Monday, March 19, 2007

Oh-so-Sweet Sixteen

After a weekend of basketball bliss and bracket binges, we approach the epitome of college hoops - the Sweet 16 - likely to be the best 12 games in any 4 days of the season. The survivors will, of course, end up in the Final Four, but the Sweet 16 poses an equally difficult task. All of the teams in this year's regionals are top-shelf. A quick look at last week's AP Top 25 reveals that only Vanderbilt (the #6 seed in the East region) didn't make that list.

There were ostensibly no big upsets in the opening weekend of play. The lowest seeds remaining are #7 UNLV and #6 Vanderbilt Three #5s made the grade: Butler, Tennessee and USC. Southern Illinois is the lone #4 in the regionals; after that all of the 1-3 seeds made it to the third round except Washington State (#3 East) and Wisconsin (#2 Midwest).

The big losers in the conference breakdown were the Big Ten and Big East. Big 10 basketball didn't make the grade over the first weekend when Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin were all summarily booted. Add to that Ohio State needing a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to get into overtime and eventually defeat Xavier, and the #1 ranked team in the country all of a sudden doesn't look very imposing. They alone now carry the Big 10 banner.

The Big East lost 4 of the 6 they sent to the tourney. Notre Dame, Villanova and Marquette didn't even make it past the first round. Louisville lost a tough one to Texas A&M. Only Pitt (another team that needed overtime in the 2nd round) and Georgetown remain from the nation's largest (16 teams) conference. Maybe West Virginia or Syracuse might have fared better. Maybe not. It was a crowded, competitive field beyond the #1-3 seedings.

The Thursday and Friday matchups, which I'll break down on Tuesday and Wednesday, are intriguing, but none moreso than the Florida - Butler tilt in the Midwest. The Gators were tested briefly by Purdue, but they'll face one of the best defensive teams in the country in the Bulldogs, and one which has a 7-1 record against tournament teams with wins over Notre Dame, Tennessee, Indiana and Gonzaga back in November, Purdue in December, plus tourney wins over Old Dominion and Maryland. Their only loss was a 68-64 road loss to Southern Illinois in February. Butler is, right now, the ultimate Cinderella team with aims at the defending champion.

Before getting ahead of myself and doing game analysis, here's some of the prime time performers still remaining in the field of 16.

Scoring (1st game, 2nd game, total, average):
Tyler Hansbrough, NC: 21, 33, 54, 27.0
Acie Law, Texas A&M: 20, 26, 46, 23.0
Chris Lofton, Tenn.: 25, 20, 45, 22.5
Nick Young, USC: 20, 22, 42, 21.0
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt: 12, 27, 39, 19.5
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt: 18, 20, 38, 19.0
Aaron Brooks, Oregon: 18, 22, 40, 20.0
JaJuan Smith, Tenn.: 24, 16, 40, 20.0
Ron Lewis, Ohio St.: 13, 27, 40, 20.0
Wendell White, UNLV: 19, 22, 41, 20.5
Corey Brewer, Florida: 21, 17, 38, 19.0
A. J. Graves, Butler: 18, 19, 37, 17.5
Mario Chalmers, Kansas: 19, 16, 35, 17.0

Rebounds (1st game, 2nd game, total, average):
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown: 13, 12, 25, 12.5
Al Horford, Florida: 16, 9, 25, 12.5
Joey Dorsey, Memphis: 15, 9, 24, 12.0
Greg Oden, Ohio St.: 10, 12, 22, 11.0
Taj Gibson, USC: 8, 14, 22, 11.0
Randal Falker, 8, 12, 20, 10.0
Joseph Jones, Texas A&M: 11, 8, 19, 9.5
Mike Green, Butler: 10, 8, 18, 9.0
Julian Wright, Kansas: 10, 8, 18, 9.0

Assists (1st game, 2nd game, total, average):Sports Training Products
Kevin Kruger, UNLV: 8, 7, 15, 7.5
Taurean Green, Florida: 12, 2, 14, 7.0
Levance Fields, Pitt.: 9, 4, 13, 6.5
Gabe Pruitt, USC: 4, 8, 12, 6.0

Here's the Thursday-Friday lineup (all times Eastern):

Thursday, March 22:

West Region (San Jose, CA)
7:10 pm #4 Southern Ill. (29-6) v. #1 Kansas (32-4)
9:40 pm #3 Pittsburgh (29-7) v. #2 UCLA (28-5)

South Region (San Antonio, TX)
7:27 pm #3 Texas A&M (27-6) v. #2 Memphis (32-3)
9:57 pm #5 Tennessee (24-10) v. #1 Ohio St. (32-3)

Friday, March 23:

Midwest Region (St. Louis, MO)
7:10 pm #5 Butler (29-6) v. #1 Florida (31-5)
9:40 pm #7 UNLV (30-6) v. #3 Oregon (28-7)

East Region (East Rutherford, NJ)
7:27 pm #6 Vanderbilt (22-11) v. #2 Georgetown (28-6)
9:57 pm #5 USC (25-11) v. #1 North Carolina (30-6)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Sends 8 to Sweet 16

Tennessee 77 Virginia 74 - Chris Lofton was only 4-16 from the field, but he led the Vols with 20 points, hitting 6 straight free throws in the final minute to deny Virginia an opportunity to play Ohio in the Sweet 16. J. R. Reynolds scored 26 for Virginia, but he was not a factor in the latter stages of the game, apparently suffering an injury nearing halftime. Tennessee hit 11-26 3-pointers, but free throw shooting kept the game close. There were 51 total fouls, and 68 free throw attempts.Virginia hit 31-36 while Tennessee went 22-32.

UNLV 74 Wisconsin 68 - The Runnin' Rebels pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, sending the Midwest's #2 seed home early. Wisconsin got off to a slow start again and trailed by 12 at the half. But the Badger's scoring duo of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor brought the Badgers back with a 21-7 run to open the 2nd half and take a lead at 48-46. The Rebels battled back, however, and took a 61-54 lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Kevin Kruger and two free throws by Michael Umeh. As time wore down, the Badgers could get no closer than three as UNLV advanced to the regionals to face Oregon.

Florida 74 Purdue 67 - Purdue took an early lead and maintained their advantage five minutes into the 2nd half as Florida was ice cold and made numerous mistakes on offense. But then, a dunk and a tip-in by Joakim Noah gave Florida a lead at 34-33. Moments later, Taurean Green hit a pair of 3-pointers to put Florida up by 5.

Oregon 75 Winthrop 61 - Aaron Brooks scored 14 first half points to help the Ducks build a 4-point lead to intermission, stretching it to double-digits as the game wore on. Fueled by the 3-point shooting of Brooks and Tajuan Porter, the Ducks pressed their advantage to produce a convincing second round conquest. Brooks, who led the scoring parade with 22 points, hit 5 of 9 threes. Porter was 4 for 7 behind the line and scored 14.

Memphis 78 Nevada 62 - Memphis maintained a single-digit lead most of the game, but could never quite shake loose from Nevada. The turning point could have come with about 8 minutes remaining in the game when the Tigers' leading scorer, Chris Douglas-Roberts left the game with an ankle injury. The Wolf Pack closed to within two points with under 6 minutes remaining, but could get no closer as Memphis was too physical and quick down the stretch. Memphis heads for a date with Texas A&M in the East regional. Douglas-Roberts and Jeremy Hunt led the Tigers in scoring with 16 apiece. Nevada's Nick Fazekas had 20 and Marcelus Kemp, 18.Sports Training Products

Southern Illinois 63 Virginia Tech 48 - Jamaal Tatum hit 6-9 3-pointers for 21 points and Tony Young was 4-8 from beyond the arc for 17, as the Salukis romped past Virginia Tech and into the regionals. While the Hokies were missing badly from long range (2-13), Randal Falker was putting together a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. The #4 seed in the West, Southern Illinois has Kansas next on the schedule.

Kansas 88 Kentucky 76 - The Jayhawks shot the lights out on Kentucky in a game that was never in doubt after halftime. Brandon Rush nailed 6 of 7 3-pointers and Julian Wright poured in 21 to lead Kansas into the next round with 19 points and . The Wildcats' Bobby Perry and Randolph Morris tried to keep pace, but their 21 and 22 points alone were not enough to offset Kansas' 57% shooting.

USC 87 Texas 68 - The more-experienced Trojans came out firing against Texas and swamped the Longhorns, swelling a 7-point halftime lead to 17 after the break. Nick Young provided the bulk of the offense with XX points. Kevin Durant had a game high 30, but fellow freshmen Damian James and D.J. Augustin were held to just 8 points on 2 of 11 shooting. USC, one of the nation's best defensive teams, held the high-powered Texas offense to 38% shooting, including 7-28 from beyond the arc. Daniel Hackett had 20 points for the Trojans; Taj Gibson tallied 17 with 13 rebounds. USC will face North Carolina in the East regional.

Making the Grade: Saturday Produces Half of Sweet 16

Ohio State 78 Xavier 71 (OT) - The Musketeers nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, but Justin Cage, who was a perfect 8-8 from the field, missed the second of two free throws, allowing Ohio State to tie the game at the buzzer on Ron Lewis' dramatic 3-pointer. The Buckeyes played the overtime without center Greg Oden, who had fouled out in regulation, but freshman Mike Conley Jr. took over, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the extra session. Lewis was the game's high scorer with 27 points and 4-5 shooting from 3-point range. Oden finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Butler 62 Maryland 59 - Butler managed to control the pace of the game, forced Maryland into 17 turnovers and hit 12 of 26 3-pointers to advance in the Widwest region. The Bulldogs will likely face Florida in the next round, as the Gators play Purdue on Sunday.

Sports Training ProductsTexas A&M 72 Louisville 69 - These two heavyweights slugged it out until the final buzzer. Louisville's Edgar Sosa briefly became the highest single-game scorer in the tournament with 31 points, but it was not quite enough, as Acie Law's 26 points got the Aggies into the Sweet 16 in the South region, where they will play the winner of Sunday's Memphis-Nevada tilt.

Vanderbilt 78 Washington State 74 (2OT) - It took two overtimes, but the Commodores became the highest seed (6) to advance thus far. Led by Derrick Byars' game-high 27 points, Vandy rallied from an 8-point halftime deficit to take out the #3 seed in the East.

Pittsburgh 84 Virginia Commonwealth 79 - After knocking off Duke in the opening round, VCU nearly upset the #3 seed in the West, Pitt. The Panthers led by as many as 19 points in the game, but the Rams would not let their dreams die, as they continued to pressure Pitt into mistakes which they turned into baskets. Pitt just barely escaped in overtime, despite shooting 54%. Pitt committed 15 turnovers and were only 16-27 from the foul line (59%). Sam Young led 5 Pittsburgh players in double figures with 15 points.

Georgetown 62 Boston College 55 - BC's Tyrese Rice played great again, leading all scorers with 22 points, but Georgetown's interior domination eventually wore down the Eagles. Jeff Green had 11 points and 12 rebounds to go with center Roy Hibbert's 17 and 12. The Hoyas also showed proficiency at the foul line, hitting 14 of 19 free throws. The Hoyas move on to play Vanderbilt in the East regionals.

UCLA 54 Indiana 49 - In a game that could only be described as ugly, UCLA escaped a late run of three-pointers by Indiana that tied the game with under 2 minutes remaining. The Bruins shot 36% to the Hoosiers' 33%, but his 18-24 free throws to more than provide the margin of victory. This game featured plenty of defense, but mostly just plain bad shooting. The Bruins hit just 2-9 from 3-point range and Darren Collison led all scorers with 15 points. The good news for UCLA is that they next face another suspect squad, Pittsburgh, in the West regional.

North Carolina 81 Michigan State 67 - Drew Neitzel did all he could to keep the Spartans in the game, scoring 26 points while directing the Michigan State offense. North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, though, was too much to handle inside, as he became the tournament's single-game high scorer with 33 points, hitting 10-17 shots from the field and 13-17 free throws. Hansbrough also reeled in 9 rebounds in 38 minutes of play, the most by any Tar Heel. Point guard Ty Lawson was also a standout performer, dropping in 20 of his own while dishing out 8 assists. Lawson was credited with only one turnover for the entire game.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

2nd Round Picks for Sunday, March 18

All Times Eastern

Sports Training Products12:10 pm Tennessee (-2.5) Virginia - Both of these squads won their openers by wide margins, but neither expects this 4-5 matchup to be a rout. There isn't much separating these two teams, as evidenced by their games against North Carolina, a common opponent. The Vols lost by 14 to the Tar Heels, whereas Virginia lost by 10. A slight edge has to go to Tennessee, as they have won 5 of their last 6, while the Cavaliers are just 3-3 over the same span. The winner gets Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

2:15 pm Memphis (-5) Nevada - The Wolf Pack survived against a solid Creighton team in overtime and that win may have helped them prepare for Memphis. As for the Tigers, they haven't been in a close contest in a long while and still hold the nation's longest winning streak at 23 games. One wonders how they will perform in a tight game. Nevada's star big man, Nick Fazekas, will have his hands full against the Tigers' front line, which is big and physical, but the backcourt matchup between Ramon Sessions and Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts should be interesting as well. Joey Dorsey of Memphis is very physical inside and should prove to be the key for the Tigers, but the Wolf Pack's Marcelus Kemp will be the difference maker in a major upset.

2:30 pm Wisconsin (-5.5) UNLV - Now that Wisconsin has a tournament win under their belts, they'll probably be a little less tentative offensively which spells real trouble for the Runnin' Rebels. Another bonus for the Badgers is that Brian Butch is available, and his inside presence could provide a real lift. For UNLV, the victory over Georgia Tech in the first round stretched their winning streak to 8 games, but they haven't yet met a team like the Badgers or players with the skills of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. Tucker will surely get his points, but if Taylor gets hot from outside, it will be a long, long day for the kids from Nevada.

2:40 pm Southern Illinois (-1) Virginia Tech - The Hokies were fortunate to squeak past Illinois in their opener, and will face an even better defense in the Salukis, the highest-seeded mid-major in the tournament at #4 in the West. The oddsmakers seem to be taking the position that the Salukis are not quite as good as their seeding, but it would pay to go against them here. A win by Southern Illinois puts them in the Sweet 16, where they belong. Their tight defense and disciplined style should serve them well here. They've lost just once in the last 15 games and actually own a win over Hokies this season, a 69-64 home win back in November. It should be close, but eventually, Southern Illinois advances.

2:50 pm Oregon (-3.5) Winthrop - After Winthrop's victory over Notre Dame, everybody is wondering just how far the Eagles can fly. While the guard play may prove to be fairly even in this game, Oregon doesn't have and answer for Craig Bradshaw, who led the Eagles with 24 points in their opening round win. It will be up to Oregon to use ball movement and three-pointers to overcome a very worthy opponent. The Eagles have won 19 straight, but prior to that run they show losses to North Carolina, Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas A&M, the closest of those being by 6 to the Tar Heels. Oregon shows wins over Georgetown, UCLA, USC, Arizona and Washington State. Edge, and the win, to the Ducks.

4:45 pm Florida (-11.5) Purdue - Purdue finished tied for 4th in the Big 10 with Illinois and Iowa. The Hawkeyes didn't make the tourney and the Illini are already out. The Boilermakers beat a sub-par Arizona team, which also didn't belong. In what looks like the biggest mismatch of the day, Florida should cruise past Purdue by 20.

5:05 pm Kansas (-8) Kentucky - The Wildcats outlasted a somewhat limited Villanova team in the opening round as the Jayhawks had a shoot-around against overmatched Niagara. This one figures to be a little closer for Kansas, but they are of much higher caliber than Kentucky.

5:20 pm Texas (-2.5) USC - The weekend closes out with one of the more promising matchups of the tournament. Texas comes fully loaded with freshmen Kevin Durant, Damian James and D. J. Augustin. Add sophomore A. J. Abrams to the mix and the Longhorns have the youngest squad in the the tourney. USC has played a tough PAC-10 schedule, is one of the best defensive teams in the country and will be put to the test by the exuberant Texans. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have lost a lot of close games, probably because they don't play much defense. Texas is a 4 seed, USC a 5, but this one will go to the Trojans, who have the edge in maturity.

First Round Recaps from Friday, March 16

Virginia 84 Albany 57 - J. R. Reynolds popped for 28 points as the Cavaliers routed Albany's Great Danes. Virginia was on the mark from beyond the arc, hitting 9-17 3-pointers. They also controlled the paint, outrebounding Albany, 41-25.

UNLV 67 Georgia Tech 63 - The Runnin' Rebels hit 21 of 27 free throws, played solid defense down the stretch and outlasted the Yellow Jackets. Michael Umeh and Wendell White each scored 19 for the victors.

Memphis 73 North Texas 58 - North Texas kept the game close for most of the first half, but Memphis pulled away in the 2nd half and didn't allow the Mean Green any closer than 10, rolling to their 23rd straight win. The Tigers weren't especially sharp, shooting only 41% and just 4-16 on 3s. Chris Douglas-Roberts led the way with 16 points.

Winthrop 74 Notre Dame 64 - Winthrop grabbed a 4-point lead at halftime and stretched it to 20 in the opening 7 minutes of the second half. Undeterred, the Irish battled back, cutting the lead to 4 at 56-52. The Irish three times cut the lead to one point only to see the Eagles return the score. Luke Harangody hit a bank shot to give the Irish a brief one-point lead with under 3 minutes to play, but Winthrop responded with key shots and free throws down the stretch. Seniors Craig Bradshaw scored 24 and Torrell Martin added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Eagles.

Tennessee 121 Long Beach St. 86 - Chris Lofton scored 25 points and 10 different Volunteer players scored as Tennessee tied a first round scoring record. JaJuan Smith added 24 points; Ramar Smith had 22. The Vols clicked on 14 of 27 3-pointers.

Wisconsin 76 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 63 - The Badgers couldn't hit a shot as the underdog Islanders sprinted to a 10-0 lead, expanding it to 25-7 with less than four minutes left in the half. But the Badgers went on a 12-2 run to close out the half at 27-19. In the second half and Wisconsin continued to close the gap. When Kammron Taylor hit a pair of 3s near the midway point of the half, the game was tied at 47. From there, Wisconsin slowly inched clear for the decisive win. The Badgers, who were 0-8 in the first half from beyond the arc, hit 7 of 12 in the 2nd. Taylor scored all of his game high 24 points in the 2nd half as he and Alando Tucker combined for 38 second-half points. Tucker finished with 23.

Nevada 77 Creighton 71 - As expected these two played toe-to-toe for the entire 40 minutes and went into overtime. Nevada's star, Nick Fazekas, fouled out with 3:03 left in overtime, but his teammates came through with key baskets, outscoring the Bluejays 18-12 in the extra session. Marcellus Kemp was sensational for the Wolf Pack, scoring 27 points with 12 rebounds. Fazekas also registered a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Oregon 58 Miami (OH) 56 - It wasn't supposed to be this close, but Miami's Michael Bramos hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final margin. Oregon started slowly, down 9-0 in the early going, but built an 11-point bulge on the strength of Aaron Brooks' 18 points. The RedHawks of Miami slowed the pace and worked out good shots, but could not overwhelm the plucky Ducks.

Virginia Tech 54 Illinois 52 - Illinois led most of the game, but the Hokies pressured the ball, got turnovers and baskets late and stole one from the Illini. The 19 Illinois turnovers were key, as the Illini outshot and outrebounded Virginia Tech.

Kansas 107 Niagara 67 - Mario Chalmers led 13 different Kansas scorers with 19 points as the Jayhawks made quick work of the Purple Eagles. Kansas shot 54%, including 13-22 from beyond the arc.

Purdue 72 Arizona 63 - Purdue's defense forced 17 Arizona turnovers, Carl Landry scored a game-high 21 points and the Boilermakers sent Lute Olson and the Wildcats home early.

Texas 79 New Mexico St. 67 - The Longhorns pulled away late in the game to advance to a second round matchup with USC. Kevin Durant had 27 points and 8 rebounds, hitting 15 of 16 from the free throw line.

Southern Illinois 61 Holy Cross 51 - The Crusaders of Holy Cross slowed the game down but hit only 1 of 11 3-point attempts in a game which produced 38 turnovers. Led by Randal Falker's 12 points, and Tony Boyle's career-high 14, the Salukis edged clear late in the first half and never relinquished their lead.Sports Training Products

Kentucky 67 Villanova 58 - Randolph Morris' inside presence was a huge factor in Kentucky's win. Morris registered 19 points and 11 rebounds as Kentucky held Villanova at bay.

Florida 112 Jackson State 69 - This just looked like fun for the defending national champs. Led by Corey Brewer's 21 points, Florida put 6 different players into double figures and both Joakim Noah and Al Horford had double-doubles. Noah scored 17 with 12 rebounds while Horford had 15 points and 16 boards. The Gators shot 59% overall.

USC 77 Arkansas 60 - The Razorbacks were a questionable addition to the NCAA field and the Trojans showed that the selection committee could have done better. USC was never tested as Nick Young scored 20 points to lead the first round win. Arkansas shot only 37% and were outrebounded, 39-26.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Picks for 2nd round games of Saturday, March 17

All Times Eastern

1:10 pm Ohio State (-7) Xavier - Ohio State romped in the first round, while Xavier barely got past stubborn BYU. If Greg Oden isn't enough to get Ohio State into the next round, his often overlooked supporting cast will be. Xavier has no good answer for Oden, but their emotion could make this closer than it should be. Still, the Buckeyes are looking very solid and should win handily, by 10 to 15.

3:20 pm Maryland (-5.5) Butler - The Terrapins showed some resiliency against Davidson, a team more than willing to go up and down the court in a hurry. Butler, however, will display more defense and could be the best defensive team the Terps have seen this season. Maryland has a size advantage inside which they should use to their advantage, but they'll have to be at the top of their game (and they seem to be) to get by the Bulldogs. The Terrapins should move on.

3:40 pm Texas A&M (-2.5) Louisville - A great 2nd round matchup here with plenty of talent on both sides. The Cardinals and Aggies are two of the better teams in this bracket and either could emerge and go even further. There's little to separate these squads, so taking the points seem to be the only option as the game figures to go down to the wire.

5:40 pm Washington State (-1.5) Vanderbilt - If you're looking for Cinderella, the Vanderbilt Commodores seem to have the right size foot for the slipper. Vandy's won as many big games as have the Cougars and so far, the SEC looks to be pretty solid. Both of these teams have at least three players who could step up and be stars, but keep your eyes on Vandy's Shan Foster and Washington State's Ivory Clark. Vanderbilt's defense may be a little better than anyone cares to admit and that could lead to a big win.

5:50 pm Pittsburgh (-6 1/2) Virginia Commonwealth - VCU proved how dangerous they are by ousting Duke in the first round. Other teams might have folded more easily against the Rams' relentless pressure, but coach K had his troops prepared and they played to the best of their ability. VCU just wanted it more and while point guard Eric Maynor was the star, his backcourt mates, B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, may strut their stuff here. VCU has to put the clamps down on Pitt center Aaron Gray, who looms as the X-factor here. Another thing to watch is the crows reaction in Buffalo, where there is no love for anything from Pittsburgh. That also will work to the Rams' favor, who are the pick to spring another, even more stunning, upset here.Sports Training Products

5:50 pm Georgetown (-8) Boston College - Boston College was impressive in their opening round win over Texas Tech. Their interior defense was pretty good, but it's going to be a different story against Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green inside. The Hoyas look like the best team in this bracket right now and though Boston College may keep this close, Georgetown will wear them down and out of the tournament. Georgetown will win and more than likely cover the spread.

8:10 pm UCLA (-7) Indiana - The Hoosiers didn't exactly shoot the lights out in their win over Gonzaga on Thursday, and they'll have to do better than 9-25 from beyond the arc if they plan on advancing past the Bruins. UCLA is, after all, the #2 seed in the West bracket, and they look to be pretty well primed for this game after routing Weber State by 28 points. If the Bruins are on their game, this one could be over by halftime.

8:20 pm North Carolina(-10) Michigan State - Only a fool would not appreciate the coaching matchup between Tom Izzo and Roy Williams here. Izzo will have his guys as ready as a team can be and they aren't going to be the least bit fazed or intimidated by Carolina's high-octane offense. Izzo's plan is for his guys to play the kind of fundamentally sound defense for which his teams are known and work the ball inside. That's a good tactic against anyone, and if they can get inside Tyler Hansbrough's head, they can pull off the upset. The Tar Heels will likely win this game, though taking the generous gift of 10 points from Vegas offers the makings of a profitable wager. The Spartans have only lost by more than 10 points three times this season. Their style of play and Izzo's understanding of momentum and pace usually keeps their games close.

1st Round Recaps from Thursday's games

Maryland 82 Davidson 70 - Davidson got Maryland to play an up-tempo game and actually led by as much as 8 at one point, but the Terps' defense and Davidson's inability to hit 3-pointers late turned a close game to Maryland's advantage. Davidson failed to score from the field in the final three minutes. Davidson's Stephen Curry posted the high number of the day with 30 points.

Boston College 84 Texas Tech 75 - In a game nearly devoid of defense, Boston College outlasted the Red Raiders, holding a narrow advantage through the second half. Tyrese Rice was the game's high scorer with 26 points.

Louisville 78 Stanford 58 - Plenty of people thought Stanford didn't belong in this tourney and Louisville proved them right with a lopsided win. This game, which was never close, should make the case for a lot of smaller conference schools who didn't get a fair shake this year. Freshman Edgar Sosa was a standout performer for Louisville with 16 points and stellar defense.

Washington State 70 Oral Roberts 54 Ivory Clark had 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots as the Cougars raced past undermanned Oral Roberts.

Butler 57 Old Dominion 46 Keyed by Pete Campbell's 3 straight 3-pointers the Butler Bulldogs went on a 15-0 run midway through the 2nd half to take control and cruise to the opening-round win. Butler's defense was spectacular, limiting Old Dominion to 33% shooting. A.J. Graves led the Bulldogs with 18 points.Sports Training Products

Georgetown 80 Belmont 55 - The Hoyas dominated from start to finish and got their tournament off to a flying start. Roy Hibbert had 10 points and 13 rebounds in 22 minutes.

Texas A&M 68 Pennsylvania 52 Penn rallied from 15 points down to briefly grab a 2-point 2nd half lead, but the Aggies responded with an 18-6 run and maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Acie Law paced the Aggies with 20 points and 6 boards.

Vanderbilt 77 George Washington 44 - The Commodores held George Washington to 27% shooting and their lowest point total of the season. Shan Foster led the way for Vandy with 16 points. 10 different players scored for Vanderbilt.

Ohio St. 78 Central Connecticut St. 57 - Greg Oden dominated in the paint, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Jamar Butler hit 5-6 3-pointers en route to 17 points and an easy Buckeye win.

Virginia Commonwealth 79 Duke 77 - Duke proved to be vulnerable, as many had expected, and Eric Maynor, who pestered the Blue Devils' Greg Paulus all afternoon, scored the game-winner with 1.8 seconds left. Maynor scored 22 points and dished 8 assists. VCU played with intensity and a full-court press the entire game - forcing 17 Duke turnovers - and eventually wore down the Blue Devils for the biggest upset of the day. The Rams face Pitt on Saturday.

Michigan St. 61 Marquette 49 - The teacher schooled the student as Tom Izzo's Spartans grabbed an early lead and were never challenged by Tom Crean's Golden Eagles. Michigan St. shot 54% while limiting Marquette to just 32%.

UCLA 70 Weber St. 42 - The Bruins shook off two straight losses at the end of their season and romped to a one-sided victory. Arron Afflalo led all scorers with 22 points. Next up for UCLA, Indiana.

Xavier 79 at Brigham Young 77 - Xavier rallied in the second half and held on for the win over BYU to move into the 2nd round against #1 seed Ohio State on Saturday, setting up an all-Ohio matchup.

Pittsburgh 79 Wright St. 58 - All five Pitt starters scored in double figures and the Panthers shot 55% for the game, cruising past upset-minded Wright State easily.

North Carolina 86 Eastern Kentucky 65 - Tyler Hansbrough led the Tar Heels with 21 points and 10 rebounds. North Carolina moves on to face Michigan State on Saturday.

Indiana 70 Gonzaga 57 - The Hoosiers grabbed an early lead and never let Gonzaga closer than 4 points. Indiana's Rod Wilmont hit 6-11 from beyond the arc for a game high 22 points. DJ White registered a double-double for the Hoosiers with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Later today: Saturday's matchups and picks.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

NCAA Opening Round Picks for Friday, March 16


Friday, March 16

12:15 pm Virginia (-13) Albany - Virginia's been an up-and-down team, but ended up tied with North Carolina at 11-5 for 1st place in the ACC. The unbalanced schedule in the conference may have helped the Cavaliers a bit, but they closed out the season only 4-4, losing their last two games to Wake Forest and NC State, two non-tournament teams. Albany won the America East tournament, have won 5 straight and 13 of their last 15, and have tournament experience. Could be a shocker and the points are enticing.Sports Training Products

12:25 pm Georgia Tech (-1.5) UNLV - The Runnin' Rebels are a good choice for the upset, especially since they are the lower seed (7 vs. 10). The Yellow Jackets are the weakest team from the ACC, while UNLV won the Mountain West tournament and are on a 7-game roll. Both teams play an aggressive up-tempo style. UNLV should outgun the Georgians.

12:30 pm Memphis (-18) North Texas - The Mean Green of North Texas have an imposing task ahead of them. Memphis has a 22-game win streak on the line - the longest in the nation - and aren't about to stop here. At least a 20-point win for the Tigers is in the cards.

2:35 pm Notre Dame (-4) Winthrop - While there's plenty of buzz about the basketball program at Winthrop, the Fighting Irish (24-7, 11-5) have quietly put together a sensational season, finishing 4th in the expanded Big East. Undefeated at home, the Irish won only four road games, but seemed to find themselves late in the season when they won six straight before losing to Georgetown, 89-83 in the Big East tournament. The Irish average 81 points per outing and should shoot themselves past the Big South champion Eagles.

2:45 pm Tennessee (-7) Long Beach St. - Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism have been the keys for the Volunteers all season. Tennessee may be better than their record indicates, having played a solid non-conference schedule in addition to their SEC slate. Long Beach should not pose a problem.

Wisconsin (-13) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi - Alando Tucker and the Badgers should slice these guys up. The Islanders were clearly the best team in the Southland conference, but that's not saying much. Penetrating the Wisconsin defense should prove to be too much of a challenge to overcome. The Badgers should roll to a big win.

3:00 pm Nevada (-1.5) Creighton - Nevada is the higher seed, at #7, but #10 Creighton will not be impressed. The feisty Bluejays suffered a bunch of close losses through the Missouri Valley conference schedule, but won the tourney, so they can handle big game pressure. Nevada will look primarily to Nick Fazekas inside to control the tempo. Two very talented teams make this a close call. Nevada is likely to survive a possible overtime game.

5:05 pm Oregon (-9) Miami (OH) - The Ducks are on an insane roll and there's no way Miami gets in their way. Oregon could win by as many as 30.

7:10 pm Virginia Tech (-2.5) Illinois - Illinois is probably going to get treated badly by yet another ACC entrant. The Big 10 was not very competitive this season and Illinois squeaked into the tournament only by virtue of the selection committee's questionable judgment.

7:15 pm Kansas (-19) Niagara - Niagara fought their way in, winning the play-in game on Tuesday, but they're one and done against #1 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks will probably have the spread covered by halftime.

7:20 pm Arizona (-2) Purdue - Possibly the worst 8-9 matchup ever. Neither team even belongs in this tournament. Arizona ostensibly has more talent, but the Big 10 has a way of winning games they shouldn't. Arizona turns the ball over with passion and should go home losers.

7:25 pm Texas (-9) New Mexico St. - Kevin Durant may outscore the Aggies all by himself. An opening-round romp for the Longhorns.

9:40 pm Southern Illinois (-7) Holy Cross - The Salukis were one of the nation's hottest teams down the stretch, winning 13 straight before falling in the MVC tourney to Creighton. Holy Cross tied Bucknell for the Patriot League regular season title, and beat them in the tourney for the automatic bid. The Crusaders are a solid team, but losses to Duke, Syracuse, Providence, Niagara and George Mason really tell the story. They are a notch below Southern Illinois in talent and the Salukis will escort them to the tournament exit.

9:40 pm Villanova (-1) at Kentucky - Probably the toughest matchup of the day, pits Wildcats vs. Wildcats, but the ones from Kentucky deserve a slight edge only because of Randolph Morris and their interior defense. As the line suggests, this one could go either way, but Kentucky may be a little better handling the pressure of a close game.

9:50 pm Florida (-28) Jackson State - The Gators won 8 games by 28 or more points this season, plus a bunch more by 20 or more, so they're certainly capable of taking out the #16 seed here. Look for Al Horford to have another double-double and Joakim Noah to spend most of the second half on the bench cheering on Florida's subs. Easy one for the Gators.

9:55 pm USC (-1.5) Arkansas - The Razorbacks get up and down the floor very well, and their experience in the SEC tourney - in which they reached the finals - may have given them enough of a confidence boost to spring the upset. It certainly would not be a surprise. USC needs to play their usually good brand of defense, force a slower, half-court game and be patient. If they do that, they'll win easily and they are the pick.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NCAA Tournament First Round Picks for Thursday, March 15


Thursday, March 15

12:20 pm Maryland (-7) Davidson - Maryland got a lot of good press as they won 7 straight before losing to Miami in the ACC tourney, but Davidson will give them a game for sure. The 29-4 Wildcats have won 25 of their last 26 and are riding a 13-game win streak. Stephen Curry, son of NBA star Dell Curry, is 2nd in the nation in scoring for freshmen behind Texas' Kevin Durant. An upset looms. Take the points though the Terps should survive.

12:25 pm Boston College (-3) Texas Tech - Tough call between two sub-par units, but Bobby Knight's Red Raiders know how to prepare for an opponent and will handle the tournament pressure better than BC, which has lost 5 of their last 7 and hasn't beaten a ranked team on the road this season. Tech takes it.

12:40 pm Louisville (-5.5) Stanford - Stanford starts a pair of 7-footers, twin brothers Brook and Robin Lopez, but Louisville has handled their share of height in the Big East and should cruise here. This is Cardinal (Stanford) vs. Cardinals (Louisville). Plurality means more, as in points.

2:40 pm Washington State (-6.5) Oral Roberts - The Cougars will need to stop Oral Roberts' Caleb Green, who has been the Mid-Continent player of the year three years running. He's averaging 20.8 points and 9.3 rebounds this season. Washington State would like to keep this game in the 60s, but the Golden Eagles have other ideas, averaging 72 points per game. If they find ways to score, it could lead to a big upset for Sean Sutton's gang. Oral Roberts is the pick.

2:50 pm Butler (-1) Old Dominion - No mid-majors have gotten more mention as bracket busters than these two. Unfortunately, one of them will be gone after just one game. Old D's Drew Williamson may be the key to the game if he can handle pressure at the point guard spot and get his guys good looks. Minor upset here, as Butler hasn't been playing well late (4-4 down the stretch).

2:55 pm Georgetown (-16.5) Belmont - No contest unless the Hoyas come in complacent and that's unlikely. Belmont won't be able to handle Georgetown's overall size advantage. A rout is in store.

3:10 pm Texas A&M (-13.5) Pennsylvania - Penn won't be close after the first 12 minutes, especially if Acie Law gets off early. Mark down a win for the Aggies.

5:10 pm Vanderbilt (-3.5) George Washington - GW finished third in the Atlantic-10 but won the conference tourney, while Vandy was 2nd in the SEC East behind Florida. The Commodores have some big wins on their resume including six wins against Top 25 teams. Derrick Byars, Shan Foster and Dan Cage average a combined 43 points per game. Expect that number to be closer to 60 here as Vandy romps.

7:10 pm Ohio St (-21.5) Central Connecticut St - There may not be a bigger mismatch in this tourney. The Buckeyes could win by as many as 35.

7:10 pm Duke (-6.5) Virginia Commonwealth - Duke should be playing in the NIT. They've lost 3 straight and 7 of their last 11. 27-6 VCU won the Colonial Athletic Assn. conference title and tournament, beat last year's Cinderella, George Mason, three times during the season and have won five straight. An early exit for the Blue Devils is a near certainty.

7:20 pm Michigan St (-1.5) Marquette - Marquette will be missing one of their starters, Jerel McNeal, out with a sprained thumb, but expect subs to fill in, especially David Cubillan, who can bomb from beyond the arc. Michigan State will try to keep the score low, but it may not matter as the Golden Eagles have won their fair share of low-scoring games. Michigan State's only win against a Top 25 opponent was at home win over then-#1 Wisconsin, 64-55. One and done for the Spartans as Marquette wins this handily.

7:25 pm UCLA (-19.5) Weber State - Another 2-15 matchup which may not be much of a game, though the Bruins haven't looked quite themselves the past few weeks. Don't expect an upset, but the surprising Wildcats will score enough to keep it under the line.

9:40 pm Xavier (-1.5) at Brigham Young - While the 8-9 matchups are usually tough to call, this one should go Xavier's way. The Musketeers are 5-1 against tournament teams with wins over VCU, Villanova, Miami (OH), Illinois and George Washington. That experience provides an edge.Sports Training Products

9:40 pm Pittsburgh (-10) Wright St. - Look no further for buzzer beaters. Pitt has struggled down the stretch, and against Horizon League regular-season and tournament titlist Wright State, they'll have to be on top of their game. The Panthers went 5-4 down the stretch, ended up 2nd in the Big East standings and lost in the finals of the Big East tourney to Georgetown, 65-42. The Raiders of Wright State chased down Butler - ranked as high as #10 at one point - and then beat them in the tourney championship game. The Raiders are ready for anything and have already shown an ability to rise to the occasion. Even if they don't win here, the game should be much closer than the line suggests.

9:50 pm North Carolina (-26) Eastern Kentucky - This will be as close to a home game for the Tar Heels as the game will be played in Winston-Salem, just 80 miles from the North Carolina campus. Eastern Kentucky will try to keep the score low, but that's easier said than done against Carolina, which comes at their opponents in waves. Expect coach Williams to use his bench extensively, which could play into the Colonels hands. Take the points and pray for Eastern Kentucky to display some shooting skills late in the game.

Indiana (-1) Gonzaga - How the oddsmakers figure Indiana to be the slight favorite is anybody's guess, but Gonzaga isn't about to depart after just one game. The Bulldogs have played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country and that should help them overcome a stingy Hoosier defense. Gonzaga shows wins over North Carolina, Texas and Stanford, while Indiana's only claim to quality is a home win over Wisconsin and a number of Big 10 conquests. This one goes to the Zags.

This just in: One of our sponsors, Jeff, from Big Daddy Tickets weighs in with his Final Four of Ohio St., Florida. North Carolina and Kansas, with Ohio St. winning the championship game.

Tomorrow: Loads of recaps and picks for Friday's First Round games.

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

Selection Sunday Early Returns

A few thoughts on the selection committee's choices before tomorrow's in-depth analysis.

I don't know if anyone is more shocked that Arizona, Stanford, Arkansas, Purdue, Illinois, Villanova and Texas Tech got in while teams such as Syracuse, Mississippi State and Akron did not.

The Big Ten is definitely over-represented, as is the PAC-10. It should be pointed out to the committee that there are 10 teams in the PAC-10, 11 in the Big 10, but 16 in the Big East. Just by virtue of sheer size, the Big East should have more than any other major conference.

On what criteria were Arizona and Stanford chosen? The conference didn't even merit a #1 seed, and Stanford finished 6th overall, with home losses to Air Force, Cal, Santa Clara, Gonzaga and Arizona. Their road losses included USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Washington St. and Arizona. Basically, they lost every road game against better teams in the conference. And while they did beat both USC and UCLA at home, their 18-12 overall record is not impressive.

Arizona was 8-9 over their last 17 games and lost by 19 points to Oregon in the opening round of the PAC-10 tournament. An early exit by both Stanford and the Wildcats wouldn't surprise anyone.

Illinois and Michigan State are two of the worst at-large seeds I've ever seen. The Illini beat exactly one ranked team all season, Indiana, then #23, and they did it at home. Not very impressive. Their losses to Maryland, Arizona, Ohio State and Wisconsin (twice) were by a combined 65 points. Michigan was 5-7 over their last 12. Not exactly a contender for a championship.

That's all I'm going to say about it, except that one game I surely won't want to watch is the sensational Arizona-Purdue 8 vs. 9 game on Thursday.

Four conferences did wrap up tournaments on Sunday. Quick recap:

North Carolina 89 NC State 80 - The Tar Heels captured the ACC title by wearing down the valiant Wolfpack, who feel just short of a remarkable tourney run. North Carolina had five players in double figures.

Florida 77 Arkansas 56 - The Gators pulled away in the 2nd half as their superior size inside took control for their 3rd straight SEC championship. Al Horford scored 18 points and 12 boards. Joakim Noah had 17.

Kansas 88 Texas 84 - Kansas wins its second consecutive Big 12 title. The Longhorns' Kevin Durant had 37 points and 10 rebounds. Texas may be the best #4 seed ever.

Ohio St. 66 Wisconsin 49 - Greg Oden got his double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) in just 20 minutes of playing time and the Buckeyes' 2-3 zone was impenetrable. Wisconsin hit only 37% from the field including a dismal 4-23 from beyond the arc.

Coming up:
Monday: Bracket breakdowns, West and Midwest
Tuesday: Bracket breakdowns, South and East
Wednesday: Final Four and championship predictions
Thursday and Friday: Game picks, recaps, more.

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.