Showing posts with label March Madness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label March Madness. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Final Four and Championship Predictions

On Monday and Tuesday, I offered my projections for each of the brackets in this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. If all goes according to plan, here's how I see the Final Four and National Championship game shaping up:

(#3 South) Texas A&M vs. (#2 East) Georgetown - Nobody should be surprised that the Aggies reach the Final Four. Entering the tournament, their record of 25-6 (13-3, Big 12), was one of the best in the nation. Five of those six losses were on the road or neutral sites, and their last four losses have been by 2, 2, 2 and 1 point. In that span, they lost twice to Texas Tech, but interestingly, they beat conference champion Kansas in their only meeting this season.

Georgetown (26-6, 13-3, Big East), when on their game, can beat anyone, and they proved that in the latter stages of the Big East season, winning 15 of their last 16 and capturing the Big East tourney title in the process. In their run to the title, they hammered highly-touted Pitt twice, 61-53 on Feb. 24, and 65-42 in the tournament finals.

The Hoyas are led by Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green and their imposing center, 7'2" Roy Hibbert. Add to the mix starting forward DaJuan Summers at 6'8" and with the 6'9" Green, the Hoyas are huge up front and that's been the key to most of their wins. They control the paint and the boards and usually find their way to the foul line more often than their opponents. They also bring in 6'8" Patrick Ewing Jr. off the bench for even more muscle and size.

By contrast, the Aggies rely more on their guards and will often put three guards on the court at the same time. Acie Law is the team leader and top scorer at 17.9 points per game. Law and backcourt mate Josh Carter need to hit their threes to keep A&M close.

The Aggies will struggle to keep Hibbert and Green from dominating and eventually, the size advantage will work to Georgetown's favor as they advance to the finals. The score will likely be somewhere in the 60s as the Hoyas have continued to improve defensively all season.

(#1 West) Kansas vs. (#3 Midwest) Oregon - The Jayhawks are supposed to reach the Final Four; Oregon will be somewhat of a surprise to many as the Ducks are an undersized, but overachieving, bunch.

Kansas (30-4, 14-2 Big 12) has been one of the most consistent teams throughout the course of the 2006-07 season. They captured the Big 12 regular season and tournament title and may have the easiest path to the Final Four of any team. The next best team in their bracket is probably UCLA, Gonzaga or Pitt, and they wouldn't have to play any of them until the regional final as they are in the bottom half of the bracket. There is simply a shortage of quality in the West region. Last season, the Jayhawks were ousted in the opening round by Bradley. Don't expect any slippage this time around.

Kansas may have the best backcourt in the country. Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers can each light it up from 3-point range or slashes into the lane. They also distribute the ball very well and Rush is an adept rebounder (2nd on the team at 5.7 per game). What makes the Jayhawks tough is their balance. In addition to Rush and Chalmers, forwards Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur also average double figures in scoring.

Kansas does have two weaknesses which will show themselves in this semi-final game: turnovers and free throws. Rush's assist/turnover ratio is slightly under 1-1, Chalmers' is only 3-2. Against the lightning quick Oregon guards, that's going to be a problem. They are also not proficient from the foul line. Only Chalmers and sub Sherrod Collins shoot over 70% from the charity stripe. Missing key free throws in close games has doomed many a potential national champion and Kansas is certainly not immune.

Oregon (26-7, 11-7 PAC-10) is one team in the field that is downright scary. Following a stretch in which they were 2-6 (including 6 road games), the Ducks finished strong, winning their final six games and the PAC-10 tournament in the process. Their average margin of victory in their three PAC-10 tourney games was an impressive 20.3 per game, including an 81-57 win in the final against USC.

Oregon lives and dies with the outside shooting of Aaron Brooks, Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor. They'll put up as many as 30 3-pointers in a game, something they do with regularity. When they're on they win. If they shoot less than 40% from beyond the arc, they are suspect. But their five top scorers, the three aforementioned guards plus Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen, all average above 40% on threes.Sports Training Products

Oregon is also one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the tournament. Porter hits at 92%, Brooks and Taylor at 83%. The only soft spot is Hairston, a 55% shooter. They are small, however. Leunen is the tallest starter at 6'9", Hairston and Taylor check in at 6'5", but Brooks is just 6' and Porter is a diminutive 5'6". The Ducks routinely are outrebounded, but what they lack in size, they more than make up with quickness and accomplished ball-handling. If allowed to run, they'll turn any game into a track-meet runaway.

Oregon's quickness, 3-point shooting and Kansas' inability to score consistently from the line will key a big upset in this semi-final as the Ducks race into the finals.

The finals matchup of Georgetown vs. Oregon is a replay of a November 29 meeting at Georgetown, won by Oregon, 57-50, despite shooting only 39%, including just 5-22 from 3-point range. Georgetown's big men were noticeably absent, though. Hibbert was 2-7 for 4 points, Green 2-4 for 5 points. Hibbert also had only 3 rebounds. That's unlikely to happen again.

Both teams have improved since that game of 4 months ago, but the Hoyas have probably improved more than any team in the country. Both the Ducks and Hoyas are peaking at just the right time and a game like the Nov. 29 meeting is unlikely. The Ducks will shoot better than 28% behind the line, and Hibbert and Green will certainly score more than 9 points between them.

The game is really one of contrast, pitting probably the tallest team in the tourney against the smallest. Georgetown wants to work the ball inside, while Oregon hopes to let fly from 3-point land. If these two do indeed reach the finals, expect a close game with plenty of lead changes. This one could go either way, but look for Hibbert, Green and Jonathan Wallace to make key plays down the stretch and bring another national championship back to Georgetown, 71-68.

Well, that's my best scenario and I'll be filling out my brackets in various pools along those general lines. Good luck to you in your bracket challenges and LET THE MADNESS BEGIN !!!

Niagara 77 Florida A&M 69 - On Tuesday, the Purple Eagles earned the right to play Kansas in the opening round on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bracket Breakdown: East and South

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.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Georgetown, USC Roll; ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big 10 on Selection Sunday

The Big East and PAC-10 conference tournaments ended yesterday not with a couple of big bangs, but with a pair of thuds, those being the lopsided scores by which Georgetown and Oregon completed their conquests.

Today being Selection Sunday, I'll be back blogging later tonight with initial bracket impressions. On Monday and Tuesday, I'll break down the brackets and provide picks the rest of the way. Have a fun day!

Georgetown 65 Pittsburgh 42 - Georgetown romped over the Panthers, holding Pitt to just 26% shooting and limiting them to their lowest point total of the season. Fatigue may have been a factor for Pitt, as their semi-final game against Louisville ended just after 11:00 on Friday night.

Excuses aside, Georgetown absolutely dominated in the paint where Roy Hibbert scored 18 points on 8-10 shooting and hauled down 11 rebounds. By contrast, Pitt center Aaron Gray was just 1-13 for 3 points. He had just 5 rebounds.

Jeff Green, hero of the Hoyas' semi-final win over Notre Dame, was the game's leading scorer with 21 points. The win should boost Georgetown to at least a #2 seed and possibly push Pitt to a #3 or 4.

Oregon 81 USC 57 - Oregon's Bryce Taylor was simply perfect. The 6'5" junior was 11-11 from the field, including 7-7 3-pointers, and 3-3 from the foul line for a game-high 32 points. Led by his scoring barrage the Ducks turned a 13-point halftime lead into a runaway. Aaron Brooks and Tajuan Porter had 15 and 16, respectively, and the Ducks clicked at 54% from the field.

Most of the damage was done from the perimeter as Brooks, Porter and Taylor were a combined 12-18 from beyond the arc. USC shot only 38%, and though they hit a respectable 7-18 of their 3-pointers, they were no match for the quicker Ducks who streaked to the PAC-10 tourney title.

In other tournament action:

SEC Tourney
Florida 80 Mississippi 59 - The Gators advanced to the SEC finals, seeking their 3nd straight SEC tournament championship.

Arkansas 81 Mississippi St. 72 - Charles Thomas and Sonny Weems each scored 18 to lead Arkansas past the Bulldogs and into the SEC finals against Florida. At 21-12 (7-9, SEC), the Razorbacks may have to beat Florida to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Big 10 Tourney
Ohio State 63 Purdue 52 - Greg Oden scored 17 points and grabbed a tournament record 19 rebounds, sending Ohio State to the finals.

Wisconsin 53 Illinois 41 - Alando Tucker scored 21 points and Kammron Taylor had 16 to send the Badgers to a rubber game rematch with Ohio State.

Big 12 Tourney
Texas 69 Oklahoma State 64 - Kevin Durant scored 26 points and teammate AJ Abrams had 20 as the Longhorns outlasted the Cowboys.

Kansas 67 Kansas St. 61 - Mario Chalmers had 16 points to lead the Jayhawks over a determined K-State to the Big 12 finals.

ACC Tourney
NC State 72 Virginia Tech 64 - The Wolfpack continued their unlikely march through the ACC to the finals today against the Tar Heels.

North Carolina 71 Boston College 57 - The Tar Heels got off early against the Eagles and coasted to a big win. Brandon Wright led the way with 20 points. Tyler Hansbrough added just 9 points, but cleared the glass with 13 rebounds.

Today's Picks

1:00 pm Florida (-9) Arkansas - In their only meeting this season, the Razorbacks fell, 79-72, at Florida. The Gators are imposing, but the Hogs have an NCAA bid staring them in the face and will be sky high. Despite their pedestrian 21-12 record, the Razorbacks have proven capable of playing with anyone. A 4-point loss at Texas, a pair of wins over Alabama and their SEC tourney run are proof of that. Take the points and yell, Suuuuu-eeee!Sports Training Products

1:00 pm North Carolina (-15) NC State - The two split their games this season, both winning at home. The Wolfpack needs to win to get an NCAA tournament bid, so on a neutral court, with everything on the line, take the points.

3:00 pm Kansas (-7) Texas - Anyone in their right mind would not give the Longhorns points on a neutral court as they are as good as any team in the nation right now. If Kevin Durant gets hot, it's lights out. These two met on March 3rd in Kansas, and the Jayhawks squeaked by, 90-86. Once again, the point-spread is generous and a must take.

3:30 pm Ohio State (-1) Wisconsin - The Buckeyes have Greg Oden, but the rest of the team is high quality. These teams split their two regular season games, each winning at home. Wisconsin has potential player of the year Alando Tucker and a super half court offense. A close call but I'm going to take the Badgers in a classic.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

PAC-10, Big East Will Crown Champions Today

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.

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.

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.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Don't Mess With Texas... or Maryland

Longhorns down Aggies in double OT, keep Big 12 hopes alive; Terps complete sweep of Duke

#15 Texas 98 #7 Texas A&M 96 (2OT) - The Aggies' Acie Law hit a pair of 3-pointers - forcing overtime and, later, double OT - and scored 33 points in all, but it wasn't enough as Kevin Durant and the Longhorns had the last word in the 2nd extra session on their home court. The Texas freshman hit key free throws down the stretch, finishing with 30 points and 16 rebounds and possibly the biggest win of his brief yet spectacular college career. Teammates D. J. Augustin scored 25 and Damian James had 22.

The win moved Texas into position to claim a share of the Big 12 championship if they can win their final regular season game Saturday at Kansas. If that happens, the conference would likely end up in a three-way tie should Texas A&M finish their season at home vs. Missouri with a win. Both A&M and the Longhorns are 12-3. Kansas is 13-2. Regardless of which of them takes the title, all three will be high seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. One of them will surely be a #1 seed, with the other two likely to be seeded #2 in different brackets.
Sports Training Products
#24 Maryland 85 #14 Duke 77 - The Maryland Terrapins have made a late-season statement and should be included in the March Madness field of 65. After knocking off North Carolina on Sunday, the Terps took a trip down Tobacco Road to Durham and took care of business against the Blue Devils.

Led by senior guard Mike Jones, who scored 25 points, the Terps completed a season sweep of Duke (they also did it in the 2004-05 season). Their first win over the Blue Devils came back on February 11 at College Park and launched Maryland on what has now become a 6-game winning streak. The Terps are now 9-6 in ACC play and 23-7 overall. Looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the nation, they close out the regular season at home against NC State on Saturday.

For Duke, the loss may prove to be devastating as they prepare for their final ACC game at North Carolina on Sunday. A loss there and any loss in the ACC tournament would put the Blue Devils in an uncomfortable spot - on the NCAA bubble - a place to which they are unaccustomed. Consider, in that scenario, Duke would have 10 losses, but, wins over Georgetown, BC, Gonzaga and Clemson working in their favor. Unfortunately, a 3-6 record in their last 9 conference games would not impress the selection committee. It is conceivable, maybe believable, that the Blue Devils would be passed over for the Big Dance.

#19 Vanderbilt 99 South Carolina 90 (OT) - The Commodores kept rolling along last night with a shoot-out overtime win at South Carolina. Shan Foster scored a season-high 33 points and teammate Derrick Byars dropped in 18 - including a key pair of 3s in overtime - as Vandy secured their hold on 2nd place in the SEC East at 10-5. They have just one conference game remaining, at home vs. Arkansas on Saturday.

The win was the 20th of the season for the Commodores and also earned them a first round bye in next week's SEC tournament.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Syracuse Stops Georgetown Streak

Syracuse 72 #12 Georgetown 58 - The rivalry between these two schools just got a little more interesting last night at the Carrier Dome in upstate New York. Syracuse needed a big win to help convince some of the doubters on the NCAA tournament selection committee and they got it with a win over the Hoyas, ending Georgetown's win streak at 11. The Orangemen deployed Jim Boeheim's zone defense to perfection, shutting down the Hoyas inside and out. Some of the numbers were downright embarrassing: Jeff Green, 3-13; Jessie Sapp, 2-12; DaJuan Summers, 1-10. Georgetown shot 30% from the field, including 6-25 (24%) from 3-point land. Demetris Nichols led the scoring parade with 22 points, joining 3 other Orangemen in double figures. Syracuse also forced 19 Georgetown turnovers.

Just two days after Georgetown toppled Pitt from the top slot in the Big East standings, they find themselves even with the Panthers in the loss column again. The Hoyas have one Big East game remaining - vs. UConn on Saturday - while the Panthers close out conference play at home vs. West Virginia tonight and at Marquette on Saturday.

Syracuse moved into a tie with Notre Dame for 4th place at 10-5. The Orange finish Big east play at Villanova on Saturday. While the win over the Hoyas probably clinched a spot in the Big Dance for the 'Cuse, the upcoming Big East tournament will be about gaining better seeding. The Big East may be sending as many as 8 teams into the March Madness fray.

#6 Kansas 67 Oklahoma 65 - Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers scored 18 points each as the Jayhawks improved to 13-2 in the conference. The Jayhawks blew a 17-point lead but rallied late for the road win over the Sooners. The win allowed Kansas to briefly grab a 1/2-game lead over Texas A&M atop the Big 12 standings. They have only one game remaining, but it's a big one, at home against Texas (11-3) on Saturday. The 12-2 Aggies play at Texas on Wednesday and finish up at home with Missouri.

If Texas wins both of their remaining games and A&M beats Missouri, the three teams could end up tied for the conference title at 13-3. All of this makes for an interesting week in the Big 12, which is likely to get three or four NCAA tournament bids at best. With the Aggies, Longhorns and Jayhawks already locked in, only Texas Tech or Kansas State are worthy of consideration.

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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Florida Falters, Bruins, Irish Complete Perfect Home Seasons

Plenty of Top 25 action from Saturday, including the Florida Gators being bumped off by a hungry bunch of Tigers from LSU.

LSU 66 #3 Florida 56 - The Gators played possibly their worst game of the season, hitting only 2-17 3-pointers (12%) and 12-22 from the foul line. The Gators have some cause for concern having lost their last two road games (lost at Vandy 83-70) with a big game at Tennessee on Tuesday and home vs. Kentucky on March 4 to close out the regular season. They've already clinched the SEC East title, but don't seem to be playing their best right now.

The 56 points against the Tigers was their lowest output of the season. Joakim Noah, their most visible star, was not even a factor worth considering with 4 points and just 3 rebounds. Florida's problems seem to be more mental than anything else. The pressure of heading towards the NCAA as the defending champions may be wearing on this team at just the wrong time.

Top 25 Home Winners

#4 UCLA 75 Stanford 61 - Arron Afflalo scored 20 points as the Bruins cruised by Stanford en route to completing an undefeated season at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA also clinched at least a share of the PAC-10 title at 14-2. They close out with games at Washington and Washington State.

#6 Kansas 89 Iowa St. 52 - The Jayhawks got everybody into the act with 6 players in double figures. Darrell Arthur recorded his second straight double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Kansas remains tied atop the Big 12 with Texas A&M at 12-2.

#8 Texas A&M 97 Baylor 87 Acie Law scored 31 points and the 4 other starters also finished in double figures, accounting for all but two of the Aggies' output. The win kept A&M in a tie with Kansas for top honors in the Big 12.

#12 Georgetown 61 #10 Pittsburgh 53 - The Hoyas won their 11th straight game and took over first place in the Big East by upending the Panthers. Jonathan Wallace led all scorers with 17 points. Jeff Green added 14 and Roy Hibbert 12 for Georgetown. In a turnover-filled game (Pitt-13, Hoyas-14), Georgetown's defense prevailed, holding a hobbled Aaron Gray to just 10 points and the Panthers to 33% shooting. The 22-5 Hoyas (12-2 Big East) can clinch at least a tie for the conference title with a win at Syracuse on Monday or at home vs. UConn on Sat., March 3.

#13 Southern Illinois 76 Evansville 69 - The Salukis' Randal Falker scored a season-high 30 points as Southern Ill. clinched the Missouri Valley conf. title with their 11th straight win.

#15 Butler 56 Detroit 36 - The Bulldogs laid claim to a share of the Horizon League championship with a dominating defensive win, holding Detroit to just 27% shooting.

#23 Oregon 93 Washington 85 - The Ducks continued to make their case for inclusion in the field of 65 for March Madness with their second straight win as Aaron Brooks pumped in 30 points on 10-14 shooting, including 4-7 3's. After having lost three straight the Ducks needed a couple more wins and at 22-7 look like a certain at-large pick with just one more game, at home vs. Oregon St., on the regular season schedule. They hold wins over Arizona, Georgetown, UCLA and Washington St. (twice) and are in 4th place in the PAC-10 at 10-7.

#24 Virginia 75 Georgia Tech 69 - JR Reynolds scored 25 and Sean Singletary had 24, as the Cavaliers punched their ticket to the Big Dance and likely ended Georgia Tech's hope of getting an invitation. The win kept Virginia in a tie for 2nd in the ACC with Va. Tech at 10-4, while dropping the Yellow Jackets to 6-8 in the conference. The remaining games for the Cavaliers are at home vs. the Hokies and at Wake Forest, Thursday and Saturday.

Top 25 Road Winners

#9 Washington St. 58 Oregon St. 54 - The Cougars got back on the winning track, squeaking by the Beavers and remaining in 2nd place in the PAC-10 at 12-4.

#11 Nevada 95 Boise St. 81 - Nick Fazekas scored 28 points and all five starters scored in double figures as the Wolf Pack clinched the WAC championship. At 13-1 with two games remaining, 2nd place New Mexico State cannot catch them. The two top teams end the regular season at Nevada on March 3.

#19 Texas 68 Oklahoma 58 - Kevin Durant scored 32 points and plucked down 11 rebounds in an easy road win for the Longhorns. At 11-3, the Longhorns are just a game behind Kansas and A&M in the Big 12 standings and host A&M on Wednesday before closing out the regular season at Kansas on Saturday. The Longhorns have won 5 straight.

Top 25 Losers

Notre Dame 85 Marquette 73 - The Irish completed an undefeated home season as Luke Harangody scored a career high 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Notre Dame dealt the Golden Eagles their 4th loss in their last 5 games. Marquette, which looked to be a certain Tournament invite just a few weeks ago is now on shaky ground, but likely will still get in. They are 9-6 in the Big East and 22-8 overall, and they host Pittsburgh on Saturday to end the regular season. A loss there and an early exit in the Big East tournament could spell disaster.

TCU 71 #14 Air Force 66 - The Falcons were grounded for the second straight time, both on the road, and have fallen to 3rd place in the Mountain West behind BYU and UNLV. They host BYU on Tuesday to end their regular season.

San Diego St. 86 #21 BYU 74 - The Aztecs clawed their way to a win over the league-leading Cougars and into 4th place in the Mountain West. BYU remained in first place at 11-3.

Auburn 86 #25 Alabama 77 - This game was the end of the line for the Crimson Tide. Arch-rival Auburn shot 54% and slammed the NCAA Tournament door on Alabama in the process. The Tide, ranked as high as 10th nationally during the season, dropped their second straight and 4th in their last five games. They are now at 6-8 in the SEC West and play Miss. St. and Mississippi to close their regular season campaign. Both of those teams are 7-7 and hungry for a ticket to the tourney. While Alabama is 19-9, their performance down the stretch has been a complete flop. Count them completely O-U-T.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who Won't Be Dancing

With no games of meaning last night, today brings an opportunity to present the teams that won't be invited to the NCAA Tournament, which begins with Selection Sunday on March 11 and ends with the National Championship Game on Monday, April 2.

There are 65 teams invited, two of which will play for the final spot in the seedings on Tuesday, March 13. Actual 1st round games get underway on Thursday and Friday, March 15 and 16.

While there are plenty of shoo-ins, a number of teams have already played poorly enough as to eliminate themselves.

In the ACC, which will probably send 5 or 6 teams to the tourney, Wake Forest, NC State and Miami are already out with conference records well under .500. The big surprise is Clemson, which started the season 17-0, but since has gone 2-8. At 5-8 in the conference, the only way they can make the tournament is to win the ACC tourney, and that's just not going to happen.

The other ACC teams which are not going to be invited will be Maryland or Georgia Tech and possibly both. The Terps play North Carolina tomorrow, then visit Duke and close the regular season with NC State. If they win just one of those games, they'll finish 8-8, not good enough. A win over Duke is possible, as Maryland just did that 2 weeks ago.

That the Yellow Jackets won't get a bid is more likely. They are 6-7 and play at Virginia today, then host North Carolina and Boston College. A loss today just about seals their fate. Even winning two of their remaining three won't likely be enough.

In the Big East, which could send as many as 8 teams, the bottom of the conference - St. John's, Seton Hall, South Florida, Rutgers, Cincinnati - are already beyond consideration. After that it gets a little dicey. Connecticut (6-7, 17-10) doesn't look like a Final 64 kind of team. It will be the first time in many years that the Huskies haven't made it to the tourney.

Villanova (6-7, 18-9) also may not get the job done, and DePaul (7-7, 16-12) already has too many losses to be considered. Right now, Providence (7-6 17-9) is on the outside looking in. They host Syracuse today in a critical game for both teams. If the Friars win, it may be the end of the line for the 'Cuse. A loss by Providence would likely eliminate them.

In the Big 10, count Iowa out. The Hawkeyes' 12 losses already have them eliminated. Besides, they've lost to all 4 Top 25 teams they've played (Alabama, Ohio St., Wisconsin twice). After Ohio State and Wisconsin, only Indiana looks like a legitimate invitee. Michigan, Michigan St. Illinois all have a shot, while Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State are already out.

The Big 12 has three teams sure to go - Texas, Texas A&M and Kansas. After that Kansas St., Texas Tech (and what's a NCAA tournament without Bobby Knight?) and Missouri are on the bubble. Missouri is the one likely not to make the list. Oklahoma St. has played themselves right out of it. At 5-7 in the conference, stick a fork in them. Iowa St., Nebraska, Colorado and Baylor are at the bottom, thus, out.

In the PAC-10, don't expect any sympathy for Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats (8-7, 17-9). Unless they reach the conference finals, they're out. Oregon has played itself into a bubble position, and may not get an invite, though I wouldn't bet against it. UCLA, Washington St., USC and Stanford are all going, while Washington, Cal, Oregon St. and Arizona St. are staying home.

The SEC is probably the toughest to figure, but Alabama's loss to Tennessee the other night was critical. Tennessee will get a bid; Alabama will not. Expect 6 teams from this conference - Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi and Mississippi St. - unless Alabama comes alive in the conference tourney. Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Auburn and Arkansas stay home.

One other interesting conference to watch is Conference-USA, where Memphis has blitzed the opposition, which has been diminished by teams going to the Big East or elsewhere. Besides the Tigers, only UCF (20-7) and Southern Miss. (17-9) have less than 10 losses and even they look like 11-14 seeds at best. Memphis may get a #2, but they haven't beaten anybody good in a long time except Gonzaga.

Speaking of the Zags, they are 9-3 in the West Coast Conference, right behind 10-2 Santa Clara. One of those two will likely win the conference tournament, and both may get bids. Nobody else is even close to getting a whiff of March Madness.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Duck Soup: Oregon downs Washington St.

#23 Oregon 64 #9 Washington St. 59 - The Ducks proved they weren't actually dead, just flying erratically. After losing 6 of their previous 8 games, Oregon came through with an important home win, one which will likely lead to an invitation to March Madness. With just two games remaining in the regular season, the 21-7 Ducks look like a lock to make the field of 65 despite their sub-par 9-7 PAC-10 record.

Loyola Chicago 75 #15 Butler 71 - With Wright St. losing, Butler had an opportunity to claim sole possession of first place in the Horizon League, but failed to seal the deal at home against a feisty Loyola squad which shot 53% to Butler's 44%. The 15th-ranked Bulldogs have just one conference game left - this Saturday against Detroit and trial Wright St. by 1/2 game. They will have to win the Horizon League tournament to be guaranteed a bid to the NCAA Tournament, though their selection as an at-large team is very likely considering their 25-5 record.

#4 UCLA 85 California 75 - Josh Shipp hit 9 of 12 shots and scored 22 points to lead the Bruins to their 19th straight home win and a 2-game lead in the PAC-10 standings. While the Bruins were winning, their closest pursuer, Washington St., was losing at Oregon. The Bruins are 13-2, the Cougars, 11-4.

#5 Memphis 99 Rice 63 - The Tigers shot 55% and clinched the Conference-USA title while extending the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games. Memphis is looking like a #2 seed for sure.

#11 Nevada 84 Idaho 68 - Nick Fazekas scored 21 points and hauled in 14 rebounds as Nevada won their 8th straight game. The visiting Wolf Pack shot 62% and hit all 16 of their free throws.

#18 Duke 71 Clemson 66 - This was a very important road game for the Blue Devils and they managed to come away with a win, though better shooting by Clemson could have easily altered the result. The Tigers shot 47% on their home court, but hit just 9-18 free throws while the Blue Devils were knocking down 16-22. Duke also hit 52% of their shots from the field, including 7-14 3-pointers.

Duke improved to 8-6 in the ACC, while Clemson fell to 5-8 and probably out of the NCAA Tournament field.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Slippery Slope in the SEC

Three ranked teams from the SEC hit the hardwood on Wednesday night. Funny thing, only one of them won.

The SEC has turned into the basketball version of Little League. There's one big kid (Florida) who always hits home runs, but the rest of the league is full of kids and teams who look like champs one day and the next, they're distracted by the cheerleaders. Nothing happens like it's supposed to, the unexpected becomes the new normal. So it was last night...

#3 Florida 63 South Carolina 49 - The Gators got back on the winning side of the scoreboard (and how dumb do the voters look for dropping them to #3?) at home last night as Al Horford scored 20 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. To nobody's surprise, the win clinched the SEC East for the Gators who are now 25-3 and 12-1 in the conference with just 3 games remaining.

Mississippi St. 83 #17 Vanderbilt 70 - Jamont Gordon pulled off the rare triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to help keep the Bulldogs in a first-place tie with rival Mississippi in the SEC West. Charles Rhodes pumped in 23 for the host Bulldogs.

Both are 7-6 and lead Alabama by 1 game in the standings. After starting off conference play at 3-6, the Bulldogs have won 4 straight with games at Arkansas and Georgia before returning home to face Alabama to close out the regular season.

Tennessee 69 #25 Alabama 66 - It took 81 shots and an overtime session, but Tennessee defended their turf and sent Alabama home losers of their 7th SEC game. Chris Lofton scored 20 for the Vols, who shot only 35% but took 26 more shots than Alabama due to the Crimson Tides' 26 turnovers.

Tennessee recorded an astonishing 18 steals as they improved their post-season chances by getting over the .500 mark. At 7-6, the Vols have just 3 games remaining - at Arkansas, home vs. Florida and at Georgia - in the regular season.

It's still an uphill battle for the Vols, and they'll likely have to do well in the SEC tourney to continue playing in March.

As for the Tide, the loss was their 3rd in their last four games and dropped them to 6-7, behind both Miss. and Miss. St. in the SEC West. They'll have a chance to save their season as they host Auburn and Miss. before heading to Miss. St. to end their regular season.

Top 25 Home Winners

#2 Ohio State 68 Penn St. 60 - Greg Oden, OSU: 17 points, 14 rebounds.

#5 North Carolina 83 NC State 64 - Brandan Wright scored 24 and Tyler Hansbrough added 20 as the Tar Heels claimed sole possession of first place in the ACC at 10-3.

#20 Louisville 72 St. John's 48 - The streaking Cardinals blew past the Red Storm, recording their 4th straight win and continued to hold 3rd place in the Big East at 10-4. With just games at Connecticut and at home vs. Seton Hall remaining, Louisville looks like a lock for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. They are 20-8 overall.

#21 BYU 76 Colorado St. 67 - The Cougars won their 8th straight and 30th straight at home, securing their hold on first place in the Mountain West at 11-2. They hold a 1 1/2 game advantage over Air Force and UNLV, both at 10-4. Keena Young led all scoring with 24 points as BYU improved to 21-6.

Top 25 Road Winners

#8 Texas A&M 66 Oklahoma St. 46 - Acie Law scored 19 points and the Aggies' defense held the Cowboys' Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry to a combined 13 points in the blowout. Oklahoma State's top scoring duo were 6-24 from the floor.

The win kept Texas A&M in a tie for first place in the Big 12 with Kansas at 11-2, while the Cowboys slumped to 5-7 and likely ended any hopes of making the March Madness field of 65 with their 5th loss in their last 6 games.

#12 Georgetown 75 Cincinnati 65 - The Hoyas won their 10th straight to remain tied for first in the Big East with Pitt at 11-2. Jeff Green scored 21 points as Georgetown shot 54%.

#13 Southern Illinois 58 Indiana St. 50 - The Salukis overcame a poor shooting night with stellar defense en route to their 10th win in a row and the Missouri Valley title. With a two-game lead over Creighton and one game left, the 11-3 Salukis clinched the championship and will receive a solid seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Top 25 Losers

Miami (FL) 68 #24 Virginia 60 - The Cavaliers gave up first place in the ACC, but still look like a solid choice for post-season play. A road loss to 4-9 Miami isn't going to look good on their resume, but their 9-4 conference record, with wins over Duke, Clemson and Maryland (twice), should be enough to get them into the March Madness field.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spartan Slaughter: Badgers Besieged

It certainly didn't take long for the Top 25 to get back to business as usual, which, this season means knocking off the high and mighty. On Monday, the Wisconsin Badgers were crowned the #1 team in the nation (yes, I said before the poll came out that Florida should have remained #1). On Tuesday night, Wisconsin suffered the fate of many a road team - they were beaten by a fired-up Michigan State squad which denied every scoring opportunity and ran Wisconsin off the court.

Not to be outdone, Providence and UNLV scored upsets over ranked teams as well.

#1 Michigan St. 64 Wisconsin 55 - Wisconsin's Alando Tucker was 6-15 from the floor, scoring 16 points, but running mates Kammron Taylor and Brian Butch might have done better sitting this one out. Taylor was a pathetic 0-6 in 39 minutes and finished with just a pair of free throws for 2 points. Butch was 1-4 and 1-2 from the charity stripe for a measly 2 points.

Meanwhile, the Spartans were making March Madness noise a week early. Junior guard Drew Neitzel was unstoppable, filling it up with 28 points on 10-17 shooting including 6-11 3-pointers. The Spartans held Wisconsin to 36% shooting (19-52) and outrebounded them badly, 41-24. Obviously, the kids at Michigan State didn't think much of the Badgers' #1 ranking and suddenly, at 20-8 and 7-6 in the Big 10, look likely to get an invitation come March.

UNLV 60 #14 Air Force 50 - Come on now. The Falcons fell into a tie for second place with UNLV at 10-4, behind 10-2 BYU in the Mountain West. All three of these teams may get an invite, but only the winner of the conference tournament is guaranteed entry. Air Force shot just 30% as the host Rebels shut down their suspect offense.

It was the 4th time this season the Falcons have been held to 56 points or less - all losses - and they haven't played a ranked team this season. Top 25 material? Hardly. At least UNLV played some ranked teams and beat 2 of them in 4 tries. BYU, finally ranked this week at #21, may not be much better than the Falcons. The only ranked teams they've played are UCLA and Air Force, and while they beat the Falcons, the 82-69 loss to UCLA isn't very heartening.

My point is that the Mountain West should get just one invitation because whichever team emerges from this mediocre conference looks very much like a first round victim.

#19 Texas 80 Texas Tech 51 - Kevin Durant had an off night, scoring only 16 with just 8 rebounds, but 4 other Longhorns scored in double figures while the Red Raiders were hitting just 29% of their shots (20% on 3's). The win was one of the easier home games for the Longhorns who still have a shot at the Big 12 title. They play at Oklahoma on Saturday, but then close out the season hosting Texas A&M on Feb. 28 and at Kansas on March 3. The Longhorns trail A&M by 1/2 game and Kansas by 1 game.

Providence 64 #22 West Virginia 61 - The Providence Friars kept their Big Dance hopes alive by rallying at home to upset the Mountaineers. Sophomore guard
Weyinmi Efejuku (yeah, remember the name) dropped in 24 points, including 4-7 from beyond the arc while his teammates ruled the boards, holding a 41-33 rebound advantage over the hops-challenged Mountaineers.

Providence improved to 7-6 in Big East play and 17-9 overall. They're floating on the NCAA bubble right now, but may be finding their best stride at the right time. Their last three losses have all been on the road, by 7 to Marquette, by 4 at Pitt and by 3 at Notre Dame. If they win 2 of their final 3 conference games and make some noise in the Big East tourney, a ticket to the dance could be in the offing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Four Games, No Upsets

It's been a while since I've been able to report Top 25 games without at least one upset. Last night, 4 Top 25 teams hit the hardwood and none of them lost. This could be an indication that the Top 25 is solidifying and that teams are beginning to focus more as February and regular season schedules wind down.

#10 Pittsburgh 71 Seton Hall 68 - The Panthers survived a scare at Seton Hall by shooting 55% from the field and outlasting the Pirates. Playing without leading scorer and rebounder Aaron Gray, Levance Fields picked up the slack with 15 points. Levon Kendall added 14 on 6 of 8 shooting.

Gray should be available for the Panthers' next game, at Georgetown on Saturday. The Hoyas trail Pitt by 1/2 game in the Big East. The Panthers' remaining regular season schedule is daunting. After Georgetown, they host #22 West Virginia before closing out the season at #16 Marquette.

#6 Kansas 71 Kansas St. 62 - Sherron Collins scored 20 points and Darell Arthur chipped in with 13 points and 12 rebounds. The Jayhawks earned at least a temporary 1/2 game lead over Texas A&M with the win. Kansas ends the regular season against Iowa St., at Oklahoma and hosts #19 Texas on March 3.

#16 Marquette 80 Villanova 67 - The Golden Eagles, losers of 3 straight Big East games, got back on the winning track at home as Lazar Haywood and Dominic James each scored 18 points. Villanova turned the ball over 17 times and fell to 6-7 in the conference. Even though they are 18-9 overall, the loss pushed the Wildcats to the brink in terms of tournament invitations.

While the Big East could conceivably send as many as 8 teams into March Madness, the Wildcats now need to win their remaining games (Rutgers, at Connecticut, Syracuse) and make a solid showing in the Big East tournament. That final game against the Orangemen will be critical as it could determine who goes and who stays home. Syracuse is 8-5 in conference, 19-8 overall and handled the Wildcats back on January 13, winning at the Carrier Dome 75-64.

#15 Butler 68 Wisconsin Green Bay 58 - A.J. Graves scored 20 points to lead the Bulldogs on the road. Butler continues to trail unranked Wright State by 1/2 game, with two games remaining. The 13-2 Wright State Raiders have just one regular season game left, at Youngstown State on Thursday. Should both teams win out, they would share the Horizon League title, splitting the two games against each other and the automatic bid would go to the winner of the conference tournament.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Who will be #1?

After Vanderbilt stunned Florida on Friday, the top spots in the AP and USA Today Polls are up for grabs. #3 Wisconsin would be the likely choice since they already have a win over #2 Ohio State, with Florida falling no further than #3. Besides that, the Badgers have the best record in the nation - 26-2 - and Ohio State was severely beaten by Florida back in December, 86-60.

On the other hand, since Florida already trashed Ohio State, why not keep them at #1? Everybody loses once in a while, and Florida's loss to Vandy was on the road and ended a 17-game winning streak. So, despite the one bad game, the Gators are still as good, and arguably better than Ohio State. Furthermore, last week's voting was unanimous. All first place votes went to Florida in both polls.

Personally, I'd move Nevada way up and forgive some of the losses by North Carolina, Kansas and Texas A&M. My Top Ten would look like: Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pitt, Texas A&M, UCLA, Ohio State, Nevada, Kansas, Georgetown.

The long and short is that it doesn't really matter much right now. In three weeks the NCAA Tournament gets underway and we'll really see who's got what it takes to claim the crown.

Just two games from last night to report:

#2 Ohio St. 85 Minnesota 67 - Apparently, Greg Oden is good enough to play half a game and still put up impressive numbers. On the road against the Golden Gophers, Oden played just 21 minutes but led the team in scoring with 19 points and pulled down 9 rebounds for good measure. Ohio State has won 11 in a row and may be ranked #1 for the first time since John Havlicek was wearing the crimson and white - 45 years ago.

Arizona St. 68 #22 USC 58 - After 14 straight Pac-10 losses, the Sun Devils victimized USC. Trailing 26-21 at the half, Arizona State blazed away for 47 2nd half points to post their first win since December 21. The Sun Devil's home crowd was more shocked than ecstatic.

For USC, losing a game like this certainly doesn't help their post-season chances. They're 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the conference with three games remaining. The Trojans host Cal on Saturday, then close out the regular season with a pair of road games - at Washington and #10 Washington St. Losing any of those games coupled with an early exit from the Pac-10 tourney could spell N-I-T for USC. The Trojans may not need worry, however, as Arizona and Oregon have imploded and are already on the bubble for invitations to the the March Madness Big Dance.