Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Kansas Steals Title on Memphis Melt-Down

If your team is ahead by nine points with two minutes remaining, you are supposed to win, right?

95% of the time, you would, unless you are Memphis, playing Kansas, with the national championship on the line. Then things get a little more difficult. You know Kansas is going to foul, so the point is to get your best free throw shooters in the game (they were: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose). Or, maybe you just want fresh legs in there?

(Memo to John Calipari: playing your two starting guards for almost the entire game is going to sap their strength, especially in the legs, and when the legs go, wave buh-bye to those formerly-easy free throws... and a national title)

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When Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying three-pointer with 2 seconds to go, it was only the greatest shot ever in college basketball history, but it was only made possible by Memphis gaffes and Kansas highlight plays, none more significant than Sherrod Collins' theft of an inbounds pass and subsequent 3-pointer that reduced the Memphis lead to four.

Two missed free throws by Chris Douglas-Roberts, another Kansas bucket and a miss and a make from the foul line by Rose set the stage for Chalmers' history-making shot.

The overtime went the Jayhawks' way. They had the momentum, and, with Joey Dorsey sitting on the bench after having fouled out, nothing could prevent Kansas from gettng the ball inside. Quickly forging a 6-point lead, it was quickly over from there. Memphis might just as well been throwing bricks at a picture frame down the stretch. They couldn't make a shot.

Kansas deserved it. They never quit and they took advantage of the one and maybe the only Memphis weakness, sending Douglas-Roberts and Rose to the line five times in the last 1:15, where the dynamic dou (combined 40 points for the Tigers) hit exactly one shot.

Kansas 75, Memphis 68 OT

Brick, Choke, Gasp. Memphis is thwarted.

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk. Kansas is #1.

FINAL Tournament Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Monday, April 7, 2008

ACC (4): 6-4; Winners: Duke, Miami, North Carolina (4); Losers: Clemson, Duke, Miami, North Carolina

A-10 (3): 3-3; Winners: Xavier (3); Losers: Temple, St. Joseph's, Xavier

Big East (8): 11-8; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia (2), Georgetown, Louisville (3), Villanova (2); Losers: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, West Virginia, Villanova, Louisville

Big Ten (4): 5-4; Winners: Michigan St. (2), Purdue, Wisconsin (2); Losers: Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan St.

Big 12 (6): 12-5; Winners: Kansas (6), Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas (3), Oklahoma; Losers: Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas

Conf-USA (1): 5-1; Winners: Memphis (5); Losers: Memphis

Mountain West (2): 1-2; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU, UNLV

PAC-10 (6): 8-6; Winners: Stanford (2), Washington St. (2), UCLA (4); Losers: USC, Arizona, Oregon, Washington St., Stanford, UCLA

SEC (6): 4-6; Winners: Tennessee (2), Mississippi St., Arkansas; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi St., Tennessee

WCC (3): 1-3; Winners: San Diego; Losers: Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego

All others (22): 7-21; Winners: Davidson (3), Western Kentucky (2), Butler, Siena; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton, American, Drake, South Alabama, UMBC, Austin Peay, Mt. St. Mary's, Boise St., Texas Arlington, Butler, Siena, Western Kentucky, Davidson

Super Mario Delivers Kansas a Title

Down 9 points with just over two minutes to play, the Kansas Jayhawks rallied, tying Memphis and sending the game into overtime on Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in regulation. In the overtime, it was all Jayhawks, as Kansas quickly opened a six-point lead and captured college basketball's national championship, 75-68, over Memphis.

Memphis, which had been dogged all season by criticism over their free-throw shooting, missed four of their last five from the line in regulation. At the most critical moments in the game, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose could not convert and the Jayhawks took advantage.

The game was the 7th overtime in finals history and Kansas' third national title.

Chalmers scored 18 points and had five steals, earning him Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.

More in the morning...

Monday, April 07, 2008

It's Kansas vs. Memphis for All the Glory

63 teams have come and gone. Now only two remain and no one can doubt that these two earned the right to the national championship.

Both Memphis and Kansas handily dispatched their Final Four opponents on Saturday. The Tigers shut down Kevin Love inside and the rest of the Bruins outside for an easy 78-63 victory over UCLA. Kansas blitzed the Tar Heels early and late - with an 18-0 first half run and a 13-0 second half finish - to slaughter a disorganized and disheveled North Carolina team, 84-66.

Both teams had their fright moments in the respective second halves. UCLA pulled to within five points of Memphis before the Tigers put them down for good and Kansas was a 28-point lead shrink to just four as the Carolinians took advantage of Jayhawk overconfidence and sloppy play.

In the end, both games were slaughterhouse variety basketball, with the better, stronger, faster, bigger players taking out the unprepared, overmatched teams which could not find answers. It sets up one of the best college basketball finales of recent memory.

Memphis (38-1) -2 vs. Kansas (36-3)

In Memphis, John Calipari has assembled and coached a team that has consistently outplayed every comer and overcome every obstacle to achieve an NCAA first: 38 wins in a season. But for a 2-point loss to Tennessee, this team would be 39-0. They'll have their chance to win a first-ever title for Memphis on Monday night.

Kansas is obviously the more storied program. College hoops starts and ends in Jayhawk territory. Kansas, however, has only two national championships to show for its efforts, in 1952 and 1988. The current squad has compiled an outstanding 36-3 record and looks poised to hang a third championship banner from the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.

In examining the two teams, both appear capable of winning, but despite being 2-point underdogs, Kansas looks like the more formidable foe because of four key factors: speed, defense, bench strength and post play.

The Jayhawks actually outran North Carolina in Saturday's semi-final, no easy task there, and are the 12th-highest scoring team in the country, at 80.7 points per game. You don't have to go far down the list to find Memphis however, at #14, with 80.2 points per outing. The Jayhawks have a better defensive presence, with active hands looking for steals constantly. The Kansas players can finish as well, though Memphis also has great finishers on the break.

In team rebounding, Memphis gets a slight edge, at 40.8, to the Jayhawks' 38.7 per game. Kansas leads in assists, 18.1 (3rd in the nation) to 16.0 for Memphis.

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Kansas has two weapons on their bench which may prove to be telling in this final game matchup. Guard Sherron Collins and forward Cole Aldrich both made key contributions in Kansas' win over the Tar Heels. Collins scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while Aldrich - a freshman and former McDonald's All American - was sensational with 7 rebounds (4 offensive) and 8 points in 17 minutes.

While the high scorers for each team - Kansas' Brandon Rush and Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts - will likely neutralize each other, it will be a matchup worth watching. But inside, monstrous Joey Dorsey will have his hands full dealing with the likes of Darrell Arthur, Darrell Jackson, Aldrich and Sasha Kaun. They're all big, strong and active. Expect Kansas to dominate the lane and the boards.

A couple of caveats: Davidson, which Kansas ousted to reach the Final Four, played all but one of the four finalists this season tough, losing close games to North Carolina and UCLA during the season. The one team that did not have Davidson on their schedule was Memphis, and it could have meaning one way or another. Also, when comparing stats, it should be noted that Kansas played in the rough and tumble Big 12, while Memphis dominated the relatively weak Conference-USA.

With advantages in speed, scoring, bench strength and defense, coach Bill Self should elevate himself to the elite ranks of college coaching. In five years as Kansas head coach he's proven himself a master game-planner and courtside coach.

Prediction: Kansas 82 Memphis 74

Friday, April 04, 2008

Final Four Matchups and Predictions

For the first time since the NCAA tournament increased to 64 teams (now 65), all four of the regional #1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. While North Carolina, Memphis and UCLA had relatively easy times getting to the promised land in San Antonio, Kansas, the #1 seed from the Midwest region, survived a bit of a scare from Davidson in the regional final, winning by two points, the lowest margin of any of the remaining teams.

UCLA and Memphis also had their tough games. The Bruins won by just two points over Texas A&M in the second round, while Memphis beat Mississippi State by three in their second round contest.

While the Jayhawks did struggle with Davidson, they do match up with the other number ones in other criteria. All four teams won their respective conference's regular season and post-season tournament.

Memphis, though they play in the somewhat second tier Conference-USA, went through both their regular season conference schedule and tournament without suffering a loss.

Here's the breakdown on the Final Four teams:

North Carolina Tar Heels

Record: 36-2

Conference Record (ACC): 14-2

Current streak: 15 games.

Average win margin in tournament: 25.25 points

Top Scorer, Rebounder Tyler Hansbrough, 22.8; Tyler Hansbrough, 10.3

Worst defeat: 89-78 vs. Duke, Feb.6

Kansas Jayhawks

Record: 35-3

Conference Record (Big 12): 13-3

Current streak: 11 games.

Average win margin in tournament: 15.00 points

Top Scorer, Rebounder Brandon Rush, 13.1; Darnell Jackson, 6.7

Worst defeat: 84-75, at Kansas St., January 30

Memphis Tigers

Record: 37-1

Conference Record (Conf.-USA): 16-0

Current streak: 11 games.

Average win margin in tournament: 15.07

Top Scorer, Rebounder Chris Douglas-Roberts, 17.7; Joey Dorsey, 9.6

Worst defeat: 66-62, vs. Tennessee, February 23

UCLA Bruins

Record: 35-3

Conference Record (PAC-10): 16-2

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Current streak: 14 games

Average win margin in tournament: 18.00

Top Scorer, Rebounder Kevin Love, 17.6; Kevin Love, 10.7

Worst defeat: 71-61, at Washington, February 10

Saturday's Games:

Memphis (-2) UCLA 6:07 pm EDT
The Bruins and Tigers are going to tangle both in the lane and on the perimeter, but this game has the makings of a mismatch as Memphis has a definite size advantage inside with baby bull Robert Dozier and the monstrous Joey Dorsey. Both are capable of handling super frosh Kevin Love, who may have to move more to the outside for scoring. He has a nice touch from 12 feet in, so the short jumper could be his strong suit.

Give Memphis a huge advantage on the boards as well, although UCLA's Luc Mbah a Moute is a great leaper and plays solid positional basketball. Simply put, Dozier and Dorsey are a wrecking crew.

Outside, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook match up well with Memphis guards Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, but nobody's been able to adequately cover Douglas-Roberts for an entire game, and the Memphis substitution regime - which includes a 10-deep rotation of players seeing 28 or more minutes - consists of at least six players at the guard positions. UCLA only goes as deep as Josh Shipp, and that's not likely to be enough.

Memphis could turn this into a rout if UCLA isn't hitting their outside shots. While the Bruins are making their third straight trip to the Final Four, Memphis returns to the Alamodome with their loss to Ohio State in last year's regional final still very much on their minds.

Prediction: Memphis 67 UCLA 61

North Carolina (-2) Kansas 8:47 pm EDT
Roy Williams used to coach the Kansas Jayhawks and now faces the possibility of removing them from the title challenge. Since Williams left, Bill Self has done a credible job at Kansas and has finally reached the Final Four, but this looks like where the dream ends.

The Tar Heels have too many offensive weapons and are too athletic for the Jayhawks to handle for a full forty minutes. In the post, Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur are solid, but handling Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough may be a task better suited for three men. Hansbrough never loses his cool and will lead Carolina to a meeting with Memphis.

Kansas has had trouble maintaining offense at times, with Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson all running into defensive schemes or players that shut them down for considerable periods of time in recent games. They seem willing to settle for jumpers rather than slashing to the hoop, and that's going to cause some pain against the Tar Heels, who, though not noted for defense, usually do a very good job of it.

On the outside, Ty Lawson and super-sub Danny Green can light it up on either the fast break or from the 3-point line, which spells more trouble for Kansas. Once the Tar Heels get the lead, don't expect them to give it back. This one's over before it starts.

Prediction: North Carolina 86 Kansas 75

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Regional Results, Sunday Picks

West region

(1) UCLA 76 (3) Xavier 57
As expected, the UCLA Bruins had too many weapons for undersized Xavier and cruised to their third straight appearance in the Final Four. Kevin Love and Darren Collison each scored 19 points, and Love added 10 rebounds. Luc Mbah a Moute also put up a double-double with 13 points and 13 boards. The Bruins, who were beaten by champion Florida in each of the last two years, are looking for better results when they face the South region winner - either Memphis or Texas - next Saturday in San Antonio. UCLA has won 14 straight.

East region

(1) North Carolina 83 (3) Louisville 73
Scoring in transition throughout the first half, North Carolina built a 12-point halftime lead, saw Louisville charge back to tie the game, but then surged to victory behind Tyler Hansbrough's 28 points and 13 rebounds.
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The All-American was magnificent, hitting 12-17 shots from the field as the Tar Heels won their 15th straight. They will face the winner of the Midwest region, either Kansas or Davidson, on Saturday.

South Region

(1) Memphis -3 1/2 (2) Texas
2:20 pm ET - Memphis has withstood criticism all season long about their soft schedule and poor free throw shooting, but they've answered all questions with three dominant wins thus far in the tourney. The advantage they hold over the Longhorns is mostly inside size and strength, where Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier will be nearly impossible for Texas to handle. While the Longhorns possess speed and ability on the perimeter with D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Damian James, they're not likely to score enough to overcome Memphis. The Tigers advance, winning by 8 to 12 points.

Midwest Region

(1) Kansas -9 (10) Davidson
5:05 pm ET - Both of these teams will go up-tempo, but Kansas has superior athletes, despite the obvious talents of Davidson's super guard Stephen Curry. Additionally, Kansas holds a size advantage at a number of positions, though the most important one may be on which of the Wildcats has to guard 6'6" Brandon Rush. While the Jayhawks have all the tools, Davidson has been able to ride Curry's hot hand while getting timely contributions from the rest of the team. Kansas should win but not cover the generous spread.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Regional Finals: East, West Predictions

West Region

(1) UCLA -6 (3) Xavier
6:40 pm ET - The Bruins have thus far sent a loud and clear message: to win the national championship, you'll have to stop Kevin Love. The freshman center has been spot on in all three of UCLA's wins, virtually unstoppable simply because no team has been able to supply a good matchup for the big man inside. Xavier's no different, relying more on guard and perimeter play to win games than inside heft.

The only remaining question is whether Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook can penetrate on Xavier's Lavender and Burrell enough to get love open looks. The answer is that they'll likely be able to do it often enough to use Love's size advantage and distance themselves from the upset-minded Musketeers. The Bruins should win by 8 or more.

East Region

(1) UNC -5 1/2 (3) Louisville
9:05 pm ET - Any time you have a matchup of this magnitude, you look to the bench and see who's coaching. Hmmm... Rick Pitino and Roy Williams. Not much separating those two veterans of many tournaments, so the game is going to be won where? Inside? Doubtful. The Cardinals have David Padgett, Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter to go up against UNC's Tyler Hansbrough. Outside? A little different story. Nobody can match the speed of Ty Lawson, and when Danny Green gets in the game, the Tar Heels have a huge backcourt advantage. Given Wayne Ellington and Marcus Ginyard on the wings, the Cardinals will be unlikely to keep up with Carolina's offensive juggernaut and may have to opt for a three-guard look.

All of this spells trouble for Louisville, but remember, Pitino's over there on the Cardinal's bench and he won't let things get out of hand. Look for Louisville to try to post up and get Hansbrough in foul trouble.

In the end, it looks certain that Carolina will prevail by a solid margin, though it's tough to see how they could win by more than 8 or 9. Slight edge to the Heels.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kansas, Memphis Win, Lead Conference Scoreboard; Big Ten, SEC Out

Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Friday, March 28
ACC (4): 5-3; Winners: Duke, Miami, North Carolina (3); Losers: Clemson, Duke, Miami

A-10 (3): 3-2; Winners: Xavier (3); Losers: Temple, St. Joseph's

Big East (8): 11-7; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia (2), Georgetown, Louisville (3), Villanova (2); Losers: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, West Virginia, Villanova

Big Ten (4): 5-4; Winners: Michigan St. (2), Purdue, Wisconsin (2); Losers: Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan St.

Big 12 (6): 9-4; Winners: Kansas (3), Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas (3), Oklahoma; Losers: Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma

Conf-USA (1): 3-0; Winners: Memphis (3); Losers: None

Mountain West (2): 1-2; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU, UNLV

PAC-10 (6): 7-5; Winners: Stanford (2), Washington St. (2), UCLA (3); Losers: USC, Arizona, Oregon, Washington St., Stanford

SEC (6): 4-6; Winners: Tennessee (2), Mississippi St., Arkansas; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi St., Tennessee

WCC (3): 1-3; Winners: San Diego; Losers: Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego

All others (22): 7-20; Winners: Davidson (3), Western Kentucky (2), Butler, Siena; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton, American, Drake, South Alabama, UMBC, Austin Peay, Mt. St. Mary's, Boise St., Texas Arlington, Butler, Siena, Western Kentucky

Friday Night Sweet 16 Picks and Previews

Midwest Region

(3) Wisconsin -4 1/2 (10) Davidson
7:10 pm ET - The Badgers have the defensive authority to shut down any offense, though holding down the scoring of just one guy, Davidson's Stephen Curry, has proven problematic for all takers. Davidson owns the nation's longest winning streak at 24 straight, though Wisconsin hasn't lost since Feb. 9, a run of 12 in a row, and their four losses have all been to ranked teams. Few thought Davidson would beat Georgetown, but they did, so can they do it again?

The answer is yes, and the reason is that they are one of the best teams in the nation, deserve to be in at least the Top 10, play tight defense themselves and stop Wisconsin's somewhat anemic scoring. The 4 1/2 points are a bonus.

(1) Kansas -12 (12) Villanova
9:40 pm ET - The Jayhawks have cruised to easy wins over Portland St. (85-61) and UNLV (75-56) without really breaking a sweat. The Wildcats are another case, though, being a quality team from a major conference and now just one of two remaining teams from the Big East (Louisville being the other). Villanova did a nice job knocking off to quality teams - Clemson and Siena - and may just have enough firepower and heart to pull off the upset. In any case, they won't go easily, and should be able to keep pace with Kansas until the end. The large spread helps make them a pick here.

South Region

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(2) Texas -2 (3) Stanford
7:27 pm ET - This is going to be a standoff between Stanford's giants - twin towers Brook and Robin Lopez inside and the Longhorn's outside shooting of A.J. Abrams, Damion James and D.J. Augustin. Almost too close to call, Texas deserves the slight edge due to versatility.

(1) Memphis -4 1/2 (5) Michigan St.
9:37 pm ET - The Tigers face a significant dilemma against Michigan State in that they may not know what to expect. Tom Izzo's troops are an adaptable lot, with scoring treats inside and out. In addition, the Spartans are a fair defensive team and since the arrival of Kalin Lucas to the starting lineup, they are improved in the backcourt. More disciplined and far better at the foul line, the Spartans can take out the phonies from Conference USA.

Sweet 16 Results from Thursday, March 27

(3) Xavier 79 (7) West Virginia 75 OT
It was 8-0 before West Virginia figured out they were playing a basketball game, and they didn't hit a bucket until five minutes had already passed.

...And then it got even worse. By the middle of the first half, the Musketeers were up 28-10 and seemingly on their way to the West regional finals. But the Mountaineers were just getting warmed up as they embarked on a 15-4 run to end the half down by just 7, 32-25.

West Virginia took the lead in the second half and were up by as many as four, but Xavier's players, remembering last season's heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, would not quit and finally won it in overtime, earning the right to face the winner of the Ohio State - Western Kentucky game.

B.J. Raymond hit two crucial threes in the overtime and Josh Duncan topped the scoring list with 26 points, playing most of the second half and overtime with four fouls. Xavier has won 16 of their last 18.

(1) North Carolina 68 (4) Washington St. 47
As expected, the North Carolina Tar Heels, ranked #1 coming into the tournament, thoroughly dismantled the Cougar defense, establishing a double-digit lead before the end of the first half and cruising to another lopsided victory. Tyler Hansbrough scored 16 of his 18 points after the intermission, hauling in 9 rebounds.

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While the win was huge, it was the closest anyone has come to the Tar Heels in the tournament. Their previous two wins were by 39 and 31 points.

(3) Louisville 79 (2) Tennessee 60
Louisville's defense did a number of the Vols, forcing 17 turnovers and a 34% shooting percentage. Earl Clark came off the bench and turned in a dominating performance, with game-highs in scoring - 17 points - and rebounding, with 12 boards. The Cardinals will face North Carolina on Saturday for a chance to reach the Final Four.

(1) UCLA 88 (12) Western Kentucky 78
The Bruins nearly blew a 21-point halftime lead, as the Hilltoppers rallied back to within 4 points in the second half, but held on to win behind Kevin Love's 29 points and 14 rebounds.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008 Tournament Matchups

(3) Louisville -3 vs. (2) Tennessee
This happens sometimes. A higher-seeded team becomes and underdog due to inconsistent play and/or injuries. Tennessee has suffered through both. Guard Chris Lofton, usually the Volunteers' first scoring option, has been ineffective in his first tow games of the tourney and the team has suffered. Lofton scored in single digits against both American and Butler. The Vols finally prevailed in the second round game with Butler, but were forced into overtime.

Not to worry. Though Louisville is rock-solid, especially in their full court pressure, the Vols have more weapons all over the floor and should find themselves with plenty of transition opportunities. The Vols will move on with their best game of the tournament. They shoot better from outside than the Cardinals and from the foul line. They look like 3-5-point winners.

(7) West Virginia -1 vs. (3) Xavier
Here again, a lower seed as favorite. But, this time, it's because the Mountaineers beat Duke, which is considered, by some, to be quite an accomplishment. That assessment is dubious. Xavier should clamp down on West Virginia's flow offense and turn on the after-burners in the second half. Xavier is likely to run away with this and win by double digits.

(1) North Carolina -8 1/2 vs. (4) Washington State
Unlikely to see the Tar Heels derailed by the Cougars. Washington State is a nice team, but they were only the third best in the PAC-10. They are likely to find Carolina's inside game much too talented and difficult to contain. Tyler Hansbrough may add tourney MVP to his likely college Player of the Year honors, and his run to greatness begins right here. Carolina should win and cover.

(1) UCLA -12 vs. (12) Western Kentucky
Easy picking for the Bruins here. Western Kentucky's Hilltoppers will make this interesting for about the first 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the Bruins will finish them off with a flurry. UCLA should win handily, though that dozen-point spread is probably a canard. Take the Hilltoppers and hope they can hang in single digits, losing with honor to the delight of the smart betting crowd. LA suckers get taken down big time here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Big Ten, PAC-10, Big East lead tourney scoreboard

Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Sunday, March 23
ACC (4): 4-3; Winners: Duke, Miami, North Carolina (2); Losers: Clemson, Duke, Miami

A-10 (3): 2-2; Winners: Xavier (2); Losers: Temple, St. Joseph's

Big East (8): 10-5; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia (2), Georgetown, Louisville (2), Villanova (2); Losers: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown

Big Ten (4): 5-2; Winners: Michigan St. (2), Purdue, Wisconsin (2); Losers: Indiana, Purdue

Big 12 (6): 7-4; Winners: Kansas (2), Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas (2), Oklahoma; Losers: Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma

Conf-USA (1): 2-0; Winners: Memphis (2); Losers: None

Mountain West (2): 1-2; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU, UNLV

PAC-10 (6): 6-3; Winners: Stanford (2), Washington St. (2), UCLA (2); Losers: USC, Arizona, Oregon

SEC (6): 4-5; Winners: Tennessee (2), Mississippi St., Arkansas; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi St.

WCC (3): 1-3; Winners: San Diego; Losers: Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego

All others (22): 6-19; Winners: Davidson (2), Western Kentucky (2), Butler, Siena; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton, American, Drake, South Alabama, UMBC, Austin Peay, Mt. St. Mary's, Boise St., Texas Arlington, Butler, Siena

Monday, March 24, 2008

Davidson Ousts Hoyas; Memphis Survives

(2) Tennessee 76 (7) Butler 71
The Vols had to go overtime to get the hard-nosed Bulldogs out of the tournament. That's not knock on Tennessee as Butler was as tough a draw one could have gotten. Plenty of 2, 3 and 4-seeds would have been eliminated by them, so give the Volunteers some extra credit. As expected, Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith had 16 and 15 points, respectively.

(3) Louisville 78 (6) Oklahoma 48
The Sooners weren't nearly up to the task at hand. Louisville got off to an early lead and substituted freely. 11 different players contributed to the scoring.

(1) North Carolina 108 (9) Arkansas 77
The Tar Heels are the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room. Pity the next team - Washington State - that has to play them.

(12) Villanova 84 (13) Siena 72
Scottie Reynolds took over this game early on and turned it into a near rout. Siena couldn't hit the mark early and the Wildcats took advantage. Reynolds scored 25 points, knocking down 4-of-7 from behind the 3-point line. Kansas is the next opponent - a good matchup.

(10) Davidson 74 (2) Georgetown 70
Upset special and it was Roy Hibbert's foul trouble that once again led to the Hoyas' demise. Hibbert played only 16 minutes and scored just 6 points and grabbed only one rebound. Taking advantage of 20 Georgetown turnovers, Stephen Curry scored 30 points, rallying the Wildcats to their 24th straight victory.

(2) Texas 75 (7) Miami (FL) 72
A solid second half rally by the Hurricanes made this game much closer than it should have been. A. J. Abrams continues to light it up, scoring 26 points for the second straight game, including going 6-10 on threes in both games. That's consistency.

(1) Memphis 77 (8) Mississippi State 74
Memphis was lucky to get through the Bulldogs, who fell just short. The Tigers scored just enough from the field because once again they were horrible from the foul line - 15-of-32. That kind of performance is not going to get them to the final four. Either Michigan State knocks them off in the next round or the winner of the Texas-Stanford game does the job.

(12) Western Kentucky 72 (3) San Diego 63
Courtney Lee put up an impressive stat line: 9-15 from the field (4-5 from 3-point range) and 7-8 from the foul line for 29 points. Just for good measure, he had 7 rebounds and three steals. The Hilltoppers are headed to a showdown with UCLA.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Plenty On the Line for Sunday

In the East Region, #7 Butler squares off against #2 Tennessee at 2:30 pm ET. The winner will advance to the regional semifinal to play the victor of #6 Oklahoma and #3 Louisville slated for 5:00 pm ET.

Tennessee is favored by 4 1/2 over the Bulldogs, but the Vols could have their hands full with Butler's style, which, like Tennessee's, is very guard oriented. The advantage Tennessee may have is with their forwards, Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith, both capable of lighting it up inside.

Louisville is favored by 7 over Oklahoma, though this could go either way. Both teams have significant inside presence players and foul trouble could be the deciding factor. Louisville needs production from David Padgett, who was pretty silent in Louisville's opening round win over Boise State. Oklahoma took out a tough St. Joseph's team and are poised for the upset.

#9 Arkansas faces a challenge from the tournament's top seed, North Carolina at 5:20 pm ET. While the Razorbacks took out a disheveled Indiana squad, the Tar Heels emptied their bench in a first-round rout of Mount St. Mary's and are favored by 11 points, the biggest point spread of the day. Look for Carolina to advance.

In the blown up Midwest Region, #13 Siena faces #12 Villanova at 12:10 pm. Siena crushed Vanderbilt in their opener, while Villanova came from 18 points down to slip past Clemson. Siena is getting 5 points, which is something of a surprise. Somebody is going to advance from this game to face #1 Kansas in the regional semi.

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The most interesting matchup of the day pits #10 Davidson against #2 Georgetown at 2:50 pm ET. Davidson has the nation's longest winning streak at 23 straight, while Georgetown is simply a monster, with abnormal height at all positions. The Hoyas are five point favorites, but they'll have to find a way to slow down Stephen Curry, who lit up Gonzaga for 40 in their opener.

Georgetown will defend well, but fouls could be a factor, especially for center Roy Hibbert. If he's allowed to roam free in the lane, it's going to be a long afternoon for the undersized Wildcats. Davidson has faced big men in the past, but Hibbert is really huge and has experience and post moves which make him difficult to defend.

In the South Region, #7 Miami goes up against #2 Texas at 2:15 pm ET. The Longhorns have a plethora of weapons and Miami may not be able to keep up on the scoreboard. If the Hurricanes are eliminated, it would leave North Carolina as the only representative remaining from the ACC.

#8 Mississippi State has an uphill climb with #1 Memphis at 4:45 pm ET, but the Bulldogs are one of the better defensive clubs in the nation. Memphis is favored by 9, but this one figures to be much closer. An upset is definitely a possibility. The winner gets Michigan State in the regionals.

The West Region offers another battle of bracket busters with #13 San Diego facing #12 Western Kentucky at 2:40 pm ET. The Hilltoppers are favored by a healthy 5 1/2 after knocking off Drake in their opener, but the Toreros are hot, having won six straight including knocking off Gonzaga in the WCC tourney final and UConn in round one. This one is really up for grabs, with the winner advancing to a date with the region's #1 seed, UCLA.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No Fluke: Duke Goes Down; Cardinal Grounds Eagles in OT

Saturday's Results

(7) West Virginia 73 (2) Duke 67
As the score indicates, Duke was overseeded, and should have been no better than a 4 seed. They became the highest-seeded team to be eliminated the first weekend as the Blue Devils could not find the basket while the Mountaineers cruise into the Sweet Sixteen.

While West Virginia shot only 40%, Duke hit at just 38%, knocking down just 5 of 22 3-point attempts. They were also badly outrebounded, 48-31, which gave West Virginia an excess of second chances.

Joe Alexander was solid, with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but the best stat line belonged to Joe Mazzulla, who scored 13 points, hauled in 11 rebounds (5 offensive) and dished 8 assists.

(3) Wisconsin 72 (11)Kansas State 55
Michael Beasley got his 23 points, but the Wisconsin Badgers put on a clinic on how to defend the three-point line, pressuring K-State into a dreadful 0-13 performance from beyond the arc. Trevon Hughes led the Badger scoring attack with 25 points, hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers.

(1) Kansas 75 (9) UNLV 56
The Jayhawks simply rolled past the Runnin' Rebels in the second half, holding UNLV to 27% shooting for the game. Kansas controlled the board, 40-28, shot 58% and could have made it worse as they were only 12-19 from the foul line.

(3) Xavier 85 (6) Purdue 78
Purdue put up a good fight, but the Musketeers shot 54% for the game to move to the next round in the West region. Despite getting 17 fewer shots from the floor, Xavier got Purdue players in foul trouble and got three of them to foul out, while going to the line 33 times, hitting 26 freebies. Grew Lavender get everything going, scoring 18 points and handing out 9 assists.

(4) Washington St. 61 (5) Notre Dame 41
Amazingly, the Cougars held the Irish to their lowest point total of the season - by a bunch. The previous low for Notre Dame was 64 points in a loss to Baylor way back on November 18. The Irish averaged 80.6 points coming into the game, but the Cougars only allowed 80 or more points once all season.

The Irish shooting performance was embarrassingly bad, at 25% from the field, including just 3 of 17 from 3-point range. Luke Harangody, usually the complete player, was just 3-of-17 for 10 points, though he did haul in 22 boards. Washington State's Kyle Weaver was outstanding, with 15 points and 9 rebounds.

(3) Stanford 82 (6) Marquette 81 OT Jerel McNeal did all he could, including three straight 3-pointers in overtime, but Brook Lopez hit a tough baseline bank shot with 1.2 seconds left in OT to lift the Cardinal. McNeal and Lopez both had 30 points, with all but two of Lopez' coming in the second half and overtime.

(5) Michigan State 65 (4) Pittsburgh 54
Pitt came in winners of seven straight, including four for the Big East tourney championship, but they ran into a buzzsaw in Michigan State. The Spartans have overcome adversity throughout the season and now head to the South Regional to face the winner of tomorrow's Memphis - Miss. St. game.

Guards Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas took it to the Panthers, scoring 21 and 19 respectively. Neitzel did his damage from outside, hitting 5-of-8 threes, while Lucas produced dazzling drives to the tin for his scores.

Pitt was ice-cold from beyond the arc, hitting only 2-of-18 three-point attempts.

(1) UCLA 53 (9) Texas A&M
The Bruins met their sternest test of the tourney, and overcame a stiff challenge from the Aggies. Darren Collison scored 21 points and Kevin Love had 19 and blocked 7 shots.

Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Saturday, March 22
ACC (4): 3-2; Winners: Duke, Miami, North Carolina; Losers: Clemson, Duke

A-10 (3): 2-2; Winners: Xavier (2); Losers: Temple, St. Joseph's

Big East (8): 8-4; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia (2), Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova; Losers: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh

Big Ten (4): 5-2; Winners: Michigan St. (2), Purdue, Wisconsin (2); Losers: Indiana, Purdue

Big 12 (6): 6-3; Winners: Kansas (2), Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma; Losers: Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M

Conf-USA (1): 1-0; Winners: Memphis; Losers: None

Mountain West (2): 1-2; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU, UNLV

PAC-10 (6): 6-3; Winners: Stanford (2), Washington St. (2), UCLA (2); Losers: USC, Arizona, Oregon

SEC (6): 3-3; Winners: Tennessee, Mississippi St., Arkansas; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt

WCC (3): 1-2; Winners: San Diego; Losers: Gonzaga, St. Mary's

All others (22): 4-17; Winners: Davidson, Western Kentucky, Butler, Siena; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton, American, Drake, South Alabama, UMBC, Austin Peay, Mt. St. Mary's, Boise St., Texas Arlington

Friday's Late Results, Conference Scoreboard, Saturday Tips

Late Friday Results
(3) Louisville 79 (14) Boise St. 61
A real team win for Pitino's kids. Nine players accounted for anywhere from 3 to 15 points. Only Terrence Williams played more than 30 minutes (37). Next up, Oklahoma.

(9) Arkansas 86 (8) Indiana 72
Freshman Eric Gordon had the yips and finished with just 8 points on 3-15 shooting, including an ugly 0-6 from the 3-point line. The Hogs were led by their usual leader, Sonny Weems, who was nothing short of spectacular, hitting 12 of 14 shots (3-of-4 3-pointers) for 31 points. Teammate Darian Townes had a quiet but effective double-double, with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Arkansas should give #1 seed North Carolina a solid effort.

(12) Villanova 75 (5) Clemson 69
Add this to the list of upsets from Tampa. The Wildcats were down 18 points with five minutes left in the first half, but then began attacking the Tigers and clawed all the way back to an emotional win. Clemson went cold down the stretch, and ended up hoisting 33 3-pointers, hitting just 9 of them. Scottie Reynolds led the Villanova effort with 21 points, including 4-of-5 treys.

(1) Memphis 87 (16) Texas Arlington 63
As expected, Memphis rolled past their first-round opponent, bettering the Mavericks in every statistical category, even free throw shooting, which is the Tigers' weak spot. They play a very aggressive Mississippi State on Sunday.

Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Friday, March 21
ACC (4): 3-1; Winners: Duke, Miami, North Carolina; Losers: Clemson
A-10 (3): 1-2; Winners: Xavier; Losers: Temple, St. Joseph's
Big East (8): 7-1; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova; Losers: Connecticut
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Golf, Fish Walleye , Fall Duck Hunting at Resort Lake Manitoba Narrows Home Cottage Lot.

Big Ten (4): 3-1; Winners: Michigan St., Purdue, Wisconsin; Losers: Indiana
Big 12 (6): 5-1; Winners: Kansas, Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma; Losers: Baylor
Conf-USA (1): 1-0; Winners: Memphis; Losers: None
Mountain West (2): 1-1; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU
PAC-10 (6): 3-3; Winners: Stanford, Washington St., UCLA; Losers: USC, Arizona, Oregon
SEC (6): 3-3; Winners: Tennessee, Mississippi St., Arkansas; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
WCC (3): 1-2; Winners: San Diego; Losers: Gonzaga, St. Mary's
All others (22): 4-17; Winners: Davidson, Western Kentucky, Butler, Siena; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton, American, Drake, South Alabama, UMBC, Austin Peay, Mt. St. Mary's, Boise St., Texas Arlington

Saturday's Best

(2) Duke (7) West Virginia
West region matchup will be another test for an unusually undermanned Duke squad. After just barely escaping Belmont, West Virginia poses similar problems for the Blue Devils with Bob Huggins' flow offense and a variety of scoring threats. Duke looks like the worst #2 seed in the tourney and it's now just a matter of when they make their exit. The Blue Devils are slim 3-point favorites.

(3) Wisconsin (11) Kansas State
If there's a team out there capable of slowing down K-State's Michael Beasley, it's the Badgers, and they'd better be up to the task or they'll find themselves on a plane home, like USC, after Beasley and the Wildcats tore them apart. Wisconsin is a patient, disciplined club, winners of 11 straight, and their mission is a Final Four berth, so getting to the Sweet Sixteen is just another part of the plan. Wisconsin is favored by 4 1/2.

(4) Pittsburgh (5) Michigan State
An excellent South region matchup to finish the evening pits the Panthers against the resilient Spartans, who seem to rise to the occasion whenever disaster seems likely. Pitt is favored by a mere two points, though they look like the better team overall, having put together a remarkable surge, winning six straight and eight of their last nine. Remember, they received the automatic bid by winning the Big East tournament, and while Georgetown, whom they beat in the final, ended up a #2 seed, Pitt was relegated to a #4. This might be the sweetest spot the Panthers have found themselves in all season.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Regions Scrambled as Upsets Rule Second Day

Early Games

(2) Tennessee 72 (15) American 57
Chris Lofton was just 1-7, including 0-5 from beyond the arc, but the Vols didn't need him in a walkover win.

(10) Davidson 82 (7) Gonzaga 76
Stephen Curry lit up the Zags for 40 on 14-22 shooting, including 8-of-10 threes. That's 23 straight for the Wildcats, the longest win streak in the country.

(12) Western Kentucky 101 (5) Drake 99 OT
The Hilltoppers are the real deal, because Drake was certainly no pushover. This sets up a complete bracket buster with San Diego, upset winners over UConn. The tourney is officially in madness, at least in the West region.

(7) Miami (FL) 78 (10) St. Mary's 64
All of a sudden the Hurricanes don't look so bad. Texas is next up, however.

(7) Butler 81 (10) South Alabama 61
Pete Campbell was absolutely lights out for the Bulldogs, hitting 8-of-10 3-pointers and tallying 26 points. Butler looks ready for Tennessee on Sunday.

(2) Georgetown 66 (15) UMBC 47
This was never close, and somewhat unfair to the kids from Baltimore. Georgetown will have their hands full with Davidson on Sunday.

(13) San Diego 70 (4) Connecticut 69 OT
Proven that UConn was a team of pretenders rather than contenders. San Diego earned their way in, winning the WCC. Now, they're the only one - of three - left.

(2) Texas 74 (15) Austin Peay 54
A.J. Abrams, 26 points. Dominic James, 10 points, 10 boards. The Longhorns have plenty of weapons.

Late Games

(1) North Carolina 113 (16) Mount St. Mary's 74
Just in case nobody noticed, this was easily the most points scored by any winning team in the opening round and the 2nd-largest margin of victory. The Tar Heels spread the wealth around, as 14 different players scored.

(6) Oklahoma 72 (11) St. Joseph's 64
Two down from the Atlantic-10, leaving only Xavier from that conference. This makes the Big 12 5-1 for the opening round. Somewhat of a surprise as only Baylor lost.

(13) Siena 83 (4) Vanderbilt 62
Quite the shocker as Kenny Hasbrouck scored 30 and four other Saints followed him into double figures. Vandy got behind early and could just never make up any ground on this very well-coached group. Looks like they'll be up against it if they have to play Clemson. Should be a fun one.

(8) Mississippi St. 76 (9) Oregon 69
Charles Rhodes scored 34 points and pulled down 9 boards, but the story was the Bulldog defense and the collapse of Oregon. The Ducks hit just 2 of 20 from outside the arc in the second half as Miss. St. rallied from 8 down.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day One in the Books: Beware the Mighty Bruins; Big East, 4-0

(5) Notre Dame 68 (12) George Mason 50
This was over early as George Mason couldn't hit anything, opening the game 1-10 from 3-point range. The Irish quickly opened up a double-digit lead and were never threatened. Luke Harangody led the Irish with 18 points.

(3) Wisconsin 71 (14) Cal St. Fullerton 56
The Badgers began to dominate the interior midway through the first half and continued to wreak havoc inside. Wisconsin brought plenty of heft inside, a stifling defense and an efficient half-court offense, but Fullerton countered with an up-temp offense and stayed close, scoring in transition. Wisconsin held just a 2-point lead at the break, but re-established the inside game and ran away in the second half.

The Badgers will be a tough opponent from here on out. They face Kansas St. on Saturday.

(7) West Virginia 75 (10) Arizona 65
A contentious game from the start which the Mountaineers took over early in the second half, maintaining a 4-to-9 point lead through most of the second half.

(1) UCLA 70 (16) Mississippi Valley St. 29
A complete blowout from start to finish, the Bruins were just too good for the undersized Delta Devils. Kevin Love nearly outscored the opposition himself, scoring 20 points. The Delta Devils' 29-point effort was a tournament all-time low.

Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Thursday, March 20
ACC (4): 1-0; Winners: Duke; Losers: None
A-10 (3): 1-1; Winners: Xavier; Losers: Temple
Big East (8): 4-0; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia; Losers: None
Big Ten (4): 3-0; Winners: Michigan St., Purdue, Wisconsin; Losers: None
Big 12 (6): 3-1; Winners: Kansas, Kansas St., Texas A&M; Losers: Baylor
Conf-USA (1):
Mountain West (2): 1-1; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU
PAC-10 (6): 3-2; Winners: Stanford, Washington St., UCLA; Losers: USC, Arizona
SEC (6): 0-2; Winners: None; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky
WCC (3):
All others (22): 0-9; Winners: None; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton

Duke Survives #15 Belmont; Quick Exit for USC

(3) Stanford 77 (14) Cornell 53
The stats were even more lopsided than the score here. The Big Red shot just 31% to Stanford's 55% and the Cardinal outrebounded Cornell 47 to 25.

(2) Duke 71 (15) Belmont 70
The pace of this first half would have buried most normal teams, but the Blue Devils and Bruins pushed the offense relentlessly, launching threes from everywhere on the floor.

By the first timeout of the second half the fatigue could be seen on both teams, but especially Duke, which began to turn the ball over and leave Belmont players with open looks.

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The Bruins actually led by a point late, but Gerald Henderson scored on a driving layup with 11.8 seconds left and Belmont could not convert another score.

(11) Kansas St. 80 (6) USC 67
This was supposed to be about the two finest freshmen in the country, USC's O.J. Mayo and K-State's Michael Beasley, and while the two did lead their respective teams in scoring, the supporting casts reminded us that it's still very much a team game. The up-and-down Wildcats actually outplayed the Trojans in the most important game aspects, outshooting them, 48-42%, and outrebounding, 44-27.

(4) Washington St. 71 (3) Winthrop 40
Tied 29-all at the break, Washington St. scored the first nine points of the second half and limited Winthrop to just 11 second half points in a runaway victory.

(9) Texas A&M 67 (8) BYU 62
The Cougars could have been blown out of this game, but after starting out 0-5 from the 3-point line and down 22-12 at one point, BYU rallied to a 29-all tie at the break.

Josh Carter scored 26 for the Aggies, hitting 6-of-10 3-pointers to lead all scorers.

Mid-day Madness: Big East Notches a Pair of Wins

(6) Marquette 74 (11) Kentucky 66
Kentucky turned this into a street brawl, and nearly pulled off the upset, though Marquette's speed and skill players eventually triumphed.

Kentucky's Joe Crawford scored a career-high 35 points in his final game as a collegian, but it was not enough as the Golden Eagles made their free throws down the stretch and defended the three-point line well.

Jerel McNeal scored 20 for Marquette, while his teammates, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews hit a combined 17-20 from the foul line.

Marquette is likely to face Stanford on Saturday, as the Cardinal is a heavy favorite over Cornell later today.

(8) UNLV 71 (9) Kent St. 58
The Runnin' Rebels held Kent State to an NCAA tournament record-low ten points in the fist half and cruised to an easy first round win. Joe Darger had 19 and Wink Adams threw in 18 points. The Rebels will find the going a little rougher in their second round game against Kansas.

(6) Purdue 90 (11) Baylor 79
As many had suspected, the Baylor Bears, in addition to three or four other Big 12 entrants to the tourney, did not belong. Purdue stymied the Bears, who were just 5-8 down the stretch, making Baylor's appearance in the NCAA tourney a short and forgettable one.

Purdue's balanced scoring included 8 players with between 8 and 17 points apiece.

Purdue advances to a second round matchup with Xavier on Saturday.

(4) Pittsburgh 82 (13) Oral Roberts 63
One of the hottest teams heading in, Pittsburgh went about the job of dissecting Oral Roberts with all the efficiency of a skilled surgeon. The Panthers held the Golden Eagles to 34% shooting in the rout.

Levance Fields dominated the proceedings, scoring 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including hitting 4-of-7 three pointers.

Early Returns: Xavier, Kansas, Michigan St. Advance

(3) Xavier 73 (14) Georgia 61
Xavier had their hands full with the determined Bulldogs, finding themselves down by nine points at the end of the first half. Georgia shot 55% (16-29) to Xavier's 36% (10-28) in the opening period.

In the second half, the Bulldogs began to unravel under Xavier's relentless pressure defense, picking up their 7th team foul and putting the Musketeers into the bonus with 12 minutes still to play.

With the score 46-36 in favor of Georgia, Xavier went on a 16-3 run to completely turn the game around. Consecutive 3-pointers by B.J. Raymond and freshman Dante Jackson gave the Musketeers a 52-49 lead with 7:18 remaining. Jackson's trey was his first shot of the game and it was huge as Xavier led the rest of the way.

As time wore down, Georgia continued to turn the ball over and Xavier kept penetrating, scoring and hitting their free throws.

The free throw disparity was glaring. Xavier hit on 27 of 33 attempts, while the Bulldogs only went to the line just 5 times, hitting three.

Josh Duncan led all scorers with 20 points. The Musketeers advance, and will play the winner of the Purdue-Baylor game on Saturday.

(1) Kansas 85 (16) Portland St. 61
As expected, the Jayhawks had few problems handling Portland State. Kansas led from the opening basket, quickly establishing a double-digit advantage and keeping the Vikings at bay the rest of the way.

Brandon Rush led the way with 18 points. Darrell Arthur had 17 and Mario Chalmers scored 16.

(5) Michigan St. 72 (12) Temple 61
The Spartans couldn't buy a basket from the outside, but got plenty of scoring in the lane and in transition against the Owls. Temple had problems from the very start finding open shots, as the Spartans' defense kept everything on the perimeter and contested every shot.

Drew Neitzel finally hit his first shot from the field with under a minute to go in the first half, a three-pointer which gave the Spartans a 10-point lead just before the half. While Neitzel finished with only 5 points, hitting only 1-8 from 3-point range, his overall floor generalship was a key to the Michigan State win.

Countdown to a Championship

64-32-16-8-4-2-1. Today, 64; by April 7, there will be just one. One national champion. One shining moment, as the song says. The countdown from 64 begins today.

This is day one of two of the greatest annual event in college basketball, when all 64 teams will battle to the final buzzer. By Friday night, after 32 games, there will be 32 winners and 32 teams heading home.

It all begins at 12:20 ET, when the miracle men of Georgia, who, after going 4-12 in the SEC, earned an automatic bid by winning their conference tournament. Seeded #14, the Bulldogs tip with the #3 Xavier Musketeers.

#1 seeds in action today are UCLA and Kansas. North Carolina and Memphis begin play on Friday. For the Bruins, their foe, #16 Mississippi Valley St., presents no more a challenge than the usual practice. The Bruins are favored by a whopping 32 points. That game is scheduled to begin as the final game of the day for the West region, at 9:55 ET.

Kansas will take to the hardwood much earlier, as the opener in the Midwest, at 12:25, facing #16 Portland State. The Jayhawks, winners of the Big 12, are 22 1/2 point favorites.

I'll be blogging on and off most of the day and into the night, with highlights and analysis of key games.

Stay tuned. It's about to get serious.

Monday, March 17, 2008

NCAA Tournament: Matchup Mayhem

While the selection committee may not have picked the very best 65 teams for the tournament, they did come up with a number of intriguing first-round contests.

Here are some must-see games which will resonate through the college hoops universe all the way to San Antonio:

East Region
(8) Indiana vs. (9) Arkansas - The talented Indiana backcourt of freshman Eric Gordon and sophomore Armon Bassett should have their way with Arkansas' Gary Ervin and Patrick Beverley. The Hoosiers will also have JaMarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford for extended periods, putting further pressure on the Arkansas guards.

Up front, however, it's a different story, where D.J. White, an experienced 6'9" post presence, will be hounded by the likes of Darian Townes, Vincent Hunter, and the ever-dangerous Sonny Weems, all seniors.

While Indiana may still be reeling from the departure of coach Kelvin Sampson, the Razorbacks have no such concerns, as coach John Pelphrey looks like he's going to be around a while. Both he and Hoosiers interim coach Dan Dakich are seeking their first tournament wins, and this one could go down to the wire.

It will be interesting to see if Gordon takes over the game from the backcourt or the Hogs run wild in the lane. The winner earns the right to play North Carolina in the next round. No picnic and little time to prepare.

Midwest Region
(6) USC vs. (11) Kansas State This may not be that great of a game, or it might, considering K-State's late-season meltdown and USC's arrival as a premiere West coast team loaded with studs. The big marquee players are here: Wildcats freshman Michael Beasley may be the #1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, so this is his chance to showcase his talents to a national audience.

Likewise, USC's O.J. Mayo may not last into his sophomore year. The Trojans have the better team overall, though they start all sophs and freshmen. Forwards Taj Gibson and Davon Jefferson should be the difference-makers for USC, which should advance and could be a final four team if everything falls into place.

Look for USC to win this one going away, though holding Beasley under 40 may not be possible. A Kansas St. win would be a pretty remarkable upset, but future NBA stars will be on parade for both teams.

South Region
(7) Miami vs. (10) St. Mary's - If anyone picked either of these teams to be in the tournament preseason, they should get a full scholarship to Bracketville U.

The surprising Gaels of St. Mary's performed admirably through the rugged West Coast Conference schedule, and have what amounts to an international lineup with four Australians on the squad. Guard Todd Golden hits at 45% from 3-point range and 6'11" center Omar Samhan can be dominant in the post. The supporting cast is very athletic and long and can play with anyone.

For the Hurricanes, it was a season in which they exceeded expectations. They're an undersized group that can leap and run with any team in the country, so they are prime for upsets should they survive the opening round. Watch for Dwayne Collins and Jack McClinton to do most of the scoring and everyone else to crash the boards. These guys upset Duke earlier in the season and are one of only four ACC to make the tourney.

This could be the wildest game of the first round and it's a shame one of these exciting teams has to lose.

West Region
(5) Drake vs. (12) Western Kentucky - Surprising nearly everyone except themselves, the Drake Bulldogs - the only entrant out of the Missouri Valley Conference - may have the best team concept in the country, whipping the ball around the perimeter until Adam Emmenecker, a 6;1" senior dashes into the lane with the ball and either scores on a layup or dishes out to a teammate for an open three. These guys are also very adept passers who employ lots of back-door plays.

The Bulldogs can play stingy defense and will throttle down any hot shooters with a stifling zone or rough man-to-man.

The 27-6 Hilltoppers, winners of the Sun Belt tourney, have a slew of shooters who can light it up from anywhere on the floor, though they prefer to do their damage from behind the three-point line. Led by senior Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky may have trouble stopping Drake, but they won't have any problem finding shots.

The flow of the game will be intense and all-important. If the Hilltoppers get off early, they may make it hard for Drake to come back, though the Bulldogs have the kind of grit and heart to overcome early setbacks. This one ought to be a barn-raising good time with the winner set on upsetting another team in the second round.

Tomorrow: Locks, Bracket Busters and Definite Maybes

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bracketology: Georgia Plays Way In; Say UNC-le

The just-released 2008 NCAA Tournament brackets contained no surprises as far as the top four teams were concerned. North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA and Kansas ended up at the top of the heap with #1 seedings.

The Tar Heels received the #1 overall seeding after topping Clemson, 86-81, in the ACC tournament final. UNC will play in the East region, Memphis in the South, UCLA in the West and Kansas in the Midwest. The Final Four will pit East vs. Midwest and South vs. West in the semifinal games.

Georgia turned in the day's best story line, beating Arkansas, 66-57, to capture the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs, 4-12 during the regular season, won four straight in the conference tourney, including wins over both Kentucky and Mississippi State on the same day. Because of the hurricane that ripped through downtown Georgia on Friday night, damaging the Georgia Dome, the scheduled game between Kentucky and Georgia was moved to the Georgia Tech campus and played on Saturday afternoon.

After winning that one, the all-Bulldogs semifinal went to Georgia and the rest, as they say, is history. Somewhat mercifully, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas also received NCAA bids, so nobody from the SEC was the victim of Georgia's fortune.

While Georgia actually earned their way in, a number of teams were very questionable choices, especially four from the Big 12 - Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Baylor.

None of these, nor Kansas State, reached the tournament final. The Aggies lost 5 of their last 7 regular season games; Baylor lost four straight and six of seven before finishing the regular season 3-1, then lost their first game of the conference tournament to last place Colorado.

Oklahoma may have a little better case. After finishing 9-7 in the conference, then, following a first-round bye in the conference tourney, beat Colorado, but were then buried by the Longhorns, 77-49. Texas beat the Sooners 3 times during the season by a total of 55 points. Do they really belong?

As for Kansas State, they've won just three times in their last nine games. The wins were against Missouri, Iowa State and Colorado, the three worst teams in the Big 12.

Realistically, the Big 12 should have sent two or three teams to the tournament, not six. Kansas, Texas and maybe Oklahoma were the only measurably solid choices.

From the Big East, Villanova could easily have been refused a bid. The Wildcats, 9-9 in the Big East regular season, beat two ranked teams, Pitt and UConn, by one and two points, respectively, and both games were at home. After winning their tournament opener over a depleted Syracuse squad, they were rousted by 19 points by Georgetown. At one point during the season, they lost five straight.

Another couple of questionable choices were Arizona and Oregon from the PAC-10. Arizona was 8-10 in the conference, Oregon 8-8

The six or seven teams mentioned here could easily have been replaced by any of the following: Illinois St., Southern Illinois or Creighton - all from the Missouri Valley Conference, which sends only one team, conference champion Drake - Ohio State, Virginia Tech, VCU, Wagner or New Mexico. All of these teams had records equal or better than those selected and would have added some more flavor - and representation by smaller conferences - to the tournament.

Tomorrow: Matchup Madness

Hail the Champions: Conference Titles Up for Grabs

A number of conferences wrapped up their tournaments on Saturday with more to come on Sunday. One thing's for sure: take nothing for granted. Upsets were the norm in the Big East, ACC and SEC.

Here are recaps of Saturday's key games and how they will affect the NCAA field.

Memphis 77 Tulsa 51
As expected, the Tigers swamped Tulsa and added the tournament title to their regular season conquest of Conference USA. The only question remaining is whether any teams other than Memphis will be invited to the big dance. Tulsa seems the only decent choice, but Memphis alone would make sense.

North Carolina 68 Virginia Tech 66
The Hokies have made their case for the big tourney, coming within a hair of upsetting the #1 Tar Heels. Carolina moves on to the finals on Sunday against Clemson.

Clemson 78 Duke 74
Not so shocking, Duke was vulnerable away from Cameron Indoor Arena. A tight game throughout, the Tigers made their case to the tournament committee, no matter what happens against North Carolina.

Wisconsin 65 Michigan St. 63
The Badgers took care of business to reach the finals on Sunday. If they beat Illinois, they will add the Big Ten Tournament title to their regular season trophy.

Illinois 56 Minnesota 50
The Illini got the best matchup they could ask for and took advantage, with a chance to play into the NCAA tourney with a win over Wisconsin Sunday in the finals.

Pittsburgh 74 Georgetown 65
Pittsburgh came all the way back from late-season woes and swept through the Big East field with wins over Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and last night, Georgetown. They are the real deal and should get a #2 or #3 seeding.

Texas 77 Oklahoma 49
Ho-hum. Texas and Kansas are the only Big 12 teams that belong.

Texas A&M 71 Kansas 77
See above comment.

Stanford 64 UCLA 67
The PAC-10 was almost as boring as the Big 12. The top four seeds ended up in the semi, and #1 UCLA topped #2 Stanford. Nothing to see here. USC and Washington St. will join these two in the NCAA field. UCLA will be the #1 seed in the West.

BYU 61 UNLV 76
This was somewhat of a shocker and nice to see, but it does create problems for the tournament selection committee. BYU won the Mountain West, and they're 27-7 overall, so expect both the Runnin' Rebels and Cougars in the tournament.

Temple 69 St. Joseph's 64
Another championship won by an underdog creates more questions for the selection committee. Xavier won the Atlantic-10 regular season, and they're no doubt about getting an at-large berth. Temple receives the automatic and St. Joseph's, 9-7 in the regular season, should be considered, as they've beaten Xavier twice in the last two weeks.

Arkansas 92 Tennessee 91
Arkansas pulled off the biggest upset of the day, cementing their credentials for the NCAAs, but Georgia, winning twice in the same day, really deserves a bid.

Georgia 60 Kentucky 56
The Bulldogs, 4-12 during the regular SEC season, topped the Wildcats to advance to the semifinals. Because of the storms that ripped up the Georgia Dome, this game was canceled Friday night and played Saturday afternoon.

Georgia 64 Mississippi St. 60
Just hours after beating Kentucky, Georgia's kids took out the SEC West champions in the semifinal of the SEC tournament. They move onto the finals against Arkansas. Oddly enough, the Razorbacks are one of the four teams that Georgia beat during the regular season, winning 82-69, back on January 19.

The Bulldogs finally evened their full season record at 16-16 with the win. If they do capture the SEC crown, they'll surely have the worst record of any team entered in the NCAA tourney, but the best story of how they got there.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Big East, PAC-10 Tourney Results


UCLA 57 USC 54
After trailing 34-28 at the half, UCLA opened the second half with an 18-4 scoring blitz to put away their rivals from across town and reach the tournament finals. The Bruins will face the winner of tonight's Stanford-Washington State clash on Saturday.

Big East

Georgetown 72 West Virginia 55
Roy Hibbert, who didn't score and had just 4 rebounds in Thursday night's win over Villanova, rebounded in a big way to lead the Hoyas to the Big East finals. The big man had 25 points and 13 rebounds while only committing two personal fouls. Georgetown will face Pittsburgh in tomorrow's championship game. Pitt defeated Georgetown, 69-60, in their only meeting of the regular season, on January 14 at Pitt

Pittsburgh 69 Marquette 61
Pitt, nearly written off for dead three weeks ago, has forged back to reach the Big East finals. They will face Georgetown for the championship on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers went after the Golden Eagles early, getting three fouls on both Lazard Hayward and Jerel McNeal before halftime. Pitt led 35-22 at the break. Marquette rallied in the second half, but Pitt's lead was too large to overcome.

Badgers Know Defense; Arkansas Moves On - Conference Tourney Results

Conference Tournament Results for March 14

Big Ten

Wisconsin 51 Michigan 34
In what has to be considered on of the best defensive efforts of the college basketball season, the Wisconsin Badgers completely contained Michigan, holding the Wolverines to 20% shooting, forcing 14 turnovers and holding sway on the boards by a 42-34 margin. The 85 combined points was the lowest point total in the history of the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan St. 67 Ohio St. 60
Drew Neitzel had the time of his life, scoring 28 points on 9-17 shooting, including 6-12 3-pointers as the Spartans moved on to the semifinals against Wisconsin on Saturday. Ohio State will have to sit on the bubble and wait to see if they earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. Their status is best described as "iffy."

Illinois 74 Purdue 67 OT
In the biggest upset of the tournament, the Illini handed Purdue an unlikely loss. The Boilermakers finished a strong second in the Big Ten at 15-3, while Illinois was 5-13. Illinois' Demetri McCamey led the way with 28 points including a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range. The Illini will face the winner of tonight's Indiana-Minnesota game in one of tomorrow's semifinal matchups.


Tennessee 89 South Carolina 87
A narrow escape for the Vols, but they hardly needed the game. The Gamecocks are out, out and done.

Arkansas 81 Vanderbilt 75
A key, quality win for the Razorbacks which is probably good enough to impress the selection committee. Count Arkansas as one in the field of 65. The 'Backs were actually outshot from the field and both the 3-point and foul lines, but their enormous 45-24 rebounding edge game them more 18 more chances and the win. The Vols are up next on Saturday for Arkansas.

Mississippi St. 69 Alabama 67 OT
Close call for the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide as a storm ripped a hole in the Goergia Dome roof and delayed the game in overtime. Mississippi St. will face the winner of tonight's Georgia-Kentucky game on Saturday.


North Carolina 82 Florida State 70
An easy win for the well-prepped Tar Heels. Tyler Hansbrough scored 22 and Wayne Ellison knocked in 19 points. Carolina looks unstoppable. They should win the ACC tourney without breaking a sweat. They've won nine straight and look like the #1 seed n the East no matter what happens.

Virginia Tech 63 Miami (FL) 49
Some redemption for the Hokies and trouble for Miami.

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Duke 82 Georgia Tech 70
Georgia Tech had no shot at making the NCAAs. This was a walkover for the Blue Devils.

Big 12

Texas 66 Oklahoma St. 59
Routine win for the Longhorns. The Big 12 needs an upset desperately because after Kansas and Texas, there's nothing there.

Oklahoma 54 Colorado 49
The Sooners catch their arch-enemy, Texas in one of two semifinals on Saturday.

Kansas 64 Nebraska 54
The Jayhawks at least made it interesting, having to come from five down at the half. Tomorrow, they'll play (and probably beat) the winner of tonight's Texas A&M-Kansas State game.

Later: Big East, PAC-10 and late results from all major conferences

Georgia survives in OT; Stanford sends Arizona home

Late Tourney Results from March 13

Georgia 97 Mississippi 95 OT
Georgia center Dave Bliss hit a buzzer-beater with o.4 seconds remaining in overtime to give Georgia an opening round win over Ole Miss. The Bulldogs finished last in the SEC East, so their only chance of receiving an NCAA bid is to win the entire tournament. They face Kentucky tonight in a quarterfinal game.

Mississippi wasn't likely to receive a bid either, after finishing 7-9 in the SEC. Rarely does the NCAA accept teams with losing conference records.

Stanford 75 Arizona 64
Stanford's size eventually proved to be too much for the Wildcats, who will wait until Sunday to see if they are offered a berth in the NCAA tournament. Brook Lopez, the Cardinal 7'1" powerhouse, scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as Stanford pulled away late. Stanford faces Washington State in a PAC-10 semifinal game Friday night. Arizona finished 8-10 during the conference's regular season and is unlikely to get an at-large bid.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pitt on Comeback Trail; Florida is History; 'Huskers in the Mix

More Conference Tournament Results

Pittsburgh 76 Louisville 69 OT
Sam Young misfired on all four of his 3-point attempts, but he was 8-14 from inside the arc, scoring 21 points to lead the Panthers past Louisville in a critical second-round Big East tournament game.

Pittsburgh, which suffered through a three-straight losing streak in the midst of their Big East regular season schedule, has righted itself and should be sailing towards an NCAA bid. Pitt finished an undistinguished 10-8 in conference play, but have reached the semifinals of the Big East tourney with a pair of wins. On Friday, they will face Marquette in a semifinal contest.

Elsewhere around the nation's conference tournaments, Nebraska beat back Missouri, 61-56, keeping their hopes alive in the Big 12. Georgia Tech eliminated Virginia from the ACC tourney, 94-76 and Alabama ensured that there will be a new NCAA champion this season by knocking reigning champion Florida out of the SEC tournament in the first round by an 80-69 tally.

The Gators finished the regular season at 8-8 in the conference and are 21-11 overall, which is probably not good enough to make the final cut to 65 for the NCAAs.

UCLA 88 California 66
UCLA ended Cal's dreams of post-season glory and moved to the next round of the PAC-10 tourney. Darren Collison led the Bruins with 19 points, including 5-of-7 threes. Josh Shipp had 18 and freshman Kevin Love scored 11 as the Bruins shot 53% from the field. UCLA faces cross town rival USC - a 59-55 winner over Arizona State - in one of the semifinal games Friday.

Washington St. 75 Oregon 70
This was a tough matchup for the Ducks and it may have cost them any chance at consideration for an NCAA bid. The Cougars roared to a 42-27 lead at the half and turned back repeated challenges by Oregon to advance to Friday's semifinals to face the winner of the Stanford-Arizona game later tonight.

The Ducks pulled to within four points on Tajuan Porter's three-pointer with under 90 seconds remaining, but were forced to foul down the stretch and could draw no closer. It was the third time this season the Cougars dunked the Ducks.

Marquette 89 Notre Dame 79
Jerel McNeal just kept firing, but when he was forced to sit with three fouls midway through the second half, teammate Dominic James took over, scoring seven straight points for the Golden Eagles, putting Marquette ahead for good. McNeal, who had nearly single-handedly kept Marquette in the game most of the night, finished with a game high 28 points on 9-16 shooting, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Marquette will play Pittsburgh in one of Friday's semifinal games.

Boston College 71 Maryland 68
Count the Terrapins out of the ACC and the NCAA tournament. The troubled Terrapins collapsed in the second half of their first-round game with Boston College, surrendering any chance of consideration by the NCCA tournament committee for an at-large bid.

Maryland finished the ACC season 8-8 and was on the bubble heading into the conference tourney, but losing to last-place (4-12) BC was the last straw. The loss was the third straight for Maryland and their sixth in their last eight outings.

Mid-day Movers: Mountaineers Climb; Hoyas Hammer 'Cats

Conference Tournament Results

West Virginia 78 Connecticut 72
The Mountaineers now have everybody's attention and probably an at-large invite to the NCAAs with their second straight win in the Big East Tournament. UConn probably has little to worry about, since they went 13-5 in the Big East and 24-7 overall.

Georgetown 82 Villanova 63
The Hoyas put the hammer down on Villanova, a team they beat by just two points during the regular season. The Wildcats may have been a little weary from playing yesterday, while the well-rested Hoyas - who received a first round bye - were clicking from the outside as center Roy Hibbert played only 14 minutes, eventually fouling out with no points and four rebounds. Jesse Sapp and Jonathan Wallace were on fire from three-point range. Wallace hit 5-of-6, while Sapp nailed 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. Sapp finished with a game-high 23 points. Wallace had 20 as the Hoyas shot 54% for the game.

Villanova shot only 33% and now must sweat out Selection Sunday. They are 20-12 overall and finished 9-9 in the Big East. Georgetown will face West Virginia in one of two semi-final games on Friday.

Florida St. 70 Wake Forest 60
The Seminoles kept their hopes alive for a bid with an opening round win over Wake Forest in the ACC tourney. The Deacons are unlikely to go anywhere but the NIT.

Miami 63 NC State 50
Say bye-bye to the Wildcats for this season and hello to the Hurricanes. The opening round win nearly cinches an at-large berth for Miami, which finished the ACC regular season 8-8 and tied with Maryland for fifth place. The Hurricanes own a win over the Terps, as well as Duke, Clemson and, outside the conference, Mississippi State.

In the Big 10 tourney, Michigan beat Iowa, 55-47, and Illinois topped Penn St., 64-63, though neither are likely to make the NCAA tourney unless they win the entire tourney, which is unlikely.

Over in the Big 12, Colorado downed Baylor, 91-84, in double overtime. The opening-round loss puts the Bears back on the bubble with a 9-7 regular season conference record and 21-10 slate overall.

Oklahoma State knocked out Texas Tech, 76-72, but the Cowboys' 7-9 conference record really hurts their chances.

This pair of games leaves the doors wide open for Texas A&M, Oklahoma and long-shot Nebraska.

No surprises so far in the SEC Tournament opening round. South Carolina slipped by LSU, 77-73, and Vanderbilt cruised to a 93-82 win over Auburn.

Portland State Gets a Bid; Arizona Advances

Late Results from March 12 West Coast games

Portland State 67 Northern Arizona 51
The Portland State Vikings earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a win in the championship game of the Big Sky conference tourney. It's the fist ever invitation for the Vikings, who dominated the Big Sky with a 14-2 regular season record, losing only road games at Weber State and CSU Fullerton. The Vikings have won five straight and 14 of their last 15.

Arizona 87 Oregon State 56
The Arizona Wildcats demolished Oregon State in the opener of the PAC-10 tournament, shooting 54% from the field, including 9-of-17 three-pointers. The Wildcats face Stanford in the second round, Thursday night. A win there might put them on the radar for an at-large bid, though they will have to counteract their 8-10 regular season conference record.

California 84 Washington 81
The Golden Bears clung to their slim hopes of earning an NCAA at-large bid with a narrow escape in the first round of the PAC-10 tourney. Due to a 6-10 regular season PAC-10 record, for Cal to even be considered for a bid they'd likely have to win the entire tournament, meaning they'll have to defeat #3-ranked UCLA on Thursday in the second round.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Big East First Round Results; Mt. Saint Mary's Shocks Northeast

Villanova 82 Syracuse 63
That should do it for the Wildcats... and for Syracuse. Villanova used a 12-3 spurt midway through the second half to turn a close game into a runaway and secure an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. For Syracuse, the loss was the culmination of a frustrating, injury-filled season that will likely end in the NIT Tournament.

Scottie Reynolds led all scorers with 22 points, including 4-of-7 three-pointers. Corey Stokes pitched in 18, hitting 4-of-8 from three-point range. The game was the opener for the Big East Tournament, which showcases one of the nation's great conferences through the weekend at Madison Square Garden. Villanova moves on to face top-seeded Georgetown in the second round on Thursday.

West Virginia 58 Providence 53
Joe Alexander scored 22 points and Da'Sean Butler added 18 points and nine rebounds to pace the Mountaineers past Providence and into the second round of the Big East tournament. Next up for the Mountaineers is Connecticut, who topped West Virginia 79-71 on March first at UConn. The second round game is slated for a 2:00 pm tip. West Virginia finished 11-7 in the conference during the regular season and may still need a win in order to receive a NCAA at-large bid. They are battling Pitt and Villanova for the probable 6th and 7th seeds from the Big East. Both the Panthers and Wildcats won opening round games on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh 70 Cincinnati 64
The Panthers finally closed out a stubborn Bearcats team to move into the second round of the Big East tourney. Pitt faces Louisville on Thursday night. A win over Louisville would almost certainly earn an NCAA bid for the Panthers, while a loss would still leave some doubt.

Marquette 67 Seton Hall 54
Marquette was probably going to get an NCAA invite whichever way this game turned, but winning it, and moving into the next round against Notre Dame, is certainly preferable. The Golden Eagles split a pair of games with the Irish this season, each team winning at home. On a neutral court, Marquette may rate a slight edge.

Marquette's Jerel McNeil was the game's high scorer with 21 points.

Mt. Saint Mary's Captures Northeast Title, Earns Bid

It's been a long, strange trip for the Mountaineers from Mt. Saint Mary's, but it's about to get even longer. The Mountaineers, who began the season with four straight losses, and found themselves at 8-11 on January 24, avenged earlier, regular season losses to Robert Morris and Sacred Heart and swept through the Northeast Conference tournament to capture an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Mountaineers finished the regular season in 4th place at 11-7, behind Robert Morris (16-2), Wagner (15-3) and Sacred Heart (13-5). After knocking off Quinnipiac, 80-70 in the opening round of the conference tourney, they thundered past Robert Morris, 83-65 on Sunday, and downed Sacred Heart, 69-55, in the final, Wednesday.

At 18-14, the Mountaineers will probably be a 16 seed and cannon fodder for one of the four #1's in the tournament. They've won five straight and seven of their last eight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Trio from the WCC?

With unlikely wins over both St. Mary's and then Gonzaga - in the West Coast Conference tournament final - the San Diego Toreros earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and sent the college basketball world officially into the Madness that is March.

The Toreros finished third in the WCC regular season, but came through in the tourney to better the top two finishers. Both Gonzaga (13-1 conference, 25-7 overall), which won the WCC regular season, and St. Mary's (12-2, 25-6) have the credentials to receive at-large bids, but both will have to sweat it out until Selection Sunday, March 16.

Other teams, from other conferences will be sweating along with them. With only 34 at-large bids available after the champions of 31 conferences get automatic bids, a handful of teams from major conferences find themselves on the proverbial "bubble" for tourney bids.

If the WCC sends all three, which seems likely, that leaves only 32 at-large bids to go around.

At the moment, the teams in the most precarious positions are Pittsburgh, Villanova and Syracuse in the Big East; Virginia Tech, Miami and Maryland in the ACC; Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the Big 12; Creighton and Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference; Arizona State and Oregon in the PAC-10; and Arkansas in the SEC. Florida, last year's national champion, was likely eliminated with their regular season finale loss at Kentucky.

Of the majors, the Big East and PAC-10 tournaments open on Wednesday, while the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten tourneys tip on Thursday.

The first to fall will probably be either Villanova or Syracuse, who face off at noon Eastern on Wednesday.

#12 Butler 70 Cleveland St. 55
The Butler Bulldogs earned an NCAA automatic bid Tuesday night by capturing the Horizon League title with a win over stubborn Cleveland State in the tournament final. In addition to banging home key three-pointers late in the game, the Bulldogs repeatedly stepped to the foul line and converted, hitting 24 of 32 free throws, while the Vikings of Cleveland State tried only 19 freebies, hitting 13 of them.

Butler's Mike Green led the scoring parade with 24 points, including converting 11-of-13 from the foul line.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Tar Heels Repel Duke, Capture ACC Title

#1 North Carolina 76 #6 Duke 68
With Ty Lawson back in the lineup, the Tar Heels (14-2, 29-2) took care of business in enemy territory and captured the ACC regular season title. Carolina bloked 15 shots, held the Blue Devils to 33% shooting and controlled the boards, 53-44. Duke remains the second-best team in the conference, and the tournament will only help determine which other teams - maybe as many as 4 more - get into the NCAA field.

Richmond 61 #8 Xavier 86
The Musketeers (26-5, 14-4) completed their Atlantic-10 regular season without point guard Drew Lavender, who was rested for this somewhat meaningless game, nursing a sore ankle. Xavier gets a bye for the first round of the A-10 tourney, and will next hit the hardwood on Thursday, in Atlantic City.

Cincinnati #13 Connecticut
This season-ender for both teams was postponed by bad weather and was rescheduled for 6:00 pm on Sunday.

IL Chicago 50 #14 Butler 66
Butler moves on the the Horizon League tourney finals against Cleveland State on Sunday.

#19 Notre Dame 67 South Florida 60
The Irish close out the regular season 14-4 in the Big East and 24-6 overall. They look like a solid 4, 5, or 6 seed.

Washington 73 #23 Washington State 76
This game only settles which is the better team in the state, which was pretty much already established. The Cougars are just waiting in the wings to do some damage in the NCAA tourney. Despite their ranking, they could forge a path to the Elite Eight.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday's Season Finales Offer a Little Insight

#12 Louisville 52 #11 Georgetown 55
A little too much inside and outside by the Hoyas as they wrap up the Big East regular season title and win their 20th straight home game.

UAB 56 #2 Memphis 94
Another walk-through for the Tigers. 3rd straight 30-win season. Playing in Conference-USA will do that.

#16 Vanderbilt 73 Alabama 78
Vandy hitting a little bit of a rough patch after upsetting Tennessee last week. Second loss in their last three outings, both on the road. The Commodores were less-than-interested participants here, as a NCAA bid is already a foregone conclusion. Their performance in the SEC tournament will decide their seeding level.

Wofford 49 #25 Davidson 82
20 game win streak for the Davidson Wildcats, who may enter the NCAAs with the longest winning streak in the nation. They are a very dangerous team, likely to get a 12 or 13 seed. Losses to North Carolina, Duke and UCLA by 4, 6, and 12, respectively, look pretty good on their resume.

#7 Stanford 64 USC 77
The Cardinal has lost their last two, both on the road in SoCal, but this one really showed where the team is, mentally and physically. A 4 or 5 seed at best and hopes of making the Sweet 16 seem to be about all they' can expect.

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Creighton 67 #20 Drake 75
This hurts Creighton's chances of becoming the 4th team from the MVC to earn a bid, but only a little as Drake is the probable favorite over Illinois State in Sunday's MVC Tourney Final. Drake, Southern Illinois and Illinois State all seem likely to receive bids. This conference is very solid and it would be a shame if they don't send at least three teams, but Creighton as the fourth would even be better.

#10 Wisconsin 65 Northwestern 52
Badgers wrap up the Big 10 title with their 7th straight win. As solid as they come, Wisconsin finishes up 16-2 and 26-4 overall.

California 80 #3 UCLA 81
Bruins didn't need this one, but battled to the end, winning on a wild, behind-the-basket shot by Josh Shipp. UCLA will damage some PAC-10 teams' hopes during the conference tourney.

#5 Kansas 72 Texas A&M 55
An absolute rout and furthers the belief that the Aggies will not get an invitation to the Big Dance. Their fifth loss in their last seven games drops A&M to 8-8 in the conference and does not impress anyone, especially not the selection committee.

Kansas clinched at least a tie for the Big 12 title with Texas, who plays Oklahoma St. tomorrow in the regular season finale.

#21 Marquette 72 Syracuse 87
The Orangemen are in the most precarious position of probably any team in the nation concerning the NCAA selection process. This win was huge, making them 9-9 in the conference, and 19-12 overall. With a win over Georgetown figured in, the Orange probably need to win at least two games in the Big East tournament.

With five teams already in from the conference, Syracuse will be vying with Pitt, West Virginia, Cincy and Villanova for a final one or two spots. In all likelihood, the Big East sends seven, but just who goes is still up in the air. Stay tuned.