March 18, 2014

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Let The Madness Begin

By: Joe Williams

We are just minutes away from the opening tip of the NCAA Turnament (although, to me it still doesn’t start until Thursday). I’ve already filled out my bracket – thrown it away – filled out a new one – used white out to make some changes – and thrown that one away too. 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.

NCAA Tournament bracket

We try to help you avoid pitfalls as you fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket.

1) A No. 5 seed is going down

You can take that to the bank. Three 12 seeds advanced last year. If you can figure out which one it will be your bracket will look that much better. The obvious pick this year is St. Louis who has lost four straight. They will be taking on a team that has already got a tournament win under its belt (Xavier or N.C. State) and will be feeling good. But that doesn’t mean the other 5 seeds should feel comfortable. Especially you, Oklahoma.

2) A double-digit seed is likely to make the Sweet 16

Some of the best candidates this year are Tennessee, St. Joseph’s, Nebraska, and Stanford. I’m taking Tennessee to get it done. Assuming of course that they catch Duke on a cold-shooting day. (This could be wishful thinking on my part….I was assigned the Vols in a prize pool).

3) Beware of the Mountain West

The Mountain West Conference had a poor showing in 2013 and only got two teams in the field this year. But those two teams (New Mexico and San Diego St.) will pick up at least five wins in 2014.

4) Don’t play the fool

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…Syracuse, Villanova, Duke, and Wisconsin.

5) #1’s aren’t always safe

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 go down first? Which will win its region? Florida seems to be a pretty good bet to win the South. All three of the other top seeds could face some pretty difficult opponents. Especially Wichita St. Look for the Shockers to be the first top team to be shocked in the tournament.

April 8, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Louisville vs. Michigan in NCAA title game: Tonight Louisville will take on Michigan for the NCAA basketball championship. With March Madness coming to a close, it’s been an exciting tournament to say the least. Wichita State, a No. 9 seed reached the Final Four. Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered a terrible and potentially career-ending injury. And tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocked the world, reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed. With one game left, I’ll stick with my bracket pick and go with Louisville to win it all. Michigan has been on an impressive run in the tournament, beating a slew of very good teams but the Cardinals haven’t lost a game since early February. My guess is that Rick Pitino wins his first title at Louisville on Monday.

Former 49ers QB Alex Smith will meet his former team in Week 2 of the Preseason.

NFL preseason schedule set: The NFL released its preseason schedule this past week. While there are plenty of intriguing matchups, my favorite might be the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. That, of course, will pit former Niners quarterback Alex Smith against his former team. The bad news is that since it’s only Week 2, Smith’s action could be limited in the game against San Francisco since coaches typically shorten the play of their starters. But one reason Smith may play a bit more than normal is because he’ll still be learning the offense and needs all the practice he can get. Regardless of how long he plays, though, the game is sure draw a lot of attention.

Dwyane Wade could sit out until playoffs: Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade has been sidelined with a knee injury and word broke this past week that the guard could miss the team’s remaining regular season games. At 60-16, Miami has only six games left. The problem for the Heat, though, is that Wade has been out since the end of March, missing the team’s last four games. If he can’t play in the next six, that would be a significant break from game action for him. Miami should be able to win its first round playoff series even with a subpar Wade, but it’s not an ideal situation as the champs prepare to defend their title.

Yu Darvish just misses perfection: At this stage in the season, pitchers are generally ahead of hitters. Still, what Yu Darvish nearly accomplished was pretty impressive. The Texas Rangers pitcher took a perfect game into the ninth inning and after recording the first two outs, he was as close as you can get to perfection. But the next batter, Marwin Gonzalez, singled up the middle to break it up. Losing a no-hitter is one thing, but losing a perfect game is another. There have been nearly 300 no hitters, but only 23 perfect games in Major League Baseball history. Darvish was agonizingly close to joining an elite group.

Darrelle Revis and Jets still at odds: Cornerback Darrelle Revis could be traded any day now, but that doesn’t mean the New York Jets are willing to let him sit back and relax. According to ESPN, the team is reportedly insisting he participate in the team’s offseason conditioning program to begin in the middle of this month. The move sounds ludicrous as Revis isn’t likely to be playing for the Jets this fall, and could thus be a huge distraction. But if you’re not expecting him to show up, think again. Revis is due to collect a $3 million bonus for showing up. His contract states that he would forfeit money if he fails to participate in offseason events – even non-mandatory ones. The chances are slim that Revis isn’t participating if he’s still a member of the team.

Mike Rice fired as Rutgers coach: Rutgers’ basketball program took a bit of a hit this week when it was announced that head coach Mike Rice was fired after video surfaced of him berating and being physically abusive towards players. The video also cost athletic director Tim Pernetti his job. The move will surely mean more scrutiny of college coaches and their behavior toward athletes. And in the end, that’s a good thing. Much was made of the fact that the players didn’t complain about the rough practices, but then again, it’s easy to understand why. No kid that’s worked his entire life to earn a scholarship and play basketball at the highest level would want to risk that by speaking up. It’s a shame that it took so long, but firing Rice was the right move in my opinion.

April 9, 2012

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A Q&A With ESPN’s Joe Lunardi

By: Anson Whaley

As ESPN’s resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi has become a household name every year when March Madness rolls around. With the tournament having recently ended, Joe had some time to answer our questions about the NCAAs. Be sure to check out Joe’s page over at ESPN for his tournament updates and projections throughout the year. His first 2013 bracket will be out on Friday, April 13th.

You’re the biggest bracket guy maybe in the history of the NCAA Tournament. So I’ve got to ask, do you fill out a bracket yourself? If so, how do you typically fare?

Of course I do a bracket (for amusement only!). ESPN.com uses it for all kinds of things, plus I enter contests at home and in the office. Most years I have a respectable finish, but rarely win. Maybe it’s like the tournament itself, where the so-called “favorites” rarely win (Kentucky notwithstanding!).

While the favorite rarely wins the tournament (or their bracket pool), Kentucky added another banner to Rupp Arena this season.

Nearly everyone knows you as ESPN’s Bracketologist, but you’re also the Assistant Vice President of Marketing Communications and provide commentary during games at your alma mater, St. Joe’s. I always think the A-10 Conference is a bit underrated on a national scale. Following basketball and interacting with people around the country, do you ever get that sense?

I think the perception of the A-10 is appropriate and positive. The league wants to be known as the best basketball-only conference in the country, and the data over time bears that out. Aside from a blip in 2005, the Atlantic 10 has consistently been a multi-bid league with a number of schools –  Temple, UMass, Saint Joseph’s and Xavier — having stretches in the national spotlight. Losing Temple to the Big East in 2013 will certainly hurt, but I’m hearing very good things about potential replacement(s).

During the season on your ESPN page, you post your weekly bracket updates. It gets even more maddening the week leading up to the tournament when you have daily updates. But with recruiting, transfers, injuries … all of those things can play into how a team is seeded. So this is really like a year-round job to some degree, correct?

It’s become a year-round fascination, to be sure, but nothing like the non-stop attention from the end of the Super Bowl until Selection Sunday. I literally could update the bracket every 20 minutes during that time and people still couldn’t get enough. And it’s almost amusing that I’m now getting several messages a day suggesting that we are “late” (or “lazy”) in posting the first bracket for 2013. Well that’s coming on Friday, a couple days after the deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft. Not much point in doing a bracket before then.

In a typical season, about how many games do you watch?

Less than you might think. The TV is never off, but the number of times I sit still and watch a game uninterrupted is probably no more than 50. What I do non-stop is track scores and schedules, then, in the many cases in which individual results deviate from expectations, I go back and read game summaries and box scores. The S-Curve is updated constantly, even if the public bracket is not.

This year, I believe your only miss in your final projection was on Seton Hall. The Pirates being left out with 20 wins playing in the Big East was a bit of a surprise for me. What did you see in them that made you think they would get the nod over Iona, who was eventually the team that made the field?

It was an educated guess, nothing more. I personally would not have voted for Seton Hall as the Pirates tailed off badly down the stretch. My prediction was based upon what I thought the Selection Committee would do. My own vote for “last team in” would have gone to Drexel, which really had little chance given its strength of schedule numbers.

Bigger 15-seed upset this year: Lehigh beating Duke or Norfolk State beating Missouri?

Probably Norfolk State, as the performance gap between the Spartans and Missouri was a good bit wider than that between Lehigh and Duke.

With so many college players to watch, I’ve always wondered if you’re a big NBA fan? Do you follow them into the pros or are you too focused on the next crop of young talent coming into the NCAA?

Medium. While I do pay attention to players I’ve personally covered or gotten to know (usually from the Atlantic 10), for the most part the NBA is a non-factor for me. For one, most players of impact in college are not immediate regulars in the NBA (which is a separate problem in terms of sustaining fan interest from one level to the next). And, two, I usually take a “basketball break” after the NCAA tournament to spend time with my family and at my “regular” job. I am a huge baseball fan and also love the NHL playoffs, so it’s more likely my TV is tuned in those directions in April, May and June.

March 22, 2012

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Elite Eight Predictions (Part 1)

By: Junior

The NCAA Tournament is back underway tonight and we will find out the first 4 teams going to the Elite 8. These games have your expected #1 seeds in Syracuse and Michigan State as well as #6 Cincinnati and #7 Florida making it further than I suspect most people had them going in their bracket. In this post I will look to predict the unpredictable and pick the winners of tonight’s games.

Wisconsin vs. Syracuse

The first of 3 Big Ten vs. Big East matchups tonight, showing how well both conferences have been doing in the tournament so far. Syracuse has continued to play dominant despite not having Fab Melo for the entire NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin showed how good they can be by beating a Vanderbilt team many people saw as a dangerous draw in this tournament. While Wisconsin has 9 losses on season, 7 came against ranked teams, and the other 2 came against Iowa, who clearly gave them matchup problems. Syracuse is a long, up-tempo team that likes to push the ball and get quick points. Wisconsin is your typical Bo Ryan team, stressing tough defense and rebounding. While Syracuse is the favorite in this game, I like Wisconsin in the upset.

Louisville will look to avenge a loss to Michigan State that kept them from the Final Four in 2009.

Louisville vs. Michigan State

This game will be dominated by two coaches who know what it takes  to win in the NCAA Tournament. Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo have been to the NCAA Tournament a combined 30 times, making the Final Four 11 times and both having won a National Championship. Michigan State has had a pretty easy road thus far as a number one seed, but both teams had a scare last round. Louisville beat New Mexico 59-56, while Michigan State needed a late run to put away St. Louis, 65-61. These two teams met in 2009 in the Elite Eight, with Michigan State winning that game 64-52. While these two teams are very different than in 2009, I still think Michigan State will win this game and send the Cardinals home sooner than they were hoping.   

Cincinnati vs. Ohio State
Cincinnati wrecked a lot of brackets (including my own) when they upset Florida State on Sunday. They would shock even more people if they continued their streak with a win against Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the season with high expectations, being ranked 3rd overall in the nation. Having to battle in the Big Ten, the toughest conference in basketball this season in my opinion, gave them a few more losses than predicted, but made them a tougher team to beat. The Bearcats will gladly accept that challenge, having beat tough teams such as Marquette and Syracuse earlier this season. However, I do think Ohio State will be going to the Elite Eight, but not without a fight.

Florida vs. Marquette

While there is no Big Ten team in this game, the Big East has yet another team playing tonight in Marquette. Marquette can score at will, averaging almost 76 ppg. Florida hasn’t been finding it hard to score either, putting up 84 in their last game against Norfolk State. Florida has 10 losses on the year, but 5 came against Top 3 opponents, so Marquette will have their hands full.  Florida has won both of their NCAA Tournament games in blowout fashion, while Marquette had a big win in the first round, and a 9 point victory in their last game. That being said, Florida’s opponents were much easier in my opinion and I think Marquette is the final Elite Eight team decided tonight.

March 14, 2012

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March Madness: 1 Sleeper Team from Each Region

By: Matt Bowen

By now you’re sitting around with only one thing on your mind—your bracket. With only hours before the meat and potatoes of the tournament tips off, you’re trying to finalize your decisions and put your mind at ease.

You’ve been in this situation before, you know there will be upsets, but you can’t put your finger on it this year.  There are always a few sleeper teams who seemingly appear out of thin air and become the darlings of the nation. The sleeper teams are the ones that make or break your bracket. They either give you a sense of pride or have you hanging your head in embarrassment for an entire year.

So as you flip-flop between picks, do yourself a favor, keep these teams in mind:

South Region: Wichita State Shockers

Sure, at 27-5 the Wichita State Shockers may not appear to be a big sleeper, but anyone who’s ever completed a bracket knows that picking the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups can be some of the most nerve-racking.

The Shockers will play the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams in their first game. VCU was last year’s Cinderella, which many will put into effect for this season. Don’t be fooled, as the Shockers are the ones that’ll advance. They have plenty of experience with six seniors and an NIT Championship last season.

Wichita State will advance to the Sweet 16 before losing to the Kentucky Wildcats.

West Region: Florida Gators

The Florida Gators should go into this year’s dance with a chip on their shoulder. How does a team ranked No. 19 before the tournament end up with a No. 7 seed? Good thing the Gators are the best No. 7 seed in this year’s tournament. Before you think they’re a fish out of water, the Gators will make it to the Elite 8.

The Gators face a Virginia Cavaliers team that’s in a downward spiral in their first game before they’ll have to most likely face the No. 2 seeded Missouri Tigers.

This is where they will make their mark and win respect. They’ll end up beating the Murray State Racers in the Sweet 16 before ultimately falling to the Michigan State Spartans.

Florida may have to go through #1 seed Michigan State if they want to make the Final Four.

 Midwest Region: California Golden Bears

The Pac-12 conference got no respect from the NCAA selection committee. The regular season conference winner Washington Huskies were left out in the cold, leaving only the Colorado Buffaloes and California Golden Bears to represent the conference.

The Golden Bears have some extra work to do, as they’ll be involved in one of the play-in games. California will have to beat the University of South Florida Bulls before they’re technically in the field of 64.

Regardless of what they have to do, they’ll get the job done, as they’ll be this year’s version of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, who made it all the way to the Final Four in 2011. After all, California is playing not for themselves, but the entire conference.

The Golden Bears won’t get as far as the Rams did in 2011, but they will turn some heads and reach the Sweet 16 before they lose to a tough North Carolina Tar Heels squad.

East Region: West Virginia Mountaineers

The West Virginia Mountaineers may have finished the regular season with a mediocre 19-13 record, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make a splash in the tourney.

The Mountaineers are slated as a No. 10 seed, which is always a good slot for a sleeper. They’ll handle the No. 7 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs with ease in their first game. Then they’ll take on the No. 2 seed Ohio State University Buckeyes, where their size will frustrate OSU until the final horn sounds.

The Mountaineers will then reach the Elite 8 by beating the Florida State Seminoles in the Sweet 16 on a buzzer-beater. Bust out your banjo—the Mountaineers will be dancing.