Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Remaining Picks

Before I get to my picks for the day, two quick things:

1) If you've not done so already, check out the tournament blog that Rick Majerus is doing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including his bracket picks. It pleases me every day to think that a national treasure like Majerus calls Milwaukee his home.

2) In high school notes, a fond farewell to coach George Haas, the always entertaining Tosa East coach whose retirement was announced by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning (nice of the Journal Sentinel to spell his name wrong, don't you think?). While I never had the talent or drive to actually play on a Haas coached team as a teenager in Tosa, you'd be hard-pressed to find any basketball-playing youngster in the area who didn't attend one of his Hart Park day camps as a youth. I know I can directly trace my love of the game directly to my days on the blacktop at Hart Park, and I can trace my high school nickname to an offhand comment made to me on one of those days by Haas. And while Haas may be remembered for his coaching of the stars mentioned in the Journal Sentinel piece, or his boisterous sideline demeanor, there's probably a lot of other guys out there like me, who suck at basketball, but found something entertaining to enjoy partially because of George Haas. Here's to a great retirement for a great guy.

On to my late round picks, or as I like to think of them, the picks for the time when I usually flame out. Again, winners are in italics.

Sweet 16 Games

Florida vs. Maryland: Here’s your best shot at an upset of a #1 seed in this round. I’m not brave enough to deal with the consequences if Maryland doesn’t pull the upset, though. So I’m sticking with the Gators, merely as a safety precaution. And because I'm a wimp.

Oregon vs. Wisconsin: Should this game actually occur, I will almost undoubtedly have some sort of stupid wager with my friend Austin, a huge Ducks fan. Because I don’t want to have to buy shots, or do something dumb like drink a glass of milk through my nose, I’m going with Wisconsin here and hoping like hell that I’m correct. Besides, Oregon’s got to run out of steam from their conference tourney run sometime.

Kansas vs. Southern Illinois: Southern Illinois has guys who play good basketball. Kansas has remarkably talented athletes who play good basketball. Give me the athletes in this one.

Duke vs. UCLA: Two storied programs, but only one deserving team here. Let’s recall that Duke’s only getting here because I have no faith in Pitt. UCLA keeps rolling along without skipping a beat...

North Carolina vs. Texas: People are way too high on the Longhorns just because Kevin Durant is playing like one of the greatest college basketball players ever. But while Durant may need to be mentioned when discussing the best seasons ever by a college basketball player, Texas isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen on hardwood. The Tar Heels will get the job done here, but it just as easily could have been a team without a #1 seed (which would have been a lot more interesting, I might add).

Vanderbilt vs. Georgetown: Let’s not lie–I don’t actually know that much about Vanderbilt, and probably only picked them to get this far because I like their basketball court. I’m not as high as most people on Georgetown, but I think they can dispose of the Commodores. Though I wouldn’t really know this for sure, since I know so little about Vanderbilt. Plus, I used to always get Vanderbilt and Villanova mixed up when I was a kid, so maybe Georgetown will as well and try to exact some revenge for that game they played in 1985.

Ohio State vs. Virginia: True, Virginia has really good guards, but Ohio State has a great guard and a great big man. I’ll take great over good any day.

Texas A&M vs. Nevada: Nevada met Memphis in the prior round of my bracket, meaning that there was going to be one team that didn’t play a schedule full of top-notch teams advancing to this round. The Wolfpack is that team, but this is going to be their third straight tough game, and I don’t think that they’ll be up to the task.

Elite Eight Games

Florida vs. Wisconsin: My heart’s telling me Wisconsin, but my head is telling me Florida. Since my head is probably healthier than my heart, given my tournament time diet, I’m taking the Gators.

Kansas vs. UCLA: How do you beat a team as rock-chock full (sweet pun, right?) of talent as the Jayhawks? Find a similarly talented team that plays tough defense, that’s how.

North Carolina vs. Georgetown: Could I make the same argument for Georgetown beating North Carolina that I did for UCLA beating Kansas? Sure, but I won’t because I'm remarkably inconsistent. Besides, while I might argue that Kansas has a more explosive starting five than North Carolina, North Carolina is about 25 players deep with high school all-Americans. The Hoyas will wilt by the eighth line change of the game.

Ohio State vs. Texas A&M: This is going to be a tight game, and in tight games, you need clutch players. Few players that I’ve seen this year are more clutch than Mike Conley. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Acie Law might be the most clutch guy in the universe. Book your tickets to the Final Four, Aggie fans.

National Semifinals

Florida vs. UCLA: I want to put UCLA in the finals. I really do. But I’m still trying to get over Jordan Farmar’s appearance in the Final Four last year with that ridiculous goatee of his. Farmar’s gone now, but I still can’t get his image out of my head. So, while it doesn’t actually make logical sense to me to pick Florida here, as I think the Gators are ripe for the picking, I’m going with them in the finals. (Yes, my picks do get more and more random as the rounds go on.)

North Carolina vs. Texas A&M: On one hand, you’ve got North Carolina, perhaps the most storied program in the history of college basketball with arguably the deepest talent in the tournament, and a hall-of-fame level coach. On the other hand, you’ve got a team that I’ve seen a couple of times on TV and fell in love with due to their ability to hang with other talented teams, and the fact that they’ve got a guy with a name that’s fun to pronounce (Antanas Kavaliauskas). Because I can’t go back on my prediction a month ago that Texas A&M was going to do big things, I’ve got to go with the Aggies.


Florida vs. Texas A&M: You know who Florida is? They’re that team that dropped a game earlier this year to a Glen Davis-free LSU team while in the midst of a brief stretch where they went 1-3. And they’re a team that everyone is afraid to pick against (see my pick vs. Maryland) because their experience and talent dictate that you’re a fool if you pick against them. I don’t love Florida, but I felt obligated to put them in the championship game. But I’m not letting them ruin my chance to pick a national champion. That would be Texas A&M, my team of destiny. Isn’t it about time we had some new blood taking home the trophy?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My First & Second Round Tourney Picks

It's tourney time, and everyone's making their picks for the office pool. I'm no exception, but rather than hide my picks from the world, I'm happy to share them openly. I find boldness to be a mistake when picking games in the tournament, so really, my bracket shouldn't have many mind-blowing upsets, as I tend not to deviate much from the seedings. After all, those guys on the selection committee know a lot more about basketball than I do. Besides, I had a good year picking games last year, so I'm bound to flame out in round one this year.

Thus, today I present to you my picks for the first weekend. Tomorrow I'll share the rest of my picks, so that those of you hoping to pirate the picks of a guy who hasn't even seen some of the 9-seeds play can have something to work with. But even if you steal my picks, I implore you to make at least one random pick of your own because you had an old girlfriend who went to New Mexico State that you really liked and want the Aggies to succeed, or because in college you roomed with a real jerk who's now in grad school at Purdue and you want them to lose. It's things like that that make the tournament fun for everyone.

Without further adieu, here are my picks (winner in italics):

Midwest Region, First Round

Florida vs. Jackson State: My only question is if the Gators are considered the #1 overall team in the tournament, why don’t the get to play the winner of that idiotic play-in game that’s going on tonight?

Arizona vs. Purdue: Arizona will run and run and run until Carl Landry collapses (or at least that would have been a great strategy two years ago, when wearing the Boilermakers' best player down was the surest path to victory). Matt Painter’s going to guide Purdue to lots of good times, but give him another year or two before the big things start happening.

Butler vs. Old Dominion: Butler could have fared better down the stretch, and lost both big, nationally televised games that guys like me can remember (Bracket Buster Saturday and the Horizon tourney finals). And I can’t pass up the irony of a mid-major like ODU knocking out the team that was one of the big mid-major darlings this year.

Maryland vs. Davidson: I think Maryland, if they’re firing on all cylinders, can blow just about any team in the country off the court. And if they’re not firing correctly, they’re still usually a tough out.

Notre Dame vs. Winthrop:
Yeah, I know Winthrop’s the hot mid-major upset pick (since the teams mid-majors that people really like actually have good seeds this year), but ND impressed me in their win against Marquette. And I’m always going to pick a team with a good wide-body big man (Luke Harangody).

Oregon vs. Miami (Ohio): If Miami had that guy with the sweet dreadlocks from a few years back, I’d think about picking them. Otherwise, Oregon rolled through the Pac-10 tourney, so I’m not picking against them.

UNLV vs. Georgia Tech: I don’t watch games after 10:30pm if they don’t involve either the Pac-10 or Gonzaga. UNLV is neither of those things, so as far as I’m concerned, the Runnin’ Rebels don’t exist. Call it a midwest bias, if you must, but I’ve actually seen Georgia Tech, and I don’t terribly mind them. (Watch these comments bite me in the ass if UNLV ends up eliminating Wisconsin from the tournament).

Wisconsin vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
: I was scared out of my mind when I saw the words "Texas A&M" next to Wisconsin in the initial bracket, since I figured that somehow the seeding committee had decided to simultaneously piss off all fans of Wisconsin and Texas A&M. Then I saw the "Corpus Christi" designation. As far as I know, Acie Law’s not pulling double duty, so I’ll give this one to the Badgers.

West Region, First Round

Kansas vs. Ridiculous Play-In Winner: I don’t need to explain why a 1-seed wins, so I’ll merely take this space to again reiterate how obnoxious I think it is that one team that won its conference tournament and earned a trip to play with the big boys will lose tonight’s play-in game and essentially get screwed out of playing in the real tournament so that a major conference team that has no realistic chance of winning a national championship (see: Arkansas) can play another game or two against the big-name opponents that it’s used to. I hope that Arkansas-USC game is good, because it’s costing 12 deserving young men the experience of a lifetime.

Kentucky vs. Villanova: This is more of a function of how much I loved Villanova last year. Now that their stable of guards is gone, I just can’t get into Mike Nardi, so I’m picking Kentucky, even though I’m not sure I’ve seen Tubby Smith’s team play this year.

Virginia Tech vs. Illinois: Tough to justify this one, as the Hokies faded down the stretch while the Illini ended the year pleasantly. Just chalk it up to the fact that while I’m a Big Ten guy, I’ve got lots of ACC envy.

Southern Illinois vs. Holy Cross: The Salukis seem to be in the tournament every year. They’re not at Gonzaga level, but they’re about as close as any mid-major is going to get. And they’ve got a legit seed, so let’s give them a round.

Duke vs. Virginia Commonwealth: Even as a guy who likes Duke, I recognize that this is a pretty terrible Duke team to watch (though I find myself liking Jon Scheyer, who I hated at the beginning of the year, more and more each day). They're just not a real likable bunch. But they’re Duke, so I’ll give them a win, just like the NCAA committee gave them a 6-seed.

Pittsburgh vs. Wright State: I’m not at all impressed by Pitt, but no Horizon League team that isn’t named UWM is pulling off an upset like this.

Indiana vs. Gonzaga: If Gonzaga’s best player was spending more time on the court than in court, you might be able to convince me that this one would work out differently, but Indiana’s just more legit.

UCLA vs. Weber State:
I always thought a good nickname for the Weber State athletic teams would be "The Fighting Webers." I’m not sure why I’ve thought this, but it’s sure more interesting than pretending like I know anything about them, or that UCLA won’t win this game.

East Region, First Round

North Carolina vs. Eastern Kentucky: I’ve been to the eastern part of Kentucky, and I’ve been to Chapel Hill. I’d only go back to one of those two places.

Marquette vs. Michigan State: Because Marquette’s two best players are currently injured (Jerel McNeal) and in a shooting slump (Dominic James), respectively, people lose sight of the fact that MU’s role players stepped up really big in the Big East tournament, with less help than usual from the usual suspects. Michigan State and Drew Neitzel are scary, but if just one of Marquette’s key guys can get back on track, look out for the Golden Eagles.

USC vs. Arkansas: There’s a small feeling in my gut that Arkansas takes this one, just to shove it in the faces of everyone who said they shouldn’t get in. But I liked the Pac-10 this year, and USC did okay for themselves there, so I have to go with the Trojans.

Texas vs. New Mexico State: Right now there’s a forward for New Mexico State who’ll someday be telling his kids that he held Kevin Durant to 34 points in a game once.

Vanderbilt vs. George Washington: My lasting memory of Vandy was them beating Florida, effectively facilitating Wisconsin’s move to #1 in the country, so I’ve got to take the Commodores here, as thanks for that help.

Washington State vs. Oral Roberts: Washington State just needs to win this one, if for no other reason than to show the world that Robbie Cowgill is the goofiest looking man in NCAA basketball.

Boston College vs. Texas Tech:
This is one of those games that I wish both teams could lose. I don’t like Texas Tech, but I don’t trust Boston College. And since I’d rather be disliked than not trusted, Texas Tech seems to be the pick here.

Georgetown vs. Belmont: I heard one commentator say that he thought Georgetown was the best #2 seed he’d ever seen. I think that’s over-selling the Hoyas a bit (one could argue that they’re not even the best #2 seed this year), but one thing is clear: they’re better than Belmont.

South Region, First Round

Ohio State vs. Central Connecticut State: I’m told that Greg Oden enjoys college and is thinking of coming back. While I don’t believe for a second that that’s true, I do think that Oden enjoys college enough that he’d like to remain a student for at least another week, and will help his teammates properly dispose of Central Connecticut State.

Xavier vs. BYU: I’ll be totally honest with you–I know nothing about either team aside from info about players that were there 10 years ago or more. But because I’m more familiar with Xavier’s recent successes, so I’ll take them.

Tennessee vs. Long Beach: Caution to anyone taking Tennessee, as Bruce Pearl’s style of play makes his teams capable of beating teams better than them, but also losing to teams that they have no business losing to. But I’ve got faith that the Vols will get out of the first round.

Virginia vs. Albany: This one’s just a simple case of me going for the bigger name.

Louisville vs. Stanford: Louisville didn’t look like a team that would make the tournament at the beginning of the year. Now they’ve played their way into a five seed. Can you say "peaking at the right time?"

Texas A&M vs. Penn: I love the Ivy League teams, I really do. But Texas A&M is my team of destiny this year. I love them, and they’re making a deep run. So I’m not letting the smart guys stand in their way.

Nevada vs. Creighton: Creighton’s a legit upset pick here, but I still think Nick Fazekas and company hold on.

Memphis vs. North Texas: I hate John Calipari, but you just don’t pick against a 2-seed in the first round.

Midwest Region, Second Round

Florida vs. Arizona: Arizona’s one of those teams that I loved watching this year, but I never actually seemed to see them win. Nor were they actually as good as I though they were at various intervals. I’ll admit that if an 8/9 seed takes down a 1, it’s happening here, but I still don’t think it’s happening.

Maryland vs. Old Dominion: Congrats on knocking off your mid-major brother Butler, ODU, but as I said, Maryland possesses the ability to blow anyone off the floor, and on this particular day, they’re going to be exercising that ability against you in one of the most lopsided games in the tourney.

Oregon vs. Notre Dame:
This is one of those games where I hate to pick against anyone, but Oregon’s on fire, so I’ll go with them. I also like ducks more than Irish people.

Wisconsin vs. Georgia Tech: The "Wisconsin is weaker than people think without Brian Butch" card has been way overplayed (and oddly enough, has been overplayed by a lot of the same people that love to label Butch as a bust). The Badgers are consistent enough that they’re not going to lose until they start seeing really high seeds. Plus, I really need them to win this one, as I’d like to make the road trip to St. Louis.

West Region, Second Round

Kansas vs. Kentucky: Again, I haven’t seen Kentucky play, but Kansas’s starting five is like an all-star team. And while all-star teams can’t seem to win in the Olympics anymore, they’re pretty good when they’re just playing against other schools.

Virginia Tech vs. Southern Illinois: I don’t want to be too high on the mid-major darlings this year, because they’re not surprising anyone, but Virginia Tech’s tournament resume was built at the beginning of the ACC season. And I was in attendance watching them get blown out by N.C. State just under a month ago. The Salukis take this one, not because they're some cute mid-major upset pick, but because they legitimately should win the game.

Duke vs. Pittsburgh: This is the bizarro Notre Dame-Oregon game. I think Duke’s over-seeded, and Pittsburgh’s overrated (which hurts to say, since Wisconsin and Marquette are both hanging their hats on wins against Pitt). If I could, I'd pick neither to win. Pitt’s probably still better than Duke, but what the hell, I kind of want to see the Panthers lose, so I’ll take Duke.

Indiana vs. UCLA: I think UCLA can compete for a spot in the finals, but this is going to be one of their tougher games along the way. Don’t be shocked by an Indiana upset, but if the Bruins get by, they’ll make a deep run.

East Region, Second Round

North Carolina vs. Marquette: I heard one talking head say that Marquette is a great upset pick here, since UNC has trouble with good guards, of which Marquette has many. This overlooks the fact that it’s pretty much blatantly unfair to let UNC throw Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright at Ousmane Barro and Dwight Burke. Carolina wins this one if neither of the Heels’ big men get arrested for abusing their opponents before the final buzzer.

Texas vs. USC: I’m not totally sold on Texas, but I’m similarly not sold on USC. And since I want to see Kevin Durant play at least one more collegiate game, I’m picking the Longhorns.

Vanderbilt vs. Washington State: Here’s the thing–I know Washington State’s good, and I know Tony Bennett’s brand of ball works well, but they never won for me when I stayed up late to watch them. So out of spite for the sleep that I lost in hopes of seeing some quality basketball, I’m picking Vanderbilt.

Texas Tech vs. Georgetown: Let’s be honest–Georgetown’s mowing down whoever their second round opponent is, and Texas Tech isn’t much of a foe, even with the services of Tyler Hoffmeister, winner of Knight School.

South Region, Second Round

Ohio State vs. Xavier: Thad Matta finds himself a little uncomfortable facing the team that he left behind, but fortunately for him, Mike Conley has ice water in his veins, and disposes of the Musketeers fairly easily.

Tennessee vs. Virginia: Legitimately could go either way, and I can’t even pick one that I like better based on basketball factors. Since Virginia is far and away the better academic school, I’m going to have to go with them.

Louisville vs. Texas A&M: Louisville’s playing well, but A&M is my team of destiny. And I don’t screw around with destiny.

Nevada vs. Memphis:
While it’s not Memphis’ fault that it got left behind when all the other good teams left Conference USA, the fact remains that Memphis got left behind in Conference USA. During non-conference play, they went 1-2 against teams that were ranked in the top-25 at the time of the game (none of whom are in the top-25 now, I might add). Yeah, the Tigers won enough games to merit a 2 seed, but that doesn’t erase the fact that there are serious questions about who they played. What’s that you say–Nevada hasn’t played anyone either? Well, that’s true, but they’re a 7 seed. All things being equal, I’m taking the team with a big-name player (Fazekas) and the chance at an upset.

Back tomorrow to crown a national champ...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Some Quick, Random Thoughts

I’m alive and well, despite my general absence. A few quick thoughts as we head into the heat of conference tournament weekend, and the start of high school sectionals. Normally I’m not a big conference tournament fan, but for some reason the games yesterday have really gotten me excited for the weekend.

1) A few posts back I pondered the possibility of a Milwaukee Bradley Tech vs. Milwaukee Bay View rematch in sectional finals, which would be interesting, given the high profile disturbance that the last meeting caused. Well, seeding didn’t allow for a finals matchup, but tonight we’ve got the two teams meeting in the semi-finals at the Al McGuire Center. Milwaukee Public Schools and the WIAA are undoubtedly holding their breath over this one. What do you think will be the higher number tonight: points scored by both teams in the first half of the game, or number of security guards at the Al McGuire Center? I’ll take the latter. And for the record, I fully expect a game with no incident (though I've been naive on this point before).

2) I’m not sure what bothers me more about Marquette’s loss to Pitt last night–the fact that I don’t get to watch them play again tonight and tomorrow, or the fact that the loss derailed any chance that I had of living in a bizarro world where Dan Fitzgerald is the MVP of the Big East tournament.

3) Despite last night’s loss to Pitt, I’m very encouraged by the fact that Marquette’s role players are stepping up in big ways. If the normal go-to guys can get healthy and/or get back on track (and Dominic James can limit his three-point shots to no more than two tosses per game), things should be looking up for the Golden Eagles.

4) With UCLA’s loss to Cal yesterday, it’s official: no one wants a one seed. Unfortunately for UCLA, I still think it’s going to be pretty tough for the committee to not give them a top seed.

5) Hey, Sidney Lowe–nice win over Duke last night. You’ve improved light years since the last time you played them. Now that you’ve got your team in order, we need to talk about your courtside attire. Could you possibly dial it down a bit? Last night I kept expecting to see Bishop Don Magic Juan sitting to your right as your top assistant.

6) Last night I accidentally flipped on a Conference USA tournament game between Rice and Central Florida, while I was looking for the Washington-Washington State game. Anyone else remember the days when C-USA was a legitimate conference?

7) Michigan State and Wisconsin tonight. With as much as the Spartans and Badgers have played one another of late, it sort of feels like I’m watching and NBA playoff series. The only difference is that this will be the third game that they’ve played in just over two weeks. The NBA would stretch three games out way longer than that.

It’s a big weekend, so hopefully I’ll squeeze in some thoughts before Sunday night. For tonight, though, I’ll be relaxing watching some high school hoops, and enjoying some Badgers on the DVR. Hope your weekend is as action-packed as mine.

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