Category Archives: Big Ten

Sweet Sixteen – Will the Upsets Continue?

Is your bracket as busted as mine?

If there is one thing that is true about the NCAA tournament, it is that things rarely go as people anticipate.  Just take a look at my bracket, there is a lot of red ink on that page (and mine isn’t even among the worst in my office’s competition).  Every year March Madness proves that on any given day a team like Louisville or Purdue can be beaten by teams like Morehead State or VCU.

This year there are more “Cinderellas” still alive than in recent years.  Though I’m a bit reluctant to call Florida State/Marquette (power conference teams with double-digit seeds) or Butler (they were in the national final last year) Cinderellas.  There are really only two teams that fit that bill still playing – VCU and Richmond.  Oddly, as ESPN pointed out, both hail from Richmond, Virginia – not exactly a hotbed of college hoops.  The biggest question is can either of these Cinderellas continue their journey, or will the clock strike midnight?

Let’s break down the Sweet Sixteen.

East Region

Ohio State vs. Kentucky – No upsets here.  This is a matchup that many predicted, including me and President Obama.  Ohio State, ranked #1 in the country, comes into the game playing extremely well, easily defeating both University of Texas-San Antonio and George Mason.  The Buckeyes are led by Final Four vet David Lighty and talented freshman Jared Sullinger, but are much deeper, with a cast of talented players that know how to play as a cohesive unit.

Kentucky, like Ohio State, comes into this game on a roll.  While the Wildcats had trouble with Princeton in the first round, they haven’t lost since a 77-76 OT defeat by Arkansas in Fayetteville back on February 23.  The Cats are led by two dynamic freshmen, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones.

Either team has the talent to make a run to the national title game, but I believe that Ohio State’s experience will win out.  Kentucky is a young, raw team while Ohio State has several savvy veterans leading the way. As much as I would like to see the Buckeyes go down, I don’t see it happening.

North Carolina vs. Marquette – While many saw the first matchup in this region coming, this game comes as at bit of surprise.  Marquette entered the tournament with a 20-14 record overall and a 9-9 record in the Big East.  The Gold Eagles were inconsistent throughout the year, defeating West Virginia and Syracuse twice, Notre Dame by 22 points but losing to Seton Hall by 13.  Perhaps the Golden Eagles have found some consistency, as they needed wins over Xavier and Syracuse (two teams ranked in the top 20) to get to the Sweet Sixteen.

North Carolina, the regular season ACC champions, were lucky to escape their 3rd round game with Washington.  Other than this close call, and a thorough defeat by Duke in the ACC title game, the Tar Heels have played some good basketball.  Led by impact freshman Harrison Barnes, and junior Tyler Zeller, the Heels have a high-flying offensive attack, averaging 77 points per game.

While Marquette is physical and plays some good D, I think their inconsistency will come back to haunt them in this one.  Expect to see the Heels marching on to play the Buckeyes.

WEST REGION

Duke vs. Arizona – Another matchup of college hoops heavy weights. The West Region saw no major upsets (only Arizona beating 4 seed Texas – if you can call that an upset), and has served up some intriguing games.  The Blue Devils have lost just 4 games all season, but struggled to hold their lead against Michigan in the 3rd round.  Duke’s own star freshman, Kyrie Irving, has played in both games after being out since early December.  Irving’s return has altered the way the Blue Devils play, especially Nolan Smith’s role, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the Blue Devils against Arizona.

Arizona, like Duke, is a traditional power and is making their return to the Sweet Sixteen after failing to qualify for the tournament last season.  The Wildcats, Pac-10 regular season champions, have won their games to get to this point by a combined 3 points.  The Cats are led by 6’8” sophomore forward, Derrick Williams who led the team in points and rebounds.

This game should be a good one, with the Wildcats taking the Blue Devils down to the wire.  That said, I think Duke’s size (when was the last time anyone could say that about the Blue Devils?) will ultimately be the deciding factor.  The Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly give the Blue Devils the advantage.

UCONN vs. San Diego State – A match of the nouveau riche against old money.  San Diego State, needed two overtime periods to defeat Temple in the 2nd round, but you can’t argue with the team’s success over the season.  Led by sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (who has one of the best names in the field of 68)  the Aztecs have been ranked inside the top ten in the polls since the 6th week of the season.   Steve Fisher has San Diego State in the tournament for the 4th time during his tenure, with this season being the Aztecs deepest run into March.  The Aztecs also posted a school-record 34 wins this season.

UCONN is a bit of an enigma.  Which team will show up against the Aztecs? The team that ran through the Big East tournament? Or the team that finished just 9-9 during the Big East regular season?  If Kemba Walker keeps playing at his highest level, the Huskies are a very dangerous team.  As Joe Lunardi points out in this article from ESPN, “… SDSU’s only two losses came at the hands of a single great scorer (Fredette) and Walker is probably the only other player left in the tournament with that kind of potential.” If Walker dominates, the Huskies could be headed to the Elite Eight.

Also like Lunardi mentioned, “This is a classic encounter of “team” versus “individual,” and I’m going with the better team (especially in Anaheim).”

SouthEaST REGION

Butler vs. Wisconsin – This is a battle of two teams that are tournament tested.  When Butler lost their star Gordon Hayward to the NBA following their loss to Duke in last season’s final, many predicted the Bulldogs would struggle this season.  They were right, as the Bulldogs struggled out of the gate; however, since February 5, Butler has won 11 games in a row.  While the Bulldogs have won their two tournament games by a combined 3 points, they are deep and experienced.

Wisconsin is a team that plays great defense and tries to win by wearing their opponents down.  For example, the Badgers, led by Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament 36-33 (one of the lowest scoring games since the shot clock was implemented).  The Badgers aren’t flashy, but they are smart.  They play within their system and they do it well.

It will be interesting to see how two veteran teams match up against each other with an Elite 8 bid on the line.  Both have to think that if they can win this game a Final Four trip is a realistic possibility.  Given Butler’s experience and hot streak, I’m picking the Bulldogs.

BYU vs. Florida – A rematch of a first round game from last season (BYU beat Florida 99-92 in 2OT, and the world met Jimmer Fredette) this should be a fun game to watch.  BYU is 8th in the country in scoring at nearly 82 points per game and Jimmer Fredette (the country’s leading scorer) is a one man wrecking crew.  The Cougars have responded well to Brandon Davies‘ suspension, beating Wofford and Gonzaga, but have yet to play a team of Florida’s caliber in the tournament.

The Gators get a chance for revenge against the Cougars.  The SEC East champions have been on roll with just two losses (both toe Kentucky) since February 1. Florida won their second round game comfortably, but UCLA hung with the Gators in the 3rd round.  If Florida is to win this game, somebody needs to stop Jimmer Fredette.

I’m picking the Cougars here.  I think Jimmer will throw BYU on his back and take down the Gators just like last season.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Kansas vs. Richmond – Finally we’ve come to the Southwest Region.  The Region of upsets.  This is the first time that 3 double-digit seeds have reached the Sweet Sixteen in one region since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985.  While there have been upsets galore in this region, don’t expect the run to continue with this game.  The Jayhawks are, in my opinion, the best team in college basketball.  With just two loses (1 to Kansas State, the other to Texas), the Jayhawks are one of the most powerful offensive teams in college hoops.  Led my the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), Kansas will be looking to prove last year’s loss to Northern Iowa in the 2nd round was a fluke.  The Jayhawks are deep, talented and on a mission

Richmond, despite what their coach might say, is just happy to be in the Sweet Sixteen.  Making it this far is a triumph for the Spiders, the Atlantic 10 champions.  The Spiders’ signature win this season is an 11 point victory over Purdue back in November.  Of the double-digit seeds, the Spiders had the easiest road to the Sweet sixteen.  They defeated an overrated Vanderbilt team in the 2nd round, and knocked off fellow Cinderella, Morehead State in round 3.  While the Spiders have’t gotten much press, they do have some talented players, particularly Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson. If Harper and Anderson can get hot, the Spiders could scare the Jayhawks.

That said, I expect the Jayhawks to continue their march to the Final Four.

Florida State vs. VCU – There is one thing we know about this game – a double-digit seed will make the Elite Eight.  Which one will it be?

VCU finished the season 23-11 and many complained about their inclusion in the field of 68 (this blogger is included).  The Rams easily defeated an undeserving USC team to make it into the second round and hasn’t looked back.  With back-to-back, convincing victories over Georgetown and Purdue, the Rams are for real.  They have won both by playing good defense (against G’town) and by attacking (against Purdue).  Jamie Skeen, who leads the Rams in both scoring and rebounding, is the man to watch for VCU.  He has been quiet in the tournament, but he is capable of big things.  Others to watch are Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez, who killed my beloved BU Terriers last season in the College Basketball Invitational semifinals.

Florida State, under Leonard Hamilton, have become a thorn in the side of North Carolina and Duke in the ACC.  The Seminoles are a dogged defensive team, probably the best in the tournament.  They allowed just 61.7 points per game this season, but have trouble scoring.  Chris Singleton, the ‘Noles’, best player has played very little since breaking his right foot in early February, but has played in both of FSU’s games in the tournament.  How large a role will he play against VCU?  If he plays, I think the Seminoles will find an answer for their scoring woes.  If he doesn’t it may not matter that the ‘Noles only give up 61 points, they might not be able to score that many.

I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here and pick VCU to win this game.  They seem to have a swagger about them.

March has been mad this season, with upsets aplenty.  And I see a few more coming this week.  Here’s, a quick recap of my picks:

Ohio State
UNC
Duke
San Diego State
Butler
BYU
Kansas
VCU

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

 It’s that time of year again;  the most wonderful time of the year for college sports fans.  The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament field was just revealed and people around the country are preparing excuses for why they suddenly developed illnesses on Thursday and Friday.

Selection Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year.  I love watching the conference tournaments leading up to the selection special, and I love to watch as they reveal the teams.  Today was no different.  My alma mater, Boston University, won the America East in dramatic fashion yesterday and awaited their fate.  Barely 20 minutes into the program, Terrier Nation found out where and who our team would be playing.  The Terriers drew a 16 seed and the unpleasant task of facing the University of Kansas.  While a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed in since the tournament took on its current format in 1985, an alum can hope.

The Selection Committee, as usual, has given pundits, bloggers and fans alike plenty to talk about.  Did Pitt and Duke deserve #1 seeds? How did USC, Clemson and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) make it into the field of 68, while St. Mary’s, Colorado, and Virginia Tech are on the outside?  Is Florida really a #2 seed? Why is Utah State only a #12 despite a 30-3 record? Check out my quick reaction to each region.

Who runs your office pool? It is estimated that March Madness costs employers between $1.4 billion and $3.8 billion in lost productivity per year.

East Region – Ohio State, as much as I hate to say it, deserved the top seed in the tournament.  The Buckeyes lost just two games all season, both on the road against highly ranked teams (Wisconsin and Purdue).  They easily won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and have played well all season.Georgia is lucky to be in the tournament and lucky to be a 10 seed. Many people thought the Bulldogs were squarely on the bubble.  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as one of the first 4 teams to miss the tournament. By handing Georgia a 10 seed, the Committee tells everyone that Georgia made the tournament easily. Georgia deserved being in the tournament (they have an RPI of 46 and a strength of schedule of 43) but a 10 seed was generous.

I am surprised that University of Alabama-Birmingham and Clemson both made the tournament. Both teams were on the bubble.  Joe Lunardi had UAB as one of the first four out, and Clemson as one of the last 4 in, I think it should have been the other way around.  UAB had a very good season, going 22-8 and winning the Conference USA regular season title. The Blazers enter the tournament with an RPI of 31. Clemson finished 21-11 and had an RPI of 55.  Either or both could have easily missed the tournament.

The East is top-heavy.  The top 4 seeds (Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky) are all capable of winning this region and the tournament. The 5 seed – Xavier, could make a run.  My potential sleeper in the region is the 9 seed, Villanova.  Nova is just two seasons removed from a Final Four appearance and started this season 17-1.  While the Wildcats have disappeared in the second half of the season, they have the talent and the coaching to make some noise in the tournament.  They could just as easily lose to George Mason in the first round.

West RegionDuke deserved a number 1 seed, but being shipped to the West Region is hardly a reward for the Blue Devils.  As pointed out on the CBS selection special, Duke may have preferred a 2 seed in the East and potential games in Newark.  I think the Blue Devils earned their seed with their win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament championship game.

Can Duke defend its national title? San Diego State, UCONN and Texas stand in their way in the West Region.

San Diego State gets the 2 seed in the West, which is a reward for the Mountain West champions.  If they make it to the Sweet Sixteen, the Aztecs will get to play in front of a virtual home crowd in Anaheim. I am happy that the Committee didn’t seed SDSU lower simply because they aren’t from one of the “Power” conferences.

There are some tough teams in the West, UCONN just won 5 games in 5 days to win the Big East. Texas was #1 earlier this season. Arizona has tons of talent and won the Pac-10, and Tennessee is more talented than their record indicates. Temple is seeded too low at 7. Michigan, Tennessee and Penn State are  seeded too highly.

Lots of pundits are picking Oakland to upset Texas but I just don’t see that happening.  I think Missouri has the best chance of the double-digit seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Southwest Region – The Southwest is tough. Kansas could have easily been the #1 overall seed. Many predicted Notre Dame would be a 1 seed. Purdue finished 2nd in the Big Ten, Louisville made a run to the Big East title game.  Beyond the top 4, Georgetown has more talent than its 21-10 record indicates and Texas A&M could make a run.

Illinois got a gift with a 9 seed.  The Illini are 19-13 and finished 9-9 in the Big Ten.  How did they get a higher seed than Florida State who finished 21-10 and 11-5 in the ACC?

USC is extremely lucky to be in the tournament. USC has an RPI of 69, plays in a weak Pac-10 and finished the season 19-14. Their opponents in the First Four, VCU (23-11, RPI: 51) lost the Colonial Athletic Association title game to Old Dominion, which is probably what got them their bid. How did USC make it over Colorado or Virginia Tech? Colorado had a better record (20-13), better RPI (66) and wins over Kansas State (3 times) and  Missouri. Virginia Tech also had a better record (21-11), RPI (60) and wins over Duke and Florida State (2 times). USC being in the tournament is a surprise.

GO BU!

The 16 seed in the West are the Boston University Terriers.  Get ready to be surprised America. The first 16 over 1 upset in tournament history is about to happen.  Mark it down!

Southeast Region – The Southeast Region is the easiest region of the four. Pittsburgh has a clear path to the Final Four. The 2 seed, Florida, is overrated. Charles Barkley says it is so, and I agree. BYU earned a 2 seed but the Selection Committee snubbed the Cougars.  Many of the other teams in the Southeast are also overrated – Wisconsin at 4, Kansas State as 5 and St. John’s at 6.

While I believe Kansas State and St. John’s are overrated, both have the talent to make some noise in the tournament.  Perhaps this potential is what the Selection Committee used when assigning K State and St. John’s their seeds. Kansas State was a preseason top 5 pick, and seem to have found themselves late in the season following a midseason swoon.  St. John’s has wins over Notre Dame, Duke, UCONN and Pitt, so the Johnnies certainly have the ability to win the big game. On the flip side, St. John’s has also lost games to Fordham and St. Bonaventure.  The Red Storm are unpredictable. They could make a run to the Sweet 16 or they could lose to Gonzaga in their first game.

Gonzaga (11) and Utah State (12) are seeded lower than expected. Joe Lunardi had the Zags and the Aggies as 9 seeds.  Utah State finished the season 30-3 with an RPI of 18 yet is a 13 seed! Come on Selection Committee!

Belmont is getting a lot of press as a potential giant killer.  I could see that upset happening as Wisconsin is a weak 4 seed, and Belmont played both Tennessee and Vanderbilt close during the season. The Bruins lost to Tennessee by just 1 point back in December.

St. Mary's will be playing in the NIT, but should b in the field of 68.

Biggest snub: St. Mary’s – The Gaels finished the season ranked 48 in the RPI with a 25-8 record.  They tied Gonzaga for first place in the West Coast Conference and have a win of St. John’s and Gonzaga, as well as a 1 point loss to BYU. St. Mary’s has shown that it is capable of playing with the big boys and certainly deserved to make the field of 68 more than USC or VCU.

The Field of 68… Or How Will This Affect My Bracket

A mock 68 team bracket. From CBS Sports.

Yesterday afternoon the NCAA announced its new plan for an expanded 68 team NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. Their decision and its timing were both shrewd maneuvers by the NCAA. They chose to announce their new plan during one of the two days a year without majors sports, and they chose to blend the two most popular potential formats for the newly dubbed “first round.” One of the most popular formats would have had the 8 lowest seeded, automatic qualifiers (teams from small conferences such as America East, Big Sky, NEC and MEAC) play 4 games to determine who would be the 16 seeds. This would have expanded on the current “opening round” format, as the two lowest seeded teams currently play for the right to be the last 16 seed. Under this scenario, at-large teams would benefit the most. More spots would be available, taking teams off the bubble. The other format suggested was to have the last 8 at-large teams play for the right to be the final 4 at-large teams in the tournament. In all likelihood, the teams that won these games would have been slotted in as 11 or 12 seeds.

By choosing to blend the two formats, the NCAA avoided thoroughly angering both the large conferences and the small conferences. If the NCAA had chosen either format, there would have been backlash from the conferences affected. I believe that if the smaller schools and conferences were forced to contest all of the play-in games we could have seen a repeat of lawsuits and potential Congressional interference similar to the what is taking place with the BCS. In forcing 4 of the lowest seeded teams to play for 16 seeds, the NCAA is hoping to create better match-ups in what has now been renamed the 2nd round (previously the first round, I know this is getting confusing). Basically, ever team between 11/12 (wherever the NCAA decides to put the at-large play-in winners) and 16 will be seeded 2 slots lower than they would have in the previous format. This should lead to better match-ups between the lowest seeded teams and their higher seeded counterparts. If the NCAA had chosen to make the at-large teams play all 4 play-ins, the power conferences would have been up in arms and several important fan-bases would have been angered. Since in the end, this is all about money the NCAA did not want to anger fans of teams that sell a lot of tickets. The decision to make the last 4 at-large teams play for the last 2 at-large spots does create come compelling basketball between middling teams from the power conferences. The standard of basketball will likely be higher in these games than in the games between the future 16 seeds, and in theory, the winners will be better teams providing better match-ups for the higher seeded team waiting to play them. One positive I could see about the new format is that mid-majors could benefit.  With the last four at-large teams playing, perhaps a few mid-majors might sneak into the tournament by winning the play-in games.

While, on the surface this might seem like a perfect compromise, I think the NCAA chickened out with this decision. While the early indication is that coaches seem to like the compromise, I think the play-in games (or as the NCAA has now dubbed them, the First Four) should have been between the last 8 at-large teams. This would have produced the most compelling basketball, and would have ensured the best television ratings for the NCAA. Since it is all about money, and television rights are the largest source of that money, why wouldn’t you want to make the best match-ups in the play-in games? I also think that the NCAA penalizes the small schools with this decision, assuring that one more school from a small conference will not see the full-fledged tournament. If the NCAA doesn’t want to include the smaller conferences, then there should be some restructuring of the divisions. Perhaps the smallest Division I conferences should be a new Division I-AA, similar to football. Given that there are over 300 teams that play Division I basketball, this could be a workable solution. Nobody seems to be unhappy with the current division of NCAA football (I’m not saying football is perfect, there should be a playoff).

Short of a landscape changing new order, I say let in the small schools. If they win their conference championship, why not allow them to compete against the other conference champions for the overall NCAA title? We don’t relegate the weakest division or conference champions in professional sports to play-in status. If we did that, the NBA Eastern conference would almost never make it to the NBA Finals and the 82-80 San Diego Padres from 2005 would not have made the playoffs. Instead of penalizing the small schools, I say make the bubble teams work for it. As I mentioned before, this would produce more compelling games and would mean that the small teams still get their one moment in the limelight. The middling teams from power conferences bound for the play-in games had all season to show they were worthy of making the tournament and weren’t quite up to that task. While these teams are undoubtedly better than the conference winners from the smaller conferences, they are just as unlikely to win the NCAA title. As Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said to ESPN, “I always thought it should be the last four in. I think if you’re one of those teams, you ought to just be happy to be in.’’  I wholeheartedly agree with this comment.

As for the bracket ramifications, it will make running the office pool infinitely more difficult. With teams being selected late Sunday and the First Four games taking place on Tuesday or Wednesday, the amount of time to fill out the bracket is cut in half. It will also make the bracket much more complicated visually and will lead the casual fan into utter confusion. I can already see my co-workers missing picks and scratching their heads as they try to fill out their bracket. Many of my co-workers had a difficult time filling out the bracket in its previous format, I can only imagine the chaos that will ensue.