Message to the whiners: Who cares if there is no Cinderella?
In fact, I'll take it a step further. It's a good thing there's no Cinderella! It means the best teams are still playing. Sure, Cleveland St. and Western Kentucky were fun stories, but they're just not the same quality as the teams we have left. Instead, we have a selection of truly outstanding matchups:More in this Poker Blog! -->
#1 Louisville vs. #12 Arizona: Don't let the seeding fool you. I was dead wrong about Arizona. They are for real. Perhaps it's my west coast bias that made me discount them. The Wildcats beat both Kansas and Gonzaga this year as well as UCLA. They also have two NBA players (Wise and Hill) and four players who hit 38% or more of their 3-point shots. I ignored my own rules when I originally discounted them. Absent that late 4-game losing streak, they were probably worthy of a 6 seed. And as for Louisville? They're very, very good. This should be an interesting game, but the Cardinals will be too much.
#3 Kansas vs. #2 Michigan St.: What's not to like about this matchup of traditional powers? Top coaches. Great talent on both sides. But I think this is clearly MSU's game to lose. They beat the Jayhawks by 13 at home in January. Kansas also has out of conference losses to Syracuse, UMass and Arizona. It'll be closer than it was in January, but the Spartans will move on.
#1 UConn vs. #5 Purdue: The Boilermakers are the only other party-crasher in the Sweet Sixteen. I'm still not a believer in Purdue. The lost 7 conference games in a Big 10 wrought with mediocrity. A bunch of good teams, but maybe only one great one (Michigan St.). UConn has silenced those that questioned their #1 seed by soundly thumping their first two opponents. I expect more of the same in the most lopsided game of the round.
#3 Missouri vs. #2 Memphis: You want a fun game to watch? This ought to be it. Missouri loves to press the tempo and extend the defense. It's what got them a lead over Marquette that was too much to overcome. After Memphis' slight scare in the first round, they played very well against Maryland. The Tigers have enough to give the Tigers a scare here, but the Tigers will end up winning. (I like Memphis in a close one.)
#1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Xavier: I'm not sure why, but my pick to win it all (Pittsburgh) has made the first two rounds very interesting. Xavier, on the other hand, had little trouble getting here, and they're probably better than most people give them credit for (wins over Memphis, Missouri and LSU this year). However, it's the Musketeers' bad losses down the stretch (Duquesne, Dayton, Charlotte, Richmond) that make me believe they won't have enough for the Panthers.
#3 Villanova vs. #2 Duke: Another fabulous matchup. If you're a college basketball fan, you're excited about this matchup. These are two very good teams with solid NCAA histories. This has all the makings of being the closest game in the round, and I think Nova will have too much for a Duke team that lacks athleticism (apart from Henderson).
#1 UNC vs. #4 Gonzaga: It's everyone's favorite little guy from the Pacific Northwest against the most talented team in college basketball. The Tarheels future in this tourney comes down to the health of Ty Lawson's toe. I don't think the Zags will be able to exploit this potential weakness, so expect UNC to move on.
#3 Syracuse vs. #2 Oklahoma: It's clearly my favorite game of the round, but that's because I'm an Orange fan. However, I think even a casual basketball fan will find this game interesting. It's a matchup of the tourney's best remaining guard (SU's Johnny Flynn) vs. the best remaining big man (OU's Blake Griffin). If Syracuse can neutralize Griffin and hold their own on the boards, they should have the firepower to eke out a win. At least that's what I'm hoping!<-- Hide More
If you're like 99% of the adult population in America, you're working on your NCAA bracket this week (due by Noon ET on Thursday). And if you get it just right, there might even be some money in it for you. Here are five rules for picking your bracket that will give you an advantage over anyone who hasn't read this:More in this Poker Blog! -->
Number 1: Don't trust the SEC.
Only three SEC teams made the Big Dance this year and only two of them were even worthy (Miss. St. won the SEC tourney to "earn" an automatic bid). Expect all three SEC teams to go out in the first round. MSU is terrible and lost to just about every out of conference opponent they faced. Tennessee has a nice out of conference win against Marquette, but that's it. They lost to Gonzaga twice, Temple, Kansas and Memphis. In conference, UT struggled against the "better" teams like Kentucky, LSU and Auburn. And LSU's out of conference schedule was a joke. The "big" win was against a mediocre Wash. St. team. They lost to Texas A&M, Utah and Xavier. Pathetic.
The SEC is terrible. I wish there was a stronger way to state this.
Number 2: Trust the Big East
They've been the strongest conference in college basketball all year long. There's a reason 9 Big East teams were ranked going into the conference schedule. It's because the Big East generally beat up on other conferences. Georgetown and Notre Dame were top 10 teams before they started facing other Big East teams.
Here's a look at some Big East out of conference wins:
Pittsburgh: Florida St., Siena
UCONN: Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Michigan
Syracuse: Memphis, Kansas, Florida
The Big East team I actually worry about is Louisville. Perhaps they figured out how to flip a switch because they were pretty bad early in the season with losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV. They're hot now, though, so it's hard to bet against them.
Number 3: The Hilltoppers are ready for an upset
They've already gotten a signature win over Louisville this year and have also tested themselves against teams like Georgia, Florida St. and Mississippi St. They won't be intimidated by Illinois. And the Illini will likely be without their best perimeter defender which is good news for guard-heavy Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers three guards all average more than 12 ppg and hit more than 36% of their 3-point shots. Illinois' only chance is to slow down the game and use their 7-footer. It won't work.
Number 4: Utah will not be upset by Arizona
Listen to the oddsmakers and a Wildcats win in this game wouldn't actually be an upset. For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would expect the Wildcats to win. They are far and away the worst at large team in the Big Dance. It took a win over a terrible Stanford team to close the regular season just to get to .500 in a relatively weak Pac 10. They were 11-8 on Jan. 21st and closed the season losing 5 out of 6. A seven game winning streak over mostly mediocre teams saved their season. The Utes' Luke Nevill will neutralize the Wildcats' best weapon, Jordan Hill. And Arizona will go home.
Number 5: The four #1 seeds won't make the Final Four, but they'll all be close
It's a lock. All four #1 seeds will make the Elite Eight. The bumps they'll encounter aren't nearly big enough to stop them. The only possible upset is Wake over Louisville. Other than that, it's a cakewalk.
The Final Four is a different story, however. Louisville faces a tough matchup with Michigan St. (the only legitimate Big 10 threat in the tourney). Pitt faces a tough matchup with Duke or even Nova, who beat Pitt by 10 in the regular season. UConn will be the most popular pick to fail because they have a run-in with Memphis planned. And I wouldn't want to be UNC looking at a matchup with Player of the Year Blake Griffin and Oklahoma or maybe even a strong Syracuse squad.
If you're looking for a repeat of last year's chalk, you'll be disappointed. I can't tell you which #1 (or #1s) will fail to get there (after all, I'm facing some of you in bracket challenges), but I can tell you the chalk ain't happening!<-- Hide More
Why wait for the tournament selection committee? I've got your 65 teams right here. Joe Lunardi may be ESPN's Bracketologist, but he's not the best in the biz.
I now present the 65 teams headed to the Big Dance courtesy my Dad. Here is his email to me in its entirety (I've updated with MSU's win):More in this Poker Blog! -->
"This may be my worst projection in the last 10 years. Why? Mediocrity! My process involves looking at data that allows me to almost compare blind resumes. So when I finish, I'm sometimes surprised at the outcome. This year I am devastated. Of the "bigs," the Big East is the class while the Big 10 is common. My dance card - 7 Big East teams and 8 Big Ten teams.
I refuse to put San Diego St in my bracket when their signature win out of conference is CSU-Northridge. So, here we go..."
AMERICAN EAST - Binghamton (14)
ACC - UNC (1), Duke (2), Wake (3), FSU (4), Clemson (6), Maryland (10), BC (11)
ATL. SUN - E Tenn St (15)
ATL 10 - Xavier (5), Dayton (8), Temple (12)
BIG EAST - Pitt (1), L-Ville (1), UConn (2), Nova (4), Syracuse (4), WVU (6), Marq (7)
BIG SKY - Portland St (14)
BIG South - Radford (15)
BIG 10 - Mich St (2), Purdue (5), Illinois (7), Ohio St (8), Michigan (9), Wisc (10), Minn (11)
BIG 12 - Okla (2), Missouri (3), Kansas (3), Okla St (5), Texas (7), Texas AM (9)
BIG WEST - CS Northridge/Pacific (16)
COLONIAL - VCU (12)
CONF USA - Memphis (1)
HORIZON - Butler (9), Cleve St (13)
IVY - Cornell (15)
MAAC - Sienna (12)
MAC - Buffalo/Akron (13)
MEAC - Morgan St/Norfolk St (16)
MVC - Creighton (10), N. Iowa (12)
MWC - Utah (4), BYU (9)
NORTHEAST - Bob Morris (15)
OVC - Morehead St (16)
PAC 10 - Wash (3), UCLA (6), Ariz St (6), Cal (8), USC (11)
PATRIOT - American U (14)
SEC - Tenn (5), LSU (8), Miss. St. (11)
SOUTHERN - UT Chat (17)
SOUTHLAND - St F Austin/UTSA (13)
SWAC - Ala St/Jackson St (17)
SUMMIT - N Dakota St (14)
SUN BELT - W. Kentucky (13)
WCC - Gonzaga (7)
WAC - Utah St/Nevada (10)
Luckbox's thoughts: UConn is a better #1 seed than Memphis. Who has Memphis beat this year? Coasting through Conference USA just doesn't compare to what the Huskies did in the Big East. Should Duke beat FSU, they could get the 4th #1 seed (along with UNC, Pitt and Louisville). Mich. St. and Oklahoma both played their way out of a #1 seed.
I also think Florida played its way out of the tourney by failing to make even the semis of the SEC tourney. The SEC gets juts two teams unless Miss. St. upsets Tennessee. That said, I haven't done enough checking myself to see who might be a better candidate. UPDATE: Miss. St. did, in fact, upset Tennessee so they're in and Florida is out.<-- Hide More
I'm prone to hyperbole. And hyperbole in headlines helps bring readers. Was last night's six overtime marathon between Syracuse and Connecticut the greatest college basketball game ever played? Probably not. But let's take a closer look:More in this Poker Blog! -->
This is where this game is lacking. The quarterfinals of the Big East tournament just can't match the intensity of an NCAA tournament game. In this case, each team was guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance regardless of outcome.
For these teams, however, the stakes were high. It's a pretty intense rivalry and a prime-time game at Madison Square Garden is a big deal for these players. Also, UCONN had lost 4 straight openers in the Big East tourney and wanted this game badly. And Syracuse is working to improve its seeding.
It was big to these teams, but hardly matched the stakes of a National Championship game or even a game like Duke-Kentucky in the East Regional Finals of 1992.
Quality of Teams
UCONN is one of the top 4 teams in the country. They've been ranked #1 twice this year and, despite the loss, I think they'll still be a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney. Syracuse was ranked as high as 8th this year and have already beaten Big 12 champ Kansas, Top 5-ranked Memphis and Florida out of conference.
These are two very good teams playing in the nation's toughest conference. Again, are they Duke and Kentucky from 1992? Not quite. But they can match up with just about anyone in college basketball this season.
That's where this game has an advantage over most others. Only a 1981 game between Cincinnati and Bradley went longer (7 overtimes), but the final score in that game was just 75-73 because that was before the shot clock. Two games in the 1950s also went to 6 overtimes.
This game is more impressive than any of these because of the shot clock. That entire 7 OT game totaled 148 points. Syracuse and UCONN scored a combined 102 points in overtime alone (and 244 total). The shot clock changes everything. Before the shot clock, teams could rest on offense, milking the clock. Now, teams must continue moving, getting just 35 seconds per possession. This 6 OT game was significantly harder on the players than any previous college basketball game ever played.
Record for points scored in OT: 56 (Syracuse)
Record for total points scored in OT: 102
Minutes played by Johnny Flynn: 67 of a possible 70
Total FGs made-attempted: 82-209
Total FTs made-attempted: 64-93
Players who fould out: 8 (four for each team)
This game had it all. UCONN never lead by more than 4 points in regulation. Syracuse lead by 7 points with 4 minutes left, but UCONN came back to tie it with 4 seconds left. Syracuse then hit what appeared to be an amazing buzzer-beating 3 point shot, but after a long review, the refs waved it off.
In the first OT, UCONN lead by as many as four but Syracuse tied it on a dunk at the end. In the 2nd OT, UCONN never lead by more than 2 and just missed a half court shot at the buzzer. In the 3rd OT, lead by 6 with must 2 minutes remaining, but Syracuse hit a three pointer with 10 seconds left to tie it up. In the 4th OT, UCONN again never lead by more than 2 points. In the 5th OT, UCONN lead by three, but Syracuse again tied it.
In the 6th and final OT, Syracuse took the lead on a three pointer on the opening possession. It was their first lead since regulation. They had played 25 minutes of OT basketball without leading once. But after that three, they never looked back, winning by 10 points.
Is it greatest game ever played? Probably not. The closer you are to the game, the more likely you are to overstate it's importance. I doubt this game is remembered 15 years from now like the Duke-Kentucky game of 1992.
In fact, I'd site two other games involving Syracuse in the last 20 years that are more memorable to me. First, the 1996 game against Georgia in the NCAA tournament that included a buzzer-beater at the end of regulation to tie it and a John Wallace 3-pointer at the end of OT to win it. And second, the 2003 Finals when Carmelo Anthony lead my Orange to a title over Kansas.
It was a great, great game. One I will never forget and one that will stand in the record books for a long time. But it's not the greatest game ever.<-- Hide More