March 20, 2013
The best tournament of the year is under way. I’ve already filled out my NCAA Tournament bracket – thrown it away – and filled out a new one. But I don’t like this one either. Time to start over and make a final attempt. But before I do, there are a few things I’m going to keep in mind.
A No. 5 seed is going down. You can take that to the bank. The hard part is figuring out which one it will be. UNLV looks like the obvious choice because they have a rematch with Cal and it’s only about an hour away from the Bears’ campus. VCU could be in trouble if Akron wasn’t going to play without their star point guard. So the Oklahoma State Cowboys better be on upset alert because they have to play an Oregon team that is better than its 12 seed.
We also know that there is probably going to be a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. Some of the best candidates are Colorado, Bucknell, Oregon, Middle Tennessee St., Minnesota, and Iowa St. Look for two of these teams to make it to the second weekend. It’s Bucknell and Iowa St. in my bracket.
The Mountain West Conference will have a good showing. Five teams got in (New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego St., Colorado St. and Boise St.) and all five will win at least one game..starting with the Broncos on Wednesday night. The SEC, on the other hand, will struggle to find a W. Florida should get one but that could be it.
The key to a successful bracket is to avoid picking teams to make a deep run and then they fall to an early-round upset. That’s going to be tough this year with how even the field appears to be. Here’s one team to avoid in each region…Florida, Syracuse, Ohio State and Duke.
All four No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four just one time in history. Don’t expect it to happen again this year. Which top team will make it to Atlanta? The last nine national champs have had blue for a school color so I will take Gonzaga and Kansas to win their regions. I’ll take St. Louis to shock the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals and win the Midwest. And if I’m sticking with blue then I guess its Marquette out of the East Region. And I better be right. I can’t afford another finish at the bottom of the office pool or I’m the one that’s going to be blue.
March 19, 2013
NCAA March Madness is officially upon us as our minds, and our desks, are now cluttered with a plethora of brackets.
With bragging rights on the line for the next year, selecting the perfect upsets along the way play a huge factor in the end result.
Everyone loves an underdog and this year the field of 68 is as wide open as it’s ever been. Say what you want in regards to the way the NCAA governs college athletics, the NCAA basketball tournament is the cat’s meow.
The parity in men’s college basketball is gorgeous and the look of Cinderella has now changed. No longer does a Cinderella have to have a lower seed or be from a small conference. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
This article highlights one Cinderella in each region and the results may surprise. No, as a No. 1 seed Gonzaga is not one of them. They have graduated from the Cinderella ranks over the past decade. So too has Butler, so don’t be confused when they don’t make the list. These two schools are the exemplary models of what is right in college basketball.
With that being said, let’s find out just which schools look to become the darlings of the college basketball world.
The South Region: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Surprise, surprise, a team from the Big Ten, which was the best conference in the country, ends up as a Cinderella in the tournament. Don’t be.
After a strong start to their season and a favorable ranking in the national polls, the Minnesota Golden Gophers stumbled to a 20-12 record. Their biggest win of the season against then No. 1 Indiana is what punched their ticket to the dance.
Even with an 11 seed, the Golden Gophers aren’t to be taken lightly in the tournament. They have a skilled big man in Trevor Mbakwe, a talented point guard in Andre Hollins and an all-world flyer in Rodney Williams. When they are focused on the task at hand, they are as difficult to beat as any team in the country.
Their first game is up against UCLA, and with a victory they would most likely face the Florida Gators. This isn’t putting the horse before the cart, but the Golden Gophers are capable of beating both of these teams.
Remember, a trip to the Sweet 16 and a Cinderella is born. Think twice before you write-off Minnesota.
The East Region: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Yes, the UNLV Rebels are ranked a No. 5 seed, but everyone will be rooting for them in less than a week.
They finished the season third in a Mountain West Conference that received five nods from the committee this March. The conference is a prime example of why college basketball is tough across the board. The respect earned by the Mountain West this season is phenomenal.
UNLV is a scrappy team that has one of the best freshmen in the land. Anthony Bennett is a name that fans from sea to shining sea will be talking about soon enough. He averaged 16.1 points/game this season to go along with 8.1 rebounds.
Long forgotten on the college hoops scene no more, UNLV will be rolling.
The West Region: Wichita State Shockers
That means that they’ll be the most rested team in the tournament. Another bonus, foul trouble doesn’t affect them like it would many others. That kind of depth gives the advantage to the Shockers, especially in a situation where overtime may occur.
They’re a true team where every kid on the team is an intricate piece to the puzzle. They’re a team that outsiders can easily become fond of quickly.
The Midwest Region: St. Louis Billikens
Though they may be a No. 4 seed, the St. Louis Billikens are a real Cinderella. They took the A-10 Conference over the likes of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler this season.
How did they do so when it seems they just came into the national spotlight?
Well, for starters they won 15-of-16 to end the season, which earned them such a pleasant seed. They beat ranked VCU and Butler all four times they played them this season.
They also beat New Mexico, who just so happens to be the No. 3 seed in the West Region this season.
To put it lightly—they fear none. A Sweet 16 victory over the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals would prove that last statement. Don’t be surprised when that happens.
March 12, 2013
College basketball’s player of the year race is starting to heat up. In this wide open season where we’ve seen top 5 teams go down almost every week, the Wooden Award Watch has also been sent into a frenzy. We’ve seen so many teams picked to finish in the middle or the bottom of their conference rise above expectations. This parity has put names on the Wooden Award Watch that nobody saw coming.
With that, here are my top 5 players (in order) that could take home player of the year honors:
Victor Oladipo- Indiana
His incredible quickness helps him do so many different things for the Hoosiers. Oladipo is one of the best I’ve seen at turning defense into offense. He averages 14.0 ppg, 2.1 assists, 6 rebounds and 2.3 steals and to top it off, he is shooting 63% from the floor. His play has been so consistent it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him at this point.
Otto Porter- Georgetown
The Hoyas swingman rises to the occasion in big games. Porter scored 33 points in a win at Syracuse, and scored 21 of his 22 points in the second half of a double-overtime win against Connecticut. Porter shoots 51% from the floor and averages 16.6 points. 2.5 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. The Hoyas have won 11 in a row, and Porter is averaging 19.2 ppg in the last 13 games. In other words, he single handedly took the Hoyas to the top of the Big East.
Rodney McGruder- Kansas St.
The Kansas State senior guard is averaging 14.9 ppg and 5.3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.3 steals. This play by McGruder has helped the Wildcats win 5 in a row and take over 1st in the Big 12.
Deshaun Thomas- Ohio St.
In the toughest conference in the country, the junior forward has averaged 19.8 ppg, 1.3 assists, and 6.1 rebounds. This consistency, along with Thomas’ 84.5 free throw shooting has helped the Buckeyes win 4 of their last 5, putting them 2nd in the Big Ten.
Marcus Smart- Oklahoma St.
The freshman guard is averaging 14.6 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals. Smart does it all for the Cowboys, who have now won 10 of their past 11, with their only loss coming against Kansas in double overtime. They now sit just one game behind Kansas and Kansas St. in the Big 12.
I would be in shock if one of these 5 didn’t win player of the year. Even with the conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, these are the top guys in the top conferences in the nation. I can’t wait to see how these guys perform down the stretch in the race for a national championship.
February 12, 2013
Right now, the entire state of Indiana is once again thriving as the basketball capital of the world. Sure, basketball may not have been born in Indiana, but the state is the heart and soul of the game.
It’s not that basketball ever left the state, but the attention did for quite some time. After Reggie Miller retired from the Indiana Pacers and Bobby Knight was removed as head coach of the University of Indiana Hoosiers, the correlation of Indiana and the game of basketball became seemingly forgotten about. For what seems to be a lifetime in basketball years, Indiana was a second-class citizen
Then, the small school of Butler forged their way into the national spotlight. The Bulldogs became the Cinderella team for two consecutive years in 2010-11, making the Final Four, but coming up just short in the national final in both years.
Butler missed out on the Madness last season, but is currently ranked No. 11 in the country with a 20-4 record and will undoubtedly be dancing once again this season.
Notre Dame is also ranked at the moment and the University of Purdue is around .500, but considering they play in the ultra-tough B1G Conference a strong finish to the season could mean a ticket to the dance.
While these teams are definitely on the college basketball radar, it’s the Hoosiers who bring the state such recognition. While it’s been tough for any college team to solidify themselves as the No. 1 overall team, the Hoosiers are as good as any team in the country.
Head coach Tom Crean has officially put the Hoosiers and the state of Indiana back on the map. It took Crean four years to bring the school back to prominence, but now they are a favorite to win it all.
Regardless of who wins it all this season, there’s a great chance that a team from the state of Indiana will be around late in the tournament.
On the NBA front, the Indiana Pacers are an up-and-coming superpower too
Heading into this season, the Pacers were in the discussion for playoff contention. Now, with the All Star Game just around the corner, they have positioned themselves as legitimate title contenders.
The Pacers may be near the bottom of the entire NBA in scoring at 92.8 points/game, but it’s their stingy defense that makes them tough to topple. The only allow 90.2 points/game and are the league’s best rebounding team. A similar historical team to compare them to is the Detroit Pistons of a decade ago. The Pistons didn’t have the best offense, but they won with defense. The Pacers could be that team of this generation.
What’s most impressive about the Pacers is that they’ve been winning without Danny Granger, their best player who is sidelined with a knee injury for the entire season to this point.
Their current record of 31-21 is third best in the Eastern Conference. Granger is set to come back soon which should boost their scoring. All young NBA teams need to learn to win on the road and the Pacers are only 11-16 thus far, but that means they only have 14 road games left. A realistic goal would be to go 7-7 in those games and give them some road confidence heading into the playoffs.
In any event, they aren’t to be taken lightly and have made themselves a factor.
In total, the state of Indiana is thriving because of their favorite pastime of basketball. Regardless of where you’re from, this is great to see. In short, it simply brings the best out of the game.
January 11, 2013
Just about halfway through the college basketball season, we are beginning to find out who’s for real and who’s a pretender. After Arizona’s loss Thursday night to Oregon, there are only two more teams left undefeated; Duke and Michigan. Now were going to party like it’s 1992. Yes it’s been a little over 20 years since Duke played Michigan for the national title, with the “Fab 5” as freshmen. For Duke, almost nothing has changed, Mike Krzyzewski is still the head coach, and Duke is number 1 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor, pretty much everything has changed. The only slight similarity is the youth movement that features a starting 5 with 2 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The Big Ten has officially dethroned the Big East as college basketball’s top conference, and the ACC is having a down year without Florida State and North Carolina in the top 25. That being said, the Blue Devils will have to beat themselves to lose the ACC.
With that I give you the marquee matchups this weekend in college hoops:
1. Duke (15-0) (2-0 ACC) at 20. North Carolina State (13-2) (2-0 ACC) Saturday 12 noon (ESPN)
The Blue Devils are without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Blue Devils don’t have the depth to replace a guy who averages 13.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG. The Wolfpack are balanced with 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring. Mark Gottfried’s club also ranks 1st in field goal percentage. Duke will have no answer for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell on the interior. Prediction: Duke-69 NC State- 73
8. Minnesota (15-1) (3-0 Big Ten) at 5. Indiana (14-1) (2-0 Big Ten) Saturday 12 noon (BTN)
Since their lone loss to Duke on November 22nd, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers have won 11 in a row including two big conference wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Indiana has won their last 5 since losing to Butler. The Gopher’s Andre Hollins may be the best point guard in the country. That in combination with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the post is too much for the Hoosiers. The Gophers will do it by committee to pull the upset at Assembly Hall. Prediction: Minnesota-67 Indiana-63
2. Michigan (16-0) (3-0 Big Ten) at 15. Ohio State (12-3) (2-1 Big Ten) Sunday 1:30 (CBS)
There hasn’t been this much excitement in Ann Arbor since the “Fab 5”. The Wolverines have 4 guys averaging over 12 points per game. Their backcourt is the best in nation with Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Big Blue’s frontcourt is also scary with two fabulous freshmen in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. This balance will be too much for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 12th in turnovers per game while the Wolverines are 2nd. The Buckeyes will struggle to find high percentage shots and Michigan’s depth will dominate from start to finish. Prediction: Michigan-66 Ohio State-58.