Saturday, 31 March 2007

Rematch

Well, that sucked.

It kinda looked like a replay of last year's title game. Florida was not as dominant in this game as they were last year, but they were plenty good enough.

Really, it came down to 2 keys:
1) Arron Afflalo was a nonfactor - He scored 17 points, but that was basically all in garbage time. He picked up 2 fouls within 2 minutes, and picked up a 3rd midway through the first half shortly after Ben Howland brought him back. Josh Shipp provided enough offense to keep things interesting in the first half, but with no contributions from their first team All-America, UCLA didn't have the firepower in the 2nd half.
2) Florida hit 3-pointers - After a slow start they finished 9/22, which was a good enough. UCLA almost always doubles the post, so if you can rotate the ball quickly around the perimeter and known down shots, you can beat them. Florida wasn't hitting these shots for the first 8 or 9 minutes, but after that they were real good.

Really, that was the ballgame. UCLA didn't play awful, they were just outmanned. They took care of the ball very well (only 3 turnovers), they just couldn't get shots with Afflalo being such a nonfactor. It sucks, but it was a bad time for the starting backcourt to go 8/28 from the field and 4/15 from downtown. Congratulations Gators.


As for the OSU/Georgetown game, the Buckeyes were better when Oden was out than Georgetown was when Hibbert was out. Obviously that's not the way I thought it would go down, but it did. As is becoming a theme, Mike Conley was really good and he controlled this game. Same old.

On a final note... take a good look Buckeyes fans, because I think this will be the last game Greg Oden and Mike Conley play for Ohio St. I've always kind of been of the opinion that if one was gone, the other would be too, and this Tournament has propelled Conley (most likely) into the top-ranked PG. So with that being the case, I think he'll go, and I'm betting Oden goes with him.

Buckeyes vs. Gators Monday night. We've seen that before.

The Glorious Guest Essay: Uh, It's Jitter Time

Hello, friends (Nantz! 10 hours!). My name is Ted, and I regularly write here. The site is called "A Price Above Bip Roberts," which name is almost as meaningless as its content. Recently, though, it's been a bit more relevant. See, I went to Georgetown, and as you may know, Georgetown is playing in the Final Four this afternoon - er, early evening - at 6:07pm, or, more accurately, whenever Packer is ready to start frothing at the mouth.

I'm at work right now. Yea, that's right, 7:41am on a Saturday morning - a time you should only be awake if you're taking the SATs - and I'm at work. As such, I'm moderately bored. What's resulting is a post for my friend at Complete Sports. I figured it might be comical to look at the layout of my day. Or, at least in my mind, it might be.

10:00am
Mostly done with work but still at work and needing to stay for at least another 2 hours, I'll begin pulling video of the Kingdome in 1984. I work at ESPN, you see.

10:02am
While watching an old, grainy tape of GU vs. Houston in 1984, I'll cue up "Eye of the Tiger" or "The Gus Johnson I-Mix" on my IPod.

12:00pm
Not necessarily needing to be at work anymore, I'll head to the gym. Releasing of endorphins is a necessary element of your day when your team has a big game; I'd love to see the Ohio State gym at 10:00am on a fall Saturday. I'd imagine there's a lot of sluts coming off walks of shame in there. Oh wow. That was a really low blow. I'm a terrible person.

12:18pm
I'll be halfway through my new jone piece, the actual StairMaster itself. This thing is a real bitch. If you do it at Level 3, it's basically like slowly walking up stairs, and you exert nothing. By the time you get to Level 7, you can barely breathe, and every time you take a step, you're worried about crashing six feet down on your ass. In that way, it's kind of like what I used to feel like watching Georgetown back in the day. Remember Lee Scruggs? That was depressing. I loved how Georgetown fans used to rationalize his 6-11 height and ability to "drain" the three (i.e. miss six in a row, then hit one and walk back to the other end - not run - screaming "All Day!") as "a helluva complement to Boumtje-Boumtje."

By the way, the funniest thing about Boumtje-Boumtje, besides his entire playing career, is that on the Georgetown Info Line - which you could call for people's dorm room phone numbers - his name was pronounced as "Roo-BEN Baum-Sha-Baum-Sha." I used to call that number drunk and type in his letters just to hear it. This was before I had discovered girls, or fantasy sports, or "The Power Hour."

1:01pm
Driving home now, with my engine sputtering as only it can, I'll begin to contemplate the match-up: is Ron Lewis really the X-Factor? Is Matta smart enough to take out Oden for stretches, knowing his team will play better and faster? Are we going to be down early to an extent that this ulcer I think I'm developing on my lower left side gets even worse? What happens if we win? Is there any way I can justify NOT going to Atlanta to see my alma mater play in a national title game for the first time since I was four years old and had no idea who they were? (Let's ignore what happened in '85 for a moment).

2:00pm
I'm going to a movie before the game. There's two rationalizations for this: a) I expect to drink during the game, and since I live in an area without public transportation, I don't want to drive. I needed someone to drive me, but all I could find was a girl - my friends work weird hours, you see, and most are at work during the game - and in return, I had to attend a movie with her. I was honestly hoping I could see "Because I Said So." That way, if we lose, I can always tell people, "You know, it wasn't the worst thing that happened to me that day." Instead, we're seeing "The 300," which leads into: b) a movie where I can see naked people and bloodshed is probably a good lead-up to a Final Four where I hope to see naked people (CBS has to botch a cutaway one of these days) and bloodshed (I'm thinking Ivan Harris might catch one in the eye).

4:45pm
I'll take my seat at a bar in Manchester, CT. It ain't Atlanta; it ain't even New York; fuck, it ain't even Hartford. But this is Georgetown Basketball, and this is the Final Four, and the best we ever did when I roamed that campus insignificantly was the Sweet Sixteen - and we only did that because of Hampton over Iowa State - so this means a lot. "Bartender, cue up a Sam Adams. Yea, the Winter Lager. It's game time."

After that, I'll probably start sweating profusely, cursing periodically, texting people - both girls I'm endeavoring to go home with later and my friends about the game, drinking way too much for a person in my general health condition (poor), and ordering food only serving to worsen that condition. But hell, the last time we were in a Final Four it was the friggin' NIT version ('03), so I deserve this, right?

Darn right I do. Now as for 8:30pm - am I watching UCLA, hoping against hope Lorenzo Mata brought some brass knuckles to the court so they can win and help me in my pool? Or am I frantically searching kayak.com for a way to get to ATL? Either/or, it's gonna be a good day. Er, I hope.


Thursday, 29 March 2007

Final Four Predictions

Only a couple of days away from the Final Four, I figured it was time for my picks, so everyone can laugh at me when I'm wrong see what I think..

Florida vs. Ohio St.
This is a very interesting matchup, if only because Florida beat them so badly last year in the title game. UCLA is a better team now than they were last year, though I'm not sure that Florida is really much better (that's not a knock on Florida, they were just playing GREAT basketball last year at the end of the Tourney).

The big advantage for Florida would seem to be down low, but I don't think it's as bad for UCLA as it seems. I think Mata/Aboya will be able to defend well against Noah 1-on-1, and they will bring a double on Horford with the other post defender. That's risky because Horford is a really good passer, so it's vitally important for the Bruins guards to stay on the outside shooters, especially Humphrey.

That's why, as I wrote a few days ago, I think it's very important that UCLA gets a lot of full-court pressure on the guards and forces Donovan to maybe take Humphrey out of the game and bring in another ballhandler. This would make the kickouts from Horford less lethal and slow down the Florida offense.

So who do I pick to win? Well, if you're a regular reader you know my pick... UCLA.


Ohio St. vs. Georgetown
I think this game will boil down to whether or not Greg Oden can stay out of foul trouble. If he can, the Buckeyes can go to a zone with him as the anchor and have a shot at slowing down the Hoyas. But if Oden does get into foul trouble, I really have a hard time seeing how they'll stop Green, Hibbert, and Ewing. With the way the last few games have gone, I'm a bit skeptical that he can stay in the game.

For the Buckeyes, they'll be in the game because of Conley. He controls the pace of the game and gets everyone else shots. He can get open shots for guys like Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, and Daequan Cook, and they've got to hit them.

But in the end, I like GEORGETOWN here, I really think that unless Oden plays extensive minutes, the Hoyas are too good offensively. Everyone can score, everyone can handle the ball, and everyone can pass well. That makes them really tough to handle.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Predicting Jim Nantz's Play on Words after the Championship Game

One of the things I most look forward to (from a trainwreck sort of perspective) is listening to what type of bad cliche or play on words Jim Nantz will come up with in the seconds after the NCAA Title game finishes. Last year he played it cool, with the phrase, "Florida - as good as it gets." Technically, this didn't really make a lot of sense to me, because Florida didn't even win their own conference during the season (meaning they weren't really as good as it gets), but I was willing to let it pass.

In the past, however, some of Nantz' work has been pretty bad (in my opinion). For instance, in 2005, when North Carolina (led by Sean May) won, Nantz said this:

It started in March, ended in April, and belonged to May.

WHAT? What does that even mean? Well, I know what it means, but how lame is that? In 1999, when Connecticut won the Title, Nantz came up with this:

UConn, you can.

That, I truly have no idea what it means. But that's beside the point. This year, I'm hoping Nantz can top himself... IE come up with something even cheesier than the May line from 2005.

So I've come up with my predictions for what he might say, and then you give your guesses in the comments. The winner gets a congratulations from me, as well as my undying respect. Now that's incentive!

If Florida wins...
- "'Noah' jokin' around - Gators are champions again."
- "'Noah problems for the Gators, they're the champions."
- "No gruff for this 'Billy' - Gators are the champions."
- "No Joakim, 'Noah' problem." (I'm covering by bases in case Noah gets hurt)

If UCLA wins...
- "How'land' do you spell championship? UCLA."
- "'Ben' there, done that - Bruins are the champions."
- "Make it a dozen, another title is 'Bruin' in Westwood."
- "UCLA, on a 'Collison' course with destiny are your champions."

If Ohio St. wins...
- "It's an ode to "Oden" - Buckeyes are the champions."
- "Put your "Buckeyes" on Ohio St. - they're the champions."

If Georgetown wins...
- "Like father, like 'Thompson' - The Hoyas are the champions."
- "By 'Georgetown,' the Hoyas are the champions."
- "Everyone else is 'Green' with envy - Georgetown is the champions."

What do you got?

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

MLB 2007 Predictions

I just had my first fantasy baseball draft of the season on Monday, so in my world that officially means that it's about time for the baseball season to start. First off, if you still want to be led astray some fantasy baseball help, you can check out some of my rankings:

Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop
Outfield
Starting Pitching

Now that that's covered, some predictions of standings, awards, and my long-awaited pick to win it all.

* denotes wildcard

AL EAST
1) New York Yankees
2) Boston Red Sox
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Baltimore Orioles
5) Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Comments: Ho hum, another division title for the Yankees. In reality, this will be a tight race between the Yankees and Sox, but I like the Bronx Bombers a little better here, especially if/when Carl Pavano gets hurt and Phillip Hughes joins the rotation. I think the Yankees lineup is a little better, and there are fewer concerns in the bullpen. Elsewhere, business as usual. The DRays are better than ever, but still not good enough to get out of the cellar.


AL CENTRAL
1) Cleveland Indians
2) *Minnesota Twins
3) Detroit Tigers
4) Chicago White Sox
5) Kansas City Royals

Comments: I suspect this will be the most controversial choice, but that's ok. As far as the top 4 teams go, this is the best division in baseball. At the top, I really like the Indians. For the second straight year, they were a lot better than their record would indicate. They have an explosive offense led by Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, an improving rotation, and the bullpen should be better (it can't be worse). Up next, I'll take the Twins slightly over the Tigers... largely dependent on the fact that I figure at some point early in the season at least a couple of the Carlos Silva, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson trio will be replaced by some of the talented youngsters.

I'm not a huge fan of the Tigers offense, and Sheffield has a bad shoulder and has been declining for 4 years now. I would bet money that Kenny Rogers ERA will not be as low as 3.84 again, and the bullpen has some questions. I think the Tigers will have a White Sox like dropoff this year... which is to say they'll still be good, but not as good as they were in 2006. As for those said White Sox, I have a hard time seeing Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye replicate their great seasons from last year. Another minus is that Ozzie Guillen is batting Darin Erstad 2nd instead of Tad Iguchi... it's almost like they're trying to lose.


AL WEST
1) Los Angeles Angels
2) Oakland Athletics
3) Texas Rangers
4) Seattle Mariners

Comments: I don't have a lot of confidence in this pick... mostly a gut feeling. If Rich Harden remians healthy all season long, he can be a Cy Young candidate and the A's can be back in the playoffs, but I'll believe that when I see it. As it is, as long as the Angels let some of the young guys play, I think their rotation will be enough. But again, I wouldn't put any money on this.


NL EAST
1) Philadelphia Phillies
2) *New York Mets
3) Atlanta Braves
4) Florida Marlins
5) Washington Nationals

Comments: Certainly a large gap here between the top 3 teams and the last 2... the Marlins overachieved some, and I'm not sure they can compete with the top 3. The Nationals should be really bad, so we can discount them. Up top, it's the pitching concerns of the Mets that have me putting them at #2. I'm not in love with this Phillies team, but I think the stellar young pitching of Cole Hamels and Brett Myers (if he can, um, stay out of trouble) will be enough for the Phils to take the East.


NL CENTRAL
1) St. Louis Cardinals
2) Milwaukee Brewers
3) Houston Astros
4) Chicago Cubs
5) Cincinnati Reds
6) Pittsburgh Pirates

Comments: To be blunt, this division sucks. Which isn't really a surprise, since it sucked last year, but not much has changed. I'll take the Cardinals as long as Carpenter and Pujols stay healthy. Brewers are young and talented but I don't think they're quite there yet. After that, it's anyone's guess. I feel confident that the Reds and Pirates will take up the rear, but I don't feel confident about much else.


NL WEST
1) Arizona Diamondbacks
2) San Diego Padres
3) Los Angeles Dodgers
4) San Francisco Giants
5) Colorado Rockies

Comments: I like the DBacks here... their pitching is not as good as the Pads, but they have a look of good hitters. Brandon Webb will anchor the rotation, I think the Big Unit will bounce back some, and Livan Hernandez improved a lot once he came over to Arizona. A lot of the offensive guys are a year away from becoming household names, but I like the direction Arizona is taking. They're my pick.


AWARDS
AL MVP: Grady Sizemore (CLE) - The most underrated player in the MLB, if only because people don't realize that he's the best CF in the MLB.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols (STL) - Still the best hitter in the MLB.

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana (MIN) - Should be taking aim at his 4th consecutive Cy Young.

NL Cy Young: Brandon Webb (ARI) - With Arizona a winning team, it's Webb's turn to take home the hardware.

AL Rookie of the Year: Alex Gordon (KC) - All the hype, finally time for him to produce.

NL Rookie of the Year: Chris Young (ARI) - Could be a 20/20 man as a rookie.


Playoffs
Yankees over Twins in 5
Indians over Angels in 4

Mets over Diamondbacks in 4
Cardinals over Phillies in 5

Yankees over Indians in 6
Mets over Cardinals in 7

Yankees over Mets in 6

World Series Champion: New York Yankees.

So... where do you disagree the most??

Monday, 26 March 2007

Fantasy Baseball Ranking: Starting Pitchers

We finish our fantasy baseball roundup with a look at the top 10 starting pitchers.

(1) Johan Santana - This is a no brainer... really, there's nothing I should even have to say here.

(2) Chris Carpenter - Carpenter has been a durable pitcher over the last 3 years, averaging over 210 IP over that span. He's also maintained a good ERA, and excellent WHIP in the low 1s. But he'd up at #2 because of the high number of strikeouts while maintaining a good K/BB ratio, whil allowing only about 21 HR per year. As an added bonus Carpenter has 12 CG and 7 SHO over the past 2 seasons. The peripherals look good, the actual numbers look good, and that's why Carpenter is in the #2 spot.

(3) Roy Oswalt - I have Carpenter as 2, but I think a case could certainly be made for Oswalt there as well. He's been just as durable (perhaps even more so) as Carpenter. Basically the differences are this... Oswalt's ERA has been lower (thanks in large part to allowing less HR than Carpenter), while Carpenter strikes out a few more batters and has a lower WHIP. It's close, but Oswalt falls in at 3.

(4) Jake Peavy - For the casual baseball fan, they might look at his 11-14 record and 4.09 ERA last year and think this 4 spot is a joke. Lucky for you you're smarter than the average bear and can recognize the goodness of Peavy. For one, that 4.09 ERA was fluky last year... yes, he gave up a few more HR and walked about 10 more batters than the previous year, but he allowed 25 more hits in 2006 than in 2005. That tends to be a stat that doesn't carry over too much from year to year. So I think the ERA will be down some this year. The good thing about Peavy his K/9 is over 9, and as long as the hits total comes down a little the WHIP should settle in at around 1.15. Not bad.

(5) Brandon Webb - Webb was really solid last year. Not spectacular, but solid. He does not post big strikeout numbers like the guys above him (not that his strikeout total is bad), but everything else is nice. The ERA was in the low 3s, the WHIP was low. In his 3 full years he has pitched at least 208 innings in each season. His number of hits allowed was a little low compared to previous years, but not outlandishly so. The key with Webb is that over the past 2 years his BB total has dramatically decreased... as long as he keeps that up, he's really good.

(6) Roy Halladay - Almost across the board, Halladay's numbers match up well with any other pitcher in the MLB... the reason's he's at #6, though, is that his strikeout totals have been pretty low compared to other top pitchers. His BB totals are great, so the ERA and WHIP is low, but the low K totals put him at #6.

(7) Carlos Zambrano - Like Halladay, the numbers are really good except for one category... that category was strikeouts for Halladay, but for Zambrano the problem is that his BB total is too high. He averaged nearly 5 BB/9 innings pitched, which isn't very good. On a positive note, he's been very durable, he strikes out a good number of batters, and he has kept the ERA low because he doesn't give up too many HRs.

(8) Felix Hernandez - Admittedly, this is a bit of a hunch. The peripherals are very good for someone his age, I'm just betting he's going to make the leap sooner rather than later. The Mariners don't really let him use his slider much (probably a good decision), but his K rates are still solid and his control is not bad. He gave up a few too many HRs, but he's still learning how to pitch. With his stuff, I think he'll have a great year at age 22, which is what he turns in early April. If the Mariners let him use his slider more, he'll be even better.

(9) John Lackey - I think Lackey always gets overlooked some, but he is usually among the best pitchers in the AL, and his past 2 seasons have been excellent. He strikes out nearly 1 batter per inning, his BB rates are pretty solid, and he just doesn't give up many HRs at all. There's a lot to like.

(10) John Smoltz - Smoltz will turn 40 in May, but he is still the ace of the Braves staff after a very good 2006 season. His transition back to the rotation from the pen is complete, and his K rate actually increased in 2006 from 2005, which is certainly positive considering his age. He's got great control, and has shown no durability concerns after spending 4 years in the bullpen... he's pitched around 230 innings each of the last 2 seasons.

What changes would you make?

Sunday, 25 March 2007

The Final Four is Set

With Florida getting back to the Final Four, and Georgetown coming back to beat North Carolina, the Final Four is set. Honestly, as boring as the first round was with the lack of upsets, it has made these later rounds better, because the quality of play of been high with a lot of good teams. I expect that trend to continue, because we're going to have 4 of the 6 or 7 best teams in the NCAA playing next weekend, and I'm not sure that was the case last year.

Overall, I would say this year's Tournament has not been as exciting as last year's (then again, no Tournament I can ever remember has been as exciting as the first 4 rounds last year), but I really think this year's Final Four will be a lot more exciting than last year.

Anyway, some questions for the Final Four, of which I don't have answers now (maybe later in the week!), but I think will be interesting.

- Is UCLA more suited to play Florida than they were last year in the Tournament?
- Will UCLA doubling on the posts be enough to stop Al Horford?
- Can Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green get open shots against the backcourt of UCLA?
- Can UCLA speed up the game enough to force Billy Donovan to take out Humphrey and put in another ballhandler to handle pressure?
- Who will get the best of what should be a great Oden vs. Hibbert matchup?
- Can anyone slow down Mike Conley?
- If Greg Oden gets in foul trouble, can the Buckeyes slow down the Hoyas down low?
- Can the Hoyas make outside shots against the Ohio St. zone?

Anyway, lots more to come, but these were just a few questions that will have to be answered in the Final Four... what are you most interesting in seeing?

Saturday, 24 March 2007

UCLA making a return trip to the Final Four!

First, w00t woot!!

In many wins, it wasn't a pretty win, because both teams were a little sloppy at times with the ball. However the Bruins wouldn't have it any other way, dominating the game with defense and timely shooting, and doing enough to beat a fantastic Kansas team. It was clear that no matter how deep and talented Kansas is, UCLA was the better team on Saturday.

The star of the game was Pac-10 Player of the Year Arron Afflalo, who had been in a shooting slump. He was 10-15 from the field (3-7 from downtown) for 24 points, but that doesn't even tell the whole story. At least twice he had the killer "end of shot clock" 3s... the kind where it looks like a guy is just trying to throw a desperation shot up... and then it went in. Those are spirit-breakers.

Meanwhile, Darren Collison did what he always does... he was 4/8 from the field, 2/3 from downtown, 4/4 from the line, and applied constant defensive pressure. Jay Bilas said something about how Collsion has "been every bit as good as Farmar." Well, that's a little off. Collison has been better than Farmar was. He's more efficient offensively, and he's a lot better defensively. Of course, Collison is better defensively than just about everyone.

Other kudos include to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who was very active on both ends of the floor. Then there's Josh Shipp, especially for that big 3 at the end of the half. I thought Russell Westbrook came in and brought a good spark defensively. Aboya was active on the defensive end. It was a total team effort, especially defensively.

For Kansas, take nothing away from there, because I really think they are one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the country. Mario Chalmers was everywhere defensively. Brandon Rush played a really nice game, and Julian Wright is one of the best multi-skilled players in the country. I have a feeling they'll be back next year, once again playing to get to the Final Four. Heck, even if they lose 1 or 2 guys early, they're still good enough to get back.

So in the end, it was the experience, defensive tenacity, and timely shooting that gets UCLA back to the Final Four. What a game. Now they'll just await for the winner of Florida and Oregon, and knowing UCLA and Ben Howland, they're probably hoping for revenge against Florida.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Elite 8 Preview

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch much of the action on Friday (though enough to say that was clearly a travel by Jeff Green), so instead I'll make some Elite 8 picks.

Ohio St. vs. Memphis
You know what, I kinda like Memphis here. I feel like people are still underrating Memphis... on ESPN Dick Vitale said something about them overachieving, but I think that's selling them short. I mean, they just beat a really good Texas A&M team in San Antonio. They didn't have a tough schedule, but this is a superb team. Memphis is really athletic, shoots the ball well, and they have size down low to play with Oden (though Dorsey has to be careful about the fouls. Ohio St. is a slight favorite, but I like Memphis right now.

Kansas vs. UCLA
You know my pick here... Kansas struggled mightily with Southern Illinois, a GREAT defensive team but only average offensive team. UCLA is another great offensive team but a little better than the Salukis offensively. But seriously, this should be an absolutely fantastic game. I'll take UCLA.

Florida vs. Oregon
Oregon can beat anyone because they are such good shooters... we know that. But, I think things will be a little harder going against Florida. The difference between Florida and Butler or Winthrop is that the Gators big men are really athletic, and can stay with guys on the perimeter and not give up open shots. That can they can score down low, especially Noah. I like Florida to get back to the Final Four.

North Carolina vs. Georgetown
This might be the most fascinating matchup of the weekend just because of the contrasting styles. North Carolina likes to run on every possession, Georgetown is a patient, half-court team. The Tar Heels have struggled this year when forced to play a halfcourt game, and Georgetown can make them do that. I like Georgetown to control the tempo, get the ball down low, and beat the Tar Heels in what should be another great game.

What are your picks?

Thursday, 22 March 2007

O.J. Mayo = Still a Punk

If you haven't already, check out this video from Mayo's last game.

With about a minute left in the game, he tapped the ball away for a steal, then got a pass and was open on the break... where he decided to toss the ball off the backboard, slam it down, and then toss the ball into the stands. Not like a flip, a full out throw into the stands. This coming right after the story of his recruitment.

I'm definitely happy that UCLA never went after this guy recruiting.

4 teams advance to Elite 8

Some quick thoughts:

- Great effort by Southern Illinois, and they did exactly what they had to do to stay in the game. They slowed things down, made it a halfcourt game, and got in the shorts of Kansas on every pass, dribble, and shot. In the end, Kansas was just a little too athletic for them off the dribble, but the Salukis have a great effort.

- Honestly, I'm not sure why every announcer was so confused at the refs taking 1.1 seconds off the clock. Seemed pretty clear to me that the ball bounced inbounds.

- After all of the clutch shots that Law made all season, who'da thought that his missed layup might have been the difference in the game? Shocking.

- Well the Tennessee/Ohio St. went how I thought for the most part, albeit in a manner that I didn't think. I thought Tennessee would pose a lot of problems for the Buckeyes, and they did, but I didn't quite think they'd have a 20 point lead at one point. Great job by the Buckeyes in the 2nd half to just continually get to the rim.

- I've been talking about how good Conley is even before it became popular to do so... but seriously, how good was he in this game? He got in some foul trouble, but he finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 1 turnover. Think about this... he's a true freshman with a suspect jumpshot, but I'm not so sure he isn't the best PG in America. He gets in the lane at will, he has unbelievable vision and is a great passer, and he extremely quick defensively. Last year I raved on and on about Marcus Williams... well, Conley's better. And he doesn't even have a jumpshot yet.

- UCLA... takin' care of business. Saturday's West Regional Final between Kansas and UCLA should be a heck of a game.

- In Non-Tourney news, the much maligned Tubby Smith is now the head coach of the Gophers. For proximity reasons, the Gophers are probably my 2nd favorite team after UCLA, and I couldn't be happier. Kentucky has struggled for the past couple of seasons, but consider some things:

1) 14 out of the past 16 Tournaments is pretty good.
2) He can win with his own players... from 2003-2005, Kentucky lost 12 regular season games.
3) He hasn't lost his touch recruiting. People forget, in 2004 Joe Crawford, Randolph Morris, and Rajon Rondo were all top 25 recruits. Things haven't worked out as well as hoped there, but he's getting good players.
4) Getting back to the Tournament within 2 years in Minnesota will be considered a success with what they have in the program right now... I think Tubby is certainly capable of that.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Sweet 16 Preview

Time for the highly anticipated preview and my picks for the game.

West Region

(1) Kansas vs. (4) Southern Illinois
Obviously the Salukis have the defense to keep this game competitive, but do they have the offensive firepower? I'm not so sure. Jamaal Tatum is their best offensive player, but even he is just a 44% shooter. The defense will keep it close, but in the end, I think Kansas just has too many offensive weapons.

(2) UCLA vs. (3) Pittsburgh
The key is whether or not Pittbrurgh can get the ball inside to Aaron Gray, and whether or not he can finish and get the Bruins big men into foul trouble, because then they're vulnerable. The trouble is, Gray hasn't been all that great lately, and the guards are going to have a hard time getting him the ball in good spots because of the pressuring defense of UCLA's guards. UCLA has to play better defensively than they did against Indiana, but I do like UCLA to pull off a low-scoring win and advance for a meeting with the Jayhawks.

South Region

(1) Ohio St. vs. (5) Tennessee
As I've said all along, I think the Vols will provide big matchup problems for the Buckeyes. Defensively, the Buckeyes are best in a 2-3 zone, because they have a big guy that's pretty good in the middle. The only trouble with the zone is that it basically dares people to shoot from the outside, and Tennessee can do that well. If the Buckeyes go man-to-man, Wayne Chism can pull Oden out from under the basket, clearing the lane for guys like Chris Lofton and Ramar Smith. All that said, I'd love to be a brave man and pick the Vols, but I'll go with the favorite in Ohio St., because for all of the matchup problems Tennessee will cause Ohio St., Oden causes those same problems for the Vols.

(2) Memphis vs. (3) Texas A&M
It seems like a lot of people are just assuming the Aggies will roll into the Elite 8, but wait a minute here. Memphis is good. Real good. They didn't face a lot of competition in C-USA, but a 16 point win over Nevada with Douglas-Roberts only playing 23 minutes is nothing to sneeze at. They're capable of a win, although I do still like Texas A&M for a few reasons: a) It's in San Antonio, 2) Chris Douglas-Roberts might not play, and even if he does he probably won't be 100%, and 3) That Law fella.

Midwest Region

(1) Florida vs. (5) Butler
Admittedly, I am a little surprised that Butler is this far. I didn't think they'd beat ODU, and I definitely didn't think they would beat Maryland. That's how my Tourney picks this year have gone. That said, I'll be completely shocked if they do manage to beat the Gators, because Al Horford is better than anything Butler has inside, but Butler is able to stay with anyone because they take care of the ball (only 9.4 turnovers per game), and they're capable of making a lot of 3s. A nice formula, if you can follow it, and Butler has this year. But Florida is a little too good.

(3) Oregon vs. (7) UNLV
I think this is a bad matchup for Oregon because they like to get out and run and take a lot of shots, and UNLV will slow the pace down. Heck, all you have to do is look at Oregon's first 2 games... they eeked out a win over a deliberate Miami (OH) team, and they handled a good, but fast-paced Winthrop team. I think this will be more like the former, but UNLV is better than Miami. The Runnin' Rebels are back... Lon Kruger, please come coach the Gophers.

East Region

(1) North Carolina vs. (5) USC
The Trojans were able to beat Texas pretty solidly last week, but it helped that they could focus on stopping 3 players, and as it turned out completely shutting down 1 of them was enough to win. That's not going to work against North Carolina, who attack in many ways with many different people. USC's had a nice Tourney run and Pruitt & Young (that sounds like a law firm) have the individual talent to compete, but North Carolina is too good and too deep.

(2) Georgetown vs. (6) Vanderbilt
Sort of like Butler, Vandy can stay in any game because they make a lot of shots... and Foster & Byars are really good. But I'm not sure they can hang with the Hoyas inside. We know what Jeff Green is capable of... but Roy Hibbert was the best Hoyas in round 2, and Patrick Ewing Jr. impresses me more and more everytime I see him. The Commodores will keep it close with shooting, but too much Green, too much Hibbert, and Georgetown advances.

I know I basically went with the favorites, but that's how I see it... what are your picks?

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Fantasy Baseball Ranking: Outfielders

Time to move on, as I hope to have these done before the actual start of the season... time for the top 10 outfielders.

(1) Carlos Beltran - Assuming he can come close to matching his numbers from last year, Beltran is one of the premier fantasy players in baseball. He cracked 40 HR for the first time in his career in 2006, which was probably partially a fluke (previous career high was 29), but was also the result of him showing better plate patience than he has ever shown before. He also has a remarkable career SB% of 87%, which is awesome. The 116 RBI and 127 Runs he had in 2006 don't hurt either.

(2) Alfonso Soriano - Admittedly Soriano still makes me nervous, although the move from the spacious Nationals stadium to the Friendly Confines should help. He showed surprisingly good plate discipline last year (as compared to his previous years) with 67 BB, which was big... leading to 46 HR and 41 2B. In real life he did more harm than good stealing bases last year, but in fantasy terms 41 SB from a guy with this much power is awesome.

(3) Vladimir Guerrero - He is slowly declining, but you can still count on him to hit .315+, hit over 30 HR, and over 110 RBI. Just a solid, dependable hitter.

(4) Lance Berkman - He's another guy whose power numbers were a little out of whack, but if he can come close to matching that again he's a great pick. 46 HR, 136 RBI is pretty decent.

(5) Manny Ramirez - One of the best hitters of his generation, though he sometimes gets overlooked because of the personality ('Manny being Manny'). Don't look now, but he's in the top 50 for RBI for a career, and he'll reach the 500 HR mark this year as long as he stays healthy. He's not really slowing down either... the OBP was great, and the SLG was over .600. If he can keep it up for another 4-5 years, he can go down as one of the 30 hitters ever. I'm not kidding.

(6) Carl Crawford - Another one of the do it all types... the SB are obviously really nice, but he also hit 18 HR, 20 2B, and 16 3B last season. The doubles should go up some, and the rest of the numbers look real good.

(7) Grady Sizemore - I just love this guy, and think he's one of the most underrated players in the game. Seriously, he's one of the 10 best players in the MLB right now (in part because of the defense). High average, good OBP (which helps to score a lot of runs), and at age 24 he hit 28 HR, 53 2B, and 11 3B. And then he stole 22 SB for good measure. Just an absolutely fantastic player.

(8) Jason Bay - I almost wish Bay would get traded somewhere so people would realize how good he is... over the past couple of years he's been good for around a .290 average, 30 HR, 100 RBI, and 100 R... his 2Bs did take a big drop in 2006, but we'll have to see if that was a fluke thing. A very nice pick here.

(9) Matt Holliday - He got the nod over Ichiro because he's still improving and had some excellent power numbers last season. And he plays in Coors. But hey, 34 HR and 45 2B are both good numbers, and at age 27 he should just be entering his prime. He doesn't get written about a lot because the Rockies haven't been good for a while, but with Garrett Atkins the Rockies offense has some good young pieces.

(10) Carlos Lee - The raw numbers are great from last year, but he was a little better after being traded to the hitter's haven of Texas. Now, of course, he's back in the NL in Houston, which may drop things a little. But he's capable of hitting 30+ HRs and 110+ RBI, which he's been good for the past few years.

Your thoughts?

Monday, 19 March 2007

Book Review: Friday Night Lights

I realize I might be a little late to the party reading this book, since there's a movie and TV show at least based on this idea (I haven't seen either)... but wow, what a great book.

In case you don't know what it's about, H.G. Bissinger basically followed around and almost became a part of the Permian High football team (obviously minus the actual playing part) and part of the town of Odessa, TX for a year in the late 80s, to follow the phenomenon of High School football in Texas.

In essence, the town lived and died by the football team, placing enormous pressure on the boys from a very young age, and making them play through almost any injury, all to be a part of the team, and be a "hero." Football was the most important thing in Odessa... certainly more important than the actual education aspect of high school. The football players were the most respected members of town, and looked up to by everyone.

A review on the back of the book says, "It reads like fiction, unhappily, it is fact." This is a good description as far as I'm concerned... the seriousness that high school football is taken with is a bit disconcerting, almost like its fiction. And I don't mean to tell anyone how to live... obviously a large part of my life revolves around sports... but when high school football becomes far more important than high school education, that becomes a bit of a problem.

Here are a couple of my favorite passages from the book... this first one is talking about how 3 teams tied for the best record in the conference, but only 2 teams make the playoffs. So, they had a coin flip to determine what 2 teams made it, and it was AIRED LIVE at 1 AM. That is how important this was. For reference, the Permian coach was getting "For Sale" signs planted in his yard with upset fans after Permian had lost 2 games up to that point (by 1 point each), and if he didn't make the playoffs he might get fired.

If the nickel came up tails, Permian was out of the playoffs, and the chorus of complaints and criticism against him would only intensify to the point that it might become unbearable for his family to remain in town. If it came up heads, it simply meant that three men would have to line up in a row and make jackasses of themselves once again in front of live television cameras.

The other passage I thought really captured the spirit of the book came near the very end, talking about the end of the season, when [SPOILER] Permian won the state title the year after Bissinger followed the team.

They played with a flawlessness and sense of purpose that had been building inside them all their lives. After it was over tears flowed freely down their faces, and also down the faces of the grown men and women who depended on them year after year after year.

It was hard to fathom the shock of what Odessa had gone through during the eighties, from a world where everything seemed possible to one in which it was hard to hold on to anything with certainty. So much had happened. So much had changed. But one anchor was still there, as strong and solid as ever. It didn't matter who was playing, or who was coaching. It would always go on, just as Jerrod McDougal had realized, because it was a way of life.

Overall, just a great book, and one I highly, highly recommend reading if you have not yet.

If you have read it, what did you think?

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Weekend Tourney Recap

As I wrote on Saturday, a dull Round 1 of the Tournament was mostly made up for with a much more exciting Round 2 (at least on Saturday). There still weren't too many big upsets, but the games were a lot more competitive and came down to the wire. Here's what stuck out most to me:

- First off, what a way to start the weekend with Ohio St/Xavier. It was a great game from start to finish (the emotion that it was played with, especially on the Xavier side, was excellent). And then, of course, the end of regulation was superb, and made all the better by the fact that Gus Johnson was announcing the game.

One note about the Lewis 3 to tie it... although I hate to see it from a fan's standpoint, I really think it's a smart play, especially if it's within the last 5 seconds, to foul when you are up 3. Too many wild things, like Lewis hitting a deep 3 to tie it, can happen if you just let things play out.

- The UCLA/Indiana game was 20-13 at half. I love the defense, but UCLA, only 20 points in a half worries me! Of course, plays got made when they had to be made at the end of the game, but I did not think that game was going to be so nerve-wracking.

- I wasn't able to watch the game, but the score of USC/Texas just shocked me. A 19 point loss in round 2 by a team that many, myself included, thought might have a shot to win it all if things broke right? I guess it just shows that one man can't do it all, even if that man is the best player in college basketball and one of the most gifted players we've ever seen. DJ Augustin had as many turnovers as points... what the heck happened?

- UNLV, welcome back. Kevin Kruger with 16 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 0 turnovers... I'm guessing Lon Kruger will take that everytime. Wendell White is quickly turning into the unknown star of the Tournament.

- After 2 games, Southern Illinois is allowing less than 50 points per game. Kansas is averaging 97.5 PPG. Something, as they say, has got to give.

- Boston College played better than I thought they would against Georgetown... It's been a pleasure watching Jared Dudley over the years.

- Edgar Sosa... great game, tough finish. First, after going 15/15 on free throws he missed two big ones down the stretch, and then takes an ill-advised three down 3 with about 6 or 7 seconds left in the game. Not a good ending to what was a very good game for him.

- Sweet 16 previews coming up later this week.

What stuck out most to you?

Saturday, 17 March 2007

What a day of action!

I'm feeling under the weather, so I'll keep it very brief... but what a day of action!

For all of the dullness of Round 1, well, that's how good Saturday was... three OT games (including a double OT game), and lots of other games that went down to the wire.

Anyway, sorry, but that's all I got in me tonight. Full weekend recap on Sunday night.

A Plea to CBS

By and large, the games were pretty dull. Sure, we had a couple more close games than yesterday, but the action wasn't all that enthralling. So I won't even bother going over everything.

Instead, my unheard plea to CBS. Heck, I'm pretty sure that when I say this I'll be speaking for practically everyone.

The announcing duo of Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist is infinitely better than the Jim Nantz/Billy Packer combo... so why aren't they the #1 team? Why will we have to suffer through another Title game with Nantz and Packer when there's a much better duo out there?

Seriously, do you know one person who prefer Packer and Nantz? Me neither. They're boring, they're aggravating, and they're full of hyperbole (well, Nantz is at least). Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery are entertaining, funny, and Bill has better insight than Packer.

Here's that the resident announcing expert, Awful Announcing had to say about the day:

Lundquist-Raftery: I thought I had hyped them up too much before the tournament but they were head and shoulders above the rest.

Billy.....Bill Packer......Seriously, just get one thing right in your life please. I'm begging you for your own sake. It's going to get ugly soon....I promise.

Please CBS, I beg of you... if practically everyone prefers Raftery/Lundquist, can they all be wrong?

And don't get me wrong, I know the change would never be made... but I just cringe everytime I find out Nantz/Packer is calling a game that I want to watch. Your thoughts?

Thursday, 15 March 2007

NCAA Tournament - Day 1

Admittedly, things could have been more exciting, but not a bad start to the Tournament. There was some well-played basketball, but other than about 2 games, things were generally anti-climactic.

But on to the best game of the day, VCU upsetting Duke. For the most part, this game went exactly how I thought it would go... the pressure of VCU was very much disrupting Duke, but they were playing through it, knocking down shots, and had a lead for most of the ballgame. In the end, I thought Duke will be able to grit out the game. As it turns out, Eric Maynor was just a bit too quick for any of the Duke guards, and he was able to get off any shot he wanted, especially in the last couple of minutes when Duke was tired. In the last 2 minutes he scored twice right at the basket, and then of course got himself a great look to seal the ballgame and send VCU into the second round.

But other than that, the highlight of the day involved Dick Enberg... at one point he was doing a promo for the Evening News with Katie Couric, and you could just tell he was cringing as he had to say it. The transcript must have been something like:

Dick Enberg (cringing): How long would you wait for love? Tomorrow on the CBS Evening News, hear about a pair of soulmates who waited over 60 years.
Jay Bilas: That seems to be taking "playing hard to get" to a bit of an extreme.

Oh gosh, I laughed. Enberg's reluctant "do I really have to read this?" voice, coupled with the perfectly timed Bilas line. Sadly, this was one of the highlights of the day for me.

As a side note, guys like Dick Enberg and Keith Jackson are really old and sometimes screw stuff up, but there's never a game they announce that I don't enjoy (at least before Jackson retired). I could listen to Dick Enberg commentate paint drying and I would be entertained. The fact that he's with Jay Bilas (who I really like), and well needless to say I greatly enjoy that duo.

One more note, and that's to say that [obvious comment] the amount of commercials is just absolutely ridiculous. I mean, I know the point is to make money, but there's a point in time where enough is enough. For example, this sequence of events.

- It's halftime of Indiana/Gonzaga, so they switch over to Wright St/Pittsburgh.
- Halftime is about over, so they cut from Wright St/Pittsburgh to tell us that we'll go back to Indiana/Gonzaga after a commercial break.
- There's a long commercial break.
- Then they come back, flash the score, and say that the half will start after another commercial break.
- Then there was another long commercial break.

I can understand one commercial break (even though they did cut away from the game while it was right in the middle of the action), but 2 in a row? Is that really necessary?

But anyway, that was the story of day 1 in the Tourney... 2 good games, no real upsets (VCU over Duke wasn't all that shocking), and a lot of commercials. Hopefully Friday will be a little better.

Also, I'm not really a Duke hater by any means, but this video is hilarious. It's even better after you turn up the sound to hear the laughter after this Greg Paulus flop is shown in slow motion. Found over at The Big Lead.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

It's almost time

By the time you read this, the Tourney either will be close to starting and may well have started already. I've basically said all that I needed to say over the past few days here, so I won't bore you with more thoughts on the Tourney. At the same token, I'm too pumped for the Tourney to write about anything else, which leaves me with nothing to write.

So instead, I'll give a couple of quick links for you to read (if you haven't already), as we get ready for the first tipoff at about 11:20 AM central time.

First, if you're at work and can't watch, you can always check out the liveblogs, which will be over at WBRS Sports Blog, Awful Announcing, or Deadspin.

Meanwhile, The Sports Flow has their predictions up, and Just Call Me Juice wonders whether Oregon is this year's Florida (my vote: no), and will undoubtedly have other great stuff up.

I'll have a semi-full recap on Thursday night for the game, but for now, check out these other links and watch basketball, which is what I'll be doing if you need me.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

NCAA Tournament Prediction: South Region

Midwest | West | East | SOUTH | Final Four


FIRST ROUND

(picks in bold)

(1) Ohio St. vs. Central Connecticut St.
Central Connecticut has a nice trio of players (led by Javier Mojica), unfortunately, Ohio St. is a lot deeper, and Greg Oden is better than anyone the Blue Devils have.

(8) BYU vs. (9) Xavier
BYU is definitely capable of a win here, as they are a balanced, veteran group. but I like the Musketeers a little more. Drew Lavendar just makes things happen.

(5) Tennessee vs. (12) Long Beach St.
This looks to be a very entertaining game where both teams will be looking to get up and down the court and shoot a lot of 3 pointers. I just think the Vols are a little better in both aspects.

(4) Virginia vs. (13) Albany
I'm, not really a huge fan of Albany... heck, I think they might be a little overseeded here, I just don't think that highly of the Cavaliers. Jamar Wilson almost led the Great Danes to an upset last year, I think he'll be able to do it this year.

(6) Louisville vs. (11) Stanford
Stanford has the size to give Louisville a lot of problems, but this game will be in Lexington, giving Louisville a hometown edge, plus I think the Louisville guards are too athletic for Stanford. Also, can't go against Rick Pitino.

(3) Texas A&M vs. (14) Penn
There are some teams that Penn can pose a problem for because of their style. Texas A&M however, is not one of those teams.

(7) Nevada vs. (10) Creighton
A great matchup between two very good mid-majors. It wasn't easy to pick a winner here, but I'll go with the Wolfpack because of the star power. Fazekas or Marcellus Kemp are more than capable to dropping 30 in a game.

(2) Memphis vs. (15) North Texas
Memphis wasn't really tested much all season... and they won't be tested here either.


SECOND ROUND

(1) Ohio St. vs. (9) Xavier
Lots of subplots here involving Matta and Lavendar and just the proximity of the schools, but the fact is Xavier is not talented enough to hang with the Buckeyes. Oden is too good outside, Conley is too good inside.

(5) Tennessee vs. (13) Albany
The dream ends for Albany here against a superier Volunteer team.

(3) Texas A&M vs. (6) Louisville
Louisville is talented, but they can get undisciplined and sloppy offensively... well, against a very good A&M defense, I expect to see some of that sloppiness. Combine that with Acie Law, and the Aggies move on.

(2) Memphis vs. (7) Nevada
This is the point where I say I think Memphis is being underrated a bit. Sure, they didn't face a lot of quality opponents, and they don't have the NBA potential of players that they had last year, but this is a good team. They've got some talent still (Douglas-Roberts is real good), they play well together, and I except them to make it to the second weekend. Plus, Nevada has some real problems defensively.


SWEET 16

(1) Ohio St. vs. (5) Tennessee
I actually had to think long and hard about this one, because I think the Volunteers are a tough matchup for the Buckeyes. Wayne Chism has the ability to pull Greg Oden out from under the basket where he is so good, and that clears the lane for guys like Ramar Smith and JaJuan Smith. I think the Vols can make this one really interesting and have a shot at the upset, but in the end I went with the safe pick and the more talented Buckeyes.

(2) Memphis vs. (3) Texas A&M
For the praising I did of Memphis in their last matchup, I simply think Texas A&M is the better, more experienced team. The fact that this one will be in San Antonio just increases my confidence in the Aggies.


ELITE 8

(1) Ohio St. vs. (3) Texas A&M
This is a tough one to call, but there are 2 things that make me like the Aggies... one, as mentioned this thing would be in San Antonio, which, if you're not a geography buff, is a lot closer to College Station than it is to Columbus. Second, the Aggies have Acie Law. The man has ice in his veins. If this things comes down to a late shot, there's no one in the country I would rather have taking the shot than Acie Law.

REGIONAL CHAMPION: TEXAS A&M

Midwest | West | East | SOUTH | Final Four

NCAA Tournament Prediction: Final Four

Midwest | West | East | South | FINAL FOUR

And here is the conclusion, the Final Four. If you need to check out any of the other regions, the links are up top, or at the bottom of this post. Anyway, moving on.

Midwest Winner: Florida VS West Winner: UCLA
This would be a rematch of last year's title game, only I think it would be a lot more competitive, because UCLA is a better club this year than they were last year.

In the backcourt, Collison and Afflalo match up very well with Green and Humphrey. In fact, I'm not sure it would be outlandish to say that Afflalo and Collison are better offensively and defensively than their counterparts. At the 3, Brewer has the edge over Shipp, but Shipp is very solid.

Down low is where Florida would have the edge, but it's not as big as you think. UCLA's big men don't score much, but they are very, very good defensively. Plus, if Mbah a Moute can duplicate his performance from the Tounrnament last year, that's good prodcution.

Call me a homer, but I'll take UCLA.

East Winner: Georgetown VS South Winner: Texas A&M
These are two solid, well-coached teams, but I like Georgetown here.

First off, they have Jeff Green. He does a lot of things well, including scoring, rebounding, and he's one of the best passers in the country. But Georgetown is much deeper than that. They have solid big men, decent guard play, good defense, and they have a good offensive system that they run very well.

So in the end, I like UCLA vs. Georgetown to meet up for the title.

To spare the suspense, I'm taking the UCLA BRUINS in my pools. Why? Well, for one I'm a homer. Have to admit that.

But more importantly, the Bruins are very well-coached, great defensively, and they are battle-tested. They know what it takes to the get to the championship, and I think they'll be on a mission to get one step farther than they got last year. It will be interesting.

Midwest | West | East | South | FINAL FOUR

What are your picks?

NCAA Tournament Prediction: Midwest Region

MIDWEST | West | East | South | Final Four


FIRST ROUND

(picks in bold)

(1) Florida
vs. (16) Jackson St.
Thanks for playing Jackson St. Gators should have no problems here.

(8) Arizona vs. (9) Purdue
Purdue has been playing some nice basketball, but Arizona is just too athletic for the Boilermakers to hang with them.

(5) Butler vs. (12) Old Dominion
Two teams that are sort of going in the opposite directions... Old Dominion has won 12 of 13, and Butler seems to have gotten this 5 seed mostly just based on what they did early in the year. I think this game is close to a pick'em.

(4) Maryland vs. (13) Davidson
I love Davidson, but I don't like this draw at all. Maryland takes care of the ball, and DJ Strawberry should be able to do a solid job on Stephen Curry. It definitely wouldn't surprise me to see Davidson in the sweet 16, because they are that good, but I just think Maryland is a bad matchup.

(6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Winthrop
Winthrop is everyone's cinderella, but I like the Irish a lot. I feel like whoever wins this game can go to the Elite 8, and I think the Irish are just a little better offensively.

Field Negro asked me this in the comments: " Why the love affair with Notre Dame?Russell Carter is way overrated, and Mike Brey always chokes come tournament time."

Well, I just think the Irish are clicking offensively. Carter takes some bad shots, but he shoots 40% from 3-range. Colin Falls can hit 5 in a row without blinking. Kurz and Hagabody are nice players inside. And I think Tory Jackson is developing into a stud. I think the Irish starting 5 is real good.

(3) Oregon vs. (14) Miami (Ohio)
Let me put it this way, if Oregon shoots like it did in the Pac-10 Tourney, they can beat absolutely anyone.

(7) UNLV vs. (10) Georgia Tech
This is a tough game to pick... UNLV is a very solid all-around team, but I think the Yellow Jackets will be just a little too athletic for them.

(2) Wisconsin vs. (15) Texas A&M - CC
No 2/15 upset here... though the Badgers are certainly the most vulnerable of the 15 seeds.


SECOND ROUND

(1) Florida vs. (8) Arizona
Arizona has the individual talent among the starters to hang with the Gators, but they play no defense and they have no depth. That's not a good combination, especially against a great team like Florida.

(4) Maryland vs. (12) Old Dominion
ACC Tourney loss aside, the Terps have been one of the hottest teams in the country, and I can't see ODU taking them out here. The Terps are too talented and too experienced.

(3) Oregon vs. (6) Notre Dame
The thing everyone forgets about Oregon (because of their offensive performances in the Pac-10 Tourney, is that they really aren't that good defensively. Not that the Irish are going to shut anyone down, but I think they'll be a little better to beat the Ducks in a high-scoring battle.

(2) Wisconsin vs. (10) Georgia Tech
The Badgers offense just has not been the same since Brian Butch went down. Alando Tucker is great, but he can't do it all alone.


SWEET 16

(1) Florida vs. (4) Maryland
The Gators are just too good to be knocked off here. Too good defensively, too balanced offensively. But even with a team with a few seniors, the future is bright for Maryland with the young guys in the backcourt.

(6) Notre Dame vs. (10) Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets run ends here, as they just aren't able to defend all of the Irish's scoring weapons. Still a nice tournament showing for a young team.


ELITE 8

(1) Florida vs. (6) Notre Dame
The dream ends for Notre Dame. Florida is good enough to get out and defend the Irish's shooters, and they are more than good enough to beat Notre Dame's questionable defense. I really think all roads lead to Atlanta for the Gators.

REGIONAL CHAMPION: Florida

MIDWEST | West | East | South | Final Four

NCAA Tournament Prediction: West Region

Midwest | WEST| East | South | Final Four


FIRST ROUND

(1) Kansas vs. (16) Niagara
Niagara won the play-in game to get to this matchup. Unfortunately for them, that'll be the only game they come close to winning. Kansas is too talented and too deep.

(8) Kentucky vs. (9) Villanova
I like Kentucky and think they have some very nice talent, but I like Scottie Reynolds and Curtis Sumpter a little bit more.

(5) Virginia Tech vs. (12) Illinois
Admittedly, I am not completely confident about this pick. But the Illini are very god defensively, and I just think the Hokies struggles at the FT line (and maddening inconsistency) will come back to hurt them in this game.

(4) Southern Illinois vs. (13) Holy Cross
The Crusaders will be able to keep this close, but ultimately Jamaal Tatum will lead the Salukis into round 2.

(6) Duke vs. (11) VCU
A lot of people are calling for a VCU upset, and I'm not sure that's a bad pick, I just like Duke a little more. Certainly Eric Maynor and the full-court pressure will cause problems for the Dukies, but I think Duke will be able to slow things down enough to get VCU out of their comfort zone. Maybe this is me just having a hard time believing Coach K would lose in round 1, but I think a lot of people are overlooking Duke a little.

(3) Pittsburgh vs. (14) Wright St.
Wright St. can definitely give Pittsburgh some trouble, but I think Pitt will prevail in the end.

(7) Indiana vs. (10) Gonzaga
Interesting matchup here... everyone seems to be picking Gonzaga here, and I guess I agree. I love Pargo and Raivio, and I think the big men can do enough to slow down DJ White.

(2) UCLA vs. (15) Weber St.
The Big Sky champs have had a nice year, but I suspect it will end here.


SECOND ROUND

(1) Kansas vs. (9) Villanova
Reynolds and Sumpter are nice, and Nardi can knock down some shots, but other than that there is not nearly enough offense to hang with the Jayhawks.

(4) Southern Illinois vs. (12) Illinois
This potential game could be the lowest scoring one of the Tourney. Seriously, first to 40 might win.

(3) Pittsburgh vs. (6) Duke
Pitt is not playing all that well right now (despite making it to the Big East Title Game), and they need production from Aaron Gray. I like Duke's defense here to shut down Pitt, and score just enough points to pull the mild upset.

(2) UCLA vs. (10) Gonzaga
A rematch from the Sweet 16 last year, this one won't be nearly as close.


SWEET 16


(1) Kansas vs. (4) Southern Illinois
Salukis are a great defensive team, but at times they can become stagnant offensively. It's hard to do that and beat this Jayhawks team. I don't see them being able to slow down the game quite enough to beat Kansas.

(2) UCLA vs. (6) Duke
This will be a slowdown, grind-it-out game, and at this point, UCLA is simply better and more talented. Plus, it'll be played in San Jose, which is huge.


ELITE 8

(1) Kansas vs. (2) UCLA
If this takes place, it could be the game of the Tournament. Kansas is more talented, but UCLA is battle-tested, great defensively, and they'll almost have a homecourt advantage with the location of this game. I like the Bruins to slow the game down, get it to a tempo that Kansas is not comfortable with, and head to Atlanta.

REGIONAL CHAMPION: UCLA

Midwest | WEST| East | South | Final Four

NCAA Tournament Prediction: East Region

Midwest | West | EAST | South | Final Four


FIRST ROUND

(picks in bold)

(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky played a great game to get by Austin Peay... and earn the right to get throttled by the Tar Heels.

(8) Marquette vs. (9) Michigan St.
Tough game to pick, but my decision was made easier when I heard that Marquette's leading scorer and best defender, Jerel McNeal, would be done for the entire Tournament. Couple that with the recent struggles of Dominic James, and the Spartans are the pick.

(5) USC vs. (12) Arkansas
I can see how Arkansas can keep this close because they do have superior big men, but I think USC will have too many playmakers. I don't think the Razorbacks will be able to handle Gabe Pruitt, Nick Young, and Taj Gibson.

(4) Texas vs. (13) New Mexico St.
New Mexico St. is a very good team, they just have one problem... trying to stop this Durant fella.

(6) Vanderbilt vs. (11) George Washington
This is another upset I'm picking but I'm not totally confident about. Still, I like the way the Colonials are playing, and Vandy is struggling a little. I think GW will be able to force some turnovers and get some easy baskets.

(3) Washington St. vs. (14) Oral Roberts
Oral Roberts is perhaps the most trendy upset pick of them all, but wait a minute here. I know they beat Kansas, but they also have 10 losses (aka they're not Winthropesque). Also, let's not forget that Washington St. is a solid club. Perhaps a little overseeded, but they're great defensively, and they take good shots on the offensive end. I think they're getting the short end of the stick here.

(7) Boston College vs. (10) Texas Tech
I think this is a bad matchup for TT... Bob Knight wouldn't be caught dead playing zone defense, and they have nobody that can handle Jared Dudley. I'm certainly not crazy about BC, but I think Dudley will have a huge game en route to a round 1 win.

(2) Georgetown vs. (15) Belmont
Belmont gets in as a 15 seed for the second straight year, and once again they lose to the team that eventually loses in the title game. (PREVIEW THERE!)


SECOND ROUND

(1) North Carolina vs. (9) Michigan St.
I love Izzo and the Spartans, but they have no chance of slowing down the pace enough and scoring enough to beat North Carolina.

(4) Texas vs. (5) USC
Taj Gibson could be a tough matchup for Kevin Durant, but I think Durant will score enough to win. But this game will be a lot closer than you think.

(3) Washington St. vs. (11) George Washington
GW will need to force a lot of turnovers, but Washington St. takes care of the ball... plus, the Colonials will have a lot of trouble scoring in the half court against WaSt.

(2) Georgetown vs. (7) Boston College
An old-school Big East game, but BC is coming into a gunfight with knives. Dudley, Rice, and Marshall are all very good, but who else is going to score? Who is going to stop GTown from scoring at will down low? If Sean Williams was playing, I'd like BC's chances a lot more. Of course, Williams isn't playing. I like the Hoyas.


SWEET 16

(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Texas
This is a game that could get close to the 100s, and Durant could get 40-50 points with the style of play and lack of a quality defender to guard him. However, UNC is really deep and can get scoring from a lot of different places, Texas doesn't really have that right now. If Augustin or Abrams isn't knocking down shots, well, Durant is going to need closer to 60 for Texas to hang with the Tar Heels.

(2) Georgetown vs. (3) Washington St.
Another intriguing matchup because both teams are solid defensively and like to slow the pace down... basically the opposite of UNC/Texas. Still, I think the Hoyas are more talented and more efficient offensively.


ELITE 8

(1) North Carolina vs. (2) Georgetown
Tough pick here, but I think the Hoyas will be able to dictate some of the tempo and slow North Carolina down. If the Tar Heels aren't running and getting fast break points, they can get a little bogged down in the halfcourt, and I think the Hoyas can do that to them. Plus, UNC can get impatient defensively, and that plays right into the Hoyas hands. I like Georgetown to beat North Carolina and win the regional.

REGIONAL CHAMPION: GEORGETOWN

Midwest | West | EAST | South | Final Four

Monday, 12 March 2007

March Madness Sleepers, Best Games, and More

I'll have my picks tomorrow, but here are some jumbled thoughts and lists for the Tourney.

Best Games, Round 1
- Notre Dame vs. Winthrop - Two teams that both get up and down the floor and shoot a lot of 3s. This game could be played in the 90s (scoring-wise).
- Nevada vs. Creighton - Two great mid-majors who are talented and tough offensively and defensively.
- Tennessee vs. Long Beach St. - Much like Notre Dame/Winthrop, this will feature a lot of 3s, and this will be played at breakneck speed, and will have a lot of points scored.
- UNLV vs. Georgia Tech - I must admit that I have absolutely no idea how to pick this game.
- Maryland vs. Davidson - Davidson is a really good team... I don't really like this draw for them, but they can definitely hang with the Terps.

Best Potential Games, Round 2
- Notre Dame/Winthrop vs. Oregon - I think whoever Oregon plays (presuming they win) this will be a great matchup. Lots of 3s, lots of points, lots of excitement.
- Duke vs. Pittsburgh - Look, Duke is not as bad as you think. They're very good defensively, and they are improving offensively. If they get by VCU in round 1, I actually like them to knock off Pitt.
- Nevada vs. Memphis - Very dangerous game for the 2nd seeded Tigers.

Best Potential Games, Sweet 16
- UCLA vs. Pittsburgh - Just for all of the Ben Howland against Pittsburgh/Jamie Dixon storylines.
- North Carolina vs. Texas - Honestly, do I even have to explain?
- Ohio St. vs. Tennessee - You heard it here first, The Vols would be able to give the Buckeyes fits. Wayne Chism could pull Oden out from under the basket, opening up the lane. The Buckeyes couldn't play zone either, because the Vols just have too many good shooters. This would be a very intriguing matchup.

Middle Seeds with Potential for a deep run
- Notre Dame - I really like this team. They shoot the 3 ball as well as anyone, they have some solid big men, and Tory Jackson is quickly establishing himself as one of the best freshman PGs in the country.
- Winthrop - I include them with Notre Dame so much because I think the winner of that game has a real shot to get to the Elite 8. Like George Mason last year, Winthrop has quality big men, which is rare for mid-majors.
- Tennessee - I already talked about them above. They pose a lot of matchup problems.
- Texas - They sort of count as a middle seed. I wouldn't be shocked to see them cutting down the nets. Kevin Durant is that good.

13 seeds and lower than can pull an upset
- Oral Roberts - This is sort of the trendy pick, because Oral Roberts has shown they're not scared to face the big boys, and Washington St. is making their first Tourney experience in a while. I don't think this upset will happen, but it certainly wouldn't be a shock if it did.
- Davidson - They control the ball, and they have a star in frosh Stephen Curry. Just a very good mid-major.
- Wright St. - They beat Butler in the Horizon Championship to earn the auto bid, so you know they're good. Also, despite Pitt getting to the Big East title game, they are not playing very well lately. Aaron Gray needs to show up.
- Albany - I like Albany, but this has more to do with my feelings for Virginia than Albany.
Teams that were overseeded
- Virginia - Virginia getting a 4 seed is just baffling.
- Arkansas - Just them being in the Tourney makes them overseeded.
- USC - They're a good team, but other than 2 wins against Oregon and 1 against Washington St., what did they do to deserve a 5 seed?
- Butler - Has the committee watched them play lately?
Ranking the easiness of 1 seeds path to Atlanta
1) Florida - Are you kidding me? Who's going to beat them in that bracket?
2) Ohio St. - Tennessee could be a tough game, and I'm not sure they'd make it out of an Elite 8 meeting with Texas A&M, but other than that things look good for the Buckeyes.
3) Kansas - Potential Elite 8 meeting against UCLA in San Jose. The committee did Kansas no favors there.
4) North Carolina - Could potentially have to get by Texas and Georgetown, who are playing as well as anyone in the country right now.

Who are your sleepers?