Showing posts with label Big Dance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Big Dance. Show all posts

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Saturday Semi-Finals: Florida vs. UCLA

8:47 pm EDT (#2 West) UCLA (30-5) vs. (#1 Midwest) Florida (33-5) - a rematch of last year's championship game and both teams have earned the right to be here, though Florida's route looks to have been considerably easier than that of the Bruins.Sports Training Products

The Gators are on an 8-game win streak which includes winning the SEC tourney. Even in their own conference tournament, though, the Gators didn't face the best teams in the SEC, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Florida skated through the conference tournament with wins over Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas. Only the Razorbacks made it to the Big Dance, and they were summarily dispatched in the opening round.

The teams Florida has played since then won't really have them properly prepped for UCLA, either. Jackson State was a walkover (112-69); they struggled with a very suspect Purdue team (74-67); struggled even more against the Butler Bulldogs (65-57), before beating up on Oregon, 85-77, a team which lost its shooting touch at precisely the wrong time.

Florida was not impressive in any of their wins, but they did what they had to do to advance. Against Oregon, specifically, they rode the red hot shooting of Lee Humphrey (7 of 13 3-pointers) and Taurean Green (4-8) to commandeer a healthy lead over the Ducks until the closing minutes of the game. Despite their substantial size advantage and Oregon's foul problems - 2 Ducks fouled out and 2 others finished with 4 fouls - the game got close late.

The considerable edge Florida had at the free throw line (28-43 to Oregon's 15-16) was also more than the margin of victory, so in retrospect, the Ducks (who also hit only 8-22 3-pointers) did more to lose that game than Florida did to win it.

The Gators also don't seem to have the same emotion as last year, which is understandable. Like sex, the first time is always the most thrilling, with each subsequent foray an opportunity to make mistakes. There are a lot of distractions which seem to have invaded Florida's game. The Gators are not as intense as last season's squad, despite having the same starting five. It's going to be a problem because the Bruins will be fired up.

Nothing prepares a team better than a loss. And last year's loss in the NCAA finals still stings the Bruins, especially their star, Arron Afflalo, who was basically invisible for much of the game.

Afflalo has raised his game, especially in the Bruins' last outing against Kansas. in which he led UCLA with 24 points in a 68-55 win. While Afflalo was doing the bulk of the scoring and hitting key shots at critical points, his running mate, Darren Collison was aiding the cause with tight defense, 5 steals and 14 points, including 2 of 3 3-pointers.

If anyone thinks defense doesn't matter, they'd better take a closer look at that game. The Bruins turned the ball over 24 times themselves! Most of the time, that would result in a big, fat L. Instead, the UCLA players contested every Kansas shot, forced 21 Jayhawk turnovers and barely won the battle of the boards. They also played with tremendous commitment and tempo on offense and ended up outshooting Kansas, 53-41%.

When it was all over, the Bruins had held the Jayhawks to their lowest point total of the season. They earned the win, and they did it the hard way.

When the Bruins take the court against Florida, Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are going to give Al Horford and Joakim Noah a pair of steel-eyed looks that speak revenge. Collison and Afflalo match up very well with Humphrey and Green, though Afflalo may have to defend the taller, and more dangerous, Corey Brewer.

That matchup is the real key to the game. If Afflalo can limit Brewer's penetration, or Brewer can keep Afflalo off-balance on offense, their respective team will win the game. Brewer and his mates have already done it. Afflalo and the Bruins are hungry for a championship and they come in healthy and well-prepared.

On Friday, I'll give you the final take on who's going to advance, but right now, I'm leaning heavily towards UCLA.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bracket Breakdown: East and South

East: Load up on Texas and Georgetown

1 North Carolina
16 Eastern Kentucky
8 Marquette
9 Michigan State

12 Arkansas
4 Texas
13 New Mexico St.

3 Washington St.
14 Oral Roberts
6 Vanderbilt
11 George Washington

7 Boston College
10 Texas Tech
15 Belmont
2 Georgetown

North Carolina will be under pressure from the opening tip. Eastern Kentucky, out of the overlooked Ohio Valley conference, offers a nice blend of size and speed, and they'll give the Tar Heels fits. If North Carolina comes into the game overconfident or doesn't take good care of the ball, the Colonels will make them pay. The Tar Heels will almost surely win their opener, but it could be a nail biter. After that, they'll face a dangerous Marquette team, which should dispose of Michigan State with ease in the first round.

Marquette (24-9,10-6) is a giant killer. During the course of their up-and-down season, the Golden Eagles won road games at Duke, Louisville and Pitt, whom they also beat at home. And the Tar Heels look a lot like Pitt, with solid wingmen and a big guy in the middle. Marquette can pull off the early upset and send Carolina packing.

After that, the Golden Eagles will have to handle Kevin Durant and the Texas Longhorns, as good a team as there is in this tournament. The Longhorns will knock off undermanned New Mexico St. in the opener and then face the winner of the USC-Arkansas game, more than likely USC.

The Longhorns will put on a show whenever they take the floor, but expect a close one against USC and another nail-biter as they slip by Marquette.

The bottom half of the East bracket is all about Georgetown. There's nobody in their section that can stay close. They'll crush Belmont, then Texas Tech, and probably end up with Vanderbilt in the regional semi-final. Vandy should handle George Washington and then take out Oral Roberts, upset winners over Washington State.Sports Training Products

The Texas-Georgetown regional final will be a dream matchup. The thought of having Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green and Durant on the floor at the same time will have NBA scouts scurrying for tickets. Texas has played a load of close games this season, yet they always seem to come up just short. This will be another one of those games. The Longhorns will provide more than enough entertainment, but the Hoyas will move on to the Final Four.

South: Buckeye Trouble

1 Ohio State
16 Central Conn. St.
9 Xavier

5 Tennessee
12 Long Beach State
4 Virginia
13 Albany

3 Texas A&M
14 Penn
6 Louisville
11 Stanford

7 Nevada
10 Creighton
15 North Texas
2 Memphis

The South is loaded with great matchups, making it the most unpredictable of all the regions. Ohio State is the powerhouse, but there are three teams in their sub-bracket, #5 Tennessee, #8 BYU and #9 Xavier, which have legitimate shots at upsetting the Buckeyes. Fortunately for Ohio State, they'll only have to face two of those three as BYU and Xavier face off in the opening round.

Xavier, which tied UMass at 13-3 for 1st place in the heady Atlantic 10, lost to Rhode Island in the conference semi-finals. The A-10 tourney was won by George Washington, but the Musketeers crushed GW on Feb 10, an 87-58 road win. They are extremely dangerous and talented and had won 8 straight before their loss to Rhode Island. BYU lost to UNLV in the Mountain West tourney final but won the conference at 13-3. The Cougars could win, but look for Xavier to advance out of that game.

The Buckeyes will have their hands full with the Musketeers and a loss to them is not out of the equation. If you've got Ohio State going far in the tourney, you'd better get a few more sheets to fill out because they probably aren't going to get out of their region. Just for purposes of argument, I'll say they'll beat Xavier and advance to play Tennessee.

The Vols should cruise over Long Beach St. and play surprise winner Albany in the 2nd round. Though the Great Danes finished 2nd in the America East conference to Vermont, they topped the Catamounts, 60-59, in their tournament. Albany has won 13 of their last 15 and will stun #4 seed Virginia in the opening round. Tennessee will end the Great Danes run at one.

The Tennessee-Ohio St. game will be a rematch of their January 13 meeting at Ohio State which the Buckeyes won, 68-66. Give the Vols a neutral court, a team they understand and it's bye-bye Buckeyes. Tennessee is no slouch. They boast non-conference wins over Memphis, Texas and Oklahoma St., in addition to SEC wins over Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Alabama. At 22-10, they played one of the toughest schedules in the country and their inside-outside game of Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism can match up with the top teams in the nation.

The lower half of this bracket is equally intriguing. #2 seed Memphis is somewhat of an unknown quantity, having cruised through their Conference-USA schedule unscathed, they made a mockery of the teams in the conference tourney, winning by an average margin of 18 points. The Tigers (30-3), haven't lost since December and are riding a 22-game win streak, the nation's longest. They'll make that 23 straight with a romp over the North Texas Mean Green in the opening round and then play the winner of the Nevada-Creighton game, most likely Nevada.

This will be a tough matchup for both Nevada and Memphis and it will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond to being in a close, competitive game, which this will be. The only big name teams Memphis played this season were Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Arizona, all in November and December, and they lost two of those, to Arizona and Tech. Nevada isn't about to lose a 2nd round game. Cross the Tigers off the list. The #2 seed goes early.

That sets up a Nevada-Texas A&M regional semi-final. The Aggies have Penn in their opener, and should breeze. Louisville, winners over Stanford, will provide more competition, but the Aggies are just a more disciplined, talented team than Pitino's Cardinals.

The Aggies and Wolf Pack will engage in a real barn burner, maybe one of the best games of the tournament. Look for the Aggies to prevail and take the region with a win over Tennessee.

That sets up a Final Four of #3 Texas A&M vs. #2 Georgetown and #1 Kansas vs. #3 Oregon. I'll break that down tomorrow. For Tuesday's play-in game (Florida A&M vs. Niagara) take the Purple Eagles of Niagara to win the right to play Kansas.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bracket Breakdown: Midwest and West

Midwest: Florida has an easy route to the Regional but will be derailed by Oregon.


1 Florida
16 Jackson State
8 Arizona
9 Purdue

5 Butler
12 Old Dominion
4 Maryland
13 Davidson

3 Oregon
14 Miami (OH)
6 Notre Dame
11 Winthrop

10 Georgia Tech
15 Texas A&M Corpus Christie
2 Wisconsin

Sports Training ProductsFlorida will easily advance to the regionals. After beating Jackson St. in their opener, whichever team comes out of the Arizona-Purdue game will be chewy meat for the Gators to chomp. After that it gets a little more interesting, but not much. Maryland is likely to emerge from the lower tier of that sub-bracket and they could pull off the upset, though most doubt that will happen.

In the bottom half of the bracket, Wisconsin is extremely vulnerable and will probably get punched out by UNLV (28-6, 12-4), a team which has been surging and won the Mountain West tourney over a solid BYU squad. The Runnin' Rebels are riding a 7-game win streak and have a nice resume, including wins at Texas Tech and at Nevada. Georgia Tech, their 1st round opponent, should not have been invited to the Big Dance. They finished 8-8 in the ACC (20-11 overall) and were knocked out of the conference tourney by Wake Forest. A 92-85 win over Memphis on November 21 is their only quality road win. Their longest win streak was 5 games. Note that the Yellow Jackets are the #10 seed, UNLV the #7.

The other side of that sub-bracket should see Oregon and Notre Dame match up. Forget Winthrop beating the Irish. They'll give them a good game, but Notre Dame has superior outside shooting and a solid inside game. Both the Ducks and Irish are dangerous and their game could be one of the higher scoring contests of the tourney. Take Oregon to beat Notre Dame and then blast UNLV in the regional semis.

That sets up an Oregon-Florida showdown for the right to advance to the Final Four. Oregon will shock the overconfident Gators with superior quickness. While the Ducks have a negligible inside game, their guards will not allow the Gators anything easy on the outside, and if they hit their 3s, Oregon will pull off one of the larger upsets of the tourney.

West: Wide open and wild

1 Kansas
16 Play-in winner
8 Kentucky
9 Villanova

5 Virginia Tech
12 Illinois
4 Southern Illinois
13 Holy Cross

3 Pittsburgh
14 Wright State
6 Duke
11 VCU

7 Indiana
10 Gonzaga
15 Weber State

Nobody is safe in this region, though Kansas is clearly the best team on paper. The games are played on hardwood, however, so don't expect the Jayhawks to just waltz into the Final Four. In fact, they'll have their hands full with Kentucky after the Wildcats oust Villanova in the first round. In a game that will be much closer than many expect, Kansas will advance to the Regional, but not without a scare.

The Southern Illinois Salukis - the #4 seed - will get past Holy Cross in the opening round, but the darlings of the selection committee will be forced out by Virginia Tech, who will overwhelm Illinois in the opening round, sail past the Salukis, but be hammered mercilessly by Kansas.

The bottom half of the region is even more entertaining. Could anyone envision a Wright State-VCU matchup in the second round? At least one of those two will get there.

Pitt and Duke, the higher-seeded opponents, are vulnerable. Wright State won the Horizon League tourney while VCU is the automatic entry from the Colonial. Remember last year when George Mason made the final four? Well, the VCU Rams beat them three times this season and will be this year's Cinderella.

The bottom part of this sub-bracket has Gonzaga over Indiana, UCLA over Weber State, and Gonzaga besting the Bruins in another West coast showdown. The Gonzaga-VCU game could become an instant classic, with the Rams prevailing. Can VCU beat Kansas? No. The Jayhawks will hold their #1 seeding into the Final Four.

Tomorrow: Breaking down the East and South Brackets.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

PAC-10, Big East Will Crown Champions Today

As we wend our way through Championship Week into Selection Sunday, at least two major conference will decide champions today. In the Big East, Georgetown will face Pitt, while in the upside-down PAC-10, USC and Oregon will decide.

Results below, followed by picks.

ACC Tourney
Boston College 74 Miami 71 - Miami's dreams are over as BC's Tyrese Rice scored a season-high 32 points, including 6-10 3-pointers.

North Carolina 73 Florida St. 58 - 11 different players scored for the Tar Heels as Roy Williams continues to use his bench extensively, a strategy that could pay huge dividends during the tournament run. The Seminoles are firmly on the bubble.

Virginia Tech 71 Wake Forest 52

N.C. State 79 Virginia 71 - The surprising Wolfpack upended another ACC foe by scoring 53 points in the second half to rally past the Cavaliers.

SEC Tourney
Florida 74 Georgia 57 - A 14 point 1st half for the Bulldogs sealed their fate as Florida cruised to an easy win. Taurean Green scored 19 points to lead all scorers. Cory Brewer and Al Horford added 15 apiece.

Mississippi 80 LSU 60

Mississippi St. 84 Kentucky 82 (OT) - Sophomore Jamont Gordon scored scored 26 points as the Bulldogs continued to make their case by advancing past Kentucky.

Arkansas 72 Vanderbilt 71 - Arkansas continues to play on. Another win in the SEC Tourney should assure them an NCAA bid. Vandy likely has already done enough to impress the selection committee.

Big East Tourney
Georgetown 84 Notre Dame 82 - Jeff Green had a career-high 30 points, including the game-winner. The Hoyas will face Pitt in the Big East Tourney finals.

Pittsburgh 65 Louisville 59 - The Pitt Panthers surged in the second half as the Cardinals misfired from outside. Louisville hit only 8-28 3-pointers, but Pitt's Antonio Graves connected on 4 of 6, scored 23 points and helped Pitt reach the Big East finals for the 6th time in 7 years. The Panthers, down 37-26 at the half, went on a 20-2 run to start the 2nd half, establish a lead and never look back.

Big 10 Tourney
Illinois 58 Indiana 54 (OT) - Illinois continues to do a pretty good impersonation of Cinderella.

Purdue 74 Iowa 55 - Iowa is out of the NCAA Tourney.

Ohio St. 72 Michigan 62 - Greg Oden stayed out of foul trouble, hit 8-12 shots and led all scorers with 22 points as the Buckeyes advanced. Michigan and Michigan State are both on the NCAA bubble.

Wisconsin 70 Michigan St. 57 - Alando Tucker scored 21 points as the Badgers built an early lead and held off the Spartans.

Big 12 Tourney
Kansas St. 66 Texas Tech 45 - We may not see Bobby Knight and the Red Raiders in the NCAA Tourney after all. K-State looks like a solid 4th choice from the Big 12.

Kansas 64 Oklahoma 57 - Brandon Rush scored 16 to lead the Jayhawks over an inept Oklahoma squad which shot only 31% from the field including only 2-11 threes.Sports Training Products

Oklahoma St. 57 Texas A&M 56 - In the shocker of the day, the Cowboys got balanced scoring and held the Aggies' Acie Law to just 10 points, keeping their slim NCAA hopes alive.

Texas 74 Baylor 69 - The Longhorns rallied past upset-minded Baylor, scoring 49 2nd half points after trailing by as many as 20. Kevin Durant heated up in the 2nd half and led all scorers with 29 points.

PAC-10 Tourney
Oregon 81 California 63 - The Ducks are playing their best basketball at the right time. For the second straight game, they outshot and outhustled their opponent early on and built a huge lead. Up 44-23 at the half, the Ducks cruised to the PAC-10 finals. Tajuan Porter had another big game, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers en route to his game high 24 points.

USC 70 Washington St. 61 - The Trojans used defense and hot outside shooting to advance to the finals of the PAC-10 tourney. Holding the Cougars to just 36% shooting while hitting 10 of 16 from beyond the arc keyed the victory. Junior guard Gabe Pruitt was blistering, hitting 6 of 7 treys and leading the scoring with 26 points. The win assured USC of an NCAA bid.

Today's Picks

1:05 pm Mississippi St. (-1.5, 142) Arkansas - A good old-fashioned SEC barn burner. Take the over and enjoy.

1:35 pm North Carolina (-11) Boston College - BC simply can't hang with the Tar Heels for 40 minutes.

1:45 pm Ohio State (-6.5) Purdue - No sweat for Oden and Co.

2:05 pm Kansas (-10) Kansas St. - Kansas St. has played well enough to get an NCAA bid, but the Jayhawks are eying a #1 seed and should put on a show.

3:20 pm Florida (-10.5) Mississippi - The Rebels are fighting for their NCAA life, but the Gators have that look again. A romp to the SEC finals for Florida.

3:55 pm Virginia Tech (-7) NC State - The Wolfpack actually won both meetings this season, 70-59 and 81-56. The Hokies are up against it here. Those points are just a big bonus.

4:25 pm Texas (-4) Oklahoma St. - These two played a triple-overtime classic back in January. The Cowboys got the 105-103 home win then, but Texas has been in a maturation process since then and should come up with a big win.

6:05 pm USC (-1.5) Oregon - Both teams are red hot, but the Ducks seem to have the edge in quickness and shooting range.

9:05 pm Georgetown (-1.5) Pittsburgh - Georgetown got the better of the Panthers late in the season at home, but this one is huge and will have seeding implications. Expect a close game, but a sub could come up big as both teams played hard games on Friday. That just might be Patrick Ewing Jr. who came through yesterday for the Hoyas and could do so again.

4:10 pm Wisconsin (-6) Illinois - Wisconsin badly wants a rematch with Ohio St. in the conference tourney finals and won't let the Illini stand in their way.

Friday, March 09, 2007

SHOCKING: UCLA, Maryland, Duke Ousted in Opening Rounds

Major conference tournaments got off yesterday with a bang, the biggest of which was out on the West coast where top-seeded UCLA was unceremoniously ousted by upstart Cal. Other shockers were Duke being dumped by NC State and Miami over Maryland in the ACC; LSU got by Tennessee in the SEC. Recaps follow, then today's picks

Big East Tourney
#12 Louisville 82 West Virginia 71 (2OT) - The Cardinals may end up winning the Big East tourney. They have a balanced attack and a world class coach in Rick Pitino. West Virginia is bubbleicious at 22-9. Louisville's now won 7 in a row.

#13 Pittsburgh 89 #18 Marquette 79 - After losing to Marquette twice in the regular season, the Panthers got their revenge. The 24-9 Golden Eagles are pretty much assured an at-large bid, so they'll get a week off. Pitt's Aaron Gray had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

#9 Georgetown 62 Villanova 57 - Georgetown led by as many as 23 points in the first half, but sloppy play and some foolish fouls in the 2nd stanza made the game much closer than it should have been. The Hoyas' Roy Hibbert was his usual efficient self, leading the Georgetown scoring with 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting, but running mate Jeff Green was only 5-13 for 12 points while picking up 4 fouls.

For the Wildcats, it may have been do or die, as they now must wait until Sunday afternoon to see whether or not they'll play any more this season. At 22-10 and out of the Big East tourney, they are the bubbliest of bubble teams. Their fate is looking grim as their only wins over ranked teams were mid-January back-to-back home wins over Notre Dame and Texas. The only road win of note was a 56-52 win at Georgetown, though the Hoyas were unranked at the time. They have five losses to ranked opponents and closed out their season a shaky 4-3.

Notre Dame 89 Syracuse 83 - Notre Dame built a 10-point lead at the midway point of the 2nd half and held off the Orange the rest of the way. Syracuse could not buy a 3-pointer after the Irish gained their advantage, finishing a sad afternoon from behind the arc at just 5 of 24 (21%). Notre Dame's Colin Falls hit 7 from deep, however, and finished with 23 points. Russell Carter led all scorers (along with SU's Paul Harris) with 24 and Luke Harangody scored 20.

Despite the loss, the Orange are still likely to get an NCAA bid. They're 22-10 and 10-6 in the Big East, though they only have two quality wins, at Marquette and last week over Georgetown. Losses to Louisville, Pitt, Oklahoma St. and Wichita St. are not going to help their cause.

SEC Tourney
Arkansas 82 South Carolina 52 - The 8 men in Arkansas' rotation all got at least 15 minutes of playing time and all scored at least 4 points. Gary Ervin and Darian Townes led the way with 16 each. The Razorbacks could use another win or two to impress the committee. They face Vanderbilt today.

Georgia 80 Auburn 65

LSU 76 #22 Tennessee 67 (OT) - LSU's only hope of getting an NCAA berth is to win the SEC tourney, and they took a step in that direction with the OT win. Tennessee shouldn't worry too much, as they finished strong in the regular season. Their 22-10 record includes wins over Florida, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, plus a 2-point loss at Ohio St. "Big Baby" Glen Davis had 25 points for the Tigers. Chris Lofton scored 21 for Tennessee.

Kentucky 79 Alabama 67 - The Kentucky Wildcats extended their season and likely put and end to the long, slow collapse of the Alabama program. Ranked as high as 4th early in the on, the Crimson Tide began the season 13-1, but were only 7-10 the rest of the way. Their 7-9 mark in the SEC is probably not good enough to earn an invitation to the Big Dance.Sports Training Products

Randloph Morris and Ramel Bradley each scored 17 points for the Wildcats. Morris also grabbed 11 boards for the double-double. Kentucky got off to a slow start but built an 8-point lead at the half and maintained their advantage to the finish.

ACC Tourney
Wake Forest 114 Georgia Tech 112 2OT - The Demon Deacons won their opening tourney game and put a real damper on Georgia Tech's NCAA aspirations. At 20-11 and 8-8 in the ACC, an early exit from the tourney was not what they needed. Seven Wake players scored in double figures.

Miami 67 #17 Maryland 62 - One of the hottest teams down the stretch, the Maryland Terrapins found themselves on the wrong side of the score and out of the ACC tournament. The Terps hit only 38% from the field and were 15-26 from the foul line and the missed free throws were more than the difference in the game. Miami only shot 35% but hit 22 of 28 from the charity stripe and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the day.

Maryland is pretty much assured an NCAA bid, though Miami will have to win the ACC tournament to get in. The Hurricanes are 12-19 and finished their ACC campaign 4-12.

Florida St. 67 Clemson 66 - Al Thonton's dunk with 1:31 left to play tied the game at 66 and his free throw at 1.5 seconds sealed the win as the Seminoles knocked Clemson out of the ACC tournament and may have denied them an NCAA bid. Thornton led all scorers with 25 points.

Despite a decent 21-10 record, the Tigers were only 7-9 in the ACC, and won only 4 times in their last 14 games. Odds are good that they will be playing in the NIT tournament. Florida State earned win #20 here, but will likely have to win at least one more game to get the nod from the selection committee. They also went 7-9 in the ACC and lost 5 straight from Feb. 7-21, though now they are on a 3-game win streak.

Big 10 Tourney
Illinois 66 Penn St. 60
Michigan 49 Minnesota 40
Michigan St. 62 Northwestern 57

PAC-10 Tourney
California 76 #4 UCLA 69 (OT) - The top seed in the PAC-10, UCLA was supposed to cruise past their first round foe, but the Cal Bears had other ideas. The Bruins were only able to muster up 8-25 3-pointers (32%), but their 15-29 free throw shooting doomed them. UCLA will get a bid, but a number 1 slot is now in doubt.

USC 83 Stanford 79

#11 Washington St. 74 Washington 64 - The Cougars were outrebounded 31-24, but their 52% shooting boosted them over the in-state rival Huskies.

#16 Oregon 69 Arizona 50 - Tajuan Porter and Aaron Brooks bombed away from outside while the Wildcats couldn't find the rim and Oregon crushed Arizona in the opening round of the PAC-10 tournament. Porter finished with a game-high 21 points, clicking on 5 of 6 threes. Brooks was 4-8 beyond the arc for 16 points. Arizona's shooting was dismal at 35%, including 19% (3-16) from 3-point range.

Arizona is really going to have to sweat to get in the NCAA. This defeat was the 9th in their last 17 games and the selection committee isn't likely to look too kindly on an 8-9 record down the stretch. Additionally, the 50 points against the Ducks was easily the low point output of the season. Oregon, which tied Arizona and USC in the conference standings at 11-7, likely secured a berth with the win.

Big 12 Tourney
Oklahoma 68 Iowa St. 63

Baylor 97 Missouri 83 - Missouri will not get an NCAA bid. Baylor won't either, unless they win the Big 12 tourney.

Oklahoma St. 54 Nebraska 39

Texas Tech 81 Colorado 71 - Bobby Knight kept his NCAA hopes alive with a first round win. Martin Zeno had 28 points for the Red Raiders. Colorado hit only one of 11 3-point attempts. Tech faces Kansas St. today. The winner of that game should receive an at-large bid.

Today's Picks:

12:00 pm North Carolina (-11) Florida State - These two met back in January and the Tar Heels won at home, 84-58. This one figures to be a little closer. The Seminoles' Al Thornton is on a mission, but the rest of the squad can't match Carolina's starting five, especially in the middle, where Tyler Hansbrough may prove unstoppable. The Tar Heels won't miss a beat here with a double-digit win.

12:00 pm Ohio State (-8) Michigan - These two met just 6 days ago, with the Buckeyes rallying for a 65-61 road win. Greg Oden spent much of the game on the bench, but the Wolverines proved they could hang in. With an NCAA bid on the line, expect Michigan to leave it all on the court. Upset possible, and a close game for sure.

1:00 pm Kentucky (-2) Mississippi State - At 17-12 and 8-8 in the SEC, the Bulldogs could probably use a win here. Kentucky won their only meeting this season, 64-60, at home. On a neutral court, the edge shifts to the hungry Bulldogs, who may be thinking, "a win and we're in."

2:30 pm Boston College (-6) Miami - After beating Maryland, the Hurricanes must be feeling their oats. BC beat them twice this season, 82-63 in Boston and 75-68 in Miami. The Eagles don't have much depth and didn't finish the season well, losing 4 of their last 5. A loss could send them to the NIT instead of the Big Dance and the pressure may just get to them. Take Miami.

Vanderbilt (-2) Arkansas - Maybe the sleeper in the SEC, the Razorbacks beat Vandy on their own court, 82-67, just 6 days ago. Look for a repeat performance from the Hogs and NCAA bids for both of these teams.

6:40 pm Wisconsin (-3.5) Michigan State - The Spartans lost by just a deuce the past Saturday at Wisconsin, 52-50, and now they're on neutral ground. Should be close, but the Badgers should get a better performance from Kammron Taylor, who was only 2-9 in that game, though he did have the winning basket. Wisconsin should win and cover.

7:05 pm Georgetown (-4) Notre Dame - The Hoyas have obvious advantages, especially in their height advantage. Notre Dame, however, is playing very well. They've won 5 straight and seem to understand how to win on the road, which is of utmost importance at this time of year. Luke Harangody in the middle and Colin Falls and Russell Carter on the perimeter should make things tough for the Hoyas. The Irish could easily win this one.

9:00 pm Oregon (-5.5) California - Sure, the Bears topped UCLA, but the Ducks are loaded with offensive weapons and will waddle away with an easy win.

9:25 pm Pittsburgh (-1.5) Louisville - The Cardinals won their only meeting of the year, 66-53, on Feb. 12 at Pitt. The Panthers will make adjustments to counter the Louisville zone defense, but it may not matter. The Cardinals are on a serious roll and should pull out a close win.

11:20 pm Washington St. (-2) USC - The Cougars handled USC twice this season, but only by 2 and 3 points. In another that could come down to the wire, take Washington St. for the three-peat. USC will probably get an NCAA bid in any case, as will Wash. St.

7:05 pm Texas A&M (no line) Oklahoma St. - If you can get down on this one, back up the truck. The Cowboys have no shot at making the NCAA unless they win the Big 12 tourney, but there are too many good teams in their way, the best of which may be right here. The Aggies thumped Oklahoma St. 66-46 just two weeks ago for the road win, and beat them back in January, 67-49. The Aggies will likely be 15 point favorites, but they may win by 25.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hot Game Picks for Conference Tourneys

With the major conference tourneys underway, the focus shifts to Madison Square Garden, site of the Big East games, LA's Staples Center for the PAC-10, the Georgia Dome for the SEC, Chicago's United Center (Big 10), the Ford Center in Oklahoma City (Big 12) and the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa for the ACC tourney. But first, two more teams snatched up automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament last night:

Central Connecticut State 74 Sacred Heart 70 - The Blue Devils of Central Connecticut got big games from their upperclassmen guards, junior Tristan Blackwood and senior Javier Mojica, who combined to hit 9 of 16 3-pointers and tally 46 points overall. Those efforts led to a win over Sacred Heart in the finals of the Northeast Conference tournament and the right to play on in March. Central Connecticut was easily the class of the conference at 16-2, with a 22-11 record overall.Sports Training Products

The Blue Devils look very much like a one-and-done kind of team, as their record prior to conference play was an underassuming 3-9, with losses to such stellar powerhouses as St. Bonaventure, Lehigh and Harvard (you really have to work to lose to an Ivy League team). Wherever these guys get seeded, they should at least be able to generate some offense. They scored 70 or more points in 11 of their last 13 games.

Weber St. 88 Northern Arizona 80 - Out in the Big Sky, a trio of scorers -
Dezmon Harris (20 points), Juan Pablo Silviera (21) and David Patten (22) - led the Wildcats to victory in the championship game. Weber St. and No. Arizona had tied for first place in the regular season at 11-5, but the Wildcats shot a blistering 66% (29-44) from the field, opened up a 16-point halftime lead and coasted home.

The Wildcats had already beaten the Lumberjacks twice during conference play, so completing the trifecta was a crowing achievement. They finish up at 20-11 and played just one then-ranked team, losing to Washington in December, 80-51.

Conference Tourney Scores -

Big East
Syracuse 78 Connecticut 65
#18 Marquette 76 St. John's 67
Villanova 75 DePaul 67
West Virginia 92 Providence 79

Washington 59 Arizona St. 51
California 70 Oregon St. 51

Today's Tourney Picks
12:00 pm Florida St. vs. Clemson (-1.5) - Take the Seminoles to move on. Al Thornton scored a career high 45 points in the season finale over Miami. The senior forward is a big time scorer and leader. Clemson won their regular season tilts, 68-66, and 71-58 at Clemson, but Florida St. will have home fans on hand in Tampa. Look for Toney Douglas to add some spark for Florida State.

12:00 pm Georgetown (-5) vs. Villanova - End of the line for the Wildcats. If they lose, their 23-10 record could still be good enough to get a bid. The Hoyas are too big up front and should blow 'Nova away.

1:00 pm Kentucky (-4) vs. Alabama - The Wildcats are no great shakes and Alabama's late season woes are also well-documented. Both teams collapsed late in the season, losing 5 of their final 7 games. The only meeting this season was at Alabama, where the Tide prevailed, 72-61. There's a good chance that neither of these teams will make the field of 65. In what should be an ugly (but close) game, you must take the points.

2:00 pm Notre Dame (-1.5) vs. Syracuse - The Orangemen got hot at the right time, winning 5 straight before dropping their season finale at Villanova. Their win yesterday over UConn was a nice start and they're fully loaded for this one. The Irish beat them 103-91 at the Carrier Dome earlier in the season, one of only three Notre Dame Big East road wins. The Irish ride a 5-game win streak and look good off the first round bye. Tough call, as the Irish don't generally play well at the Garden, but they have the firepower to prevail. Syracuse should get a bid even if they lose here.

3:00 pm Arizona (-2) vs. Oregon - Arizona struggled through the PAC-10 schedule, but won 5 of their last 7 to finish 10-8. One of those wins was a 77-74 win on February 10 at Oregon. Following that game, the Wildcats lost at home to USC and UCLA, but finished up with three straight road wins. Oregon also lost their first meeting, 79-77 at Arizona, so they really are up against it. I'm taking the Ducks to pull off the upset. They can't be too happy losing two close games to the Wildcats.

7:00 pm Duke (-9.5) vs. North Carolina State - The Blue Devils have struggled all season mostly because they don't have a third scoring threat after DeMarcus Nelson and Greg Paulus. Duke finished with losses to Maryland and at North Carolina and are really not on the bubble, though they should be. They crushed NC State back in January, 79-56, and the Wolfpack has been a blowout victim to most of the better teams in the ACC. Duke should handle this one with ease.

9:45 pm Tennessee (-2) vs. LSU - LSU has Big Baby Glen Davis in the middle, but the Vols have Chris Lofton on the perimeter and he should prove to be the decisive factor. Tennessee closed out the regular season with four straight wins including triumphs over Alabama and Florida, so they are rarin' to go and should seal a tourney bid with a win here. The last meeting between these two resulted in a 70-67 Volunteer win. At 16-14, LSU must win the tournament to get an NCAA bid, but dreams die hard this time of year.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mean Green, Golden Eagles, Wright St. Raiders are In

Punch the dance ticket for Wright St., the winner of the Horizon League championship, and the Mean Green North Texas, who prevailed over Arkansas St. to capture the Sun Belt title. Open wide for Oral Roberts, winners of the Mid-Continent conference championship on Tuesday night.

The list of schools with automatic bids has now swelled to 12.

Wright St. 60 #19 Butler 55 - Followers of the Horizon League saw this one coming. The Butler Bulldogs, who had been ranked in the Top 25 most of the season, hit only 7-23 (30%) from beyond the arc and Wright State's Raiders rode senior Dashaun Wood's 29 points to the tournament championship. Wood was 9-15 from the field including 6 threes.

The Raiders and Bulldogs tied for the regular season lead at 13-3, though Wright State won their most recent meeting, 77-65, after being battered by the Bulldogs back in January, 73-42. Since that low point, Wright State has won 12 of 14 and roll into the NCAA Tournament with a full head of steam.

Butler, which finished 27-6, still may be chosen with an at-large bid, though their 4-4 record to close out the season will not likely impress the selection committee.

North Texas 83 Arkansas St. 75 - Led by Calvin Watson's 6 3-pointers and 24 points, the Mean Green held off a rugged Arkansas St. squad to capture the Sun Belt crown. North Texas had five players in double figures as they shot 53% for the game but didn't help themselves from the foul line, converting only 17 of 30 attempts (57%).

The unlikeliest of winners, North Texas (23-10, 10-8) finished 3rd in the Sun Belt West, but by luck of the draw and other upsets, didn't have to face either of the two teams with the best conference records, South Alabama or Western Kentucky. They beat LA-Monroe and Middle Tennessee St. to advance to the final, where they made the most of their opportunity. North Texas will be riding a five-game win streak into the tournament.

Oral Roberts 71 Oakland 67 - Caleb Green scored 28 points on 11-19 shooting to lead the Golden Eagles over the Golden Grizzlies in the Mid-Continent tournament championship. The effort lifted Green to the all time career scoring leader in the conference and got Oral Roberts into the Big Dance with a 23-10 record (12-2, conference). Oral Roberts had trailed by 9 at the half, but a big 2nd half defensive effort - limiting Oakland to just 22 points - proved decisive.

The Golden Eagles have big-time aspirations even though they will be a 14-16 seed. In just their 2nd game of the season, way back on November 15, they strolled into Kansas and won, 78-71, over the mighty Jayhawks, a likely #1 seed. The loss was one of only 4 on the season for Kansas.Sports Training Products

On Wednesday, the majors get into the act, with the Big East and PAC-10 tournaments headlining events. The Atlantic 10 conference also gets underway in Atlantic City, along with Conference USA, the Big West and Mid-American also in their opening rounds.

The Mountain West, WAC, Big Sky and Mid-Eastern are already through the opening rounds.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gonzaga, VCU, Niagara qualify for NCAA Tournament

Minor and mid-major conference tournaments are all the rage this week, with a number already completed, some still ongoing and three more crowning champions last night.

Gonzaga 77 Santa Clara 68 - Gonzaga, a fixture in the Big Dance for many years, captured their 8th West Coast Conference (WCC) in the last nine years, earing them an automatic bid to March Madness. Derek Raivio scored a season-high 28 points for the Bulldogs, who will likely earn a 6 or 7 seed on Selection Sunday (March 11).

Gonzaga has had great success in the NCAA tournament and is widely recognized as one of the teams that popularized the term "Cinderella" when it comes to tourney jargon. The "Zags" - as they are commonly referred-to - routinely upset higher-ranked teams as the field of 64 is whittled down over the first weekend. They typically get through the first two rounds, but have gone as far as an Elite 8, never reaching the Final Four.

Expect some excitement from the Zags again this year. The 23-10 record is somewhat deceiving because of the tough non-conference schedule. Gonzaga played at North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Butler, Stanford and Washington State and hosted games against Duke, Washington, Memphis and Nevada. Of those, they only beat North Carolina, Texas, Stanford and Washington, which alone is saying something. The 7 non-conference losses are to teams which will likely to be playing next week, and if there's anything such as a quality loss, circle the losing - 78-77 - effort on Feb. 17 against Memphis, which currently has won 19 straight.

If nothing else, Gonzaga is battle-tested.

Niagara 83 Siena 79 - Tyrone Lewis scored a career-high 24 points as Niagara took home the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship, and with it a trip to the field of 65. The 22-11 Purple Eagles won their 11th straight game and will be in the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd time in three years.Sports Training Products

Niagara got the automatic bid despite starting out the season 1-6, with losses to teams like Valparaiso, Akron and St. John's. But they went about business in the MAAC with a 13-5 record, and then knocked off Rider, Loyola and Siena on consecutive nights to earn the title.

The Purple Eagles didn't play a ranked team this season, but non-conference wins over Central Michigan and Duquesne offer a glimpse of what they have as a team - not much. They will likely be a 15 or 16 seed and match up against some team like Kansas, Georgetown or UCLA in the opening round.

VCU 65 George Mason 59 - With a name that's not at all common around college basketball circles, Virginia Commonwealth University won the Colonial Atlantic conference tournament, snatching the automatic bid from last season's Cinderella, George Mason.

In 2006, the Patriots ran all the way to the Final Four before losing to Florida, 73-58. This season, George Mason will not go to the Big Dance, having posted a 18-15 record and finishing 8-8 in the conference.

The 27-6 VCU Rams will move on, however. After going through their conference schedule with a 16-2 record, they knocked off Georgia State and Drexel before last night's championship victory. The Rams won 10 straight from Jan. 3-29, and are likely to be a 16 seed.

Along with these three there are now 9 teams that have earned automatic bids, including Penn (Ivy League), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South), Creighton (MVC) and Davidson (Southern).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Madness Underway: Big Conferences Finish Regular Seasons

With all conferences now finished with their regular seasons (except for a Big 12 makeup game - Ok. St. at Nebraska), tournaments to determine automatic bids are underway in some smaller conferences with the majors to begin on Wednesday as we creep closer to Selection Sunday.

Recaps from Sunday, March 3:

#5 Florida 85 Kentucky 72 - After a halftime tie at 43, the Gators got their game on in the second half and ripped the Wildcats by 13, to end the regular season on a winning note. Florida's big men got the job done inside, as Joakim Noah and Al Horford scored 17 and 14, both of them grabbed 10 rebounds. Taurean Green also threw in 17 points in the home win.

The rebounding edge for Florida - 35-23 - was enhanced as Kentucky's Randolph Morris was saddled with fouls and saw just 18 minutes of floor time. The Gators finished at 13-3, atop the SEC East and 26-5 overall. Kentucky ended at 9-7, 4th in the SEC East and 20-10 overall. Florida will get a bye in the opening round of the SEC tournament.Sports Training Products

#8 North Carolina 86 #14 Duke 72 - The Tar Heels captured a share of the ACC championship with Virginia, finishing the season 11-5 as Virginia Tech lost to Clemson and Boston College was unceremoniously dispatched at Georgia Tech and finished in a tie for 3rd place. Duke finished an uncharacteristic 6th in the ACC at 8-8, ties with Georgia Tech.

Tyler Hansbrough had a monster game for North Carolina, leading all scorers with 26 points while also hauling down 17 rebounds. Hansbrough missed the final seconds of the game as he was hacked on his nose by Duke's Gerald Henderson, and left the floor bleeding profusely. Henderson was called for a flagrant foul, ejected and suspended for Duke's next game. Henderson scored 16 for the Blue Devils, who were swept for the first time in 11 years by North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be the #1 seed in the ACC tournament.

Creighton 67 #11 Southern Illinois 61 - The Creighton Bluejays rose to the occasion and captured the Missouri Valley Conference championship. Ranked as high as 10th in some preseason polls, the Bluejays dropped out of the Top 25 early on, following losses at Nebraska, Dayton, Fresno St. and Hawaii. They finished the regular season in the MVC at 13-5, behind the 15-3 Salukis, but swept their tournament games to grab the NCAA Tournament automatic bid.

Southern Illinois will no doubt get an at-large bid. Yesterday's loss ended a 13-game win streak. The Salukis are 27-6 overall and may be joined from the MVC by Missouri State (12-6, 22-10).

#16 Louisville 86 Seton Hall 71 - Rick Pitino has the Louisville Cardinals ready for the Big Dance. On Sunday, the Cardinals won their 6th straight and grabbed a share of 2nd place in the Big East with Pitt at 12-4. Freshman guard Edgar Sosa led the way with 18 points. David Padgett and Terrence Williams each added 15 points as the Cardinals played their third straight game without starting forward Juan Palacios who has been suffering from back spasms.

Clemson 75 #21 Virginia Tech 74 - Despite playing at home and Zabian Dowdell's 25 points, the Virginia Tech Hokies were denied by Clemson and win and a share of first place in the ACC. The Hokies will have to settle for a 3rd place tie with Boston College, who also lost on Sunday.

Mississippi St. 91 Alabama 67 - The Bulldogs won at home, putting 6 players in double figures as they dismantled the Crimson Tide and earned a share of the SEC West title with Mississippi. Both teams finished conference play at 8-8. Alabama ended their regular season at 7-9 and will likely not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia Tech 74 Boston College 60 - Boston College turned the ball over 20 times and the Georgia Tech took advantage at home to finish up ACC play at 8-8 and deny the Eagles a share of first place. The Yellow Jackets got points from 9 different players as they improved to 20-10 overall and kept hopes alive for a ticket to the Big Dance. Should the Yellow Jackets win two games in the conference tourney, they should receive an at-large bid. They open with Wake Forest on Thursday night.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life is Tough on the Road

College hoops is one sport where being at home matters. It was never more evident than yesterday, as a horde of ranked and quality teams hit the road and either lost or failed to cover spreads.

But, with conference regular seasons ending today, the unusually huge demands made on road teams will suddenly fly out the window. As the action shifts to neutral sites for conference tourneys and the Big Dance, that advantage/disadvantage disappears. The real quality will finally begin to step forward.Sports Training Products

Villanova 78 Syracuse 75 - With their season on the line, the wildcats scratched out a regular season-ending home win over stubborn Syracuse. The Wildcats led by 10 with 2 minutes left, but turnovers, missed free throws and some big baskets by Demetris Nichols and Eric Devendorf (career high 33 points) made the game a close call to the final buzzer. Syracuse ended their Big East campaign at 10-6, Villanova, 9-7. Both teams have 21-9 records overall and their NCAA Tournament fate will likely be decided in the Big East tourney which starts on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Washington 61 #2 UCLA 51 - The Huskies led the entire game, at one point by 16, and completed their weekend sweep of the PAC-10's Southern California contingent. On Thursday, Washington humbled USC. With an 8-10 mark in the conference, Washington has slim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament field, though they may qualify if they fare well in the PAC-10 tourney next week.

#1 Ohio St. 65 Michigan 61 - Greg Oden played only 23 minutes due to foul trouble, but the Buckeyes surged late, scoring the last 10 points of the game to overcome a tough home team at Michigan. Oden finished with 16 points, as did senior guard Ron Lewis. Ohio State had already secured the Big Ten regular season title.

#20 Marquette 75 #12 Pittsburgh 71 - Pittsburgh had their chance, but host Marquette denied them a share of the Big East championship, as Georgetown won their final game to finish conference play at 13-3. Freshman David Cubillan and sophomore Wesley Matthews scored 20 points apiece as the Golden Eagles - who led by as many as 17 - held off a late rally by the Panthers. The loss was the 2nd straight on the road for Pitt, which seems to have lost some of its spark.

#10 Nevada 69 New Mexico St. 65 - The Nevada Wolf Pack scored 41 2nd half points and rallied past the determined Aggies for their final regular season home win. Marcelus Kemp had 32 for the victors to go with Nick Fazekas' 22. Nevada had already clinched the WAC title.

#17 Oregon 70 Oregon St. 49 - Overcoming mid-season struggles, the Oregon Ducks finished their regular season with their 3rd straight win, an 11-7 record in the PAC-10 (tied for 3rd with Arizona and USC) and a 23-7 mark overall.

#13 Washington St. 88 #23 USC 86 2OT - Aron Baynes scored a career-high 25 points as the Washington St. Cougars finished their regular season with a thrilling home win and 2nd place in the PAC-10 standings at 13-5.

#22 Notre Dame 73 Rutgers 66 - The Fighting Irish squeezed by Rutgers for only their 3rd road win in conference play against five losses. Notre Dame's Colin Falls was the game's high scorer with 22 points. The Irish finished their Big East campaign at 11-5, good for 4th place and a first-round bye in the Big East tourney.

#6 Memphis 64 SMU 61 - The Memphis Tigers completed an undefeated season in Conference-USA at 16-0, winning their 9th straight road game and extending the nation's longest winning streak to 19 straight. Only Memphis and Big South champion Winthrop concluded their conference schedules unblemished.

#24 Maryland 79 NC State 59 - The Terps won their 7th straight to close out their ACC campaign at 10-6 and 24-7 overall.

Wake Forest 78, Virginia 72 - The Cavaliers had a shot at winning the ACC title outright, but failed on the road to Wake Forest, which won only its 5th conference game. Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech all have a chance to share the crown with wins today.

Creighton 75 Missouri St. 58 - Nate Funk scored a game high 33 points and Nick Porter added a double-double with 19 points and 13 boards as the Bluejays advanced to the Missouri Valley Conference finals against Southern Illinois today. Funk was 10-15 from the field and a perfect 10-10 from the foul line.

#11 Southern Ill. 53, Bradley 51 - Jamaal Tatum scored 20 points and the game-winner to lead the Salukis to their 13th straight win and a spot in the MVC finals today against Creighton.

Conference Tournament Champions:

Davidson 72 College of Charleston 65 - Davidson finished up a 29-4 regular season with a 17-1 record in the Southern conference by winning three straight tournament games. Stephen Curry, son of former NBA standout Dell Curry, scored 29 points as the Wildcats secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Belmont 94 East Tennessee St.. 67 - Andy Wicke and Andrew Preston each scored 18 points as the Bruins made won their 2nd consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and automatic NCAA bid. Belmont heads to the tourney with a 23-9 record overall and 14-4 in conference.

Winthrop 84 VMI 81 - The Winthrop Eagles (28-4, 14-0) will represent the Big South in the NCAA Tournament for the 7th time in the last 9 years.

Eastern Kentucky 63 Austin Peay 62 - The Colonels upended #1 seed Austin Peay to capture the Ohio Valley championship and NCAA automatic bid.

Sunday's Conference Championships

Big Sky: Montana vs. Portland St.
Missouri Valley: Creighton vs. Southern Illinois

Today's Picks:

Kentucky at #4 Florida (-10) - The Gators have struggled, dropping 3 of their last 4. Kentucky will be seeking to impress the NCAA selection committee for a higher seeding. The Gators won 64-61 at Kentucky on Feb. 10. Take the Wildcats and the points.

Alabama at Mississippi State (-6) - Who dat? The Miss. St. Bulldogs or Alabama can gain a share of the SEC West title (with Mississippi) with a win. "Bama's struggled all year, but they are still tied with the Bulldogs at 7-8 in the conference and beat the Bulldogs 80-79 at home. This one should go right to the buzzer, so roll with the Crimson Tide.

Boston College at Georgia Tech (-6) - BC can earn a share of the ACC title with a win. Georgia Tech can keep slim tournament hopes alive. BC should win it outright.

#14 Duke at #8 North Carolina (-10) - With all the history - and coach K - associated with this game, I'd be very suspect to not go with the Blue Devils and the points. The Tar Heels aren't as formidable as many think, nor are the Devils as bad. In their first meeting on February 7, North Carolina won at Duke, 79-73. 10 is a good number of points to take in a rivalry game, though NC should win the game.

Clemson at #21 Virginia Tech (-6) - Even though Clemson is 6-9 and Tech 10-5 in the ACC, this is a pretty even matchup. Clemson will probably fail late, but will make Tech earn every point. Clemson may upset.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Madness Begins: Conference Tourneys Underway

Some of the lesser conferences already have tournaments underway, vying for the right to represent in the NCAA Tournament. Major conferences still have regular season games going this weekend, some of which will determine titles.

With a full slate on tap for today, I'll be giving some picks and pointers, plus recaps from Friday night.

Most eyes are focused on the Missouri Valley, where the Salukis of Southern Illinois are expected to get to the title game and win it. But the MVC may be sending 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, so whichever team comes out on top, it will be battle-tested.

Quarterfinal action from the MVC:

Bradley 51 Northern Iowa 48 - Bradley moved on to play Southern Illinois on Saturday in the semifinals.

#11 Southern Illinois 71 Drake 59 - The Salukis won their 12th straight game, propelled by Matt Shaw and Jamaal Tatum. Each scored 19 points to move Southern Ill. into the semis against Bradley.

Creighton 59 Indiana St. 38 - Creighton's defense did the trick, holding the Sycamores to just 23% shooting. The #2 seed in the MVC tourney will play Missouri St. on Saturday in one semifinal.

Missouri St. 67 Wichita St. 64 - Last season, the Shockers made an impressive run in the NCAA tourney. This year, they couldn't even get through their own conference. The Missouri St. Bears pulled out a close win to advance to Saturday's semifinal game against Creighton.

Saturday's Picks (all times Eastern):

12:00 pm - #15 Texas 22-7 at #3 Kansas (-9.5) - Texas can tie the Jayhawks (and possibly Texas A&M if they win at Missouri) for first in the Big 12 and a share of the conference championship with a win, but the linesmakers don't foresee a close game. I beg to differ. KU is riding a 7-game win streak, but the Longhorns have won 6 straight. Kansas plays tough defense and have only lost twice at home. The Longhorns aren't the greatest on the road, but they've developed as the season progressed and are a legitimate threat to win this. Take the points and enjoy what may be a classic.

1:00 pm - Virginia (-4) at Wake Forest - The Cavaliers can wrap up the ACC championship with a win and Wake Forest hasn't put up much resistance this season, winning only 4 times in the ACC and tied for last place with Miami. Though the Demon Deacons have won their last 2 home games, they were against Clemson and Miami. Virginia should roll to an easy win.

2:00 pm - Syracuse at Villanova (-6) - A sucker line if there ever was one. The Orange are seeking higher NCAA seeding and already beat the Wildcats at the Dome earlier this year. Villanova is in a must-win situation, but they haven't been competitive lately against the top teams in the Big East. Syracuse knows what's riding here and should win this one.

2:30 pm - Bradley vs. Southern Illinois (no line) - I'd make Southern Ill. a 3 to 5 point favorite here and take them over Bradley, though it will be a close game. These two met twice already this season. Bradley won at home, 48-46, but the Salukis were on the tail end of a three-game road trip back then in January. Southern Ill. returned the favor, 60-50 on their home hardwood on Feb. 7. The Salukis should handle them.

4:00 pm - #1 Ohio St. (-4.5) at Michigan - Ohio State can wrap up the Big 10 championship with a win here, but the Wolverines are 6-1 at home in the Big 10 this season. The Buckeyes are riding a 13-game win streak and have had nearly a week off since their big win over Wisconsin. This one is not likely to be close as the Buckeyes roll towards a #1 seeding in the NCAA tourney.Sports Training Products

5:00 pm - Loyola Chicago vs. #18 Butler (no line) - If they make Butler a favorite of 5 or more, take the points. Loyola beat them less than two weeks ago and even though the Bulldogs are ranked and shared the Horizon League title with Wright St., they may be a bit overrated. We're going to find out.

7:00 pm - #23 USC at #13 Washington St. (-5) - The Cougars should handle the Trojans here. USC was dumped badly at Washington on Thursday and don't do well on the road. They've lost 3 off their last 4 road games while Washington St. is 6-2 at home in PAC-10 play. The Cougars may run the Trojans right off the court.

9:00 pm - #12) Pittsburgh at #20 Marquette (-2) - A loss by the Panthers could cost them the Big East championship if Georgetown beats UConn today. Don't count on it. Marquette has lost 4 of their last 5 and look mighty vulnerable even at home.

10:00 pm - New Mexico St. at #10 Nevada (-10) - Nevada has already wrapped up the WAC title, so this game has less meaning for them and the Aggies will want to make a statement to the selection committee. New Mexico St. beat the Wolf pack back on Jan. 20, 73-80, but this will be on the Wolf Pack's home court. Nevada should win this, but it could be an upset and will likely be close. It is, after all, March 3rd, and the madness has begun.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Virginia Takes Top Spot in ACC

Virginia 69 #21 Virginia Tech 56While North Carolina was being stung by the Yellow Jackets at Georgia Tech, the Virginia Cavaliers stepped up, avenged an earlier loss and grabbed 1st place in the ACC with a win over in-state rival Virginia Tech, 69-56. The 11-4 Cavaliers can win the title outright with a win over the conference's weakest team, 4-11 Wake Forest, on Saturday. It would mark Virginia's first ACC championship since 1995.

Spending most of the season in relatively unranked obscurity, Virginia, led by Sean Singletary's 17 points, hammered the visiting Hokies with 10 3-pointers (10-16, 63%), while Virginia Tech struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 2 of 15 attempts (13%). The win was payback for a Feb. 10, 84-57 thumping by Tech which ended a 7-game Virginia win streak.

Georgia Tech 84 #8 North Carolina 77 - With an NCAA invitation possibly hanging in the balance, Georgia Tech lured the ACC's top team to Atlanta and ambushed them, handing the (24-6, 10-5) Tar Heels their second consecutive road loss.

Thaddeus Young scored a career-high 25 points, helped by Javaris Crittenton's 11 assists. Hitting key free throws as time wore down, the Yellow Jackets held on to a 49-42 halftime lead, allowing North Carolina to get no closer than 4 points in the second half. Tech's Javaris Crittenton and Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough both recorded double-doubles. Crittendon scored 13 points with 11 rebounds, while Hansbrough tallied 16 and 10.

The Tar Heels host Duke in their season finale on Sunday as Georgia Tech closes out at home with Boston College the same day. A Yellow Jacket win and a Duke loss would tie those two at 8-8 in the conference, leaving success or failure in the ACC tournament as the final arbiter for an NCAA bid. Nothing's being taken for granted at North Carolina, however. The Tar Heels have lost 3 of their last 5.Sports Training Products

#6 Memphis 78 UTEP 67 - The 26-3 Tigers got one step closer to completing an undefeated conference run with another easy road win in the watered-down Conference-USA. At 15-0 in C-USA, Memphis closes out their regular season Saturday night at cellar-dweller SMU, which has won only 3 conference games.

The easy conference schedule may be injurious to Memphis garnering a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With only one win over a ranked team - an 80-63 win over Kentucky back in November - the selection committee may not look kindly at the Tigers' 18-game win streak (19 if they win at SMU). A #1 seed is probably not in the equation, though a #2 would be a distinct possibility. The overall depth in the 10-12 top teams nationally may send Memphis into March Madness as a #3 seed, however.

#2 UCLA 53 #13 Washington St. 45 - The 2nd-ranked Bruins wrapped up their 2nd consecutive PAC-10 title with a road win over their closest conference rival. As usual, the Bruins did it more with defense than offense, holding the Cougars to 38% shooting, including 1-10 from 3-point range. UCLA didn't fare much better from behind the arc, hitting only 2 of 13 of their attempts. The Bruins did force 14 turnovers and only committed 10 fouls. UCLA improved to 15-2 in the PAC-10 and 26-3 overall with only a Saturday date at Washington left in their regular season schedule.

The Bruins are in position to be the #1 seed in the Western region of the NCAA Tournament. Washington St. fell to 12-5 and 23-6, and will likely end up as a 3 or 4 seed.

Washington 85 #23 USC 70 - Southern Cal just didn't look like a tournament team last night as Washington rolled to a win at home. Against the Trojans' soft defense, the Huskies managed to shoot 52%, dropping in 10 of their 18 3-point attempts. USC struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 5-18 (28%). Nick Young racked up 26 points for the Bruins, but his effort was hardly enough to derail the host Huskies.

USC can still help themselves out with a win at Washington in their season finale. Considered a good bet to reach the field of 65, the Trojans have 6 wins over ranked teams already in their pocket, though 2 each were against Arizona and Oregon. Washington St. won their first meeting, at USC, 58-55, on December 30.

Utah St. 79 #10 Nevada 77 (OT) - The Nevada Wolf Pack had already clinched the WAC title before this game started, but the strain of overtime in their 3rd straight road game in 8 days finally did them in. Nick Fazekas scored 20 with 10 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the season, while extending his streak of of double figure scoring to 29 - every game this season.

The Wolf Pack returns home on Saturday to close out the season with New Mexico St., their closest conference pursuer. The game may have more meaning for future seeding, as both teams are locked into their 1-2 positions in the WAC.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ohio State Stakes Its Claim

Sunday's battle between #1 Wisconsin and #2 Ohio State resulted in a 1-point win for the Buckeyes. Being that the game was played on Ohio State's home court, the win was not surprising. It's tough to win on the road, but Ohio State's win could literally not have been by any smaller margin. So, Ohio State's #1 ranking should include an asterisk with the note, "at home."

#2 Ohio St. 49 #1 Wisconsin 48 - The Buckeyes captured the Big Ten title with a win over their closest rival and a 14-1 record with just one conference game remaining and a 2-game lead over the Badgers (12-3). Mike Conley Jr. hit the game-winner for Ohio State with 4 seconds left and Kammron Taylor's desperate jumper at the buzzer was swatted away by Greg Oden and Ron Lewis. Ohio State still has some unfinished business at Michigan, but the result of the game won't change the standings. The Buckeyes are likely to be named #1 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls later today.

Maryland 89 #5 North Carolina 87 - Just when everyone had counted Gary Williams and the Maryland Terrapins out, they go nose-to-nose with the Tar Heels and pull out a surprise win. Senior guard D. J. Strawberry lit it up with 27 points and led the host Terps into a tie for 5th place in the ACC with Duke at 8-6. The Tar Heels' loss also produced a three-way tie for 1st place in the conference with Virginia Tech and Virginia, all at 10-4. It will all shake out in the coming week. Most of the contenders have 2 games left, except 10-5 Boston College, which closes out the regular season on Sunday, March 4 at Georgia Tech.

#7 Memphis 77 Houston 64 - The Tigers extended the nation's longest winning streak to 17 with another home win. Ho-hum. Conference-USA. No big deal.

#17 Vanderbilt 67 Kentucky 65 - Derrick Byars scored 26 points and Shan Foster chipped in 21 to lead the Commodores to their 9th SEC win against just 5 losses. The effort solidified Vanderbilt's position for an at-large bid to March Madness. Vandy has just two conference games left, at South Carolina and at home against Arkansas. Winning either should be enough to get to the field of 65.

Meanwhile, Kentucky dropped into a three-way tie for 3rd place in the SEC East with Tennessee and Georgia. The Wildcats could be the odd team out as they host Georgia on Wednesday and close out the season at Florida on Sunday. They could also win them both or split and get an invitation to the Big Dance.

#18 Duke 67 St. John's 50 - The Blue Devils won on the road in a rare non-conference tilt, holding St. John's to just 10 points in the first half and have a tough week ahead. On Wednesday, they host Maryland and close out the regular season at North Carolina. Tournament invitations are on the line for 22-7 Duke.

#20 Louisville 76 Connecticut 69 - The Cardinals spread the scoring out among 10 players and cruised to their 5th straight win and 6th Big East road win. Louisville is now a solid 3rd in the Big East standings at 11-4 and play patsy Seton Hall (4-10 Big East) on Sunday to end their regular season.