Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Book It

Did anyone think Gordon
would be THIS good?
This was an interesting season to decide the Rookie of the Year award. Emeka Okafor was a monster, but played in relative obscurity and missed several games on the IL. Dwight Howard has been great all year and is really turning it on down the stretch while playing on a team fighting for the playoffs. And Ben Gordon has been the best 6th man in the league on the surprise team in the East.

I've been leaning toward Gordon on the strength of his league-leading 19 double-figure fourth quarter performances, but was undecided. Until tonight. My man went for 35 points on 11-17 shooting (6-8 from three) in ONLY 23 minutes. That's crazy.

Anyway, he's been the man in crunch time for a team that has a good chance at grabbing home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. He's one of the best scorers in the league. He is the new frontrunner for 6th Man of the Year.

Which makes him my Rookie of the Year.

High School Impact

Who is this guy?
Only the next T-Mac
People have been down on this year's high school senior class in regard to their NBA potential. After watching the McDonald's game, I have to agree for the most part. It was actually a very good game and featured some surefire collegiate stars. However, there were only two young guns that looked like lottery picks.

The first, Gerald Green, is the player most have been pointing too as the one guy that could make an immediate impact in the NBA. He's got good size, a flawless jump shot with deep range, and incredible athleticism. He won the dunk contest yesterday and just got done throwing up 24 points while shooting 6-9 from three. He could stand to grab a few more rebounds and appear slightly less greedy during games (he hand his hands out in the "give me the ball" signal pretty much the whole time), but this guy is the closest thing I've seen to Tracy McGrady. He could have moved from late lottery to a top six or seven pick with this performance in the All-Star game.

The other lottery pick-in-the-making is Martell Webster, a bruising swingman with athleticism and a nice jumper from Seattle. I think he could actually make a similar impact because his game seems so mature and tailor-made for the NBA. However, Green is the guy with more star potential.

I'll be interested to see what guys like Chad Ford made of these performances.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Shooting Counts

Hassan Adams soars into the
first round of the NBA Draft
Back before the tournament started I told my brother, Drew, that I was taking Duke to the Final Four because they had the best shooter in the field in J.J. Redick. My thinking was that you just can't put a price tag (don't worry, I'm not dredging up the "Town Hall" on whether college athletes should be paid) on being able to hit jump shots. And the theory has played out ... just not really with Duke. Redick and the Blue Devils will have their chance, but for now, the long ball has been kind to others in the field, including the winners from tonight̢۪s games.

- West Virginia has used their sophisticated offense and backdoor cutting to set up open looks, and it's been the shooting of guys like Gansey, Salley, and Pittsnoggle (my favorite name to say) that has carried them to the Elite Eight.

- Illinois "gets it done" (a nod to the insane Digger Phelps) with defense and passing, but none of that works of guys like Brown and Williams and Head don't knock down shots. Their ability to stretch the defense and hit threes is what makes them great.

- Louisville, my pick to represent the left side of the bracket in the title game, is shooting epitomized. If they ever go ice cold, they are probably done. But when you've got three guys that are all capable of dropping 5-7 threes and going for over 20 any given night, that's the kind of team that is hard to stop. And tonight against Washington, Garcia and Tai-Kwon-Dean both hit five triples.

- Finally, Arizona advanced purely because of shooting. Salim hit the game-winner and the equally important three a few minutes earlier (when Bobbit moronically tried to pick his pocket) and he and Hassan Adams combined to shoot 15-23 from the field. On that topic, Adams probably did more for his NBA prospects in that game than any player has in one tournament game in recent history. Maybe D-Wade against Kentucky a few years ago. Adams has always been criticized as being a guy that can't take his game to the perimeter, but now that Lute Olson is letting him fire from deep, he's showing he has the whole package. He can lock people up, take it to the rim, sky for rebounds, and now drill jumpers. To me, he looks just as good as Igoudala.

Monday, March 21, 2005

That's Why You Don't Call Timeout (Day Four Recap)

Hodge knew what
to do with it
All weekend I've been railing about the new trend in college hoops: coaches calling timeout and micro-managing the game. Today we saw Herb Sendek let his guys play on, and the result was a fantastic game-winning three-point conversion by star senior Julius Hodge. Not only were the Wolfpack able to create an advantage by keeping the pace of the game intact, they also got UConn in matchup problems. Rudy Gay was clearly not ready to handle a guy like Hodge (although he was unlucky getting tripped like that), and Jim Calhoun certainly didn't want Charlie Villanueva guarding ANYONE out there (impartial analyst Gus Johnson went so far as to apologetically call him a liability). If NC State calls timeout, it gives the Huskies a chance to get Josh Boone back in the game, and viola! that shot gets cleaned right off the glass and we go to overtime. Great work by Sendek.

Here are other thoughts on the day:

- Sendek's great coaching stole the show from Calhoun, who showed his skill in the most challenging of times. He did a great job with offense-for-defense and he did it early. He wasn't afraid to go to the bench for guys like Ed Nelson. He kept his team attacking and going to the basket. Great job of coaching - too bad no one will remember it since they lost.

- Billy Packer continues to be one of the most vile men in the world. Well, at least in the broadcasting industry. He just can't keep his big mouth shut. Last year it was an open war with St. Joe's. This year he was openly rooting for Duke. There's no other way to put it. He was pleading with the officials for calls, making excuses for the Blue Devils, and carrying on as if he was the AD of the university. It was loud, it was blatant, and it was the ultimate example of unprofessional behavior.

- Louisville looked mighty impressive. I told you that was just a 2-7 game in disguise. Please, please, let CBS show the Louisville-Washington game this Thursday. If I get fed another crappy game because a Big 10 team is playing, I might puke.

- Isn't it weird that last year's Wisconsin team was considerably better than this year's team ... yet they are already a round further this time around? Crazy game.

- Mmmm ... Mamba's.

- Digger's matching tie/highlighter shtick needs to stop immediately.

- Has anyone seen a single minute of a Villanova game?

- Oklahoma State vs. Southern Illinois is the best game that everyone will forget about. The Cowboys had to dig down deep and get a career game from McFarlin (31 points) to get past the gritty Salukis. Great job by both of those teams.

- Have to mention North Carolina (the only team to absolutely roll through the first two rounds), so how about Marvin Williams going for 20 and 15 off the bench? Ladies and gents, there's your #1 pick in the 2006 NBA draft.

See you on Thursday.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Round Two Brings Excitement

I've always looked forward to the first Saturday of the Tournament more than any other day. Part of the reason is that until this year, I'd never once had either the Thursday or Friday off, so Saturday was my first chance to see games all day. Along those same lines, there are only half the games played, so CBS has less of a chance to screw you over with mismanaged feeds (although they still managed today when I saw a total of 43 seconds of a wild BC vs. UW-Milwaukee game). Finally, the quality of the games goes way up. You may not have the extreme upsets that come with round one, but you get more well-played games and fantastic finishes. We certainly weren't disappointed today. Here are thoughts on Saturday's action:

- Best game of the day was obviously the double OT thriller between West Virginia and Wake. Incredible effort by both teams that came down to the Mountaineers have more viable options. First, some praise for the Wake guys: Eric Williams for staying out of foul trouble and for making the third biggest "time expiring" block I can remember (behind Mourning's against Princeton and my boy Cedric Suit against San Diego a few years back ... sorry, that one is a little inside), Chris Paul for playing his heart out and cementing his status as a top-3 pick in next year's NBA draft, and Taron Downey for making three of the biggest shots I can remember. And for the victors: D'or Fischer for having a career game at the best possible time, J.D. Collins for shaking off a rough first half and controlling the comeback in regulation, Tyrone Salley for going 21-4-4 with ONE MISS in the entire game (7-8 from the field, 5-5 from the line ... not to mention the block and dunk in round one that got them here), Kevin Pittsnoggle for coming big after being pulled, Darris Nichols for blocking a shot and hitting a huge jumper after Collins fouled out, and Mike Gansey for throwing up 29 and 7 and playing the game of this life. One of the best team efforts and one of the best coaching jobs I've seen in several years.

- Worst game of the day (that I saw) was Utah-Oklahoma. The Utes are the luckiest team in the dance so far, as they got a UTEP team that wasn't ready for prime time and a Sooners club that simply crapped the bed. Contrary to Dan Bonner's relentless praise for Andrew Bogut (or, as Charles Barkley calls him, Andrew Boo-got), the three reasons Utah won were: 1) Justin Hawkins going for 20 and 14, Mark Jackson hitting four of five from downtown, and Oklahoma going on unfathomable 2-19 from three. Bogut's solid 10-11-7 comes in a distant fourth. Was he good? Yeah, he was solid. But he was hardly THE reason they won. I hate when announcers pick one guy to hype no matter what happens (Chris Duhon, anyone?). To hear Dan Bonner tell it, Justin Hawkins was a little toddler getting lifted up by Andrew Bogut so that he could set the ball in the basket.

- Okay, these need to get shorter. Worst choke goes to the Zags ... there is no excuse for that kind of collapse. I also want to note that I've got love for Adam Morrison, Ronald Ross, and Jarrius Jackson for bringing back the mid-range jumper.

- Cinci-Kentucky was the most intense second round game I can remember. Extremely physical, almost violent, and incredibly exciting. Too bad the Bearcats ran out of gas down the stretch because that was shaping up to be a finish for the ages.

- Almost forgot ... my search for a favorite frosh point guard is over. Rajon Rondo of Kentucky is my guy. 16 points on 7 shots to go with 7 assists and 3 steals. Nice. (A nod to freshman big man Randolph Morris - who Dick Enberg called simply "Randolph" the entire game - for posting his first double-double and changing the complexion of the game in the second half.)

- Illinois looked good today and what really stood out was how good of a coach Bruce Weber is. First, he quickly noted that James Augustine was having a great start, so he let his power forward (a 60% FT shooter) take two technicals. Augustine hit them and went on to have a career game. Later, his backup power forward, Jack Ingram, made a major blunder, but Weber kept him in ... even though Ingram was due to come out anyway. He called Augustine back to the bench and allowed Ingram to make a nice play and restore his confidence before making the substitution. Great work on the bench.

- Good day for the Pac-10 as both Arizona and Washington demolished their opponents. No one's saying anything now, but these were supposed to be dangerous games for each team.

- Finally, great work by the Panthers of UW-Milwaukee. They play extremely hard and have a great coach in Bruce Pearl.

See you tomorrow.

Day Two Recap

Vermont delivers the goods
It look a day and a half, but the tournament finally got crazy. Vermont gritted out a huge win over Syracuse and Bucknell (Bucknell!) won a thriller with Kansas. Meanwhile, a pair of #5 seeds won very good games to finish out the night and my Final Four pick from the West, Louisville, survived a horrifying matchup with the Ragin' Cajun. Great night of hoops.

Some highlights and thoughts from the second day of March Madness:

- My Dad nailed the Vermont pick. When we spoke on the phone last night that was the one Friday game that he pointed to as an upset waiting to happen. Nice work, buddy.

- Bucknell's Charles Lee has to be the happiest guy in the world right now. After dropping an easy pass and then committing a questionable intentional foul, he single-handedly propelled Kansas to a 63-62 lead. I was chatting up my brother, Drew, on the phone and we both agreed that it was over. Nope. You have to love March Madness!

- I just want to point out that Bucknell is from the Patriot League. In case you weren't aware of this, it is one of only two leagues (along with the Ivy League) that does not alter its admission standards for athletes. In addition, they have very few scholarships to dole out.

From Brenn Jones (in a book review of John Feinstein's "The Last Amateurs"): "Year after year, the winner of the Patriot League tournament is granted a 15th-seed slot in the NCAA tournament to play what amounts to one last "guarantee game." By refusing to lower academic standards for basketball talent, the Patriot League has ensured that it will always be quickly swept aside by a big-conference bouncer at the Big Dance. In keeping basketball honest, though, the Patriot League has shown that a big loss at the Big Dance is a very small loss indeed."

The Bucknell players are to be commended.

- The SEC got some redemption today. Florida held off a tough Ohio team and Mississippi State FINALLY came to play and as a result, crushed an overmatched Stanford team.

- Conference USA was one Charlotte collapse from going 4-0. The 49ers meltdown was the biggest gag that no one is talking about.

- Looking at the 5-12 showdown, we got our required upset in the first game of the tournament. Beyond that, Villanova kept the Big East's terrific record in such games intact, and New Mexico helped extend the Mountain West Conference's futility as they are now 0-5 as the #12 seed in this decade.

- The analysts are calling the Oklahoma-Utah matchup the best game on tomorrow's slate, but I have to disagree. I think UW-Pacific (scary game for the top seeded Huskies), UAB-Arizona (could we finally see two teams in the 80's?), and Texas Tech-Gonzaga will all be better games.

- Looking ahead to Sunday, Duke has to be absolutely bitter right now. Mississippi State has the talent of a #3 seed and now that they are finally playing well, they present all kinds of problems for the Coach K U. This could be similar to the 1997 Tournament when the second seeded Blue Devils ran into a suddenly unstoppable Providence (seeded 10th) in the second round. Keep on eye out for that one.

- Digger Phelps has lost it. He used the phrase "Got it done" at least 74 times in three minutes while chatting up Joe Namath's girlfriend on SportsCenter. First the matching tie and highlighter shtick, now delusional ramblings. I can't even watch the Game Day team of Chris Fowler, Dickie V/Majerus, Digger, and Steve Lavin (who is by far the best they have going right now, which tells you everything). Someone get Bilas off the sideline and back into the studio, stat!

- By the way, Old Dominion's coach (name escapes me, but Tom H-to-the-Izzo loved him) stole "worst stache" away from Bobby Lutz. Rough day for the Niners' coach.

That's it for tonight and for the first round. The second stanza doesn't get the pub of opening day, but it's always been my favorite. Let's hope the scoring and the late-game dramatics continues to pick up during round two.

Friday, March 18, 2005

CBS, You're Fired

Somebody get Trump on the line
You know the games are finally getting good when you start screaming at your TV, begging CBS to switch feeds. That's what happened in the first round of night games, as three contests went down to the wire. Which one did I see? Wisconsin-Northern Iowa, which is the curse of being in Big 10 country. But I can live with regional preference where primary coverage is concerned. What enraged me was CBS' inability to call the audible.

With 2:12 to go, the Badgers stretched the lead to eight, while Syracuse hit two free throws to tie their game with 30 seconds left. Perfect time to go with the, "We'll keep you posted on the action in Charlotte, but right now let's go out to Syracuse-Vermont ..." Right? Wrong. The latter showdown went to OT without a single live look-in. Then, as the Cuse and Vermont battled with under a minute left, we were forced to watch Wisconsin parade to the line, protecting a five-point lead with under 10 seconds to play. It's over! Switch games! Finally, during a timeout (with 2.6 seconds to play in a 5-point game; which meant that it was OVER), we got a live look-in as Vermont made one of two free throws to extend their lead to three. Then, just as Syracuse inbounded the ball for their final possession, CBS took us back to the Wisconsin ... just in time to see the officials gather around the scorer's table to discuss whether there should be 2.6 or 2.9 seconds remaining. Presumably they were also discussing whether to institute a new rule, allowing for seven-pointers.

Needless to say, the best game of the first round ended dramatically and I didn't see it. Perfect.

Oh well, at least the games are finally good, even if CBS sucks.

Stop calling timeout!

This guy knows something
about ill-advised timeouts
We had a good round of games this morning and it looks like March Madness is finally heating up. Oklahoma State - one of the most dangerous teams in the field - fended off SE Louisiana, NC State climbed on Julius Hodge's back and raced past Charlotte, Iowa State used a ferocious press and great play from their big man, Jared Homan, to turn away a scrappy Minnesota team. And Florida dodged a bullet when they turned away Ohio's comeback for the ages.

And on that note, let me just say that I've identified my pet peeve of this year's tourney: coaches over-managing the game in the closing moments. When you think back on all the great finishes in early round games, it usually involves somebody taking the ball out of the net and racing down the court, getting the defense on their heels. This year, we've seen one timeout after another, which gives the defense the advantage by allowing them to set up and get into their matchups. We saw it again today when Ohio called a timeout down three, only to turn it over within about five seconds.

Let 'em play, coaches!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Day One Recap

The Sucking Effortlessly Conference
A few notes on the day as a whole:

- It was a bad opener for the SEC as they went 1-2 and saw things get progressively worse as the day went on. Kentucky barely got by a #15 seed, Alabama was finished off by a #12, and LSU got hammered by the UAB Blazers. They need Florida and Mississippi State to come up big and salvage some pride tomorrow.

- 13 higher seeds won, which helps explain why it was so boring.

- C-USA is halfway to getting their redemption. Cincinnati destroyed a hot Iowa team and UAB crushed a legit sleeper in LSU. I told you this league got jacked by the committee.

- Mid Majors quietly had a nice day. In showdowns between mids and major conference teams, the little guys (or "medium-sized" guys, I suppose) went 4-3 behind big wins by Nevada, UW-Milwaukee, UAB, and Pacific. Utah and Gonzaga also won, but they were playing other mid-major or small conference teams. And when you consider that the St. Mary's-Southern Illinois matchup will produce another mid-major winner, the Midwest region will feature four mids in the second round. Not bad at all.

- I always fall for a freshman point guard in the tourney (Chris Thomas, Chris Hill, Chris Paul ... wow, all named Chris!) and was all set to jump on either the Ronald Steele or Daniel Gibson bandwagon, but alas, their teams choked. So the search continues.

Let's all hope that tomorrow produces a little more magic. In the meantime let me recommend a book (Torture the Artist by Joey Goeble), a CD (Sunrise over Sea by John Butler Trio), and a movie (Riding Giants). Sorry, that was random.


The picture that comes up when
you type "Adam Hoff" into Google's
Images database
I was trying to find a picture to post under "My Profile" and since it's much easier to use jpg's that are already on the web for this blog, I decided to check Google and see if there was already a picture of me floating around out there. This is what I got. Seems like a sweet dog though.

At Least UAB Won

Dee Brown is back
Well, my Blazers are doing it again. They rolled into an NCAA Tourney game against an SEC team and laid another whooping on them. If I'm the AD at Tennessee, I pay Mike Anderson whatever he wants to coach my team ... it's obvious he can beat SEC opponents if nothing else.

In addition to UAB running roughshod over LSU in the All-Acronym battle of the day, we were treated to:

- A mediocre game between Texas Tech and UCLA.

- A shaky Illinois victory over feisty Fairleigh Dickinson that was notable only for the fact that Dee Brown broke out of a miserable shooting slump, going 7-10 from the floor with 19 points. That is good news for an Illini team that simply looks tired. I think they'll beat Nevada and the winner of the UW-Milwaukee-BC game, but that might be all this team has left. It's been a long and emotional season and they look the part.

- Our first true down-to-the-wire game of the day as West Virginia's Tyrone Salley made a huge block and followed it up with a fastbreak dunk to beat Creighton by two. It was nice to see a team make a play to win a game, rather than see someone crumble down the stretch.

I guess that's it for day one. All in all, a pretty poor opening day. There were very few close games, only a handful of upsets, and maybe one or two memorable moments. The 48 points that high schooler Jon Scheyer threw up the other night will stick with me longer than all of these games put together.

I'll be back later to post some general thoughts on the day before calling it a night.

Is Jay Bilas Drunk?

One too many
My man seems to be crumbling during his fourth game in one day. While March Madness vets like Harlan, Dan Bonner, Ian Eagle, and Jim Spanarkle are cruising into the home stretch like a Nigerian marathon runner, Bilas seems to be going out of his mind. Even his partner, the cryogenically frozen Dick Enberg, is holing up better than the former Blue Devil.

First he screamed out "Dee Brown shows his speeeeeed" while doing his best impersonation of Jack Black in School of Rock, then dropped a "Illinois shows their spurtability!" Even worse was that he followed that up with, "Shoutout to Clark Kellogg!"

My man is getting loose. He's screaming, he's riffing, he's straying away from the Bilastrator ... the night can't end fast enough.

Dodge, Dive, Duck, and Dodge

Wake Forest "punches" out Chattanooga
At one point three of the top 12 teams in the tournament were trailing with less than 15 minutes to go in their respective games. #3 Arizona was down one to Utah State, #2 Wake was being beaten by Chattanooga (in spite of the officials' best efforts), and #3 Gonzaga found themselves going back-and-forth with Winthrop. None of the three heavy favorites lost, but each were forced to battle late into the game before securing victory. It will be very interesting to see if the draining contests have any ill effect on those squads on Saturday. Top seeds usually have an advantage in second round games because they were able to coast in round one, but that won't be the case for several teams this year.

In the other evening game, Nevada outlasted Texas in a contest of who could brick one less shot. In fact, I can't remember a tournament with worse shooting and scoring. Every game is in the 50's and 60's. Put the ball in the hoop! Other than the Panthers of UW-Milwaukee, Washington, Pacific, and Boston College, nobody has shown the slightest ability to consistently make jumpers. Hopefully this picks up as we go.

In an unrelated story ... we need more showdowns between Alex and Ryan on The O.C.

Why Even Have a Rulebook?

The classic Bill Walton phrase applies right now. With time running out in the first half of the Chattanooga-Wake contest, Justin Gray took a spill while driving the lane. Then got up. Then took two steps. Then kicked it out to All-American Chris Paul who drained a three at the buzzer, cutting the lead to 27-24. If the Mocks lose this game by three or less ... controversy!

Seriously, that was one of the worst no-calls I've ever seen. What could the officials have been looking at?

Afternoon Delight ... Not

Bogut better enjoy his success while it lasts
Rough start to the best sports day of the year. So far we've had one game that was in doubt in the final minute and it was a sloppy, grueling affair between Utah and UTEP. In that contest, star center Andrew Bogut controlled the tempo and allowed his team full of scrubs to prevail against a more exciting Minors squad. Now we are all subjected to an awful Oklahoma-Utah matchup in round two. Puke.

As for Bogut, he looks pretty good against college players - makes good decisions, has decent hands, can hit threes, blocks shots - but I can't imagine him being any good in the NBA. People are calling him a top-6 pick in the draft, but if I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot poll.

The other games played in the early afternoon session were all blowouts as UW, Boston College, and Cinci rolled to victory. Thoughts on those games:

The Bearcats were very impressive defensively and could give Kentucky trouble in round two.

Washington looked like the best team in the country for about six minutes and then mailed it in for the next 34.

Boston College-Penn was notable only because Jermaine Watson ran off nine straight points at one point. In case you missed it, Watson is the guy that jumped out of a second story window to escape a group of armed and masked men that invaded his apartment. That has to be one of my favorite things about March Madness - the crazy stories that pop up along the way. Last year we had DePaul's LeVar Seals getting suspended for the opening round after punching the aptly-named Tony Bobbit in the seeds and two Murray State players getting the boot after they got caught hiding in a closet during a drug bust. Gotta love it!

Anyway, here's to hoping that the evening provides more excitement.

Like Clockwork

Kevin Harlan ... so seductive
It took until the 12:39 mark in the second half of the Utah-UTEP game, but we finally got a "Seductive fake!" call from Kevin Harlan. The TBS color commentator usually reserves this exclamation of praise for NBA players, but every once in a while he breaks it out for the college kids. I remember 'Melo getting it a lot in the 2003 Tourney. This year's first proud recipient is Filiberto Rivera of UTEP. Congrats, Filiberto.

Down Goes 'Bama

Well, the first flurry of games have concluded and we really haven’t had much madness yet. Kentucky played like crap but survived against Eastern Kentucky. Pacific took care of Pittsburgh (one of the most disappointing teams of the year) in a game that was just as ugly as everyone expected. And Oklahoma shook off Juan Mendez and the pesky Niagara Purple Eagles.

So the only real storyline is that our first #12 seed has busted up a bracket. Again, it's hard to even consider this an upset when you consider recent history (#12 seeds are now 9-8 over the last 17 matchups), but I figured Alabama to be one of the safest #5 seeds in this year's field. They had nearly every key player back from an Elite Eight run last year and added one of the best freshman guards in the country in Ronald Steele. Unfortunately, it just wasn't in the cards for the Tide. Absolutely nothing went right for them. UW-Milwaukee came out and hit 10 of their first 13 jacks from behind the three-point line to build a 17-point lead. When ‘Bama came charging back in the second half, the Panthers started hitting some of the luckiest shots I’ve ever seen. Throw in fairly lopsided officiating (UW-Milwaukee got at least four shaky charging calls) and Alabama never really had a chance.

Give credit to the Panthers though, they came out playing Paris HIlton ball (fast and loose) which is always the best way to pull off an early round upset. Considering the way Boston College got lit up by West Virginia from behind the arc, you have to like UW-Milwaukee's chances to dance all the way to the Sweet 16.

Finally, I should be probably note that my bracket is already looking shaky after going 2-2 in the morning and losing one of my Sweet 16 teams.

Revisiting Louisville's Snub

I can't seem to let go of this. Louisville was a team that was being talked about as a possible #1 seed and that Joe Lunardi had penciled in as a #2 on his final Bracketology projections. How in the world did they drop to the four line?

Regardless of how it happened (although I suspect drugs were prominently involved), they are going to have to put it behind them and get ready to play Louisiana-Lafayette tomorrow ... which brings us to the real problem with the Cardinals' seeding. A cutoff point has always existed in regard to the double-digit seeds in the tournament; a line between the legitimately scary mid-major and small conference champs and those that are doomed to become mere cannon fodder. That's why there are so many blowouts involving #1 and #2 seeds ... it isn't just that those teams are the best in the country, it is because the #15 and #16 seeds signify a huge dropoff in talent.

The line used to be right around #12 or #13 back in the 80's and it has been drifting further down the bracket ever since. Now it pretty much vacillates between the #14 and #15 seeds, depending on the year. The last eight seeds are going to have a rough time, the next four (the #14's) are hit and miss, but everyone else can line up and have a legit shot at winning. If you project out Louisville's path to St. Louis, it's not terribly unfair from the second round on. Everyone is hyping that potential matchup with Georgia Tech in round two, but the Jackets should have been a #7 seed, so the Cardinals are still getting a matchup that would have been typical of a #2. In the Sweet 16 round, they project out to a showdown with UW, but again, Louisville and Washington could easily have met in a 2-3 contest. Getting a team like Wake or Gonzaga in the Regional Final wouldn't be any different than if they had been the #1 seed in the region.

So the only real difference that this makes is that Louisville is denied a cupcake in the opening round. Had they received the #1 or #2 seed they deserved, they would probably be a lock to win by 25 points tomorrow. Instead, they face a dangerous team in the form of the Ragin' Cagin (probably one of the 10 most athletic teams in the country), and could see their Final Four run end before it even begins.

If the Cardinals take care of business tomorrow and get by LA-Lafayette, I'll shut up, because their brutal seed won't matter much anymore. But if they lose to a team that is a full notch better than anyone they should be playing, well, you'll never hear the end of it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Newest "Sucker Pick"

If you read my tournament preview column, you know that I've tabbed Syracuse as this year's biggest sucker pick. Despite the Orange's significant experience and vaunted zone defense, they simply don't have the firepower to beat both Michigan State and Duke, not to mention win an Elite Eight contest with the team coming out of the bottom half of the South Region.

However, as likely as Syracuse is to ruin a few risk-taker's brackets, there is a new Sucker Pick coming on strong ... the Ramblin' Wreck of Georgia Tech. I don't mean to be too hard on the Yellow Jackets, but the truth is that they are not in an ideal situation to make an extended run through the tournament. They miss Marvin Lewis desperately (they have no wing players that can consistently drill that corner three), they don't get into their offense quickly enough, and they are too banged up (read: B.J. Elder's ankle) to rattle of multiple wins in a short amount of time. Plus, the matchups are terrible. George Washington is a wild but dangerous opponent in Round One and recent history tells us that, on paper, Tech is the most likely of the #5 seeds to lose in the first round. If they survive the opening day bloodbath, they will most likely face a Louisville team that should have been a #2 seed. The Cardinals are just as well-coached, play with the same toughness on the defensive end (Tech's biggest strength), and have far more offensive firepower. If Georgia Tech wins both games in Young Buck's home town of Cashville, they will then most likely face the top seeded Washington Huskies in the Sweet 16 and either Gonzaga or Wake Forest in the Regional Final. Yikes.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, experts everywhere (including "my boy" Wilbon on PTI) see Georgia Tech as the team to beat in the West and are casting their lot with Paul Hewitt and the Jackets. Despite the fact that I owe Georgia Tech big time for reaching the title game a year ago, I have to believe it's a big mistake to think they'll come anywhere near replicating the feat.

The Next J.J. Redick?

Earlier tonight - as a warmup for basketball heaven - I rolled down to Loyola University with my buddy Chris to watch one of Illinois' "Super Sectional" high school playoff games (Round of 16). On display were three D-I quality players in Waukegan seniors LaRon Frazier (shifty guard with no conscience) and Emmanuel Gaiter (Bobby Simmons type swingman with a great feel for the game), and Glenbrook North's star guard, junior Jon Scheyer. I'd heard through the grapevine that Scheyer was considered to be one of the top rated juniors in the country and let me say, he did not disappoint. Scheyer carried the Spartans to a 70-58 victory and a trip to the state tournament. He was even better than advertised, dropping 48 points and making a dizzying array of jump shots and hanging leaners around the basket. Without a stat sheet in front of me, I would guess that he went about 10-for-14 from behind the three-point line. I'm hard-pressed to think of a better high school performance that I've witnessed in person. Maybe Jason Terry in the Washington State high school championship game (higher stakes), and perhaps one of Dan Dickau's virtuoso performances back in the old Greater St. Helens League. But I don't even think those guys can compare. What a show.

Scheyer is 6'6" and has the purest stroke I've EVER seen for a player under the age of 20. He can shoot off the dribble, the catch, the pump fake, and coming around screens. He moves without the ball better than 75% of NBA guards and can finish around the rim. Plus, his teammates seem to love him even though he takes almost all the shots, so that's a good sign. The word is that he's narrowed his list of schools to Duke, Arizona, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Wherever he goes, expect him to light it up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Breaking Down #5 vs. #12

Is Tech doomed to be one
of this year's fallen #5 seeds?
Trying to figure out which 5-12 games will end in upsets is one of the great tournament traditions. In an effort to help us predict these wild affairs with more accuracy, I performed an exhaustive breakdown of the 20 such games since 2000. What did this research tell us? Believe it or not, Georgia Tech is the team most likely to lose, followed by Villanova. Not what you expected, right? (Probably wrong too, but that's beside the point.) To see out how I arrived at these conclusions, check out the full column by clicking on the title of this entry. It was meant to be a Blog, but (surprise, surprise) it ended up being almost 2,000 words and had to be posted as a full column. Anyway, check it out and feel free to come back here to discuss.

I'll be coming right back with high school hoops and hip hop "diss records."


As you've no doubt heard, 50 Cent released his second major-label album last week and "The Massacre" has been racking up record sales totals ever since. In addition to a controversial feud with fellow Aftermath artist and former G-Unit member Game, 50 received a lot of attention for a "diss track" on the album titled "Piggy Bank." On the song, he takes several playful (and one or two not-so-playful) shots at fellow rappers and invites them to fire back in a war of words. The media has gone bananas for this controversial situation as they no doubt ghoulishly hope for sudden escalation and retaliation, but the artists in question have reacted quite differently. Hip Hop mainstay Nas simply opined that 50 was looking for some extra pub before the release of "The Massacre." Fat Joe seemed annoyed but content to wait until his own album releases in May to fire back (he might want to wait forever, since he's terrible). Shyne had no choice but to hold his tongue, since he's hanging out in prison for the next 10 years. The only "dissed" MC to step right to the mic was Jadakiss, a member of the Lox known for being a skilled lyricist. Last Thursday he released "Checkmate," a retaliatory track aimed right at 50 Cent. Considering his reputation and the boastful statements he was making in regard to what he had in store for 50, I had high expectations for Jada's response. The result? A big letdown.

For starters, he begins the track by yelling out "Congratulations, homie! You made history; 1.1 million in a short week!" followed by some creepy cackling. I'm personally having a hard time figuring out how he's "dissing" him exactly. That would be like Michael Redd taunting Allen Iverson by saying, "Congrats, AI. You scored 48.5 points per game against us this year! Ha ha!"

Furthermore, the lines that many will be saying "destroyed 50" were nothing more than conflicting, uninteresting, recycled nonsense. Here were the "best" lines Kiss had to offer:

"Picture Kiss not coming out swinging, that's like going to see 50 at a show and he don't come out singing." This line sums up why they will never get this straightened out. 50 prides himself on writing catchy hooks and selling a ton of records, while Jadakiss prides himself on NOT doing that. Hard to see how that is going to get resolved. Not to use another sports analogy, but that would be like Barry Bonds telling Juan Pierre, "All you do is steal bases" and Pierre retorting, "Oh yeah, all you do is hit home runs!" See what I mean?

"I'll hold the 4-5 myself and hop out the range on 1-4-5 myself." This is pretty good in the "I can handle my own business" vein, but unfortunately he follow it up with "Don't try to pull rank on Kiss, because the homies I'm 'a send to do it ain't gonna miss." In one line he talks about taking care of his own conflict, then he turns around says he'll send somebody to do it for him. Subject matter aside, that's just about the most contradictory statement someone could make.

"You made a lot of money now be cool, or I'll swell up your lips like seafood." This one isn't bad. A bit of a misplaced modifier, but I'm not going to get that picky. Plus, my buddy Juice definitely responds this way to seafood. Worse, actually.

"You should just sell clothes and sneakers, 'cause out of your whole camp, your flows the weakest." This is probably the best line on the track, but alas, it's a ripoff. Go back to Jay-Z's legendary "Takeover" (considered by many to be the benchmark for diss tracks) and you see that he rips Nas by telling him, "Fell from Top 10 to not mentioned at all, 'till your bodyguard's 'Oochie Wallie' verse was better than yours. Matter of fact you had the worst flow on the whole song ..." So this isn't exactly original work.

To give Jadakiss some credit, he's putting his money where his mouth is. He challenged 50 to a live battle rap on HBO for a purse of $1 million. Stay tuned for 50's response ...

Reason #144 why Fantasy Sports are Great

#144 - Insulation from Steroid Madness.

Unlike most baseball fans that are wringing their hands over the steroid controversy, I am heading toward Opening Day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Okay, that might be cheesy, but there's some truth to it. I've been doing fantasy drafts, combing through spring training box scores, updating depth charts ... all in an effort to control the fantasy baseball universe. I could care less about congressional hearings or tainted records. Just give me fantasy showdowns during the regular season and drama during the playoffs. Until that formula is disturbed, I'm good.

The Popular Pick

Most big time basketball fans I know shy away from taking the consensus pick to win it all. Part of that is strategy: you don't have to get as many games right if you nail a more obscure champion. However, part of it comes from simply feeling uncomfortable following the herd. You see thousands and thousands of people taking North Carolina and you decide to take Florida over the Tar Heels in the regional semis. Or the tide turns to Illinois, so you scoff at the Illini and change your regional winner to Oklahoma State. If I had to guess, I would say this is probably the number one reason I've changed Final Four picks over the years. Not only that, we get teams like Syracuse in 2003 and Arizona in 1997 that go darting through the tournament as #3 or #4 seeds, and it's just so much more fun to pick a team like that. However, a quick glance over recent winners shows that the "popular" pick is far more likely to take home the crown:

1995 - UCLA (#1 Overall)
1996 - Kentucky (#1 Overall)
1997 - Arizona (#4 in South)
1998 - Kentucky (#2 in South)
1999 - UConn (#1 in West/#2 Overall)
2000 - Michigan State (#1 Overall)
2001 - Duke (#1 Overall)
2002 - Maryland (#1 Overall)
2003 - Syracuse (#3 in East)
2004 - UConn (#2 in West)

Over the past 10 years, a #1 seed has won six times, the overall #1 seed has won five times, and the "consensus pick" has won six times (UConn was the most popular choice last year, despite being a #2 seed). I've personally only predicted the winner four times in the past 10 years (1995, 2000, 2002, and 2004) and each was the "popular" pick.

If you think Illinois is too dependent on their guards or that North Carolina will gag like all Roy Williams' teams do, then by all means, pick somebody else to win it all. But if you are just picking someone else to be different, well, that might not be such a good idea.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Banner Year for Big 12?

Just spent three hours watching talking heads on ESPN and the common denominator seems to be a lack of credit for the Big 12 Conference. I personally don't have a strong liking for the league (ironically, the love affair that the BCS had for the Big 12 in 2001 was so irritating that it led me to start writing sports columns), but there are at least three Big 12 teams that are good enough to play in the Final Four. Oklahoma State could ruin the party in Chicago and are arguably the best #2 seed in the Tournament. Oklahoma is a team tailor-made for March basketball and will be a tough out in the bottom half of the South region. And Kansas has to be one of the best #3 seeds of my lifetime. It wouldn't surprise me to see anyone of these teams roll to St. Louis. Who knows, maybe all three will pull off the feat. Regardless, this is possibly the second strongest trio of teams the Big 12 has entered since evolving from the Big Eight (Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas in 2002 was probably the best representation) and nobody is talking about it! Not only that, but Texas and Iowa State both lurk as dangerous second round opponents for top seeded teams. If this turns out to be a banner year for the Big 12, just remember where you heard it first.