Saturday, March 21, 2009

Second Round Results, Saturday's Games

(3) Villanova 89, (6) UCLA 69 - The Bruins were completely overwhelmed by Villanova's quickness as the Wildcats led all the way and put six different players in double figures. They also outrebounded UCLA 41-28. Dante Cunningham had 18 points and 10 boards. Next round for Villanova will be against Duke on Thursday.

(2) Memphis 89, (10) Maryland 70 - Unlike their opener, the Memphis Tigers left no doubt this time, leading from start to finish with a dominating performance over the Terrapins. Memphis shot 59%, including 53% from beyond the arc (10-19), while also canning 17-22 free throws. Five different players had double figures in scoring, and point guard Antonio Anderson had 10 dishes. The Tigers await the winner of Sunday's Missouri-Marquette game for their next opponent, to be played Thursday.

(1) Connecticut 92, (9) Texas A&M 66 - Third straight blowout of the day had the Huskies absolutely clicking in every aspect of the game. A.J. Price had 27 points and 8 rebounds to lead the Huskies, who hit 58% from the field and 78% from the foul line. UConn is winning by huge margins, a sign of a team headed to the final four. They face Purdue in the next round, Thursday night.

(5) Purdue 76, (4) Washington 74 - The Boilermakers nearly blew a double-digit lead but held on late to advance. JaJuan Johnson had 25 to lead the scoring. Robbie Hummel had a nice game with 9 points and 9 boards.

(1) North Carolina 84 (8) LSU 70 - LSU actually had a lead with under eight minutes left, but the Tar Heels, especially Ty Lawson, playing with a sore right big toe, built their biggest lead as the clock fell under 3 minutes. Lawson and Wayne Ellison each scored 23 points, sending Carolina to the regionals against Gonzaga.

(2) Oklahoma 73, (10) Michigan 63 - The Sooners have to be the most overlooked high seed in the tournament as they took out a gritty Michigan squad and move on to the next round. Blake Griffin was completely off the charts with the game of the tournament thus far, scoring 33 points with 17 rebounds. Michigan's big scorer, Manny Harris, was held in check, totaling only 11 points on 3-9 shooting. The Sooners get the winner of Sunday's Syracuse-Arizona State hook-up in the next round, to be played Friday night.

(2) Duke 74, (7) Texas 69 - The Blue Devils had a 10-point lead with under 7 minutes left in the game, but Texas battled back, continuing to drive the lane and dominate the boards to tie the game late. Duke was cool at the end, with Gerald Henderson hitting a pair of free throws with 7 seconds left to give the Blue Devils their margin of victory. Duke advances to play Villanova in the next round.

(4) Gonzaga 83, (12) Western Kentucky 81 - This one was a barn-burner from the opening tip to the final buzzer with each team shooting at better than 50% for most of the game. The Hilltoppers really hurt themselves by going just 5-13 from the foul line. With 6:13 left, Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin made a three-pointer which gave the Bulldogs a 72-66 lead. Jeremy Pargo's short jumper made it an 8-point edge with under 5 minutes left. Western kentucky battled back to tie the game at 81-all with 7 seconds left. Then Demetri Goodson hit a short banker with under a second left for the win, in one of the best games of the tournament thus far. The Zags next meet North Carolina in the regional semifinal.

Second Round PIcks for Sunday, March 22

(3) Syracuse (27-9) -1 1/2 (6) Arizona St. (25-9) 12:10 pm - Tough call here, but the Orangemen should prevail over the Sun Devils, if only because Jonny Flynn is so explosive at point guard. Syracuse also benefits from being on the East coast and will likely have forward Kristof Ongenaet back after he missed the opener against Stephen F. Austin. Syracuse will have to limit the scoring by James Harden, Derek Glasser and Jeff Pendergraph, and their 2-3 matchup zone is just the tonic for that. Harden especially likes to drive and distribute or finish, but he'll have lots of Orangemen with him in the lane. Syracuse will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

(4) Xavier (26-7) -4 (12) Wisconsin (20-12) 2:20 pm - The Badgers needed overtime to knock out Florida State after trailing by a dozen or more. It was a very impressive performance but now Wisconsin faces a Xavier team that seems to be tailor-made for tournament play. The Musketeers, like Wisconsin, don't boast any one superstar, they play more like a team. In many respects, these two teams will go at it hard for 40 minutes. The line had interesting movement on Saturday, going from 2 1/2 to 4, and if you can get 3 or more, you have to take the Badgers and the points, as every indication is pointing to a close game. Xavier advances on a buzzer-beater and doesn't cover.

(3) Kansas (26-7) -7 1/2 (11) Dayton (27-7) 2:30 pm - Dayton is a heck of a lot better team than anyone thought. They can hang with just about anyone in this tournament, except maybe the top 4 to 6 teams. Kansas is not one of those, though they are very good. The Flyers already beat a 6, West Virginia, so they should hold their own against a 3. Are they Regional material? In this region, Midwest, if you were seeded 13 or lower, you have a shot. Dayton wins, covers and moves on, sending the reigning champs home early.

(12) Arizona (20-13) -3 (13) Cleveland St. (26-10) 2:40 pm - Another small conference (Horizon League) team that absolutely shocked everyone by not only beating Wake Forest, but dominating them. The Vikings are going to end up in the final Top 25 almost for sure, especially if they win this game. They beat Syracuse earlier in the year, and just beat Butler and Wake Forest in succession. The Wildcats got by the Utes pretty easily, but remember, Arizona is a team that lost four of their last five regular season games and then were bounced in the first round of the PAC-10 tourney. Like raw fish on a hot day, they can go bad quickly. The Vikings plunder and set sail for the regionals.

(1) Pittsburgh (29-4) -8 (8) Oklahoma St. (23-11) 2:50 pm - Simply put, Oklahoma State doesn't have the bodies to stop DeJuan Blair down low. Pitt also can defend very well. Could be the biggest killing of the day. Pitt wins easily and moves along.

(3) Missouri (29-6) -3 1/2 (6) Marquette (25-9) 4:50 pm - Marquette's journey into tourney-land without Dominic James has a history already, as they were turned out after one game in the Big East and it looks like this may go the same way. The Golden Eagles just barely got past Utah State, and Missouri is a much better team than that. Leo Lyons went for 23 in the opener against Cornell. He may get 30 against Marquette. Missouri looks like one of the better plays of the day. They win by 8 and head to the next round.

(2) Michigan St. (27-6) -4 (10) USC (22-12) 5:00 pm - Just in case nobody noticed, it should be mentioned that USC has won 6 straight, and dominated Boston College in the second half. The Spartans are no slouches themselves, winners of 7 of their last 8, after a ho-hum, 77-62 win over Robert Morris. USC is a much quicker and more athletic team than the Spartans and #2's have to go sometime, so this one looks ripe for a major statement by the Trojans. USC wins by 12. Take them with the points and straight up.

(1) Louisville (29-5) -11 (9) Siena (27-7) 5:20 pm - Too bad a team with as much heart and desire as Siena has to face a monster like Louisville, the #1 seed in the tournament. More than half the people watching this will be rooting for the little team that could, but the Cardinals simply have too much size, depth and a great coach - Rick Pitino - to get beat here. Maybe next year, the Saints could get a higher seed and actually have a chance to win a second game. Siena will be in this for most of the first half, but Louisville will get too many easy buckets and run away late. Take the Cardinals, lay the points. They are a prohibitive favorite on the money line, so don't touch it because strange things always seem to happen when the case is so clear. Kudos to Siena, though, as an 11-point dog, they've gotten respect.

Second Round Matchups: Saturday, March 21

Wow! Three ACC teams dumped in the first two days is unprecedented. while Thursday was pretty quiet in terms of bracket busting, Friday produced a flurry of upsets, not the least of which were Cleveland State over Wake Forest and Wisconsin knocking off Florida State in overtime. Little Siena had to go double OT to dispatch Ohio State late Friday night, but the Midwest region should now be called the Busted West Region, because, in addition to #13 Cleveland State bumping the #4 Dekes, #10 USC trampled #7 BC, #12 Arizona demolished #5 Utah (a mis-seed if ever there was one), and #11 Dayton stunned #6 West Virginia. That leaves a big hole in the bracket. The 4-8 teams have been eliminated.

With that news as a backdrop, here are Saturday's games, with picks straight up and against the spread (ATS):

(3) Villanova (27-7) -2 (6) UCLA (26-8) 1:05 pm - The Bruins pose some matchup problems for the Wildcats in terms of size. UCLA is a much larger team that should be able to keep Dante Cunningham in check. Scottie Reynolds didn't play very well in the opener against American. The Bruins had their hands full with VCU, a senior-led team with a great deal of pride. This is somewhat of a home game for the Wildcats, being played in Philly, so why are they just 2-point favorites? Because UCLA has won 6 of their last 7, the only loss coming to USC in the PAC-10 tourney, and we saw what USC did to BC last night. Take the Bruins SU and ATS, to advance to the regionals.

(2) Memphis (32-3) -9 (10) Maryland (21-13) 3:20 pm - Of Maryland's 13 losses, nearly half - six - came by more than 9 points, sometimes much more like their 44-85 loss to Duke or the 64-93 shattering at Clemson. Some of their games have been outright ugly and the Terps were lucky to get an invite. Memphis keeps rolling along, despite their trouble against Cal St. Northridge, which can probably be chalked up to a serious case of jitters. Maryland will have trouble penetrating the defense, as the Tigers will clamp down on Greivis Vasquez. If Memphis can hold him to a pedestrian level, say 25, the Terps will be searching for scorers and they also don't defend well. Maryland's win over Cal wasn't anything special. Take Memphis, give the points. Memphis moves on.

(1) Connecticut (28-4) -10 (9) Texas A&M (24-9)3:35 pm - The Huskies absolutely rolled past Chattanooga and looked awesome. Meanwhile, the Aggies actually had to play a team that mattered, handily downing the higher seed, BYU, in the first round. Big 12 teams are 5-0 through two days, while the highly-touted Big East suffered their first loss Friday night when West Virginia fell to Dayton. They stand at 6-1. While I don't believe A&M will beat UConn, they just might. This no-name group does include one notable: Chinemelu Elonu, who will have to contend with 7'3" Hasheem Thabeet in the post. Elpnu's size and experience will help there and the rest of the unit has balanced scoring and no size issues. Look for the Huskies to win, but by only 5-7 points.

(4) Washington (26-8) -1 1/2 (5) Purdue (26-9) 5:40 pm - The Washington Huskies are a great sleeper pick at the #4 seed. PAC-10 teams are 4-1, the loss by Cal due to them not really belonging in the field of 65. Purdue, maybe the second-best team in the Big Ten, doesn't have the speed to stay with Washington, which gets much of their scoring from senior leaders Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon, though frosh Isaiah Thomas leads the team in scoring and assists. Purdue may have to rely on three-pointers more than they'd like here. Washington should win this by 8 to 12 points, easily advancing.

(1) North Carolina (29-4) -12 1/2 (8) LSU (27-7) 5:45 pm - The big question is whether or not Ty Lawson will be starting for the Tar Heels, or whether he will play at all. He's still suffering from a swelled-up big toe which kept him out of Friday's game and coach Roy Williams hasn't said whether the point guard will go or no. Keep in mind that Carolina is still really, really good without Lawson, and figure that even if he plays, he certainly won't be 100%. LSU is the lone standard-bearer remaining from the three teams that the SEC sent to the tourney, but they were the best during the season and have the kind of players that can match up with the Tar Heels, except in the middle, where Tyler Hansbrough is likely to dominate. The Tigers could spring the upset, and their chances of keeping this in single digits is good. Lots of money will go down on Carolina, which should advance, but not cover. Take the Tar Heels SU, take the points and LSU ATS.

(2) Oklahoma (28-5) -6 1/2 (10) Michigan (21-13) 5:50 pm - Michigan's win over Clemson was a surprise to some, but should they really be just 6 1/2-point dogs to the Sooners? I make them 12-13 point losers here. They are very one-dimensional, in that Manny Harris IS their offense. And while some may say the same about Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, he has experience and age over Harris, and well, size. Michigan will find him very difficult to control inside. Take the Sooners, lay the points. Oklahoma moves on, Michigan goes home.

(4) Gonzaga (27-5) -11 (12) West. Kentucky (25-8) 8:10 pm - This looks like the easiest pick of the day. The Zags struggled a little in their opening night win over Akron, and the Hilltoppers handled a pretty good Illinois squad, plus they've won 8 straight and 12 of their last 13. The Zags have won 10 straight themselves, but, remember, both teams are from non-power conferences, so the game should be closer than double digits. The Zags always attract a load of dumb loot, and this is no exception. The Hilltoppers could win this one outright, and they almost certainly will cover. Tkae Western Ketucky straight up and with the points.

(2) Duke (29-6) -7 1/2 (7) Texas (23-11) 8:15 pm - Take the points. Take the points. Take the points and take Texas to upset Duke. The Longhorns can play with anybody, and they have a very talented backcourt. If Texas can hit their threes and stay out of foul trouble they can go toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils. Really, I don't know which one of these teams will advance, but the money line on Texas (+280) is worth a shot as is the play with the points.

Coming later today: Picks for Sunday's games, plus Saturday results. Stay Mad!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Late Friday First Round Results

East Region:
(4) Xavier 77, (13) Portland St. 59 - The Muskateers handled Portland State fairly easily, getting scoring from 9 different players, 4 in double figures. Xavier is a tournament staple and they look to be a tough out on Sunday.

(12) Wisconsin 61, (5) Florida St. 59, OT - The Badgers got the Seminoles into their kind of grind-it-out, low-scoring affair and forced the extra session. Trevan Hughes won it with his bucket and free throw with 2 seconds left in OT. The Badgers were down 12 at the half and trailed much of the game, but had the last say, knocking off the second ACC team of the tournament.

(1) Louisville 74, (16) Morehead St. 54 - A total breeze for the Cardinals, winning without breaking a sweat.

(10) USC 72, (7) Boston College 55 - Taj Gibson only missed one free throw, hitting all ten of his shots from the floor for 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks. BC made a game of this until about 8 minutes into the second half. The Trojans have the most athletic team in the tournament, and maybe the most dangerous. In their upcoming tilt with Michigan State, they will create many matchup problems for the Spartans.

(12) Arizona 84, (5) Utah 71 - a dramatic case of mis-seeding. Arizona was probably better than a 10 and Utah should not have been a 5. This doesn't look like much of an upset and in reality, isn't. The 10s and 12s are as good as the 3s and 4s in this region, the toughest in the tournament. Nic Wise had 29 for the Wildcats, who sizzled at 55% from the field.

(9) Siena 74, (8) Ohio St. 72, 2 OT- Probably the most exciting game of the tournament fittingly took 2 OTs to decide. Point guard Ronald Moore (why haven't we heard more about this guy?) hit a three to force overtime and another with 3.9 left in the second OT to win it. All five starters for the Saints scored in double figures, led by Edwin Ubiles with 20. Louisville next up for this talented, gutsy group.

(13) Cleveland St. 84, (4) Wake Forest 69 - Easily the biggest upset of the tournament and the highest seed out so far. (Really kills my bracket, too). Cleveland State jumped on the Dekes early and just kept rolling. Sets up a nice matchup in a busted bracket with #12 Arizona on Sunday.

(2) Michigan St. 77, (15) Robert Morris 52 - The Spartans had five players in double figures as they coasted to an opening-round win.

Early Friday First Round Results

This was an afternoon for upsets, as opposed to yesterday's action, which went pretty much by the books.

In the East region, in what figured to be a close call, Oklahoma State (8) got by Tennessee (9) by just two points, 77-75, as Tyler Smith missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer. #1 seed Pitt escaped a scare from East Tennessee State, the 16 seed. The Bucs pulled to within 2 points in the waning moments, and the Panthers were sweating, but managed to step up the defense, hit a number of key shots and move on, 72-62, in the closest call yet for a #1 or #2 seed. DeJuan Blair was his usual unstoppable self, with 27 points and 15 rebounds.

Pitt squares off with Oklahoma State in the next round, and by all appearances, the Panthers will not be exactly waltzing into the regionals. With Kansas' win today, the Big 12 is 5-0, the best record of any conference.

There were just two afternoon games in the Midwest region, but one was the upset of the day.

Dayton led West Virginia (5) almost the entire game, eventually winning 68-60. The Flyers' Chris Wright led the way for the #12 seed with 27 points and 9 boards. The Flyers are a solid team with upset potential against anyone. They meet Kansas on Sunday, and that game has the potential to be a real treat. The Jayhawks are sound, but unspectacular. Dayton is gunning for more as the first small conference winner.

#14 North Dakota State hung with the Jayhawks most of the way, but eventually fell, 82-72. Kansas' big two, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich led the Jayhawks. Collins had 32 points and 8 assists; Aldrich finished with 23 points and 15 boards.

In the South, Syracuse dominated Stephen F. Austin, 59-44 and #6 Arizona State slipped past Temple, 66-57, without breaking much of a sweat. The Sun Devils and Orangemen have a showdown set for Sunday.

6 seed Marquette's survival in the West was put to the test against the 11 seed, Utah State, as the Golden Eagles won by just a point, 58-57. Marquette's shelf life is down to minute by minute status, as they have to face up to Missouri in the next round, Sunday.

The Mizzou bumped off the Big Red of Cornell, 78-59. Leo Lyons scored 23 points and hauled in 11 rebounds.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday First Round Late Games

EAST Region

If A.J. Abrams scores 26 points, you can almost bet that Texas is going to win and that's what happened when the Longhorns eliminated Minnesota, 76-62. Minny never really belonged and making them a 10 seed was an insult to about 15 other teams. Texas has a nice blend of players who should give Duke a struggle in the next round.

Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham each scored 25 points to lead a come-from-behind win by the #3 Villanova Wildcats over a scrappy squad from American University. The Wildcats were down 41-31 at the half, but wore down the Eagles for the 80-67 win.

VCU has a pretty good hoops team. News Flash: UCLA is better. By a point, 65-64. Quite a few people liked VCU to pull off the upset and they almost did. Eric Maynor missed a shot at the buzzer that would have won it. If you stuck with the 11-time tournament champion Bruins, you're bracket looks a lot better than other people's.

#2 seed Duke outclassed tiny Binghamton (15), 86-62.

SOUTH Region

First mild upset of the tournament went to the 10th seed Wolverines of Michigan, after a lengthy absence of ten years, over Clemson, a seven, the first ACC team down, 62-59. Michigan's Manny Harris had his usual solid game, with 23 points, 7 boards and 6 assists. Michigan has a tougher task Saturday against the 2 seed Sooners.

#4 Gonzaga knocked out #13 Akron, 77-64. The Zips gave the Zags a good game for about 3/4 - a recurring theme this year - until Gonzaga asserted themselves late and pulled away. The game was essentially over with about 7 minutes left. Somebody please tell the Zips that its over.

#2 Oklahoma crushed #15 Morgan St., 82-54. Blake Griffin survived being flipped over the back of another player to score 28 points, while corralling 13 rebounds. Big 12 is 3-0.

Illinois became the second Big Ten school out, in the upset of the day, losing to Western Kentucky, the 12 seed, 76-72. The Illini trailed almost the entire game. The Hilltoppers

Early Tourney Returns: No Bracket Busters Yet

SOUTH Region

In the first game on the first day of the current edition of "Last Man Standing," LSU struck a blow for the SEC, knocking off a pesky Butler squad that didn't really go away until the final seconds, winning 75-71, to move on to the next round and a meeting with North Carolina in the South Region. Marcus Thornton scored 30 points for the Tigers, adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in one of the best opening day performances.

The Tar Heels easily handled Radford, even without point guard Ty Lawson, 101-58. Wayne Ellison paced the Heels with 25 points and 9 boards. Tyler Hansbrough had 22, hitting a 12 of his free throw attempts.

WEST Region

Memphis survived a scare, down by 6 midway through the second half to Cal State Northridge, but nondescript Robert Sallie turned into super-sub, coming off the bench to hit 10 of 15 three-pointers and score 35 points. The Tigers pulled away late, outlasting the Matadors, 81-70. Also in the West region, #5 Purdue put down #12 Northern Iowa, 61-56. Texas A&M, a #9 seed, easily dispatched with #8 BYU, leading all the way for a 79-66 breeze.

#10 Maryland embarrassed #7 Cal (why were they seeded so high, when USC, winners of the PAC-10 tourney, is a 10?), blowing away their West Coast hosts, 84-71. The Terps look ready to give Memphis a tussle, though it's hard to determine whether Maryland is really good or the Bears were that bad. Looks like the latter.

The Connecticut Huskies, the region's #1 seed, made quick work of #16 Chattanooga, 103-47, more than doubling the Mocs' scoring in each half. So much for 1's losing to 16's this season, unless Louisville's starters oversleep tomorrow. The Huskies looked about as good as a #1 can without actually causing physical harm to their opponent.

More tonight, with late game coverage.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting to the Final Four: A Perspective

This is the day college hoops freaks like me - and hpefully, you - must finally make that leap of faith and make your picks in whatever pool or challenge or bracket breakdown you've chosen.

The 32 first round games are a mix of easy and "forget it" choices, with the 1-16 matchups nearly automatic choices, but where everything from 3-14 on up can turn into nightmares.

I've broken down the first rounds in previous posts, so all that's left is to figure out who's going to beat who to make it to the round of 16, then 8 then the Final Four. At the end, as always, there will be a champion, and some of us will have bragging rights for a few months. OK, I've dithered long enough, so, here goes...

Midwest: I'm taking the #4 seed, Wake Forest, to knock off the #1 overall seed, Louisville, in the Regional Semifinals on Friday, March 27. Both the Cardinals and Demon Deacons have superior credentials in comparison to the other teams in the top part of this bracket. The bottom side could produce anything from #2 Michigan State to #10 USC or #11 Dayton. The mid-range seeds - #3 Kansas, #6 West Virginia and #7 Boston College - could catch a break or get hot and reach the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29.

No matter which team emerges from the bottom of the bracket, they won't have a chance against Wake Forest. The Dekes have the talent, coaching and pedigree to go all the way to Detroit.

West: There are two teams which are obvious to many in this region: Memphis and Connecticut. The Tigers and Huskies have enough leadership, coaching and history to go deep into the tournament, but when comparing the two, Memphis - with their 25-game winning streak, incredible defense and John Calipari looking for a national crown to silence Conference-USA critics - is clearly Final Four material.

The Tigers did everything but win it all last season, when Kansas produced a miracle rally in the final two minutes of the last game and Mario Chalmers hit the game-winner with no chance for Memphis to get off a retaliatory shot. Calapari is a world-class coach and author of books about basketball. The only thing missing from his resume is a national championship, and this could be his year. Everything is coming together for the Tigers at the right time and their draw at the bottom of the braket doesn't look very tough.

Their toughest games will come in the second and third round. Either Cal or Maryland could pose problems if they get hot, but Memphis will probably pummel either of them in the second half. In the regionals, Missouri looks like the most likely foe, but they don't have enough scoring to worry the Tigers much. Sure, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are solid, but the rest of the team won't match up well. If not Missouri, either Utah State or Marquette could slip in, with the Aggies the more dangerous. Marquette is headed for an early out, and may even lose their opener to Utah St.

Once the Tigers dispatch with the their regional opponent, they're probably not going to face Connecticut. The Huskies are vulnerable to teams with strong guard play and almost anyone in their side of the bracket - BYU, Washington, Texas A&M, Miss. St., Purdue, Northern Iowa - could pull the upset. UConn won't last past the third round. Memphis will go to the Final Four to face the Midwest winner.

East: This region offers one of the easiest advances at the bottom for #2 seed Duke, which will have to get through either #3 Villanova, #7 Texas or #11 VCU, and they should reach the regional finals on Saturday, March 28. Their foe is more than likely to be the #1 seed in the region, Pitt, though #5 Florida State could hand Pitt their walking papers in the first regional game. If Florida State does that, they would give the Blue Devils one heck of a time, but, Duke has already beaten them 3 times this season, and that is an awesome advantage. If Pitt gets to the Regional Final, it could go either way. A lot of people like Pitt to win it all, but if DeJuan Blair gets into foul trouble, they are a different team. If he doesn't, they could just roll people.

I'll be hedging this bracket in my various bracket picks, but I'm really leaning toward the Blue Devils. They're easily as solid as any other team in the region, and who can doubt coach K's ability to make the Final Four. He's only been there about a gazillion times.

South: There's little doubt that North Carolina is one of the top three or four teams in the nation and they are the #1 seed. They should cruise to the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29, and probably match up with either #2 Oklahoma or #3 Syracuse, though #6 Arizona St. looms as a distinct possibility. Carolina's games will be interesting after the first round. Either LSU or Butler will play them petty hard, and they may have a real struggle if Gonzaga advances to the regionals.

Overall, however, the Tar Heels just look too talented and deep to not make it to the Final Four. If my selections are right, they could be the only #1 to make it, though Pitt could easily get there.

In the semifinals, Midwest plays West and East plays South. I like Memphis to beat Wake Forest in what could turn out to be a real pressure-cooker, and North Carolina to beat Duke, but Pitt to win it if they reach from the East. That sets up a final of either North Carolina or Pitt against Memphis, and I like the Tigers to beat either of them by 8 to 12 points.

Come Monday, April 6, the Tigers will be crowned national champions. (I hope)

Good luck to everyone with your selections. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

West Region Bracket Breakdown

1 Connecticut vs. 16 Chattanooga - If ever there was a game ripe for upset it is this one. UConn was #1 most of the season, but lost twice to Pitt late and were ousted from the Big East tournament by Syracuse. That 6 OT game may have had long-lasting fatigue and Chattanooga may be able to hang around just long enough and get a break to keep this close. Huskies are 20-point favorites, but the Mocs start 5 seniors and may come here very loose. I'm not saying that it will happen, but it could. The points seem a sure way to make a quick buck.

8 BYU vs. 9 Texas A&M - The Aggies were a marginal Big 12 team and a late at-large selection. BYU has the credentials - winning the Mountain West with a 12-4 record - to win, cover the 2-point line and move on.

5 Purdue vs. 12 Northern Iowa - Northern Iowa is pretty efficient and played well in the always-tough Missouri Valley. This is actually a good matchup for them beacuse Purdue doesn't exactly overpower people, but they are talented enough to win a couple of tournament games. The Boilermakers may be the best team from the Big Ten, but they'll have to prove it to cover the 8-point line. Northern Iowa is solid and hot, and the Boilermakers may have to step it up to win this.

4 Washington vs. 13 Mississippi St. - The Bulldogs probably should have been a 7 or 8, but they draw a 4 in the Huskies, and that's tough. I'd expect a close game, as Miss. St. is only a 5 1/2-point underdog and they play good defense. Washington won the PAC-10 outright and should not be taken lightly, but this will be a real test for them and help them in the next round.

6 Marquette vs. 11 Utah St. Utah State's record in the tournament isn't very encouraging and they have a tough draw against Marquette, but they are well-coached, won the WAC and could have been seeded higher. The Golden Eagles can get sloppy at times and they will certainly miss Dominic James. Marquette is favored by 4 1/2, but it actually seems like they should be getting the points. The Aggies will stun them and advance.

3 Missouri vs. 14 Cornell - Cornell is a good team, but they're not going to be beat Missouri. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are just too much to handle up front. The Mizzou should cover the 13-points by half time.

7 California vs. 10 Maryland - This one could go either way, but Greivis Vasquez has carried maryland all season and will probably get them through this game. Cal is favored by 1, but didn't distinguish themselves down the stretch in the PAC-10 or in the conference tourney. Terrapins advance.

2 Memphis vs. 15 Cal State Northridge - Memphis is so good, I'm taking them as far as they go, giving points all the way. 19 1/2 here should not pose a problem.

Midwest Region Breakdown

1 Louisville 16 vs. Alabama St./Morehead St. - As usual, this will be a blowout by the top seed in the tourney. Anything less will be seen as a weakness. Pitino's guys are a pretty mature bunch

8 Ohio St. vs. 9 Siena - Ohio State just beat Michigan State three days ago, but lost to the Spartans twice during the regular season, along with double losses to Illinois and 2-1 against Purdue. The Buckeyes suffer from size disadvantages often and this will be no different. Siena went 16-2, won their conference and the tournament, winning their last three games by 25, 15 and 7 and have a bunch of double-digit wins. Losses to Tennessee by 14, Pitt by 13 and Kansas by 5 were quality outings. The Saints, getting 3 to 4 is a good deal because they could easily win this. In additon to their height advantage, their starters average one year more than the Buckeyes'.

5 Utah vs. 12 Arizona - This is a very tough draw for both teams in the opening round. This game is even. Arizona has been through the PAC-10 meat grinder and only won three games against ranked foes (Gonzaga, UCLA and Washington), but two of those games were among their highest-scoring outings. Utah has developed into a pretty good defensive team and have a solid big man in Luke Nevill and should prevail.

4 Wake Forest vs. 13 Cleveland St. - Cleveland State won the Horizon league tournament to get in, but get a very tough draw in the Demon Deacons, one of the elite teams from the ACC. Wake was #1 for a week this season, and were no lower than 15 all year nationally. They have all the elements to get to the Final Four and have wins over North Carolina, Duke, Florida St. and Clemson, twice. The Dekes should advance, but the Vikings, a talented team, may not fall by as many as the spread, which is 7 1/2.

6 West Virginia vs. 11 Dayton Somewhat of a surprise, West Virginia is an 8 1/2-point favorite. That owes to their run in the Big East tournament, finally falling to Syracuse in OT in the semis. Dayton lost to a solid Duquesne team that should have gotten a bid as well, in the semifinals of the A-10 tourney, but had beaten them reg. season. Also has wins over Marquette and Xavier. The Mountaineers were 1-6 against ranked teams in the Big East, the only win coming against Villanova. Dayton's defense could make this close and they could pull a big upset here.

3 Kansas vs. 14 North Dakota St. - It would be a huge upset for the Bison to upset Bill Self's reigning champion Jayhawks, and the 10-point spread probably isn't a difficulty for this high-quality group with championship experience in Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins.

7 Boston College vs. 10 USC - As hot as USC is, they're only 2-point favs, but, as inconsistent both of these teams have been, a BC win is not out of the question. There's a good probability that both of these teams were mis-seeded, BC too high and USC too low. The Trojans did, after all, win the PAC-10 tourney to get in. Winning a major conference tournament should be worth at least a 5.

2 Michigan St. vs. 15 Robert Morris - The Spartans are likely to make an early exit in the tournament, but probably not here, though it's not out of the question as long as Michigan State keeps shooting at low percentages. The team concentrates so much on defense, they sometimes cannot find a consistent scorer, which cost them only occasionally. Usually, teams have to come up with a huge effort to beat them. Winning a game by 16 1/2, when you're only projected to score in the high 60s, even against a warm-up team like Robert Morris, is a pretty neat trick. Whether the Spartans are up to it will likely be determined by the play of Kalin Lucas, their best player and point guard. Michigan St. has a significant size advantage here as well, which could prove critical.

Down To Business: Play-In: Morehead St. Eagles vs. Alabama St. Hornets

Alabama St. went 16-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Association won the conference tourney, has won 13 of its last 14 games and is a 2 1/2-point underdog to Morehead St., 4th in the Ohio Valley (12-6), lost its last 4 regular season games but won the conference tourney to get here.

The Alabama St. Hornets look capable of stinging the Eagles. Some early-season games with major conference teams should prove beneficial at this point.

Bracket Breakdown: South Region

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Radford - Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, 28-4, ACC vs. Big South. Carolina favored by 26 1/2 points. Any questions? The Tar Heels will cruise past Radford and get ready for the 8 vs. 9 winner.

8 LSU vs. 9 Butler - As befits an 8 vs. 9 game, this is one tough call. LSU is currently favored by 2 1/2 over the Bulldogs, but what happened to those national rankings? Butler was ranked 20 or higher almost all season, while the Tigers only got into the Top 25 in late February. LSU is one of only three SEC teams, so they're going to have to represent for the entire conference here, despite the tough draw.

Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton are the main scoring threats for the Tigers, though 6'11" senior center Chris Johnson could be a big contributor if he can handle Butler's power forwards, Matt Howard and rapidly improving freshman, Gordon Hayward. While Butler may eventually control the boards in this game and usually offers pretty stiff defense, the long, lean Tigers seem to be too much to handle for the returning Horizon League champs. LSU has lots of experience with three senior starters and their top two men coming off the bench, so look for LSU to advance, as these fellows don't want their first NCAA game of '09 to be their last. Butler's players will be back in 2010. They start three freshman and their elder statesman, Willie Veasley, is a junior.

5 Illinois vs. 12 Western Kentucky - The Hilltoppers are more athletic than the Illini squad, but Illinois is one of the better disciplined teams from the Big Ten, plus, Western Kentucky will find out that they really don't have an answer for 7'1" sophomore center Mike Tisdale, who has a nice touch from anywhere inside of 12 feet. Tisdale and his frontcourt mate, (another soph.) Mike Davis are likely to terrorize the smaller Hilltoppers. If that occurs, Illinois' backcourt is probably also an overmatch, so this could turn into a Big Ten blowout. Illinois is only favored by 4 1/2. Should be more like 12 1/2. Take note of the talent on Illinois. These guys could go deep.

4 Gonzaga vs. 13 Akron - Possibly the worst seeding of the entire tournament was making Gonzaga a 4, when they should have been a 2 in the West or at worst a 3. The 26-5 Zags blew through the West Coast conference and won the tourney easily. Since losing three straight to quality opponents (UConn, Portland St. and Utah) at the end of '08, they've won 17 of their last 18 and enter the tournament on a 9-game win streak. The Zips won't put up much of a fight - they are 12 1/2-point underdogs - as they duffer from a height disadvantage at every position and are especially overmatched inside. This should set up an interesting matchup in the next round vs. Illinois.

6 Arizona St. vs. 11 Temple - Most people know little about the Sun Devils and even less about Temple, but the skinny is that the Sun Devils are a high-quality team that can do harm to opponents from beyond the arc or in the lane, have plenty of experience and lost by just 3 points in the PAC-10 tourney final to USC, one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament. The Owls come back to the NCAAs for their second straight year and are looking to get past the first round, but it's a tough task. Their leader is Dionte Christmas, who may get into a "my best is better" situation with Arizona State's James Harden. Those two are the players to watch here, along with the Sun Devils' Jeff Pendergraph, who will have to deal with 7-footer Sergio Olmos inside. These are two great battles in the back and frontcourts which should be excitng to watch. This one could turn into one of the best games of the opening round.

Arizona State is a 4 1/2-point favorite, but this really could go either way.

3 Syracuse vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin - The way Syracuse has been playing of late - reaching the Big East tournament finals - one would expect them to be more than ready for the start of a nice run in the NCAAs, and the oddsmakers are thinking the same way, installing the Orangemen as 12-point favorites to knock off the Lunberjacks. An interesting matchup at point guard has smooth Jonny Flynn (who usually stays out of foul trouble) for the Orange against diminutive Eric Bell, who is only 5'3". Beyond that, SFA is not a great perimeter shooting team nor do they match up well inside, meaning that Syracuse can settle into their 3-2 zone, create turnovers and get out and run. This one shouldn't be very close.

7 Clemson vs. 10 Michigan - On paper, this 7-10 tilt looks like it should be a tight one - Clemson is favored by 5 - but, in reality, the Tigers are a far more talented bunch than the Wolverines, who probably are really a year away from being competitive in the NCAAs. The fact that they actually received an invitation is a tribute to coach John Beilein's reputation and early wins over UCLA and Duke. Michigan was just 9-9 in the sub-par Big Ten, while Clemson went 23-8 and 9-7 in the tough -as-nails ACC. The Tigers don't own any huge wins besides a 74-47 pummeling of Duke, but they do have three players who can really light it up: K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker and Terrence Oglesby. If they get going, it will be a long day for Michigan, which relies on the 3-point shot heavily.

2 Oklahoma vs. 15 Morgan State - Nobody's saying much about Oklahoma except that Blake Griffin is one of the top big men in the nation and the Sooners are geared to go deep in the tournament. Morgan State is not going to pose much of a problem unless they stroke threes early and collapse their defense around Griffin. After all, the Sooners are 16-point favorites and appear capable of at least reaching the regionals. No sweat here.

Next: Midwest Region Breakdown

Monday, March 16, 2009

NCAA Tournament: East Bracket Breakdown

1 Pittsburgh vs. 16 East Tennessee State - No contest here. The Buccaneers are 20 point underdogs to the Panthers, one of the teams favored to win it all (current odds anywhere from 7-1 to 9-2), so the appropriate question is whether or not Pitt can cover the spread. To get an idea how unfair this matchup is, consider that the Bucs are 23-10, haven't played a top 25 team all season, have an RPI rating of 116, and gained entry to the tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun conference tourney. Right. Atlantic Sun. Meanwhile, Pitt went 28-4 in arguably the best conference in the country, the Big East, finishing second by a game to Louisville. Pitt's RPI is 2. They should win by 20, maybe 30. Look for Pitt sub Brad Wanamaker to get plenty of court time and DeJuan Blair to have a double-double before exiting with more than 10 minutes left in the game. With a week off after an early Big East tourney exit, Pitt will be ready to rumble.

8 Oklahoma State vs. 9 Tennessee - Probably the toughest call of all the 8-9 games in this field. Neither team has any reason to be here except that they need 64 teams to fill out the brackets. Tennessee can get up on the boards when they want to, but they're mighty inconsistent in almost all other aspects of the game. The Vols are athletic and have tourney experience, which should help, but they're one player away from a Sweet 16 style team. Unfortunately, that player is Chris Lofton, who graduated last year. His replacements in the backcourt - Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze - aren't the answer though J.P. Prince should provide a lift. Wayne Chism has NBA talent and he'll be virtually unopposed in the low post against the undersized Cowboys. For more beef, the Vols can bring in 6'10" sophomore Brian Williams, who is a developing load.

Oklahoma State will go up-tempo from the opening tip to the final buzzer, especially at the guard spots. Their goal on defense will be to deny entry passes into the post, because they're vulnerable inside, but they'll even it out with 3-pointers from Keiton Page and heady play at point from Byron Eaton and all-around excellence in James Anderson, who can slash and burn on the wings. If any game is too close to call, this is it. Currnetly, Tennessee is a 2-point favorite. If OK. St. is cold from the perimeter, the Vols will win it inside. Somebody's making an early exit here. Personally, I'll take Tennessee in a luke-warm way due to the experience of Chism.

5 Florida St. vs. 12 Wisconsin - This game will prove two things: 1. Wisconsin should be playing in the NIT, and, 2. Toney Douglas should be in the NBA next season. FSU's Douglas is one of the most unstoppable forces in college hoops and his supporting cast is solid, if not special. The Seminoles made their way through the ACC with Douglas and defense as one of the best in the ACC in field-goal percentage and scoring defense, which should come in handy against lumbering Wisconisn.

The Badgers are very disciplined, but not very talented. Their points will come mostly from the wings, with Joe Krabbenhoft and Jason Bohannon responsible for most of the scoring. Together, they might match Douglas, but in the end, the Seminoles have too much talent and desire to do anything other than win and move on.

4 Xavier vs. 13 Portland St. - If you're looking for an upset or just a little extra loot, this game may provide one or both. The Musketeers are favored by 11 1/2, but Portland State is a very cohesive unit which can stroke it with deadly accuracy from the perimeter. Should the Vikings get hot early, this could turn into a real challenge for Xavier, a team which was probably a little overseeded at a 4. Still, Xavier has a huge height advantage at just about every position, so the undersized Vikings will have to be on their game.

Most people expect Xavier to move on easily here, but this could be a lot closer than expected. An upset special? Well, that's for the tournament gods to decide.

6 UCLA vs. 11 VCU - Is anyone not calling for an upset of UCLA here? There's reason for optimism at Virginia Commonwealth, and it comes in the form of one Eric Maynor, one of the top college talents in the nation, at point guard. Maynor can dribble-drive, dish or shoot the three, plus he's a more than adequate defender. His play against UCLA's Darren Collison, another proven commodity will be key if VCU is to live up to their promise.

Additionally, VCU has 6;10" Larry Sanders inside, who is developing into a force underneath. The Bruins haven't had an answer for an inside presence all season, and Sanders could be a huge factor. UCLA is not as deep as teams from the last two years, both of which went deep in the tournament. Plus, the Bruins have to travel East, while VCU makes the short trip to Philly. UCLA's out of conference losses to Michigan and Texas don't look good, but is VCU good enough to beat them? The oddsmakers say no, installing the Bruins as 7-point favorites, but with no inside force and a possible overmatch at point, a VCU win would not be a surprise.

3 Villanova vs. 14 American - Congrats to American for winning the Patriot League, but getting a game against Villanova - in Philadelphia - isn't exactly a gift-wrapped present. The Wildcats are deep, talented and have tournament experience. They're also 17-point favorites to win this game. American's backcourt of Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer are undersized at 5'11" and 5'9", respectively, and that's not going to help against 6'2" Scottie Reynolds and 6'5" Reggie Redding. Matching up with Dante Cunningham underneath will also be a difficult task for American. Too much to do. Mark Villanova into the second round.

7 Texas vs. 10 Minnesota - The Golden Gophers and Texas Longhorns are two teams going in opposite directions. Minnesota lost 6 of their last 9 games in a very soft Big Ten, then lost in the second round of the conference tourney to Michigan State. Texas won 5 of their last 8 and won two tournament games before being ousted by a very motivated Baylor squad in the Big 12 tournament. Despite the divergence down the stretch, these two do have one thing very much in common: neither can generate offense consistently. A.J. Abrams is the most dangerous shooter for the Longhorns, but he has little supporting cast. Minnesota can dominate inside but their bigs - Ralph Sampson III and Coulton Iverson - are both freshmen and very raw. Texas is favored by four, but this one could end up a 47-46 driller (a combination of dull and thriller) in which the last basket is scored with 3 minutes left in the game. Really, the shooting percentages are that poor.

2 Duke vs. 15 Binghamton - Uh, sorry to say, but winning the America East conference doesn't even get you into the conversation with any team in the ACC, let alone the Blue Devils. This half of the bracket seems destined for a Duke-Villanova regional matchup, and the Bearcaats aren't going to stand in Coach K's way. Besides, this Blue Devil team has a special player: Gerald Henderson, who does everything but mop the floor after the game. He's the ultimate team player and leader. Look for him to be at or near the top of the scoring charts in this region.

Next: South Region Breakdown

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Big East Snags 3 Top Seeds in NCAA Tourney

Here are some initial thoughts on the selection process. Bracket breakdowns will be provided Monday and Tuesday, with a Final Four prediction Wednesday.

Link to bracket diagram

I'm not sure if this has ever happened before in the history of the tournament: Three teams from the same conference - the Big East's Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Louisville - getting #1 seeds. It's fairly unprecedented, but in a year in which only four teams from non-power conferences received at-large bids, not surprising that the tournament committee would leave Memphis out of the #1 seed mix, including North Carolina instead.

This judgement call by the committee seems completely suspect. Connecticut was beaten twice by Pitt, which should have disqualified them. Pitt was knocked out of the Big East tournament in the first round, by West Virginia, which puts some doubt on their prospects of playing on a neutral court. I have no argument with Louisville, since they won the Big East regular season title and the tournament. I'm just not very impressed by them, though I'm not able to put my finger on exactly why. It could be their lack of star power. No individual player stands out, but, then again, isn't that the idea? Team play?

History provides many examples to the contrary, with big name players rising to the occasion and carrying their teams. That's usually how these things are sorted out. One player performs above and beyond to capture the flag. If that's the case, Oklahoma exists as a true sleeper with Blake Griffith arguably one of the best players in the nation.

Overall, Memphis looks like the best team out there, but the best team doesn't always win the tournament. The Tigers play an aggressive defense that not many teams can withstand for 40 minutes.

Getting into the #2s - Duke, Memphis, and Oklahoma look safe through to the regionals, but Michigan State could be toast, especially if USC beats Boston College. The 10-7 matchup is known for upset potential and with USC as the 10, this one looks ripe. Michigan State doesn't have the same athleticism that the kids from the West Coast possess and the Trojans could roll the Spartans on Sunday.

The PAC-10 teams - as per usual - have been given short shrift by fans and the committee alike. The weak links are Cal and UCLA. Washington, USC, are solid, but Arizona St. faces Akron and Arizona has Utah in the opening round. The likelihood of both Arizona schools get past the first round is about 50-50. The Zips and Utes have quality teams.

The SEC sent only 3 teams - LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee - which is difficult to argue against. The entire conference had a down year. The Big Ten sent 7, which is really a reach. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could all be gone in the blink of an eye. Don't be surprised if only three or four Big Ten teams make it to the first weekend.

More thoughts tomorrow, plus a breakdown of the East and South regions. Tuesday, the Midwest and West. Wednesday, Final Four projections.

Boilermakers are Big Ten Champs

Purdue 65, Ohio State 61

After a 40-40 second half tie, Purdue used a 12-3 run to establish a solid lead and went on to capture the Big Ten tournament championship, besting a game Ohio State squad in the final.

The Buckeyes had knocked off two of the best in the conference - Wisconsin and Michigan State - to reach the final, but found Purdue too much to handle down the stretch. At 22-11, the Buckeyes look like a good bet to reach the field of 65.

E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilermakers with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Purdue gets the automatic bid from the selection committee and should fall into a 4-5 seed.

With conference tournaments wrapped up, the field will be announced at 6:00 pm, live on CBS.

Mississippi St. Plays Its way In; Duke Takes ACC

Mississippi St. 64, Tennessee 61

Phil Turner hit a 3-pointer to put Mississippi State ahead late and then made two free throws with 8 seconds left to lift the Bulldogs over the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Championship game. Turner finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the biggest game of his career.

The Bulldogs are 23-12 and went 9-7 in the SEC regular season, and were considered by many to be a bubble team that would not make it into the NCAA tourney without winning the championship. Mississippi St. beat the best the conference could offer, knocking off Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and the Vols over the four-day span and should have been considered already in, whatever the outcome of today's game.

That said, the Bulldogs get the automatic bid and will likely become a 7 or 8 seed.

Duke 79, Florida State 69

Gerald Henderson's three pointer seven minutes into the game gave Duke the lead and the Blue Devils ran away and hid from the upset-minded Seminoles to capture the ACC tournament title. Duke took a 35-21 lead into the break and were never challenged after that.

Henderson finished with 27 points, second on the Duke scoring ladder behind Jon Scheyer's 29. Toney Douglas scored 28 for the Seminoles.

Both Florida State and Duke were already assured of making the NCAA field, though now Duke seems almost certain to be a #2 seed. Florida State is projected as a 3 or 4.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Louisville Wins Big East Tournament

Louisville 76, Syracuse 66

Louisville used a 21-5 run coming out of half time to erase an 8-point Syracuse lead and went on to win the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden Saturday night.

The Orangemen led 38-30 at the half, but just 6 minutes into the second half, found themselves down 51-43. After a 6 overtime game on Friday night and a single OT in their win over West Virginia on Saturday, the Syracuse starters appeared fatigued and were not executing with the same sharpness as they displayed in the first half.

Take nothing away from the Cardinals, however, who used a swarming defense to take Syracuse out of their game. Louisville also turned up their shooting, hitting 48% for the game, including 10-27 from beyond the arc.

Louisville became the only #1 seed from the nation's Big Six conferences to win their tournament. Washington, North Carolina, LSU, Michigan State and Kansas all were booted from their respective conference tourneys without any of them reaching the finals.

Missouri Takes Out Baylor for Big 12 Title

Missouri 73, Baylor 60

Missouri won their first Big 12 tournament title in 16 years and heads to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. The Tigers shot 47%, including making 8 of 17 3-pointers to run away from the red-hot Baylor Bears, who will not receive an invitation to the NCAAs, as their conference record during the regular season was a sub-par 5-11. DeMarre Carroll scored 20 points to go with 9 boards for the Mizzou.

USC Wins First PAC-10 Tourney Title

USC 66, Arizona St. 63

Down by 15 points at the half, the USC Trojans battled all the way back, finally taking a 64-63 lead on a pair of Daniel Hackett free throws with 43 seconds left and Taj Gibson blocked a potential game-tying shot to hold off the Sun Devils and win their first PAC-10 title in the 12-year history of the tournament.

The Trojans fell behind 39-24 at the break, but outscored Arizona State 42-24 in the second half, with a combination of stout defense and timely shooting, including a game-high and career-high 25 points from freshman forward DeMar DeRozan.

The #6 seed in the tournament, USC beat Cal, UCLA and Arizona State to capture the title and the automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament.

SEC: Tennessee Will Face Mississippi St. in Final

The conference most overlooked this season - at some points not even having a representative in the Top 25 - is the SEC, where LSU and Tennessee seemed most likely to reach the conference tournament finals, Mississippi State came out of the shadows and emerged as the giant-killer and potential Cinderella.

The Bulldogs swamped the Tigers in a 67-57 defensive battle, wherein nether team shot better than 33%.

In the other half of the draw, Tennessee easily handled Auburn, 94-83, as Wayne Chism scored 27 points and grabbed 9 rebounds to pace the Vols.

Tennessee faces Mississippi St. in the conference final Sunday afternoon.

Memphis Should Get a #1 Seed

John Calipari's Memphis Tigers made it to the NCAA finals last season and after winning their 25th straight game in authoritarian fashion - whipping Tulsa, 64-39, in the Conference-USA tournament final - they deserve to receive a #1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Considering that they are one of the few #1 seeds in conference tournaments this season to survive, they should finally get the respect they crave. The Tigers' defense is among the best in the nation and they are as solid 1-7 as any team in the country.

Memphis sports the longest winning streak in the nation, last losing on December 20 to Syracuse and easily dispatched their toughest C-USA opponent - Tulsa - on Saturday, limiting the Golden Hurricane to 26% shooting.

Other possible #1 seeds - North Carolina, Pitt, Connecticut, Michigan State - have all suffered losses in their respective conference tournaments, so come 6;30 Sunday afternoon, expect the Memphis Tigers to be named the #1 seed in the Midwest, and, if Louisville loses to Syracuse tonight, they could be the overall #1.

It's about time. Memphis has done everything they can. Now it's up to the tournament committee.

Big Ten: Buckeyes Slam Spartans;

Ohio State 82, Michigan State 70

Ohio State figured they needed to make a good showing in the Big Ten tourney and by knocking off Michigan State, their message has been sent. Ohio state shot 52% for the game, took a lead early on and kept the Spartans at bay the rest of the game. Michigan State shot just 38% and hit just 3 of 28 3-pointers. Ohio State took their first lead just 6 1/2 minutes into the game and never gave it back, stretching it to as many as 16 points in the second half.

By reaching the finals tomorrow against Purdue, Ohio State has virtually assured themselves a spot in the NCAA field.

Purdue 66, Illinois 56

Purdue shot just 38%, but Illinois shot only 35%, and the Boilermakers used a 20-point half time edge to coast to a semifinal win in the Big Ten tourney. JaJuan Johnson scored 20 and Robbie Hummel had 19 to lead Purdue, who will face upset-minded Ohio State Sunday in the tournament final.

ACC: Duke Advances; FSU Upsets Tar Heels

The Madness that is March continued without interruption in the ACC, as Florida State upset #1 North Carolina, 73-70, in one semifinal contest Saturday afternoon. In the other half of the draw, Duke beat Maryland, 67-61.

In the Florida state win, North Carolina had a 9-point lead in the first half, but could not sustain it, as the teams exchanged leads throughout the game. though FSU held the advantage through much of the second half, but led by no more than 5 points at any time. Carolina's Danny Green tied the game on a pair of free throws at 69-69 with 2:03 left and Bobby Frasor gave the Tar Heels a 1-point lead a minute later, but FSU's Toney Douglas and Derwin Kitchen each made a pair of free throws and North Carolina was unable to score again. The Seminoles advance to the finals against Duke on Sunday.

Duke's win over a desperate Maryland squad was close until about halfway through the second half, when Duke went on a 12-2 run, stretching their lead to 56-43 with just over 5 minutes left to play. The Terrapins cut the lead to 4 points, but by then there were only 18 seconds left and Duke secured the win.

Conference Tourney Semis, Championships Matchups

Big East: Syracuse, Louisville Advance

After going 6 OTs on Thursday night, Syracuse needed just one extra period to knock off West Virginia, 74-69, to advance to the Big East Tournament Finals. Eric Devendorf led the Orange attack with 23 points, hitting 8 of 17 shots overall, including 4 of 8 three-pointers. The Orange shot only 42%, but hit the offensive boards hard, swiping 18 away from the Mountaineers.

Earlier in the day, Louisville lived up to the promise of their #1 seeding, kicking undersized Villanova into the ranks of the defeated, 69-55.

The Wildcats built an 8-point lead by the half, but Louisville used a 17-2 run at the start of the second period to grab a 43-36 lead. Villanova eventually tied the game at 50 on a Dwayne Anderson tip-in at 8:14, though they could not sustain their run as the Cardinals ran off 10 straight points to take control of the game for good, holding Villanova to just a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws over the final 8 minutes.

Earl Clark led the scoring parade with 17. Jerry Smith added 16 for the Cardinals.

ACC: Duke, N. Carolina Survive Scares

North Carolina and Duke appear headed toward a third showdown as they slipped past determined foes in the ACC quarterfinals on Friday. Carolina rode their big hoss, Tyler Hansbrough, to a 79-76 win in an afternoon tilt with West Virginia. Hansbrough scored a game-high 28 points, going 10-10 from the free throw line and hauling down 8 rebounds. Despite the game effort, the 18-14 Hokies will have to sweat it out until Sunday afternoon when the NCAA field is announced. With the ACC likely to send 7 teams to the tournament, W.Va. is probably headed to the NIT.

Later in the evening, Gerald Henderson's layup with 35 seconds left held up as Duke overcame Boston College, 66-65 to advance to the semifinals. duke scored on 22 first half points, and got just 3 points from their usually-productive bench, but Kyle Singler shouldered the load with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocked shots for the Blue Devils. Both Duke and Boston College seem assured of getting NCAA invitations.

In the other two quarterfinal games, Maryland kept its hopes alive by downing Wake Forest, 75-64. Greivis Vasquez scored 22 points for the 20-12 Terps. Florida State took care of business, getting past gritty Georgia Tech, 64-62, to reach the semis.

On Saturday, the Seminoles play the Tar Heels at 1:30. Duke and Maryland go at it at 4:00.

Baylor to Meet Mizzou in in 12 Finals

In the Big 12, the Baylor Bears appear to have played themselves into the NCAA picture by winning three straight and reaching the finals of the conference tournament against Missouri. The Bears finished the regular season at 5-11 in the conference, but has knocked off Nebraska, Kansas and Texas along the way. Missouri advanced to the finals with a relatively easy win over Oklahoma State, 67-59. The Big 12 finals are at 6:00 pm Saturday. Baylor would appear to have to win the game, securing the automatic invite, in order to get into the main event.

SEC: Kentucky Down and Out

The Kentucky Wildcats continued their downward spiral, losing to LSU, 67-58, for their sixth loss in their last seven games. The Wildcats probably won't be a feature of the NCAA tourney, as they have floundered badly down the stretch. LSU appears to be on track to take the tournament championship after breezing to the SEC West title.

In other SEC quarterfinal games, Mississippi St. upset South Carolina, 82-68, winning their 4th straight, and possibly having donw enough to impress the tournament committee. The Bulldogs are 12-12 and went 9-7 in the SEC. They face LSU in one semifinal game on Saturday.

On the other side of the draw, Tennessee thumped Alabama, 86-62 and Auburn slipped past Florida, 61-58. The Tigers and Vols have a semifinal date Saturday, with the winner advancing to Sunday's final.

PAC-10: USC Surprises UCLA

USC played its way into the NCAA field by ousting UCLA from the PAC-10 tourney with a 65-55 win Friday night. The Trojans blasted the Bruins, sending them to an early exit along with PAC-10 champ Washington, which fell to Arizona St., 75-65. The Sun Devils pressured the Huskies into one of their worst shooting performances of the season, holding them to 37.5% from the field.

The Sun Devils play USC on Saturday for the automatic bid and PAC-10 tourney title. Tip time is 3:00 pm Pacific.

Big Ten: Buckeyes Only Surprise

The heavyweights in the Big Ten held sway in quarterfinal games, as Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois all advanced. Ohio State provided a mild upset, sending Wisconsin home with a 61-57 defeat.

The Buckeyes have the misfortune of meeting Michigan State in the semis on Saturday, but at 21-9, and 10-8 in Big Ten play, Ohio State has probably proven themselves worthy of inclusion in the NCAA field. Purdue and Illinois play in the other semifinal game Saturday. The Fighting Illini have won both meetings with the Boilermakers this season.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Syracuse Outlasts UConn in 6 OT Big East Classic

Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117

Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orangemen and Jim Calhoun's Connecticut Huskies staged one for the ages late-night at the Garden with the longest game in Big East history and the second longest game in college basketball history.

The upset-minded Orangemen stayed right with highly-regarded #4 UConn every step of the way, leading through most of the first half, but trailing by as many as 6 points in the second in the nightcap of a wild Big East quarterfinal day at Madison Square Garden.

After a frenetic first 32 minutes, Kristof Ongenaet tied the score with a pair of free throws at 51-all and Andy Rautins gave the Orangemen the lead with a 3-pointer with under 8 minutes left to play. Craig Austrie quickly retied the game with a three of his own, but then Eric Devendorf answered with a trey for Syracuse.

After Jeff Adrian hit a two-point bucket, Syraucse point guard Jonny Flynn hit a driving layup, was fouled and hit the ensuing free throw to put Syracuse up 60-56 with 6:35 to play.

The Huskies had their chances, but Stanley Robinson missed 2 free throws and Haseem Thabeet converted only one of two and missed the front end of a one-and one as time wound under 5 minutes to play. The Orange took a five-point lead on Eric Devendorf's jumper, 62-57 and when Jonny Flynn fed Arinze Onuaku under the rim the Orange had a 7-point bulge with under 4 to go.

UConn responded with a 7-0 run, punctuated by Stanley Robinson's lay-in at 2:25 which tied the game at 64-all.

Arinze Onuaku, one of the worst free throw shooters in the nation at just 30%, made two clutch foul shots with under 2:00 to give the Orange a 2-point edge. Jonny Flynn added a pair, but UConn's Craig Austrie hit a big 3-pointer to cut the lead to 1, with 1:08 to play.

Devendorf was fouled and hit a pair to give Syracuse a 70-67 lead at 0:49. Thabeet cut it to one again with 31 second left.

Ongenaet gave the Orangemen a 2-point edge with 27 seconds left when he made one of two from the line. Kemba Walker scored a tip-in with 1.1 left to tie it at 71-71. Eric Devendorf's 23-foot bomb at the end of regulation was disallowed by the referees after a video review and the two teams headed to overtime.

Stanley Robinson, who hit only one 3-pointer all season, hit his second with 1:37 left in OT to give UConn a 80-76 lead. Rautins responded with a lazar 3-pointer to cut the advantage to 1 point at 1:17. The Huskies missed on their next possession and Syracuse had an opportunity to take the lead with 36 seconds to go, but Rautins missed a three and the Orange fouled Stanley Robinson at 0:15. Robinson hit one of two.

Flynn fed Rick Jackson for a dunk with 8 seconds left and UConn was unable to convert, sending the game to a second OT at 81-all.

With 1:58 to go in the second OT, UConn led by three, 86-83, but Jonny Flynn drove to the hoop, scored and was fouled, and made the free throw to tie the game.

Onuaku then fouled Thabeet on battle for a rebound off a missed Husky shot at 1:18, but Thabeet hit just one of two. At 0:57 Autrie fouled Devendorf, Syracuse's best foul shooter, but he made only one of two for the tie.

UConn could not convert a number of tip-ins on their next possession, and Syracuse has a chance to win it, but could not convert as time ran down sending the game to a third overtime at 87-87.

Syracuse entered the third OT with both of their big men, Onuaku and Ongenaet on the bench, having fouled out. The Huskies took advantage, scoring the first six points of the period. Rautins and Paul Harris each canned a pair of free throws to draw within two at 93-91, but A.J. Price's pair got the Huskies back up by 4. Jeff Adrian's jam at 1:58 pushed it back to a six point edge. Syracuse scored four straight to get back to within two at 97-95 with under a minute to play.

The Orange had opportunities after two missed Husky shots, but UConn controlled the offensive boards both times forcing Devendorf to foul A.J. Price with 21 seconds to go. Price hit just one of two for a three-point bulge. Andy Rautins lined up a three with 11 seconds to play and canned it to tie the game and force a 4th OT at 98-all.

Rick Jackson, Syracuse's 3rd forward, fouled out in the first minute of the 4th OT, but the Orange got a break when the 7'3" Thabeet fouled out just seconds later. Neither team could gain an advantage, as they traded misses and baskets, eventually getting to 104-all with 0:38 left, but neither team could covert: 5th OT.

A.J. Price scored the only points in the first 3 minutes of the first overtime on a 17-foot jumper and two free throws to give UConn a 4-point lead at 108-104. Devendorf fouled out with 2:01 remaining.

Jonny Flynn scored a layup at 1:55, and, after a UConn miss, Syracuse had another chance to tie with 1:30 to go. Flynn drove to the hoop and drew the foul, stepped to the line and hit both with 58 seconds left.

Scotty Haralson hit a bucket with 35 second left, but Flynn canned another pair with 20 seconds left. UConn could not score on their final possession forcing the 6th overtime.

Rautins gave the Orangemen their first lead after regulation with a 3-ball to open the 6th OT. After a travel by A.J. Price, Paul Harris finally got a layup to go down for a 5-point SU lead. Fatigue took its toll on the Huskies, as they missed badly on their first six shots in the 6th extra session.

Paul Harris made another layup with 2:36 left, was fouled and hit the free throw for a 118-110 lead. Syracuse led by 10, at 122-112 with 1:38 to play and held on for the win as both teams played sloppily the rest of the way.

Syracuse never led in any of the overtime periods except the last. Jonny Flynn scored 34 points, handed out 11 assists, was a perfect 16 of 16 from the foul line and played a Syracuse, Big East and probably a college basketball record 67 minutes. Paul Harris missed at least 6 layups in the last 3 OTs but still finished with 26 points and 22 rebounds. Devendorf had 22 points and Rautins scored 20. The game lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes, beginning just at 9:36 pm and ending at 1:22 am ET.

A.J. Price led the Huskies with a career-high 33 points before fouling out with 2:58 left in the 3rd OT. Four different Huskies had had 10 or more rebounds, led by Jeff Adrien's 16.

The game was the second longest in NCAA history, falling just one overtime short of the Dec. 21, 1981, 75-73 Cincinnati win over Bradley.

It was the sixth straight win for the Orangemen, who advance to the semifinals Friday to face West Virginia, a team they beat at home, 74-61, in the regular season. The Orangemen remained perfect in overtime games, at 4-0 this season.

After the long night (and early morning) Syracuse catches somewhat of a break, getting West Virginia at 9:30 pm tomorrow night. The Mountaineers upset Pitt earlier in the game.

Get some rest, guys.

Madness: Kansas, Oklahoma Out of Big 12 Tourney

Oklahoma State 71, Oklahoma 70

James Anderson calmly sank two free throws with 2.3 seconds left in the game as the Cowboys shocked the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 tournament. Anderson finished with 11 points, joining four other Cowboys in double figures in one of the team's best outings of the season. Byron Eaton scored 16 and Keiton Page had 15. The Sooners' Blake Griffith led all scorers with 17 points.

With the Sooners out of the way, the Cowboys have a path to the Big 12 tournament title and the automatic NCAA bid, especially since Baylor stunned Kansas later in the day.

Baylor 71, Kansas 64

Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn hit 6 of 11 three-pointers and was 9-16 overall for a game-high 24 points as the Bears made their shots and free throws down the stretch to upset the Big 12 regular season champions. Kansas led only one in the first half, at 1-0, as the Bears opened a lead of a many as 17 points. In the second half, Kansas actually took back the lead midway through, at 58-52, but could not hold off determined Baylor.

Baylor led 65-64 with just under 2 minutes to play, but held the Jayhawks scoreless the rest of the way while scoring the final six points of the game.

In the other quarterfinals, Texas held off Kansas State, 71-68; Missouri plays Texas Tech in the final game of the night.

Big East Stunner: West Va. Rocks Pitt

West Virginia 74, Pittsburgh 60

If they don't win another game at Madison Square Gardent, the West Virginia Mountaineers have made their case for inclusion in the NCAA tourney field, whipping #2 Pitt in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

Freshman Devin Ebanks scored a career-high 20 points and led the team in rebounds with 7 as the Mountaineers took a 2-point lead at half time and extended it to a double-digit advantage which they maintained throughout most of the second half. The Mountaineers' defense did a number on Pitt's DeJuan Blair, limiting the forward to 14 points and 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes as the All-American candidate was in foul trouble throughout. Pitt's point total was one of their lowest of the season.

Alex Ruoff scored 18 points, and Da'Sean Butler chipped in with 16. Pitt and west Va. had spilt home and home games during the regular season.

The Mountaineers can get to the finals by beating Syracuse tomorrow night.

In other quarterfinal action, Villanova slipped by Marquette, 76-75, on a last second layup by Dwayne Anderson. It was Anderson's only basket of the game. The Wildcats meet the winner of the Syracuse-UConn game in the other semifinal Friday.

Scottie Reynolds led all scorers with 21 points and Corey Stokes added 20.

Big 12: Red Raiders Roll Past Aggies

Texas A&M was nesting on the bubble heading into the Big 12 tournament, but their 88-83 1st round loss to Texas Tech may have been the needle that blew up their NCAA dreams.

Tech's Mike Singletary scored 43 points, a Big 12 tournament record, hitting 14-20 from the field, including 3-4 3-pointers and 12-14 free throws. Singletary was a one-man show, scoring 29 straight points for the Red Raiders during their comeback.

A&M took a 19-point lead into the half, 48-29, and led by 21 briefly in the second half, but the Red Raiders scored 59 second half points to surge to the win. It was the biggest comeback in Bg 12 tournament history.

At 23-9, the Aggies still have a legitimate shot at making it to the NCAA tournament. The Red Raiders, with a 14-18 record, can only hope to make the grade by winning the Big 12 tournament and gaining an automatic bid.

While the Texas Tech triumph was the big upset of the day, the rest of the Big 12 tourney games were in line with expectations. Baylor downed Nebraska, 65-49; the Texas Longhorns bullied Colorado, 67-56; and Oklahoma State cruised past Iowa St., 81-67.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Syracuse Blows By Seton Hall

Syracuse 89, Seton Hall 74

Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf each scored 19 points and Flynn dished out 11 assists, as the Syracuse Orangemen advanced to the Big east quarterfinals.

Seton Hall trailed most of the game, but scored the first six points of the second half to lead 37-36 and tied the game at 44-44, but from there, it was all Orangemen, as Syraucse built a lead that would expand to 24 points.

Syracuse faces the unwelcome task of having to play UConn in the quarterfinal round on Thursday. The Orangemen played at Connecticut on February 11 and were held to their lowest point total of the season in a 63-49 loss.

IN: Robert Morris Wears Northeast Crown

Robert Morris 48, Mount St. Mary's 46

Dallas Green made just one basket all night, but it was huge, lifting Robert Morris over Mount St. Mary's in the Northeast Conference finals.

Green's short jumper with just three seconds left to play gave the Colonials a two point lead and the game. The Colonials will be making their 6th NCAA appearance. Usually a 16 seed, they have compiled a record of 1-5 over the years. In 1982, they beat Georgia Southern, 64-54, in the first round before falling to Purdue, 55-53.

This will be their first trip to the NCAAs since 1992.

Jeremy Chappell scored 16 points to lead the 24-10, 15-3 Colonials.

Big East: Notre Dame Dumped

West Virginia 74, Notre Dame 62

Notre Dame's Luke Harangody scored 27 points, but the Irish were outplayed, outmuscled and outrebounded by Devin Ebanks and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Ebanks came off the West Virginia bench to dominate the boards, wiping the glass for a game high 18 rebounds.

Alex Ruoff scored 25 points and Da'Sean Butler had 20 for West Virginia.

The Irish, who have been fighting inconsistency demons all season were never really in the game. The Mountaineers scored the first 7 points of the game and never trailed, building up a 17-2 lead just 8 minutes in. With 7 minutes remaining in the first half, the Irish were down 26-6. The closest they got in the second half was 7 points, but they were turned back by the Mountaineers every time they made a run.

Notre Dame bested Rutgers in the opening round of the Big East tournament, but are now 18-14 and likely will not receive a bid to the NCAA tourney. West Virginia will play Pitt in the quarterfinals tomorrow night.

Elsewhere in the Big East, Providence held off DePaul, 83-74 and Marquette beat down St. John's, 74-45, getting 20 points from Wesley Matthews and 17 from Lazar Hayward.

Providence gets Louisville and Marquette will match up with Villanova in tomorrow's games. Tonight, Syracuse faces Seton Hall to determine which will play Connecticut in the next round.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Gonzaga and Siena Play Their Way In

West Coast Final: Gonzaga 83, St. Mary's 58

Gonzaga wasn't about to let a perfect 14-0 conference record be marred by one game and they opened full bore against the Gaels, scoring the first 8 points of the game.

St. Mary's didn't make a basket until nearly 6 minutes into the game. By then, the Bulldogs were off the leash and on the run. The Gaels pulled to within 5 points twice during the first half, but Gonzaga led by 13 at the break, 38-25. It got even worse as Gonzaga opened up a huge lead in the second half to secure their NCAA invitation.

Josh Heytvelt led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Micah Downs had a dozen points and the same number of rebounds.

St. Mary's Patrick Mills, in his second game back after sitting out since january with a broken wrist, wasn't a factor, hitting just 2 of 16 shots, including 0 of 7 from beyond the arc. His teammates didn't fare much better. The Gaels shot just 29% (19-66) for the game.

Metro Athletic Final: Siena 77, Niagara 70

The Siena Saints kept scoring, but they couldn't shake loose from the gritty Purple Eagles of Niagara. The score tied 50-50, with 8:39 left to play, Kenny Hasbrouck took matters into his own hands, scoring the next seven points for the Saints. When Ryan Rossiter scored to make it 59-51, the Saints were on their way to the NCAA tournament. Rossiter scored again and Hasbrouck added two more buckets in short order and Niagara could only respond with three points, making it 65-54 with 4:33 left.

Hasbrouck had 19 points. Rossiter finished with 16 points and 14 boards. Alex Franklin scored 16.

Niagara shot just 34%, but were busy on the boards, pulling down 19 offensive rebounds and 43 overall.

Chattanooga, VCU Earn NCAA Auto Bids

Southern Conference Final: Chattanooga 80, College of Charleston 69

With the game tied at 34-all at the half, Ty Patterson hit three 3-pointers from off the bench to key a 20-0 run by the Chattanooga Mocs that stunned the College of Charleston and sent the Mocs on to victory in the Southern Conference tournament finals and into the NCAA tournament field.

Patterson, a freshman guard, has been a key all season for the Mocs, contributing 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game on average, but in the biggest game of his short college career, he was almost perfect, hitting 4 of 5 shots from the floor. Keyron Sheard led the Mocs in scoring with 18 points. Patterson also grabbed 5 boards in his limited minutes.

After the big run, Chattanooga nearly collapsed, allowing a 14-point Charleston run to close the gap to six points, but the Mocs got it back together in time to remain in front the rest of the way.

Charleston's Tony White Jr. tried to keep the Cougars in the game, hitting 7 of 13 3-pointers and leading all scorers with 31 points.

Chattanooga will be making their 10th NCAA appearance, posting a 3-10 record. They lost to wake Forest in the opening round in their last trip to the big dance, in 2005.

Colonial Athletic Assn. Final: VCU 71, George Mason 50

Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders led VCU to an automatic NCAA bid by dominating George Mason in the finals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

Maynor led the scoring with 25 points while Sanders was a beast on both ends of the floor, scoring 18 points with 20 rebounds and 7 blocked shots.

The Rams led from start to finish, establishing a lead of as many as 13 points in the first half, keeping George Mason off-balance and out of sync throughout. The Patriots shot just 31% from the field.

The Rams will be making their 9th NCAA tournament appearance. Over the years, they've compiled a record of 5-8.

Conference Tourneys, Auto Bids on Line Monday

Four conference tournament finals will determine the same number of automatic bids tonight across the country. The Southern, Colonial, Metro Atlantic and West Coast conference finals conclude tonight as the bottoms of the brackets begin to fill.

In the Southern, Charleston 26-7 (Conf: 15-5) takes on Chattanooga 17-16 (Conf: 11-9) at 7:00 pm on the Mocs' home court in Chattanooga, TN.

George Mason 22-9 (Conf: 13-5) meets VCU 23-9 (Conf: 14-4) in Richmond at 7:00 pm for the Colonial title.

The Metro Atlantic Finals pits Niagara 26-7 (Conf: 14-4) against Siena 25-7 (Conf: 16-2) at 9:00 pm in Albany, NY and the west Coast conference will be settled when #12 Gonzaga 25-5 (Conf: 14-0) meets St. Mary's 25-5 (Conf: 10-4) at 9:00 pm in Las Vegas.

Gonzaga has won 16 of their last 17 games, including two wins over St. Mary's, though neither has been convincing. The Zags won at home, 69-62, and won again two seeks later at St. Mary's 72-70. The Gaels' star guard, Patrick Mills broke his hand in the first meeting, but is back and nearly 100%.

Chattanooga would be the most unlikely team to make the tournament. They lost their final three regular season games - one of those to Charleston (86-77), but bounced back in the tournament's first two rounds, beating Elon and Samford to advance to the finals. Charleston ousted Davidson and their star, Stephen Curry, 59-52, on Sunday, and have reeled off 8 straight wins.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

North Carolina Captures ACC Crown

#2 North Carolina 79, #7 Duke 71

North Carolina finished what had been their goal all season - to finish in first place in the ACC - by beating back their fiercest rival, Duke, 79-71, winning the ACC regular season title with a final record of 13-3. Duke will finish second, at 11-5.

Carolina put five players in double figures, led by Tyler Hansbrough, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Wayne Ellison scored 16, and Ty Lawson had another huge effort, scoring 13 points, with 11 rebounds and 8 assists.

The Tar Heels finish up the regular season with one of the best records in the country: 27-3, those few losses suffered against ACC opponents, Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland. Next up is the ACC tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAAs for the winner, though the money is on North Carolina to at least reach the finals of their conference tourney and receive a #1 seeding in the field of 65.

Elsewhere around the conferences, #8 Michigan State beat #16 Purdue, 62-51, closing out their regular season with five straight wins and a #1 seed in this week's Big Ten tourney.

Northern Iowa had to go into overtime to finally subdue Illinois St., 60-57, to capture the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship and receive the automatic bid to the NCAA field.

In the SEC, Tennessee lost to Alabama on a last-second half-court shot, 70-67, though the game had no bearing on the standings.

Back in the ACC, Florida State solidified their credentials with a 63-53 win over Virginia Tech. The Seminoles improved to 10-6 in the conference and 23-8 overall, and are sure to get an invitation to the big dance. Virginia Tech, however, ended at 7-9 and 18-13, probably not good enough to earn a bid.

Louisville Wins Big East Title; Late Saturday Results

#6 Louisville 62, West Virginia 59

Getting a little help from Pitt, which knocked off Connecticut, the Louisville Cardinals took the opportunity to take the Big East regular season championship with a spirited effort at West Virginia.

The Cardinals enjoyed the luxury of playing UConn and Pitt just once each this season, splitting those games (lost to UConn, beat Pitt) and losing just once more (at Notre Dame) to finish 16-2, a game better than the 15-3 records posted by the Panthers and Huskies.

Senior forward Terrence Williams had one of his best games of the season, scoring 20 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, handing out 7 assists and pulling off 6 steals.

The win gives Louisville byes in the first two rounds of the Big East tournament, meaning they will next see action on Thursday, March 12. Winning the Big East tourney will certainly result in a #1 seed for the NCCA tournament, but the Cardinals are likely to have to face either Pitt or UConn in the finals.

There is now talk of 3 #1 seed coming out of the Big East, though that seems unlikely, since either North Carolina or Duke will get one, as will the winner of the Big 12 tournament, plus, Memphis made their case by completing their thrid straight undefeated Conference-USA season with a 74-47 thumping of Tulane, and are carrying the nation's longest win streak at 22 straight.

The PAC-10 is also being overlooked, even though last season, PAC-10 teams compiled the best record for a conference in the NCAA tourney. It might be a mistake to relegate #16 Washington (which took the conference with a 67-60 win over Washington St. Saturday) to a #2 seed and drop UCLA and Arizona St. to #3 or #4 spots.

While the PAC-10 may have had a down year, the conference as a whole may have simply been exhibiting better balance. Washington was 14-4, UCLA went 13-5 and Arizona State was 11-7. Those top three teams lost just 6 out-of-conference games and the most recent of those was on December 4, ancient history in college hoops.

It will be interesting to see how many PAC-10 teams make the field of 65 (Cal also finished 11-7; Arizona and USC were both 9-9.) and how high they will be seeded. The tournament could provide a relatively easier path to the elite 8 level for a number of PAC-10 squads.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Kansas Finishes their Business; Wraps up Big 12 Title

The Kansas Jayhawks would not be satisfied with just a share of the Big 12 title. They wanted it all and they got it Saturday afternoon with an 83-73 comeback win over Texas.

Sherron Collins scored 21 points for Kansas, adding 7 assists and 2 steals. Cole Aldrich recorded his 18th double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Jayhawks trailed the Longhorns by 7 at the half, but outscored them 46-29 in the second session.

Kansas, ranked #9 nationally, finished 14-2 in the Big 12, followed by #4 Oklahoma at 13-3 and #15 Missouri, 12-4. On Saturday, the Sooners downed Oklahoma State, 82-78, while Missouri coughed it up against Texas A&M, losing 96-86.

Kentucky May Be Left Out

The Kentucky Wildcats have not missed the NCAA tournament since 1991, but their recent performance - four straight losses, including Saturday's 60-53 defeat at Florida - bodes ill for one of the most storied programs in college basketball.

The Gators struck early, gaining a quick ten-point lead, and never let the Wildcats back in the game. After consecutive losses to LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Kentucky ends the regular season at 8-8 in the conference and 19-12 overall. They would conceivably have to reach the finals of the SEC tournament this coming week in order to have a reasonable chance of receiving an NCAA invitation and even then, it's an iffy call.

Elsewhere, Jonny Flynn scored 24 points and Andy Rautins hit 4 of 9 3-pointers in a 20-point effort, as #25 Syracuse upended #13 Marquette, 86-79, in overtime, helping their NCAA case as they get ready for the upcoming Big East tournament. Marquette has lost four straight - all to ranked opponents - and look ripe for an early exit from both the Big East and NCAA tourneys. Syracuse, on the other hand, has won 4 in a row. Both teams are nearly sure bets to receive NCAA bids.

Big East: Hungry Panthers Devour Huskies

#4 Pittsburgh 70, #1 Connecticut 60

The Pitt Panthers probably won't win the Big East regular season title, but after beating down Connecticut for the second time this season, they left the impression that they are the team to watch from the nation's deepest conference.

The championship went to Louisville, though the Cardinals have to thank the Panthers for their good fortune. Louisville (15-2) has only to wrap up against West Virginia at 9:00 pm ET tonight, though the outcome of that game has limited meaning, since the Cardinals beat Pitt in their only meeting of the season, 69-63, January 17 at Lousiville.

If the Cardinals win, there's no argument, as the Huskies and Panthers each have 3 conference losses.

Pitt built up a big lead early thanks to hot shooting and solid defense, keeping the Huskies in catch-up mode throughout the game.

The Huskies led only twice, at 2-0 and 12-11. Brad Wannameker's 3-pointer made it 23-13 with just under 12:00 left in the first half. Wannamaker, a sophomore guard, has been a valuable addition off the bench all season in Pitt's stacked back court, which includes Levance Fields (leads the NCAA in turnover ratio) and Jermaine Dixon, younger brother of Maryland's Juan Dixon, who lead the Terrapins to a national championship in 2002.

UConn's Hasheem Thabeet kept the Huskies in the game with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in the first half, but Pitt's senior forward Sam Young was more than equal to the task with 16 first half points and five boards. Pittsburgh led by 10 at the break, 38-28, holding UConn to just 34% shooting (11-32).

Pitt led by as many as 14 points twice in the second half, but UConn battled back and when Stanley Robinson elevated for a dunk at 8:26, the Huskies were down by just 2 points, 52-50. Pitt responded with a 9-3 run, punctuated by Sam Young's jam and three-point play at 4:41, to make the score 61-53. After Levance Fields made it 63-53 with under 4 minutes to play, it was all but over.

Playing in his final home game, Sam Young was sensational, leading the Panthers with a season-high 31 points and 10 rebounds. Wannamaker pitched in with 13 from the bench and Fields scored 10 while dishing 12 assists.

Pitt's two wins over Connecticut both occurred when the Huskies were ranked #1 in the national polls. It should now be clear to both voters and fans which team is superior. The Panthers will be in search of a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney as they make their way through this week's Big East tournament. Right now, they clearly look like the best team in the country, finishing undefeated at home, handing UConn their only road loss of the season in the process.