Saturday, March 18, 2006

NCAA Tournament - Day 2 Post Mortem

I usually start off the tournament with a great first day, followed by a crappy second day. This year I started it with a mediocre first day, followed by an absolutely pathetic second day. But the night did end on a happy note. Let's get to it.

What went right:

Not much, really, but....
  • WVU over Southern Illinois
  • Texas over Penn
  • Memphis over Oral Roberts
  • Bucknell over Arkansas
  • Pitt over Kent State
  • UConn over Albany
  • North Carolina over Murray State
  • Villanova over Monmouth
  • Arizona over Wisconsin
  • Georgetown over Northern Iowa
  • Ohio State over Davidson
What went wrong:
  • Northwestern State over Iowa: The bracket has officially been blown up. I gambled on Iowa, figuring that they had senior leadership, a talented core of players, and no one else would pick them for the final four. So if they got there, I would look pretty golden. But they choked. Hard. Brunner missess a free throw, they fail to sell out for a rebound, and they watch a final desperation heave fall through the twine. Game over. Career over. My bracket...over.
  • NC State over Cal: Yep, had them in the sweet sixteen. Way to not show up, Bears. Way to be the only Pac 10 team to lose in the first round.
  • Kentucky over UAB: Should have seen this one coming. It was too popular a pick.
  • George Mason over Michigan State: Sparty has a knack for either going deep or going home. Last year I picked them to go deep and it paid off. This year, they screwed me.
  • Bradley over Kansas: Let me just say that again, because it sounds so nice. Bradley over Kansas. Doesn't it just have a great ring to it? Try it one more time...Bradley over Kansas. So, how long until people start realizing that Bill Self can't coach in the tournament? He's had impressive collections of talent for the last five years, and all he has to show for it is an elite 8 loss to Arizona (in a game where the Illini really got fucked). Sure, he's got the one Tulsa run, but even a blind squirrel..... It's just...I can't describe how great it feels to see Kansas lose.
On tap today, the Illini meet Washington in what should be the day's most anticipated matchups. Said it before, but I'll say it again. It's all going to come down to officiating. Let them play, and the Illini advance. Call it tight and Washington wins it at the line, while Brian Randle spends a lot of time in his warmups. UCLA meets Alabama in a game that the Bruins should win. They're deeper and tougher than Alabama, although the Tide is very athletic. The Bruin backcourt can be turnover prone at times, and if the Tide can jump into passing lanes and create turnovers, it could be a rough night for the Bruins.

Friday, March 17, 2006

NCAA Tournament - Day One Post-Mortem

OK, so before I take a look back at Day 1, let me just say that you probably shouldn't pay attention to any of my other selections, as Iowa just made me look like a really big moron. Thanks, Iowa. Nice job, Brunner. Good to know that after four years at UFI, you can't hit a goddamn free throw, nor can the rest of your idiot teammates grab a rebound. Well done.


What went right:
  • Duke over Southern
  • GW over UNCW (barely)
  • LSU over Iona
  • Gonzaga over Xavier, even though Xavier totally blew a chance to win this one
  • UCLA over Belmont
  • Washington over Utah State
  • Illinois over Air Force
  • Wichita State over Seton Hall
  • Tennessee over Winthrop on the luckiest shot of the day
  • Boston College over Pacific - yet another wasted opportunity
  • Florida over South Alabama
What went wrong:
  • Syracuse over Texas A&M. Never trust a hot team that bulldozes it's way into the tournament.
  • San Diego State over Indiana. Another blown opportunity. I was close.
  • Marquette over Alabama. Didn't see it, but I don't really like Marquette, so I'm not too disappointed.
  • Nevada over Montana: 12 vs. 5. I should have known better.
  • Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin Milwaukee. Should've known better here, too. Almost all the guys back from their sweet sixteen run. Of course, not a lot of buzz about this one, and those invariably become upsets, so again, I'm stupid.
UCLA over Belmont:
This one started while I was on my way home from work, but I was going crazy on the train. Checking the score every few seconds. Calling my dad to get updates. I wasn't happy with the six point deficit. Then they caught fire, ended the half on a huge run, and showed the dominance that made them a #2 seed. Belmont just doesn't see teams that combine that sort of defensive intensit with so much athleticism. The fourteen turnovers is a little disconcerting, but the 11 steals is fantastic. Tournament jitters? Not for the freshmen. Collison had 10 points, while LRMAM added 17 and 8 rebounds. UCLA rolls and prepares for former UCLA assistant Mark Gottfried and Alabama.

Illinois over Air Force:
Thank the lord for Jamar Smith and Warren Carter. Lot of props for Brian Randle and his amazing flying second half, but it was Smith and Carter that kept the Illini out in front in the first half and early in the second when things started to tighten up. The Falcons stayed in their zone most of the game, and that gave the Illini problems at times until Jamar Smith singlehandedly busted the zone with his shooting. His six for nine from long range opened things up enough for him to add two points on a baseline drive in the second half, and created the lanes that Brian Randle exploited in scoring his 15 second half points. The skeptics will point out that Dee Brown only had eight points, and he did it on 1-7 shooting. But the point guard version of Dee dished out 10 assists, and amazingly grabbed 8 rebounds, more than anyone else on the floor for both teams.

Washington took care of business against Utah State, setting up a terrific second matchup between the Illini and the Huskies. I've already opined on this before, but I think this game is going to come down to officiating. Not only do the differences in style of play push me in that direction, but the differences in the ability to make free throws scare the hell of me. I think the Illini are a better team, but I just can't pick this one without knowing how tight it's going to be called.

More on how the Hawkeyes have destroyed my will to live when I do this same sort of thing tomorrow.


They suck. Season is pretty much over at this point.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

From 64 to 1: My NCAA Tournament Projections

The first thing to keep in mind is that I'm in probably six or seven different pools, and I probably have different picks in every pool, and I'm not going to list them all. So this is the most recent set, and this is the one that I feel most confident about. Anyway, let's get to the picks:

Atlanta Region

First Round

  • Duke over Southern: No 16 seed has ever beat a 1 seed. It won't happen this year either.
  • George Washington over UNC Wilmington: GW will be pissed about their seed, and they'll have one game to show it before getting trounced by Duke.
  • Syracuse over Texas A&M: One last hurrah for Gerry McNamara.
  • LSU over Iona: One of those games where no one seems to be picking an upset, which means that Iona will probably play them really tough.
  • West Virginia over Southern Illinois: Look out for senior laden teams in the tournament.
  • Iowa over NWSU: Another senior laden line up, playing well right now.
  • Cal over NC State: Lots of size in the front court, and Cal's guards are smart enough to keep feeding Leon Powe.
  • Texas over Penn: I don't expect any of the 2 seeds to go out in the first round, at least now that Hampton is out of the tournament.
Second Round

  • Duke over George Washington: By all rights, GW probably shouldn't be in this game. And guess what? They won't be. Duke cruises.
  • LSU over Syracuse: Cuse is way overseeded here, and they'll play down to the seed they should have received.
  • Iowa over WVU: Battle of senior teams. WVU's reluctance to go inside will neutralize Hansen somewhat, but I think Iowa is more tested. Haluska is the X factor.
  • Cal over Texas: If healthy, Leon Powe will be the best post player Texas has seen this year.
Sweet Sixteen:
  • Duke over LSU: Big Baby's tournament run comes to an end.
  • Iowa over Cal: Powe will get his, but Hansen knocks enough away. Cal's backcourt defense isn't good, and Horner will exploit that.
Regional Final:

  • Iowa over Duke: This assumes competent officiating. If Coach K gets some lapdogs with whistles, Hansen and Brunner will spend a lot of time on the bench. If they're allowed to play, Iowa locks up on Redick and wins by six.
Oakland Region

First Round:

  • Memphis over Oral Roberts: 1 vs. 16 - nuff said.
  • Bucknell over Arkansas: The SEC almost always disappoints, and Bucknell is good.
  • Pitt over Kent State: The dreaded 12-5 game. Whatever, Pitt wins easily.
  • Kansas over Bradley: Not sure if Bradley should be here. They're not as good as Bucknell from last year. Self will get another opportunity to show he can't coach in the tournament.
  • San Diego State over Indiana: Aztecs play a lot of games at altitude. Killingsworth gets winded, and those jumpers travel just a little too far in the thin air. Mike Davis says goodbye.
  • Gonzaga over Xavier: Musketeers play tough, but too much Morrison dooms them to an early exit.
  • Marquette over Alabama: Tom Crean begins to re-raise his profile (more later).
  • UCLA Bruins over Belmont Bruins: I could make a Bruins joke here, but I get the feeling that others will take care of that.

Second Round:

  • Memphis over Bucknell: Young, athletic, and talented Memphis move on.
  • Pitt over Kansas: I'm not sure if Jamie Dixon is a good tournament coach, but I know that Bill Self isn't. Latest reports indicate that he still doesn't think he should defend the perimeter against Notre Dame.
  • Gonzaga over SDSU: Bulldogs no longer America's darlings, so they actually start playing to seed.
  • UCLA over Marquette: With the Indiana job officially open, Tom Crean spends too much time focusing on the press conference he's called to deny interest in becoming the head Hoosier, and forgets to prepare for UCLA's defense. Ah, who am I kidding? You can't prepare for UCLA's defense.

Sweet Sixteen:

  • Memphis over Pitt: Something about Pitt and the sweet sixteen. Nothing changes this year.
  • UCLA over Gonzaga: Gonzaga still plays to seed. UCLA defense is too tough, and they completely take Batista andn Raivio out of the game. Ced Bozeman shows Adam Morrison how to play defense.

Regional Final:

  • UCLA over Memphis. This isn't the same Bruins team that played Memphis back in Madison Square. Lack of tough competition over the last few months catches up with Memphis.
Washington D.C. Region

First Round

  • UConn over Albany: 1, 16, nuff.
  • UAB over Kentucky: I haven't seen much of either team this year. This is just a gut feel.
  • Washington over Utah State: I think this will actually be a struggle for Washington, as the Huskies aren't great at defending the perimeter.
  • Illinois over Air Force: Dee talks trash. Cadets proseletyze. Advantage Dee.
  • Michigan State over George Mason: Seniors, and a great coach in March make this an easy one for MSU.
  • North Carolina over Murray State: Young Tarheels are peaking at the right time, which makes it the wrong time for the Racers.
  • Wichita State over Seton Hall: I've been to Wichita. I've gotten absolutely wasted in Wichita. Seton Hall, you're no Wichita!
  • Tennessee over Winthrop: This one should be so easy for Tennessee that Satan's Spawn (Bruce Pearl) shouldn't break a sweat. Doesn't mean he won't, of course.

Second Round

  • UConn over UAB: Tall and talented Huskies blaze by UAB.
  • Illinois over Washington: This game will be determined almost completely by officials. Let them play and Illinois rolls. Call it tight and Washington wins a free throw shooting contest, with Brandon Roy putting up big numbers against whoever is forced to replace Brian Randle.
  • MSU over UNC: In a game of tournament tested seniors over talented freshmen, I'll take the seniors every time, and I'll win most of the time.
  • Tennessee over Wichita State: Bruce Pearl sweats through two suits. The spectacle distracts Wichita State long enough for Tennessee to put the game away.

Sweet Sixteen

  • UConn over Illinois: Illini get pounded on the boards. Dee has a tremendous final college game, but the Huskies' size inside makes life miserable for James Augustine.
  • MSU over Tennessee: Late in the first half, Chris Lofton slips on a puddle of Bruce Pearl sweat and sustains a concussion that ends his night. The Spartans never look back.

Regional Final

  • UConn over MSU: Sparty meets the same fate as the Illini one round later. They use that to claim that they were better than Illinois despite their crappy record and home loss to the Illini.
Minneapolis Region

First Round

  • Villanova over Monmouth: enough already.
  • Arizona over Wisconsin: Tough call here. I think Arizona's big white guy will outplay Wisconsin's big white guy. The question is, will Ivan Radenovic show up to play the second half? Ah, who am I kidding, of course he won't.
  • Nevada over Montana: The multitude of Montana grads in my family won't be pleased, but Fazekas eats up mediocre teams.
  • Boston College over Pacific: The UOP grads in my family might not like this, but that's OK, because we don't talk to that side of the family anymore.
  • Oklahoma over Wisconsin Milwaukee: UWM has exorcised the Spawn of Satan, but the money they saved on sweat mops this season wasn't invested wisely enough.
  • Florida over Southern Alabama: Why do the Gators hate the USA?
  • Georgetown over Northern Iowa: Hey, I already picked one Iowa team to do well. I'm not dumb enough to pick another.
  • Ohio State over Davidson: Davidson will not slay the Goliath that is Terrence Dials this year.

Second Round

  • Villanova over Arizona: Arizona can't overcome turnover prone Mustafa Shakur against Villanova's quality backcourt.
  • Nevada over Boston College: Too much Nick Fazekas.
  • Florida over Oklahoma: The Gators and Sooners trade volleys for a while, but Joakim Noah slams a winner past Kelvin Sampson's club.
  • Georgetown over Ohio State: I like the Buckeye's but I just have feeling about the Hoya's in this one.

Sweet Sixteen

  • Villanova over Nevada: The great guards take over at this time of the tournament.
  • Florida over Georgetown: In the battle of solid big men, Noah comes up aces again.

Regional Final

  • Florida over Villanova: I'm running out of tennis metaphors. I'll take the big guy in this one.

Final Four

  • UCLA over Iowa: Low scoring defensive battle. This goes against my 'trust the seniors' tendency, but at this point of the tournament, everyone has tourney experience. The Bruins' depth keeps their front line out of foul trouble, while Mbah A Moute and Afflalo lock down on Haluska and Horner, sending UCLA to the title game for the first time in 11 years.
  • UConn over Florida: The Gators have a great big man. UConn has about four or five. Back to the title game for the Huskies.

Championship Game

  • UConn over UCLA: The Bruins run into a juggernaut, and learn from the best program of the last decade just what it takes to win a national championship. It will be a valuable lesson for the group of kids who will be cutting down the nets in Atlanta in 2007.

Kings lose again

Is it too much to ask that they at least show up?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

UCLA a #2, Illinois a #4

Before the season started, I predicted that the Bruins would play somewhat above their pre-season ranking, and the Illini would right about at theirs or below. Looks like I was right. I think the two seed for UCLA was a surprise. I expected a three. Likewise, the four seed for Illinois was surprise, as again I figured on a three.

UCLA could not ask for a better bracket in my opinion. They get a 15 seed in the first round (coincidentally also called the Bruins), followed by Marquette in the second round. Win that one and they're set to meet Gonzaga in the third round, who has played one tough team in the last couple of months (Stanford) who they beat at home (UCLA killed Stanford both at home and at Maples Pavillion this year), although they struggled in doing so. They also struggled in their conference tournament. They don't play anyone who defends like UCLA. A win over the Zags would set up a regional final against Memphis, who beat UCLA earlier in the season. But they play in an awful conference, and the Bruins are probably more tested at this point. I think they can get to the final four.

Illinois not only got dicked on their seed, but they also got shipped out west for the first round (they'll be playing alongside UCLA in San Diego), where they'll face Air Force, who shouldn't even be in the tournament, followed by Washington. That could be a very tough matchup for Illinois. On the plus side, the Illini have one of the best defensive stoppers in the country in Brian Randle, but Brandon Roy gets a lot of respect from officials, and Randle doesn't. If Randle spends a lot of time on the bench, the Illini are in trouble. Washington is not a good defensive team, and they're soft in the middle. The X factor in this one is Sean Pruitt. He could go off in that one.

I'll try to do a longer post on this tomorrow with all of my picks, but I thought I would crank this one out for now.

Kings and Bruins win

Didn't really see any of the Kings game because the party moved down the street to a local bar. However, I was checking the score on my phone, saw that they were headed into a shootout, and ran back to my apartment (about 100 yards away) to catch the action. I think it's safe to say that I made it back to my apartment in less time than it took Luc to skate in and score the only goal of the shootout, but it was enough for the Kings to add another two points against a team that they really have to beat. I'm not really worried about giving up a point to St. Louis.

The Kings remain five points clear of the ninth place Sucks and 8 points clear of the 10th place Sharks, but each of those teams have three games in hand. They hold their destiny in their own hands.

Congratulations to the UCLA Bruins who blitzed their way to a Pac-10 championship, winning each game going away. After letting a big lead slip away at the end of the first half, the Bruins turned up the defense and got to the basket. They dominated the second half, and they didn't do it with a quick spurt, but rather with deliberate dominance. They won their three games in this tournament by an average of 21 points. They're going into the tournament playing their best basketball of the season.

What's so nice to see is that they're getting the contributions from everywhere. Darren Collison is practically outplaying Jordan Farmar. Afflalo is shooting the ball well, getting into the lane, and the play he made to draw defenders before feeding Hollins for the dunk was terrific. LRMAM and Aboya have continued to progress. Michael Roll is providing solid defense on the one end while extending the defense on the other. Ryan Hollins looked at a calendar and decided it was pretty much now or never, and has really started to turn himself into a force inside. Ced Bozeman has really elevated his game. His defense is fantastic, and he has been much more active on the offensive end, flying into the lane at times and drawing contact.

The three blowouts allowed Coach Howland to give extended minutes to Lorenzo Mata, who I believe will be called upon to provide very valuable minutes at some point in this tournament. They now have six guys on the front line that defend and give fouls (LRMAM, Aboya, Wright, Fey, Hollins, Mata), which is very valuable against teams who are thin up front. Those late '90s Stanford teams often did that against UCLA when they really only had Gadzuric up front. It seemed liked they would pull seven footers out of the stands. That's such a luxury at this time of year.

Before the season I thought a trip to the sweet sixteen was a reasonable expectation, and that a trip to the elite 8 was within reach. Bump those up a notch now. And anything short of sweet sixteen would be a failure. I've made the comparison a number of times, and going into this tournament, this team really reminds me of the 2003-2004 Illini. A lot expected of them, but ultimately, the window is next year. That means it will be easy to get over an earlier than expected exit from the tournament, because there is so much to look forward to.