Saturday, March 31, 2007
NCAA Semi-Finals Game Picks
While what the 7-footers accomplish in the lane will certainly have an impact on the game, there are going to be 8 other players on the floor at all times and none of them are more important than Georgetown's Jeff Green and the Buckeyes' Mike Conley Jr.
Conley has been an exemplar of consistency and cool throughout the tournament. Even as a freshman, he's displayed the kind of floor leadership that has propelled Ohio State to the pinnacle of college basketball. Often overlooked because of the plaudits going to Oden or the 3-point exploits of Jamar Butler or Ron Lewis, when there's a big play to be made it's Conley who's the trigger man. Whenever there's a critical play, Conley's usually in the middle of it.
While there's no way to accurately measure things like off-the-ball movement, intensity and hoops instincts, Conley gets high marks on all of those. His penetration and distribution of the ball will be key to Ohio State's success.
For the Hoyas, beyond Hibbert, they have the incomparable Jeff Green, the Big East Player of the Year. Green exploded in last year's post-season and has been vital to the Hoyas' success this season. He's already hit two big shots in tournaments this year - game winners against Notre Dame in the Big East tourney and last weekend's tough banker for the win over Vanderbilt.
Green's game is complete. He's got the size to compete in the lane and a shooting touch that is deadly from 3-point range. Defenders have a difficult choice when guarding him. Get in his face and he's likely to blow by you for an easy layup or dunk. Lay off him and he'll knock down long and mid-range jumpers.
Defensively, Green is a ferocious rebounder with incredible leaping ability. He's the most athletic player on the floor most nights and his all-around play will lead Georgetown to a win here.
One other player to keep a close eye on is Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace. The purest shooter in the game, if he gets hot, the Hoyas could romp.
Bottom Line: Hibbert gets a slight edge over Oden, Green has 20 or more, Ohio State goes cold from beyond the arc and Georgetown wins 82-71.
8:47 pm EDT Florida (-3) vs. UCLA - Call this one "The Rematch." Most of the characters from last year's championship game are back in similar roles.
The Florida Gators, while they haven't shown much of the emotion that got them the rings last season, are nevertheless on a mission, this time to prove that they are once again, the top team in the land. They're just doing it with a little more control and confidence this time around.
It's difficult to say which players will be key for the Gators, but since Arron Afflalo is the key to UCLA, Corey Brewer, who will likely be guarding him, is the main focus for Florida. Brewer is long and lean and difficult to defend himself, which creates matchup problems for the Bruins.
Afflalo, however, is regarded as the Bruins' best defender and top scorer and should be able to front Brewer effectively. When he has the ball, he's going to have to create offense on his own, and that's going to prove difficult. In last year's finals, Afflalo was invisible for large parts of the game, mostly due to Brewer's defense.
This time around, however, it's a little different. Ben Howland has a different offense, with explosive Darren Collison at point instead of the more careful, sometimes plodding, Jordan Farmar. If Collison is handling the ball, Afflalo and Josh Shipp should be able to work off screens for open looks and keep UCLA from going though extended scoring droughts.
Beyond the matchups, the real impact here is going to be UCLA's team defense. They're better than they were a year ago, and they know what's coming. While they won't exactly frustrate the Gators, the Bruins will be able to create enough havoc and turnovers to keep the game close and maybe put together some scoring runs of their own.
Bottom Line: UCLA turns up the defense, Joakim Noah spends much of the 2nd half on the bench and Collison emerges as star of the game in a 74-69 Bruins win.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Saturday Semi-Finals: Georgetown vs. Ohio State
Both 7-footers dominate the middle, can block shots, rebound well, distribute the rock and are serious scoring threats. Putting them on the same floor at the same time recalls famous bouts between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain or Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes. The confrontation, on the biggest stage in college basketball, has the potential to be a classic.
Like many of these confrontations often turn out, this one may end up somewhat of a stalemate. Both centers are power players and thus, each will have their moments. Hibbert and Oden are so evenly matched that the only possible derailment of this encounter would be the refs calling the game too close. The last thing basketball fans want to see is one or the other cooling out on the bench because of foul trouble, but, as both players have shown, they are not very careful about picking up nickel-dimers (as Bill Raftery might say) and hurting their team's chances.
If there's any advantage at all, it would be Hibbert's maturity. As a junior, he's got a couple of years playing time over Oden, which means his footwork and game understanding is likely to be a little more advanced than that of the Ohio State star.
Statistically, Hibbert has the edge on paper, though not by much. His shooting percentage is 67%, as compared to Oden's 62%. Both are capable free throw shooters; Hibbert hits at 70%, Oden, 64%. Defensively, Oden has the edge with 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, compared to Hibbert at 6.9 and 2.5. Hibbert averages 12.7 points per game, Oden, 15.4. Obviously, there's little separating the two.
That gets us to the rest of the starters, the bench and the coaches. The other star for Georgetown is Big East Player of the Year, Jeff Green, who can score from anywhere on the court, but it most dangerous on slashing moves to the hoop. His Buckeye counterpart would be Ron Lewis, an all-around performer who's leading Ohio State (and all remaining players) in scoring at 21.8 ppg. He's a proven commodity as a clutch player, having hit the game-tying 3-pointer against Xavier. When the Buckeyes stared elimination in the eye, Lewis didn't blink.
The Buckeyes may be known more for their 3-point shooting than the Hoyas, as, in addition to Lewis, Jamar Butler can also throw down from well beyond the arc and Mike Conley Jr. hasn't shown any shyness in hoisting from 3-point land. The Hoyas, however, have two players with high percentages from behind the line: Patrick Ewing Jr. and Jonathan Wallace, who hit at 46% and 49%, respectively.
Wallace is especially dangerous whenever he has an open look. A bona fide pure shooter, Wallace is the X-factor for Georgetown. If he gets hot, forget the Oden-Hibbert games and everything else; Ohio State will have to trade baskets with the Hoyas - no easy feat.
Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers of the Hoyas are both slashers, not necessarily outside threats similar to Ohio State's Conley Jr. The Buckeyes' Ivan Harris is more a jump shooter than a driver and he'll opt for 3's rather than drive.
Both teams can go 9 deep, with the key subs being Daequan Cook and David Lighty for Ohio State. Cook is the Buckeye's most consistent 3-point shooter at 42% efficiency, while Lighty is a good ball-handler, slasher and rebounder with excellent instincts. The Hoyas will have Jeremiah Rivers off the bench early on. He's an excellent point guard who can control the offense. Ewing Jr. will also see plenty of floor time when the Hoyas want to go big.
Emotionally, the Hoyas seem to have an advantage. They were a #2 seed, Ohio State a #1, so they may take on the relished role of underdog, thinking they have something to prove, while the Buckeyes, who came into the tournament ranked #1 in the nation, have bullseyes on their backs.
Both coaches, Georgetown's John Thompson Jr. and Ohio State's Thad Motta have serious top-notch credentials and are masters of discipline and game-situation understanding. Both will be into the game from the start and neither will hamper their teams chances of winning.
The other advantage in this contest is the Hoyas' overall height differential. Here's an odd stat, that you'll see nowhere else. Ohio State's combined starters' height is 32'2". The Hoyas starting five measure up at 32'11". That's 9 inches difference or nearly 2 inches per starter. Not that the Buckeyes' players are small, but there's a height advantage for the Hoyas just about everywhere. Hibbert is actually 2 inches taller than Oden. Whether the overall height makes a difference will be hard to tell, but there's definitely an effect.
Tomorrow, I'll present my final picks for both semi-final games.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Saturday Semi-Finals: Florida vs. UCLA
The Gators are on an 8-game win streak which includes winning the SEC tourney. Even in their own conference tournament, though, the Gators didn't face the best teams in the SEC, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Florida skated through the conference tournament with wins over Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas. Only the Razorbacks made it to the Big Dance, and they were summarily dispatched in the opening round.
The teams Florida has played since then won't really have them properly prepped for UCLA, either. Jackson State was a walkover (112-69); they struggled with a very suspect Purdue team (74-67); struggled even more against the Butler Bulldogs (65-57), before beating up on Oregon, 85-77, a team which lost its shooting touch at precisely the wrong time.
Florida was not impressive in any of their wins, but they did what they had to do to advance. Against Oregon, specifically, they rode the red hot shooting of Lee Humphrey (7 of 13 3-pointers) and Taurean Green (4-8) to commandeer a healthy lead over the Ducks until the closing minutes of the game. Despite their substantial size advantage and Oregon's foul problems - 2 Ducks fouled out and 2 others finished with 4 fouls - the game got close late.
The considerable edge Florida had at the free throw line (28-43 to Oregon's 15-16) was also more than the margin of victory, so in retrospect, the Ducks (who also hit only 8-22 3-pointers) did more to lose that game than Florida did to win it.
The Gators also don't seem to have the same emotion as last year, which is understandable. Like sex, the first time is always the most thrilling, with each subsequent foray an opportunity to make mistakes. There are a lot of distractions which seem to have invaded Florida's game. The Gators are not as intense as last season's squad, despite having the same starting five. It's going to be a problem because the Bruins will be fired up.
Nothing prepares a team better than a loss. And last year's loss in the NCAA finals still stings the Bruins, especially their star, Arron Afflalo, who was basically invisible for much of the game.
Afflalo has raised his game, especially in the Bruins' last outing against Kansas. in which he led UCLA with 24 points in a 68-55 win. While Afflalo was doing the bulk of the scoring and hitting key shots at critical points, his running mate, Darren Collison was aiding the cause with tight defense, 5 steals and 14 points, including 2 of 3 3-pointers.
If anyone thinks defense doesn't matter, they'd better take a closer look at that game. The Bruins turned the ball over 24 times themselves! Most of the time, that would result in a big, fat L. Instead, the UCLA players contested every Kansas shot, forced 21 Jayhawk turnovers and barely won the battle of the boards. They also played with tremendous commitment and tempo on offense and ended up outshooting Kansas, 53-41%.
When it was all over, the Bruins had held the Jayhawks to their lowest point total of the season. They earned the win, and they did it the hard way.
When the Bruins take the court against Florida, Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are going to give Al Horford and Joakim Noah a pair of steel-eyed looks that speak revenge. Collison and Afflalo match up very well with Humphrey and Green, though Afflalo may have to defend the taller, and more dangerous, Corey Brewer.
That matchup is the real key to the game. If Afflalo can limit Brewer's penetration, or Brewer can keep Afflalo off-balance on offense, their respective team will win the game. Brewer and his mates have already done it. Afflalo and the Bruins are hungry for a championship and they come in healthy and well-prepared.
On Friday, I'll give you the final take on who's going to advance, but right now, I'm leaning heavily towards UCLA.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Conference Scoreboard and Peak Performers
Player, game 1, 2, 3, 4, Total, Average
Ron Lewis, OHST, 13, 27, 25, 22, 87, 21.8
Arron Afflalo, UCLA, 22, 10, 17, 24, 73, 18.3
Corey Brewer, FL, 21, 17, 11, 14, 63, 15.8
Jeff Green, GTWN, 15, 11, 15, 22, 63, 15.8
Mike Conley Jr., OHST, 4, 21, 17, 19, 61, 15.3
Greg Oden, OHST, 19, 14, 9, 17, 59, 14.8
Darren Collison, UCLA, 14, 15, 12, 14, 55, 13.8
Joakim Noah, FL, 17, 9, 13, 14, 53, 13.3
Al Horford, FL, 15, 17, 16, 6, 52, 13.0
Roy Hibbert, GTWN, 10, 17, 12, 13, 52, 13.0
Player, game 1, 2, 3, 4, Total, Average
Roy Hibbert, GTWN, 13, 12, 10, 11, 46, 11.5
Joakim Noah, FL, 12, 9, 9, 14, 44, 11.0
Al Horford, FL, 16, 9, 7, 7, 39, 9.8
Greg Oden, OHST, 10, 12, 3, 9, 34, 8.5
Jeff Green, GTWN, 3, 12, 4, 9, 28, 7.0
Lorenzo Mata, UCLA, 7, 8, 9, 3, 27, 6.8
Player, game 1, 2, 3, 4, Total, Average
Taurean Green, FL, , 12, 2, 1, 3, 18, 4.5
Mike Conley Jr., OHST, 5, 4, 6, 2, 17, 4.3
Darren Collison, UCLA, 8, 2, 4, 1, 16, 4.0
Jessie Sapp, GTWN, 1, 3, 3, 8, 15, 3.8
Conference, Region:East, West, Midwest, South, Total
ACC: 4-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-1, 7-7
Big East: 4-1, 2-2, 0-1, 1-1, 7-5
Big 10: 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 4-0, 8-5
Big 12: 1-2, 3-1, 0-0, 2-1, 6-4
PAC-10: 3-2, 4-0, 3-2, 0-1, 10-5
SEC: 2-2, 1-1, 4-0, 2-1, 9-4
College Basketball Daily, a leading blog following the world of NCAA hoops, heads to the Final Four in full stride, with complete coverage, analysis and free picks for the two semi-final games and the championship game on Monday, April 2.
Rick Gagliano, publisher of the blog, says, "I've been putting in lots of hours analyzing the four teams remaining and despite only having Georgetown and Ohio State left in my original brackets, I'm pretty sure the Hoyas can win another national title."
"The game against Ohio State is one I've personally been anticipating for a long time. I can't wait to see the Roy Hibbert - Greg Oden matchup. It's going to be a war out there."
In the other semi-final game, Gagliano isn't about to tip his hand.
"I originally had Kansas facing Oregon, but now it's Florida vs. UCLA, a rematch of last year's championship. Last season, I had a shot at actually winning a pool with a partner, but when UCLA lost, we were knocked out of the first three spots, and wound up with nothing. I've got nothing invested this year except time and my reputation, and I'll put that up against the Vegas oddsmakers any day," said Gagliano.
"I've been covering college sports in one form or another for nearly 25 years and I still haven't figured it out, but I'm trying," joked the publisher.
Scheduled entries on the blog are the Conference Scoreboard (Tuesday), analysis of the Florida-UCLA game (Wednesday), analysis of the Geogetown-Ohio State game (Thursday), exclusive ATS picks on Friday. After that, Gagliano plans on analyzing the two semi-final games and providing a final pick on Sunday. After the championship, College Basketball Daily will do a season recap, name an All-American team and Player of the Year, before focusing on off-season recruitment and coaching changes.
As the name suggests, College Basketball Daily provides news, insight and analysis of college hoops every day.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Gators, Hoyas, Bruins, Buckeyes Head to Atlanta
Two teams seeded #1 in their respective regions, the Florida Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes, head into the Final Four the favorites over a pair of #2 seeds which arguably could have been 1s.
Georgetown, the #2 seed in the East, know the second fiddle role well. For much of the regular season, they weren't even ranked in the Top 25, trailing the Pitt Panthers in the standings through the midway point of the Big East campaign.
On January 13, following consecutive losses to conference foes Villanova and Pittsburgh, the Hoyas were just 11-5. But, just as people were beginning to write Georgetown - and their twin towers of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert - off, they reeled off 11 straight wins, culminating with a 61-53 revenge win against Pitt.
Two days later, the Hoyas lost a road game at Syracuse, but finished with a win over UConn to capture the Big East title at 13-3.
But the Hoyas weren't done. Not even close. They swept through the Big East tournament, knocking off Villanova and Notre Dame before hammering Pitt, this time by a shocking 65-42 score. While North Carolina was winning the ACC tournament and locking up the #1 seed, the Hoyas came in as a hungry #2, knocked off Belmont, Boston College and Vanderbilt to set up the match with the Tar Heels.
For most of the game, it looked as though they would go home losers to the top seed, until they rallied late in the game, tying the score on Jonathan Wallace's 3-pointer to force overtime at 81-all.
The Hoyas left no doubt in the OT, outscoring Carolina 15-3 in a convincing performance. Georgetown will face Ohio State in one of the two semi-final games on Saturday, March 31.
The Buckeyes, 92-76 winners over South #2 seed Memphis on Saturday, ended the Tigers' 25-game winning streak by extending their own to 20 straight, now the longest in the nation.
The UCLA Bruins took an entirely different path to their #2 seeding in the West region. After being ranked in the Top 10 most of the season and wrapping up the PAC-10 title with a win over Washington State, the Bruins came up flat in their regular season finale at Washington, losing 61-51 and looking lethargic the whole time. Then, in the opening round of the PAC-10 tournament, the Bruins unexpectedly fell to lightly-regarded Cal, 76-69.
That was likely the game that cost the Bruins a #1 seeding, which went to Kansas instead. The Bruins, however, got the last laugh on both the Jayhawks and the selection committee, thumping Kansas in the regional final on Saturday, 68-55.
The Bruins head to Atlanta with a renewed confidence to face Florida, the top seed from the Midwest region. The defending national champion Gators beat Oregon, 85-77, to reach the Final Four for the second consecutive year. The game is a rematch of last year's championship.
The Georgetown-Ohio State game will be the first semi-final, with tip-off scheduled for 6:07 pm EDT. Florida and UCLA will take the floor roughly 30 minutes after the conclusion of that game.
Tomorrow: Conference scoreboard and peak performers.
Wednesday: Breakdown of Ohio State - Georgetown
Thursday: Breakdown of Florida - UCLA
Friday: Final analysis and picks
Sunday, March 25, 2007
NCAA Matchups & Picks for Sunday, March 25
Porter, easily the smallest player in the tournament at 5'6", put on a giant of a performance Friday night in Oregon's 76-72 win over UNLV, hitting 8 3-pointers and totaling 33 points, tying him with Tyler Hansbrough for the high single-game mark of the tournament.
Once again, Porter and the Ducks find themselves underdogs as they match up with the reigning national champions. Florida dispatched a pesky Butler squad on Thursday, 65-57, coming from behind as they have in all three of their tournament games thus far. They will try to get off to a faster start against the quicker Ducks.
The Gators have a huge size advantage inside with Joakim Noah and Al Horford anchoring the middle. The Ducks have no real center and actually start four guards along with forward Maarty Leunen, who stands 6'8" and specializes in outside shooting. While Leunen may draw one of Florida's big men outside when the Ducks are on offense, he's going to get backed down inside against Horford along with Malik Hairston, who will likely be matched up with Noah. Stopping those two inside is Oregon's biggest problem, one which they'll likely handle by denying them the ball on defense.
It wouldn't surprise anyone to see the Ducks press off made baskets to at least slow Florida's offense. Pressure and hitting 3-pointers will be the key to Oregon's success and they will get it done as their trio of sharpshooting guards, Porter, Aaron Brooks and Bryce Taylor make a shambles of Florida's backcourt. The Gators' dream of back-to-back championships dies here.
5:05 pm EDT North Carolina (-3.5) Georgetown - The Tar Heels struggled mightily against an upset minded USC squad on Thursday before blowing the game open late and advancing. USC ran out of gas as Carolina coach Roy Williams used his deep bench to maximum advantage, outscoring the Trojans 41-22 in the second half.
Georgetown stared elimination in the face and, as time wore down, came up with a huge shot by forward Jeff Green to oust the upset-minded Vanderbilt Commodores 66-65. Green's bank shot with 2.5 seconds remaining left Vandy without enough time to get off a quality shot at the buzzer.
The Hoyas are hoping that this round will be a little less dramatic, though putting away the Tar Heels isn't going to be easy. Along with Green, the other key inside player, Roy Hibbert, will have to be on top of his game to stop the aggressive inside play of Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright. It's likely that Wright and Green will match up against each other, which would be one of the best pairings of the season. Both forwards are athletic, strong and can get up on the boards. It's doubtful either will have much of an edge, and may actually end up canceling each other out.
Hibbert and Hansbrough will battle inside, and the edge goes to Hansbrough, who, though smaller, at 6'9", is more agile and mobile than the seven-foot Hibbert. If Hansbrough is able to operate on the low post, the Tar Heels could cruise to the Final Four.
In the backcourt, once again Jonathan Wallace and Patrick Ewing Jr. of the Hoyas become the wild cards. If they can provide some offense with 3-pointers and penetration, Georgetown can hang around against the much deeper Tar Heels.
North Carolina will look to get out and run, while the Hoyas will try to turn the game into a half-court mosh. If Hibbert stays out of foul trouble, Georgetown's overall length should offset Carolina's depth and book the Hoyas a trip to Atlanta.
Friday, March 23, 2007
NCAA Matchups & Picks for Saturday, March 24
The Buckeyes' win over over Tennessee was not one that the Ohio State faithful are going to remember, having to rally from 20 points down to get the narrow win. The Tigers, on the other hand, should have plenty of confidence after their 1-point win over a very solid Texas A&M team. With that win, we now know how Memphis will react in tight games - with poise and determination.
The Tigers have now stretched their winning streak to 25 games not many have been close calls. They should be physically and emotionally ready for anything that Ohio State throws at them.
The biggest matchup in this game is going to be in the middle, where Greg Oden squares up with Joey Dorsey. Oden may have a height advantage, but nobody in this tournament has a wider, more physically imposing stature than Dorsey. Oden is listed at 7'0", 280, and Dorsey at 6'8", 260, but Dorsey is all muscle and is not going to allow Oden to settle in on the blocks. Nothing inside is going to come easy for Ohio State, and, if Oden gets in foul trouble again, it could be lights out for the Buckeyes.
Memphis also matches up well with the rest of the Ohio State squad, and again, they are going to look like the quicker players on the floor. Key players are going to be Mike Conley Jr. for the Buckeyes in his battle with Memphis point guard Andre Allen, who is a bulldog and lightning fast.
Allen will split time with the taller (6'6") Antonio Anderson, so depending on what coach Calipari wants to do with the ball - and Conley - he's got options.
Memphis also has excellent depth, something the Buckeyes do not enjoy. They are only 7 or 8 deep, whereas the Tigers usually go 9 deep and more.
Memphis has edges in experience, coaching and that 25-game win streak gives them enormous confidence. They will not be beaten. Ohio State will be heading home a week early.
7:05 pm EDT Kansas (-2) UCLA - If you like contrasting styles, look no further than this. Kansas has the hottest and one of the highest-scoring offenses in the nation, but UCLA plays the stingiest and nastiest defense. If either team manages to get things going their way early, this could turn into a rout.
However, it has to be understood that Kansas has superior talent at all positions. The Jayhawks can run up and down the floor all night and all of their starters can score.
By contrast, UCLA lives and dies off limiting opponent opportunities, contesting passes and shots and solid rebounding. Their scoring almost always has to come from Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison, who also is the point guard, handling distribution. If Kansas can shut down Afflalo, they'll win this easily, it's as simple as that.
Their wing players, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright should be able to light up the Bruins from outside and in. The inside game between Loenzo Mata and Darrell Arthur may turn out to be a standoff, but the Jayhawks have a serious edge at most of the other positions.
It's doubtful that the Bruins will hold Kansas under 65 points, which is what they'll need to do to win. Even then, as Southern Illinois found out on Thursday, holding the score down to a favorable level is no guarantee of victory as Kansas won, 61-58, with their 2nd lowest output of the season. The Jayhawks can play defense as well and they will mow down the Bruins and head to the Final Four. This one could easily turn into a double-digit rout for Kansas.
NCAA Game Picks for Friday, March 23
After yesterday's close calls, I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who thinks that Butler can keep the Gators within single digits. Players are very emotional at this point in the tournament and none of the remaining teams are going to be easy outs.
However, the Gators are likely to be at the very pinnacle of their game here and will look to blow this one open early. whether they'll be able to do that depends more on their guards - Green and Humphrey - who don't actually match up well against Butler's, than the inside game. Florida's guards have to get the ball inside. Look for the Butler to deny, zone and use back doors and slip screens on offense to hang in.
Florida will advance, but the Bulldogs will not fold and should keep this one under the line.
7:30 pm EDT Georgetown (-7.5) Vanderbilt - There's an important key in this game which a lot of people may not notice, and it's not how many rebounds Roy Hibbert is going to get (should be many). The key here is Vanderbilt's Shan Foster, who sometimes disappears offensively. When he doesn't score in double digits, the Commodores almost always lose.
Foster, a 6'6" junior will be paired against either Jeff Green or Jonathan Wallace, both of whom are good defenders and longer than the Vandy forward and that spells trouble.
Georgetown and Vanderbilt squared off way back on November 15, with the Hoyas grabbing an 86-70 road win. In that game, Foster scored just 2 points, while Hibbert and Green had huge games for the Hoyas. In Vandy's 11 losses, Foster scored 15 or less 10 times. His season average is 15.6, so this game becomes very simple for the Hoyas. Hold Foster under his average and get the win.
Besides the Foster angle, the Hoyas will have to handle the ball with care. Vandy is quicker, but Georgetown holds a huge size advantage and that should get them easily into the next round. The Hoyas should win this one handily.
9:40 pm EDT Oregon (-3) UNLV - The Ducks have incredible quickness and that's going to cause problems for the Runnin' Rebels on both offense and defense. As anyone who watches the Ducks knows, if they hit their 3-pointers, they are nearly unbeatable and they're likely to throw up at least 25 attempts from beyond the arc here.
If the Ducks hit at 40% from 3-point land, it's lights out for the Rebels unless they hit at better percentages than their season average. UNLV may opt to play a 2-3 zone, with pressure on the ball, to keep the score down, but Oregon can either shoot over it, drive through it or pass into it. No matter which way you slice this game up, it looks like the Ducks are going on to face Florida in the next round.
If you look at the tournament teams UNLV has beaten in the course of the season, you'll notice that none of them are still around. The Ducks, on the other hand, show regular season wins over three teams still in the hunt - Georgetown, UCLA and USC. Oregon should win this game by at least 8 points.
10:00 pm EDT North Carolina (-8.5) USC - The Tar Heels are one of the deepest teams in the tournament and coach Roy Williams will likely use a 10-man rotation here. The one constant will be Tyler Hansbrough, Carolina's top-scoring center/forward, who will probably see at least 32-35 minutes of action, especially if it's close, which this one should be.
Judging by the odds, Tar Heel nation is alive and well, with the Vegas line looking very generous in what is likely to be a close game, matching contrasting styles. While Carolina will want to get out and run, speed up the game and slash to the hoop, the USC defense is among the best in the nation. Stopping the penetration of Ty Lawson will be key for the Trojans, as he is very quick and a solid ball handler. Keeping him on the perimeter means keeping the ball out of the hands of finishers Hansbrough and Brandan Wright.
The Trojans should have success in stopping the Tar Heels and they should be capable of scoring on the other end. North Carolina is not among the best defensive teams, so if USC gets a lead or stays close, defensive close-outs late in the game should lead to a major upset and a #1 seed heading home.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
NCAA Game Picks for Thursday, March 22
7:10 pm EDT Kansas (-9) Southern Illinois - The outcome of this game will likely be decided by the pace of play. If Kansas gets off early and scores easy baskets on run-outs, the Salukis will be up against it. Additionally, Southern Illinois' forward Randal Falker is going to find the going inside very tough. Between Sasha Kaun and Julian Wright, he's not going to have much room to operate.
The solid Saluki defense will have some effect, though Kansas is not a team that goes long between baskets. If there are point-scoring runs in this game, expect them to come from Kansas, as Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers can light it up from outside in a hurry.
As for the generous point spread, Southern Illinois has only lost 6 games and only once, at Indiana, did they lose by more than 9. They lost that game by 10, and also lost at home to Arkansas by 8. Kansas is heads and shoulders better than either of those teams, they've won their two tournament games by 40 and 12. The Jayhawks should establish a double-digit lead about halfway through the 2nd half and hold off the Salukis from there.
9:40 pm EDT UCLA (-3) Pittsburgh - This is likely the weakest matchup of the week, though UCLA actually looks less likely to advance than the Panthers. Sure, Pitt blew a big lead against VCU, but they rallied to win that game. UCLA nearly coughed it up against Indiana, an inferior opponent, so they're not exactly world-beaters either.
There are two big difference makers in this game and they both belong to Pittsburgh. The first is Aaron Gray, Pitts' All-American center, who should benefit from being matched up with Lorenzo Mata and/or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He can dominate either player. The other Pitt advantage is in perimeter shooting, where the Panthers hold a distinct edge in accuracy. UCLA's Shipp and Afflalo are sub-par from beyond the arc; besides, they will be guarded closely by the Panthers quick guards.
One other potential problem for the Bruins is their dependence on Arron Afflalo for the bulk of their scoring. Last year in the Final Four, Afflalo was nearly invisible, especially in the championship game vs. Florida. The pressure of this game may get to him and cause another poor shooting game from the Bruins' all-star guard. If Pitt plays to their potential they should win this one going away.
7:27 pm EDT Texas A&M (-3) Memphis - This one is going to look more like a war than a basketball game. If the refs allow physical play, Joey Dorsey will be banging hard inside and tough to stop. The other wild card in this game is the health of Memphis' leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts, who worked out in a private practice yesterday, wants to play, but the best coach John Calipari could offer was that if he's ready, he'll play. So, his status is uncertain.
The Tigers have looked awesome in their wins over North Texas and Nevada, but the Aggies have a lot more going for them than those teams. Acie Law is a prime time player who will step up here, but the Tigers aren't going to be blown out. In a close call, look for the Aggies to survive a bump and grind kind of game and move on to the Elite 8.
9:57 pm EDT Ohio State (-5) Tennessee - The Vols have done well to get this far in the tournament and they are up against the top seed in the region, though it has to be noted that Ohio State nearly didn't make it here either. Only a missed free throw and a perfect 3-pointer by Ron Lewis got them to overtime against Xavier.
That said, nearly every championship team has a close call, and Tennessee just barely scraped by Virginia. After missing a slew of free throws earlier in the game, the Vols were fortunate to have Chris Lofton at the line for the final six attempts, all of which he converted.
The Buckeyes have proven to be less than invulnerable, but Tennessee just doesn't have the horses to stay with them here. Ohio State should move on, winning this one by a comfortable margin of 8-12.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Sweet 16 Regional Analysis: Midwest and East
7:10 pm EDT #1 Florida (31-5) v. #5 Butler (29-6) -
The Florida Gators are probably the best-known starting five in college basketball. Since winning the tournament in 2006, all five returned to defend their championship. Emotional leader Joakim Noah teams with Al Horford in the frontcourt, while swingman Corey Brewer's slashing style complements the outside shooting of Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey. Their scoring is extremely balanced. While Horford leads the team in both scoring (13.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.3), Brewer averages 13.1, Green, 13.0, Noah, 12.1 and Humphrey, 9.9.
Humphrey is the top gun from outside, hitting 45% from beyond the arc. Sub Walter Hodge can provide instant offense with his 51% 3-point shooting. Green clicks at 39%. Besides Hodge, the Gators can also bring in a pair of talented and tall substitutes, Chris Richard and Marreese Speights, both of whom have solid interior games. While the Florida rotation is only 7 or at best, 8 deep, it's all it has to be as the Gators play excellent individual and team defense and all of the starters can score.
The Gators' opening round, 112-69 win over Jackson State resembled a Florida shoot-around, though the Purdue Boilermakers made them sweat a little in a 74-67 win. If Florida has an enemy it may be their own complacency. In their two games, they're rarely displayed the kind of passion and enthusiasm that sent them to the national championship last year.
Florida has a 9-3 record against tourney teams, with wins coming against Jackson State, Purdue, Kentucky (2), Arkansas (2), Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. Their losses were to Kansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
The Butler Bulldogs play the ultimate underdog in their matchup with the Gators. Butler tied for the regular season title with Wright State in the Horizon League and lost to that same team in the conference tourney championship game. In their two NCAA tourney games, Butler ousted Old Dominion, 57-46, before dispatching Maryland in the second round, 62-59.
The Bulldogs rely on defense (allowing only 57 ppg) and deft 3-point shooting from guard A.J. Graves (36%) and forward Pete Campbell (51%), who usually comes in off the bench. Graves is the team's top scorer at 17.1 ppg, followed by point guard Mike Green (13.9) and forward Brandon Cole (11.4). Rebounding is a team affair, with Green getting the most, at 6 per game.
Butler has to play a tight, low-turnover game in order to win. Since they are height-challenged, they also need to take good shots and hit a high percentage. That has been the formula for their success.
Against tournament teams, the Bulldogs are an impressive 8-3. Wins came against Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Old Dominion, Maryland, Wright State and Purdue. The losses were to Wright St. (2) and Southern Illinois.
9:40 pm EDT #7 UNLV (30-6) v. #3 Oregon (28-7) - This is one of the more intriguing matchups of this round. Oregon escaped a slow down game with Miami (OH), 58-56, and then romped past Winthrop, 75-61. The Ducks finished third in the PAC-10, but then stomped to the conference tourney title in three lopsided games decided by an average margin of 20 points.
Oregon relies on quickness and high-percentage shooting. They are one of the smaller teams in remaining in the tournament, but they are likely the best ball-handling squad in the Sweet 16. Four of their five starters have positive assist-turnover ratios and three average more than a steal per game. All five starters score in double figures, led by Aaron Brooks at 17.8 ppg. Bryce Taylor and Tajuan Porter, both guards, average 14.6 and 14.2, respectively. Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston, also the two leading rebounders, check in at 10.9.
The Ducks are deadly from beyond the arc. All five starters average 40% or better from 3-point range. If the Ducks are hitting their threes, they are almost impossible to beat. They've won their last 8 games.
Oregon was 10-5 against tournament teams, defeating Georgetown, UCLA, Arizona (2), USC, Stanford, Washington St. (2), Miami (OH) and Winthrop. Their losses were to UCLA, USC, (2) Arizona and Stanford.
UNLV flew under the radar most of the season, but came on late to grab second place in the Mountain West and then win the conference tourney for the automatic bid. They're on a 9-game win streak, including their two wins in the tournament, besting Georgia Tech, 67-63 in the opening round, and then pulling off the upset of #2-seed Wisconsin, 74-68.
The Runnin' Rebels are peaking at the right time and should prove to be a tough out. The bulk of their offense comes from their three starting guards, Wendell White (14.6), Wink Adams (14.1) and point guard Kevin Kruger (13.4). White is more of a swingman, doing almost all of his scoring inside. He rarely attempts 3-pointers. Michael Umeh averages just 7.7 per game, but he's been more effective in the tournament. The rebounding falls mostly to White and forward Gaston Essengue, at 6.2 and 5.0 per game, respectively.
The Rebels don't shoot well from beyond the arc. Kruger, Adams and Umeh all hit just about 36%. They are deep, however, with a 9-man rotation.
Against tournament teams, UNLV was 6-2. They recorded wins over Nevada, Texas Tech, BYU (2), Georgia Tech and Wisconsin, with losses to BYU and Arizona.
7:27 pm EDT #2 Georgetown (28-6) v. #6 Vanderbilt (22-11) - The Hoyas are on an impressive roll, having won 17 of their last 18 games, capturing both the Big East regular season and tournament titles in the process, not to mention a pair of big time wins, 80-55 over Belmont and 62-55 over Boston College in the first two rounds of the Big Dance.
Georgetown's success revolves around their two big men, 7'2" Roy Hibbert and 6'9" Jeff Green. They are 1-2 in scoring and rebounding on the team. Green 14.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Hibbert (12.7, 6.7) are possibly the best inside tandem in the country. The other three starters, Jonathon Wallace, Jesse Sapp and Dajuan Summers put up 11, 9 and 9 points per game, respectively and are backed up by the deepest bench in the tournament. The Hoyas can go 10 deep with players averaging at least 8 minutes.
If Hibbert and Green don't do enough damage inside, Georgetown can also bomb away from 3-point range. Wallace shoots it at 48% and 6'8" super sub Patrick Ewing, Jr. nails 3's at 47%. The Hoyas are easily the tallest team remaining and when they control the paint, they are virtually unbeatable.
The Hoyas are 12-5 against tourney teams, with wins over Belmont, Boston College, Oral Roberts, Pitt (2), Marquette, Notre Dame (2), Villanova (2), Louisville and Vanderbilt. Their losses were to Oregon, Old Dominion, Duke, Villanova and Pitt.
Vanderbilt is one of the lower-seeded teams, at #6, to get this far. Only UNLV (7) exceeds them. The Commodores were the surprise of the SEC, mostly due to the play of Derrick Byars and Shan Foster, their two leading scorers at 17.0 and 15.6. Complementing them is guard Dan Cage, who shoots 3's at 44%. Inside, forward Ross Neltner leads the team in rebounding at 5.7/game, but hitting the boards is more of a team effort. 7 different players average at least 2.5 boards per game.
Vanderbilt handily won their first round game against George Washington, 77-44. By contrast, their 78-74 second round win over Washington State took two overtimes.
Vandy is a good ball-handling team. Each of their starters has a positive assist-turnover ratio, with point guard Alex Gordon the best at better than 2-1. The Commodores rely on quickness, crisp passing, solid defense, a high free throw percentage and team rebounding. Of all the teams remaining in the tourney, the Commodores best exemplify the team play concept.
The Commodores went 7-5 against tourney teams. The wins came against George Washington, Washington State, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Kentucky (2) and Florida. Their losses were to Arkansas (2), Tennessee, Florida and Georgetown.
9:57 pm EDT #1 North Carolina (30-6) v. #5 USC (25-11) - Despite USC being a #5 vs. #1 North Carolina, this shapes up as a doozy of a matchup.
North Carolina is one of the deeper teams in the tourney. Coach Roy Williams wastes no time sending in subs, using 10 players and sometimes more in his rotation. the top 10 players for North Carolina average at least 10 minutes or more, and of the starters, only Tyler Hansbrough averages 30.
The Tar Heels cruised though the first two rounds of the tourney, whipping Eastern Kentucky, 86-65, before blasting Michigan State, 81-67 in the second round.
Hansbrough is a madman inside, with deft moves and a great shooting touch. He leads the team in scoring at 18.6 ppg, followed closely by fellow forward Brandan Wright (14.6). Point guard Ty Lawson averaged nearly a 3-1 assist-turnover ratio throughout the season. The rest of the team is full of role players who can all score and defend well in Williams' versatile motion offense.
North Carolina tied with Virginia in the ACC regular season, and won the ACC tourney. They weren't perfect down the stretch, but after consecutive road losses to Maryland and Georgia Tech, they've won 6 straight.
The Tar Heels are 14-5 against tournament teams. Their wins came over Eastern Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke (2), Boston College (2), Arizona, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Penn, Kentucky, Ohio State, Tennessee and Winthrop. They lost games to Gonzaga, Maryland, Virginia Tech (2) and Georgia Tech.
USC finished 2nd in the PAC-10 and lost in the championship game of the conference tourney to Oregon. In the NCAA, they've cruised past two quality opponents, whipping Arkansas, 77-60, and then dominating Texas, 87-68 in a game that was ostensibly decided by halftime.
The Trojans rely on timely shooting, ball movement and stellar defense. If they can shut down an opponent early, they have enough offense to keep just about any team at bay. Swingman Nick Young is their leading scorer at 17.8 ppg, and the next three scoring leaders, guards Lodrick Stewart, Gabe Pruitt and forward Taj Gibson, each average between 12 and 14 points per game.
Gibson is also a ferocious rebounder, leading the team with nearly nine a game, while Young and Stewart are capable from behind the arc, averaging 45 and 44%, respectively.
Against tournament teams, the Trojans were 11-7, with wins over Long Beach St., George Washington, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon (2), Arizona (2), Stanford (2) and Washington State. The losses were to UCLA (2), Oregon, Stanford, Washington State (2) and Kansas.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Sweet 16 Regional Breakdown: West and South
7:10 pm EDT #1 Kansas (32-4) v. #4 Southern Illinois (29-6) - The Salukis didn't get any help as Kansas cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament, sailing past Niagara, 107-67 in the opening round before booting Kentucky on Sunday 88-76.
Southern Illinois has had arguably their best season ever, setting a school record for victories, and one more win would give them 30, a high-water mark for any program. But that one extra win will come against the high-flying Jayhawks, who have looked unstoppable in the first two game. The Salukis have won 15 of their last 16 games. This is their 6th straight NCAA tournament appearance and a win would put them in the elite 8 for the first time.
The Salukis, which entered the NCAA tournament as the third-best scoring defense in the nation with 56.5 points per game allowed, held both 1st and 2nd round opponents below that mark. In the opening round, they stymied Holy Cross in a 61-51 win, but their 2nd round win over Virginia Tech, 63-48, was even better, as they held the Hokies 8 points below their previous season-low.
The two wins were all the more remarkable in that they were achieved without starting forward Matt Shaw, the Salukis' 3rd leading scorer at 11.4 ppg and 2nd best rebounder (5.7/game). Shaw injured an ankle nearing the end of the first half of the Holy Cross game and hasn't played since. He scored 11 points and had 5 rebounds against the Crusaders.
Tony Boyle took Shaw's place in the lineup and responded with 14 points and 5 rebounds in the second half of the Holy Cross game. In the Virginia Tech game, Boyle only played 20 minutes, had 3 rebounds and did not score. It's not certain whether Shaw will be available for the Kansas game.
Southern Illinois' offense revolves around junior forward Randal Falker. A tough inside defender and rebounder, he's also the 2nd-leading scorer on the team. Senior guard Jamaal Tatum is the team's leader at 15.1 ppg. His, and backcourt mate Tony Young's ability to hit 3's are key. Young hits 3-pointers at a 38% clip; Tatum fires them up at 42%.
The Salukis will have to play great defense to slow down Kansas, which comes in scoring at nearly 80 points per game. Led offensively by Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers, both can wreak havoc from beyond the arc. Chalmers hits 41% of his 3's, Rush, nearly 43%. Right behind them in the scoring stats is forward Julian Wright, averaging 12.2 ppg, mostly inside.
The Jayhawks may be the best balanced team in the nation except possibly for North Carolina. Kansas' top 5 scorers are separated by only 4 points on average. Sub Sherron Collins scores 9.8 ppg, right behind Darrell Arthur's 10.0. Point guard Russell Robinson scores just 7.1/game, but dishes an average of 4.5 assists. Center Sasha Kaun and forward Darnell Jackson round out the 8-man rotation, all of them averaging at least 15 minutes per contest.
Kansas won the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament and are riding a 13-game win streak.
Kansas has a 7-3 record against tournament teams with wins over Florida, Texas (2), USC, Boston College, Kentucky and Niagara and losses to Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Oral Roberts.
Southern Illinois is 6-3 against tourney teams. Their wins were over Virginia Tech (2), Creighton (2), Holy Cross and Butler, with losses to Arkansas, Indiana and Creighton.
9:40 pm EDT #3 Pittsburgh (29-7) v. #2 UCLA (28-5) - Both Pitt and the Bruins seem to be stumbling through the tournament. Pittsburgh easily handled Wright State, 79-58, in the opening round but blew a 19-point lead in their 2nd-round, 84-79 overtime win against VCU.
UCLA lost in the first round of the PAC-10 tournament and probably lost a #1 seed by doing so. The Bruins shook off any doubt and rust by pounding Weber State, 70-42 in their first tournament game, but allowed Indiana to come back from 13 points down to tie their 2nd round game with under a minute to play. The Bruins had to step up the defense and didn't allow another Indiana score after that, winning 54-49 on free throws. Still, UCLA didn't score from the field in the final 5:25 of that game, raising eyebrows.
The Panthers are led by All-American center Aaron Gray, who tops the team in both scoring and rebounding at 14.0 and 9.6 per game. He is the offense and the defense for this team which only runs 7-deep. Besides Gray in the middle, Pitt starts essentially four guards, each of whom can light it up from 3-point land. Second-leading scorer Mike Cook shoots 3's at 48% though he does most of his scoring inside. The most persistent outside threat is Ronald Ramon, a 43% shooter from outside the arc. Antonio Graves hits 40% and point guard Levance Fields, 35% on 3's.
The Panthers were second in the Big East behind Georgetown and also lost in the conference tournament finals to the Hoyas. Their late-season struggles were primary considerations in their sub-par #3 seeding. Pitt's offense can struggle at times, especially if Gray is being defended and the others aren't hitting their shots. The Panthers have had long stretches in games in which they didn't score and their defense is also suspect, allowing 63 points per game. They are likely one of the most vulnerable teams remaining.
UCLA won the PAC-10 regular season, winning all of their home games. Their offense flows from point guard Darren Collison to shooting guard Arron Afflalo and forward Josh Shipp, who are 1-2 on the team at 16.7 and 13.2 ppg. Neither can hit 3-pointers consistently. Afflalo is a 38% shooter outside the arc, while Shipp is a dreadful 31%.
After Collison, who is third at 12.8 and hits 48% of his 3's, are five players who contribute an average of 3.5 to 8.5 points per game. Most of these starters and reserves are inside-type players and that is the strength of the Bruins, both offensively, but more importantly, on defense. Lorenzo Mata is an anchor inside and Alfred Aboya and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (leading rebounder) are long and lean. The Bruins have one of the best defenses in the country, holding opponents to just a shade under 60 points per outing.
Against tournament teams the Bruins are 12-2. Their wins came against Indiana, Weber St., Washington St. (2), Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Oregon, USC (2), Stanford and Arizona (2). The losses were to Stanford and Oregon.
Pittsburgh holds a 6-6 record against tournament teams. Wins came over Wright State, VCU, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and Louisville. Their losses were to Georgetown (2), Marquette (2), Louisville and Wisconsin.
7:27 pm EDT #2 Memphis (32-3) v. #3 Texas A&M (27-6) - If there's any team that looked like an unstoppable force over the first weekend of play, it was the Memphis Tigers. Both the 73-58 win over North Texas and the 78-62 drilling of Nevada turned into one-sided affairs late in the second halves. The interior play of Joey Dorsey (a true widebody monster at 6'9", 260 lbs.) and Robert Dozier was the perfect complement to the slick perimeter play of Chris Douglas-Roberts, Andre Anderson, and Jeremy Hunt.
The Tigers toiled through the regular season in the relative obscurity of Conference USA, which they totally overwhelmed, winning all 16 conference games plus 3 more to capture the conference tournament. Their two wins in the Big Dance stretched their winning streak to a nation's best 24 games. Coach John Calipari has put together a team that is capable of beating anyone, at any time, in any venue.
The only drawback for the Tigers might be the loss of leading scorer Douglas-Roberts, who suffered an ankle injury in the latter stages of the Nevada game and didn't practice Tuesday. His loss would be a major blow to Memphis, though he says he's going to play.
As the only entrant from Conference-USA, the Tigers didn't play too many tourney teams, but their record stands at 4-3, with wins over Gonzaga, Nevada, North Texas and Kentucky and losses to Tennessee, Arizona and Georgia Tech.
The Texas A&M Aggies had a spectacular season, even though they finished 2nd to Kansas in the Big 12. Led by prototype shooting guard Acie Law, who can create off the dribble or score from the outside, the Aggies have a nice blend of inside-outside game. Coach Billy Gilispie has a high-quality product that was as close to perfection as any team this season. Of their six losses, only one - a 64-52 loss at LSU - was by a wide margin. The other five were by a total of 10 points.
The offense revolves around Law, who leads the team with 18.2 ppg. Three other players average double figures. Joseph Jones, 13.4; Josh Carter, 12.1; Antanas Kavaliauskas, 11.8. Kavaliauskas and Jones handle most of the rebounding duties, while point guard Dominique Kirk has a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio, though it is Law who leads the team in assists.
The one knock on the Aggies is that they aren't very deep. After the five starters they only have two players who average more than 15 minutes per game.
The Aggies are 4-5 against tournament teams. Their wins came over Texas, Kansas, Louisville and Penn. They lost to Texas Tech (2), Texas, LSU and UCLA.
9:57 pm EDT #1 Ohio St. (32-3) v. #5 Tennessee (24-10)
Ohio State has looked solid in their two tournament games, but had a scare against Xavier in the second round when they forced overtime on a Ron Lewis 3-pointer and won, 78-71, without center Greg Oden in the extra period. In their opening round 78-57 win over Central Connecticut State, Oden dominated with 19 points and 10 boards in 30 minutes.
While freshman sensation Oden gets most of the press, the Buckeyes have a solid supporting cast of four guards, though Dequan Cook (10.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg) usually plays a forward position. Point guard Mike Conley, Jr. averages 6.2 assists per game and has a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler can rain down 3's, though their percentages are not outstanding. Lewis clicks at 36%, Butler at 39%.
The key to Ohio State success is the play of Oden in the middle. He's a dominating force and often plays a one-man zone in the defensive middle. Any shot taken in the lane is likely to be challenged by Oden, who is one of the nation's top shot blockers, averaging 3.4 per game.
Ohio State isn't a particularly explosive team, though once they get a lead they're prone to going on one-sided scoring runs and putting games away early in 3nd halves. Their strength is also their Achilles heel. If Oden gets into early foul trouble, they may struggle, though the big man has improved at keeping out of foul trouble as the season has progressed.
The Buckeyes have a gaudy 13-3 record against tournament teams with wins over Central Conn. St., Xavier, Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan St. (2), Purdue (3), Wisconsin (2). Their losses were to North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin.
The Tennessee Volunteers were sometimes shaky during the regular season, but whenever Chris Lofton is on the floor, the Vols have a good chance of winning. Their tournament opener - a 121-86 romp over Long Beach State - tied a first round scoring record. In the second round, they outlasted a gritty Virginia team, 77-74, with Lofton hitting 6 straight free throws to seal the win.
Tennessee is one of the smaller teams still in the tourney. They generally start three guards and two forwards, with no true center. Lofton leads the team in scoring at 20.7 ppg, followed by JaJuan Smith at 15.3 and reserve guard Ramar Smith at 10.6. Lofton, JaJuan Smith and forward Wayne Chism are the main outside threats. Lofton hits at 41% from 3-point range; Smith and Chism click at respectable 36 and 35%.
The main area of concern for the Vols is first and foremost ball control. they have a very poor team assist-turnover ratio, though point guard Dane Bradshaw is the one deft ball handler, at 4.7-1.7. On the other hand, the Vols are one of the better ball-hawking teams. Four different players average more than 1 steal per game, with the two primary defenders being Bradshaw and Lofton. If the Vols win the turnover battle, they generally are close enough to win games, as they are routinely outrebounded.
Tennessee has a 8-6 record vs. tournament teams. They had wins over Memphis, Texas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Long Beach St. and Virginia. Losses came against Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio State, Butler and North Carolina.
Tomorrow: East and Midwest Region analysis.
Monday, March 19, 2007
There were ostensibly no big upsets in the opening weekend of play. The lowest seeds remaining are #7 UNLV and #6 Vanderbilt Three #5s made the grade: Butler, Tennessee and USC. Southern Illinois is the lone #4 in the regionals; after that all of the 1-3 seeds made it to the third round except Washington State (#3 East) and Wisconsin (#2 Midwest).
The big losers in the conference breakdown were the Big Ten and Big East. Big 10 basketball didn't make the grade over the first weekend when Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin were all summarily booted. Add to that Ohio State needing a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to get into overtime and eventually defeat Xavier, and the #1 ranked team in the country all of a sudden doesn't look very imposing. They alone now carry the Big 10 banner.
The Big East lost 4 of the 6 they sent to the tourney. Notre Dame, Villanova and Marquette didn't even make it past the first round. Louisville lost a tough one to Texas A&M. Only Pitt (another team that needed overtime in the 2nd round) and Georgetown remain from the nation's largest (16 teams) conference. Maybe West Virginia or Syracuse might have fared better. Maybe not. It was a crowded, competitive field beyond the #1-3 seedings.
The Thursday and Friday matchups, which I'll break down on Tuesday and Wednesday, are intriguing, but none moreso than the Florida - Butler tilt in the Midwest. The Gators were tested briefly by Purdue, but they'll face one of the best defensive teams in the country in the Bulldogs, and one which has a 7-1 record against tournament teams with wins over Notre Dame, Tennessee, Indiana and Gonzaga back in November, Purdue in December, plus tourney wins over Old Dominion and Maryland. Their only loss was a 68-64 road loss to Southern Illinois in February. Butler is, right now, the ultimate Cinderella team with aims at the defending champion.
Before getting ahead of myself and doing game analysis, here's some of the prime time performers still remaining in the field of 16.
Scoring (1st game, 2nd game, total, average):
Tyler Hansbrough, NC: 21, 33, 54, 27.0
Acie Law, Texas A&M: 20, 26, 46, 23.0
Chris Lofton, Tenn.: 25, 20, 45, 22.5
Nick Young, USC: 20, 22, 42, 21.0
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt: 12, 27, 39, 19.5
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt: 18, 20, 38, 19.0
Aaron Brooks, Oregon: 18, 22, 40, 20.0
JaJuan Smith, Tenn.: 24, 16, 40, 20.0
Ron Lewis, Ohio St.: 13, 27, 40, 20.0
Wendell White, UNLV: 19, 22, 41, 20.5
Corey Brewer, Florida: 21, 17, 38, 19.0
A. J. Graves, Butler: 18, 19, 37, 17.5
Mario Chalmers, Kansas: 19, 16, 35, 17.0
Rebounds (1st game, 2nd game, total, average):
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown: 13, 12, 25, 12.5
Al Horford, Florida: 16, 9, 25, 12.5
Joey Dorsey, Memphis: 15, 9, 24, 12.0
Greg Oden, Ohio St.: 10, 12, 22, 11.0
Taj Gibson, USC: 8, 14, 22, 11.0
Randal Falker, 8, 12, 20, 10.0
Joseph Jones, Texas A&M: 11, 8, 19, 9.5
Mike Green, Butler: 10, 8, 18, 9.0
Julian Wright, Kansas: 10, 8, 18, 9.0
Assists (1st game, 2nd game, total, average):
Kevin Kruger, UNLV: 8, 7, 15, 7.5
Taurean Green, Florida: 12, 2, 14, 7.0
Levance Fields, Pitt.: 9, 4, 13, 6.5
Gabe Pruitt, USC: 4, 8, 12, 6.0
Here's the Thursday-Friday lineup (all times Eastern):
Thursday, March 22:
West Region (San Jose, CA)
7:10 pm #4 Southern Ill. (29-6) v. #1 Kansas (32-4)
9:40 pm #3 Pittsburgh (29-7) v. #2 UCLA (28-5)
South Region (San Antonio, TX)
7:27 pm #3 Texas A&M (27-6) v. #2 Memphis (32-3)
9:57 pm #5 Tennessee (24-10) v. #1 Ohio St. (32-3)
Friday, March 23:
Midwest Region (St. Louis, MO)
7:10 pm #5 Butler (29-6) v. #1 Florida (31-5)
9:40 pm #7 UNLV (30-6) v. #3 Oregon (28-7)
East Region (East Rutherford, NJ)
7:27 pm #6 Vanderbilt (22-11) v. #2 Georgetown (28-6)
9:57 pm #5 USC (25-11) v. #1 North Carolina (30-6)
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Sunday Sends 8 to Sweet 16
UNLV 74 Wisconsin 68 - The Runnin' Rebels pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, sending the Midwest's #2 seed home early. Wisconsin got off to a slow start again and trailed by 12 at the half. But the Badger's scoring duo of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor brought the Badgers back with a 21-7 run to open the 2nd half and take a lead at 48-46. The Rebels battled back, however, and took a 61-54 lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Kevin Kruger and two free throws by Michael Umeh. As time wore down, the Badgers could get no closer than three as UNLV advanced to the regionals to face Oregon.
Florida 74 Purdue 67 - Purdue took an early lead and maintained their advantage five minutes into the 2nd half as Florida was ice cold and made numerous mistakes on offense. But then, a dunk and a tip-in by Joakim Noah gave Florida a lead at 34-33. Moments later, Taurean Green hit a pair of 3-pointers to put Florida up by 5.
Oregon 75 Winthrop 61 - Aaron Brooks scored 14 first half points to help the Ducks build a 4-point lead to intermission, stretching it to double-digits as the game wore on. Fueled by the 3-point shooting of Brooks and Tajuan Porter, the Ducks pressed their advantage to produce a convincing second round conquest. Brooks, who led the scoring parade with 22 points, hit 5 of 9 threes. Porter was 4 for 7 behind the line and scored 14.
Memphis 78 Nevada 62 - Memphis maintained a single-digit lead most of the game, but could never quite shake loose from Nevada. The turning point could have come with about 8 minutes remaining in the game when the Tigers' leading scorer, Chris Douglas-Roberts left the game with an ankle injury. The Wolf Pack closed to within two points with under 6 minutes remaining, but could get no closer as Memphis was too physical and quick down the stretch. Memphis heads for a date with Texas A&M in the East regional. Douglas-Roberts and Jeremy Hunt led the Tigers in scoring with 16 apiece. Nevada's Nick Fazekas had 20 and Marcelus Kemp, 18.
Southern Illinois 63 Virginia Tech 48 - Jamaal Tatum hit 6-9 3-pointers for 21 points and Tony Young was 4-8 from beyond the arc for 17, as the Salukis romped past Virginia Tech and into the regionals. While the Hokies were missing badly from long range (2-13), Randal Falker was putting together a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. The #4 seed in the West, Southern Illinois has Kansas next on the schedule.
Kansas 88 Kentucky 76 - The Jayhawks shot the lights out on Kentucky in a game that was never in doubt after halftime. Brandon Rush nailed 6 of 7 3-pointers and Julian Wright poured in 21 to lead Kansas into the next round with 19 points and . The Wildcats' Bobby Perry and Randolph Morris tried to keep pace, but their 21 and 22 points alone were not enough to offset Kansas' 57% shooting.
USC 87 Texas 68 - The more-experienced Trojans came out firing against Texas and swamped the Longhorns, swelling a 7-point halftime lead to 17 after the break. Nick Young provided the bulk of the offense with XX points. Kevin Durant had a game high 30, but fellow freshmen Damian James and D.J. Augustin were held to just 8 points on 2 of 11 shooting. USC, one of the nation's best defensive teams, held the high-powered Texas offense to 38% shooting, including 7-28 from beyond the arc. Daniel Hackett had 20 points for the Trojans; Taj Gibson tallied 17 with 13 rebounds. USC will face North Carolina in the East regional.
Making the Grade: Saturday Produces Half of Sweet 16
Butler 62 Maryland 59 - Butler managed to control the pace of the game, forced Maryland into 17 turnovers and hit 12 of 26 3-pointers to advance in the Widwest region. The Bulldogs will likely face Florida in the next round, as the Gators play Purdue on Sunday.
Texas A&M 72 Louisville 69 - These two heavyweights slugged it out until the final buzzer. Louisville's Edgar Sosa briefly became the highest single-game scorer in the tournament with 31 points, but it was not quite enough, as Acie Law's 26 points got the Aggies into the Sweet 16 in the South region, where they will play the winner of Sunday's Memphis-Nevada tilt.
Vanderbilt 78 Washington State 74 (2OT) - It took two overtimes, but the Commodores became the highest seed (6) to advance thus far. Led by Derrick Byars' game-high 27 points, Vandy rallied from an 8-point halftime deficit to take out the #3 seed in the East.
Pittsburgh 84 Virginia Commonwealth 79 - After knocking off Duke in the opening round, VCU nearly upset the #3 seed in the West, Pitt. The Panthers led by as many as 19 points in the game, but the Rams would not let their dreams die, as they continued to pressure Pitt into mistakes which they turned into baskets. Pitt just barely escaped in overtime, despite shooting 54%. Pitt committed 15 turnovers and were only 16-27 from the foul line (59%). Sam Young led 5 Pittsburgh players in double figures with 15 points.
Georgetown 62 Boston College 55 - BC's Tyrese Rice played great again, leading all scorers with 22 points, but Georgetown's interior domination eventually wore down the Eagles. Jeff Green had 11 points and 12 rebounds to go with center Roy Hibbert's 17 and 12. The Hoyas also showed proficiency at the foul line, hitting 14 of 19 free throws. The Hoyas move on to play Vanderbilt in the East regionals.
UCLA 54 Indiana 49 - In a game that could only be described as ugly, UCLA escaped a late run of three-pointers by Indiana that tied the game with under 2 minutes remaining. The Bruins shot 36% to the Hoosiers' 33%, but his 18-24 free throws to more than provide the margin of victory. This game featured plenty of defense, but mostly just plain bad shooting. The Bruins hit just 2-9 from 3-point range and Darren Collison led all scorers with 15 points. The good news for UCLA is that they next face another suspect squad, Pittsburgh, in the West regional.
North Carolina 81 Michigan State 67 - Drew Neitzel did all he could to keep the Spartans in the game, scoring 26 points while directing the Michigan State offense. North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, though, was too much to handle inside, as he became the tournament's single-game high scorer with 33 points, hitting 10-17 shots from the field and 13-17 free throws. Hansbrough also reeled in 9 rebounds in 38 minutes of play, the most by any Tar Heel. Point guard Ty Lawson was also a standout performer, dropping in 20 of his own while dishing out 8 assists. Lawson was credited with only one turnover for the entire game.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
2nd Round Picks for Sunday, March 18
12:10 pm Tennessee (-2.5) Virginia - Both of these squads won their openers by wide margins, but neither expects this 4-5 matchup to be a rout. There isn't much separating these two teams, as evidenced by their games against North Carolina, a common opponent. The Vols lost by 14 to the Tar Heels, whereas Virginia lost by 10. A slight edge has to go to Tennessee, as they have won 5 of their last 6, while the Cavaliers are just 3-3 over the same span. The winner gets Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
2:15 pm Memphis (-5) Nevada - The Wolf Pack survived against a solid Creighton team in overtime and that win may have helped them prepare for Memphis. As for the Tigers, they haven't been in a close contest in a long while and still hold the nation's longest winning streak at 23 games. One wonders how they will perform in a tight game. Nevada's star big man, Nick Fazekas, will have his hands full against the Tigers' front line, which is big and physical, but the backcourt matchup between Ramon Sessions and Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts should be interesting as well. Joey Dorsey of Memphis is very physical inside and should prove to be the key for the Tigers, but the Wolf Pack's Marcelus Kemp will be the difference maker in a major upset.
2:30 pm Wisconsin (-5.5) UNLV - Now that Wisconsin has a tournament win under their belts, they'll probably be a little less tentative offensively which spells real trouble for the Runnin' Rebels. Another bonus for the Badgers is that Brian Butch is available, and his inside presence could provide a real lift. For UNLV, the victory over Georgia Tech in the first round stretched their winning streak to 8 games, but they haven't yet met a team like the Badgers or players with the skills of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. Tucker will surely get his points, but if Taylor gets hot from outside, it will be a long, long day for the kids from Nevada.
2:40 pm Southern Illinois (-1) Virginia Tech - The Hokies were fortunate to squeak past Illinois in their opener, and will face an even better defense in the Salukis, the highest-seeded mid-major in the tournament at #4 in the West. The oddsmakers seem to be taking the position that the Salukis are not quite as good as their seeding, but it would pay to go against them here. A win by Southern Illinois puts them in the Sweet 16, where they belong. Their tight defense and disciplined style should serve them well here. They've lost just once in the last 15 games and actually own a win over Hokies this season, a 69-64 home win back in November. It should be close, but eventually, Southern Illinois advances.
2:50 pm Oregon (-3.5) Winthrop - After Winthrop's victory over Notre Dame, everybody is wondering just how far the Eagles can fly. While the guard play may prove to be fairly even in this game, Oregon doesn't have and answer for Craig Bradshaw, who led the Eagles with 24 points in their opening round win. It will be up to Oregon to use ball movement and three-pointers to overcome a very worthy opponent. The Eagles have won 19 straight, but prior to that run they show losses to North Carolina, Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas A&M, the closest of those being by 6 to the Tar Heels. Oregon shows wins over Georgetown, UCLA, USC, Arizona and Washington State. Edge, and the win, to the Ducks.
4:45 pm Florida (-11.5) Purdue - Purdue finished tied for 4th in the Big 10 with Illinois and Iowa. The Hawkeyes didn't make the tourney and the Illini are already out. The Boilermakers beat a sub-par Arizona team, which also didn't belong. In what looks like the biggest mismatch of the day, Florida should cruise past Purdue by 20.
5:05 pm Kansas (-8) Kentucky - The Wildcats outlasted a somewhat limited Villanova team in the opening round as the Jayhawks had a shoot-around against overmatched Niagara. This one figures to be a little closer for Kansas, but they are of much higher caliber than Kentucky.
5:20 pm Texas (-2.5) USC - The weekend closes out with one of the more promising matchups of the tournament. Texas comes fully loaded with freshmen Kevin Durant, Damian James and D. J. Augustin. Add sophomore A. J. Abrams to the mix and the Longhorns have the youngest squad in the the tourney. USC has played a tough PAC-10 schedule, is one of the best defensive teams in the country and will be put to the test by the exuberant Texans. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have lost a lot of close games, probably because they don't play much defense. Texas is a 4 seed, USC a 5, but this one will go to the Trojans, who have the edge in maturity.
First Round Recaps from Friday, March 16
UNLV 67 Georgia Tech 63 - The Runnin' Rebels hit 21 of 27 free throws, played solid defense down the stretch and outlasted the Yellow Jackets. Michael Umeh and Wendell White each scored 19 for the victors.
Memphis 73 North Texas 58 - North Texas kept the game close for most of the first half, but Memphis pulled away in the 2nd half and didn't allow the Mean Green any closer than 10, rolling to their 23rd straight win. The Tigers weren't especially sharp, shooting only 41% and just 4-16 on 3s. Chris Douglas-Roberts led the way with 16 points.
Winthrop 74 Notre Dame 64 - Winthrop grabbed a 4-point lead at halftime and stretched it to 20 in the opening 7 minutes of the second half. Undeterred, the Irish battled back, cutting the lead to 4 at 56-52. The Irish three times cut the lead to one point only to see the Eagles return the score. Luke Harangody hit a bank shot to give the Irish a brief one-point lead with under 3 minutes to play, but Winthrop responded with key shots and free throws down the stretch. Seniors Craig Bradshaw scored 24 and Torrell Martin added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Eagles.
Tennessee 121 Long Beach St. 86 - Chris Lofton scored 25 points and 10 different Volunteer players scored as Tennessee tied a first round scoring record. JaJuan Smith added 24 points; Ramar Smith had 22. The Vols clicked on 14 of 27 3-pointers.
Wisconsin 76 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 63 - The Badgers couldn't hit a shot as the underdog Islanders sprinted to a 10-0 lead, expanding it to 25-7 with less than four minutes left in the half. But the Badgers went on a 12-2 run to close out the half at 27-19. In the second half and Wisconsin continued to close the gap. When Kammron Taylor hit a pair of 3s near the midway point of the half, the game was tied at 47. From there, Wisconsin slowly inched clear for the decisive win. The Badgers, who were 0-8 in the first half from beyond the arc, hit 7 of 12 in the 2nd. Taylor scored all of his game high 24 points in the 2nd half as he and Alando Tucker combined for 38 second-half points. Tucker finished with 23.
Nevada 77 Creighton 71 - As expected these two played toe-to-toe for the entire 40 minutes and went into overtime. Nevada's star, Nick Fazekas, fouled out with 3:03 left in overtime, but his teammates came through with key baskets, outscoring the Bluejays 18-12 in the extra session. Marcellus Kemp was sensational for the Wolf Pack, scoring 27 points with 12 rebounds. Fazekas also registered a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Oregon 58 Miami (OH) 56 - It wasn't supposed to be this close, but Miami's Michael Bramos hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final margin. Oregon started slowly, down 9-0 in the early going, but built an 11-point bulge on the strength of Aaron Brooks' 18 points. The RedHawks of Miami slowed the pace and worked out good shots, but could not overwhelm the plucky Ducks.
Virginia Tech 54 Illinois 52 - Illinois led most of the game, but the Hokies pressured the ball, got turnovers and baskets late and stole one from the Illini. The 19 Illinois turnovers were key, as the Illini outshot and outrebounded Virginia Tech.
Kansas 107 Niagara 67 - Mario Chalmers led 13 different Kansas scorers with 19 points as the Jayhawks made quick work of the Purple Eagles. Kansas shot 54%, including 13-22 from beyond the arc.
Purdue 72 Arizona 63 - Purdue's defense forced 17 Arizona turnovers, Carl Landry scored a game-high 21 points and the Boilermakers sent Lute Olson and the Wildcats home early.
Texas 79 New Mexico St. 67 - The Longhorns pulled away late in the game to advance to a second round matchup with USC. Kevin Durant had 27 points and 8 rebounds, hitting 15 of 16 from the free throw line.
Southern Illinois 61 Holy Cross 51 - The Crusaders of Holy Cross slowed the game down but hit only 1 of 11 3-point attempts in a game which produced 38 turnovers. Led by Randal Falker's 12 points, and Tony Boyle's career-high 14, the Salukis edged clear late in the first half and never relinquished their lead.
Kentucky 67 Villanova 58 - Randolph Morris' inside presence was a huge factor in Kentucky's win. Morris registered 19 points and 11 rebounds as Kentucky held Villanova at bay.
Florida 112 Jackson State 69 - This just looked like fun for the defending national champs. Led by Corey Brewer's 21 points, Florida put 6 different players into double figures and both Joakim Noah and Al Horford had double-doubles. Noah scored 17 with 12 rebounds while Horford had 15 points and 16 boards. The Gators shot 59% overall.
USC 77 Arkansas 60 - The Razorbacks were a questionable addition to the NCAA field and the Trojans showed that the selection committee could have done better. USC was never tested as Nick Young scored 20 points to lead the first round win. Arkansas shot only 37% and were outrebounded, 39-26.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Picks for 2nd round games of Saturday, March 17
1:10 pm Ohio State (-7) Xavier - Ohio State romped in the first round, while Xavier barely got past stubborn BYU. If Greg Oden isn't enough to get Ohio State into the next round, his often overlooked supporting cast will be. Xavier has no good answer for Oden, but their emotion could make this closer than it should be. Still, the Buckeyes are looking very solid and should win handily, by 10 to 15.
3:20 pm Maryland (-5.5) Butler - The Terrapins showed some resiliency against Davidson, a team more than willing to go up and down the court in a hurry. Butler, however, will display more defense and could be the best defensive team the Terps have seen this season. Maryland has a size advantage inside which they should use to their advantage, but they'll have to be at the top of their game (and they seem to be) to get by the Bulldogs. The Terrapins should move on.
3:40 pm Texas A&M (-2.5) Louisville - A great 2nd round matchup here with plenty of talent on both sides. The Cardinals and Aggies are two of the better teams in this bracket and either could emerge and go even further. There's little to separate these squads, so taking the points seem to be the only option as the game figures to go down to the wire.
5:40 pm Washington State (-1.5) Vanderbilt - If you're looking for Cinderella, the Vanderbilt Commodores seem to have the right size foot for the slipper. Vandy's won as many big games as have the Cougars and so far, the SEC looks to be pretty solid. Both of these teams have at least three players who could step up and be stars, but keep your eyes on Vandy's Shan Foster and Washington State's Ivory Clark. Vanderbilt's defense may be a little better than anyone cares to admit and that could lead to a big win.
5:50 pm Pittsburgh (-6 1/2) Virginia Commonwealth - VCU proved how dangerous they are by ousting Duke in the first round. Other teams might have folded more easily against the Rams' relentless pressure, but coach K had his troops prepared and they played to the best of their ability. VCU just wanted it more and while point guard Eric Maynor was the star, his backcourt mates, B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, may strut their stuff here. VCU has to put the clamps down on Pitt center Aaron Gray, who looms as the X-factor here. Another thing to watch is the crows reaction in Buffalo, where there is no love for anything from Pittsburgh. That also will work to the Rams' favor, who are the pick to spring another, even more stunning, upset here.
5:50 pm Georgetown (-8) Boston College - Boston College was impressive in their opening round win over Texas Tech. Their interior defense was pretty good, but it's going to be a different story against Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green inside. The Hoyas look like the best team in this bracket right now and though Boston College may keep this close, Georgetown will wear them down and out of the tournament. Georgetown will win and more than likely cover the spread.
8:10 pm UCLA (-7) Indiana - The Hoosiers didn't exactly shoot the lights out in their win over Gonzaga on Thursday, and they'll have to do better than 9-25 from beyond the arc if they plan on advancing past the Bruins. UCLA is, after all, the #2 seed in the West bracket, and they look to be pretty well primed for this game after routing Weber State by 28 points. If the Bruins are on their game, this one could be over by halftime.
8:20 pm North Carolina(-10) Michigan State - Only a fool would not appreciate the coaching matchup between Tom Izzo and Roy Williams here. Izzo will have his guys as ready as a team can be and they aren't going to be the least bit fazed or intimidated by Carolina's high-octane offense. Izzo's plan is for his guys to play the kind of fundamentally sound defense for which his teams are known and work the ball inside. That's a good tactic against anyone, and if they can get inside Tyler Hansbrough's head, they can pull off the upset. The Tar Heels will likely win this game, though taking the generous gift of 10 points from Vegas offers the makings of a profitable wager. The Spartans have only lost by more than 10 points three times this season. Their style of play and Izzo's understanding of momentum and pace usually keeps their games close.
1st Round Recaps from Thursday's games
Boston College 84 Texas Tech 75 - In a game nearly devoid of defense, Boston College outlasted the Red Raiders, holding a narrow advantage through the second half. Tyrese Rice was the game's high scorer with 26 points.
Louisville 78 Stanford 58 - Plenty of people thought Stanford didn't belong in this tourney and Louisville proved them right with a lopsided win. This game, which was never close, should make the case for a lot of smaller conference schools who didn't get a fair shake this year. Freshman Edgar Sosa was a standout performer for Louisville with 16 points and stellar defense.
Washington State 70 Oral Roberts 54 Ivory Clark had 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots as the Cougars raced past undermanned Oral Roberts.
Butler 57 Old Dominion 46 Keyed by Pete Campbell's 3 straight 3-pointers the Butler Bulldogs went on a 15-0 run midway through the 2nd half to take control and cruise to the opening-round win. Butler's defense was spectacular, limiting Old Dominion to 33% shooting. A.J. Graves led the Bulldogs with 18 points.
Georgetown 80 Belmont 55 - The Hoyas dominated from start to finish and got their tournament off to a flying start. Roy Hibbert had 10 points and 13 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Texas A&M 68 Pennsylvania 52 Penn rallied from 15 points down to briefly grab a 2-point 2nd half lead, but the Aggies responded with an 18-6 run and maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Acie Law paced the Aggies with 20 points and 6 boards.
Vanderbilt 77 George Washington 44 - The Commodores held George Washington to 27% shooting and their lowest point total of the season. Shan Foster led the way for Vandy with 16 points. 10 different players scored for Vanderbilt.
Ohio St. 78 Central Connecticut St. 57 - Greg Oden dominated in the paint, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Jamar Butler hit 5-6 3-pointers en route to 17 points and an easy Buckeye win.
Virginia Commonwealth 79 Duke 77 - Duke proved to be vulnerable, as many had expected, and Eric Maynor, who pestered the Blue Devils' Greg Paulus all afternoon, scored the game-winner with 1.8 seconds left. Maynor scored 22 points and dished 8 assists. VCU played with intensity and a full-court press the entire game - forcing 17 Duke turnovers - and eventually wore down the Blue Devils for the biggest upset of the day. The Rams face Pitt on Saturday.
Michigan St. 61 Marquette 49 - The teacher schooled the student as Tom Izzo's Spartans grabbed an early lead and were never challenged by Tom Crean's Golden Eagles. Michigan St. shot 54% while limiting Marquette to just 32%.
UCLA 70 Weber St. 42 - The Bruins shook off two straight losses at the end of their season and romped to a one-sided victory. Arron Afflalo led all scorers with 22 points. Next up for UCLA, Indiana.
Xavier 79 at Brigham Young 77 - Xavier rallied in the second half and held on for the win over BYU to move into the 2nd round against #1 seed Ohio State on Saturday, setting up an all-Ohio matchup.
Pittsburgh 79 Wright St. 58 - All five Pitt starters scored in double figures and the Panthers shot 55% for the game, cruising past upset-minded Wright State easily.
North Carolina 86 Eastern Kentucky 65 - Tyler Hansbrough led the Tar Heels with 21 points and 10 rebounds. North Carolina moves on to face Michigan State on Saturday.
Indiana 70 Gonzaga 57 - The Hoosiers grabbed an early lead and never let Gonzaga closer than 4 points. Indiana's Rod Wilmont hit 6-11 from beyond the arc for a game high 22 points. DJ White registered a double-double for the Hoosiers with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Later today: Saturday's matchups and picks.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
NCAA Opening Round Picks for Friday, March 16
Friday, March 16
12:15 pm Virginia (-13) Albany - Virginia's been an up-and-down team, but ended up tied with North Carolina at 11-5 for 1st place in the ACC. The unbalanced schedule in the conference may have helped the Cavaliers a bit, but they closed out the season only 4-4, losing their last two games to Wake Forest and NC State, two non-tournament teams. Albany won the America East tournament, have won 5 straight and 13 of their last 15, and have tournament experience. Could be a shocker and the points are enticing.
12:25 pm Georgia Tech (-1.5) UNLV - The Runnin' Rebels are a good choice for the upset, especially since they are the lower seed (7 vs. 10). The Yellow Jackets are the weakest team from the ACC, while UNLV won the Mountain West tournament and are on a 7-game roll. Both teams play an aggressive up-tempo style. UNLV should outgun the Georgians.
12:30 pm Memphis (-18) North Texas - The Mean Green of North Texas have an imposing task ahead of them. Memphis has a 22-game win streak on the line - the longest in the nation - and aren't about to stop here. At least a 20-point win for the Tigers is in the cards.
2:35 pm Notre Dame (-4) Winthrop - While there's plenty of buzz about the basketball program at Winthrop, the Fighting Irish (24-7, 11-5) have quietly put together a sensational season, finishing 4th in the expanded Big East. Undefeated at home, the Irish won only four road games, but seemed to find themselves late in the season when they won six straight before losing to Georgetown, 89-83 in the Big East tournament. The Irish average 81 points per outing and should shoot themselves past the Big South champion Eagles.
2:45 pm Tennessee (-7) Long Beach St. - Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism have been the keys for the Volunteers all season. Tennessee may be better than their record indicates, having played a solid non-conference schedule in addition to their SEC slate. Long Beach should not pose a problem.
Wisconsin (-13) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi - Alando Tucker and the Badgers should slice these guys up. The Islanders were clearly the best team in the Southland conference, but that's not saying much. Penetrating the Wisconsin defense should prove to be too much of a challenge to overcome. The Badgers should roll to a big win.
3:00 pm Nevada (-1.5) Creighton - Nevada is the higher seed, at #7, but #10 Creighton will not be impressed. The feisty Bluejays suffered a bunch of close losses through the Missouri Valley conference schedule, but won the tourney, so they can handle big game pressure. Nevada will look primarily to Nick Fazekas inside to control the tempo. Two very talented teams make this a close call. Nevada is likely to survive a possible overtime game.
5:05 pm Oregon (-9) Miami (OH) - The Ducks are on an insane roll and there's no way Miami gets in their way. Oregon could win by as many as 30.
7:10 pm Virginia Tech (-2.5) Illinois - Illinois is probably going to get treated badly by yet another ACC entrant. The Big 10 was not very competitive this season and Illinois squeaked into the tournament only by virtue of the selection committee's questionable judgment.
7:15 pm Kansas (-19) Niagara - Niagara fought their way in, winning the play-in game on Tuesday, but they're one and done against #1 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks will probably have the spread covered by halftime.
7:20 pm Arizona (-2) Purdue - Possibly the worst 8-9 matchup ever. Neither team even belongs in this tournament. Arizona ostensibly has more talent, but the Big 10 has a way of winning games they shouldn't. Arizona turns the ball over with passion and should go home losers.
7:25 pm Texas (-9) New Mexico St. - Kevin Durant may outscore the Aggies all by himself. An opening-round romp for the Longhorns.
9:40 pm Southern Illinois (-7) Holy Cross - The Salukis were one of the nation's hottest teams down the stretch, winning 13 straight before falling in the MVC tourney to Creighton. Holy Cross tied Bucknell for the Patriot League regular season title, and beat them in the tourney for the automatic bid. The Crusaders are a solid team, but losses to Duke, Syracuse, Providence, Niagara and George Mason really tell the story. They are a notch below Southern Illinois in talent and the Salukis will escort them to the tournament exit.
9:40 pm Villanova (-1) at Kentucky - Probably the toughest matchup of the day, pits Wildcats vs. Wildcats, but the ones from Kentucky deserve a slight edge only because of Randolph Morris and their interior defense. As the line suggests, this one could go either way, but Kentucky may be a little better handling the pressure of a close game.
9:50 pm Florida (-28) Jackson State - The Gators won 8 games by 28 or more points this season, plus a bunch more by 20 or more, so they're certainly capable of taking out the #16 seed here. Look for Al Horford to have another double-double and Joakim Noah to spend most of the second half on the bench cheering on Florida's subs. Easy one for the Gators.
9:55 pm USC (-1.5) Arkansas - The Razorbacks get up and down the floor very well, and their experience in the SEC tourney - in which they reached the finals - may have given them enough of a confidence boost to spring the upset. It certainly would not be a surprise. USC needs to play their usually good brand of defense, force a slower, half-court game and be patient. If they do that, they'll win easily and they are the pick.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
NCAA Tournament First Round Picks for Thursday, March 15
Thursday, March 15
12:20 pm Maryland (-7) Davidson - Maryland got a lot of good press as they won 7 straight before losing to Miami in the ACC tourney, but Davidson will give them a game for sure. The 29-4 Wildcats have won 25 of their last 26 and are riding a 13-game win streak. Stephen Curry, son of NBA star Dell Curry, is 2nd in the nation in scoring for freshmen behind Texas' Kevin Durant. An upset looms. Take the points though the Terps should survive.
12:25 pm Boston College (-3) Texas Tech - Tough call between two sub-par units, but Bobby Knight's Red Raiders know how to prepare for an opponent and will handle the tournament pressure better than BC, which has lost 5 of their last 7 and hasn't beaten a ranked team on the road this season. Tech takes it.
12:40 pm Louisville (-5.5) Stanford - Stanford starts a pair of 7-footers, twin brothers Brook and Robin Lopez, but Louisville has handled their share of height in the Big East and should cruise here. This is Cardinal (Stanford) vs. Cardinals (Louisville). Plurality means more, as in points.
2:40 pm Washington State (-6.5) Oral Roberts - The Cougars will need to stop Oral Roberts' Caleb Green, who has been the Mid-Continent player of the year three years running. He's averaging 20.8 points and 9.3 rebounds this season. Washington State would like to keep this game in the 60s, but the Golden Eagles have other ideas, averaging 72 points per game. If they find ways to score, it could lead to a big upset for Sean Sutton's gang. Oral Roberts is the pick.
2:50 pm Butler (-1) Old Dominion - No mid-majors have gotten more mention as bracket busters than these two. Unfortunately, one of them will be gone after just one game. Old D's Drew Williamson may be the key to the game if he can handle pressure at the point guard spot and get his guys good looks. Minor upset here, as Butler hasn't been playing well late (4-4 down the stretch).
2:55 pm Georgetown (-16.5) Belmont - No contest unless the Hoyas come in complacent and that's unlikely. Belmont won't be able to handle Georgetown's overall size advantage. A rout is in store.
3:10 pm Texas A&M (-13.5) Pennsylvania - Penn won't be close after the first 12 minutes, especially if Acie Law gets off early. Mark down a win for the Aggies.
5:10 pm Vanderbilt (-3.5) George Washington - GW finished third in the Atlantic-10 but won the conference tourney, while Vandy was 2nd in the SEC East behind Florida. The Commodores have some big wins on their resume including six wins against Top 25 teams. Derrick Byars, Shan Foster and Dan Cage average a combined 43 points per game. Expect that number to be closer to 60 here as Vandy romps.
7:10 pm Ohio St (-21.5) Central Connecticut St - There may not be a bigger mismatch in this tourney. The Buckeyes could win by as many as 35.
7:10 pm Duke (-6.5) Virginia Commonwealth - Duke should be playing in the NIT. They've lost 3 straight and 7 of their last 11. 27-6 VCU won the Colonial Athletic Assn. conference title and tournament, beat last year's Cinderella, George Mason, three times during the season and have won five straight. An early exit for the Blue Devils is a near certainty.
7:20 pm Michigan St (-1.5) Marquette - Marquette will be missing one of their starters, Jerel McNeal, out with a sprained thumb, but expect subs to fill in, especially David Cubillan, who can bomb from beyond the arc. Michigan State will try to keep the score low, but it may not matter as the Golden Eagles have won their fair share of low-scoring games. Michigan State's only win against a Top 25 opponent was at home win over then-#1 Wisconsin, 64-55. One and done for the Spartans as Marquette wins this handily.
7:25 pm UCLA (-19.5) Weber State - Another 2-15 matchup which may not be much of a game, though the Bruins haven't looked quite themselves the past few weeks. Don't expect an upset, but the surprising Wildcats will score enough to keep it under the line.
9:40 pm Xavier (-1.5) at Brigham Young - While the 8-9 matchups are usually tough to call, this one should go Xavier's way. The Musketeers are 5-1 against tournament teams with wins over VCU, Villanova, Miami (OH), Illinois and George Washington. That experience provides an edge.
9:40 pm Pittsburgh (-10) Wright St. - Look no further for buzzer beaters. Pitt has struggled down the stretch, and against Horizon League regular-season and tournament titlist Wright State, they'll have to be on top of their game. The Panthers went 5-4 down the stretch, ended up 2nd in the Big East standings and lost in the finals of the Big East tourney to Georgetown, 65-42. The Raiders of Wright State chased down Butler - ranked as high as #10 at one point - and then beat them in the tourney championship game. The Raiders are ready for anything and have already shown an ability to rise to the occasion. Even if they don't win here, the game should be much closer than the line suggests.
9:50 pm North Carolina (-26) Eastern Kentucky - This will be as close to a home game for the Tar Heels as the game will be played in Winston-Salem, just 80 miles from the North Carolina campus. Eastern Kentucky will try to keep the score low, but that's easier said than done against Carolina, which comes at their opponents in waves. Expect coach Williams to use his bench extensively, which could play into the Colonels hands. Take the points and pray for Eastern Kentucky to display some shooting skills late in the game.
Indiana (-1) Gonzaga - How the oddsmakers figure Indiana to be the slight favorite is anybody's guess, but Gonzaga isn't about to depart after just one game. The Bulldogs have played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country and that should help them overcome a stingy Hoosier defense. Gonzaga shows wins over North Carolina, Texas and Stanford, while Indiana's only claim to quality is a home win over Wisconsin and a number of Big 10 conquests. This one goes to the Zags.
This just in: One of our sponsors, Jeff, from Big Daddy Tickets weighs in with his Final Four of Ohio St., Florida. North Carolina and Kansas, with Ohio St. winning the championship game.
Tomorrow: Loads of recaps and picks for Friday's First Round games.
Final Four and Championship Predictions
(#3 South) Texas A&M vs. (#2 East) Georgetown - Nobody should be surprised that the Aggies reach the Final Four. Entering the tournament, their record of 25-6 (13-3, Big 12), was one of the best in the nation. Five of those six losses were on the road or neutral sites, and their last four losses have been by 2, 2, 2 and 1 point. In that span, they lost twice to Texas Tech, but interestingly, they beat conference champion Kansas in their only meeting this season.
Georgetown (26-6, 13-3, Big East), when on their game, can beat anyone, and they proved that in the latter stages of the Big East season, winning 15 of their last 16 and capturing the Big East tourney title in the process. In their run to the title, they hammered highly-touted Pitt twice, 61-53 on Feb. 24, and 65-42 in the tournament finals.
The Hoyas are led by Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green and their imposing center, 7'2" Roy Hibbert. Add to the mix starting forward DaJuan Summers at 6'8" and with the 6'9" Green, the Hoyas are huge up front and that's been the key to most of their wins. They control the paint and the boards and usually find their way to the foul line more often than their opponents. They also bring in 6'8" Patrick Ewing Jr. off the bench for even more muscle and size.
By contrast, the Aggies rely more on their guards and will often put three guards on the court at the same time. Acie Law is the team leader and top scorer at 17.9 points per game. Law and backcourt mate Josh Carter need to hit their threes to keep A&M close.
The Aggies will struggle to keep Hibbert and Green from dominating and eventually, the size advantage will work to Georgetown's favor as they advance to the finals. The score will likely be somewhere in the 60s as the Hoyas have continued to improve defensively all season.
(#1 West) Kansas vs. (#3 Midwest) Oregon - The Jayhawks are supposed to reach the Final Four; Oregon will be somewhat of a surprise to many as the Ducks are an undersized, but overachieving, bunch.
Kansas (30-4, 14-2 Big 12) has been one of the most consistent teams throughout the course of the 2006-07 season. They captured the Big 12 regular season and tournament title and may have the easiest path to the Final Four of any team. The next best team in their bracket is probably UCLA, Gonzaga or Pitt, and they wouldn't have to play any of them until the regional final as they are in the bottom half of the bracket. There is simply a shortage of quality in the West region. Last season, the Jayhawks were ousted in the opening round by Bradley. Don't expect any slippage this time around.
Kansas may have the best backcourt in the country. Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers can each light it up from 3-point range or slashes into the lane. They also distribute the ball very well and Rush is an adept rebounder (2nd on the team at 5.7 per game). What makes the Jayhawks tough is their balance. In addition to Rush and Chalmers, forwards Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur also average double figures in scoring.
Kansas does have two weaknesses which will show themselves in this semi-final game: turnovers and free throws. Rush's assist/turnover ratio is slightly under 1-1, Chalmers' is only 3-2. Against the lightning quick Oregon guards, that's going to be a problem. They are also not proficient from the foul line. Only Chalmers and sub Sherrod Collins shoot over 70% from the charity stripe. Missing key free throws in close games has doomed many a potential national champion and Kansas is certainly not immune.
Oregon (26-7, 11-7 PAC-10) is one team in the field that is downright scary. Following a stretch in which they were 2-6 (including 6 road games), the Ducks finished strong, winning their final six games and the PAC-10 tournament in the process. Their average margin of victory in their three PAC-10 tourney games was an impressive 20.3 per game, including an 81-57 win in the final against USC.
Oregon lives and dies with the outside shooting of Aaron Brooks, Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor. They'll put up as many as 30 3-pointers in a game, something they do with regularity. When they're on they win. If they shoot less than 40% from beyond the arc, they are suspect. But their five top scorers, the three aforementioned guards plus Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen, all average above 40% on threes.
Oregon is also one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the tournament. Porter hits at 92%, Brooks and Taylor at 83%. The only soft spot is Hairston, a 55% shooter. They are small, however. Leunen is the tallest starter at 6'9", Hairston and Taylor check in at 6'5", but Brooks is just 6' and Porter is a diminutive 5'6". The Ducks routinely are outrebounded, but what they lack in size, they more than make up with quickness and accomplished ball-handling. If allowed to run, they'll turn any game into a track-meet runaway.
Oregon's quickness, 3-point shooting and Kansas' inability to score consistently from the line will key a big upset in this semi-final as the Ducks race into the finals.
The finals matchup of Georgetown vs. Oregon is a replay of a November 29 meeting at Georgetown, won by Oregon, 57-50, despite shooting only 39%, including just 5-22 from 3-point range. Georgetown's big men were noticeably absent, though. Hibbert was 2-7 for 4 points, Green 2-4 for 5 points. Hibbert also had only 3 rebounds. That's unlikely to happen again.
Both teams have improved since that game of 4 months ago, but the Hoyas have probably improved more than any team in the country. Both the Ducks and Hoyas are peaking at just the right time and a game like the Nov. 29 meeting is unlikely. The Ducks will shoot better than 28% behind the line, and Hibbert and Green will certainly score more than 9 points between them.
The game is really one of contrast, pitting probably the tallest team in the tourney against the smallest. Georgetown wants to work the ball inside, while Oregon hopes to let fly from 3-point land. If these two do indeed reach the finals, expect a close game with plenty of lead changes. This one could go either way, but look for Hibbert, Green and Jonathan Wallace to make key plays down the stretch and bring another national championship back to Georgetown, 71-68.
Well, that's my best scenario and I'll be filling out my brackets in various pools along those general lines. Good luck to you in your bracket challenges and LET THE MADNESS BEGIN !!!
Niagara 77 Florida A&M 69 - On Tuesday, the Purple Eagles earned the right to play Kansas in the opening round on Thursday.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Bracket Breakdown: East and South
1 North Carolina
16 Eastern Kentucky
9 Michigan State
13 New Mexico St.
3 Washington St.
14 Oral Roberts
11 George Washington
7 Boston College
10 Texas Tech
North Carolina will be under pressure from the opening tip. Eastern Kentucky, out of the overlooked Ohio Valley conference, offers a nice blend of size and speed, and they'll give the Tar Heels fits. If North Carolina comes into the game overconfident or doesn't take good care of the ball, the Colonels will make them pay. The Tar Heels will almost surely win their opener, but it could be a nail biter. After that, they'll face a dangerous Marquette team, which should dispose of Michigan State with ease in the first round.
Marquette (24-9,10-6) is a giant killer. During the course of their up-and-down season, the Golden Eagles won road games at Duke, Louisville and Pitt, whom they also beat at home. And the Tar Heels look a lot like Pitt, with solid wingmen and a big guy in the middle. Marquette can pull off the early upset and send Carolina packing.
After that, the Golden Eagles will have to handle Kevin Durant and the Texas Longhorns, as good a team as there is in this tournament. The Longhorns will knock off undermanned New Mexico St. in the opener and then face the winner of the USC-Arkansas game, more than likely USC.
The Longhorns will put on a show whenever they take the floor, but expect a close one against USC and another nail-biter as they slip by Marquette.
The bottom half of the East bracket is all about Georgetown. There's nobody in their section that can stay close. They'll crush Belmont, then Texas Tech, and probably end up with Vanderbilt in the regional semi-final. Vandy should handle George Washington and then take out Oral Roberts, upset winners over Washington State.
The Texas-Georgetown regional final will be a dream matchup. The thought of having Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green and Durant on the floor at the same time will have NBA scouts scurrying for tickets. Texas has played a load of close games this season, yet they always seem to come up just short. This will be another one of those games. The Longhorns will provide more than enough entertainment, but the Hoyas will move on to the Final Four.
South: Buckeye Trouble
1 Ohio State
16 Central Conn. St.
12 Long Beach State
3 Texas A&M
15 North Texas
The South is loaded with great matchups, making it the most unpredictable of all the regions. Ohio State is the powerhouse, but there are three teams in their sub-bracket, #5 Tennessee, #8 BYU and #9 Xavier, which have legitimate shots at upsetting the Buckeyes. Fortunately for Ohio State, they'll only have to face two of those three as BYU and Xavier face off in the opening round.
Xavier, which tied UMass at 13-3 for 1st place in the heady Atlantic 10, lost to Rhode Island in the conference semi-finals. The A-10 tourney was won by George Washington, but the Musketeers crushed GW on Feb 10, an 87-58 road win. They are extremely dangerous and talented and had won 8 straight before their loss to Rhode Island. BYU lost to UNLV in the Mountain West tourney final but won the conference at 13-3. The Cougars could win, but look for Xavier to advance out of that game.
The Buckeyes will have their hands full with the Musketeers and a loss to them is not out of the equation. If you've got Ohio State going far in the tourney, you'd better get a few more sheets to fill out because they probably aren't going to get out of their region. Just for purposes of argument, I'll say they'll beat Xavier and advance to play Tennessee.
The Vols should cruise over Long Beach St. and play surprise winner Albany in the 2nd round. Though the Great Danes finished 2nd in the America East conference to Vermont, they topped the Catamounts, 60-59, in their tournament. Albany has won 13 of their last 15 and will stun #4 seed Virginia in the opening round. Tennessee will end the Great Danes run at one.
The Tennessee-Ohio St. game will be a rematch of their January 13 meeting at Ohio State which the Buckeyes won, 68-66. Give the Vols a neutral court, a team they understand and it's bye-bye Buckeyes. Tennessee is no slouch. They boast non-conference wins over Memphis, Texas and Oklahoma St., in addition to SEC wins over Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Alabama. At 22-10, they played one of the toughest schedules in the country and their inside-outside game of Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism can match up with the top teams in the nation.
The lower half of this bracket is equally intriguing. #2 seed Memphis is somewhat of an unknown quantity, having cruised through their Conference-USA schedule unscathed, they made a mockery of the teams in the conference tourney, winning by an average margin of 18 points. The Tigers (30-3), haven't lost since December and are riding a 22-game win streak, the nation's longest. They'll make that 23 straight with a romp over the North Texas Mean Green in the opening round and then play the winner of the Nevada-Creighton game, most likely Nevada.
This will be a tough matchup for both Nevada and Memphis and it will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond to being in a close, competitive game, which this will be. The only big name teams Memphis played this season were Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Arizona, all in November and December, and they lost two of those, to Arizona and Tech. Nevada isn't about to lose a 2nd round game. Cross the Tigers off the list. The #2 seed goes early.
That sets up a Nevada-Texas A&M regional semi-final. The Aggies have Penn in their opener, and should breeze. Louisville, winners over Stanford, will provide more competition, but the Aggies are just a more disciplined, talented team than Pitino's Cardinals.
The Aggies and Wolf Pack will engage in a real barn burner, maybe one of the best games of the tournament. Look for the Aggies to prevail and take the region with a win over Tennessee.
That sets up a Final Four of #3 Texas A&M vs. #2 Georgetown and #1 Kansas vs. #3 Oregon. I'll break that down tomorrow. For Tuesday's play-in game (Florida A&M vs. Niagara) take the Purple Eagles of Niagara to win the right to play Kansas.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Bracket Breakdown: Midwest and West
16 Jackson State
12 Old Dominion
14 Miami (OH)
6 Notre Dame
10 Georgia Tech
15 Texas A&M Corpus Christie
Florida will easily advance to the regionals. After beating Jackson St. in their opener, whichever team comes out of the Arizona-Purdue game will be chewy meat for the Gators to chomp. After that it gets a little more interesting, but not much. Maryland is likely to emerge from the lower tier of that sub-bracket and they could pull off the upset, though most doubt that will happen.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Wisconsin is extremely vulnerable and will probably get punched out by UNLV (28-6, 12-4), a team which has been surging and won the Mountain West tourney over a solid BYU squad. The Runnin' Rebels are riding a 7-game win streak and have a nice resume, including wins at Texas Tech and at Nevada. Georgia Tech, their 1st round opponent, should not have been invited to the Big Dance. They finished 8-8 in the ACC (20-11 overall) and were knocked out of the conference tourney by Wake Forest. A 92-85 win over Memphis on November 21 is their only quality road win. Their longest win streak was 5 games. Note that the Yellow Jackets are the #10 seed, UNLV the #7.
The other side of that sub-bracket should see Oregon and Notre Dame match up. Forget Winthrop beating the Irish. They'll give them a good game, but Notre Dame has superior outside shooting and a solid inside game. Both the Ducks and Irish are dangerous and their game could be one of the higher scoring contests of the tourney. Take Oregon to beat Notre Dame and then blast UNLV in the regional semis.
That sets up an Oregon-Florida showdown for the right to advance to the Final Four. Oregon will shock the overconfident Gators with superior quickness. While the Ducks have a negligible inside game, their guards will not allow the Gators anything easy on the outside, and if they hit their 3s, Oregon will pull off one of the larger upsets of the tourney.
West: Wide open and wild
16 Play-in winner
5 Virginia Tech
4 Southern Illinois
13 Holy Cross
14 Wright State
15 Weber State
Nobody is safe in this region, though Kansas is clearly the best team on paper. The games are played on hardwood, however, so don't expect the Jayhawks to just waltz into the Final Four. In fact, they'll have their hands full with Kentucky after the Wildcats oust Villanova in the first round. In a game that will be much closer than many expect, Kansas will advance to the Regional, but not without a scare.
The Southern Illinois Salukis - the #4 seed - will get past Holy Cross in the opening round, but the darlings of the selection committee will be forced out by Virginia Tech, who will overwhelm Illinois in the opening round, sail past the Salukis, but be hammered mercilessly by Kansas.
The bottom half of the region is even more entertaining. Could anyone envision a Wright State-VCU matchup in the second round? At least one of those two will get there.
Pitt and Duke, the higher-seeded opponents, are vulnerable. Wright State won the Horizon League tourney while VCU is the automatic entry from the Colonial. Remember last year when George Mason made the final four? Well, the VCU Rams beat them three times this season and will be this year's Cinderella.
The bottom part of this sub-bracket has Gonzaga over Indiana, UCLA over Weber State, and Gonzaga besting the Bruins in another West coast showdown. The Gonzaga-VCU game could become an instant classic, with the Rams prevailing. Can VCU beat Kansas? No. The Jayhawks will hold their #1 seeding into the Final Four.
Tomorrow: Breaking down the East and South Brackets.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Selection Sunday Early Returns
I don't know if anyone is more shocked that Arizona, Stanford, Arkansas, Purdue, Illinois, Villanova and Texas Tech got in while teams such as Syracuse, Mississippi State and Akron did not.
The Big Ten is definitely over-represented, as is the PAC-10. It should be pointed out to the committee that there are 10 teams in the PAC-10, 11 in the Big 10, but 16 in the Big East. Just by virtue of sheer size, the Big East should have more than any other major conference.
On what criteria were Arizona and Stanford chosen? The conference didn't even merit a #1 seed, and Stanford finished 6th overall, with home losses to Air Force, Cal, Santa Clara, Gonzaga and Arizona. Their road losses included USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Washington St. and Arizona. Basically, they lost every road game against better teams in the conference. And while they did beat both USC and UCLA at home, their 18-12 overall record is not impressive.
Arizona was 8-9 over their last 17 games and lost by 19 points to Oregon in the opening round of the PAC-10 tournament. An early exit by both Stanford and the Wildcats wouldn't surprise anyone.
Illinois and Michigan State are two of the worst at-large seeds I've ever seen. The Illini beat exactly one ranked team all season, Indiana, then #23, and they did it at home. Not very impressive. Their losses to Maryland, Arizona, Ohio State and Wisconsin (twice) were by a combined 65 points. Michigan was 5-7 over their last 12. Not exactly a contender for a championship.
That's all I'm going to say about it, except that one game I surely won't want to watch is the sensational Arizona-Purdue 8 vs. 9 game on Thursday.
Four conferences did wrap up tournaments on Sunday. Quick recap:
North Carolina 89 NC State 80 - The Tar Heels captured the ACC title by wearing down the valiant Wolfpack, who feel just short of a remarkable tourney run. North Carolina had five players in double figures.
Florida 77 Arkansas 56 - The Gators pulled away in the 2nd half as their superior size inside took control for their 3rd straight SEC championship. Al Horford scored 18 points and 12 boards. Joakim Noah had 17.
Kansas 88 Texas 84 - Kansas wins its second consecutive Big 12 title. The Longhorns' Kevin Durant had 37 points and 10 rebounds. Texas may be the best #4 seed ever.
Ohio St. 66 Wisconsin 49 - Greg Oden got his double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) in just 20 minutes of playing time and the Buckeyes' 2-3 zone was impenetrable. Wisconsin hit only 37% from the field including a dismal 4-23 from beyond the arc.
Monday: Bracket breakdowns, West and Midwest
Tuesday: Bracket breakdowns, South and East
Wednesday: Final Four and championship predictions
Thursday and Friday: Game picks, recaps, more.
Georgetown, USC Roll; ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big 10 on Selection Sunday
Today being Selection Sunday, I'll be back blogging later tonight with initial bracket impressions. On Monday and Tuesday, I'll break down the brackets and provide picks the rest of the way. Have a fun day!
Georgetown 65 Pittsburgh 42 - Georgetown romped over the Panthers, holding Pitt to just 26% shooting and limiting them to their lowest point total of the season. Fatigue may have been a factor for Pitt, as their semi-final game against Louisville ended just after 11:00 on Friday night.
Excuses aside, Georgetown absolutely dominated in the paint where Roy Hibbert scored 18 points on 8-10 shooting and hauled down 11 rebounds. By contrast, Pitt center Aaron Gray was just 1-13 for 3 points. He had just 5 rebounds.
Jeff Green, hero of the Hoyas' semi-final win over Notre Dame, was the game's leading scorer with 21 points. The win should boost Georgetown to at least a #2 seed and possibly push Pitt to a #3 or 4.
Oregon 81 USC 57 - Oregon's Bryce Taylor was simply perfect. The 6'5" junior was 11-11 from the field, including 7-7 3-pointers, and 3-3 from the foul line for a game-high 32 points. Led by his scoring barrage the Ducks turned a 13-point halftime lead into a runaway. Aaron Brooks and Tajuan Porter had 15 and 16, respectively, and the Ducks clicked at 54% from the field.
Most of the damage was done from the perimeter as Brooks, Porter and Taylor were a combined 12-18 from beyond the arc. USC shot only 38%, and though they hit a respectable 7-18 of their 3-pointers, they were no match for the quicker Ducks who streaked to the PAC-10 tourney title.
In other tournament action:
Florida 80 Mississippi 59 - The Gators advanced to the SEC finals, seeking their 3nd straight SEC tournament championship.
Arkansas 81 Mississippi St. 72 - Charles Thomas and Sonny Weems each scored 18 to lead Arkansas past the Bulldogs and into the SEC finals against Florida. At 21-12 (7-9, SEC), the Razorbacks may have to beat Florida to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Big 10 Tourney
Ohio State 63 Purdue 52 - Greg Oden scored 17 points and grabbed a tournament record 19 rebounds, sending Ohio State to the finals.
Wisconsin 53 Illinois 41 - Alando Tucker scored 21 points and Kammron Taylor had 16 to send the Badgers to a rubber game rematch with Ohio State.
Big 12 Tourney
Texas 69 Oklahoma State 64 - Kevin Durant scored 26 points and teammate AJ Abrams had 20 as the Longhorns outlasted the Cowboys.
Kansas 67 Kansas St. 61 - Mario Chalmers had 16 points to lead the Jayhawks over a determined K-State to the Big 12 finals.
NC State 72 Virginia Tech 64 - The Wolfpack continued their unlikely march through the ACC to the finals today against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina 71 Boston College 57 - The Tar Heels got off early against the Eagles and coasted to a big win. Brandon Wright led the way with 20 points. Tyler Hansbrough added just 9 points, but cleared the glass with 13 rebounds.
1:00 pm Florida (-9) Arkansas - In their only meeting this season, the Razorbacks fell, 79-72, at Florida. The Gators are imposing, but the Hogs have an NCAA bid staring them in the face and will be sky high. Despite their pedestrian 21-12 record, the Razorbacks have proven capable of playing with anyone. A 4-point loss at Texas, a pair of wins over Alabama and their SEC tourney run are proof of that. Take the points and yell, Suuuuu-eeee!
1:00 pm North Carolina (-15) NC State - The two split their games this season, both winning at home. The Wolfpack needs to win to get an NCAA tournament bid, so on a neutral court, with everything on the line, take the points.
3:00 pm Kansas (-7) Texas - Anyone in their right mind would not give the Longhorns points on a neutral court as they are as good as any team in the nation right now. If Kevin Durant gets hot, it's lights out. These two met on March 3rd in Kansas, and the Jayhawks squeaked by, 90-86. Once again, the point-spread is generous and a must take.
3:30 pm Ohio State (-1) Wisconsin - The Buckeyes have Greg Oden, but the rest of the team is high quality. These teams split their two regular season games, each winning at home. Wisconsin has potential player of the year Alando Tucker and a super half court offense. A close call but I'm going to take the Badgers in a classic.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
PAC-10, Big East Will Crown Champions Today
Results below, followed by picks.
Boston College 74 Miami 71 - Miami's dreams are over as BC's Tyrese Rice scored a season-high 32 points, including 6-10 3-pointers.
North Carolina 73 Florida St. 58 - 11 different players scored for the Tar Heels as Roy Williams continues to use his bench extensively, a strategy that could pay huge dividends during the tournament run. The Seminoles are firmly on the bubble.
Virginia Tech 71 Wake Forest 52
N.C. State 79 Virginia 71 - The surprising Wolfpack upended another ACC foe by scoring 53 points in the second half to rally past the Cavaliers.
Florida 74 Georgia 57 - A 14 point 1st half for the Bulldogs sealed their fate as Florida cruised to an easy win. Taurean Green scored 19 points to lead all scorers. Cory Brewer and Al Horford added 15 apiece.
Mississippi 80 LSU 60
Mississippi St. 84 Kentucky 82 (OT) - Sophomore Jamont Gordon scored scored 26 points as the Bulldogs continued to make their case by advancing past Kentucky.
Arkansas 72 Vanderbilt 71 - Arkansas continues to play on. Another win in the SEC Tourney should assure them an NCAA bid. Vandy likely has already done enough to impress the selection committee.
Big East Tourney
Georgetown 84 Notre Dame 82 - Jeff Green had a career-high 30 points, including the game-winner. The Hoyas will face Pitt in the Big East Tourney finals.
Pittsburgh 65 Louisville 59 - The Pitt Panthers surged in the second half as the Cardinals misfired from outside. Louisville hit only 8-28 3-pointers, but Pitt's Antonio Graves connected on 4 of 6, scored 23 points and helped Pitt reach the Big East finals for the 6th time in 7 years. The Panthers, down 37-26 at the half, went on a 20-2 run to start the 2nd half, establish a lead and never look back.
Big 10 Tourney
Illinois 58 Indiana 54 (OT) - Illinois continues to do a pretty good impersonation of Cinderella.
Purdue 74 Iowa 55 - Iowa is out of the NCAA Tourney.
Ohio St. 72 Michigan 62 - Greg Oden stayed out of foul trouble, hit 8-12 shots and led all scorers with 22 points as the Buckeyes advanced. Michigan and Michigan State are both on the NCAA bubble.
Wisconsin 70 Michigan St. 57 - Alando Tucker scored 21 points as the Badgers built an early lead and held off the Spartans.
Big 12 Tourney
Kansas St. 66 Texas Tech 45 - We may not see Bobby Knight and the Red Raiders in the NCAA Tourney after all. K-State looks like a solid 4th choice from the Big 12.
Kansas 64 Oklahoma 57 - Brandon Rush scored 16 to lead the Jayhawks over an inept Oklahoma squad which shot only 31% from the field including only 2-11 threes.
Oklahoma St. 57 Texas A&M 56 - In the shocker of the day, the Cowboys got balanced scoring and held the Aggies' Acie Law to just 10 points, keeping their slim NCAA hopes alive.
Texas 74 Baylor 69 - The Longhorns rallied past upset-minded Baylor, scoring 49 2nd half points after trailing by as many as 20. Kevin Durant heated up in the 2nd half and led all scorers with 29 points.
Oregon 81 California 63 - The Ducks are playing their best basketball at the right time. For the second straight game, they outshot and outhustled their opponent early on and built a huge lead. Up 44-23 at the half, the Ducks cruised to the PAC-10 finals. Tajuan Porter had another big game, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers en route to his game high 24 points.
USC 70 Washington St. 61 - The Trojans used defense and hot outside shooting to advance to the finals of the PAC-10 tourney. Holding the Cougars to just 36% shooting while hitting 10 of 16 from beyond the arc keyed the victory. Junior guard Gabe Pruitt was blistering, hitting 6 of 7 treys and leading the scoring with 26 points. The win assured USC of an NCAA bid.
1:05 pm Mississippi St. (-1.5, 142) Arkansas - A good old-fashioned SEC barn burner. Take the over and enjoy.
1:35 pm North Carolina (-11) Boston College - BC simply can't hang with the Tar Heels for 40 minutes.
1:45 pm Ohio State (-6.5) Purdue - No sweat for Oden and Co.
2:05 pm Kansas (-10) Kansas St. - Kansas St. has played well enough to get an NCAA bid, but the Jayhawks are eying a #1 seed and should put on a show.
3:20 pm Florida (-10.5) Mississippi - The Rebels are fighting for their NCAA life, but the Gators have that look again. A romp to the SEC finals for Florida.
3:55 pm Virginia Tech (-7) NC State - The Wolfpack actually won both meetings this season, 70-59 and 81-56. The Hokies are up against it here. Those points are just a big bonus.
4:25 pm Texas (-4) Oklahoma St. - These two played a triple-overtime classic back in January. The Cowboys got the 105-103 home win then, but Texas has been in a maturation process since then and should come up with a big win.
6:05 pm USC (-1.5) Oregon - Both teams are red hot, but the Ducks seem to have the edge in quickness and shooting range.
9:05 pm Georgetown (-1.5) Pittsburgh - Georgetown got the better of the Panthers late in the season at home, but this one is huge and will have seeding implications. Expect a close game, but a sub could come up big as both teams played hard games on Friday. That just might be Patrick Ewing Jr. who came through yesterday for the Hoyas and could do so again.
4:10 pm Wisconsin (-6) Illinois - Wisconsin badly wants a rematch with Ohio St. in the conference tourney finals and won't let the Illini stand in their way.
Friday, March 09, 2007
SHOCKING: UCLA, Maryland, Duke Ousted in Opening Rounds
Big East Tourney
#12 Louisville 82 West Virginia 71 (2OT) - The Cardinals may end up winning the Big East tourney. They have a balanced attack and a world class coach in Rick Pitino. West Virginia is bubbleicious at 22-9. Louisville's now won 7 in a row.
#13 Pittsburgh 89 #18 Marquette 79 - After losing to Marquette twice in the regular season, the Panthers got their revenge. The 24-9 Golden Eagles are pretty much assured an at-large bid, so they'll get a week off. Pitt's Aaron Gray had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
#9 Georgetown 62 Villanova 57 - Georgetown led by as many as 23 points in the first half, but sloppy play and some foolish fouls in the 2nd stanza made the game much closer than it should have been. The Hoyas' Roy Hibbert was his usual efficient self, leading the Georgetown scoring with 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting, but running mate Jeff Green was only 5-13 for 12 points while picking up 4 fouls.
For the Wildcats, it may have been do or die, as they now must wait until Sunday afternoon to see whether or not they'll play any more this season. At 22-10 and out of the Big East tourney, they are the bubbliest of bubble teams. Their fate is looking grim as their only wins over ranked teams were mid-January back-to-back home wins over Notre Dame and Texas. The only road win of note was a 56-52 win at Georgetown, though the Hoyas were unranked at the time. They have five losses to ranked opponents and closed out their season a shaky 4-3.
Notre Dame 89 Syracuse 83 - Notre Dame built a 10-point lead at the midway point of the 2nd half and held off the Orange the rest of the way. Syracuse could not buy a 3-pointer after the Irish gained their advantage, finishing a sad afternoon from behind the arc at just 5 of 24 (21%). Notre Dame's Colin Falls hit 7 from deep, however, and finished with 23 points. Russell Carter led all scorers (along with SU's Paul Harris) with 24 and Luke Harangody scored 20.
Despite the loss, the Orange are still likely to get an NCAA bid. They're 22-10 and 10-6 in the Big East, though they only have two quality wins, at Marquette and last week over Georgetown. Losses to Louisville, Pitt, Oklahoma St. and Wichita St. are not going to help their cause.
Arkansas 82 South Carolina 52 - The 8 men in Arkansas' rotation all got at least 15 minutes of playing time and all scored at least 4 points. Gary Ervin and Darian Townes led the way with 16 each. The Razorbacks could use another win or two to impress the committee. They face Vanderbilt today.
Georgia 80 Auburn 65
LSU 76 #22 Tennessee 67 (OT) - LSU's only hope of getting an NCAA berth is to win the SEC tourney, and they took a step in that direction with the OT win. Tennessee shouldn't worry too much, as they finished strong in the regular season. Their 22-10 record includes wins over Florida, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, plus a 2-point loss at Ohio St. "Big Baby" Glen Davis had 25 points for the Tigers. Chris Lofton scored 21 for Tennessee.
Kentucky 79 Alabama 67 - The Kentucky Wildcats extended their season and likely put and end to the long, slow collapse of the Alabama program. Ranked as high as 4th early in the on, the Crimson Tide began the season 13-1, but were only 7-10 the rest of the way. Their 7-9 mark in the SEC is probably not good enough to earn an invitation to the Big Dance.
Randloph Morris and Ramel Bradley each scored 17 points for the Wildcats. Morris also grabbed 11 boards for the double-double. Kentucky got off to a slow start but built an 8-point lead at the half and maintained their advantage to the finish.
Wake Forest 114 Georgia Tech 112 2OT - The Demon Deacons won their opening tourney game and put a real damper on Georgia Tech's NCAA aspirations. At 20-11 and 8-8 in the ACC, an early exit from the tourney was not what they needed. Seven Wake players scored in double figures.
Miami 67 #17 Maryland 62 - One of the hottest teams down the stretch, the Maryland Terrapins found themselves on the wrong side of the score and out of the ACC tournament. The Terps hit only 38% from the field and were 15-26 from the foul line and the missed free throws were more than the difference in the game. Miami only shot 35% but hit 22 of 28 from the charity stripe and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the day.
Maryland is pretty much assured an NCAA bid, though Miami will have to win the ACC tournament to get in. The Hurricanes are 12-19 and finished their ACC campaign 4-12.
Florida St. 67 Clemson 66 - Al Thonton's dunk with 1:31 left to play tied the game at 66 and his free throw at 1.5 seconds sealed the win as the Seminoles knocked Clemson out of the ACC tournament and may have denied them an NCAA bid. Thornton led all scorers with 25 points.
Despite a decent 21-10 record, the Tigers were only 7-9 in the ACC, and won only 4 times in their last 14 games. Odds are good that they will be playing in the NIT tournament. Florida State earned win #20 here, but will likely have to win at least one more game to get the nod from the selection committee. They also went 7-9 in the ACC and lost 5 straight from Feb. 7-21, though now they are on a 3-game win streak.
Big 10 Tourney
Illinois 66 Penn St. 60
Michigan 49 Minnesota 40
Michigan St. 62 Northwestern 57
California 76 #4 UCLA 69 (OT) - The top seed in the PAC-10, UCLA was supposed to cruise past their first round foe, but the Cal Bears had other ideas. The Bruins were only able to muster up 8-25 3-pointers (32%), but their 15-29 free throw shooting doomed them. UCLA will get a bid, but a number 1 slot is now in doubt.
USC 83 Stanford 79
#11 Washington St. 74 Washington 64 - The Cougars were outrebounded 31-24, but their 52% shooting boosted them over the in-state rival Huskies.
#16 Oregon 69 Arizona 50 - Tajuan Porter and Aaron Brooks bombed away from outside while the Wildcats couldn't find the rim and Oregon crushed Arizona in the opening round of the PAC-10 tournament. Porter finished with a game-high 21 points, clicking on 5 of 6 threes. Brooks was 4-8 beyond the arc for 16 points. Arizona's shooting was dismal at 35%, including 19% (3-16) from 3-point range.
Arizona is really going to have to sweat to get in the NCAA. This defeat was the 9th in their last 17 games and the selection committee isn't likely to look too kindly on an 8-9 record down the stretch. Additionally, the 50 points against the Ducks was easily the low point output of the season. Oregon, which tied Arizona and USC in the conference standings at 11-7, likely secured a berth with the win.
Big 12 Tourney
Oklahoma 68 Iowa St. 63
Baylor 97 Missouri 83 - Missouri will not get an NCAA bid. Baylor won't either, unless they win the Big 12 tourney.
Oklahoma St. 54 Nebraska 39
Texas Tech 81 Colorado 71 - Bobby Knight kept his NCAA hopes alive with a first round win. Martin Zeno had 28 points for the Red Raiders. Colorado hit only one of 11 3-point attempts. Tech faces Kansas St. today. The winner of that game should receive an at-large bid.
12:00 pm North Carolina (-11) Florida State - These two met back in January and the Tar Heels won at home, 84-58. This one figures to be a little closer. The Seminoles' Al Thornton is on a mission, but the rest of the squad can't match Carolina's starting five, especially in the middle, where Tyler Hansbrough may prove unstoppable. The Tar Heels won't miss a beat here with a double-digit win.
12:00 pm Ohio State (-8) Michigan - These two met just 6 days ago, with the Buckeyes rallying for a 65-61 road win. Greg Oden spent much of the game on the bench, but the Wolverines proved they could hang in. With an NCAA bid on the line, expect Michigan to leave it all on the court. Upset possible, and a close game for sure.
1:00 pm Kentucky (-2) Mississippi State - At 17-12 and 8-8 in the SEC, the Bulldogs could probably use a win here. Kentucky won their only meeting this season, 64-60, at home. On a neutral court, the edge shifts to the hungry Bulldogs, who may be thinking, "a win and we're in."
2:30 pm Boston College (-6) Miami - After beating Maryland, the Hurricanes must be feeling their oats. BC beat them twice this season, 82-63 in Boston and 75-68 in Miami. The Eagles don't have much depth and didn't finish the season well, losing 4 of their last 5. A loss could send them to the NIT instead of the Big Dance and the pressure may just get to them. Take Miami.
Vanderbilt (-2) Arkansas - Maybe the sleeper in the SEC, the Razorbacks beat Vandy on their own court, 82-67, just 6 days ago. Look for a repeat performance from the Hogs and NCAA bids for both of these teams.
6:40 pm Wisconsin (-3.5) Michigan State - The Spartans lost by just a deuce the past Saturday at Wisconsin, 52-50, and now they're on neutral ground. Should be close, but the Badgers should get a better performance from Kammron Taylor, who was only 2-9 in that game, though he did have the winning basket. Wisconsin should win and cover.
7:05 pm Georgetown (-4) Notre Dame - The Hoyas have obvious advantages, especially in their height advantage. Notre Dame, however, is playing very well. They've won 5 straight and seem to understand how to win on the road, which is of utmost importance at this time of year. Luke Harangody in the middle and Colin Falls and Russell Carter on the perimeter should make things tough for the Hoyas. The Irish could easily win this one.
9:00 pm Oregon (-5.5) California - Sure, the Bears topped UCLA, but the Ducks are loaded with offensive weapons and will waddle away with an easy win.
9:25 pm Pittsburgh (-1.5) Louisville - The Cardinals won their only meeting of the year, 66-53, on Feb. 12 at Pitt. The Panthers will make adjustments to counter the Louisville zone defense, but it may not matter. The Cardinals are on a serious roll and should pull out a close win.
11:20 pm Washington St. (-2) USC - The Cougars handled USC twice this season, but only by 2 and 3 points. In another that could come down to the wire, take Washington St. for the three-peat. USC will probably get an NCAA bid in any case, as will Wash. St.
7:05 pm Texas A&M (no line) Oklahoma St. - If you can get down on this one, back up the truck. The Cowboys have no shot at making the NCAA unless they win the Big 12 tourney, but there are too many good teams in their way, the best of which may be right here. The Aggies thumped Oklahoma St. 66-46 just two weeks ago for the road win, and beat them back in January, 67-49. The Aggies will likely be 15 point favorites, but they may win by 25.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Hot Game Picks for Conference Tourneys
Central Connecticut State 74 Sacred Heart 70 - The Blue Devils of Central Connecticut got big games from their upperclassmen guards, junior Tristan Blackwood and senior Javier Mojica, who combined to hit 9 of 16 3-pointers and tally 46 points overall. Those efforts led to a win over Sacred Heart in the finals of the Northeast Conference tournament and the right to play on in March. Central Connecticut was easily the class of the conference at 16-2, with a 22-11 record overall.
The Blue Devils look very much like a one-and-done kind of team, as their record prior to conference play was an underassuming 3-9, with losses to such stellar powerhouses as St. Bonaventure, Lehigh and Harvard (you really have to work to lose to an Ivy League team). Wherever these guys get seeded, they should at least be able to generate some offense. They scored 70 or more points in 11 of their last 13 games.
Weber St. 88 Northern Arizona 80 - Out in the Big Sky, a trio of scorers -
Dezmon Harris (20 points), Juan Pablo Silviera (21) and David Patten (22) - led the Wildcats to victory in the championship game. Weber St. and No. Arizona had tied for first place in the regular season at 11-5, but the Wildcats shot a blistering 66% (29-44) from the field, opened up a 16-point halftime lead and coasted home.
The Wildcats had already beaten the Lumberjacks twice during conference play, so completing the trifecta was a crowing achievement. They finish up at 20-11 and played just one then-ranked team, losing to Washington in December, 80-51.
Conference Tourney Scores -
Syracuse 78 Connecticut 65
#18 Marquette 76 St. John's 67
Villanova 75 DePaul 67
West Virginia 92 Providence 79
Washington 59 Arizona St. 51
California 70 Oregon St. 51
Today's Tourney Picks
12:00 pm Florida St. vs. Clemson (-1.5) - Take the Seminoles to move on. Al Thornton scored a career high 45 points in the season finale over Miami. The senior forward is a big time scorer and leader. Clemson won their regular season tilts, 68-66, and 71-58 at Clemson, but Florida St. will have home fans on hand in Tampa. Look for Toney Douglas to add some spark for Florida State.
12:00 pm Georgetown (-5) vs. Villanova - End of the line for the Wildcats. If they lose, their 23-10 record could still be good enough to get a bid. The Hoyas are too big up front and should blow 'Nova away.
1:00 pm Kentucky (-4) vs. Alabama - The Wildcats are no great shakes and Alabama's late season woes are also well-documented. Both teams collapsed late in the season, losing 5 of their final 7 games. The only meeting this season was at Alabama, where the Tide prevailed, 72-61. There's a good chance that neither of these teams will make the field of 65. In what should be an ugly (but close) game, you must take the points.
2:00 pm Notre Dame (-1.5) vs. Syracuse - The Orangemen got hot at the right time, winning 5 straight before dropping their season finale at Villanova. Their win yesterday over UConn was a nice start and they're fully loaded for this one. The Irish beat them 103-91 at the Carrier Dome earlier in the season, one of only three Notre Dame Big East road wins. The Irish ride a 5-game win streak and look good off the first round bye. Tough call, as the Irish don't generally play well at the Garden, but they have the firepower to prevail. Syracuse should get a bid even if they lose here.
3:00 pm Arizona (-2) vs. Oregon - Arizona struggled through the PAC-10 schedule, but won 5 of their last 7 to finish 10-8. One of those wins was a 77-74 win on February 10 at Oregon. Following that game, the Wildcats lost at home to USC and UCLA, but finished up with three straight road wins. Oregon also lost their first meeting, 79-77 at Arizona, so they really are up against it. I'm taking the Ducks to pull off the upset. They can't be too happy losing two close games to the Wildcats.
7:00 pm Duke (-9.5) vs. North Carolina State - The Blue Devils have struggled all season mostly because they don't have a third scoring threat after DeMarcus Nelson and Greg Paulus. Duke finished with losses to Maryland and at North Carolina and are really not on the bubble, though they should be. They crushed NC State back in January, 79-56, and the Wolfpack has been a blowout victim to most of the better teams in the ACC. Duke should handle this one with ease.
9:45 pm Tennessee (-2) vs. LSU - LSU has Big Baby Glen Davis in the middle, but the Vols have Chris Lofton on the perimeter and he should prove to be the decisive factor. Tennessee closed out the regular season with four straight wins including triumphs over Alabama and Florida, so they are rarin' to go and should seal a tourney bid with a win here. The last meeting between these two resulted in a 70-67 Volunteer win. At 16-14, LSU must win the tournament to get an NCAA bid, but dreams die hard this time of year.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Mean Green, Golden Eagles, Wright St. Raiders are In
The list of schools with automatic bids has now swelled to 12.
Wright St. 60 #19 Butler 55 - Followers of the Horizon League saw this one coming. The Butler Bulldogs, who had been ranked in the Top 25 most of the season, hit only 7-23 (30%) from beyond the arc and Wright State's Raiders rode senior Dashaun Wood's 29 points to the tournament championship. Wood was 9-15 from the field including 6 threes.
The Raiders and Bulldogs tied for the regular season lead at 13-3, though Wright State won their most recent meeting, 77-65, after being battered by the Bulldogs back in January, 73-42. Since that low point, Wright State has won 12 of 14 and roll into the NCAA Tournament with a full head of steam.
Butler, which finished 27-6, still may be chosen with an at-large bid, though their 4-4 record to close out the season will not likely impress the selection committee.
North Texas 83 Arkansas St. 75 - Led by Calvin Watson's 6 3-pointers and 24 points, the Mean Green held off a rugged Arkansas St. squad to capture the Sun Belt crown. North Texas had five players in double figures as they shot 53% for the game but didn't help themselves from the foul line, converting only 17 of 30 attempts (57%).
The unlikeliest of winners, North Texas (23-10, 10-8) finished 3rd in the Sun Belt West, but by luck of the draw and other upsets, didn't have to face either of the two teams with the best conference records, South Alabama or Western Kentucky. They beat LA-Monroe and Middle Tennessee St. to advance to the final, where they made the most of their opportunity. North Texas will be riding a five-game win streak into the tournament.
Oral Roberts 71 Oakland 67 - Caleb Green scored 28 points on 11-19 shooting to lead the Golden Eagles over the Golden Grizzlies in the Mid-Continent tournament championship. The effort lifted Green to the all time career scoring leader in the conference and got Oral Roberts into the Big Dance with a 23-10 record (12-2, conference). Oral Roberts had trailed by 9 at the half, but a big 2nd half defensive effort - limiting Oakland to just 22 points - proved decisive.
The Golden Eagles have big-time aspirations even though they will be a 14-16 seed. In just their 2nd game of the season, way back on November 15, they strolled into Kansas and won, 78-71, over the mighty Jayhawks, a likely #1 seed. The loss was one of only 4 on the season for Kansas.
On Wednesday, the majors get into the act, with the Big East and PAC-10 tournaments headlining events. The Atlantic 10 conference also gets underway in Atlantic City, along with Conference USA, the Big West and Mid-American also in their opening rounds.
The Mountain West, WAC, Big Sky and Mid-Eastern are already through the opening rounds.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Gonzaga, VCU, Niagara qualify for NCAA Tournament
Gonzaga 77 Santa Clara 68 - Gonzaga, a fixture in the Big Dance for many years, captured their 8th West Coast Conference (WCC) in the last nine years, earing them an automatic bid to March Madness. Derek Raivio scored a season-high 28 points for the Bulldogs, who will likely earn a 6 or 7 seed on Selection Sunday (March 11).
Gonzaga has had great success in the NCAA tournament and is widely recognized as one of the teams that popularized the term "Cinderella" when it comes to tourney jargon. The "Zags" - as they are commonly referred-to - routinely upset higher-ranked teams as the field of 64 is whittled down over the first weekend. They typically get through the first two rounds, but have gone as far as an Elite 8, never reaching the Final Four.
Expect some excitement from the Zags again this year. The 23-10 record is somewhat deceiving because of the tough non-conference schedule. Gonzaga played at North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Butler, Stanford and Washington State and hosted games against Duke, Washington, Memphis and Nevada. Of those, they only beat North Carolina, Texas, Stanford and Washington, which alone is saying something. The 7 non-conference losses are to teams which will likely to be playing next week, and if there's anything such as a quality loss, circle the losing - 78-77 - effort on Feb. 17 against Memphis, which currently has won 19 straight.
If nothing else, Gonzaga is battle-tested.
Niagara 83 Siena 79 - Tyrone Lewis scored a career-high 24 points as Niagara took home the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship, and with it a trip to the field of 65. The 22-11 Purple Eagles won their 11th straight game and will be in the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd time in three years.
Niagara got the automatic bid despite starting out the season 1-6, with losses to teams like Valparaiso, Akron and St. John's. But they went about business in the MAAC with a 13-5 record, and then knocked off Rider, Loyola and Siena on consecutive nights to earn the title.
The Purple Eagles didn't play a ranked team this season, but non-conference wins over Central Michigan and Duquesne offer a glimpse of what they have as a team - not much. They will likely be a 15 or 16 seed and match up against some team like Kansas, Georgetown or UCLA in the opening round.
VCU 65 George Mason 59 - With a name that's not at all common around college basketball circles, Virginia Commonwealth University won the Colonial Atlantic conference tournament, snatching the automatic bid from last season's Cinderella, George Mason.
In 2006, the Patriots ran all the way to the Final Four before losing to Florida, 73-58. This season, George Mason will not go to the Big Dance, having posted a 18-15 record and finishing 8-8 in the conference.
The 27-6 VCU Rams will move on, however. After going through their conference schedule with a 16-2 record, they knocked off Georgia State and Drexel before last night's championship victory. The Rams won 10 straight from Jan. 3-29, and are likely to be a 16 seed.
Along with these three there are now 9 teams that have earned automatic bids, including Penn (Ivy League), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South), Creighton (MVC) and Davidson (Southern).
Monday, March 05, 2007
Madness Underway: Big Conferences Finish Regular Seasons
Recaps from Sunday, March 3:
#5 Florida 85 Kentucky 72 - After a halftime tie at 43, the Gators got their game on in the second half and ripped the Wildcats by 13, to end the regular season on a winning note. Florida's big men got the job done inside, as Joakim Noah and Al Horford scored 17 and 14, both of them grabbed 10 rebounds. Taurean Green also threw in 17 points in the home win.
The rebounding edge for Florida - 35-23 - was enhanced as Kentucky's Randolph Morris was saddled with fouls and saw just 18 minutes of floor time. The Gators finished at 13-3, atop the SEC East and 26-5 overall. Kentucky ended at 9-7, 4th in the SEC East and 20-10 overall. Florida will get a bye in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
#8 North Carolina 86 #14 Duke 72 - The Tar Heels captured a share of the ACC championship with Virginia, finishing the season 11-5 as Virginia Tech lost to Clemson and Boston College was unceremoniously dispatched at Georgia Tech and finished in a tie for 3rd place. Duke finished an uncharacteristic 6th in the ACC at 8-8, ties with Georgia Tech.
Tyler Hansbrough had a monster game for North Carolina, leading all scorers with 26 points while also hauling down 17 rebounds. Hansbrough missed the final seconds of the game as he was hacked on his nose by Duke's Gerald Henderson, and left the floor bleeding profusely. Henderson was called for a flagrant foul, ejected and suspended for Duke's next game. Henderson scored 16 for the Blue Devils, who were swept for the first time in 11 years by North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be the #1 seed in the ACC tournament.
Creighton 67 #11 Southern Illinois 61 - The Creighton Bluejays rose to the occasion and captured the Missouri Valley Conference championship. Ranked as high as 10th in some preseason polls, the Bluejays dropped out of the Top 25 early on, following losses at Nebraska, Dayton, Fresno St. and Hawaii. They finished the regular season in the MVC at 13-5, behind the 15-3 Salukis, but swept their tournament games to grab the NCAA Tournament automatic bid.
Southern Illinois will no doubt get an at-large bid. Yesterday's loss ended a 13-game win streak. The Salukis are 27-6 overall and may be joined from the MVC by Missouri State (12-6, 22-10).
#16 Louisville 86 Seton Hall 71 - Rick Pitino has the Louisville Cardinals ready for the Big Dance. On Sunday, the Cardinals won their 6th straight and grabbed a share of 2nd place in the Big East with Pitt at 12-4. Freshman guard Edgar Sosa led the way with 18 points. David Padgett and Terrence Williams each added 15 points as the Cardinals played their third straight game without starting forward Juan Palacios who has been suffering from back spasms.
Clemson 75 #21 Virginia Tech 74 - Despite playing at home and Zabian Dowdell's 25 points, the Virginia Tech Hokies were denied by Clemson and win and a share of first place in the ACC. The Hokies will have to settle for a 3rd place tie with Boston College, who also lost on Sunday.
Mississippi St. 91 Alabama 67 - The Bulldogs won at home, putting 6 players in double figures as they dismantled the Crimson Tide and earned a share of the SEC West title with Mississippi. Both teams finished conference play at 8-8. Alabama ended their regular season at 7-9 and will likely not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Tech 74 Boston College 60 - Boston College turned the ball over 20 times and the Georgia Tech took advantage at home to finish up ACC play at 8-8 and deny the Eagles a share of first place. The Yellow Jackets got points from 9 different players as they improved to 20-10 overall and kept hopes alive for a ticket to the Big Dance. Should the Yellow Jackets win two games in the conference tourney, they should receive an at-large bid. They open with Wake Forest on Thursday night.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Life is Tough on the Road
But, with conference regular seasons ending today, the unusually huge demands made on road teams will suddenly fly out the window. As the action shifts to neutral sites for conference tourneys and the Big Dance, that advantage/disadvantage disappears. The real quality will finally begin to step forward.
Villanova 78 Syracuse 75 - With their season on the line, the wildcats scratched out a regular season-ending home win over stubborn Syracuse. The Wildcats led by 10 with 2 minutes left, but turnovers, missed free throws and some big baskets by Demetris Nichols and Eric Devendorf (career high 33 points) made the game a close call to the final buzzer. Syracuse ended their Big East campaign at 10-6, Villanova, 9-7. Both teams have 21-9 records overall and their NCAA Tournament fate will likely be decided in the Big East tourney which starts on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Washington 61 #2 UCLA 51 - The Huskies led the entire game, at one point by 16, and completed their weekend sweep of the PAC-10's Southern California contingent. On Thursday, Washington humbled USC. With an 8-10 mark in the conference, Washington has slim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament field, though they may qualify if they fare well in the PAC-10 tourney next week.
#1 Ohio St. 65 Michigan 61 - Greg Oden played only 23 minutes due to foul trouble, but the Buckeyes surged late, scoring the last 10 points of the game to overcome a tough home team at Michigan. Oden finished with 16 points, as did senior guard Ron Lewis. Ohio State had already secured the Big Ten regular season title.
#20 Marquette 75 #12 Pittsburgh 71 - Pittsburgh had their chance, but host Marquette denied them a share of the Big East championship, as Georgetown won their final game to finish conference play at 13-3. Freshman David Cubillan and sophomore Wesley Matthews scored 20 points apiece as the Golden Eagles - who led by as many as 17 - held off a late rally by the Panthers. The loss was the 2nd straight on the road for Pitt, which seems to have lost some of its spark.
#10 Nevada 69 New Mexico St. 65 - The Nevada Wolf Pack scored 41 2nd half points and rallied past the determined Aggies for their final regular season home win. Marcelus Kemp had 32 for the victors to go with Nick Fazekas' 22. Nevada had already clinched the WAC title.
#17 Oregon 70 Oregon St. 49 - Overcoming mid-season struggles, the Oregon Ducks finished their regular season with their 3rd straight win, an 11-7 record in the PAC-10 (tied for 3rd with Arizona and USC) and a 23-7 mark overall.
#13 Washington St. 88 #23 USC 86 2OT - Aron Baynes scored a career-high 25 points as the Washington St. Cougars finished their regular season with a thrilling home win and 2nd place in the PAC-10 standings at 13-5.
#22 Notre Dame 73 Rutgers 66 - The Fighting Irish squeezed by Rutgers for only their 3rd road win in conference play against five losses. Notre Dame's Colin Falls was the game's high scorer with 22 points. The Irish finished their Big East campaign at 11-5, good for 4th place and a first-round bye in the Big East tourney.
#6 Memphis 64 SMU 61 - The Memphis Tigers completed an undefeated season in Conference-USA at 16-0, winning their 9th straight road game and extending the nation's longest winning streak to 19 straight. Only Memphis and Big South champion Winthrop concluded their conference schedules unblemished.
#24 Maryland 79 NC State 59 - The Terps won their 7th straight to close out their ACC campaign at 10-6 and 24-7 overall.
Wake Forest 78, Virginia 72 - The Cavaliers had a shot at winning the ACC title outright, but failed on the road to Wake Forest, which won only its 5th conference game. Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech all have a chance to share the crown with wins today.
Creighton 75 Missouri St. 58 - Nate Funk scored a game high 33 points and Nick Porter added a double-double with 19 points and 13 boards as the Bluejays advanced to the Missouri Valley Conference finals against Southern Illinois today. Funk was 10-15 from the field and a perfect 10-10 from the foul line.
#11 Southern Ill. 53, Bradley 51 - Jamaal Tatum scored 20 points and the game-winner to lead the Salukis to their 13th straight win and a spot in the MVC finals today against Creighton.
Conference Tournament Champions:
Davidson 72 College of Charleston 65 - Davidson finished up a 29-4 regular season with a 17-1 record in the Southern conference by winning three straight tournament games. Stephen Curry, son of former NBA standout Dell Curry, scored 29 points as the Wildcats secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Belmont 94 East Tennessee St.. 67 - Andy Wicke and Andrew Preston each scored 18 points as the Bruins made won their 2nd consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and automatic NCAA bid. Belmont heads to the tourney with a 23-9 record overall and 14-4 in conference.
Winthrop 84 VMI 81 - The Winthrop Eagles (28-4, 14-0) will represent the Big South in the NCAA Tournament for the 7th time in the last 9 years.
Eastern Kentucky 63 Austin Peay 62 - The Colonels upended #1 seed Austin Peay to capture the Ohio Valley championship and NCAA automatic bid.
Sunday's Conference Championships
Big Sky: Montana vs. Portland St.
Missouri Valley: Creighton vs. Southern Illinois
Kentucky at #4 Florida (-10) - The Gators have struggled, dropping 3 of their last 4. Kentucky will be seeking to impress the NCAA selection committee for a higher seeding. The Gators won 64-61 at Kentucky on Feb. 10. Take the Wildcats and the points.
Alabama at Mississippi State (-6) - Who dat? The Miss. St. Bulldogs or Alabama can gain a share of the SEC West title (with Mississippi) with a win. "Bama's struggled all year, but they are still tied with the Bulldogs at 7-8 in the conference and beat the Bulldogs 80-79 at home. This one should go right to the buzzer, so roll with the Crimson Tide.
Boston College at Georgia Tech (-6) - BC can earn a share of the ACC title with a win. Georgia Tech can keep slim tournament hopes alive. BC should win it outright.
#14 Duke at #8 North Carolina (-10) - With all the history - and coach K - associated with this game, I'd be very suspect to not go with the Blue Devils and the points. The Tar Heels aren't as formidable as many think, nor are the Devils as bad. In their first meeting on February 7, North Carolina won at Duke, 79-73. 10 is a good number of points to take in a rivalry game, though NC should win the game.
Clemson at #21 Virginia Tech (-6) - Even though Clemson is 6-9 and Tech 10-5 in the ACC, this is a pretty even matchup. Clemson will probably fail late, but will make Tech earn every point. Clemson may upset.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Early returns: Kansas, Georgetown, Wisconsin close with wins
Durant started off hot, scoring 12 of the Longhorns' first 18 points and finished the first half with 25 points, hitting 5 of 5 3-pointers as Texas raced to a 54-42 lead. Kansas went on a 17-4 run to start the second half, and regained the lead at 59-58. Kansas grabbed a 69-65 lead on Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer, then, Durant, driving the lane, twisted his left ankle and writhed briefly on the floor in pain, but left under his own power, noticeably limping.
Without their star, Texas was not able to stay with the swarming Jayhawks who rolled to an 81-72 lead. Durant returned with just over 7 minutes remaining, but the Longhorns were struggling, hitting only 1 of 10 3-pointers in the 2nd half until Durant hit a long 3 with under 30 seconds remaining, cutting the lead to 5. Following a Kansas turnover, Abrams hit a 3 to cut it to 2 at 88-86 with 23 seconds left. After a Jayhawks free throw, Augustin's attempt for a tying 3-pointer was blocked by Julian Wright. The Jayhawks' Russell Robinson hit another free throw for the winning margin.
A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin scored 18 and 19 respectively for the Longhorns. Mario Chalmers led the Jayhawks with 21.
#9 Georgetown 59 Connecticut 46 - Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green may be the most dangerous frontcourt tandem in college hoops. The dynamic duo scored 18 and 14 respectively, boosting the Hoyas to at least a share of the Big East crown, pending the late-night Pitt-Marquette game result. Hibbert notched his 6th double-double with 12 rebounds. The Hoyas will get a first-round bye in the upcoming Big East tournament.
#4 Wisconsin 52 Michigan St. 50 - Alando Tucker was the only Badger in double figures, but his 26 points led Wisconsin to a tough road win in their final regular season game. The badgers finished up at 27-4 and 13-3 in the conference, good enough only for 2nd place behind Ohio State. The Badgers will be no worse than a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Madness Begins: Conference Tourneys Underway
With a full slate on tap for today, I'll be giving some picks and pointers, plus recaps from Friday night.
Most eyes are focused on the Missouri Valley, where the Salukis of Southern Illinois are expected to get to the title game and win it. But the MVC may be sending 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, so whichever team comes out on top, it will be battle-tested.
Quarterfinal action from the MVC:
Bradley 51 Northern Iowa 48 - Bradley moved on to play Southern Illinois on Saturday in the semifinals.
#11 Southern Illinois 71 Drake 59 - The Salukis won their 12th straight game, propelled by Matt Shaw and Jamaal Tatum. Each scored 19 points to move Southern Ill. into the semis against Bradley.
Creighton 59 Indiana St. 38 - Creighton's defense did the trick, holding the Sycamores to just 23% shooting. The #2 seed in the MVC tourney will play Missouri St. on Saturday in one semifinal.
Missouri St. 67 Wichita St. 64 - Last season, the Shockers made an impressive run in the NCAA tourney. This year, they couldn't even get through their own conference. The Missouri St. Bears pulled out a close win to advance to Saturday's semifinal game against Creighton.
Saturday's Picks (all times Eastern):
12:00 pm - #15 Texas 22-7 at #3 Kansas (-9.5) - Texas can tie the Jayhawks (and possibly Texas A&M if they win at Missouri) for first in the Big 12 and a share of the conference championship with a win, but the linesmakers don't foresee a close game. I beg to differ. KU is riding a 7-game win streak, but the Longhorns have won 6 straight. Kansas plays tough defense and have only lost twice at home. The Longhorns aren't the greatest on the road, but they've developed as the season progressed and are a legitimate threat to win this. Take the points and enjoy what may be a classic.
1:00 pm - Virginia (-4) at Wake Forest - The Cavaliers can wrap up the ACC championship with a win and Wake Forest hasn't put up much resistance this season, winning only 4 times in the ACC and tied for last place with Miami. Though the Demon Deacons have won their last 2 home games, they were against Clemson and Miami. Virginia should roll to an easy win.
2:00 pm - Syracuse at Villanova (-6) - A sucker line if there ever was one. The Orange are seeking higher NCAA seeding and already beat the Wildcats at the Dome earlier this year. Villanova is in a must-win situation, but they haven't been competitive lately against the top teams in the Big East. Syracuse knows what's riding here and should win this one.
2:30 pm - Bradley vs. Southern Illinois (no line) - I'd make Southern Ill. a 3 to 5 point favorite here and take them over Bradley, though it will be a close game. These two met twice already this season. Bradley won at home, 48-46, but the Salukis were on the tail end of a three-game road trip back then in January. Southern Ill. returned the favor, 60-50 on their home hardwood on Feb. 7. The Salukis should handle them.
4:00 pm - #1 Ohio St. (-4.5) at Michigan - Ohio State can wrap up the Big 10 championship with a win here, but the Wolverines are 6-1 at home in the Big 10 this season. The Buckeyes are riding a 13-game win streak and have had nearly a week off since their big win over Wisconsin. This one is not likely to be close as the Buckeyes roll towards a #1 seeding in the NCAA tourney.
5:00 pm - Loyola Chicago vs. #18 Butler (no line) - If they make Butler a favorite of 5 or more, take the points. Loyola beat them less than two weeks ago and even though the Bulldogs are ranked and shared the Horizon League title with Wright St., they may be a bit overrated. We're going to find out.
7:00 pm - #23 USC at #13 Washington St. (-5) - The Cougars should handle the Trojans here. USC was dumped badly at Washington on Thursday and don't do well on the road. They've lost 3 off their last 4 road games while Washington St. is 6-2 at home in PAC-10 play. The Cougars may run the Trojans right off the court.
9:00 pm - #12) Pittsburgh at #20 Marquette (-2) - A loss by the Panthers could cost them the Big East championship if Georgetown beats UConn today. Don't count on it. Marquette has lost 4 of their last 5 and look mighty vulnerable even at home.
10:00 pm - New Mexico St. at #10 Nevada (-10) - Nevada has already wrapped up the WAC title, so this game has less meaning for them and the Aggies will want to make a statement to the selection committee. New Mexico St. beat the Wolf pack back on Jan. 20, 73-80, but this will be on the Wolf Pack's home court. Nevada should win this, but it could be an upset and will likely be close. It is, after all, March 3rd, and the madness has begun.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Virginia Takes Top Spot in ACC
Spending most of the season in relatively unranked obscurity, Virginia, led by Sean Singletary's 17 points, hammered the visiting Hokies with 10 3-pointers (10-16, 63%), while Virginia Tech struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 2 of 15 attempts (13%). The win was payback for a Feb. 10, 84-57 thumping by Tech which ended a 7-game Virginia win streak.
Georgia Tech 84 #8 North Carolina 77 - With an NCAA invitation possibly hanging in the balance, Georgia Tech lured the ACC's top team to Atlanta and ambushed them, handing the (24-6, 10-5) Tar Heels their second consecutive road loss.
Thaddeus Young scored a career-high 25 points, helped by Javaris Crittenton's 11 assists. Hitting key free throws as time wore down, the Yellow Jackets held on to a 49-42 halftime lead, allowing North Carolina to get no closer than 4 points in the second half. Tech's Javaris Crittenton and Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough both recorded double-doubles. Crittendon scored 13 points with 11 rebounds, while Hansbrough tallied 16 and 10.
The Tar Heels host Duke in their season finale on Sunday as Georgia Tech closes out at home with Boston College the same day. A Yellow Jacket win and a Duke loss would tie those two at 8-8 in the conference, leaving success or failure in the ACC tournament as the final arbiter for an NCAA bid. Nothing's being taken for granted at North Carolina, however. The Tar Heels have lost 3 of their last 5.
#6 Memphis 78 UTEP 67 - The 26-3 Tigers got one step closer to completing an undefeated conference run with another easy road win in the watered-down Conference-USA. At 15-0 in C-USA, Memphis closes out their regular season Saturday night at cellar-dweller SMU, which has won only 3 conference games.
The easy conference schedule may be injurious to Memphis garnering a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With only one win over a ranked team - an 80-63 win over Kentucky back in November - the selection committee may not look kindly at the Tigers' 18-game win streak (19 if they win at SMU). A #1 seed is probably not in the equation, though a #2 would be a distinct possibility. The overall depth in the 10-12 top teams nationally may send Memphis into March Madness as a #3 seed, however.
#2 UCLA 53 #13 Washington St. 45 - The 2nd-ranked Bruins wrapped up their 2nd consecutive PAC-10 title with a road win over their closest conference rival. As usual, the Bruins did it more with defense than offense, holding the Cougars to 38% shooting, including 1-10 from 3-point range. UCLA didn't fare much better from behind the arc, hitting only 2 of 13 of their attempts. The Bruins did force 14 turnovers and only committed 10 fouls. UCLA improved to 15-2 in the PAC-10 and 26-3 overall with only a Saturday date at Washington left in their regular season schedule.
The Bruins are in position to be the #1 seed in the Western region of the NCAA Tournament. Washington St. fell to 12-5 and 23-6, and will likely end up as a 3 or 4 seed.
Washington 85 #23 USC 70 - Southern Cal just didn't look like a tournament team last night as Washington rolled to a win at home. Against the Trojans' soft defense, the Huskies managed to shoot 52%, dropping in 10 of their 18 3-point attempts. USC struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 5-18 (28%). Nick Young racked up 26 points for the Bruins, but his effort was hardly enough to derail the host Huskies.
USC can still help themselves out with a win at Washington in their season finale. Considered a good bet to reach the field of 65, the Trojans have 6 wins over ranked teams already in their pocket, though 2 each were against Arizona and Oregon. Washington St. won their first meeting, at USC, 58-55, on December 30.
Utah St. 79 #10 Nevada 77 (OT) - The Nevada Wolf Pack had already clinched the WAC title before this game started, but the strain of overtime in their 3rd straight road game in 8 days finally did them in. Nick Fazekas scored 20 with 10 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the season, while extending his streak of of double figure scoring to 29 - every game this season.
The Wolf Pack returns home on Saturday to close out the season with New Mexico St., their closest conference pursuer. The game may have more meaning for future seeding, as both teams are locked into their 1-2 positions in the WAC.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Don't Mess With Texas... or Maryland
Longhorns down Aggies in double OT, keep Big 12 hopes alive; Terps complete sweep of Duke
#15 Texas 98 #7 Texas A&M 96 (2OT) - The Aggies' Acie Law hit a pair of 3-pointers - forcing overtime and, later, double OT - and scored 33 points in all, but it wasn't enough as Kevin Durant and the Longhorns had the last word in the 2nd extra session on their home court. The Texas freshman hit key free throws down the stretch, finishing with 30 points and 16 rebounds and possibly the biggest win of his brief yet spectacular college career. Teammates D. J. Augustin scored 25 and Damian James had 22.
The win moved Texas into position to claim a share of the Big 12 championship if they can win their final regular season game Saturday at Kansas. If that happens, the conference would likely end up in a three-way tie should Texas A&M finish their season at home vs. Missouri with a win. Both A&M and the Longhorns are 12-3. Kansas is 13-2. Regardless of which of them takes the title, all three will be high seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. One of them will surely be a #1 seed, with the other two likely to be seeded #2 in different brackets.
#24 Maryland 85 #14 Duke 77 - The Maryland Terrapins have made a late-season statement and should be included in the March Madness field of 65. After knocking off North Carolina on Sunday, the Terps took a trip down Tobacco Road to Durham and took care of business against the Blue Devils.
Led by senior guard Mike Jones, who scored 25 points, the Terps completed a season sweep of Duke (they also did it in the 2004-05 season). Their first win over the Blue Devils came back on February 11 at College Park and launched Maryland on what has now become a 6-game winning streak. The Terps are now 9-6 in ACC play and 23-7 overall. Looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the nation, they close out the regular season at home against NC State on Saturday.
For Duke, the loss may prove to be devastating as they prepare for their final ACC game at North Carolina on Sunday. A loss there and any loss in the ACC tournament would put the Blue Devils in an uncomfortable spot - on the NCAA bubble - a place to which they are unaccustomed. Consider, in that scenario, Duke would have 10 losses, but, wins over Georgetown, BC, Gonzaga and Clemson working in their favor. Unfortunately, a 3-6 record in their last 9 conference games would not impress the selection committee. It is conceivable, maybe believable, that the Blue Devils would be passed over for the Big Dance.
#19 Vanderbilt 99 South Carolina 90 (OT) - The Commodores kept rolling along last night with a shoot-out overtime win at South Carolina. Shan Foster scored a season-high 33 points and teammate Derrick Byars dropped in 18 - including a key pair of 3s in overtime - as Vandy secured their hold on 2nd place in the SEC East at 10-5. They have just one conference game remaining, at home vs. Arkansas on Saturday.
The win was the 20th of the season for the Commodores and also earned them a first round bye in next week's SEC tournament.