Thursday, March 31, 2011

The 2011 Final Four - Houston, Texas

On one side you have traditional powers Kentucky and Connecticut. The other side consists of bracket busters Butler and VCU. I don't think a single person picked this Final Four prior to the season tipping off in November. Kentucky managed to reload and with a mix of youth and experience, is in their first Final Four since 1998. Connecticut is back for the second time in three seasons, continuing their undefeated run through tournament play this season. Butler overcame a slow start to the season and the loss of Gordon Hayward to the NBA to become the first team to reach back to back Final Fours while being neither a 1 or 2 seed in each year. VCU is in their first Final Four, and has taken the longest route in history to get there, winning 5 games to reach this point.

#11 VCU (28-11) vs. #8 Butler (27-9)

Jay Bilas had an epileptic seizure when it was announced that VCU had snuck into the NCAA Tournament and would be competing in the first ever First Four. VCU used his ridiculous reaction as extra motivation and proceeded to knock off USC, whip Georgetown, demolish Purdue, survive a defensive onslaught from Florida State, and dominate Kansas. VCU took down giants from the Pac 10, Big East, Big Ten (I'm not writing that ridiculous B1G crap), ACC, and Big 12. If VCU meets Kentucky in the Finals, they would have a chance to defeat a team from each of the power conferences.

Many prognosticators including yours truly had Butler losing to Old Dominion in their brackets. Butler survived with a layup at the buzzer by Matt Howard. Then they knocked off #1 seed Pittsburgh in foul gate, had a mostly dominating win against Wisconsin, and then showed their mettle by coming from behind to beat Florida.

VCU has received contributions from different guys in their run to the Final Four. Against USC it was F Jamie Skeen leading the charge, then G Brandon Rozzell went off against Georgetown, G Bradford Burgess sank 8 three pointers in the rout of Purdue, then followed that up with 26 points against Florida State, making up for the struggles of Skeen, and G Joey Rodriguez. Skeen returned in a big way against Kansas, collecting 10 rebounds and scoring 26 points. Its cliche as hell but the team concept is what has gotten VCU to this point. Different guys stepping up, leaving defenses unsure of who to focus on. Plus, VCU has shot at an unconscious rate from three point land, that has gotten them early leads and allowed them to dictate the pace of the game.

Casual fans who saw the Final Four last year will recognize the key cogs behind Butler's return to the Final Four. F Matt Howard, and G Shelvin Mack were both key contributors to last year's team and are the main reasons Butler is in Houston. Other returning guys include G Ronald Nored, and G Shawn Vanzant. One new face is C Andrew Smith. Smith barely played last season, but this year was the third leading scorer and second leading rebounder for Butler.

This is a very tough game to call. VCU has been dominant, while Butler has grinded out victories. That being said, I think a large reason for VCU's run has been their three point shooting. That well has to dry out at some point and I think it will against Butler. Only Pitt was able to shoot well from beyond the arc against Butler in the Tournament, while Wisconsin and Florida fell in love with the three point shoot and couldn't hit them. Also, Butler coach Brad Stevens wanted to downplay the experience factor but I don't think it can be completely ruled out that Butler will not be overwhelmed by the experience.

Prediction: Butler 69, VCU 64

#4 Kentucky (29-8) vs. #3 Connecticut (30-9)

The Wildcats were very lucky to escape their Second Round game against Princeton. G Brandon Knight did virtually nothing the entire game, until hitting the game winning basket. In the Third Round, the Wildcats overcame a 9 point deficit to defeat West Virginia. The run was expected to end in the Sweet 16 against #1 overall seed Ohio State but Kentucky won a back and forth game. Finally, in the Elite 8 they knocked off the highest seed remaining, North Carolina, getting them back to the Final Four.

Connecticut rode the momentum of their Big East Tournament run, by blowing out Bucknell, then outlasting Cincinnati. In the Sweet 16 they became the first team other than BYU to beat San Diego State, and then withstood the athleticism of Arizona in the Elite 8.

The importance of F Josh Harrellson in Kentucky's run to the Final Four can't be understated. He has scored in double digits in each Tournament game, and secured at least 8 rebounds in each game. G DeAndre Liggins played huge against North Carolina, getting a crucial black late in the game, and then following it up with a backbreaking three pointer. F Terrence Jones has struggled a bit but has a chance to have his way with UCONN. G Brandon Knight is exciting but can also be reckless and has to cut down on his turnovers. G Doron Lamb has taken a back seat to Liggins in the Tournament but can stroke it from beyond the arc.

G Kemba Walker has been fantastic all season, and if not for him the Huskies wouldn't be here. However, the Tournament has also seen the emergence of G-F Jeremy Lamb. Lamb was up and down during the season, from January to early February he was superb, then he went through a drought into early March, but since has hit double figures in scoring his last 9 games, and was magnificent against San Diego State and Arizona. F-C Alex Oriakhi is a UCONN's best defensive presence, and other players to watch are freshmen G Shabazz Napier, and F Roscoe Smith.

This is a rematch from the Maui Invitational Final way back in November. UCONN blew out Kentucky in that game, 84-67. Oriakhi and Walker dominated the Wildcats in that game, while Terrence Jones showed up for Kentucky, but wasn't enough to overcome horrible play from Harrellson, Knight, and Liggins. Knight and Liggins were turnover machines in that game. Kentucky is obviously vastly improved in the four months since but I can't pick against a UCONN team that has shown all season they can win in a tournament format. The battle between Walker and Knight will be fun to watch, but too much Kemba for Kentucky to handle.

Prediction: Connecticut 73, Kentucky 70

Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 March Madness (East and Southwest Regions) - Sweet 16 and Elite 8

Little ole Richmond, Virginia will take center stage tonight. The Richmond Spiders, a 12 seed, and the VCU Rams (CAA baby!), an 11 seed have reached the Sweet 16. VCU is following the 2006 George Mason path thus far. Much like Mason in 2006, all the big conference blowhards felt VCU didn't belong. Mason was able to turn those ignorant views into a Final Four trip, VCU has to win two more games to do the same. I won't lie, I didn't think VCU had a chance in hell of making the Tournament. They lost to such awesome teams as Northeastern and Georgia State, and lost three straight home games to close the regular season. However, you can't argue with their results since they have made it in, pounding USC and Georgetown I expected, but their demolition of Purdue was shocking to me.

East Regional Semi-Final

#11 Marquette (22-14) vs. #2 North Carolina (28-7)

The first weekend of the Tournament went about how I expected for the Tar Heels. They blew past Long Island and then had to fight and claw their way to victory over Washington. John Henson made multiple dumb decisions at the end of the game but fortunately the Heels were able to get past them. They also caught a break when Marquette upset Syracuse. I was very worried about a potential game against the Cuse, but since like most of the Big East they turned out to be overrated choke frauds I don't have to worry about that now.

Marquette won with defense against Xavier and Syracuse, but if they think they are holding Carolina to 65 points or less they are sadly mistaken. Darius Johnson-Odom is the Golden Eagles most dangerous play, and is coming off hitting a huge game tying three pointer against the Orange. Jae Crowder could give the Heels fits inside and at times can be a major offensive threat. Jimmy Butler struggled against Syracuse and has seen his scoring dip in his last four games. He's a guard-forward hybrid which allows him to create matchup problems.

I can't express how refreshing it is to once again see the Heels in the hands of a capable point guard. Kendall Marshall was brilliant against the Huskies and is the sole reason Carolina has been so improved the last few months. Harrison Barnes has been fantastic, as has Tyler Zeller but I think most of that his because of Marshall's amazing passing and ability to find the open man, no matter where he is on the court. Although he had a key steal off a late inbounds pass, Henson played awful against Washington, and I hope he can put that game behind him.

The only way the Heels lose this game is if they come out tight and get behind, which has been their M.O. as of late. I don't think Marquette is all that good, and the Heels should have an easier time than they did against Washington.

Prediction: North Carolina 81, Marquette 71

Southwest Regional Semi-Final

#12 Richmond (29-7) vs. #1 Kansas (34-2)

No more Vanderbilt's or extra head for Richmond, they get to face the second best team in the country, Kansas. The Jayhawks had some trouble with Illinois in the Third Round, but showed a championship edge to them in closing out the Illini, something that they lacked in their stunning exit from the Tournament in 2009.

The Spiders are a nice little team, and a good story but unless they can shoot lights out from beyond the arc, it could get ugly for them against the Jayhawks. However, I expect to see a close game in the first half, as the Jayhawks have a tendency to feel out their opponent, then score in bunches. There is little hope for the Spiders that they will stop the Morris twins so their objective should be to try to force Tyshawn Taylor into mistakes, and create turnovers and scoring opportunities that way.

Prediction: Kansas 72, Richmond 58

East Regional Semi-Final

#4 Kentucky (27-8) vs. #1 Ohio State (34-2)

This is easily the best game of the Sweet 16. People loved Ohio State before the Tournament and love them even more after they blew away George Mason with ease. Despite what others have said, Mason was a good team, and the way that the Buckeyes manhandled them was impressive. I don't expect Ohio State to be able to shoot that way the rest of the Tournament so the performance needs to be kept in context.

Kentucky has a distinct advantage on the glass over the Buckeyes. Jared Sullinger does the bulk of the rebounding, while Kentucky has Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson as their rebounding leaders. Jones will be the key factor in this game. If he dominates both scoring and rebounding, the Wildcats have a very good chance at pulling the upset. West Virginia did a pretty good job of limiting Jones and that is the model the Buckeyes have to hope to follow.

Where Ohio State beats teams is their ability to shoot the ball. They shoot almost 50% as a team, and 42% from beyond the arc. If the shooters get hot, that allows Sullinger to get space inside and be his dominating self. Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford can all stroke it. Aaron Craft had an otherworldly game against Mason, with 15 assists, his matchup with Brandon Knight will be fun to watch. Knight was nearly invisible against Princeton, but then carried the Wildcats over West Virginia.

If Kentucky wins this game, people might be shocked but they really shouldn't be. The Wildcats might be the toughest matchup the Buckeyes face. I expect this game to be an instant classic, with Ohio State squeaking by.

Prediction: Ohio State 75, Kentucky 73

Southwest Regional Semi-Final

#11 VCU (26-11) vs. #10 Florida State (23-10)

All of those that had this game in their brackets raise your hands. That's what I thought. The Seminoles thrive on defense, so when they are able to score like they did against Notre Dame, blowouts happen. VCU can play some pretty good defense themselves, and have their point guard Joey Rodriguez playing his best basketball of the season at just the right time.

The Rams put on an offensive clinic against the Boilermakers but can't expect to get nearly the same amount of easy looks against Florida State. I also don't think Bradford Burgess will have as much of a say in this game as he did against Purdue. Florida State got back their best player Chris Singleton but he is still limited and didn't contribute much of anything in either of their wins.

The Rams will have to win this game similar to how they beat USC and Georgetown. Play suffocating defense, hope the other team is off offensively and have Rodriguez play mistake free basketball. Florida State has been so inconsistent on offense that I think they revert back to struggling in this game. I think we are headed for a Rams/Jayhawks showdown on Sunday that will be reminding everyone of Mason/UCONN from 2006.

Prediction: VCU 64, Florida State 59

In Sunday's Elite Eight games though it pains me to say, I think the Buckeyes beat my beloved Tar Heels, and that Kansas will end VCU's Cinderella dream. I think that will leave us with a Final Four of UCONN vs. Ohio State, and Kansas vs. Florida.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 March Madness (West and Southeast Regions) - Sweet 16 and Elite 8

Another year, another great start to March Madness. Adding three more teams did nothing to hurt the Tournament, and even one of the last four teams into the Tournament is still standing, the CAA's VCU Rams. BYU's Jimmer Fredette and UCONN's Kemba Walker will take center stage Thursday night as the Sweet 16 tips off. Both will have something to prove. Fredette will try to show he can carry the Cougars to the Final Four without Brandon Davies, and Walker will be trying to push a team from the overrated Big East to the Final Four.

West Regional Semi-Final

#3 Connecticut (28-9) vs. #2 San Diego State (34-2)

Connecticut has been spectacular in tournament play this year and continued that in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs are in their first ever Sweet 16 and needed double overtime to get past Temple.

The Huskies pretty much start and end with Kemba Walker. Walker really shined in the Third Round against Cincinnati, scoring 33 points and dishing out 5 assists. Recently, Jeremy Lamb has stepped up his game, and is averaging 15 points through the first two games of the Tournament.

The Aztects got past Temple in large part due to a balanced offensive effort. Usually, Kawhi Leonard does most of the heavy lifting, but the Aztecs also received major contributions from Billy White, Malcolm Thomas, Chase Tapley, and D.J. Gay.

The Huskies have the edge in rebounding and scoring against the Aztecs, and while the Big East has proven to be overrated, it is far better than the competition San Diego State faced in the Mountain West. I don't think the Aztecs have an answer for Walker, and haven't played a team as good as Connecticut all season. The Huskies move on to the Elite Eight.

Prediction: Connecticut 70, San Diego State 62

Southeast Regional Semi-Final

#3 BYU (32-4) vs. #2 Florida (28-7)

These teams met in the First Round last season and put on one of the best games of the 2010 Tournament. It was a double overtime thriller, with BYU coming out on top in what was Jimmer Fredette's coming out party to America. BYU surprised many by making it this far without leading rebounder Brandon Davies, and also by how easily they disposed of Gonzaga in the Third Round. Jimmer was spectacular against Gonzaga, hitting just under 50% of his shots, scoring 34 points. He got some help from Jackson Emery, and will continue to need at least one other Cougar to score to keep BYU marching on.

The Gators got past a game UCLA team in the Third Round an due to some upsets have become the favorites to get to the Final Four out of the Southeast. Guard Erving Walker was fantastic in that game, taking over when the Gators needed him most, especially with star player Chandler Parsons struggling.

The key to this game will be who wins the battle on the boards and whether Fredette receives scoring help from his teammates. I also think that Parsons has to play much better in this game than he did against UCLA. I think that he will and I like the Gators to get revenge from last season.

Prediction: Florida 74, BYU 71

West Regional Semi-Final

#5 Arizona (29-7) vs. #1 Duke (32-4)

Another year, another Duke appearance in the Sweet 16, sigh. Michigan came so close to knocking out the Dookies but couldn't quite get the job done. Nolan Smith was again awesome, and Duke was fortunate that a last second shot by Michigan didn't fall. Kyrie Irving returned for Duke and actually led them in scoring against Hampton, but struggled with his shot against Michigan. Despite that, he was still able to get to the foul line 10 times, and scored 11 points against the Wolverines. Of slight concern for Duke was how Seth Curry was non existent, scoring 0 points against Michigan.

Arizona had to fight their way to the Sweet 16, barely outlasting Memphis and getting some help from shady officiating to beat Texas. Derrick Williams had game saving plays in both games, a block against Memphis, and a three-point play against Texas. However, the Wildcats guards, Lamont Jones and Kyle Fogg did next to nothing against Texas and will have to play much better for the Wildcats to have a chance against Duke.

I think Duke has way too many weapons for Arizona to contend with and that the Wildcats don't have the guard play needed to upset Duke.

Prediction: Duke 77, Arizona 68

Southeast Regional Semi-Final

#8 Butler (25-9) vs. #4 Wisconsin (25-8)

The Southeast didn't end up as topsy turvy as I expected. What did happen, was #1 seed Pittsburgh choked, as they do every season. I should have seen it coming but I thought things would be different this year. Just to get it out of the way, the two foul calls the referees made at the end of the Butler/Pitt game were correct. You call the game the same for all 40 minutes, none of this calling it differently based on how much time is left on the clock bs.

I didn't think this year's Butler was anywhere near last year's Butler. I felt that Gordon Hayward made that much of a difference. However, the Bulldogs are hot, winners of 11 straight and some names you might recognize from last year's run are playing huge against this year. Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack continued their impressive play from the regular season and are the reason why Butler is back in the Sweet 16.

The chic pick was to have Belmont beat Wisconsin, and after that didn't happen, it was considered highly unlikely the Badgers would be able to hang with the much more athletic Kansas State Wildcats. But the Badgers did just that and now have a great chance at making the Elite Eight. Wisconsin plays an ugly brand of basketball but has two fantastic players in Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor. The Badgers play suffocating defense and that has allowed them to win some games they probably shouldn't have.

I have continuously picked against Butler and keep being proven wrong. I am finally buying in, the Bulldogs knock off the Badgers, and head to another Elite Eight.

Prediction: Butler 63, Wisconsin 57

In Saturday's Elite Eight, I think Duke will get past Connecticut, as Kemba's one man show isn't enough to beat the various weapons that Duke has. In the other game, I think Florida will defeat Butler, as the Bulldogs magic will run out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2011 March Madness - Southeast Region (First Weekend)

When I sit down and go through my brackets each year I always worry that I am not picking enough upsets. I had that same feeling this year until I got to the Southeast Region. There is not a single team in this region that I think anyone can feel total confidence in. Pittsburgh has been a strong team all year but they are famous for choking come Tournament time. Many consider Florida to be a way overrated #2 seed, #3 seed BYU hasn't looked the same since losing Brandon Davies to the Kama Sutra, and #4 and #5 seeds Wisconsin and Kansas State will face difficult challenges from #12 and #13 seeds Belmont and Utah State. Plus, you have #10 seed Michigan State lurking in the background. It will be a definite surprise if the Southeast Region doesn't end up being topsy turvy.

Best Game: #5 Kansas State vs. #12 Utah State

After a run to the Elite 8 last season, there were high hopes for Kansas State. It seemed like the pressure might have been too much as Kansas was slow out of the gates and was squarely on the bubble. However, they were able to push themselves up to a #5 seed by winning 8 of their last 10 games, including a rout of Kansas. Senior guard Jacob Pullen said that if Kansas State had to settle for the NIT he wouldn't want to play. He backed up that talk by playing like a monster the last 10 games of the season. Pullen can score in bunches but he can also be careless with the ball at times and will have to limit his turnovers for the Wildcats to beat the Aggies. Utah State isn't your average 12 seed, they are 30-3 on the season and have been ranked in the Top 25 for most of the year. They are capable of playing ferocious defense, twice holding opponents under 40 points. The Aggies rotation goes seven deep, as all seven of those players play at least 20 minutes a game. Forward Tai Wesley is their leading scorer and rebounder and will be a player to watch in this game.

Player to Watch: BYU forward Jimmer Fredette

Not much is left to say about Jimmer. He has taken the college basketball landscape by storm and is even known by the most casual of fans. With the loss of Davies he will be tasked with trying to carry the Cougars NCAA title hopes on his back. Jimmer averaged 28.5 ppg this season, and his lowest single game point output was 13. He is coming off a 52 point game last week in the Mountain West Tournament against New Mexico. If he scores less than 20 points the Cougars will likely be bounced. Big time players usually have a sense when all eyes are on them, so I expect to see some great performances from Jimmer as long as he is playing in the Tournament.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the First Weekend: #12 Utah State

I like the Aggies to knock off Kansas State and then I think they will catch a break and face Belmont in the Third Round. That would be a fun underdog game to watch. The Aggies haven't faced the toughest competition this season but I don't think a 30-3 record can be completely overlooked.

Best Potential Game: #6 St. John's vs. #3 BYU

Steve Lavin has done a tremendous job in his first year with the Johnnies. I was a little hard on St. John's because I felt that they could only win in the Garden, but to beat the level of teams that the Red Storm beat is no easy feat, whether home or away. St. John's will miss D.J. Kennedy, but I expect Justin Brownlee and Dwight Hardy to pick up the slack. The Red Storm are deep with seniors and that can prove to be an asset come March. If these two play it would be a close game and I think Hardy and Jimmer would make it memorable.

Predictions Second Round:

#1 Pittsburgh over #16 UNC-Asheville

#9 Old Dominion over #8 Butler

#12 Utah State over #5 Kansas State

#13 Belmont over #4 Wisconsin

#6 St. John's over #11 Gonzaga

#3 BYU over #14 Wofford

#10 Michigan State over #7 UCLA

#2 Florida over #15 UCSB

Third Round

#1 Pittsburgh over #9 Old Dominion

#12 Utah State over #13 Belmont

#6 St. John's over #3 BYU

#10 Michigan State over #2 Florida

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2011 March Madness - Southwest Region (First Weekend)

The Kansas Jayhawks destroyed many brackets last year with their Second Round flame out against Northern Iowa. I must admit that because of that I am hesitant to pick the Jayhawks to do damage this year. They have been excellent all season, but last year they were the same way. However, maybe the bitter taste from last year can serve to help them get over the hump this year. The Southwest also features what I consider an overrated Notre Dame, an underrated Purdue, and dangerous Louisville.

Best Game: #5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Richmond

I choose this game by default, since Georgetown's opponent is unknown right now, and the rest of the games look like snooze fests. This seems to be a popular upset pick and with good reason. Vanderbilt closed the season winning three of their last seven games, and two of those wins came against horrible LSU. Both Richmond and Vanderbilt have talented guards. Kevin Anderson of Richmond has been on a tear, while for the Commodores John Jenkins was one of the most exciting SEC players.

Player to Watch: Purdue forward-center JaJuan Johnson

It was thought to be a devastating blow for the Boilermakers when they lost Robbie Hummel prior to the season starting. However, seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore carried the team on their back to a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. Johnson is such a well-rounded player and seems to do almost everything exceptionally. He can score, rebound, pass, block, steal, and hit his free throws. Purdue may be a little too reliant on Johnson and Moore but it's a rare occasion when Johnson disappoints.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the First Weekend: #7 Texas A&M

I was prepared to go with Louisville but then decided that I needed to pick more of a sleeper than I had in the East and West. I'm not overly impressed with Texas A&M, but it seems almost every Tournament a 2 seed is knocked out in the round of 32. Notre Dame had a very good year but just something about them feels vulnerable to me.

Best Potential Game: #11 VCU vs. #3 Purdue

One of the most controversial selections for the NCAA Tournament was VCU. I had conflicted emotions about their inclusion in the Tournament. As a fan of the CAA and knowing that it is an overlooked and underrated conference, I was happy to see three teams get a bid for the first time. However, I don't think VCU really deserved a bid. They had some impressive wins in November, but really struggled at the end of the season, and lost to some atrocious teams in the CAA. That being said, I think they can do some damage in the Tournament. I think they will knock off USC and I think they got a break facing a Georgetown team that is over seeded. I know Chris Wright is supposed to be back for the Hoyas but I am skeptical that he will just slide right in and cure the Hoyas recent poor play. I think most of this region features boring teams but it would be interesting to see if VCU could do enough to stop Moore and Johnson from carrying the Boilermakers to the Sweet 16.

Predictions First Round:

#11 VCU over #11 USC

Second Round:

#1 Kansas over #16 Boston University

#8 UNLV over #9 Illinois

#12 Richmond over #5 Vanderbilt

#4 Louisville over #13 Morehead State

#11 VCU over #6 Georgetown

#3 Purdue over #14 St. Peter's

#7 Texas A&M over #10 Florida State

#2 Notre Dame over #15 Akron

Third Round:

#1 Kansas over #8 UNLV

#4 Louisville over #12 Richmond

#3 Purdue over #11 VCU

#7 Texas A&M over #2 Notre Dame

2011 March Madness - West Region (First Weekend)

Last year Duke was able to benefit from having an easy road to the Final Four. If the Blue Devils are fortunate enough to make it back this season, it will be a much tougher road to travel. Arizona, Texas, Connecticut, and to a lesser extent San Diego State would present challenges for Duke. People want to overlook Texas because of their late season struggles, but I can guarantee the Blue Devils would not be happy to see the Longhorns in Anaheim next weekend.

Best Game: #5 Arizona vs. #12 Memphis

After a one year absence Josh Pastner has Memphis back in the NCAA Tournament. The committee feigned ignorance, but I don't believe it was pure coincidence that he is matched up against the Wildcats, where he used to serve as an assistant, was a walk-on for the 1997 national championship team. Arizona features future NBA player Derrick Williams. Williams shoots the ball extremely well, and is ferocious on the glass. Also, when he wants to be, he is a threat from the three point line where he hit 35 of 58 shots. This version of the Tigers is less flashy then when John Calipari coached there, but they certainly buy into the team concept. Nine of their players average double digits in minutes per game, and all nine average at least 6 points a game, with guard Will Barton leading the way with 12.3 ppg. That doesn't sound like much but it also means that defenses can't focus on just one or two guys.

Player to Watch: Duke guard Nolan Smith

Despite averaging less minutes per game this season than he did last year, Smith improved his numbers across the board. His scoring went up from 17.4 ppg to 21.3, his assists from 3 to 5.2 per game, and his rebounds from 2.8 to 4.6 per game. Smith only scored in single digits twice this season. What makes Smith even better is he is just as accomplished on the defensive end. Smith is a very physical player and as was shown against Kendall Marshall on Sunday, can easily get in his opponents heads.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the First Weekend: #4 Texas

This looks to be another chalky region. I think we will only see one "upset" in the first weekend, and that will be Penn State knocking off Temple. While I am not sold on San Diego State, I don't think Penn State is good enough to knock them off. People will be overlooking Texas at their own risk, don't underestimate Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson.

Best Potential Game: #4 Texas vs. #5 Arizona

The athleticism and talent in this game would be a joy to watch. Derrick Wiliams, Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, and Gary Johnson are all exciting players. Duke/Michigan would be a close second but I think that game could have blowout potential. I think this game would be competitive all the way, with the outcome in doubt right to the very end.


Second Round:

#1 Duke over #16 Hampton

#8 Michigan over #9 Tennessee

#5 Arizona over #12 Memphis

#4 Texas over #13 Oakland

#6 Cincinnati over #11 Missouri

#3 Connecticut over #14 Bucknell

#10 Penn State over #7 Temple

#2 San Diego State over #15 Northern Colorado

Third Round:

#1 Duke over #8 Michigan

#4 Texas over #5 Arizona

#3 Connecticut over #6 Cincinnati

#2 San Diego State over #10 Penn State

2011 March Madness - East Region (First Weekend)

The East region has the best potential games out of any of the four regions. North Carolina alone could have must see games with Washington, Syracuse and Ohio State. 2006 Cinderella George Mason has a chance to make new history, as if they get past Villanova, they will get a shot at Ohio State in Cleveland. The region also features exciting players such as Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Scoop Jardine, and Kentucky's fabulous freshman.

Best Game: #8 George Mason vs. #9 Villanova

These teams last met just a little over a year ago in the Puerto Rico Shootout, with the Wildcats escaping with a narrow win. Since that time Mason is much improved, while the Wildcats have lost Scottie Reynolds, and enter the Tournament reeling. The Wildcats have lost five in a row, and don't have a good win since February 5th against West Virginia. Villanova is all about their guards, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Maalik Wayns. It will be up to Mason's guards, starters Cam Long and Andre Cornelius, and sixth man Isaiah Tate to contain the Wildcats three headed monster. The Patriots are an efficient team, that usually take advantage of every possession and create havoc on defense. Forwards Ryan Pearson, Luke Hancock, and Mike Morrison should have the necessary toughness and skills around the basket to give Villanova problems.

Player to Watch: Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger

Sullinger has been Mr. Everything for the Buckeyes this season. Sullinger has averaged 17.2 ppg and 10.1 rpg. He also is an effective free throw shooter, hitting 70% of his foul shots. Sullinger should have dominating games against either Villanova or Mason in the Third Round, as neither team has the bigs to battle with him.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the First Weekend: #4 Kentucky

It is not exciting but I think this region will be mostly chalk. Kentucky has too much talent to lose to Princeton, and I think the Wildcats will avoid West Virginia in the Third Round, as I see the Moutaineers getting upset. Kentucky doesn't have much depth but they also don't have any weakness in their starting lineup. Brandon Knight has continued the John Calipari string of recruiting exciting guards, while Terrence Jones does the dirty work inside.

Best Potential Game: #2 North Carolina vs. #7 Washington

As a basketball fan I would love to see this game, but as a North Carolina fan, it terrifies me. The Huskies are one of the best offensive teams in the country, and a battle between the veteran Isaiah Thomas and the Freshman Kendall Marshall would be scintillating. Carolina will have to be at their defensive best to beat the Huskies, and can't have Marshall struggle like he did against Duke in the ACC Championship.


First Round:

#16 UT-San Antonio over #16 Alabama State

#12 Clemson over #12 UAB

Second Round:

#1 Ohio State over #16 UT-San Antonio

#8 George Mason over #9 Villanova

#12 Clemson over #5 West Virginia

#4 Kentucky over #13 Princeton

#6 Xavier over #11 Marquette

#3 Syracuse over #14 Indiana State

#7 Washington over #10 Georgia

#2 North Carolina over #15 Long Island

Third Round:

#1 Ohio State over #8 George Mason

#4 Kentucky over #12 Clemson

#3 Syracuse over #6 Xavier

#2 North Carolina over #7 Washington

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 ACC Tournament Preview

Another season has come and gone in the ACC and once again it was not a banner year for the conference. North Carolina and Duke carried the conference on their back as they usually do, while the other teams floundered for the most part. The ACC has a shot at getting six teams into the NCAA Tournament but could also have as little as three teams make it. Below are synopses of the six teams that have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, and also have a chance to be cutting down the nets in Greensboro on Sunday.

#1 North Carolina (24-6, 14-2)

All is right in Chapel Hill after the nightmare that was the 2009-2010 season. Carolina is back atop the ACC and have proven to everyone but blinded Duke fans that they are the class of the conference. If Carolina could win the ACC Tournament they could put themselves in the discussion for a #1 seed, something that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. The best thing to happen to the Heels was rapper and wannabe point guard Larry Drew II leaving the team, allowing freshman Kendall Marshall to take over. Harrison Barnes has begun living up to the hype that preceded his freshman season and Tyler Zeller has made tremendous strides. The Tar Heels aren't very deep so they will need to avoid foul trouble to continue their hot play.

#2 Duke (27-4, 13-3)

What might have been is the question Blue Devils fans keep asking themselves. If only Kyrie Irving has stayed healthy. However, he didn't and the Blue Devils are resigned to the fact that save for a half, they were out classed by the Tar Heels. Putting my hate aside, Duke is a very talented team that does a lot of things well. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler provide most of the scoring punch, while Seth Curry and Andrew Dawkins are threats beyond the three point line. Mason Plumlee is the garbage man inside and also an incredibly atrocious free throw shooter, hitting just 43% of his free throws. Duke has very good shooters and they have a history of playing well in this Tournament.

#3 Florida State (21-9, 11-5)

The Seminoles are likely to be without leading scorer F Chris Singleton for the ACC Tournament but have been managing without him, going 3-2, and nearly knocking off ACC Champion North Carolina. The Seminoles aren't a team that beats you with offense, but as has become their staple under Leonard Hamilton, their ferocious defense is what carries them to victory. Singleton not only provided the scoring, he was also the Seminoles leading rebounder. I think his loss will be too much for the Seminoles to overcome to win three straight games in this Tournament.

#4 Clemson (20-10, 9-7)

The Tigers sit squarely on the bubble. At least one win in the ACC Tournament should be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. Much like the Seminoles, Clemson plays an ugly brand of basketball. Clemson gets most of their points inside as they are atrocious from beyond the arc. Demontez Stitt leads the Tigers in scoring and assists, while Jerai Grant, Devon Booker, and Milton Jennings are their leading rebounders.

#5 Boston College (19-11, 9-7)

Save for the Tar Heels inexplicably putting up 104 points on them at Chestnut Hill the Eagles have been an accomplished defensive team all season. G Reggie Jackson was one of the best players in conference, averaging 18.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 4.5 apg. The Eagles will need F Joe Trapani to get his rebounding back up, as after averaging 7.2 rpg, he only had 11 in his last three games. F Corey Raji comes is playing some of his best basketball of the season, including a 19 point, 12 rebound effort against Virginia Tech last week. The Eagles are another bubble team who could use a few more wins to feel safe about their NCAA Tournament chances.

#6 Virginia Tech (19-10, 9-7)

Save for the home win against Duke it has been a disappointing season for the Hokies. Injuries haven't helped, but the Hokies had a chance to finally feel secure about their NCAA hopes and then dropped their last two games after defeating Duke. Virginia Tech is used to life on the bubble and if they were to lose to Georgia Tech it would be another NIT season for them. Win that game and then have at least a respectable showing in the Second Round might be enough. The Hokies are carried by Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. Delaney averaged 18.8 ppg, while Allen brought down 10 rebounds per game.

Below are my predictions for today's First Round games and then how I see the rest of the ACC Tournament playing out.

First Round

#8 Virginia over #9 Miami
#5 Boston College over #12 Wake Forest
#7 Maryland over #10 NC State
#11 Georgia Tech over #6 Virginia Tech


#1 North Carolina over #8 Virginia
#5 Boston College over #4 Clemson
#2 Duke over #7 Maryland
#3 Florida State over #11 Georgia Tech


#1 North Carolina over #5 Boston College
#2 Duke over #3 Florida State


#1 North Carolina over #2 Duke

For years Carolina and Duke always seem to miss out on playing each other in the ACC Tournament. However, I believe this year will be different. They are clearly the superior teams to the rest of the conference and I think that will show in Greensboro. I could never pick Duke to beat Carolina, hence my pick of the Tar Heels, but a result either way would not be surprising.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Alley - Oop

North Carolina vs. Duke. Quite simply, it is by far the best rivalry in college basketball, and arguably the best rivalry in all of sports. There doesn't need anything to be at stake for the games to be huge, but the stakes couldn't be higher Saturday night. The winner will be the regular season ACC Champion and earn a #1 seed in next week's ACC Tournament. The Heels had Duke on their heels, pun definitely intended, when they met in Durham last month, before fading in the second half. This time they will have the homecourt advantage and will be looking for revenge. Oh yeah, there are some other Top 10 games this weekend too.


#4 Duke (27-3, 13-2) at #13 North Carolina (23-6, 13-2)

Duke didn't beat North Carolina in their first meeting, Seth Curry and Nolan Smith beat North Carolina. The Heels shut everyone else down, but Curry and Smith exploded in the second half and helped the Blue Devils overcome a 16-point deficit. To win the rematch, Carolina will have to slow those two down, but more importantly they will need much better guard play from freshman Kendall Marshall. Marshall struggled in the first game, missing 8 of 11 shots. He did well at avoiding turnovers, so if he can do that again, and shoot a little better the Heels should be golden. Tyler Zeller and John Henson dominated Duke's weak interior in the first game and should be able to dominate in this one. I don't expect Duke F Kyle Singler to have as awful a game as he had in February, but the Heels can certainly slow him down. I expect freshman Harrison Barnes to have a much better game this time around, as his confidence is soaring after hitting a game winning shot at Florida State on Wednesday. Like most Carolina/Duke games this will be a knockdown drag out affair and call me biased but I believe Carolina is the better team and will surprise most of the country by winning the ACC regular season crown outright.

Prediction: North Carolina 74, Duke 70

#2 Kansas (28-2, 13-2) at #24 Missouri (22-8, 8-7)

Missouri can't win on the road to save its life, but they are near impossible to beat in the confines of their own home. The Jayhawks blitzed Mizzou in their first meeting in Lawrence, pouring on 103 points in a 17-point rout. I have been burned recently when picking the higher ranked teams to win on the road, so I am changing course this time. An early start time, plus a tough place to play, and Missouri having more incentive to win, equals upset.

Prediction: Missouri 86, Kansas 83

Wyoming (10-19, 3-12) at #3 BYU (27-3, 13-2)

BYU's chance at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament disappeared about the same time Brandon Davies lost his virginity. With Davies kicked off the team with a groin, the Cougars were destroyed at home by New Mexico. They don't need Davies to beat sorry Wyoming, but this win will provide little consolation.

Prediction: BYU 77, Wyoming 65

#19 Villanova (21-9, 9-8) at #5 Pittsburgh (26-4, 14-3)

Villanova is playing awful and the only thing keeping them afloat in the midst of losing 5 times in 7 games, were cupcakes match-ups with Seton Hall and DePaul. The Wildcats will probably be out of the Top 25 all together after losing to Pitt on Saturday.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 64, Villanova 54

#6 Purdue (25-5, 14-3) at Iowa (10-19, 3-14)

Who is Iowa's coach and why are they so terrible? How the hell did the Spartans lose to them by 20? That's an NCAA tournament team? Iowa has at least been pretty competitive at home against good teams, so maybe they can make this game slightly interesting.

Prediction: Purdue 71, Iowa 60

#7 Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4) at #16 Connecticut (21-8, 9-8)

Steve Lavin will likely win Big East Coach of the Year, but Mike Brey has done a fantastic job with the Irish. The first game was a battle to the finish, with Ben Hansbrough outplaying Kemba Walker. The Huskies have been reeling, especially against upper echelon teams. This is a really tough game to call, as I could see the Irish letting down after such a perfect performance in their last game against Villanova. Basically a coin flip, I'll go with the home-court advantage and UCONN.

Prediction: Connecticut 69, Notre Dame 68

#8 Texas (24-6, 12-3) at Baylor (18-11, 7-8)

Both of these teams are strugg a ling, and Texas has been killing me the last few weeks by losing to teams like Nebraska and Colorado. Baylor has to win this game to keep alive whatever at-large hopes they have, while Texas would prefer to stop reeling and avoid dropping lower than a 2 seed. Baylor G LaceDarius Dunn will have to make an impact, and is coming off an awful game in a loss to Oklahoma State. He torched the Longhorns for 26 points in their first meeting. I will pick another upset but knowing Texas, that means they will win this time.

Prediction: Baylor 69, Texas 64

Colorado State (19-10, 9-6) at #9 San Diego State (28-2, 13-2)


Prediction: San Diego State 73, Colorado State 69


#10 Wisconsin (23-6, 13-4) at #1 Ohio State (28-2, 15-2)

Easy game to pick. Ohio State and the crowd will be extra energized in this revenge game. Plus, the Badgers trailed in most of the first meeting and wouldn't have won if Jordan Taylor hadn't gone off at the last minute.

Prediction: Ohio State 80, Wisconsin 67

Last Week: 7-4
Overall: 26-8

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

2011 CAA Tournament Preview

The CAA is the best mid-major conference in basketball. For the first time in league history six of the twelve teams finished with over 20 wins. If a team other than Old Dominion or George Mason wins the CAA Tournament, then the CAA will have a conference record three teams in the NCAA Tournament. George Mason enters as the CAA Champion and favorite but five other teams have shots at cutting down the nets on Monday night.

1. George Mason (25-5, 16-2)

Mason enters the CAA Tournament on a 15 game winning streak, and are ranked in the Coaches poll at #25. Even if they were to be knocked out in the Quarter-Finals of the CAA Tournament they appear to be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, the players aren't thinking that way and will be focused on trying to win the conference tournament for the first time since 2008. Mason has four starters that average double figures in scoring, led by senior G Cam Long. F Ryan Pearson is effective at getting to the basket, drawing fouls and rebounding. Complementing starters Mike Morrison, Andre Cornelius, and Luke Hancock, are bench players, Isaiah Tate and Vertrail Vaughns. Vaughns has been on a tear as of late, coming off the bench and knocking down threes with ease, shooting over 50% from three this season. Mason had dominated during most of their winning streak, but have scuffled a bit as of late. Potential Semi-Final and Championship games with VCU and Old Dominion would be quite the test.

2. Old Dominion (24-6, 14-4)

The Monarchs are the defending CAA Champions and also enter the tournament on a roll. Since getting blown out at Mason, the Monarchs have won six games in a row, all by double digits. They are led by senior F Frank Hassell's 14.2 ppg, and 9.8 rpg. The Monarchs are one of the better rebounding teams in the country, averaging 40.6 a game, good for 6th in the nation. Part of that is due to poor shooting though, as the Monarchs only averaged 65.6 points per game. Other players to watch for ODU include Kent Bazemore, and Ben Finney. The Monarchs also are pretty deep, as eight players averaged double figures in minutes per game. F Chris Cooper has been especially effective coming off the bench.

3. Hofstra (20-10, 14-4)

The Pride aren't getting any at-large consideration but did finish two games ahead of the other at-large contender, VCU. Hofstra starts and ends with likely CAA Player of the Year, senior G Charles Jenkins. Jenkins scored in double figures in every game this season, averaging 23.2 ppg. He is also efficient, shooting over 50% from the field. If Jenkins struggles, then the Pride lose. While Jenkins is what makes the Pride go, they do have some other weapons. G Mike Moore can be streaky and does love to shoot. Sometimes that is a good thing, but sometimes it hinders the offense. Sophomore F David Imes does most of the dirty work on the glass.

4. Virginia Commonwealth (21-10, 12-6)

Some people still want to insist that VCU has a chance at an at-large bid but those people are dreaming. However, the Rams do have their yearly advantage of playing the CAA Tournament in their backyard. They will need that homecourt edge as they come into the CAA Tournament reeling, losers of four of their last five games, including three straight home losses. F Jamie Skeen is their leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 14.8 ppg, and 7.6 rpg. Surprisingly, senior G Joey Rodriguez regressed in his senior year, seeing his points and assists totals both down from his junior season. Playing in Richmond helps, but I don't think the Rams have the talent for it to really make a difference.

5. Drexel (20-9, 11-7)

Drexel is likely a long-shot, but any team that went to Louisville and won, can't be ignored. Drexel is primarily a defensive team, that wins through defense and rebounding. That is basically epitomized by the fact their leading scorer, sophomore G Chris Fouch, shot just 37% from the field. Junior F Samme Givens led the team in rebounding at 10 per game and also averaged almost a block a game. Seven guys see minutes for the Dragons, and coach Bruiser Flint rarely diverts from that strategy. F Daryl McCoy is a big body for the Dragons and their other weapon on the glass.

6. James Madison (21-10, 10-8)

The Dukes have been up and down all season, with some real puzzling losses and some equally surprising wins. Their led by F Denzel Bowles, who scored 18.2 ppg, brought down 9 rpg, and blocked 1.6 shot per game. Another big guy is F Rayshawn Goins, and G Devon Moore brings both scoring and distributing in his repertoire. F Julius Wells regressed mightily from last season, but the Monarchs would be even more dangerous in the tournament if he can find his form.

Below are my predictions for Friday's First Round action and then how I see Saturday-Monday shaking out.

First Round

#8 UNC-Wilmington over #9 Georgia State
#5 Drexel over #12 Towson
#10 Northeastern over #7 Delaware
#6 James Madison over #11 William & Mary


#1 George Mason over #8 UNC-Wilmington
#5 Drexel over #4 Virgina Commonwealth
#2 Old Dominion over #10 Northeastern
#3 Hofstra over #6 James Madison


#1 George Mason over #5 Drexel
#2 Old Dominion over #3 Hofstra


#2 Old Dominion over #1 George Mason

This will sound wrong but I almost want George Mason to lose a game before entering the NCAA Tournament. I would really rather the pressure of the winning streak be off of them and have them basically enter with a fresh slate. I definitely think they are better than and can beat ODU in the Championship game, so this is more a want pick, than a objective pick. I think Mason and ODU have proved themselves the class of the CAA all season, and they will have a great championship game on Monday night. Either way, both of them are headed to the NCAA Tournament.

P.S. Happy Birthday David Karpf!!!!