Saturday, March 22, 2008

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

And, down goes Duke!

West Virginia did the deed, knocking the hated Blue Devils out of the Tournament, 73-67.

Like him or not, Bob Huggins is a darn good coach. West Virginia did well to bring him back to his alma mater. I kinda like him. He doesn't pretend to be something he's not. He's a basketball coach, period. He recruits basketball players and wins games, period. If a school knows up front what they're getting, like West Virginia and Kansas State before it, they'll be successful on the court.

In the meantime, Duke is a shell of its former self. Good riddance.

Have a Tampa

Isn't that a cigar? In this case, the NCAA had a Tampa on Friday. Not a cigar, but the unlikeliest of events in the subregional site at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa (Isn't that strange to have a building named after a newspaper in your rival city across the bay? That would be like an arena in Dallas called the Star-Telegram Center. Strange.). Not one, not two, but four lower seeds advanced from there on Friday. To make things better, the 12th and 13th seeds advanced in Tampa from both the West and Midwest regions. This has never happened, much less at the same site.

The above video is Western Kentucky's Ty Rogers throwing up a 30-footer closely guarded for the win in overtime against Drake. WKU probably, in all honesty, should have been seeded higher. They go on to play San Diego. That's the University of San Diego, not State. The Toreros stunned Connecticut in overtime. You read that right: Western Kentucky is playing San Diego for a trip to the Sweet 16.

But, they weren't done in Tampa. Part of the Midwest bracket played that evening, and 13th seeded Siena pummeled Vanderbilt, 83-62. That wasn't even close. In the nightcap, 12th-seeded Villanova, one of the last two teams to make the tournament, rallied from an 18 point deficit to beat Clemson, 75-69. Villanova and Siena meet on Sunday for a trip to the Sweet 16 in beautiful downtown Detroit.

This is why they call it March Madness.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

NCAA Tournament In Brief

And, this will be very brief, as I'm in New York on business and I need to go to bed.

By the way, welcome to anyone who may be passing by. The traffic for this blog has increased exponentially this week as America has been filling out brackets. To all that have stopped by: Thank you!

This was perhaps the most nondescript first round day in the recent history of the NCAA tournament. The closest thing to an upset was 11th seed Kansas State over USC. Belmont nearly shocked Duke, but close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades. If you like favorites, today was your day.

32 more teams go at it tomorrow. I'm going to bed, going to work, and flying back to Texas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

West Regional Preview and Analysis

The last bracket is in the West. UCLA is once again the team to beat on the Left Coast. Sound familiar?

UCLA spends the first two rounds down the freeway in Anaheim. They play their first game against Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils may wish they hadn’t made the tournament when UCLA is through with them. The Bruins go on to play the winner of the matchup between Mitt Romney U. and George H.W. Bush U. Oops, that’s BYU and Texas A&M. The Fightin’ Texas Aggies handle the guys from Provo, then give UCLA a fight before falling short.

One of the best stories of the year has been the Drake Bulldogs, in their first NCAA tournament since baskets were made of wood. Well, not quite, but 1971 was a long time ago. Drake starts with a game against Western Kentucky. This will be a pretty good game, and don’t be surprised if WKU pulls the 5-12 upset off. I’m picking Drake, though. The Bulldogs go on to face Connecticut. The Huskies will pulverize San Diego. UConn will then go on to the Sweet 16 by ending Drake’s dream season.

In the other half of the bracket, the Purdue Boilermakers return to the tournament with a matchup against the Baylor Bears. The Bears had an anxious Selection Sunday, as they were the last team announced in the bracket. It has been an incredible rise from the ashes of death and probation for the Bears. They have guards that can shoot like crazy. The Bears get hot and shock the Boilermakers. They will go on to play Xavier, who brings Georgia’s spectacular run to an end. The X-men then move on to the Sweet 16 in Phoenix with a win over Baylor.

The last pod is in Washington D.C., where West Virginia faces Arizona. The Mountaineers make the tournament in coach Bob Huggins’ first year. They get a first-round win over an Arizona team that barely made the tournament. This sets up a matchup with the Duke Blue Devils, who get a win over Belmont. Duke then beats West Virginia to earn a trip to Phoenix.

In Phoenix, UCLA meets up with UConn. The Huskies should be proud of their season, because it ends in the desert at the hands of the Bruins. The other game out West will pit Xavier and Duke. Xavier becomes America’s Team by playing the hated Duke Blue Devils. The X-men make another trip to the Elite Eight, where they become fodder for the UCLA Final Four run. UCLA is once again the best in the West.

South Regional Preview and Analysis

This tournament is so big, it takes two days to break it down. The next regional is the South Regional. The South will be decided at the World’s Largest Rodeo Arena, aka Reliant Stadium in Houston. Memphis is the top seed here, but will be challenged by Texas.

Elvis’ Team begins their run a few miles down I-40 in North Little Rock. The Memphis Tigers get to play UT-Arlington. The Movin’ Mavs make their first NCAA appearance in history this week, and it could be ugly. Memphis has been playing teams like this all season in Conference USA. I’d like for UTA to make it interesting, but Memphis wins big here. The Tigers play the winner of an evenly matched game between Mississippi State and Oregon. The Ducks better leave the ugly uniforms at home. Mississippi State wins to set up a game with nearby Memphis. MSU throws everything but the kitchen sink at Memphis, but comes up short. Memphis earns a trip to Houston for the Sweet 16.

Way up in the mountains in Denver, Michigan State finds themselves in the favored end of a dreaded 5-12 matchup with Temple. There will be amateur bracketologists out there falling all over themselves to pick Temple. This isn’t the 5-12 upset. MSU wins. They move on to play Pittsburgh, who makes it past a gritty Oral Roberts team. This sets up a great 2nd round matchup between Pittsburgh and Michigan State. This will be the definition of a physical game. Pittsburgh is hot, and moves on to the Sweet 16 with a win over the Spartans.

In the Disneyland pod, played in Anaheim, Marquette takes on the Kentucky Wildcats. UK had a horrific non-conference season, and was hit hard by injuries in the conference season, but still went 12-4 in the SEC. It’s a long way to California for Big Blue Nation. This year, though, the Cats are glad to be in the tournament. Marquette beat UK for a trip to the Final Four five years ago, and gets past the Cats in the first round this year. They move on to take on the Stanford Trees, winners of the SAT Bowl in their first round game with Cornell. Stanford is glad to be out of Pac 10 play, and takes it out on Marquette in the second round.

Back in North Little Rock, the traditional basketball powerhouses of Miami and St. Mary’s meet. Miami represents the ACC, but St. Mary’s is a little better. They earn the right to play Texas, winners over Austin (Let’s Go) Peay. The Longhorns cruise over both Peay and St. Mary’s.

In Houston, Memphis and Pittsburgh meet in a barnburner. Memphis wins a close one in spite of their horrible free throw shooting. Texas sends Stanford back to the Farm. This sets up a game Memphis is suspicious of: playing Texas in their back yard for a trip to the Final Four. Texas gets the best of Memphis to make their second final four this decade under Rick Barnes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Midwest Regional Preview and Analysis

The Midwest regional is to be played in beautiful downtown Detroit, Michigan. The Kansas Jayhawks, co-regular season and tournament champions of the Big 12 Conference, are the top seed and are favored to advance to the Final Four.

KU starts their road in nearby Omaha, where their fans will take over the building and make the local chamber of commerce very happy. Their first game will be a relative scrimmage with Portland State, making their first appearance in the Big Dance. The Jayhawks would then play the winner of the game between UNLV and Kent State. The Rebels won the Mountain West tournament on their home court last week. Kent State has won 28 games and is a very dangerous team. The Golden Flashes should have their way with UNLV, and present a challenge for KU in round 2 (remember Rhode Island and Bucknell?). KU wins, barely.

The Clemson Tigers are enjoying one of the best seasons in their history, and play perhaps the last team selected for this year’s tournament in Villanova. Clemson handles Villanova in the dreaded 5-12 game, and goes on to meet Vanderbilt, expected winners over (Burnt) Siena. The Tigers then earn a trip to the Sweet 16 with a tough win over Vandy.

In the bottom half of the bracket, the summer league dream matchup takes place, as O.J. Mayo’s team (USC) takes on Michael Beasley’s team (Kansas State). Both of these guys will be getting paid big bucks next year. This year, USC will be too much for K-State, who underachieved this year by playing inconsistently in conference play. The winners plays Wisconsin, who will annihilate Cal State-Fullerton. Wisconsin is very strong, and should probably be a 2nd seed instead of a #3. Wisconsin takes out the O.J. Mayos in round 2 to earn a trip to the Motor City.

Another suspicious matchup of mid-majors pits Gonzaga with Davidson. Gonzaga is not really a mid-major any more, but they are in a mid-major conference. Davidson played anybody and everybody in their non-conference schedule before winning 23 in a row in the Southern Conference. This game is in Raleigh, and the Carolina fans will jump on the Davidson bandwagon. The Zags got a really tough draw. Davidson advances. They will take on Georgetown, who muscles their way past the Retrievers of Maryland-Baltimore County. The Davidson magic ends in the 2nd round, where they fall to Georgetown.

The regional in Detroit features Kansas vs. Clemson and Wisconsin vs. Georgetown. KU should handle Clemson. Wisconsin vs. Georgetown would be a slugfest. Wisconsin wins a close one to get to the Elite Eight once again. Bo Ryan’s team makes KU earn it, but the Jayhawks finally get to the Final Four for the first time in the Bill Self era.

East Regional Preview and Analysis

The first of four regions this blog will break down is the East. North Carolina is the top seed here, as well as in the whole tournament. The regional final will be played down the road in Charlotte. The Tar Heels are favored to win this regional, but it will not be easy for them.

The Heels get to play the winner of the opening-round game in the first round, then will play the winner of the Arkansas-Indiana game. Arky won three in a row at last week’s SEC tournament before running into the Georgia juggernaut. Indiana is reeling in a bad way since the midseason dismissal of coach Kelvin Sampson for repeated recruiting violations. You have to go with the team on the upswing here, and that is the Hogs. The Hogs will put up a gallant effort against the Tar Heels, but Carolina is too much.

Elsewhere in this bracket, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame take on the Patriots of George Mason in the dreaded 5-12 matchup. Every year, a 5th seed is upset by a 12th seed. History suggests that it will happen here. Notre Dame was upset in the first round last year by Winthrop. G-Mase made an unlikely march to the Final Four in 2006. I predict Mason to knock off the Leprechauns. Speaking of Winthrop, they could play the winner of this game by upsetting Washington State. The Eagles have played themselves into their 8th NCAA tournament in 10 years. Wazzu is a solid team, though, and will beat Winthrop in a close one. Wazzu then knocks off G-Mase to go to the Sweet 16.

In the bottom half of the bracket, my Oklahoma Sooners are an unexpected 6th seed and go to Birmingham, Alabama to take the St. Joseph’s Hawks. OU is a feast or famine team. If the guards are on, the Sooners win. If they’re not, they lose. I’d love to see OU get on a roll in this tournament. My gut doesn’t see it happening. I’m picking St. Joe’s. The Hawks would take on the winner of the game between Louisville and Boise State. The Ville is primed for a deep run in this tournament. They take on the Broncos, survivors of a triple overtime win in the WAC tournament final and a four-team battle royal in the WAC. Boise can play a little, and this will be an interesting game. I’m going with the safe pick and Louisville. The Ville then handles St. Joe’s in the 2nd round.

In the fourth pod of this bracket, the Butler Bulldogs lurk with a chip on their shoulder. Ranked 10th in the polls at the end of the season, the committee stuck them with a 7th seed and a dangerous matchup with South Alabama. Are you as suspicious as I am about the committee’s pairing of two tough mid-majors in the first round? Butler survives and advances. Awaiting Butler is Tennessee, who will have their way with American University. The boys from Rocky Top then will be too much for Butler.

In the Sweet 16, we have Wazzu taking on North Carolina. UNC is a killing machine, and will take care of Washington State. The other matchup is a barnburner between Louisville and Tennessee, causing great angst in Lexington and Big Blue Nation. I like Tennessee’s team a lot, but I look for the Ville to handle them here. Which leads us to the Elite Eight, where Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals meet up with Roy Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels. It’s the year of the Tar Heel. The planets are lining up for them. Color this regional Carolina blue.

For $60,000...

...your team can host a game in a post-season tournament!

There is a new post-season tournament this season called the College Basketball Invitational. It is for teams that were snubbed by both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. The organizers found 16 teams to play in this tournament, part of which is to be televised on Fox Sports Net and Fox College Sports.

Several teams from major conferences, such as Alabama, Missouri, and Texas Tech, balked at participating in this event. The organizers were asking for $60,000 in upfront money for schools to host a game. In addition, a host school would have had to organize an event and sell tickets in two days. Some schools said no. There were 16 schools that said yes.

This year's inagural CBI field includes: Virginia, Richmond, Old Dominion, Rider, Washington, Valparaiso, Houston, Nevada, UTEP, Utah, Tulsa, Miami (Ohio), Bradley, Cincinnati, Brown, and Ohio.

Of note: Cincinnati is in this tournament with a 13-18 record. The Bearcats had a good season in Big East play, but were awful in the pre-conference schedule. It would be funny if they won this tournament.

This event fills a void created when the NIT shrunk from 48 to 32 teams and began extending automatic bids to conference champions that did not win their post-season tournaments.

As bad as the CBI could be, it's better than some of the worthless football bowl games out there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

NCAA Tournament Prediction and Analysis

It's Christmas, the 4th of July, and Columbus Day all rolled up into one! It's Selection Sunday, and the readership numbers of this blog have gone through the roof tonight. Welcome!

I'm analyzing the bracket, and just watched UCLA coach Ben Howland do an interview with ESPNU/ESPN2 on behalf of DirecTV. He sat in a studio with a DirecTV background, answered questions about the tournament, then shilled for the Mega March Madness package. I wonder how much he made for that? I want that gig.

I was not surprised by any of the top seeds. As a matter of fact, I have three of the four top seeds advancing to the Final Four. North Carolina, UCLA, and Kansas should make it to San Antonio. The fourth team will be Texas. It's a bit screwy that Memphis will probably play a lower-seeded team in its own state three years in a row. In 2006, the Tigers lost to UCLA in Oakland. Last year, Memphis beat Texas A&M in San Antonio. This year, the Tigers would meet Texas in a regional final in Houston.

Low and behold, there's Ben Howland on another channel talking college hoops and pimping DirecTV's Mega March Madness. Only $69!

This blog guessed 63 of the 65 participants in the field. The only ones I missed on were Villanova and Oregon. I guessed Virginia Tech and Illinois State instead. I did predict 52 of the 65 teams at or within one seed of their position.

The opening round is Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, between Mt. St. Mary's and Coppin State. This would probably be better played in Baltimore, but it was already booked for Dayton, so Dayton it is.

More analysis later... Click the graphic for predictions.

Tournament Bracket Prediction

Here is my predicted bracket for this year’s NCAA tournament. Click on the bracket to view the predictions. The real thing will come out at 5 PM Central time on CBS. This bracket is final, and reflects wins by Kansas over Texas and Georgia (yes, Georgia) over Arkansas.

I have made one major change from previous predictions. I believe that the tournament committee will invite Arizona to the tournament based on its non-conference schedule and injury time to their star player, Jerryd Bayless. Past committees have taken strength of schedule and injuries into account when selecting teams. Arizona State would have made the tournament, but Georgia stole their bid with their improbable run through the bizarre SEC tournament. Ohio State slides out. The Buckeyes are 2-10 against the top 50, hurting themselves in the eyes of the committee.

This blog accurately predicted 32 of the 34 at-large bids a year ago. This blog also predicted 44 of the 65 teams within one seed of their placement in last year’s bracket. Not bad for a guy not named Lunardi or Palm. (BTW, I like Jerry Palm a lot. He’s made a fine business out of bracketology) And, I do this for free.

The seedings are not necessarily based on rankings. The top four seeds are assigned to regional sites closest to home. The rest of the teams are then seeded in relative order. Teams are moved around to comply with NCAA tournament policies such as:

• No home court advantage for lower-seeded teams
• Teams hosting games are not allowed to play at home. For example, Georgetown is not allowed to play in the Washington, D.C. subregional this year.
• Rematches from the regular season are avoided
• Teams from the same conference cannot meet until the regional finals
• Teams from the same conference are placed in different regionals until each regional has a team from that conference

The tournament committee has a tough job. I wouldn’t mind doing it for a year, though. It would be kinda fun to hang out in a hotel in Indy for a week, eating pizza while breaking down film and data with athletic directors and ex-coaches.

Last four in: St. Joseph’s, Arizona, South Alabama, Illinois State
Last four out: Arizona State, Ohio State, Villanova, Oregon

Tournament Field Projection 3/16/08

Saturday saw a lot of wild action in a lot of conferences. All of these teams are looking to 6 PM Eastern time, when the selections are announced for this year's NCAA tournament.

This blog will have a final bracket projection this afternoon before the selections come out.

Teams with automatic bids to date:
Atlantic Sun: Belmont
Big Sky: Portland State
Big South: Winthrop
Colonial: George Mason
Horizon: Butler
Ivy: Cornell
Metro Atlantic: Siena
Missouri Valley: Drake (Illinois State should get an at-large bid)
Northeast: Mt. St. Mary’s
Ohio Valley: Austin Peay
Patriot: American
Southern: Davidson
Summit: Oral Roberts
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky (South Alabama should get an at-large bid)
West Coast: San Diego (Gonzaga and St. Mary’s should get at-large bids)

Reviews and comments on conferences still duking it out:

In: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech
UNC is ranked #1 in the country and won the regular season in the ACC. What counts on Tobacco Road, however, is the ACC Tournament, the nation’s oldest post-season tournament. North Carolina trailed the whole day before the great Tyler Hansbrough hit a jumper with .08 left to put away the Hokies of Virginia Tech. They go on to play Clemson. The Tigers, long the orange-headed football playing stepchild of the ACC, beat Duke for the first time in 11 years on Saturday. Clemson has never won an ACC Tournament, and has not been in the final since 1962.

America East
In: Maryland-Baltimore County
UMBC beat Hartford like a rented mule on Saturday to win the A-East title. This is the Retrievers’ first appearance in the Big Dance.

Atlantic 10
In: Xavier, St. Joseph’s, Temple
On the bubble: UMass, Dayton
Temple defeated St. Joseph’s on Saturday for the automatic bid. Xavier, of course, is in the tournament. St. Joseph’s is on the bubble, but should make it at this point. They make it due to a head to head win over and higher RPI rating than cross-town rival Villanova.

Big 12
In: Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas A&M
The Big 12 is strong this year. UT and KU took care of business Saturday and will meet for the automatic bid and possible #1 seed. OU, K-State, Baylor, and A&M should get good news from the selection committee on Sunday evening, as well.

Big East
In: Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette, Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh
On the bubble: Villanova
16 teams are just way too many for one conference. This group of schools would probably squeeze out a couple more bids if they weren’t in the same conference. Pittsburgh once again created some magic in the Garden, winning another tournament final over Georgetown. This won’t help the Hoyas’ seeding. Elsewhere in the league, I have slid Villanova out of my latest bracket. The Wildcats are the last team out at this point, due their loss to and lower RPI ranking than St. Joseph’s.

Big Ten
In: Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State
Some strange things are happening here. Wisconsin is proving itself to be the best team in this conference. The Badgers handled Michigan State today, while Illinois took care of Minnesota. If the Illini win their fourth game in four days against the Badgers, they will make the tournament with a losing overall record of 17-18. I doubt if the Illini have enough left in the tank for this one. It’s been good run in Indy this week for them, though. Elsewhere in the conference, Ohio State needs to sweat Selection Sunday, as they are close to the wrong side of the bubble. I look for them to get some love from the selection committee.

Big West
In: Cal State-Fullerton
The Titans of Cal State-Fullerton whipped Orange County rival UC Irvine to win the automatic bid from the Big West.

Conference USA
In: Memphis
Memphis owns this conference, lock, stock, and barrel. They proved it Saturday with a 77-51 win over Tulsa in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Tigers look to be a #1 seed when the brackets are released on Sunday.

In: Kent State
Beware of the Golden Flashes. Kent State won their 28th game tonight in grand fashion over nearby rival Akron. I wouldn’t want to draw Kent State in my bracket if I were a coach. These guys can play.

In: Coppin State
Coppin State got their fourth win in four days, defeating regular season champion Morgan State 62-60. The Eagles were the seventh seed in the MEAC tournament, and are 14-20. I love it!

Mountain West
What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. UNLV used a strong second half to pound BYU, 76-61. Both teams will be in the field of 65.

In: UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Arizona State
On the Bubble: Oregon, Arizona
UCLA took care of Stanford to nail down the post-season tournament and a probable #1 seed in the Tournament. Arizona State, Oregon, and Arizona will be sweating bullets late Sunday afternoon. I have the Sun Devils barely in based on head-to-head results. The Wildcats could get some love from the committee due to some injuries earlier in the season, and have a high RPI and a high strength of schedule. I have them barely out of the bracket. Oregon is also close to the Field of 65, but not quite there.

In: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arkansas
It was a bizarre day in Atlanta, as the teams played in front of family, cheerleaders, bands, and the leering press. Kentucky was expected to be the team that might pull the doubleheader sweep. Instead, it was the Georgia Bulldogs, owners of a 4-12 conference record and last place finish in the East division. Georgia got past Kentucky in the first game of the day, winning in overtime on a three-pointer by Zac Swansey. In the semifinals, Arkansas won a barnburner over Tennessee, 92-91. The Vols are most likely looking at a #2 seed in the Tournament. In the nightcap, Georgia upset West division champs Mississippi State, 64-60. The Bulldogs, possibly playing for coach Dennis Felton’s job, move to a record of 16-16 and can go to the Big Dance with a win over the Hogs.

In: Post-season tournament champion
UT-Arlington goes for their third win in a row, facing Northwestern State in Sunday’s final. Northwestern State is known for their tournament magic in 2006, when they upset Iowa in the first round. The Demons have a losing record at 15-17. If they win, they may be headed directly from the arena in Katy to Dayton, Ohio for a Tuesday night game with Coppin State. UTA, with a win, could make that Katy-to-Dayton trip, or would be a #16 seed, possibly playing Texas in the first round.

In: Mississippi Valley State
Mississippi Valley State won the league tournament in a 59-58 nailbiter over Jackson State. The Delta Devils are still a candidate for the opening round game on Tuesday night in Dayton.

In: Boise State
Boise State went to Las Cruces and proved their worth, defeating New Mexico State on their home court in a 107-102 triple-overtime thriller to win the conference tournament. They’re known as giant killers in football, and they have a chance to do the same in hoops.

Last four teams in (rooting hard for Wisconsin and Arkansas to take out Illinois and Georgia): Arizona State, South Alabama, Illinois State, St. Joseph’s
Last four teams out (need a favor from the committee): Villanova, Oregon, Arizona, VCU