Saturday, March 20, 2010

NCAA Tournament - Weekend 1 Recap

My bracket went to absolute shit. I knew this would either be a great year or an awful one. Ah well.

Karon Abraham on Robert Morris is a beast. Being a 5'9" freshman of course I'm gonna root for the kid, but he was fearless out there.

Jay Wright is the most overrated coach in the history of basketball. I don't get why people love him so much. His teams always make the most boneheaded decisions, like Reggie Redding passing up a breakaway lay-up in a one possession game.

"They (Rob Morris) only lost on the scoreboard" NEVER SPEAK AGAIN.

(How funny would it be to see Brittney Griner, the 6'8" freshman phenom on Baylor's women's team, battle Dwight Howard for a rebound? I dunno, that thought made me chuckle)

Gilberto Clavell, a forward on Sam Houston, kept helping Baylor players off the floor. Why doesn't that happen more often? You can possess sportsmanship and the desire to beat someone's brains in without hating the opposing team...I dunno, maybe that's a soft stance, but fuck you.

I had my doubts about Baylor's Ekpe Udoh...not anymore. He needs to stay another year at least, but he has the skills to be really good and the frame to be a MONSTER.

I was worried about Ohio being trouble. But I didn't do nearly enough research...more on that later.

If there's one thing John Calipari does well as a coach, it's that his team always KNOWS that they're the best on the court. That swagger, expectation of winning, is major, especially when he relies on so many inexperienced players.

(I decided automatic bids is a good thing. Only so many teams truly deserve a shot to win a championship anyway. If you can't make it out of the first round, or first weekend, you should forfeit your chance at the title. I like the idea of round 1 being a warmup, top teams shouldn't have to face too tough a task.)

I still can't believe Georgetown lost that game. It felt like Ohio shot 70% from three (actually 57%), and they converted more and-1s in that first half than they have all year prior. Once that continued into the second half they went into panic mode; the play that stands out occurred around the 12 minute mark: Greg Monroe led a fast break with two trailing teammates he could've - and normally would have - passed to, and instead went up for a lay-up only to get whistled for an offensive foul.

(All season Greg Monroe has defied the so-called pundits who say he isn't aggressive enough to be a star, but this showed he needs to stay another year and actually learn how to be an assertive player now. But I digress...)

***After the Georgetown loss I was put off of the whole thing, but no fan of competition of any kind could stay away from the Madness that would ensue.***

The Texas Longhorns have given everyone a lesson in how far one can fall in such a short time. This team was #1 in the land and Damion James was the leader for National POY, not to mention in the discussion for the NBA lottery. Now they're watching the games with us, and James is hoping he even cracks the first round. MADNESS.

Speaking of awful coaching, Jay Wright is the most overrated coach in the entire country. If ever there was a team that I would expect to make an absolutely boneheaded play during a big moment, it's Villanova. I almost feel bad for Scottie Reynolds. Almost.

The one other thing of note to me, probably my favorite unspoken story of the first weekend, was the success of two former Indiana kids who transferred after the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. Ohio's Armon Bassett averaged over 17 points/game and dropped 32 on Georgetown, before getting shut down by the supremely athletic Tennessee. And Xavier's Jordan Crawford (yes, THAT Jordan Crawford ha), who averages over 20 points/game, has his team in the Sweet 16 in a very (somewhat) winnable matchup against Kansas State. Good luck.

A lot of people are saying the MOP so far is St Mary's Omar Samhan... he's played exceptionally well, but he hasn't been challenged. I'm giving it to Quincy Pondexter.

To close, I'll give a brief breakdown of the next round of games, starting with Thursdays quartet. Syracuse-Butler will be won by the Orange. End of story. Xavier-Kansas State will be entertaining, and I'd like to give Jordan Crawford a puncher's chance - and I will - but I don't expect an upset here. Washington-West Virginia could be a joke, or VERY highly contested. Washington is very much under the radar as far as their talent level, and I expect them to make this a real game. I got WVU, Da'Sean Butler - along with superior athleticism - will probably be too much, but don't be surprised by an upset. Quincy Pondexter is the real deal. Finally, Cornell-Kentucky is probably the most bizarre matchup that could ever happen. On one hand you have Cornell, who plays with senior leadership, and to put it bluntly, are generally White and academically charged. On the flipside, Kentucky wins with raw, young talent; and are all Black and, well let's be honest, these are athlete-students, not the other way around. There is no way Kentucky loses this game, but it's as close to a 'trap game' as there can be at this point, and it'll be fun to watch.

On Friday we have four games that I really don't care about. St Mary's-Baylor is intriguing only for Ekpe Udoh vs Omar Samhan. My money's on Udoh and the Baylor Bears. I still don't know why I refused to trust them. Purdue-Duke could actually be a pretty good game, but I don't like watching either team. Duke wins. Tennessee-Ohio State I'll watch ONLY to see more of Evan Turner. I'm not quite as enamored as most, but I would like to see more before I really pass judgment. OSU wins, probably. Northern Iowa-Michigan State. WHAT?? Kalin Lucas is out, I'm disappointed about that. But Korie Lucious is as good a backup as there is in the country. Tom Izzo isn't losing this game.

Well, there you have it. I'm sure I left out a lot, feel free to add whatever you wish.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NCAA Tournament - Midwest Region

I saved this for last because, as it does every year Georgetown makes the tournament, my bias inevitably comes in to play. I'm particularly upset because they SHOULD HAVE been the 2 seed in Duke's region and Villanova should've been the 3 in this one... but I digress. One thing is for certain about this region: it is an absolute MINEFIELD (or as Clark Kellogg put it, the "bang bus" bracket). It makes no sense that Kansas is awarded the #1 overall seed and their prize is this bracket. But I won't dwell on it too much. What this HAS done is provide us with the most competitive region of the four, and for that, I am thankful.

Kansas is the top overall seed for good reason. They had the best season out of any team in the country. They were the most balanced team in the country, only losing twice all year. Cole Aldrich will probably be a first team All-American, and Sherron Collins won't be far behind. Xavier Henry will be a freshman All-American. I could keep going, too.

Their trouble starts when their shots stop falling, which has happened at times throughout the year. Sherron Collins is far from bulletproof, and when the offense is struggling, he decides to take over, for better or for worse. They won't survive this type of play against whoever comes out of the bottom half of this region.

Ohio State and Georgetown are the clear challengers. OSU is the obvious choice, they're hot and Evan Turner is earning the National POY honors he's sure to receive. He's far from alone though, as most people seem to overlook. Georgetown is firing on all cylinders. My concern for them at the beginning of the year was depth; Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman were always going to perform, but Jason Clark, Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson have really stepped up as the season has progressed.

I don't really see one, if I had to choose I'd take Oklahoma State; Georgia Tech being a close second. Whoever wins that game will give Ohio State a run for their money. GT with Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors (who has greatly improved over the last month) will be tough to handle inside. Few teams have one big man as good as Favors and Lawal. I like OK St though because their guards are better, and James Anderson is one of the best in the country. Plus, the ACC was HORRENDOUS and while I'm not a fan of the Big XII either this year, they were better.

Georgetown. Bias aside, as long as Chris Wright doesn't fall off from where he's at right now, I just don't see Kansas beating them. Aldrich might get first team All-America, but Greg Monroe is the best center in the country. He's motivated (if I hear one more "expert" question his drive I'm going to stab somebody) and can affect games in any way imaginable. On top of that Chris Wright is playing flawlessly at the point, and Austin Freeman is one of the most efficient scorers in the country. Kansas is a great team, but the perception of how good they are has been inflated (by playing in a weak Big XII), not too much, but to the point where this would seem impossible, and it's not. Georgetown's defense will take Kansas out of rythm and Chris Wright will win the point guard/turnover battle with Sherron Collins. Greg Monroe MOP.

NCAA Tournament - West Region

Much like the South, the West is disproportionately weak compared to the East and Midwest. The case could even be made that the West, with the Arinze Onuaku injury, is even worse than the South. It's not true, but the case CAN be made. The one thing this region has is the potential for first round upsets. Minnesota, UTEP, Murray St and Oakland could all win their first games (well not Oakland). But if Onuaku isn't healthy for the Sweet 16, this will be the most anti-climactic of all the regions.

It's still Syracuse. As of now it looks like Onuaku will be good enough to play after the first weekend and with him healthy this team is easily one of the best in the country. I'll admit I had my doubts about Wes Johnson at the beginning of the year, but having seen him play a few times now, he is LEGIT.

***(I know Evan Turner is asked to do more, but Johnson has the fluid athleticism of an NBA player NOW. Just saying...)***

The other guy I really like on this team is Scoop Jardine. I don't know why people aren't fawning over this kid 'cause he is one of the most skilled point guards in the country. He WILL be first team All-Big East next year, if not All-American. Overall, Syracuse is far and away the most talented team in the region.

Kansas St and Pittsburgh could both take this region. Pittsburgh already beat Syracuse, in the Carrier Dome no less. They win the Houston Rockets How-Is-This-Team-Good Award, but they have good guards and experience to go around. K-State, meanwhile, has arguably the best backcourt duo in the country in Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen.

BYU. I wanted to pick UTEP, but they're not going to beat anyone that actually matters. I don't give the Cougars much of a shot against KSU - or Pitt if they somehow make it there - but with a point guard named Jimmer who scores over 20 points/game by getting to the line as often as he does and does NOT jack up 10 threes every game, who knows.

Syracuse. If Onuaku doesn't play or is nowhere close to the player he was before the injury they'll probably lose, but the Orange are just far more talented than KSU and Pitt. Both teams are built to beat 'Cuse, especially K-State, but I just don't see it. Wesley Johnson MOP.

Monday, March 15, 2010

NCAA Tournament - East Region

The East is, to me, the most intriguing region of the four - other than me pulling for Georgetown in the Midwest. I'm not sure why I didn't have them from day 1, but as a lot of you know (and for those who don't) Kentucky is my kind of team. Loaded with talent and athletic ability, led by one of the best freshman point guards of all time, and I've been a fan of Patrick Patterson since he was a senior in high school.

But beyond them we have the inexplicably sub-standard Texas Longhorns with Damion James and one of the best freshmen in the nation in Avery Bradley. Wisconsin is led by one of my favorite players in the country in Trevon Hughes. West Virginia is probably the best #2 seed in the field, led by another one of my favorite players, Da'Sean Butler. Even Washington, who has one of the best 1-2 punches in the country with Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas. So there are a lot of great potential matchups here.

Obviously Kentucky. I dare you to find me a more talented starting five. Ever. Ok well in the last 30 years. John Wall is the best player in the country and DeMarcus Cousins is the most dominant down low. Patterson is a stud and Eric Bledsoe is one of the most underrated talents in the country. The Wildcats just outmatch nearly every other team in the country, and they're going to have to lose a game on their own for them to not win the East (granted, far from being out of the question).

They can definitely be tripped up, however. Wisconsin would make for a VERY tough matchup; they play strong defense, and Wall is famously turnover prone (though he's improved over the year). Wall vs Hughes would be incredible. Texas and Wake could, theoretically, both cause problems as they can both match up athletically. West Virginia will be a GREAT game.

West Virginia. I'd like to put Wisconsin here too, but Jon Leuer will need to play his best, not to mention Trevon Hughes will have to be consistently at the top of his game. West Virginia is athletic and plays a tough 1-3-1 zone defense that'll give people fits, Kentucky included. Da'Sean Butler is a beast.

Every year I make an illogical Sweet 16 pick that, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I put in all my brackets. This year it's Washington. Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas will be the two best players on the court in every game they play in until they play WVU, provided they show up of course. No sense in arguing with this, no reasoning with an illogical stance.

Kentucky. I've had them for almost the entire season and they've given me no reason to bail now. I am definitely worried about the West Virginia game, because that zone will give John Wall a lot of trouble. But at the end of the day, Kentucky is just far too good. John Wall MOP.

By the way... those of you who think Evan Turner is better than John Wall, be it today or as an NBA prospect... just don't bring that argument around me. You will be eviscerated.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

NCAA Tournament - South Region

First I need to say that I didn't follow college basketball this season as much as I have in the past - maybe part of that has been due to this being the worst season I can think of - so a lot of my analysis on the teams will come from computer research. I'm only doing this for my own benefit (brackets) so take what you will from this accordingly.

I'm starting with the South because, quite simply, this region pissed me off. Nobody can deny the bias towards Duke that exists in every facet of college basketball (from media to, you guessed it, the selection committee), but the way the South is laid out is ridiculous. I realize that some regions will be tougher than others, but Duke was last on the list of top seeds (and may have stolen the spot from West Virginia and/or Ohio State), their bracket should look like the Midwest (a minefield that top overall seed Kansas inexplicably has to deal with).

Has to be Duke. But that isn't to say they have a cakewalk to the Final Four. I said the rest of the region was a joke, I never said anything about Duke being a legitimate contender. Don't get me wrong, they're very good - and my admitted HATE for them is VERY strong... - but they don't even come close to being as good as the other #1 seeds.

I can see them slipping as early as Sunday if Louisville - led by what seems like 8-year senior Edgar Sosa - takes care of Cal, as they should. After that, I don't think anybody could compete with them until the Elite Eight, where either Baylor could play a next-to-perfect game or Villanova could return to mid-season form.

I only see two other relevant teams in this region: Villanova and Baylor. If Baylor plays consistent ball then they'll give themselves a good shot. But their style seemed awkward to me, and the Big XII wasn't good at all this year. Villanova was ranked second in the country before losing six of their last ten, including five of seven; but to call that ten game stretch difficult would be a gross understatement (@G'town, @WVU, Providence, UConn, @Pitt, USF, @'Cuse, @Cincy, WVU, Marqette). Scottie Reynolds is one of the best players in the country, and 'Nova is definitely capable of getting back to where they were.

Notre Dame. They're hot, and not only do they have Luke Harangody back, but Tory Jackson is playing like the experienced senior he is (finally). While I can't see them winning the region, who knows in this region.

I'm taking Villanova. Mostly because I hate Duke, but also because I think that if both teams are at their best, Villanova is a better team. My biggest concern is that, coming from the Big East, 'Nova plays a tougher brand of basketball and Duke will get the Lion's share of calls. Especially since 'Nova already got Duke last year. But I'm sticking with Villanova. Scottie Reynolds MOP.