Monday, March 30, 2009
And then there were four. North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State, and Villanova are the final four teams left in the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, I am very pleased with the Tar Heels making it back to the Final Four for the second straight season. They have a chance to right the wrong that was last season's Final Four when they came unprepared to play Kansas. The Heels were the most impressive team of the weekend, as they walloped both Gonzaga and Oklahoma. Neither game was close and the Heels seem to be hitting their stride at just the right time. A really refreshing thing to see yesterday was Danny Green playing well in the win over Oklahoma. Green had struggled for a while but seemed to break out of his funk yesterday. If he get's going that adds just one more weapon to Carolina's arsenal. Carolina was helped by Oklahoma missing 17 of 19 from three point land but some credit has to be given to Carolina's defensive effort. Carolina's weakness has always been defense, if they can play even average defense they are almost impossible to beat. Blake Griffin of Oklahoma did impress me in defeat and I think an NBA team will be very fortunate to have him next season.
Connecticut didn't rout their way to the Final Four but were in control in both of their wins over Purdue and Missouri. They let those teams hang around for a bit but it never really felt like Connecticut wasn't going to win. The recruiting violation allegations have seemingly had no affect on the Huskies. Most people seem to be leaning towards picking UCONN or Carolina to cut down the nets a week from tonight.
The last two teams were somewhat of a surprise. Michigan State dominated the overall #1 seed, Louisville (a joke, Carolina should have had that distinction) in the second half and held the Cardinals to 52 points, when two nights ago the Cardinals put up over 100 on a hapless Arizona team. Goran Suton was the big star for the Spartans and it will be interesting to watch him match up with Hasheem Thabeet on Saturday. Michigan State had to gut out a win against defending national champion Kansas to even have the chance to beat Louisiville. Michigan State will have the homecourt advantage in Detroit, although Carolina waxed them by 35 at Ford Field early in the season.
Villanova reached their first Final Four in 24 years in dramatic fashion. Local boy Scottie Reynolds hit a running jumper with .2 seconds remaining to give Villanova the win over Pittsburgh. Villanova has gotten better and better as this Tournament has progressed. In the First Round they were down 14 to American but ever since then they have been a different team. They blew out UCLA and Duke in the next two rounds and went blow for blow with #1 seed Pitt. Villanova has some size inside with Daunte Cunningham and it will be his job to try to neutralize the many bigs that Carolina can throw at a team.
I will have a full preview of the Final Four on Friday. Also, check out spartyandfriends.com on Friday as I will be writing a Final Four preview for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
One other story that got some media play but not enough in my opinion was the story of Houston Texans RB Ryan Moats. For those that didn't hear Moats was rushing his family to the hospital as his mother-in-law laid on her death bed. Rushing for obvious reasons, Moats ran a red light on his way to the hospital. Dallas police officer Robert Powell pulled Moats over and tried to detain the whole family. Moats wife ignored the officer and rushed into the hospital, hoping to get a final chance to see her dying mother. Officer Powell seemed oblivious to the urgency of the situation and kept Moats with him, even threatening to make things difficult for him. Nurses eventually came outside and informed Officer Powell that Moats mother-in-law was in the hospital dying but Officer Powell insisted on writing his stupid ticket. Moats missed his mother-in-law's last breaths all over a stupid traffic violation. The Dallas Police Department displayed some common sense, and withdrew the ticket and issued a public apology to Moats and his family. Officer Powell is on leave while the case is reviewed.
This story sickened me and fairly or unfairly is the reason why I have an issue with law enforcement. I understand that not all police officers are created equally, I had an uncle that was a police officer and I respect that they put their lives on the line every day. However, too many times I have come across and read stories of police officers on the type of power trips that Officer Powell was on. There is a time for protocol and there is a time for human decency. Officer Powell exhibited zero moral character and should be completely ashamed of himself. How a person could be so cruel and downright stupid is really beyond me.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Midwest Regional Semi-Final
#12 Arizona (21-13) vs. #1 Louisville (30-5)
Arizona is the last remaining "Cinderella" in the Tournament. There was much discussion over whether they should even be included in the field of 65, but now Zona stands as one of the final 16. Their draw has been favorable thus far, Utah was pretty weak as a 5 seed, and then Cleveland State upset Wake Forest. Now they get to face the overall #1 seed in the Tournament, Louisville. Louisville coach Rick Pitino has never lost a game in the Sweet 16. The Cardinals got all they could handle from Siena in the Second Round and this game doesn't expect to be easy for them either.
The Cardinals are led by their inside play, consisting of Earl Clark, Terrence Williams, and Samardo Samuels. The Cardinals haven't gotten as much publicity as the other #1 seeds, mostly because they are so balanced. They don't have one prolific scorer, they have a lot of guys sharing the load. The Wildcats are a team that has talent but hasn't always lived up to it. This is understandable considering they are on their third coach in two years. F Jordan Hill and C Chase Buddinger are future NBA players, and G Nic Wise is a scoring and assist machine.
I think the Wildcats will hang around for almost all of this game, but down the stretch Louisville will squeak out with a win due to having more depth than Arizona.
Prediction: Louisville 77, Arizona 70
South Regional Semi-Final
#3 Syracuse (28-9) vs. #2 Oklahoma (29-5)
This should be a fantastic game. Syracuse is playing their best basketball of the year right now, as they looked impressive in the Big East Tournament, and then followed that up with wins over Stephen F. Austin and Arizona State in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma is considered by many to be one of the top four teams in the nation. Many believe that if Blake Griffin hadn't gone down with a concussion that the Sooners would be a #1 seed.
Much like Louisville, Syracuse has many options on the offensive end but unlike Louisville they have some flashy players. They have a dynamic backcourt led by the man everyone loves to hate, Eric Devendorf, and Jonny Flynn, one of the most exciting players to watch in the country. G Andy Rautins is another threat, as he has been on fire from three point land recently. One area the Orange lack in is defense and that is where the Sooners will look to exploit them. Everyone focuses on Griffin when they play the Sooners but you can't forget about G Willie Warren. There also is Blake's brother Tyler, who doesn't score as much as his brother, but is a good rebounder.
I think this will be one of the most entertaining games in the Tournament. I like the Orange in this one, I think they are riding a wave of momentum and they have more weapons than the Sooners.
Prediction: Syracuse 82, Oklahoma 78
Midwest Regional Semi-Final
#3 Kansas (27-7) vs. #2 Michigan State (28-6)
The defending National Champion Jayhawks take on the Spartans in a rematch from earlier this season. Michigan State won that game in East Lansing, 75-62. The Jayhawks were in a feeling out process then, as they were in the midst of replacing all five starters from their national title team. What they have accomplished this year is truly remarkable and shows even more what a great coach Bill Self is. The Jayhawks are led by G Sherron Collins and C Cole Aldrich. Kansas plays fantastic defense, with Aldrich taking up a lot of space in the middle of the floor. Depth is also a strength for Kansas, as a lot of guys get minutes and a chance to contribute.
Michigan State got quite a battle from USC in the Second Round, and should be ready for even more of a challenge in this one. G Kalin Lucas is the Spartans leading scorer, but it is important for them that they get quality play out of F Raymar Morgan.
If this game plays out like the first one, where Lucas and Morgan dominate for Michigan State then it will be the same result. Kansas has to slow down Morgan, Aldrich needs to limit C Goran Suton's scoring and rebounding opportunities. I feel like Kansas has been way ahead of schedule this year and that inexperience will finally catch up to them here.
Prediction: Michigan State 67, Kansas 63
South Regional Semi-Final
#4 Gonzaga (28-5) vs. #1 North Carolina (30-4)
I think what we saw with Memphis last night is what we will see with Gonzaga tonight. A team that inflated its record from playing in a sorry conference that won't be able to hang with the big boys. If Western Kentucky had decided to play defense on that last possession than Gonzaga probably wouldn't even be in this game. Now don't get me wrong, the Zags have a talented team. Their forwards Josh Shrooms and Austin Daye are good players, as are their guards Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo. However, to beat the Tar Heels you need great players. Gonzaga plays great defense but as we saw with Memphis, maybe that great defense has more been a product of who they have played. I guarantee the Zags haven't faced an offense anywhere near the speed of Carolina's.
I was down on Carolina a week ago, mostly because Ty Lawson's toe injury seemed much more serious than I originally thought. Against LSU in the first half it looked like Lawson wasn't ready to play. Something switched in the second half though, as Lawson looked completely healthy and carried Carolina to victory. A healthy Lawson equals championship for the Heels, if Lawson can stay healthy I don't think their is a better team in the country.
I think Lawson will shred Gonzaga tonight, I also expect Tyler Hansbrough to play well, and Wayne Ellington to continue his torrid streak of shooting. Tar......Heels!!!!
Prediction: North Carolina 88, Gonzaga 72
On Sunday, I think Louisville will get past Michigan State, preventing the Spartans from having homecourt advantage in Detroit in the Final Four. With Lawson looking good I expect Carolina to just barely beat Syracuse in a classic game, leaving us with a Final Four of Connecticut, Villanova, Louisville, and the ACC's Carolina crashing the Big East party.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
West Regional Semi-Final
#5 Purdue (27-9) vs. #1 Connecticut (29-4)
Instead of the talk being about basketball, UCONN has started facing distractions about alleged recruiting violations. The story broke yesterday on Yahoo Sports and has the media questioning UCONN coach Jim Calhoun. While the allegations have nothing to do with any of UCONN's current players the question of where their minds will be is a valid one. One thing the Huskies do have going for them is that they were the most impressive looking team in the opening weekend. They thrashed both Chattanooga and Texas A & M. Everyone knows about UCONN's C Hasheem Thabeet but the Huskies have other players that are critical including G A.J. Price and F Jeff Adrien.
The Boilermakers had high expectations entering the season and while overall they have had a successful season the type of basketball they have played for the past two weeks is what was expected of them all season. First they blitzed through the Big Ten Tournament and then won nail biters in the NCAA Tournament against Northern Iowa and Washington. Purdue is led by their guard E'Twaun Moore and forwards JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel.
Purdue and UCONN's styles are similar, they are both grind it out teams, with very physical defenses. Where UCONN has the edge is on the offensive side of the ball, as they have more dynamic threats. I don't think the players will be distracted and I expect UCONN to move on.
Prediction: Connecticut 78, Purdue 72
East Regional Semi-Final
#4 Xavier (27-7) vs. #1 Pittsburgh (30-4)
The Panthers were challenged in both of their games last weekend. It took them all game to get past East Tennessee State and they gave up 49 first half points to Oklahoma State before pulling away in the second half. F DeJuan Blair carried them in the First Round, while F Sam Young was the catalyst in the win over the Cowboys, pouring in 32 points.
The Musketeers are looking to get back to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row. While Gonzaga has seemed to shed that label of mid-major the Musketeers from the Atlantic 10 still carry that title. That isn't really fair considering the Musketeers have had more success in the Tournament over recent years than the Bulldogs. Xavier is led by G-F B.J. Raymond and F Derrick Brown.
I think their undoing in this game will come at the hands of Panthers guard LeVance Fields. I don't think the Musketeers have the players to slow him down and that will allow Blair to have a monster game down low, sending the Panthers to their first Elite Eight since the Tournament field expanded to 64 teams.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 79, Xavier 67
West Regional Semi-Final
#3 Missouri (30-6) vs. #2 Memphis (33-3)
It's a Tigers fight when Memphis and Missouri clash in Glendale. I was skeptical of Memphis coming into the Tournament and they confirmed my skepticism with a sloppy performance against Cal-State Northridge. However, against Maryland they shot lights out and blew the Twerps out of the building. Memphis' most known player is G Tyreke Evans, but they have two beasts down low in forwards Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart.
Missouri blew out Cornell in the First Round and then just barely outlasted Marquette in the Second Round. Missouri has been quite the surprise this year and a lot of that has to do with the magnificent coaching job done by Mike Anderson. He is already a candidate for several jobs and if Missouri can keep marching on his stock will continue to soar. Missouri is a balanced team but is definitely carried by two players, their forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. It will be up to their guards, Matt Lawrence and J.T. Tiller to keep Evans in check.
I like Missouri to pull the semi-upset. I think their guys down low can contend with Memphis' post players and I expect Evans to have an off night. I just don't believe in Memphis.
Prediction: Missouri 82, Memphis 80
East Regional Semi-Final
#3 Villanova (28-7) vs. #2 Duke (30-6)
The Wildcats come in riding a wave of momentum after their impressive stomping of UCLA last Saturday. There was some cause for concern after American gave the Cats all they could handle but that went away quickly. Villanova dominated UCLA from start to finish, buoyed by playing in Philadelphia. They should have the crowd advantage in this one playing in Boston. Both Villanova and Duke win games on the perimeter for the most part, but Villanova showed against UCLA that they can dominate down low when they need to.
The clash of styles between the Big East and ACC are stark. The Big East teams prefer a more physical brand of basketball, while the ACC is more finesse, and run and gun. Where I think Villanova will have the advantage tonight is with F Dante Cunningham. I think he can abuse Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson. Duke guard Jon Scheyer has been playing really well as of late for Duke and made a key play late against Texas that propelled the Blue Devils to their first Sweet Sixteen in three years. Villanova will have to slow down Scheyer. Another key for Villanova is the play of their G Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds has struggled in the first two games of the Tournament and had his slack picked up by guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Villanova can't always count on them and if Reynolds struggles again they could be in trouble.
I know I am biased but I think a lot of people agree with me that Villanova is the favorite in this one, despite the lower seed. I love the ACC but save for Carolina it has been proven that the Big East is greater than the ACC.
Prediction: Villanova 75, Duke 70
So based on my predictions I expect the Elite Eight on Saturday to be UCONN against Missouri and a Big East battle between Villanova and Pittsburgh. I think UCONN's size will be too much for the Tigers and I expect Villanova to knock off the Panthers for the second time this season. Villanova and UCONN will be headed to the Final Four after this weekend.
Monday, March 23, 2009
North Carolina looked pretty impressive in their two wins over Radford and LSU. Carolina played without Ty Lawson against Radford and ran them out of the building. Shortly before tip-off against LSU it was decided that Lawson would start. While he struggled in the first half he proved to be the difference maker in the second half. As I feared LSU was a more than capable opponent for Carolina and a tough draw for the Heels to have to face in the Secound Round. The game was back and forth before Lawson began to look more like himself and took over. Ed Davis also provided a spark off the bench, Tyler Hansbrough played well, and Wayne Ellington continued to shoot lights out. Danny Green has been strugg a ling as of late and he needs to break out of his funk starting Friday night against Gonzaga. On Thursday and Friday, I will have previews and predictions for all of the Sweet 16 games and then the potential Elite Eight games.
Sunday was a momentous day for me as I played in my first competitive athletic event since college. It was the kickoff of flag football season as my team, Ron Burgundy took on the Ninja Turtles. I avoided playing on the defensive side for every series except one so I was able to focus my skills on the offensive side as the team's center. While to many the job of a center gets overlooked, he is one of the most crucial players on the field. Without him being able to properly snap the ball to the quarterback a play can never materialize and eventually become effective. Then if you have the quarterback lining up in the shotgun position every play it makes the center's job that much harder. Every snap was spot on and our offense was able to move the ball pretty well. We lost our starting quarterback early in the second half when he went down with a knee injury. Drew Verbel stepped in and played well, hitting Mike Schulz for a TD pass to give us the win 16-14. Mike made a great catch as he had to tap both feet inbounds and grab the ball over the defenders head. Our season continues this Sunday when we meet Doomsday Machine.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
#4 Washington (25-8) vs. #13 Mississippi State (23-12)
For whatever reason, maybe it's my East coast bias, I have had a hard time buying into the Huskies this year. Then, when I have been ready to jump on board, they go and lay an egg like they did in the Pac-10 Tournament. Mississippi State comes into the NCAA Tournament riding a wave of momentum from their SEC Tournament run. The Bulldogs are playing with house money, as if they hadn't won the SEC Tournament they would be playing in the NIT right now. The Bulldogs will have a tough time keeping up with Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas and he will prove to be the difference.
Player to Watch
Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez
Sure you could watch Vasquez for his flashy play, his scoring ability, and his penchant for turning the ball over. However, most interesting is his mysterious red face. Some games his face becomes completely red, making it look like he was burned, other games it doesn't become red at all. Truly fascination. One more thing, screw Maryland.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend
I expect only one or two upsets in this region in the first weekend. I am hedging my bets on the Huskies beating Purdue on round two, knowing them, they will likely disappoint.
Best Potential Game
#7 California vs. #2 Memphis
Memphis hasn't had a real challenge since early February when they defeated Gonzaga. I think Memphis is good but don't think they are anywhere near as good as they were last season. Guary Tyreke Evans has lived up the hype and they still have bruising forward Robert Dozier from last year's team. The Golden Bears have guards capable of matching up with Evans, both Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher are very dangerous. This game would be highly entertaining.
#1 Connecticut over #16 Chattanooga
#8 BYU over #9 Texas A & M
#5 Purdue over #12 Northern Iowa
#4 Washington over #13 Mississippi State
#11 Utah State over #6 Marquette
#3 Missouri over #14 Cornell
#7 California over #10 Maryland
#2 Memphis over #15 Cal State Northridge
#1 Connecticut over #8 BYU
#4 Washington over #5 Purdue
#3 Missouri over #11 Utah State
#2 Memphis over #7 California
#6 West Virginia (23-11) vs. #11 Dayton (26-7)
There are a few interesting first round games in the Midwest but I expect this one to be the most entertaining. Dayton is led by their high flying, athletic forward Chris Wright. They also have a dangerous guard in Marcus Johnson. The Mountaineers play good defense but also can score, averaging 72 points a game this year. I like the Mountaineers in this one.
Player to Watch
Wake Forest Guard Jeff Teague
Teague brought himself national attention when he decimated the North Carolina Tar Heels early in the season. Teague averages 19.5 points a game and also git's his teammates their share of chances, averaging 3.5 assists a game. With Teague at his best the Deacons have one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. However, he has to step up his defense in the Tournament or it could be an early exit for the Deacons.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend
#6 West Virginia
While I do tend to think the Big East is a tad over hyped I like West Virginia's draw this first weekend. I think they will be able to handle the physical Wright from Dayton, and I really like them in a potential second round game against defending national champions Kansas. Their inside/outside game is strong, with forwards De'Sean Butler and Devan Ebanks being terrors on the glass, and guard Alex Ruoff dishing the ball and making jumpers. In one of my brackets I have #13 Cleveland State getting to the Sweet 16. I see this as a possibility but am doing it more to try to pick upsets people won't likely have.
Best Potential Game
#6 West Virgina vs. #3 Kansas
As I write this it has become clear to me I should have gone with a picture of a West Virginia player. I think the guard battle in this one between Ruoff and the Jayhawks Sherron Collins could be a lot of fun. Both teams are high scoring and I think this game would be an entertaining shootout.
#1 Louisville over #16 Morehead State
#8 Ohio State over #9 Siena
#5 Utah over #12 Arizona
#4 Wake Forest over #13 Cleveland State
#6 West Virginia over #11 Dayton
#3 Kansas over #14 North Dakota State
#10 USC over #7 Boston College
#2 Michigan State over #15 Robert Morris
#1 Louisville over #8 Ohio State
#4 Wake Forest over #5 Utah
#6 West Virignia over #3 Kansas
#2 Michigan State over #10 USC
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
#7 Clemson (23-8) vs. #10 Michigan (20-13)
Clemson comes into the tournament with no momentum, losers of 4 of their last 5. Michigan is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade. These two teams styles match the style of play in their conferences. Michigan plays tough defense and scores just enough while the Tigers are all about offense, and play defense when necessary. I like Manny Harris to carry the Wolverines to victory.
Player to Watch
North Carolina Guard Ty Lawson
Even without the mystery that surrounds Lawson's health he would still be the player to watch. He has officially taken the reigns away from Tyler Hansbrough as the Tar Heels best player. The drop off at guard from him to Bobby Frasor or Larry Drew is astronomical. Lawson has had the type of season that should have him leaving school after this season. Without him the Heels have no chance at winning the tournament, he makes that big of a difference.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend
#12 Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers made a run last year to the Sweet 16 as a 12 seed and I think they can do it again this year. They are a well balanced team that who I believe has very favorable matchups against Illinois and potentially Gonzaga. Illinois has trouble scoring so if they can't slow down the Hilltoppers guards A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez than they could get run out of the building. Gonzaga consistently disappoints in the tournament and I wouldn't be surprised to see them do their usual disappearing act.
Best Potential Game
#8 LSU vs. #1 North Carolina
I didn't think it was possible but the selection committee had even less respect for the SEC than the general public did. Just three teams made the tournament from the SEC, and one of those, Mississippi State, only made it because they won the conference tournament. LSU, despite going 26-7 and 13-3 in the SEC, is an 8 seed. LSU is a very scary second round game for Carolina. They score a lot, averaging 74 points a game and are led by guard Marcus Thornton, who could give Lawson trouble if he is a step slow. One benefit for Carolina is if the pace gets real fast then the Heels can probably run any team in the country out of the building.
#1 North Carolina over #16 Radford
#8 LSU over #9 Butler
#12 Western Kentucky over #5 Illinois
#4 Gonzaga over #13 Akron
#11 Temple over #6 Arizona State
#3 Syracuse over #14 Stephen F. Austin
#10 Michigan over #7 Clemson
#2 Oklahoma over #15 Morgan State
#1 North Carolina over #8 LSU
#12 Western Kentucky over #4 Gonzaga
#3 Syracuse over #11 Temple
#10 Michigan over #2 Oklahoma
#6 UCLA (25-8) vs. #11 VCU (24-9)
This will be a very entertaining game Thursday night in Philadelphia. The guard battle alone would be worth the price of admission, as UCLA's Darren Collison goes against VCU's Eric Maynor. VCU is the popular upset pick but I like UCLA. I think Collison will neutralize Maynor and that will limit VCU's Larry Sanders opportunities to dominate down low.
Player to Watch
Florida State Guard Toney Douglas
Douglas was a major reason for the Seminoles run to the ACC Tournament's championship game. He leads a very dangerous Florida State squad. Douglas is a prolific scorer, averaging 21.3 points a game. If he get's going the Seminoles will be tough to beat.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend
#5 Florida State
The lowest seed I see moving on to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is Florida State. I started taking notice of the Seminoles after they gave Carolina all they could handle in their regular season meeting. In addition to the scoring exploits of Douglas, the Seminoles have weapons in C Solomon Alabi and G Derwin Kitchen. The Seminoles also play very good defense, a key to success in the NCAA Tournament. I like them to beat Wisconsin and Xavier.Best Potential Game
#6 UCLA vs. #3 Villanova
Another great guard battle would take place if these two teams were to meet in the Second Round. Villanova's Scottie Reynolds versus the Bruins Collison. Playing in Philadelphia it would almost be like a road game for the Bruins.
#1 Pittsburgh over #16 East Tennessee State
#9 Tennessee over #8 Oklahoma State
#5 Florida State over #12 Wisconsin
#4 Xavier over #13 Portland State
#6 UCLA over #11 VCU
#3 Villanova over #14 American
#7 Texas over #10 Minnesota
#2 Duke over #15 Binghamton
#1 Pittsburgh over #9 Tennessee
#5 Florida State over #4 Xavier
#3 Villanova over #6 UCLA
#2 Duke over #7 Texas
#7 George Mason (22-10) at #2 Penn State (22-11)
George Mason travels to Penn State in the First Round of the NIT Tournament. This is Mason's first appearance in the NIT since 2005, when they were defeated in the Round of 16 by Oregon after wins against Tennessee and Austin Peay. Penn State would rather be playing in the NCAA Tournament but just missed the cut as Minnesota and Wisconsin were taken as the last teams from the Big 10.
Penn State is the favorite in this one, mainly because of how poorly Mason has played on the road this year. Penn State finished the season 15-3 at home and it will be a very tough atmosphere to Mason to go into and try to win. The Nittany Lions are a three headed monster led by guards Taylor Battle, their leading scorer, and Stacey Pringle, a danger on and off the court (Pringle was brought up on charges of public masturbation last year). The final piece is forward Jamelle Cornley, who leads the team in rebounds. Mason's guards, John Vaughan, Dre Smith, and Cam Long will have to be up to the challenge on the defensive end. Mason will also need a good effort out of Daryl Monroe and could use a spark from their bench from either Mike Morrison or Ryan Pearson.
I think that this game will be close for the first half and most of the second. I think Mason will come out motivated to bounce back from their ugly loss to VCU. I think the Nittany Lions will suffer from a bit of a hangover from being snubbed. However, late in the game I expect the crowd to carry the Nittany Lions to victory. I just don't think Mason has any player that they can count on to take over a game. That is essential to winning on the road.
Prediction: Penn State 70, George Mason 62
Monday, March 16, 2009
After getting waxed by VCU in the CAA Championship George Mason has to settle for a berth in the NIT. Mason was given the seventh seed and will travel to Penn State to face the Nittany Lions on Tuesday. The loss to VCU was disappointing and embarrassing but looking at the season as a whole Mason well exceeded my expectations for them. I was hoping for a home NIT game but as a seventh seed that will be virtually impossible to Mason. The new goal is to make it to Madison Square Garden and the NIT Final Four. If Mason can get past Penn State, something that will be very difficult, I like their chances in a possible second round game against either Niagara or Rhode Island. On Tuesday I will post GMU What!?!? and preview Mason/Penn State.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
#4 Florida State over #5 Clemson
#3 Duke over #2 Wake Forest
#9 Miami over #8 Virginia Tech
#5 Clemson over #12 Georgia Tech
#10 North Carolina State over #7 Maryland
#6 Boston College over #11 Virginia
#1 North Carolina over #9 Miami
#4 Florida State over #5 Clemson
#2 Wake Forest over #10 North Carolina State
#3 Duke over #6 Boston College
#4 Florida State over #3 Duke
Monday, March 9, 2009
Tonight Mason will meet a familiar foe for the CAA Championship, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams. This will be the third time in six years that these two will meet for the championship. The last two championship meetings have resulted in heartbreaking losses for Mason. There was the Jai Lewis air ball at the buzzer in 2004, then in 2007 it was Eric Maynor stealing the ball from Gabe Norwood and scoring that put away the Patriots. Hopefully the third time can be the charm for Mason. Mason will need a great defensive effort from their guards at all times if they are to keep Maynor in check. Daryl Monroe and Mike Morrison will have to avoid foul trouble and limit Larry Sanders opportunities on the boards and scoring wise. Mason will have to play a fantastic game in order to win tonight. Plus, with the tournament being in Richmond it will almost be like a road game for Mason, something that has not been kind to Mason all year. In my CAA Tournament preview I predicted these two would meet and I predicted a VCU win. I really hope I am wrong.
The North Carolina Tar Heels completed a season sweep of the Duke Blue Devils, with a 79-71 win on Senior Day. It was an emotional day in Carolina as they said goodbye to Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough responded with 17 points, including two three pointers, which was a career high for him. However, the goal all year has been to win the NCAA Tournament, Carolina, no matter how they fare in the ACC Tournament is likely assured of a #1 seed. Hopefully this year they can take care of business. A good sign yesterday was their defensive effort against Duke. Carolina made Duke take some bad shots in the second half and that proved to be the difference in the game. They have to bring that defensive effort on a consistent basis the rest of the season.
The big news in the NFL was first the release of WR Terrell Owens by the Dallas Cowboys late Wednesday night, and the signing of him to a 1 year, 6.5 million dollar deal by the Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon. I understand why the Cowboys cut Owens loose, poor team chemistry definitely had a role in the Cowboys collapse last season. However, I really like this pick up by the Bills. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999, they have nothing to lose in this deal. If it goes badly, they just miss the playoffs again like they have been doing for the last decade. If Owens is a model citizen and puts up numbers the Bills have a great shot at making the playoffs. The Bills already had one capable WR in Lee Evans, but he has been inconsistent, mostly because the Bills haven't had a legitimate second receiver, they now have that. Also, QB Trent Edwards showed flashes last year, with a guy like Owens to throw to he could make a huge ascension. I really believe TO understands that he is on a thin line and he will behave well.
I will be back on Wednesday with a preview and predictions for the ACC Tournament.
Friday, March 6, 2009
#1 Connecticut (27-2, 15-2) at #4 Pittsburgh (27-3, 14-3)
A few weeks ago Pitt traveled to UCONN and Pitt forward DeJuan Blair absolutely dominated UCONN C Hasheem Thabeet. That is what the game will come down to this time as well. Whoever wins the battle between Blair and Thabeet will be on the winning team. Pittsburgh may also be without G Levance Fields who hit a huge 3 point bucket late in the first meeting. I think Thabeet will be ready to make up for the last meeting between these teams and lead UCONN to victory.
Prediction: Connecticut 77, Pittsburgh 74
Tulane (13-15, 7-8) at #3 Memphis (27-3, 15-0)
On the back of their easy Conference USA schedule it appears Memphis will get a number one seed once again. We will really find out just how good Memphis is in a few weeks.
Prediction: Memphis 85, Tulane 58
Oklahoma State (20-9, 9-6) at #5 Oklahoma (26-4, 12-3)
The Cowboys are on fire, winners of 6 in a row and have gone from NCAA Tournament afterthought to perhaps being a win away from lock status. Not only would a win guarantee them a berth in the NCAA Tournament it would come at the expense of their hated rivals, the Sooners. The Sooners have struggled as of late, dropping 3 of 4. The Cowboys must limit Sooner forward Blake Griffin, while the Sooners will have to contend with Cowboys guard James Anderson. Home court will make the difference.
Prediction: Oklahoma 84, Oklahoma State 76
#6 Louisville (24-5, 15-2) at West Virginia (21-9, 10-7)
A Louisville win and a Connecticut loss would give the Cardinals an outright Big East championship. West Virginia is in pretty good shape to make the NCAA Tournament but a win here would make them a lock. The Cardinals win with balance, led by G-F Earl Clark, and forwards Terrence Williams and Samardo Samuels. The Mountaineers main man is F Da'Sean Butler. This will be a tough place for the Cardinals to win, and they have fallen flat on the road before (see embarrassing loss at Notre Dame) but the stakes are too high for them not to show up in this one.
Prediction: Louisville 75, West Virginia 73
Texas (20-9, 9-6) at #9 Kansas (24-6, 13-2)
Kansas has already clinched the Big 12 regular season championship and are coming off an embarrassing loss at Texas Tech. Luckily for them they will be at home against Texas, who is absolutely dreadful on the road. Kansas finishes the year unbeaten at home.
Prediction: Kansas 79, Texas 65
#11 LSU (25-5, 13-2) at Auburn (20-10, 9-6)
Auburn might be able to stamp themselves an NCAA ticket with a win at home against the other Tigers of LSU. LSU had been on a roll before being shocked at home by Vanderbilt earlier this week. Homecourt, plus more motivation, equals upset win for Auburn.
Prediction: Auburn 76, LSU 70
#12 Missouri (25-5, 12-3) at Texas A & M (22-8, 8-7)
Texas A & M sits squarely on the bubble going into this one. The Aggies have won five in a row and much like Oklahoma State have gone from being out of the tournament discussion to right in the forefront. The Tigers put up over 80 points a game but Texas A & M is capable of playing outstanding defense. The Aggies will have to limit Tigers F DeMarre Carroll's opportunities.
Prediction: Texas A & M 76, Missouri 75
Washington State (16-13, 8-9) at #13 Washington (23-7, 13-4)
I have doubted Washington before but they are proving to be perhaps the best team out West. The Cougars are getting hot a little too late, winners of three in a row, but have dug themselves too much of a hole to make the tournament. Guards Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon, along with forward Jon Brockman will be too much for the Cougars.
Prediction: Washington 68, Washington State 65
#25 Syracuse (22-8, 10-7) at #15 Marquette (23-7, 12-5)
Marquette is in a bit of a freefall, losers of three in a row. This should be a fun matchup to watch, the Orange's guards, Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf versus the Golden Eagles guards, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. Even though the Orange have a three game winning streak going into this one, I like the Golden Eagles.
Prediction: Marquette 87, Syracuse 77
Oregon (8-21, 2-15) at #17 UCLA (23-7, 12-5)
Easy tuneup game for the Bruins as they head into the Pac-10 Tournament.
Prediction: UCLA 85, Oregon 62
#18 Xavier (25-5, 12-3) at Richmond (16-14, 8-7)
Xavier has a quick turnaround after last night's emotional win against Dayton. I think they will start slow but finish fast against the Spiders.
Prediction: Xavier 77, Richmond 64
#7 Duke (25-5, 11-4) at #2 North Carolina (26-3, 12-3)
As if this rivalry needed any extra dimension added to it, the ACC regular season championship is on the line. If Duke wins they will share the ACC crown with Carolina, if Carolina wins, they will have recovered from an 0-2 conference start to win the ACC outright. This game will come down to which team is hotter offensively. If the Tar Heels are on their offensive game, and Ty Lawson, Danny Green, and Wayne Ellington are hitting shots the Blue Devils have no chance. The Blue Devils will need great games out of Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson. The insertion of G Elliot Williams into the starting lineup has carried Duke to five wins in a row. He will be a new matchup for the Heels. Not going to make a difference, like you really expected me to pick Duke to win this one?
Prediction: North Carolina 93, Duke 88
#20 Purdue (22-8, 11-6) at #8 Michigan State (24-5, 14-3)
Nothing much on the line in this one as the Spartans have already ran away with the Big Ten regular season title. Big Ten basketball is boring.
Prediction: Michigan State 65, Purdue 58
#19 Clemson (23-6, 9-6) at #10 Wake Forest (23-5, 10-5)
Wake has won five of six and already defeated Clemson on the road earlier this season. Jeff Teague for the win for the Deacons.
Prediction: Wake Forest 79, Clemson 77
Virginia Tech (17-12, 7-8) at #24 Florida State (22-8, 9-6)
The Hokies NCAA Tournament hopes are hanging by a thread. Trying to resuscitate them at Florida State is not a good idea. Seminoles guard Toney Douglas is the real deal. The Seminoles could be a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament.
Prediction: Florida State 73, Virginia Tech 68
Thursday, March 5, 2009
#1 Virginia Commonwealth (21-9, 14-4)
For the second year in a row VCU is the #1 seed in the CAA Tournament. They have the benefit of the tournament being in Richmond, making it a short trip for their fans, and essentially giving them home court advantage. However, last year that did not prove to be enough as they were shocked in the Semi-Finals by William and Mary. The Rams are led by G Eric Maynor, a CAA player with a legitimate shot at being drafted by the NBA. He led the CAA in scoring with 22.4 points a game. The Rams other difference maker is F Larry Sanders. He gives the Rams a great presence inside and someone for teams to have to pay attention to, which creates tons of opportunities for Maynor.
#2 George Mason (20-9, 13-5)
The Patriots are the defending CAA champions. They didn't have to play the Rams last year, thanks to William and Mary's upset and if things shake out the way they should this year they won't have to play them until the final this year. It has been an up and down year for the Patriots. They started off hot, winning their first 7 CAA games but then finished up with just a 6-5 record in the CAA the rest of the way. The Patriots were a fantastic team at home, and a middling team on the road. The Patriots are probably the most balanced team in the CAA. Their leading scorer, G Cam Long only averages 11.8 points a game. Other key contributors for the Patriots include G John Vaughan and F Daryl Monroe. A key contributor off the bench, F Ryan Pearson is questionable for Mason's opening game Saturday with a hand injury. As long as he can play Sunday and possibly Monday that shouldn't be an issue.
#3 Northeastern (18-11, 12-6)
Much like Mason, Northeastern started off the year hot but then faded down the stretch, losing 5 of their last 8 conference games. The Huskies best player is G-F Matt Janning. Janning is a great shooter, and also rebounds and dishes the ball well. The Huskies also have a pretty good inside presence in C Nkem Ojoughboh. The Huskies are a good defensive team but have struggled mightily on the offensive end recently.
#4 Old Dominion (20-9, 12-6)
Old Dominion is the hottest team entering the CAA Tournament. They have won 9 of their last 10 games and really began to gel as a team after a slow start. They beat VCU, Mason, and Northeastern this season, proving they can play with the best the CAA has to offer. F Gerald Lee is a dominating presence inside for the Monarchs and he is complemented by G-F Ben Finney. A potential Semi-Final meeting between Lee of ODU and Sanders from VCU would be fun to watch. The key to the Monarchs resurgence has been defense, they haven't allowed more than 70 points in 8 games, going 7-1 in that stretch.
#5 Hofstra (20-10, 11-7)
Hofstra is another team that enters the tournament playing its best basketball at the right time. They have won 6 of 7 games, although part of that has to do with their CAA schedule becoming easier down the stretch. The Pride are led by G Charles Jenkins, who averages 19.2 points a game. Their other main offensive contributor is G Cornelius Vines. Besides those two the Pride are limited on what they can do on offense. Another problem for them is their lack of size.
#6 Drexel (15-13, 10-8)
The Dragons are a fantastic defensive team, their problem has been they are also a terrible offensive team. The Dragons have suffered many heartbreaking losses this year, they lost to Mason by 1 point twice, in fact their last three conference losses came by a single point. In those games they held their opponents under 50 points and still weren't able to win. The Dragons are balanced scoring wise and led by guards Scott Rodgers, Gerald Cods, Tramayne Hawthorne, and Jamie Harris. Their problem, much like Hofstra's is the lack of a go to guy inside guy. So when their guards struggle shooting, they are pretty much screwed.
#7 James Madison (18-13, 9-9)
The Dukes are a potential sleeper in this year's tournament, a team with the chance to be this year's William and Mary. They have the size to compete with VCU, ODU or Mason. They are very balanced offensively but unlike Drexel they manage to score points at a decent rate. Madison is led by their forwards Juwann James, Kyle Swanson, and Julius Wells. They also have a weapon at guard with Devon Moore averaging double figures. Madison is a team that Mason can't take lightly on Saturday. Madison has already beaten Mason once and add in the supposed rivalry those schools have and Mason will have to be at their best.
Below you will find my prediction for Friday's First Round games and then my predictions for the games I think will happen the rest of the way.
#8 Georgia State over #9 Delaware
#5 Hofstra over #12 UNC-Wilmington
#7 James Madison over #10 William and Mary
#6 Drexel over #11 Towson
#1 Virgina Commonwealth over #8 Georgia State
#4 Old Dominion over #5 Hofstra
#2 George Mason over #7 James Madison
#6 Drexel over #3 Northeastern
#1 Virginia Commonwealth over #4 Old Dominion
#2 George Mason over #6 Drexel
#1 Virginia Commonwealth over #2 George Mason
As much as it pains me to say it I see VCU cutting down the nets on Monday night. I believe last year taught them they can't afford to overlook anyone this season. I think the Semi-Final game between them and ODU will be tremendous but I think Larry Sanders will neutralize Gerald Lee, leaving Eric Maynor to go wild. I expect Northeastern to be upset, they come into the tournament with no momentum. I think Mason will give VCU a battle in the Finals, but VCU is the more talented team and talent will win out.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
We are headed into the home stretch of the regular season for the ACC. Teams are jostling for position with the impending ACC Tournament set to tip off 8 days from today. North Carolina is looking to put themselves in position to win the ACC regular season title, while the Virginia Tech Hokies are fighting for their lives as they try to avoid their NCAA Tournament bubble from being burst.
Carolina is one game ahead of Duke for first place and has a regular season finale at home against the Dookies on Sunday. However, they can't look past the Hokies. Virginia Tech has given Carolina trouble in the past and the Hokies will be desperate to win this game. A win against Carolina will greatly enhance the Hokies chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
The Hokies are basically a 3 man team led by G-F A.D. Vassallo, G Malcolm Delaney, and F Jeff Allen. They do the bulk of the Hokies scoring and rebounding. The Hokies have hit a rough patch at the worst possible time, as they are losers of six of their last nine games.
Carolina got a week off, then waxed sorry Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Tar Heels still don't play the level of defense that will be needed for them to beat a Connecticut or Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament. They remind me of the Washington Wizards, as in they constantly talk about needing to be better on defense but never actually turn that talk into action. I just don't think they have the personnel to play hard nosed defense. That is fine if they keep putting up 90-100 points a game but when they run into the more physical teams from the Big East I foresee it being an issue.
However, tonight is a different story and I don't expect their lack of defense to be much of an issue. The Hokies are weak defensively and Carolina will definitely be able to put up points. The key, as it always is for Carolina, is to force the Hokies to play the up tempo game that Carolina loves so much. That means G Ty Lawson running the fast break and driving to the basket, or dishing to his many shooters, such as G-F Danny Green, G Wayne Ellington, and G Bobby Frasor. F Tyler Hansbrough also needs to be more involved, he put up 28 against Georgia Tech but lately against tougher competition he doesn't seem to be getting the looks that he usually does.
It will be a tough atmosphere for Carolina tonight but dammit if Duke can win there so can the Tar Heels. It sickens me that Duke and Wake Forest won in Maryland and Carolina couldn't do it. I expect this to be close but Carolina to pull it out.
Prediction: North Carolina 87, Virginia Tech 80
Monday, March 2, 2009
Re-signing Hall was the right move in my opinion. He came in late last year and made an immediate impact in that when he had a chance to intercept a pass he would, unlike Carlos Rogers who may have the worst case of butter fingers I have ever seen. Shawn Springs was expendable as when he played he was great but that was becoming so infrequent that he had become virtually useless. So you got rid of an aging guy and brought in a young guy. The Redskins also needed help on the offensive line, which Dockery should provide. They didn't overpay to keep him when he left as a free agent two years ago and now they have him back and for cheaper than they would have had to have paid him two years ago, another win.
The Redskins probably did overspend on Hall, I am not sure there were many other teams bidding against them, but Haynesworth was coveted by many teams and the Redskins had to do what was necessary to get him. He is a proven player, not an Adam Archuleta or a Brandon Lloyd or a Randle El, that can make a slight impact, Haynesworth will make a huge impact.
The George Mason Patriots wrapped up their regular season this week. They finally ended their 6 game road losing streak by barely winning against garbage UNCW and after letting Towson hang around for a half, put them away to finish their first ever undefeated season at the Patriot Center. Mason is the second seed in the CAA Tournament and on Saturday will face the winner of the James Madison/William and Mary game. Mason avoids VCU until the finals, should both teams make it that far. On Thursday, I will be posting a preview of the entire CAA Tournament, including my predictions for how things will shake out.