Okay Louisville, I surrender. I believe in you now. After an entire NCAA Tournament of damning the Cardinals with faint praise, I’m going to heap it on them now. Not just because they completed the last leg of the journey, beating Michigan 82-76 last night in Atlanta to win the national championship. But the way in which they did it.
What impressed me most about the Cardinals’ victory was that I felt Michigan did most of what it needed to do win the game. The Wolverines did a nice job handling Louisville’s pressure defense, created some opportunities, and got a big game off the bench from Spike Albrecht, who scored 17 points. Trey Burke got locked in early and ended up with 24. The one area I was genuinely concerned about for Michigan—their ability, or lack thereof, to match up with Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, didn’t really hurt them. Dieng had a decent game, eight points and eight rebounds, but it wasn’t at the level I thought he would need to be for Louisville to win.
Louisville essentially played Michigan at the style and pace in which the Wolverines were most comfortable and beat them. Luke Hancock, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, scored 22 points off the bench providing an answer for Albrecht. Hancock had an incredibly flurry of four treys late in the in first half when Michigan had opened up a 12-point lead. Chane Behanan’s 15 points and 12 rebounds gave the Cards an edge at the forward spot. And ultimately, as CBS’ post-game crew noted, Louisville flat-out wore Michigan down with their relentless pressure.
Michigan head coach John Beilen came into some criticism for sitting Burke too long after he picked up two fouls in the first half. This was when the Wolverines were opening up their lead and Albrecht was hitting every shot he threw up, but the CBS crew—the Kenny Smith/Charles Barkley/Greg Anthony/Doug Gottlieb quartet—pointed out at halftime and after the game, that Burke’s absence enabled Louisville to rally at the end of the first half and slowed Burke’s own momentum and flow in the game after his hot start.
I didn’t have a sense of coaching malfeasance as it was unfolding, mainly because Michigan was playing so well, but it’s hard to deny the criticisms. The 26 minutes Burke ended up on the floor is one of the most damning stats in the box score. I can understand where Beilein was coming from—you’ve got a lead, you don’t want him to pick up a third foul—but that’s a long time to keep the best player on the floor on the bench.
And so we reach the end of another college hoops season. For the second straight year, the bracket’s #1 overall seed wins the championship and the trophy moves up the road from Lexington to Louisville. It’s an odd ending after a year of parity—a blueblood program that was ranked #1 upholding its status—but that can’t obscure the wild ride that it was along the way.
For Rick Pitino, it’s another gold star on a Hall of Fame resume, as the coach was inducted into the Hall on Monday morning.For Lousiville–all we can say is what a year! Not just last night, but the women’s team plays for the championship tonight and the football team won the Sugar Bowl. For Michigan, it’s a great year that came up a little bit short—something they lived through during last year’s baseball season with the Tigers as well. If you’re a fan in the Detroit area are you feeling cursed or blessed right now? I personally think you should feel the latter, but it can be easy for fans to get frustrated.
For CBS, I want to issue a plea for next year’s tournament—get rid of most of your pregame analysts. We don’t need the obnoxious Gottlieb or the uptight Anthony. Whether you like them or not, any airtime they get takes away from Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, the most entertaining tag-team in any sport right now. I’m not kidding when I say that I’d watch a segment that just had those two watching the games and arguing with each other for a few hours. And then jettison Clark Kellog and let Steve Kerr be the sole in-game analyst with Jim Nantz.
TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball coverage will return in November. In the meantime, congratulations to Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals and a shoutout to the entire sport for what was an entertaining and memorable season. We’ve crowned our first champion of the 2013 sports calendar.
We’re down to four games for spots in Atlanta in the Final Four. We’ll preview each of the four regional finals, and look back on the games from Thursday & Friday. The East & West finals go on Saturday, with the South & Midwest on Sunday.
Syracuse-Marquette (4:30 PM ET, CBS, Washington D.C.)
Marquette 71 Miami 61—This one was a victory for old-fashioned basketball. Miami shot the three-pointers, making 8-of-26, but Marquette played tougher defense, and shot 54 percent from the floor by working inside the arc. The loss of Hurricane center Reggie Johnson undoubtedly hurt, but there’s no explaining away the Golden Eagles’ defensive work on Durand Scott and Trey McKinney-Jones, who combined to shoot 6-of-23. A worst-case scenario for me, as my national championship pick gets taken out by the archrival of my favorite team (Wisconsin).
Syracuse 61 Indiana 50—Syracuse’s zone defense got the media attention in the aftermath of this game, and justly so. But we have to call out Tom Crean at least a little bit. It’s not like a 2-3 zone is on the cutting edge of basketball strategy and with five days to get ready, Crean should have been able to have his players a little more comfortable than they were. Yes, I know the Orange have great length and can cause problems. But it’s not like they’re unbeatable—Ohio State beat them in the regional finals last year and Wisconsin nearly upended the ‘Cuse in the Sweet 16—and it’s not like Indiana plays with a bunch of stiffs. Those who believe Crean’s coaching strength lies in his recruiting, not his ability to tactically plan for a game like this got a big boost to their argument.
THE SATURDAY FINAL: Syracuse is a 4 ½ point favorite, with a posted total of 127, and if you average that out, that’s an expected final score in Las Vegas of about 66-62. I’m going to disagree. My bracket blew apart here with Miami’s loss, and my hopes of a darkhorse run by Cal, so I can start fresh. I like the way Marquette is playing defense right now, they won’t be as adrift against the Syracuse zone and Vander Blue is comfortable with the ball in end-game situations. Marquette moves on to the Final Four.
Wichita-Ohio State (7:05 PM ET, CBS, Los Angeles)
Ohio State 73 Arizona 70—I’ve been picking against Ohio State the whole tournament, and they keep grinding out the wins. DeShaun Thomas had 20 points and the Buckeyes were more efficient offensively—they only attempted 13 treys and made 7, while Arizona went 6-for-18. What’s more pertinent is that no one is exploiting Ohio State’s vulnerability on the boards. Thomas only had one rebound, but none of the Wildcats’ big guys came up and cleaned the glass. It’s a disappointing end to a disappointing year in Tucson.
Wichita 72 LaSalle 58—Now Wichita cleaned the glass. Carl Hall had eight rebounds, along with 16 points and the Shockers had a big 44-23 edge in rebounding. It was a good all-around game by Wichita, but the bigger story was that LaSalle was clearly out of its league, and Wichita is an underrated team—including by me.
THE SATURDAY FINAL: Ohio State is a 6 ½ point favorite, and the total is up there a bit at 133, projecting out to a score in the neighborhood of 70-64. I know I shouldn’t keep going against the Buckeyes. They keep proving me wrong and Thad Matta does have a solid tournament track record. But I just can’t get past this team’s flaws, their narrow escapes and the relatively softer competition in this bracket that they’re doing it against. Of course Wichita as a regional final opponent meets the latter criteria, but I’m not ready to pick Ohio State. I’m leaning Wichita to be our surprise entrant in the Final Four, and definitely taking the Shockers against the spread today.
Michigan-Florida (2:20 PM ET, CBS, Arlington)
Michigan 87 Kansas 85 (OT): You don’t see high-caliber offensive basketball that often anymore, but that’s what went down here in arguably the best game of the tournament to date. Trey Burke nailed the NBA-range trey in the closing seconds of regulation to tie it, and than Kansas had a very poor possession at the end of overtime when they settled for a forced three-pointer to win after getting some penetration into the line that could have tied it. Burke is clearly the leader of the Wolverines, but it continues to be apparent that forward play is the key to their ultimate success. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III combined for 38 points and 22 rebounds.
Florida 62 Florida Gulf Coast 50: The dream died hard for the FGC team that I joined most of America in adopting this past week—though unlike most of America, I picked them to win the first game and gave legitimate reasons for doing so (hey, I voluntarily eat crow on the many occasions when I’m wrong, don’t deny me the right to brag). But the Gators were too good defensively and the one thing that was apparent in watching the Gulf Coasters in their wins was that whenever they lost, it would be a 20-turnover game that did them in. They turned it over twenty times last night.
THE SUNDAY FINAL: It’s an even-up game and pretty much seen that way in Las Vegas, with Florida a one-point favorite. I haven’t seen a total posted yet, but I would imagine that question will ultimately determine the winner. If Michigan can push the tempo, they’ll win. If they bog down in the halfcourt, the Gators will be able to create problems. I had Michigan in the Final Four at the start of the bracket and certainly have no reason to change now. From a matchup standpoint, I feel like Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. can make Florida pay for their traps in the halfcourt much more effectively than the Gulf Coast guards and the Wolverines won’t be physically overmatched on the interior. In a matchup that sounds like it should be in the Capital One Bowl, Michigan goes on to the Final Four.
Louisville-Duke (5:05 PM ET, CBS, Indianapolis)
Louisville 77 Oregon 69: The good news for Louisville is that this one was not as close as the score sounds, and Russ Smith looks locked in, scoring 31 points. The bad news is that the ‘Ville did not play its usual trademark great defense—Oregon shot a respectable 44 percent—and Cardinal point guard Peyton Siva had a poor game and center Gorgui Deng a fairly pedestrian one. Both need to be a lot better on Sunday.
Duke 71 Michigan State 61: Another good news-bad news scenario, although any time you beat Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, the good heavily outweighs the bad. Duke was outrebounded and needed a lights-out night from Seth Curry, who scored 29 points, to win this game. Ryan Kelly has been silent since his monster return game against Miami late in the regular season. Kelly had only seven points last night, and Mason Plumlee’s 14 points/7 rebounds makes him Duke’s answer to Deng—he needs to have more of an impact Sunday.
THE SUNDAY FINAL: Louisville is the betting favorite, giving 3 ½ points, and I’ve had Duke since the start of the tournament in this bracket. I just feel like Louisville’s portrait—its great defense, but smallish guards and questionable offense—are good enough to ensure they won’t get upset, but not good enough to beat a fellow national contender. It’s the first NCAA Tournament matchup between coaching giants in Mike Kyrzyewski and Rick Pitino (DUH–they only met in the 1992 East Regional Final, arguably the greatest college basketball game ever played), and I’m calling this one for Coach K.
THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S FULL DISCLOSURE
Two of my Final Four teams are still alive in Michigan and Duke, although the big one in Miami is out, along with an early exit by my longshot pick of Notre Dame. Part of the college basketball coverage here also involved hypothetical betting suggestions on futures. Here’s how those are looking, first the bets just to win regionals and the ones to win the national championship…
LOST BETS East: Lost Cal at 60-1 South: Lost Georgetown at 4-1 Midwest: — West: Lost Notre Dame at 25-1, Gonzaga at 9-4
STILL ALIVE East: — South: Michigan at 5-1 Midwest: Duke at 3-1 West: Ohio State at 5-2
In case anyone is wondering why teams like Georgetown and Ohio State are on there, when I wasn’t picking them, that was part of a hedge strategy. In the case of the West Regional, the odds on Notre Dame were long enough, that I felt it prudent to also take out equivalent wagers (let’s say five bucks for the sake of discussion) on Gonzaga and Ohio State, where you at least break even if one of the favorites holds form. And I felt like if Georgetown escaped Florida Gulf Coast, they would reach the regional final and play Michigan, putting me in a no-lose spot if that matchup unfolded.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Lost: Indiana at 7-1, Miami at 8-1 Still Alive: Duke at 8-1
I took Indiana because that that number seemed pretty healthy for a team that was #1 in the country most of the year, even though I wasn’t necessarily sold.
If you run the math on all this and assume $5 a bet (I didn’t specify an amount, but trust me when I say my philosophy is to bet them all equally), that would involve an outlay of $50 on ten separate bets. This weekend is when I have to start collecting—I can recoup $25 on Michigan, $7.50 on Ohio State, and $15 on Duke. Then if Duke can win the national championship, that’s a potential $40 to be made. The money’s on the table now.
The NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday night, starting another four-day run of college hoops that will settle the Final Four. In today’s college basketball coverage, TheSportsNotebook will preview the entire weekend of regionals action, look at the betting odds and for comic amusement review how this site’s earlier advice has paid off.
EAST REGIONAL (Thursday & Saturday, Washington D.C.) Miami-Marquette (7:15 PM ET)
Indiana-Syracuse (9:45 PM ET)
THE MATCHUPS: I really think Miami-Marquette is a talent mismatch. The Golden Eagles don’t have the talent to match up with the Hurricanes down low and I can see Miami blowing this game open. The positive for Marquette is twofold—Miami’s interior personnel is the least consistent aspect of its team, especially now that center Reggie Johnson is out for this weekend’s games, while Marquette brings very consistent effort levels on the defensive end. And we can add a third positive—MU knows it can survive close games, having won its share of the Big East regular season title, plus both games last weekend on last-second hoops by Vander Blue. I like Miami to win this game, but if it’s razor-tight with five minutes left I won’t be feeling good about my pick.
Indiana showed they could win ugly in Sunday’s victory over Temple and that says something for a team that’s mostly won all year by looking really smooth offensively. I think the Hoosiers match up very well with Syracuse. Jim Boeheim coaches the zone defense as well as anyone, both current and historical. But coaching a zone only goes so far if the other team’s entire lineup can bury the three-ball. Indiana has a lot of shooters who are really good behind the arc. The three-point shot is always a risky way to live, but at the very least it would require a complete teamwide epidemic for Indiana to lose this one. I don’t think Syracuse can match up athletically and force the Hoosiers into mistakes.
THE ODDS: Indiana is a 6-5 betting favorite to win the regional, somewhat strange, because they were 10-11 when the tournament began. How are they worse odds after getting halfway home? Apparently the market wasn’t impressed by the lackluster win over Temple. Miami goes off at 9-4, with Syracuse and Marquette each clocking in at 7-2. I had Miami at the start of the tournament and have no reason to change. From an odds standpoint, I lost my longshot pick of Cal at 60-1 and still don’t like the prices on either of the top two seeds, even as I have them advancing to Saturday’s final.
WEST REGIONAL (Thursday & Saturday, Los Angeles)
Ohio State-Arizona (7:47 PM ET)
Wichita-LaSalle (10:17 PM ET)
THE MATCHUPS: Ohio State-Arizona is, in all likelihood a de facto regional final matchup. Wichita is well-coached, LaSalle has a great player in Ramon Galloway, but neither one can really match up with the two favorites. For the record, I like Wichita to advance to Saturday’s final.
Now let’s get down to business on the Buckeyes and Wildcats. Ohio State has the best player on the floor in DeShaun Thomas and that can never be underestimated in basketball. But Arizona has deeper talent. They’re bigger up front and control the glass. I also give Arizona a very slight edge in the backcourt, with Nick Solomon and Mark Lyons. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft is a great defender, but he can only guard one of them.
Ohio State’s formula is simple—Thomas has to completely put this team on his back, along the lines of Danny Manning and Kansas in 1988. It’s certainly possible, but acknowledging what’s possible is different from predicting what will happen. Arizona is a team that mostly underachieved this year, while Ohio State overachieved, but in the NCAA Tournament life isn’t always fair. The Wildcats were able to get their mojo back last weekend and I don’t think they give it back in Los Angeles.
THE ODDS: Ohio State is a solid 4-5 favorite, with Arizona coming in at 3-2. Wichita is 5-1 and LaSalle is at 12-1. The odds on the latter two aren’t bad, considering one of them is going to a winner-take-all shot at cutting down the nets on Saturday. But I used up my longshot chances on Notre Dame at 25-1, and my pre-tournament strategy was to hedge that by taking favorites Gonzaga and Ohio State and breaking even if one of them won. Even though I’m not picking the Buckeyes, I may as well stick with that this weekend. This is the one regional where my Final Four pick (Notre Dame) is gone, so when in a hole, stop digging.
THE MATCHUPS: Kansas can’t be feeling comfortable. Normally a 1-4 matchup in seeding indicates at least a team that should be a solid, if not unbeatable favorite. But Michigan is a team that was in the top five nationally for much of the season, came within a few missed free throws and a missed tip-in of tying for the championship in the nation’s best conference and now appears to have completely recaptured its mojo after blowing out Virginia Commonwealth to get here. Kansas center Jeff Withey has a lot of pressure to deliver games along the line of his 16 points/16 rebounds./5 blocks that rallied the Jayhawks past Carolina.
If Kansas is going to survive the entire weekend, it’s going to have be dominance from Withey, with two-guard Ben McLemore coming up big in both games. Both Michigan and Florida can attack in the backcourt and McLemore is the KU guard best suited to meet the challenge. As for Florida, they’re going to be reliant on getting clean looks from the three-point line and then knocking them down. It’s a risky way to live, but Florida is similar to Indiana in that at least they have players who have been good at it all year long.
This brings us to Florida Gulf Coast. As anyone who watched FGC play in their wins over Georgetown and San Diego State knows, this is no ordinary #15 seed. I’m still not sure how the Selection Committee seeded them that low to begin with—of all those small-conference teams at the bottom of the bracket, how many had a resume that included beating Miami and hanging with Duke? We know the Gulf Coasters can play at this level and this team has absolutely no fear. The issue is going to be how long they can play at a hyper-aggressive pace and not eventually commit too many turnovers. If Florida can’t force mistakes, I wouldn’t rule out a third straight upset.
THE ODDS: This remains the most interesting regional in Las Vegas. Florida as the #3 seed is the betting line favorite, going off at even money. Kansas is 8-5, with Michigan at 5-2, then it’s a big dropoff to Florida Gulf Coast at 25-1. The question FGC players have to be asking is simple—Why not us?
THE MATCHUPS: Duke-Michigan State is the pre-eminent game of the Sweet 16 with both teams more than capable of winning the national championship. The pressure is going to be on Blue Devil center Mason Plumlee. He’s a good rebounder, but Duke hasn’t played too many teams that hit the boards as hard as the Spartans. I’m giving Plumlee the benefit of the doubt and the Dookies were my Final Four pick at the start of the tournament, but this game should be a nailbiter. Michigan State’s Achilles heel will be what happens if guard Keith Appling has a poor shooting game. The concern for Duke is whether their backcourt defense is good enough to pressure Appling into mistakes.
I don’t give Oregon too much of a chance against Louisville. The Cardinals are far from a perfect team, especially offensively, but their pressure defense is so good and the Ducks have not seen anything like it. And as tough as Oregon center Arsalan Kazemi was over the first weekend (33 rebounds in two games), he can be matched up with by Louisville’s Gorgui Deng. Ultimately, this is a three-team regional and Louisville is reaping the rewards of the #1 seed with their matchup.
The reason I don’t have Louisville moving on to the Final Four is the difficulty they have generating offensive flow against really good teams, the kind of which they’ll play on Sunday. While my bracket might have Duke advancing, I would also take Michigan State if the Spartans get to a matchup with Louisville, a game that would be a rematch of a 2009 regional final—a game also won by Michigan State when the ‘Ville was the #1 overall seed.
THE ODDS: Louisville was a hefty 10-11 favorite when the tournament opened and that hasn’t changed, with the number currently posted at 4-5. Given the virtual certainty they’ll play on Sunday, I see the logic of that number—frankly if they were even money I might take them, just because I’m sure I’m at least getting a shot in the final. Duke and Michigan State are at 5-2 and 7-2 respectively, numbers that also sound about right. I’m surprised Oregon is at 6-1. Compare that to Wichita in the West at 5-1. Do you really the Ducks’ chances of beating Louisville and Duke/Michigan State in succession are almost the same as Wichita’s odds of beating LaSalle and then winning the final? That’s a high level of respect given Oregon—much too high, in fact.
THESPORTSNOTEBOOK PICKS: My pre-bracket Final Four was Michigan, Miami, Duke and Notre Dame. I’ve got Arizona replacing Notre Dame. I’m really torn about Miami—I don’t know that I’d have picked them if Reggie Johnson had been hurt at the outset of the tournament, but I feel like they can still survive Marquette and Indiana remains vulnerable defensively. I’m not thrilled about the situation, but when in doubt, stick with the pick.
The NCAA Tournament pared its field to the Sweet 16 on Sunday. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports look this morning sets the tone for the week by looking back on those eight games, and then looking ahead to what’s on tap from today through Sunday in the world of sports…
Indiana 58 Temple 52—I was impressed by how unimpressive Indiana was, if I might be contradictory. By that I mean that we knew the Hoosiers could win a game where offenses were flowing freely. There was less reason to be confident in their ability to win a game ugly, and that’s what they did, holding Temple to 34% shooting from the floor. IU will now play Syracuse in the Sweet 16 in Washington D.C. Miami 63 Illinois 59—It wasn’t a great shooting weekend for Shane Larkin overall, starting with Friday’s first-round win over Pacific. But Larkin hit the biggest trey of the season to give the Hurricanes a late lead and his team moves on to play Marquette.
Kansas 70 North Carolina 58—How could you not be impressed with center Jeff Withey for Kansas. The stat line itself—16 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks—was impressive enough. But the big guy played with an attitude that took the game over after Carolina got an early lead and led by nine at the half. The Jayhawks need to get everyone involved in their next game against resurgent Michigan. Florida 78 Minnesota 64—Mike Rosario hit 6/9 from three-point range and scored 25 points to lead Florida. Minnesota point guard Andre Hollins scored 25, completing a weekend where he knocked down 53 in the two games. But Trevor Mbakwe was going to need a big game down low if the Gophers were going to have a chance, and at 11 points/6 rebounds, he didn’t get it. Florida Gulf Coast 81 San Diego State 71—This is no fluke. The Gulf Coasters have one of the most athletic teams in the tournament, and Bernard Thompson led the way with 23 points, while Brett Comer dished 14 assists. If anyone in the Sunshine State thought of a great in-state battle in the NCAAs, I’m sure it was Florida-Miami on their mind. Instead it’s going to be Florida-Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16.
Duke 66 Creighton 50—Great job defensively by the Dookies. Doug McDermott got his numbers for Creighton, at 21 points/9 rebounds, but he shot 4-of-16 from the floor. Give McDermott credit for making his free throws. His 12-of-12 night made him perfect on all 23 attempts from the foul line the past two games in Philly. Duke can now prep for a showdown with Michigan State.
Ohio State 78 Iowa State 75—On a day where defenses tended to rule the day, the Buckeyes and Cyclones combined to shoot 21-for-43 from three-point range. Appropriately enough, the game was decided when Aaron Craft hit a trey for Ohio State in the closing seconds. The Buckeyes move on to play Arizona. LaSalle 76 Ole Miss 74—Ramon Galloway for LaSalle scored 24 points, while Ole Miss’ heralded Marshall Henderson had 21. But look one level deeper—Galloway was efficient, at 8/13 from the floor and hit six of ten behind the arc. Henderson meanwhile went 8-for-21 and only hit four of fifteen shots from long range. One player scored because he played well, the other scored because he kept jacking up shots. Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway can rest secure in the knowledge that he scored 14 points, got 13 rebounds and could have taken his team on a big run in March if only his more publicized teammate had let him. LaSalle will play Wichita this coming week.
THE ROUND OF 16
TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball coverage will resume in a couple days, with a complete preview of the entire weekend of regionals action. In the meantime, here’s how the schedule lines up…
Thursday-Saturday: East & West
The early time slot on Thursday (roughly 7:30 PM ET) will have Miami-Marquette in the East and Ohio State-Arizona in the West. Then the nightcaps are the East Regional battle between Indiana-Syracuse and the Cinderella matchup out west of LaSalle-Wichita. I haven’t seen tip times for Saturday’s finals, but it’s usually a doubleheader that starts late afternoon, about 4:40 PM ET.
Friday-Sunday: South & Midwest
Start it early in the South with Kansas-Michigan and in the Midwest with Louisville-Oregon. Then your conclusion to the Sweet 16 is Duke-Michigan State and Florida-Florida Gulf Coast. In the past, the Sunday regional finals have tipped off at 1:40 PM ET.
THE NBA & NHL
Our NBA commentary and NHL analysis is getting short shrift right now, between college basketball and the last set of preseason MLB coverage, as Opening Night comes up on Sunday. But here’s a rough outline of what you can look for this week…
*The Miami Heat’s run at history will be on your TV screen. The Heat are at 26 in a row, and play Orlando tonight on ESPN, go to Chicago for a Wednesday ESPN game and then comes a battle royale in San Antonio on Sunday night on NBA-TV. I can’t believe David Stern put the Spurs-Heat on a weekend when the NCAAs would have everyone’s attention. The man must be slipping.
*TNT will shift its normal doubleheader coverage from Thursday to Tuesday and they have two good games. It’s Knicks-Celtics from the Garden, and Clippers-Mavericks out west. Dallas still has a puncher’s chance at the playoffs.
*The Chicago Blackhawks have moved off the headlines now that their epic streak is over, but they’re still atop the standings in the NHL overall. The Blackhawks will on NBC Sports Network tonight against the champion they’re trying to displace when Los Angeles comes to town. Then Chicago plays their top competition in the West when Anaheim visits on Friday in an NHL Network game. Finally, they get the NBC spotlight on Sunday afternoon against Detroit.
*The desperate Philadelphia Flyers, submerged in the non-playoff teams with the season almost three-quarters over, host the New York Rangers on Tuesday on NBC Sports Network, and have a Saturday afternoon home matinee with Boston on the NHL Network.
*Speaking of Boston, they bring their grudge rivalry and heated division with race with Montreal to NBC Sports Network on Wednesday, and will be on the same network Sunday night against Buffalo.
That’s the general look ahead on the week in sports. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports feature is going to take a break, as I’m going down to Fort Myers for the week, but there will still be regular updates here with the last of the baseball previews and a look at the Sweet 16.
The rapid-fire process of paring the NCAA Tournament field to the Sweet 16 concludes on Sunday. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports focus will be, as it has been all week, to look at the TV agenda for today’s games, and then look back on the eight games from Saturday.
SUNDAY’S AFTERNOON WARMUP
Iowa State-Ohio State (12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Temple-Indiana (2:45 PM ET, CBS)
Comment: It’s a Big Ten-heavy start on a day when four teams from the nation’s best conference will be in action. I wasn’t sold on Ohio State at the start of this tournament, and I’m still not. My own bracket had Notre Dame winning in this spot, but Iowa State messed that up on Friday night. I’ll ride the anti-Buckeye bandwagon and say the Cyclones get it down here. You’ll hear from the announcers how they shoot the three, and that’s true, but they also get really good forward play from Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
North Carolina-Kansas (5:15 PM ET, CBS)
Minnesota-Florida (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
Comment: You’ve got the Roy Williams Drama going down in Kansas City, and a game that promises to be really good, especially if Kansas doesn’t rebound better than they did against Western Kentucky. And I’ve knocked Minnesota as much, if not more, than anyone these past several weeks, but the Gophers looked good against UCLA. I’m not picking an upset here, but Florida is very dependent on the three-ball and if the shots aren’t falling…
Florida Gulf Coast-San Diego State (7:10 PM ET, TBS)
LaSalle-Ole Miss (7:40 PM ET, tru)
Comment: Nobody who watched Florida Gulf Coast’s upset of Georgetown on Friday is giving this one to San Diego State. The only question will be whether FGC can play at their rapid rate without committing 20 turnovers.
Illinois-Miami (8:40 PM ET, TNT)
Creighton-Duke (9:40 PM ET, TBS) Comment: I don’t see Miami having much of a problem with an outmanned Illinois team, but Creighton-Duke has the makings of a big battle. I like the Dookies to reach the Final Four, but they have their weaknesses, they’re not a lockdown defensive team and Creighton’s Doug McDermott can score and rebound against anyone. This one is my must-see game of the day.
SATURDAY’S SECOND-ROUND RECAPS
Marquette 74 Butler 72—It was a great battle between guards Vander Blue for Marquette and Rotnei Clark for Butler, with 29 and 24 points respectively. Marquette just makes one more play at the end, and moves on to Washington D.C. next week to face the Illinois-Miami winner. Syracuse 66 Cal 60—My dream of Cal as a 60-1 longshotto make the Final Four goes crashing down. The Golden Bears played on the perimeter and guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs were cold, combining for 2-of-10 from behind the arc and just 13 points. If Cal was going to win, they each player to have a minimum of 13. Syracuse went inside and won the game with a 26-12 edge in free throw points. The Orange draw Indiana or Temple next week.
Michigan 78 Virginia Commonwealth 53—The Wolverines are looking like an elite team again. Mitch McGary had 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Glenn Robinson III scored 14 and grabbed nine. This was a Final Four pick of minethat’s actually holding steady, and my hope was that UM’s inconsistent forwards would take advantage of the home crowd to get their mojo back. That happened, and Michigan now awaits the UNC-Kansas winner for their impending trip to North Texas.
Michigan State 70 Memphis 48—What do you expect from a Tom Izzo team except a physical annihilation of one’s opponent built on lockdown defense and dominant rebounding? Sparty awaits the Duke-Creighton winner. Louisville 82 Colorado State 56—Russ Smith scored 27 and Louisville forced 19 turnovers. One complaint—Colorado State shot a healthy 48 percent from the floor, something that Louisville won’t survive against a better team. For now, it’s just something for Rick Pitino to focus on over the next few days of practice. Oregon 74 St. Louis 57—Othern than sloppy ball-handling, with 18 turnovers, Oregon pretty much owned this one every which way all game long. Arsalan Kazemi seems to have morphed into Charles Barkley on the glass. The Duck center had 16 rebounds, completing a weekend run where he had 33 boards against two good teams in Oklahoma State and St. Louis. It’s now a Louisville-Oregon matchup next week in Indianapolis.
Arizona 74 Harvard 51—Mark Lyons scored 27, completing a 50-point weekend. I like the way Arizona is playing, and with my original West pick of Notre Dame out, I like the Wildcats to reach the Final Four. But lest I contradict myself, don’t praise them too quickly. How excited would you have been in December to learn that Arizona won a neutral-site tournament with wins over Belmont and Harvard? That’s all they did here. I like what I see, but don’t anoint what was an underachieving season a success yet, just because the Arizona got a bracket break. The Wildcats get the Iowa State-Ohio State winner next week in Los Angeles. Wichita 76 Creighton 70—It’s easy to say that the Shockers hit 14-of-28 from three-point range and that makes this win a little fluky. I’d buy that if not for the fact that Southern lit Gonzaga up from behind the arc as well. Maybe it’s perimeter defense. I watched this game in full and Wichita had a lot of nice, clean looks. A sad ending for Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk, who had 26 points and 9 rebounds and certainly did all he could. Wichita gets the winner of Ole Miss-LaSalle, a prospective Sweet 16 matchup that surely has CBS execs weeping somewhere.
We’re pared down to 32 teams left in the NCAA Tournament as our wild four-day ride enters the second half. There’s now “only” eight games each day, and TheSportsNotebook continues its daily sports focus during March Madness of first laying out the TV agenda of the day ahead, then cleaning up with some notes on Friday’s first-round results.
SATURDAY’S AFTERNOON WARMUPS
Virginia Commonwealth-Michigan (12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Memphis-Michigan State (2:45 PM ET, CBS)
Comment: These are the “warm-ups” not because of the quality of the games. Both of them are pretty good, particularly VCU-Michigan. But these are the games that will mostly have a captive audience before TNT and TBS get in on the act by the early part of the evening. Both early games are from the Palace in Auburn Hills, so Michigan and Michigan State will have partisan crowds cheering them on.
Colorado State-Louisville (5:15 PM ET, CBS)
Harvard-Arizona (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
Comment: Both of these games have blowout written all over them.
Oregon-St. Louis (7:10 PM ET, TBS)
Butler-Marquette (7:45 PM ET, CBS)
Comment: The Butler-Marquette game looks like a great matchup. Marquette didn’t get a lot of respect as a 3-seed and their narrow escape over Davidson probably didn’t make the critics go away.
Wichita State-Gonzaga (8:40 PM ET, TNT)
Cal-Syracuse (9:40 PM ET, TBS) Comment: There’s no reason for anyone who picked Gonzaga to be feeling exceptionally confident, after the way the Zags struggled past Southern, although I have my doubts that Wichita is the team to exploit any weakness. Furthermore, the winner of that game will get a Sweet 16 date with the Ole Miss-LaSalle winner on Sunday. You get the feeling the door is opening wide for Gonzaga to make the Final Four. Cal is my longshot pick in the East—I had them reaching the regional final in my bracket and liked them at 60-1 odds to get to Atlanta.
FRIDAY’S FIRST-ROUND MADNESS
Indiana 83 James Madison 62—The Hoosiers were up 21 at the half and coasted home. Temple 76 N.C. State 72—If you’d have told me N.C. State would shoot 56 % and control the glass to the tune of 34-22, I wouldn’t have picked Temple to win this game. But the Owls made up for it at the line with a 21-10 scoring edge and by only turning it over five times. Khalif Wyatt knocks down 31 to lead the way.
Miami 78 Pacific 49—The Hurricanes play well and get needed contributions from players who have to step up. Durand Scott scored 21 and up-and-down center Reggie Johnson grabbed ten rebounds. Easy win for Miami in spite of a bad shooting game from Shane Larkin. Illinois 57 Colorado 49—I watched this game as I worked on some MLB coverage for this site, and it seemed to me as a partially kept an eye on thing that it was a pretty ugly game. I went to the boxscore and found that the game’s top player was Brandon Paul, and he only hit 3-for-12 from the floor. Yeah, my impression was correct.
SOUTH REGIONAsL Kansas 64 Western Kentucky 57—Kansas has to be very alarmed. They were narrowly outrebounded by the Hilltoppers, something that can’t happen when you have a good seven-foot center in Jeff Withey. Kansas was 0-for-6 from trey range and while that’s obviously much lower than the norm, this isn’t a team that lights it up with the three-ball. If they don’t hit the boards on Sunday, they’re going home. North Carolina 78 Villanova 71—The Tar Heels got out to a big lead before Villanova came back and made a game of it. It was all about the perimeter. Carolina knocked down 11 treys, while ‘Nova went 4-for-21 behind the arc. It’s the fourth time since 1982 that UNC has eliminated Villanova from the NCAA Tournament. The three other times all led to national championships.
Florida 79 Northwestern State 47—Florida let the underdog hang around in the first half, and it was 40-32 at intermission. Then it got ugly in the second half. Minnesota 83 UCLA 63—Minnesota takes advantage of the reprieve the NCAA Tournament offers, plays lock down defense, shoots 51 percent from the floor and gets 28 from Andre Hollins. Forget all that about UCLA playing without Jordan Adams, who broke his ankle in the Pac-12 tournament. Adams is good, but you don’t use that as an excuse for losing by twenty.
Florida Gulf Coast 78 Georgetown 68—The upset that shocked the nation was predicted here at TheSportsNotebook.FGC played at a rapid tempo, led by Sherwood Brown and his 24 points. This team has already beaten Miami. With two wins over #2 seeds under their belt, should we get carried away and think about this team going deep into the Dance. Why not? San Diego State 70 Oklahoma 55—The Aztecs controlled the glass, kept OU off the foul line (only four points on free throws for the Sooners) and OU forward Romero Osby was the only player who made any sort of positive impact.
Duke 73 Albany 61—Duke was never in danger of losing, but the Great Danes did hang around and ended up covering the spread, which I believe closed at Duke (-18). Good games from Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry, at 23 and 26 points respectively, but the Blue Devils only hit four threes. Creighton 67 Cincinnati 63—Doug McDermott looked the part of the best player in the country, with 27 points, 11 rebounds and his 11-for-11 on the free throw line keyed a big Bluejay edge here.
Ole Miss 57 Wisconsin 46—I’m a Badger fan and in more a state of resignation than anything. When you live by the three-ball you can die from it at any time and Wisconsin shot the ball poorly all the way around. Marshall Henderson was horrid for Ole Miss and his insistence on shooting kept Wisconsin in the game. Had the Rebels just gotten the ball to Murphy Holloway down low all game, this would have been an early blowout. LaSalle 63 Kansas State 61—The Explorers led 44-26 at half, before nearly letting the game slip away. Ramon Galloway had 19 and LaSalle really got a lift from Jerrell Wright and his 21 points. K-State couldn’t overcome a bad shooting game from Rodney McGruder who went 5-for-17.
Ohio State 95 Iona 70—Good overall showing for the Buckeyes. Most heartening is forward Sam Thompson getting 20 points/10 rebounds. If Ohio State gets some rebounding down low, they’re going to be a tough out in a soft regional. Iowa State 76 Notre Dame 58—Since I gloated about picking Florida Gulf Coast, I have to also point out that I picked Notre Dame to win this regional. Ironically, the ND game came on right after the FGC upset. What the bracket giveth, the bracket taketh away. Iowa State forced 14 turnovers in the first half and got a combined 36 points from forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
The NCAA Tournament rolls on with the latter part of the true first round here on Friday. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports look will break down today’s games by TV time slot, so you can make your viewing plans, and then we’ll close out with some thoughts on Thursday.
Albany-Duke (12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Ole Miss-Wisconsin (12:40 PM ET, tru) Comment: I’m a Wisconsin fan, so I’m all-in on the early game. The Badger defense against Marshall Henderson, the Ole Miss guard who is either unafraid or undisciplined depending on your point of view (probably both) provides an interesting matchup.
Temple-N.C. State (1:40, TBS)
Pacific-Miami (2:10 PM ET, TNT)
Cincinnati-Creighton (2:45 PM ET, CBS)
LaSalle-Kansas State (3:10 PM ET, tru) Comment: The best player in the country, Creighton’s Doug McDermott goes here. I think there are long-term implications on Temple-N.C. State. The winner gets Indiana on Sunday. N.C. State is good enough to beat IU, whereas I doubt Temple is. But the Owls are not underachievers, while the Wolfpack have been. That’s why I like Temple to win this game and give Indiana a bit of a break.
James Madison-Indiana (4:40 PM ET, TBS)
Colorado-Illinois (4:40 PM ET, TNT) Comment: Pretty dry slot, so it’s a good time for commuters to be on the road coming home.
Florida Gulf Coast-Georgetown (6:50 PM ET, TBS)
Iona-Ohio State (7:15 PM ET, CBS)
Villanova-North Carolina (7:20 PM ET, TNT)
Northwestern State-Florida (7:27 PM ET, tru) Comment: I’ve called Florida Gulf Coast as my upset pick of the first round, although I’m worried that Harvard’s win last night might have already taken that honor. The Villanova-North Carolina game is a great matchup, and its programs with some serious NCAA history. They played most recently in the 2009 Final Four. They also played a controversial game in the 2005 Sweet 16, and Carolina won a tough regional final in 1982. Villanova beat the Tar Heels in the regional final of 1985. The winner of those games (three to UNC, one to ‘Nova) all won the national championship.
Oklahoma-San Diego State (9:20 PM ET, TBS)
Iowa State-Notre Dame (9:45 PM ET, CBS)
Western Kentucky-Kansas (9:50 PM ET, TNT)
Minnesota-UCLA (9:57 PM ET, tru) Comment: It’s nerve-wracking time for me, as Notre Dame was the dark horse I took a flyer on to get to the Final Four. And of course the definition of a darkhorse is one that can go out in the first round. Minnesota-UCLA and Oklahoma-San Diego State each promise to be good games. On the off chance that I’m right about my Florida Gulf Coast upset, the beneficiary of that would be the winner of OU-San Diego State in the second round.
LOOKING BACK ON THURSDAY
A run through all of yesterday’s finals with a brief comment on each. The games are grouped by pods, so when they’re listed without a break in between, you know the winners play each other on Saturday…
Cal 64 UNLV 61—Cal’s guards were outstanding as expected, as Allan Crabbe and Justin Cobbs combined for 32 points and controlled play. UNLV’s narrow edge on the glass wasn’t enough to compensate. Syracuse 81 Montana 34—I’ve ready box scores for several years now and seen most statistical anomalies. I don’t think I’ve seen a team shoot 20.4% from the floor, like the Grizzlies did last night. At the very least, everyone on my Wednesday night’s men’s rec league team can know we’re not alone.
Butler 68 Bucknell 56: The Bulldogs spent most of the day on the free throw line, going 25-of-28. Bucknell, in contrast, only went 5-for-8. Pretty tough to overcome that kind of disparity at the stripe. It should be noted that Bucknell shot mostly from the perimeter, whereas Butler went inside, so we shouldn’t assume that free throw differentials only come about through bad officiating. Marquette 59 Davidson 58: The day’s wild ending saw Marquette hit several treys down the stretch and then Vander Blue win the game on a driving layup in the final seconds. The reason MU had a chance to pull off the late comeback was that they dominated Davidson on the boards, holding a 38-23 rebound advantage.
SOUTH REGIONAL Michigan 71 South Dakota State 56—Everyone in Ann Arbor breathes a sigh of relief. Not only do the Wolverines win, in spite of this being a trendy upset pick, but they do it without a good game from Trey Burke (2-for-12 from the floor) and slumping frosh forward Glenn Robinson III came up big with 21 points. Virginia Commonwealth 88 Akron 42—It goes without saying the Rams dominated every statistical category. Forcing 21 turnovers while only committing five was the most obvious. The MAC’s had some notable upsets in recent years, Ohio in 2010 and 2012 coming immediately to mind. Not this time.
MIDWEST REGIONAL Louisville 74 North Carolina A&T 48—a game that went according to form. No Louisville starter played more than 25 minutes. Colorado State 84 Missouri 72—So much for Dorian Green’s bad ankle. After missing the Mountain West tournament, the Colorado State point guard dropped in 26 points last night. Mizzou’s best player, forward Laurence Bowers, was ineffective, with 7 points/4 rebounds.
St. Louis 64 New Mexico State 44—I think St. Loo has to be a little concerned. They were outrebounded decisively, 41-30 and they’re not going to be able to make that up against better teams. For one game anyway, Dwayne Evans hit 11-of-16 shots and scored 24 points. Oregon 68 Oklahoma State 55—I didn’t think Oregon would have the inside strength to exploit Oklahoma State’s biggest weakness. As it turns out, Arsalan Kazemi had 17 rebounds and Carlos Emory came off the bench to grab nine more. So much for that.
Michigan State 65 Valparaiso 54—Don’t be fooled by the respectable final score, this one was a blowout all the way. Michigan State led by 17 at the half, more than doubled up Valpo on the boards and held them to 35 percent shooting from the floor. Great day for Derrick Nix, with 25 points/15 rebounds. Memphis 54 St. Mary’s 52—This was a really ugly game, with the defining ugliness being Matthew Dellavedova’s 3-for-13 shooting game for St. Mary’s, capped off by a missed three at the end.
WEST REGIONAL Wichita 73 Pitt 55—This was a closer game than the score shows, with Wichita gradually pulling away. If you like the three-ball, I hope you didn’t see this live—the two teams combined to shoot 3-for-37 from behind the arc. Yes, 3-for-37. Not a typo. Gonzaga 64 Southern 58—The Zags got everything they could handle and handed the skeptics ammo. On the positive side, Gonzaga survived a game where its opponent shot the three-ball well (10-of-23 from trey range for Southern), while the Zags key players—Kelly Olynyk up front, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell in the backcourt—all played pretty well. You either see Gonzaga as a team that survived hot shooting and one. Or a team that got decent play from its core players and still struggled to beat a 16-seed. Take your pick.
Arizona 81 Belmont 64—This was sheer domination, as Arizona controlled the game throughout. Mark Lyons knocked down 23 points from the two-guard spot to lead the Wildcats. Harvard 68 New Mexico 62—Another NCAA disappointment from the Lobos. Their center, Alex Kirk, played well, with a 22/12 showing, but the backcourt of Kendall Williams and Tony Snell was a non-factor. Harvard hit their threes, going 8-for-18. Can they repeat Cornell’s 2010 feat of reaching the Sweet 16? We’ll look at their matchup with Arizona on Saturday morning. Or Penn’s 1979 run to the Final Four, the last Ivy league team to do it? Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The real first round of the NCAA Tournament starts today, with the slate of 16 games that will leave us all wondering which bracket-busting upset will come first—or if the favorites will survive unscathed. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports league will run through the games in the sequence they’ll appear on TV…
Valparaiso-Michigan State (12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Bucknell-Butler (12:40 PM ET, truTV) Comment: All of these games have some level of trendiness in them when it comes to upset picks. I’ve been hearing media talk about Valpo, but I frankly respect Tom Izzo and the defense Michigan State plays too much to be thinking about a shocker here. For Bucknell-Butler it’s about the next round—both teams are seen as good shots to beat #3-seed Marquette. Apparently nobody’s watched Butler played the last two months.
Wichita-Pitt (1:40 PM ET, TBS)
New Mexico State-St. Louis (2:10 PM ET, TNT)
St. Mary’s-Memphis (2:45 PM ET, CBS)
Davidson-Marquette (3:10 PM ET, tru TV) Comment: Apparently no one believes in Marquette, because they’re also a trendy pick to be knocked out by Davidson. I understand why—the fact I’ve been extolling the coaching job MU’s Buzz Williams did all season means that I think the Golden Eagles are a little bereft of deep talent, and that always catches up to you eventually. But a team that plays hard defensively will win a game like this. The Wichita-Pitt and St. Mary’s-Memphis games are both really good ones, and we watch with baited breath to see if Pitt can finally win a tough game in the NCAA Tournament.
Southern-Gonzaga (4:10 PM ET, TBS)
Oregon-Oklahoma State (4:40 PM ET, TNT) Comment: Oregon is a 12-seed and a team a lot of people like to advance. I’m not one of them, which almost certainly bodes well for the Ducks. But if you watch this game you’ll not only see a pretty good matchup, but an immensely talented freshman in Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
N.C. A&T-Louisville (6:50 PM ET, TBS)
South Dakota State-Michigan (7:15 PM ET, TBS)
Belmont-Arizona (7:20 PM ET, TNT)
Cal-UNLV (7:27 PM ET, tru TV) Comment: I’ve got Cal-UNLV is the best game of the entire first day. The Golden Bears are my upset pick, going to the regional final as a #12 seed, and a live dog at 60-1 to reach the Final Four. But the Rebels have good forward talent with Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser. Michigan and Arizona are seen in various circles as prone to the upset, but I’m not buying on either one. I don’t think Belmont is good enough do to it, and I think Michigan will have the twofold advantage of being backed by the home crowd at the Palace (home of the Detroit Pistons) and the fact that they’ve heard everyone talk all week about how good South Dakota State guard Nate Wohlers is. Excuse me, but Michigan has a guard named Trey Burke who isn’t exactly under-the-radar.
Missouri-Colorado State (9:20 PM ET, TBS)
Akron-Virginia Commonwealth (9:45 PM ET, CBS)
Harvard-New Mexico (9:50 PM ET, TNT)
Montana-Syracuse (9:57 PM ET, tru TV) Comment: It’s an East-Coast friendly card. As in, there’s not a lot the folks on the East Coast have to worry about missing if they don’t feel like staying up until midnight. The favorites should mostly hold serve. Missouri-Colorado State’s intrigue lies in the fact that I think Mizzou could give Louisville some problems this weekend, whereas CSU is not as likely. But Colorado State is also a veteran team that could certainly win this game. If you’re a Louisville fan, or one of the many who have them going a long way, pull for Colorado State.
CLEANING UP FROM WEDNESDAY
James Madison and LaSalle won their play-in games from Dayton. A big thumbs-up to the defensive effort from JMU. They weren’t as good as Long Island to begin with and then they had their best player, Rayshawn Goins, suspended for the first half. James Madison stepped up, held Long Island to 35 percent from the floor and give Goins credit—he only played 13 minutes, but he was aggressive, getting eight rebounds.
LaSalle beat Boise State 80-71 in a game where the offenses controlled play. LaSalle shot a sizzling 63 percent, including 11/21 from three-point range—I don’t think we’ve seen a team from Philly shoot that well in the NCAA Tournament since Villanova hit 78 percent to beat Georgetown in the epic 1985 NCAA final. It turned out LaSalle needed it—the hot shooting overcome Boise’s rebounding edge, a nice 49 percent shooting effort from the Broncos themselves and Anthony Drmic being the best player on the floor with 28 points. LaSalle also got an unexpected 22 points off the bench from Tyrone Garland. I picked the Explorers to win this game, but to be honest, if I’d have known how much would have to go right for them, I’m sure I would have thought twice.
LEST WE FORGET
They still play pro basketball and hockey during March Madness. It’s a light NBA schedule tonight, with Portland-Chicago from the Windy City being the notable game. The Blazers are four back of the playoffs in the West, while the Bulls are three out of the #4 seed and first round homecourt in the East.
In the NHL, the game of the night is Boston-Ottawa. The Bruins lead the Senators by three points on the 4-5 seed line, meaning home ice in the first round. Both teams are on the heels of Montreal for the Northeast Division and possible #1 seed in the East.
It’s the second day of NCAA Tournament play-in action. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports look previews tonight’s action, and looks back on Tuesday’s games.
LIU Brooklyn vs. James Madison (6:40 PM ET, truTV): This game has gotten some media attention it didn’t want, at the news that James Madison’s best player, Rayshawn Goins has been suspended for the first half due to an arrest for disorderly conduct last weekend.
What’s not being noted is that Long Island has at least three, maybe four players who are better than Goins. The Blackbirds have a really good forward tandem in Jamal Olesaware and Julian Boyd who each average 18 ppg. They have a good scoring guard in C.J. Garner and a pure three-point shooter in the ironically named Jason Brickman. Long Island is only a two-point favorite and should win this game regardless of Goins’ status. James Madison has to hope the suspension wakes up the echoes of the 1977 Arkansas football team. Lou Holtz suspended three key players before an Orange Bowl game against #2 Oklahoma and then promptly ran the Sooners off the field.
LaSalle vs. Boise State (9:10 PM ET, truTV): This one promises to be a good game, and with a path of Kansas State and then Ole Miss/Wisconsin ahead, it’s not unreasonable that the winner could survive the entire week and make it to the Sweet 16. Ramon Galloway and Tyrek Duren make up a good backcourt for LaSalle, while 6’6” sophomore Anthony Drmic leads the way for Boise State. Neither team is all that special rebounding the ball, so whomever finds a way to chase down some errant shots can gain a big edge. I’m leaning LaSalle here because I consider Galloway the best player on the floor. I’ll take the Explorers, who are also getting two at the betting window.
ESPN will have NBA coverage tonight, with Brooklyn-Dallas tipping off at 8 PM ET. The Mavericks still have a shot at that final playoff spot in the West, although there’s no margin for error. There are no NHL games on TV tonight, although you have the best two teams in the West, Chicago and Anaheim going head-to-head at 10 PM ET. What exactly is the point of the NHL having its own network if not to pick up a game like this?
CLEANING UP FROM TUESDAY
St. Mary’s 67 Middle Tennessee 54—As expected, St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova was the best player on the floor, scoring 22 points, and the Gaels enjoyed a big edge at the free throw line. St. Mary’s was 17-of-25 from the charity stripe, while Middle Tennessee only got seven chances, making six. The 11-point margin comes close to matching the final margin of victory.
North Carolina A&T 73 Liberty 72—Liberty got the three-point they needed, hitting 10 of 23 from behind the arc, with their premier shooter Davon Marshall going 6/15. But A&T was much better at executing in two-point range, where they hit 51 percent from the floor and escaped with the chance to play Louisville.
The NCAA Tournament starts tonight with the first two of the four play-in games that will take place in Dayton over Tuesday and Wednesday. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports look is going to be pretty well tied up in college basketball until we get this pared down to the Final Four, so without further adieu let’s dive into tonight’s games.
N.C. A&T vs. Liberty (6:40 PM ET, truTV)—Any team that comes out of a small conference comes into the NCAA on a little bit of a roll since they had to win their league tournament. In the case of these two, the roll does extend a little bit to the end of the regular season—but NC A&T and Liberty won six of their final seven games, including tournament action to get this opportunity tonight.
Liberty got some national renown for making the Dance with a sub-.500 record at 15-20, but they have a very good three-point shooter in Davon Marshall. When you have someone like that who can get hot—he shoots a lot of treys and hits 43 percent of them—you have to respected in a one-game situation against a reasonably comparable opponent like this one. Especially given the NC A&T does not shoot the three-ball particularly well.
This game will come down to a battle of the backcourts. North Carolina A&T looks to be a little bit better getting the ball inside the arc and making things happen, although it’s more on the perimeter as opposed to the post. Liberty needs to get hot from outside. If this were a seven-game series I’d take A&T, but Liberty’s feeling it, so why not take a flyer on Marshall to knock a few down from long range and keep the run lasting one game longer before the Louisville smackdown in the true first round later this week.
St. Mary’s-Middle Tennessee (9:10 PM ET, truTV): This game is for a spot as a #11 seed and a winnable game against Memphis, so a lot does ride on the line here. St. Mary’s simply appears to be a much better team. The Gaels have the best player on the floor in guard Matthew Dellavedova who scores, passes and hits the three-ball. There’s not a great interior presence, but four players collect anywhere from 4-6 rebounds a game. Furthermore, Middle Tennessee does not excel in the paint, so they’re ill-equipped to exploit this part of St. Mary’s.
Middle Tennessee relies on the backcourt. Marcos Knight is the leading scorer and Raymond Cintron is outstanding from behind the arc, hitting 44 percent. If he heats up, the Blue Raiders could pull the mild upset as a three-point underdog. But Cintron is not necessarily more likely to get hot than Dellavedova, and St. Mary’s has the better supporting cast, plus a better recent track record of tournament success. Take the Gaels.
TheSportsNotebook covered the NBA’s week ahead in yesterday’s daily sportslook, and tonight has Denver-Oklahoma City (8 PM ET, NBA-TV) for anyone who’s not ready to dive into March Madness just yet. Hockey buffs can check Washington-Pittsburgh (7:30, NBCSN). There’s also good non-national TV games in Boston-Winnipeg and NY Rangers-New Jersey, with Winnipeg and New York in a joust for the last playoff spot.
It was November 2011 and the Indiana football program moved its home game with Penn State to FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. I cite this insignificant fact to console Hoosier fans who might not be happy their #1-seeded basketball team wasn’t given the top spot in the Midwest Regional, with its culmination in Indianapolis. Instead, Indiana was sent to what is apparently its home away from home. Tom Crean’s team is the top seed in the East Regional, which ends in Washington D.C.
TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball coverage will break down the East bracket pod-by-pod for the first weekend, look ahead to the regionals in D.C., make picks and look at some of the betting odds for each team’s chances of making it Atlanta and the Final Four.
#1 Indiana vs. #16 Long Island/James Madison
#8 N.C. State vs. #9 Temple
Indiana is going to to have its hands full in the second round (I’m still insisting the first round starts Thursday, in spite of the NCAA’s insistence on calling the Tuesday-Wednesday play-in games the “first round.” Both N.C. State and Temple have the offensive talent to exploit a defense that’s rarely been championship-caliber in big games.
The first question will be whether it’s the Owls or Wolfpack that get the chance. N.C. State has the more complete talent, including quality frontline play from Richard Howell and a great three-point shooter in Scott Wood. If the Pack plays like they’re capable they’ll beat Temple and will be right there with Indiana. But my problem is that if N.C. State was going to play like it was capable they would have won the ACC, or at least be right in the mix with Miami and Duke. Or the Pack would have won the conference tournament instead of flaming out in the semis. If you want to give them full faith and credit and pick a win on Friday and possible upset Sunday, I can’t tell you it’s a bad pick. But I’m out of belief in N.C. State.
That’s why I’m picking Temple, which overcame a brief bad spell in February, has a great guard in Khalif Wyatt who can break down defenses and good perimeter play all the way around. But because the Owls lack the three-point shooting/post player combo of N.C. State, I can’t give Temple a real shot at beating Indiana. The Hoosiers might have to sweat on Sunday, but they’ll make it through to D.C.
#4 Syracuse vs #13 Montana
#5 UNLV vs #12 Cal
These games are in San Jose, and that gives Syracuse, and to a lesser extent UNLV, a big reason to throw a fit. Cal will be close to its backyard in spite of being the lowest seed of the power conference teams in the pod. The Golden Bears had been coming on hard down the stretch and were in position to win the Pac-12 before a bad loss and a fight against Stanford ended the regular season. Then a really bad loss to Utah followed in the conference tournament. But Cal has extremely good guards in Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe. While Cobbs is the point guard and Crabbe the two-guard, they can both score and distribute the ball, making this a tough team to guard.
UNLV had a disappointing loss in the Mountain West tournament final against New Mexico—disappointing because the game was played in Las Vegas. The Rebels, as indicated by an otherwise strong finish and their seed, are a good team, but they lack the distinguishing characteristics of Cal’s guards and they’re no better than even money against the Golden Bear frontcourt of David Kravish and Richard Solomon. I’ve got the 12-seed moving forward in this game.
I also like Cal to beat Syracuse. This should be an intriguing game, and if Jim Boeheim’s zone can confuse Cobbs and Crabbe, than my upset pick is going to go out with the window. But the Orange are an overachieving team—a high compliment to be sure, but also reflective that the talent level is not great. I’m assuming we’ll have a partisan Cal crowd for this one and that swings it the underdog’s way. It’s not fair, but from Syracuse’s standpoint, it’s a makeup for 2003 when they were the #3 seed and played a regional final against #1 Oklahoma in Albany, with a big home crowd advantage.
#3 Marquette vs. #14 Davidson
#6 Butler vs #11 Bucknell
Upset alert can be sounded in both of these games. Butler’s resume is flashy, with the head-to-head wins over #1 seeds Indiana and Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs’ play in the Atlantic 10 has been mediocre and they went out in the semifinals of the conference tournament. I see the logic behind seeding Butler this high, because of the big wins mentioned and the strong start. But when it comes to prognosticating, I don’t see them as much more than play-in game quality. That’s why I’ve got the upset.
I’m not sounding the upset alert in the Marquette game, but the ESPN Bracketology crew was last night. Marquette is a vulnerable 3-seed, unable to overwhelm in the post. They’re like Syracuse in that they’ve overachieved all year long, but will see the talent deficiencies come back at some point in this tournament. Unlike their Big East rival though, Marquette isn’t going to play a team with a great backcourt in a road-neutral environment. Marquette’s opponents are ones where just playing hard and playing good defense—things Buzz Williams’ teams take care of—will be enough. The Golden Eagles come out of this pod.
#2 Miami vs #15 Pacific
#7 Illinois vs #10 Colorado
I won’t say Colorado is a nightmare matchup for Miami, but they’re more of a nightmare than Illinois would be. The reason is the ability of Buffalo power forward Andre Roberson to have a big game both scoring and rebounding, which in turn puts pressure on Hurricane center Reggie Johnson to overcome some of his consistency issues. The Illini and Buffs are both good in the backcourt, although either will have their hands full chasing down Shane Larkin to keep him from spotting up from three. Or Durand Scott, if he gets the ball on the wing. Miami will take care of its business and advance. It’s Colorado that gets the chance to pull the upset.
PROJECTED REGIONALS Indiana vs. Cal
Marquette vs Miami
I’ve been downgrading Indiana since the season began, and I was at least looking at the Miami bandwagon before it filled up for a while in February. So I’m not only picking the Hurricanes to reach the Final Four, but I’m saying Indiana falls in the Sweet 16. It gives the NCAA what they surely dreamt of—a Cal-Miami game in Washington D.C. with a Final Four spot at stake. My issue with Indiana is simple—they can look so good offensively that it obscures the lack of consistent quality on the defensive end. And at this level of competition it’s very difficult to win an offensive beauty contest. But if we do end up with a Miami-Indiana final, it’s ironic because the NBA East is on track for the exact same conference final later this spring.
Even if you don’t agree with me about Indiana, you can’t like the 10-11 odds they’re getting to win this regional. That’s a tough bet for any team, when this day and age of parity means you’re getting three straight games of teams good enough to beat you one time. Even though I’m picking Miami in my bracket pool, I wouldn’t bet them in Las Vegas—a 9-4 shot isn’t enough to justify the risk on a team that doesn’t have tournament-tested players. Syracuse is the next team on the board at 5-1.
The middle class of the bracket is Marquette at 15-1, then N.C. State, UNLV and Butler at 20-1. The Wolfpack at 20-1 doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that they need to go through Indiana, who the betting markets tell us is a top-heavy favorite. Another reminder that the purpose of gambling lines is not to make cohesive sense, but to draw action.
Will it surprise you at this point to know that I love Cal at 60-1. From a standpoint of a bracket pool, I feel like I’m taking a foolish risk in putting them in the regional final (the picks you read here are what’s going in my pool and I don’t fill out multiple sheets), given that they’ll be an underdog in the first game. But I’d have no problem with putting a few dollars down at 60-1 that Mike Montgomery’s team cuts down the nets in the Verizon Center.
TheSportsNotebook’s official pick in the East is Miami and our best futures bet is Cal. There will be a final national championship article (complete with odds for winning the whole thing) when all four regions are complete.
There’s going to be plenty of chances in the next couple days for everyone—TheSportsNotebook included—to make Final Four picks and talk about upset possibilities. But here on Selection Sunday Night, let’s look at the newly unveiled bracket from a different perspective. Let’s break it down by pod—the eight teams assigned to each of the opening weekend venues. Which would be the most fun to go if you had the time and money to just pick a spot and go?
The eight sites for the first and second-round games that start on Thursday and run through Sunday are as follows—Lexington, San Jose, Auburn Hills, Philadelphia, Salt Lake, Kansas City, Austin and Dayton. And yes, I said these were “first and second round” games, rather than second and third, as the NCAA appears intent on forcing everyone’s down throat. Calling the Tuesday & Wednesday play-in games as the “first round” is just asinine. Apparently we’re supposed to buy into the fact that 60 of 68 teams got first-round byes. But I digress.
When evaluating the quality of a pod, one of the first things I’m looking for is the likelihood of good fan presence—i.e., teams that are reasonably local. And that fan presence should be balanced throughout the four first-round games. Believe me, I’ve been to a few of these opening weekends and when you’re sitting in an arena that’s a virtual morgue, save a small fan section behind the bench cheering, it can suck out a lot of excitement. After that we’re naturally looking for quality matchups. As a matter of personal preference, I prefer a larger number of competitive games rather than seeing a single highly ranked team. Fans at these pods will sit through six games. I don’t care how much you love Duke, watching them blow out one team and maybe get one competitive game won’t make it fun sitting through the rest of the games.
So here we go. Here’s each pod, the games on tap and the grade given for fan-friendliness. Note that the eight teams are not a pure “bracket”. The second-round winners go their separate ways after the weekend.
Louisville vs. NC A&T/Liberty
The atmosphere should be good at Rupp Arena. In addition to all the fans Louisville will bring, this is easily accessible for Butler, Marquette and Missouri as well. The downside is that Butler and MU don’t have huge fan bases, but the crowd they do bring will be focused and intense. And if the two teams play on Saturday that’s a preview of a rivalry game in the new-look Big East next season. The “Catholic 7” might have saved themselves from the realignment madness of football, but they’re still not above taking schools from Milwaukee and Indianapolis and calling it The Big East. Again though, I get off topic.
Louisville-Missouri would be the second-round matchup I would really want to be in the arena for. Mizzou might only be a nine-seed, but they’ve got the talent to hang with the Cards and I’m sure the house would be rocking.
GRADE: We’re going with a B, if only because I’m not sure if Missouri even gets to the second round, given that they’re the lower seed to begin with. But a Saturday of Louisville-Missouri and Butler-Marquette in Lexington isn’t bad and would make it rise to an A.
SAN JOSE (Thur/Sat)
St. Louis-New Mexico State
There’s some reasonable basketball intrigue in these matchups, especially Cal playing close to home as a 12-seed. But the purely basketball storylines are for another day. Right now this just looks kind of dull from an atmosphere perspective.
GRADE: D, and if Oregon gets knocked out by Oklahoma State—and the Ducks are the 12-seed, that’s more Pac-12 fans going home early. I remember being in Philadelphia in 2009 on a Saturday when the game was Texas A&M-UConn and the arena was half-full and dead silent. Oklahoma State-St. Louis on Saturday could do that—again, it’s no knock on those schools or their fans. In fact, it’s a defense of them—they’re the ones getting robbed by this venue position.
AUBURN HILLS (Thur/Sat)
Memphis-Middle Tenn/St. Mary’s
Michigan-South Dakota State
The Palace will be electric, with Michigan State and Michigan both here. Even better, there’s good games surrounding Sparty and the Wolverines. I love the matchup Memphis has, whichever play-in team they get between Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s. You get a fun team in Virginia Commonwealth, and Akron is well-positioned to make a nice fan showing themselves.
GRADE: It’s an easy A, just thinking about Saturday’s potential doubleheader of Memphis-Michigan State and Virginia Commonwealth-Michigan. This is a classic case of games that are pretty good on the merits, and when you put them into a psyched-up arena it all just ratchets up a notch.
SALT LAKE CITY (Thur/Sat)
This looks good, and it’s even better if Wichita State could bring a nice crowd of fans and then beat Pitt. If you get to Saturday and have Gonzaga-Wichita and Arizona-New Mexico in this venue, and the place should be alive and well. The fact both the Zags and have Lobos have some pressure on them to live up to high seeds, while Arizona has to redeem a disappointing season and Pitt has to show it finally do something in March, give this pod a lot of storylines.
GRADE: I’m going A-, if only because I think Salt Lake is a hair short of Auburn Hills and I have to differentiate between the two somehow.
San Diego State-Oklahoma
Georgetown-Florida Gulf Coast
Duke and Georgetown’s fans will fill the place up, but the fact those teams won’t play each other this weekend mitigates this somewhat. The San Diego State-Oklahoma game is a fun one for purely basketball reasons, but I doubt too much of the crowd in attendance will care. Whomever plays Duke on Sunday, it should be fun—either Cincinnati will bring a lot of fans or it will be Creighton, with the country’s best player in Doug McDermott. Any doubt that every non-Duke fan in the building will rally behind McDermott if he gets in position to lead the way to an upset? The hidden X-factor in this whole thing is Florida Gulf Coast—they beat Miami back in November and should have been seeded higher than 15th. The Hoyas didn’t get any favors with this draw.
GRADE: B+, the lack of a crowd presence for San Diego State-OU is the only thing keeping this off the top line.
KANSAS CITY (Fri/Sun)
Kansas State-Boise State/LaSalle
This one’s got some juice. Just like The Palace in Auburn Hills, the Sprint Center will host two local teams in Kansas State and Kansas. Then you’ve got Roy Williams returning to his old stomping grounds, as the man who coached Kansas from 1989-2003. The Wisconsin fans can make a long drive and, the matchup of the disciplined Badgers against Ole Miss gunner Marshall Henderson provides a great contrast in styles. North Carolina-Villanova is a rematch of a 2009 Final Four game. Then let’s look ahead to Sunday. Wisconsin-Kansas State is a rematch of a 2008 second-round game. And can it really be any better than Kansas-North Carolina—Roy Williams against his old school right in Kansas City?
GRADE: A+–obviously some upsets could put a damper on things, but that’s true of everywhere. As the line goes in the old Rogers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, “everything’s up to date in Kansas City.”
The good people of Austin got robbed. There’s nothing here for the locals to get fired up about, it’s a long way to travel for just about everybody. Put it this way—it’s probably up to Northwestern State’s fans to carry the load here. The most we can say here is that UCLA-Minnesota is a rematch of a 1998 regional final that took place in San Antonio.
GRADE: F, if you’re a traveling fan of a team like Miami, make up for it by going to see spring practice at Texas or something.
Notre Dame-Iowa State
Indiana-Long Island/James Madison
This is another bracket that looks really fun. Notre Dame, Ohio State and Indiana are all going to bring a lot of fans, and don’t underestimate the ability of N.C. State and Temple to travel. Think about how loud the arena will be on Sunday if Notre Dame-Ohio State hold form. Could be a little football trash-talk going on, as the Buckeye fans live under the delusion that they might have fared better than the Irish in the BCS National Championship Game, if not for the probation. There’s also a little history here—Indiana’s 1976 national title run, the last undefeated season, started in Dayton.
GRADE: This is another A-plus venue.
So we’ve got four venues that grade out with an A—Dayton, Kansas City, Auburn Hills and Salt Lake City, with Dayton and Kansas City rising above the rest with an A-plus. If you differentiate the two, I’m going Kansas City, but I’m a Wisconsin fan, so there’s more than a little bias mixed in there. Although regardless of who you root for, the prospect of going out for barbecued ribs in KC sounds like a nice way to spend time between games.
Overall, a pretty good job by the Selection Committee of keeping things fun for the fans at the local sites—at so long as you’re not in San Jose or Austin. My other nit to pick is that they should have set Philadelphia and Dayton on staggered dates and made it possible for the truly hard-core fan to drive between sites.
If you’re a neutral fan just looking for a place for good times, good basketball and a juiced atmosphere, go to Kansas City. TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball coveragetomorrow will shift to the nuts-and-bolts of betting the bracket.