Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Favorite Match-ups of Round 1


12:20 PM- Xavier vs. Georgia… This is an intriguing match-up to me. I loved this Xavier team for most of the year. I think when 100 percent they are better than the elite eight team from 2004. They have more balance, they have more skill, and they have more depth. Lavender is the best point guard I have seen at X and when he is playing his game this team is so tough to guard. There have been several games this year (Kansas State, Virginia are two examples) when XU has looked pretty unbeatable. I could see X making a run to the elite eight.

However, I could see them losing in the first round as well. They have not looked nearly as good the last few weeks. XU fans are optimistic that Lavender is 100 percent, but even if that is the case will they be in rhythm and playing their best basketball at this time. Plus, if you ask Xavier fans which 14 seed they would want to play would they prefer Boise State, Cal State Fullerton, Cornell, or Georgia. I think the clearly answer is not Georgia. They have athletes that can compete with XU and they just made on of the more unbelievable basketball runs I have ever seen. They won four games in four days(two on the same day) to win a major conference tournament… clearly Georgia has the potential to play. I think XU is going to win by 10-15 points, but this game could easily go the other way.

12:30 Michigan State vs. Temple… Temple has been playing good basketball since A10 play began. They finished alone in second place and they won the A10 conference tournament. Christmas is one heck of a player for Temple and can get hot at any time. I have not been very impressed with Michigan State or anyone in the Big 10 for that matter. In fact you can make the case that night in and night out Temple is tempted just as much in the A10 as Michigan State is in the Big 10. If Drew Neitzel is not hitting, Michigan State could easily go down. This is one of my first round upsets.

2:30 Marquette vs. Kentucky… I honestly do not think Kentucky can win this game. Kentucky has struggled to win away from home all season, not winning one game against a team in the RPI top 140. I see no reason to believe that will change against Marquette. So why is the game interesting? Well, I do love watching Kentucky lose.

7:10 Kansas State vs. USC… This is the game everyone is talking about and with good reason. The obvious connection for the national media is Beasley vs. Mayo…and the obvious connection for those from Cincinnati is Walker vs. Mayo because of the North College Hill connection. However, I look at this game and merely think about what might have been. I see three of the top players in the country playing on the same floor, three players I could watching run the floor in Bearcat uniforms… catching passes from Devon Downey and catching an earful from Bob Huggins. Through all the great talent this game will be bitter sweet for me, because I’ll think about where UC could be this season and the chances they could have to win a National Title. As great of a year as Xavier is having it would have been an afterthought to where UC could have been this very season.

7:20 Winthrop vs. Washington State… No one else probably cares about this, but I went to Winthrop for a year and this game has some personal significance to me. Winthrop is not nearly the team they have been the past two years, when they lost on a great Chris Lofton shot against Tennessee in the first round as a 15 seed and last year beat Notre Dame in the first round. The Eagles lost great scorers like Terrell Martin and Craig Bradshaw as well as other valuable players. Their coach, Greg Marshall, took the job at Wichita State during the off-season. That did not stop the Eagles from rolling through the Big South Tournament this year. They won their championship behind a ridiculous scoring effort from Michael Jenkins. Taj McCullough and Chris Gaynor have the needed tournament experience to not be phased by this match-up. The Eagles do not score like they once did, but they still get after it on defense and they will certainly not be phased by anyone. Washington State, though a better team, is a good match-up for Winthrop. The Cougars are not going to score a ton of point, so with a good offensive performance from a few guys the Eagles could really challenge. I see Washington State pulling it out, but never count out that college in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

9:30 Arizona vs. West Virginia… Bob Huggins, Bob Huggins, Bob Huggins. We miss you Bob Huggins. That Alexander guy can play some hoops too.

9:40 George Mason vs. Notre Dame… Can the Mason magic be reborn in 2008. Let’s hope so, because no one wants to watch Harangody whine and cry for longer than one game. I swear the man has never committed a foul in his life and clearly he gets mugged every play. Words do not do justice my loathing of Luke… hopefully the George Mason magic will show him the door in the first round, for a second straight season.


12:25 Gonzaga vs. Davidson… A great match-up of non-major teams. People like to argue Gonzaga is not a mid-major…I say who cares. The fact is Gonzaga is a likeable team because they have built a winning tradition outside of the power conferences. Clearly the WCC is not the PAC Ten… so Gonzaga can claim to not be mid-major, but they do still represent the little guy every season. Davidson ran off 22 straight in a pretty bad conference… Honestly, I know they are good…I do not know how good. I have seen Gonzaga beat teams, but have yet to see Davidson do it. I think this game is a coin-clip, but gun to my head I stay with team that continually does it… Gonzaga.

12:30 Western Kentucky vs. Drake… The early Friday games are a time for great non-major match-ups. Western Kentucky’s Courtney Lee is the best player on the floor in this game…hands down. Drake is the best story in college basketball this season. They start two former walk-ons (one was the Missouri Valley Player of the Year). They ran away with what has been the best non-major conference since the demise of CUSA in the Missouri Valley. They play 3-2 match-up zone, but practice in man-to-man to really work on their defensive principals, and their coach gives them the green light to shoot as soon as the cross half court. I really like watching Drake and would love to see them be the latest Missouri Valley team to make a run.

2:30 South Alabama vs. Butler… Honestly, I think Butler is a better team. I also have said that I believe they were fairly seeded and believe this is as good of a first round match-up as they could have asked for. Another battle of two non-majors… it’s becoming the theme of the morning.

2:45 San Diego vs. Uconn… Uconn has often looked great this year. They also ran my Bearcats into the ground to end the season and kept their starters in until about 3 minutes to go (a move I supported because if UC lets a team get up by 50 much of it has to do with a lack of intensity… teach those kids a lessen). San Diego has looked dangerous. They won the difficult West Coast Conference as well as won at Kentucky. They have some very good players. I think Uconn ultimately prevails…but it’s an intriguing game.

7:10 St Josephs vs. Oklahoma… This one is interesting because it should be close and is a great upset possibility. Nearly everyone is picking it. I’ll be honest I did as well. I had no intention of picking St Josephs going into the dance and against any other 6 seed I probably do not. Honestly, I just have not been impressed with the Sooners.

7:20 Siena vs. Vandy… Talk about another great upset possibility. Vanderbilt does not win games away from home. Siena has played St Josephs and Syracuse well this year and already has a win over #3 seed Stanford. Vanderbilt is a team of shooters and teams of shooters are often prone to upsets when the pressure of tournament play comes.

9:40 Villanova vs. Clemson… I love this Clemson team. They are incredibly athletic. They have consistently looked good against UNC and Duke (they really should have beaten UNC at least once…maybe twice). They get after it, they force you into turnovers, and they have the bodies inside to really make it hard on the Wildcats. That being said the Villanova guards are always dangerous.

Everyone…the first two rounds are the most amazing days of the sports year. Game after game after game after game…finish after finish after finish after finish. I’m scheduling my lunch break around game endings and trying to get through work so I can get home for the next endings. My mini TV is out and ready to go for when I am not supposed to be watching basketball (as it has been since the 7th grade). This is perfection… this is what sports fans live for. Now if I could just get over the fact that for a 3rd straight season my Bearcats have failed to go dancing. Hell, they failed to win a game in the CBI… (I’ll have more on their season at a later date when I am in a particularly self loathing mood)

As for how I think the dance plays out:

Sleeper Teams (7 seeds or lower that can make the sweet 16 / elite 8)

West Virginia – I love the way they match-up with Duke and Xavier… the problem is they still have to get by Arizona.

Butler – I have them losing to Tennessee, but I could definitely see that game going the other way.

Indiana- Again I do not like their match-up with UNC and I really do not know what to expect with them…so there is no way I can pick them to win more than 1 game…but they are dangerous.

Final Four Spoilers (4 seeds or lower that can crash the party in San Antonio)

Clemson - I have them taking out Kansas. I just really like this Clemson team and have no reason to believe Kansas can perform in the dance when it matters.

Pittsburgh- I have them taking out Memphis… that’s two 1 seeds going down in the sweet 16. If they were not playing the elite eight game in Texas I’d have them in the Final Four. They are getting healthy…when 100 percent they can really beat you. Their run through the Big East Tournament was impressive. (Of Course the Orangeman made a similar run and were ousted in round one two years ago)

Southern California – They have so much talent and are pretty well coached… It is truly difficult to pick against them. They could give Wisconsin and Georgetown fits with their talent and athleticism.

Teams I Love (Teams I think are best suited for a run)

UCLA- First of all they have a great draw. I think Uconn could be a very challenging game, because Uconn is as talented as anyone, however, they have the weakest two seed and the weakest 3 seed in their bracket. I could see them matching up with the West Virginia/Arizona winner in the elite eight. Second, they have been there the past two seasons. This year they have more talent than either of those teams. They will be more prepared and it will be impossible to rattle them. And finally, they have one of the top 5 coaches in college basketball at the moment.

Georgetown- I loved them last year, I love them this year. In the end, last year Oden was too much for Hibbert. I do not see anyone that is going to be that way this season. I think Georgetown is built for March. Their offense may keep teams in some games, but they are one of the few teams that is built to score when scoring gets tough and the defense picks up. They run their offense because it will consistently get shots against good defense. I think the Hoyas are playing better defense than they have played the past two seasons.

Texas- They won’t be challenged in the first two rounds…I really think that. Then they get to play the next two rounds in Texas. That is a great setup for a run to the final four.

My Final Four
UNC, Georgetown, Texas, UCLA

UCLA over Georgetown

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thoughts on the 2008 Selection Process

  • I felt by in large the NCAA Committee did a very good job with the selection process. There is always going to be debate over the last 3 or 4 teams and 3 or 4 teams that were not chosen. I do not think the Committee chose any team this year that had failed to do enough to be in the discussion for a bid. (unlike say two years ago when Air Force and Utah State combined for ZERO top 50 RPI wins while top 25 RPI Missouri State and Cincinnati with their wins over a 4 seed, 5 seed, 6 seed and 7 seed two of which were away from home…were not invited) The fact is every team that was not chosen had the opportunity to get in. Had Syracuse beaten Villanova they would have added another quality victory and would have taken their place. Heck if Syracuse had not lost to South Florida there would be more discussion. VCU did not get any top 50 RPI wins. Ohio State refused to win games outside of Columbus. Virginia Tech lost too often and had too few good wins. Each of these teams had opportunities to get in during the regular season and failed to do so.

  • More importantly every team has the opportunity to win their conference tournament. Every year at this time you hear coaches whining about getting more teams into the Big Dance. The problem is there is always going to be a cutoff and there are always going to be those upset that they did not get a bid, such is life. As it stands the NCAA includes everyone through automatic bids (in the form of Conference Tournament Champs in every league except but the Ivy League). Even if your accomplishments are questionable through the end of league play you have the opportunity to play until you lost from your conference tournament on to the national championship. Georgia won 4 games in the SEC this season then went on to win 4 games in 4 days to keep their season alive. That is the beauty of conference tournaments… for all but the 34 at large teams they are the beginning of do or die basketball. The 300+ division one teams' season will not end until they lose. Georgia’s amazing run through the SEC is every bit as special as any run you will witness in the NCAA tourney. This play until you lose aspect of conference tournaments and then the NCAA tournament is the most special part of college basketball.

  • Having said all that my biggest disagreement on who got in vs. who did not was the selection of Kentucky over Arizona State. My biggest beef with Kentucky was their inability tow in a meaningful game away from Rupp all season, to me that is a huge fault. Their finish was ultimately what put UK over the top. Their wins did include Tennessee, Arkansas and Vanderbilt so they certainly had some quality to their resume. However, Arizona State beat Xavier, Stanford, and USC. They also swept Arizona and split with Oregon. They were ultimately hurt because they played about 10 horrendous teams (200-300+ RPIs) when other schools were playing teams that were merely bad (100-150 RPIs). Ultimately that was too much to overcome, but I think they did more than Kentucky on the whole. That being said Arizona State should have scheduled better and should have been better down the stretch (5-10 to end the season). Though I disagree with the committee, Arizona State has no one to blame but themselves.

  • I felt Tennessee was the strongest two seed. A good case can even be made that based on the body of work Tennessee was not only a one seed, but the strongest one seed. Therefore them having to play in the region with the number 1 overall seed and possibly the strongest 3 seeds seems unfair.
    I thought Vanderbilt was seeded too high. They have not really been able to win meaningful games away from home this season either. I felt a team like Clemson which has looked great against top notch competition; even beating Duke on a neutral site deserved a 4 instead.

  • I think the Committee did a very good job with Georgia. I felt like they would be hard to seed, because they’d have to do a ton of shifting because clearly Georgia was placed far below where the last at large team. To have the brackets ready for them winning the SEC tourney, clearly they already had the alternatives in place before the SEC tourney ended. That being said I am sure Xavier would much rather be playing Cornell or Boise State. Athletically the Bulldogs are one challenging 14 seed. Then again Xavier was in Georgia’s position a few years ago and were a more aggravating 14 seed than Gonzaga would have hoped to draw. Interesting how something like that can come full circle in a matter of two years.

  • I thought Butler was seeded correctly. They have a gaudy record, but only 1 top 50 RPI win. I know they can play, but they lost their chance at a better seed when they lost at home to Drake. That being said, sometimes the draw is more important than the seed. If you are a Butler fan would you rather be playing South Alabama as a tend seed in the first round, or Villanova as a 12? Butler may be better set to win one game and would certainly be a dangerous match-up for Tennessee in round 2.

    Coming up this week:

    I’ll share my most intriguing first round match-ups, give some information on where upsets could occur, and offer some predictions on how the NCAA Tournament will play out.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

NCAA Seeding Projections

Here is what my NCAA seeding projections look like. There were a few seed changes due to conflicts of NCAA rules. For instance teams from the same conference cannot play in the first two rounds. As a result Arizona was bumped to the highest 12 seed, which moved VCU up. There was some shifting of 8 vs 9 and 7 vs 10 games to avoid teams from the same conference from playing each other in the first two rounds. Conference Champions are in BOLD. I assumed Arkansas would win when making this projection.

All day today my last four in were:
Arizona State
Virginia Tech

The Last Four Out were:
Ole Miss
Ohio State

Now obviously Georgia winning would knock Virginia Tech out as far as my projections go. The problem is where to place them. I am going to go ahead and just replace them with the last at-large team Virginia Tech. That puts them above teams like Western Kentucky, San Diego which probably had better years. However, with 20 minutes until the committee actually puts out their results it would take a lot of work to reseed everyone and shift people. This works easier. I am anxious to see how the committee handles Georgia, because they are certainly having that same problem.

If I had to guess on the teams I am most likely to miss on they would be Arizona State on the in...and Kentucky on the out.

East (Charlotte)

1. UNC

16. Coppin State / Mt St Mary’s


9. Mississippi State

4. Clemson

13. George Mason

5. Drake

12. Western Kentucky

3. Stanford

14. Cal State Fullerton

6. Butler

11. St Joseph

2. Wisconsin

15. Belmont

7. Arkansas

10. Temple

West (Phoenix)


16. Mississippi Valley State

8. Texas A & M

9. BYU

4. Xavier

13. Cornell

5. Marquette

12. Oregon

3. Louisville

14. Oral Roberts

6. Washington State

11. VCU

2. Texas

15. Austin Peay

7. West Virginia

10. South Alabama

South (Houston)

1. Memphis

16. UT Arlington

8. Kent State

9. Kansas State

4. Notre Dame

13. San Diego

5. Michigan State

12. Georgia

3. Duke

14. Winthrop

6. USC

11. Villanova

2. Georgetwon

15. UMBC

7. Oklahoma

10. Davidson

Midwest (Detroit)

1. Kansas

16. American

8. Gonzaga

9. Miami (Fl)

4. UConn

13. Siena

5. Vanderbilt

12. Arizona

3. Pitt

14. Boise state

6. Purdue

11. Arizona State

2. Tennessee

15. Portland State

7. Indiana

10. Baylor

Where Teams SHOULD Rank on the Bubble

It is very difficult to predict what the NCAA Selection Committee will do, because their criteria seems to be very subjective. They do have a list of things they look at, but often to justify who gets in they stress different criteria. My criteria for the ranking the teams on the bubble is basically as follows:

1. I don't want to rank who is the most talented or who I believe is the BEST team...I want to rank who has done the most to warrant a bid. I value winning games against other tournament teams and winning games against other teams on the bubble. It is also important to prove you can win games away from home. A team that has shown an ability to win games against multiple NCAA teams away from home will get favorable treatment.
2. I have one slight bias. I tend to favor Conference Champions from small conferences over teams from major conferences with a lacking resume. A team like George Mason a few years ago receives very few chances to play teams from the major conferences. If they have shown they can compete with those teams AND been the dominant team in their conference I am inclined to give them the opportunity in the NCAA over a team like say Syracuse from this year which yea has some good wins but has not really done quite enough with the opportunities they have been given. Two teams this year that fit that mold are South Alabama who I have in without being on the bubble and Virginia Commonwealth.

With that here is how I have the bubble. Later today I will be unveiling my NCAA field. The field will not be who I think the committee will chose because I cannot read minds. Instead it is simply who I believe has done enough and deserves to get in.

St Josephs- They beat Xavier twice… they beat fellow bubble team Villanova. They have a win on the road against A-10 tourney champ Temple and two wins over fellow bubble team UMass. I think that is enough to get them in and believe they are in the strongest position among the bubble teams.

Arizona- Arizona played the number 2 strength of schedule. They have victories over Texas A&M, UNLV, Washington State (twice), Southern Cal, as well as fellow bubble team Houston. They lost an overtime game to possible #1 seed Kansas, a game to number 1 seed Memphis, and two games to possible number 1 seed UCLA (once by two points). They only won 4 of 12 down the stretch with half of those wins coming against Oregon State. Arizona is a really tough team to place because they have some huge victories… but really did not help themselves when they needed to down the stretch. Though they have what overall is the strongest profile of the PAC ten bubble teams Arizona State and Oregon, they also went 0-4 against them.

Villanova- Villanova gets credit for tough calls against NC State and Georgetown Pitt, Marquette, and Uconn are all very good wins that go a long way to getting Villanova in the dance. Beating Syracuse twice away from Villanova is big especially because the second was a do or di elimination game. Like many of the teams on the bubble they have not done much away from home.

Arizona State- These PAC ten teams are a bubble headache. No team illustrates that more than Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils. Arizona State played a slew of absolutely abysmal teams to start the season. The list included Princeton (331 RPI), LSU(171), Cal Poly(217), Florid Gulf Coast (293), Delaware State (205), Coppin State (219), Montana State (235), Idaho (299), and St Francis PA (314). They have also played Oregon State twice in PAC ten play (269). These games have effectively killed the Arizona State RPI. However, amidst all of this they beat some pretty good teams. They swept fellow PAC ten bubble team Arizona and split with the other fellow bubble team Oregon. They also managed victories over Stanford and USC in the conference and Xavier outside of the conference. They have 5 RPI top 50 victories.

Virginia Commonwealth University- My one bias in selecting tournament teams is I tend to favor a small conference team that won its conference over a major conference team with a lacking resume. VCU has less opportunities against the top notch teams… here is what they did. They lost to NCAA teams Miami, and Arkansas in close games. They beat two teams on the wrong side of the bubble Maryland and Houston. They also won their bracket buster game against MAC runner up Akron. They won the very difficult Colonial conference by 3 full games (the league has had multiple bids the last two years). With the resumes on the bubble not being as strong this year and the major teams on the bubble not stepping up and winning games to claim their spot… I am inclined to give a team like VCU a chance.

Oregon- Their season sweep of Arizona gives them a case for being ahead of Arizona in PAC Ten pecking order. However, Oregon only managed to go 1-8 against the PAC ten top 4 (UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, and USC). Their victory over Stanford took place early in the conference season. Their best non-conference win is over Kansas State. They also managed to beat fellow PAC ten bubble teams’ Arizona State late in the season. This means Oregon went 3-1 against the other PAC ten bubble teams. That’s certainly their biggest card with the NCAA selection committee.

Virginia Tech- They had a difficult start to the season… This start included an OT loss to Butler, and a thrashing at the hands of Gonzaga. They did finish alone in forth place in a very difficult ACC (ahead of NCAA team Miami). When they needed to perform down the stretch they did, winning 5 of 7 to end the year. Their only losses were to Clemson by 1 and UNC on a last second shot in the ACC semis. Their victory over Miami was big and it was in an elimination type environment. If VT had lost their NCAA chances were over. VT’s biggest problem is the Miami victory is their only RPI top 50 win. The Maryland sweep is not looking as important because Maryland has fallen off the bubble.

Kentucky- The negatives… Kentucky has ZERO top 250 non-conference wins and they have ZERO road wins against teams in the RPI top 140. They are 5-10 vs. the RPI top 100 with losses to Houston, UAB two teams that are on the wrong side of the bubble. They did, however, go 12-4 in the SEC. They beat Tennessee and Arkansas as well as Vandy in overtime. (though they lost by 40 @ Vandy)

Ole Miss- If you were simply looking at their overall resume and ignoring conference records it would hold up very nicely with some of these other teams. They have wins over South Alabama, Winthrop and a great win over Clemson in the non-conference. They have wins over Arkansas, Mississippi State and Vandy within the conference. They are 2-1 against the RPI top 25 and 3-3 against RPI 26-50. Ole Miss’ biggest problem is they had a month in the SEC where they really struggled to win games. They finished with a losing record in the conference as a result. Ole Miss could have overcome that by beating Georgia and Kentucky in the SEC tourney. At that point I believe their resume would have been strong enough, because really taken as a whole it’s probably better than anyone else’s on the bubble. Ole Miss probably lost their chance by losing to a mediocre Georgia team in a do or die situation.

Ohio State- Ohio State’s biggest problem is they have not won away from Columbus all season. Their best road victory was over Penn State. They do have victories over bubble teams Syracuse, and Florida to go with late season home wins over Michigan State and Purdue. They had a chance to get a big neutral site victory over Michigan State but were unable to. Among OSU’s road losses this season are a 65-46 thrashing from Butler as well as losses to not very good Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan teams. OSU simply did not perform well enough outside of Columbus to warrant and at-large bid.

Dayton- Great wins over Pitt, Louisville... beat Akron… too many losses in A-10

Illinois State- Simply did not do enough. The Missouri Valley was not as strong this season. Illinois State finished in a strong second, however, they really have no key wins. They failed to beat Drake in their three opportunities. Their two RPI top 50 wins were both against Creighton, a team that is not being considered for a spot.

Syracuse- The thrashing they received from Villanova effectively ended their chances. They did win once at Nova, but that win has been negated by losing to them twice. They have victories over Georgetown and Maryland to their credit as well as a victory over fellow bubble team St Joes. They really faced a brutal Big East schedule down the stretch so their slow finish should not be held against them too much. The loss to South Florida is also a killer. Losses to bubble teams Umass and OSU don’t help their case either.

Umass- Not enough good wins to balance out schedule

UAB- UK thrashing looks better now. UAB lost their chance when they got killed by Memphis and lost early in the CUSA tourney to Tulane. They really probably had to win the CUSA tourney anyways.

New Mexico- 1 win against the RPI top 50, 3rd in the Mountain West pecking order…simply not good enough.