game tying shot by Georgetown to tie St. John's is one of the worst last second possessions ever. Chris Wright dribbled into the corner, isolating himself away from DeJaun Summers and Jesse Sapp. Then with a timeout remaining he decides to give it to Nikita Mescheriakov. Who by the way is shooting 29% from beyond the arc this year on 42 attemts. Needless to say he looked confused in the corner, with no where to go. He then put a shot that hit the top of the backboard and put an embarassing end to the Hoyas tourney run and maybe season.
  • Georgetown note to think about. They've gone from Final Four two years ago to second round upset last year to one and done on the first day of the extended BET this year. Was it Jeff Green or JTIII?
  • There is a hand written note taped to the stats table in the media room asking to start up a donation for Mike Tranghese, presumably in appreciation of his 19 years as commissioner.
  • Still a lot of empty seats here at the beginning of the Pitt- WVU game. Especially in the lower bowl. Maybe its because people are still getting out of work or because its still relatively early. Or maybe its the economy.
  • All the coaches are wearing credentials while on the bench. Like somebody wouldnt recognize Bob Huggins if he went anywhere in the building.
  • NBA GMs seen so far checking out the action this week: Joe Dumars, Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry.
  • About ten writers huddled around a television to see the great ending to the Marquette-Villanova game on Sportscenter. Then spent the next five minutes breaking it down.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Take it Easy

There’s a dirty, little secret about the Big East Tournament: to the winner go the spoiled national championship hopes. Because holding up the golden ore this Saturday night all but assures that you won’t be cutting down the nets the first Monday of April.
Which is completely antithetical to the common perception. The tournament, hosted annually at Madison Square Garden, is arguably the most prestigious and consistently memorable in college basketball history. Every March, for a week, it brings back salience to college basketball in New York. 12 teams - and for the first time ever this year: 16 teams - vie to hold up the trophy in front of a sold-out MSG crowd.
But should they? Because for all its glitz and glamour, winning the tournament may just kill all hopes of winning the Tournament that really counts a few weeks later.
In fact the trophy probably should come with the words “caveat emptor” tattooed on it somewhere.
Of 29 prior champions since the tournament’s inception in 1980, only three winners have gone on to win it all. And the ratio has gotten smaller the last five years. Of the last ten teams to play in the championship game, only two have made it as far as the Final Four and just Connecticut won the whole thing in 2004. Not a pretty tale for a conference consistently thought of as the best in the country.
The lucky 2008 winner Pittsburgh didn’t even make it to the second weekend, getting bounced in the second round by Michigan State. Runner-up Georgetown was the first Goliath that the eponymous Davidson slayed that year, losing in the second round as a two-seed. 2007 champion Georgetown lost in the Final Four to Ohio State. Pitt made it to the sweet 16.
Three years ago was particularly ugly. In 2006, champion Syracuse needed buzzer beaters from Gerry McNamara in its first three games to even get to Saturday night, before beating Pittsburgh. Then once it got to the Big Dance, it was first round upset victim, and a lot of people’s bracket buster. Pitt was only a smidge better, losing to 13 seed Bradley in the second round. But in fairness, this may be as much an indictment of Pitt’s inability to come up large in March.
In 2005, champ Syracuse got dumped as a four-seed in the first round. And while UConn won it all in 2004, second-place Pitt only made it to the Sweet 16.
So why the long history of short NCAA Tournament runs? Some say it’s because the grueling toll of playing three straight days, or in some cases four day, or potentially five days this year, is too much to take. Teams run out of gas and it shows the next weekend. And there may be some rationality to that.
Take Louisville for example. In 2007 the Cards got to the semi-finals at the Garden. Then promptly got bounced in the second round the next weekend. Last year Rick Pitino’s squad couldn’t make it past their first game and proceeded to make it to the Elite Eight.
So a word from the wise to the teams about to hit the floor at MSG: take it easy. Rest up. Conserve your energy. Reserve some time to see the sights. But whatever you do, don’t win too many games; it’s probably to your benefit.

Quick Hit-- Kentucky to the NIT?

Mike and I will be scrambling around MSG tomorrow at the Big East Tournament for all four games... it should be a great day at the World's Most Famous Arena.

As for a little side-story on conference tournament week, the almighty powers-that-be at Kentucky uttered three unspeakable letters this week... N-I-T.

Take a look at this elitism...

Filling Out Your Bracket

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Big East Tournament, and for the first time with all 16 teams participating. Or as the media wants it to be called The New Big East Tournament: Bigger, Longer, and Completely Unnecessary.
But with 16 teams comes the ability to see a Cinderella that would almost be at the level of the NCAA Tournament quality. Not saying it will happen, but what happens if a Seton Hall or St. John's makes a run to the semi-finals? That would be unbelievable, literally. If I told you today that would happen, you would not believe it.
Whatever happens, it will be a fun week at the Garden. We'll be putting up direct updates from MSG this week, but today is our version of the bracket and how it we think it's going to fill out.

16 DePaul vs. Cincinnati- The Bearcats have to be angry after the loss to SHU and DePaul is just plain horrible. Sounds like a bad combination for the Blue Demons. At least they will have plenty of time to go sightseeing; I hear the Empire State Building is nice. Final score: Cinci 79, DePaul 53.
15 Rutgers vs. 10 Notre Dame- Upset Alert! Rutgers for some reason seems to matchup well with ND, with their last two games going to the wire. Luke Harangody is basically afraid of Hamady. But with that in mind and RU's recent hot streak (one win in a row!), here is a provision somebody has to consider; can RU win without Mike Rosario? The freshman has been downright brutal the last three games. He's a combined 10-43 in that time and scored six points. RU was spunky in their win over South Florida but was horrible. ND needs this win and probably still has hopes of the tourney in their mind. Final score: ND 73, RU 63.
14 South Florida vs. 11 Seton Hall- SHU is peaking right now and USF is floundering. Interesting note is that USF is staying in the area until the their game tomorrow, after playing RU Saturday. But not much to talk about here, the Pirates should breeze through. Final Score: SHU 77, USF 61
13 St. John's vs. 12 Georgetown- Wait didn't this just happen? The Red Storm beat the Hoyas at the Garden last week but that should be a one-time deal. Georgetown still has faint mid-March hopes as well so they will be juiced tomorrow. Final score: Georgetown 65, SJU 61

9 Cincinnati vs. 8 Providence - Providence is still on the bubble and will need this win to get in. They have swept UC this season and won't have the burden of flying in from the mid-west and playing for the second straight day. Expect this to be close but Keno Davis succeeds in his BET debut. Final Score: Providence 81, Cincinnati 71
12 Georgetown vs. 5 Marquette- Marquette's No. 5 seed is misleading. They started out 10-0 in the conference but has lost their last four after losing Dominic James. But they can still score points, something the Hoyas struggle with. It will be a gritty game and a close one that will come down to the last minute but Jerel Mcneal and Lazar Haywood will be clutch. Final Score: Marquette 74, Georgetown 68
10 Notre Dame vs. 7 West Virginia- This is a 7pm game. Perfect time to go get some dinner. Maybe the nice Italian place downtown, or something lighter if you are trying to get in shape for the summertime. I'd go with a nice dessert as well, some cheesecake sounds good. Why the talk about food? Because this is the game of the day that you can miss. Final Score: WVU 83, ND 67.
11 Seton Hall vs. 6 Syracuse- This is my game of the day. Seton Hall should get a good crowd and Syracuse always does so both teams will be amped. These two teams matchup well because Syracuse likes to go small with Paul Harris at power forward, hiding his size in their zone, and SHU has to go small with Robert Mitchell at PF. Bobby Gonzalez has done an amazing job this year by winning as many Big East games as he has rotation players, and he'll find a way to keep this one close. Cuse blew out the Hall earlier in the season but these are two different teams. Final Score: SHU 84, Syracuse 82.

5 Marquette vs. 4 Villanova- This was a blowout in Marquette's favor a month ago. It could go a full 180 degrees this time. Marquette is plummetting, Villanova is hitting their stride. And not having James to guard Nova's littany of guards will be a problem. Final Score: Villanova 91, Marquette 83
7 West Virginia vs. 2 Pittsburgh- Another rendition of the Backyard Brawl on the parque, and it should be a good one. Pitt won the tourney last year but I think will not have their foot on the pedal this time around because they want to be fresh for March. This game matters for seeding for Bob Huggins. Expect to see that in the score. Final Score: WVU 73, Pitt 68.
11 Seton Hall vs. 3 Connecticut- Connecticut is definitely not the same team since losing its best backcourt player in Jerome Dyson. They've able to come out of it largely unscathed though - save two losses to Pittsburgh - because of the rapid improvement of Hasheem Thabeet. They will struggle with the better teams in March, but luckily for them Seton Hall is not on that level. And they definitely do not matchup well with the Huskies. Final Score: Connecticut 75, SHU 64
8 Providence vs. 1 Louisville- Remember when everyone thought Louisville was going to have a down year. Rick Pitino has done his annual trick of turning a putrid first half team into a Final Four contender. The Cards have flipped their "On" switch and that means the defense is suffocating. This year is no defense. Providence is going to struggle against UL because they struggle for points outside of Weyinmi Efejuku. Final Score: Louisville 69, Providence 59.

7 West Virginia vs. 3 Connecticut- This could be troublesome for Connecticut. De'Sean Butler is the type of big wing player that causes problems for UConn (think Sam Young) because they don't have anybody to guard them. Stanley Robinson isn't a good enough perimeter defender and none of the guards are big enough. But Connecticut is still too good and too talented to lose to the Mountaineers because Jeff Adrien and Thabeet are uncomparable compared to what WVU has inside. But WVU can pull off the upset if Devin Ebanks comes up with a huge game. Final Score: Connecticut 68, WVU 63
4 Villanova vs. 1 Louisville- As good as Pitino's teams have been since joining the Big East, the farthest they have gotten in the BET is the semi-finals. And that was only once in 2007. It's not a coincidence either because Pitino knows that saving that energy for the tournament that really matters is more important. Villanova has the huge advantage in the backcourt and will need a huge perimeter shooting day because its outsized inside and should respond. Final Score: Villanova 72, Louisville 68.

4 Villanova vs. 3 Connecticut- UConn needs this game more than the Wildcats. If they win the BET, it should wrap up a number one seed in NCAA Tournament. If Villanova wins, they still stay in that 3-4 range, probably a 3. That's not much of a difference. So expect Jim Calhoun to get his team hyped up. The Huskies have a huge advantage in the post, offensively and defensively. Look for them to exploit that, especially defensively where they will try to force Villanova into becoming a solely perimeter team and make Dante Cunningham useless. Final Score: Connecticut 76, Villanova 68.

Player of the Tournamet: Hasheem Thabeet
Team of the Tournament:
Thabeet, Scottie Reynolds, De'Sean Butler, Efejuku, Terrence Williams

The Morning Run

Hey! It's been a while since last edition of the links, but Danny and I have been - for a lack of a better word - busybeyondbelief. But we are going to try to cut down on our school work for the sake of our readers. Hopefully our loyalty to all those that visit this site over our futures will be appreciated. (And hopefully rewarded, you can decide how).

A story of supposed outrage dealing with Danny' favorite team

By far one of the coolest things I have ever heard of. Ever

Former NBA coach Eric Musselman compiles a prolific list of coach's sayings

Louisville are now Big East champs (not a game story)

Nothing to do with sports but this is interesting
A touching story

The Wall Street Journal recently started its own sports section (it's ok). This is the hard-hitting story they are covering

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Weekend Forecast

In my opinion there are three candidates for the most exciting time in college basketball.
Option 1: The first weekend of the Tournament. This one is the one cited as the winner by far. It's when people are sitting on the edge of their couch hoping their brackets don't get ruined or lose half their savings and hoping they won't have to leverage the money with their legs. I can gladly agree to this but doesn't it seem like a cop out to go this route?
Option 2: Conference tournament week. This one has its drama as well. Teams get off the bubble or solidify their cases. Some random SWAC team wins their conference tourney with a losing record and costs a BCS-conference team a spot in the final 65. Loud, egregious yelling ensues. Also, too easy to choose.
Option 3: This weekend. The last regular season weekend has its own excitement. Teams like Georgetown have no shot of even thinking mid-March without a win this weekend. It's also the last time to position yourself for the conference tournament where bubbles are burst and bids are won. As you can tell, the drama is deep beneath the surface but it's there. So with that in mind, here is a look at the teams who won't be sleeping easy tonight and tomorrow night.

Georgetown: They need a win Saturday just to become a bubble team. The win over Villanova seemed to assure them a spot contingent on defeating St. John's, DePaul and a first round game in the Big East Tournament probably against Rutgers. That gets them 8 regular season conference wins and 18 total, along with wins over Memphis, Maryland and at Connecticut. Easy right? Oops. Now they'll need to crush the Blue Demons Saturday and then win a second round game as well - which looks like it's going to be Syracuse.
Outlook: Hazy

Cincinnati: Their position is just about the same as the Hoyas'. They have 8 BE wins and finish out with a winnable game against Seton Hall. But their best out-of-conference victory is at UNLV. They'll probably get to 20 wins with a tourney win against DePaul but it may not be enough because of the poor OOC and the 61 RPI.
Outlook: Cloudy

Providence: This is probably the team that is going to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament. It looks like only 8 Big East teams will get in and Providence has the better resume. Their best OOC win is Rhode Island. Not too impressive. But wins over Pittsburgh (No. 1 RPI) and Syracuse (26) help a lot, while Cinci's best are West Virginia (22) and Georgetown (44) twice. They are at Villanova this weekend, and if they win that then they lock up the tourney spot. If they lose then a date with the Bearcats will be the determining factor.
Outlook: Sunny with chances of thunderstorms

Seton Hall: They don't have NCAA Tournament hopes but Bobby Gonzalez needs to get the Pirates to the NIT. Bad. He missed last year. This year SHU is 15-14 and is going to need to win at Cinci Saturday and win the first round game against St. John's. That could be tricky because both are good home teams. Still it will be an uphill climb. Wins against USC, Virginia Tech and Georgetown help. A 105 RPI doesn't.
Outlook: Gonzo

Rutgers: They don't even have NIT hopes. No the Knights need a win against South Florida Saturday to help secure coach Fred Hill's job security. Going 1-17 in the Big East would be brutal. And the seeming transfer of Corey Chandler doesn't help. Add in a new AD and that looks like a recipe for disaster.
Outlook: Flood warning

(All RPI taken from

Chandler to transfer?

Zagsblog and Jerry Carino are both reporting that Corey Chandler will be leaving Rutgers. I tried to get down to the bottom of it and the Daily Targum's story is here