March Madness 2013

It’s that time of year once again college hoops fans. That’s right get ready to breakout the pens, print off brackets, start up office tournaments/pools and be prepared to go absolutely mad!!!

March Madness is upon us with Selection Sunday (this Sunday March 17th) only a few days away. So, without further adieu here’s a rundown of teams you CAN and CAN’T trust and some Sleepers/Cinderella’s to watch in this year’s NCAA Men’s Division One College Basketball Tournament:

You Can Trust:

Duke– Likely number one seed, went 14-4 in the ACC and 27-4 overall. Has one of the richest tournament histories and recently got back playmaker Ryan Kelly. Kelly dropped 34 points in Dukes revenge win over this year’s ACC Champion Miami Hurricanes. All reasons to trust the Blue Devils.

Key Wins: Nov.24th vs. then second ranked Louisville 76-71, Nov. 28th vs. then fourth ranked Ohio State 73-68, Mar. 5th vs. then fifth ranked Miami 79-76. Key Losses: Jan.12th vs. North Carolina State 84-76, Feb. 16th vs. Maryland 83-81, Feb.28th vs. Virginia 73-68.

Indiana– Likely number one seed, went 14-4 in the Big Ten and 26-5 overall. Spent time this season as the number one ranked team in the nation and have a sensational offensive/defensive combo in playmakers Cody Zeller and potential POY Victor Oladipo. Led by coach Tom Crean the Hoosiers are as reliable as they come this year.

Key Wins: Nov. 20th vs. Georgetown in OT 82-72, Feb.2 vs. then first ranked Michigan 81-73, Feb.19 vs. then fourth ranked Michigan State 72-68. Key Losses: Dec. 15 vs. Butler in OT 88-86, Feb.7th vs. Illinois 74-72, March 5th vs. Ohio State 67-58.

Miami– Likely a second seed team, won the ACC championship outright. Started the season unranked and have been ranked as high as second in the nation. Led by seniors Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson along with coach Jim Larranaga (coached the 2006 George Mason Patriots to an improbable final four appearance) the Canes can be trusted.

Key Wins: Nov.28th vs. then thirteenth ranked  Michigan State 67-59, Jan.23rd vs. then first ranked Duke 90-63, Feb.2nd vs. then nineteenth ranked North Carolina State 79-78. Key Losses: Nov.13th vs. Florida Gulf Coast University 63-51, Dec.25th vs. Indiana State in OT 57-55, Feb.23rd vs. Wake Forest 80-65.

Gonzaga– Likely a number one seed, went undefeated at 16-0 in the West Coast Conference and 31-2. Gonzaga is the number one ranked team in the nation and have been led by the likes of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, don’t let the WCC schedule fool you, the Zags are trustworthy this year.

Key Wins: Nov.23rd vs. Oklahoma 72-47, Dec.31st vs. then twenty second ranked Oklahoma State 69-68, Mar.11th vs. Saint Mary’s 65-61. Key Losses: Dec.8th vs. then thirteenth ranked Illinois, and Jan.19th vs. then thirteenth ranked Butler 64-63.

Louisville– Likely a number one or two seed (depending on whether or not they win the Big East Conference Tournament), went 14-4 in the Big East and 26-5 overall. The Cardinals have a good chance of winning the Big East tournament and securing a number one seed because of the dynamic play of Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, and Peyton Siva. Coached by tournament hardened veteran Rick Pitino, the Cards offer a solid sense of security this year.

You Can’t Trust:

Kansas– Yes the Jayhawks went 14-4 in the Big 12 and have a 26-5 record, and yes they will likely earn a second seed in the big dance, however, given Kansas’ tournament resume’, they don’t have a leg to stand on this year. Since 2005 Kansas has been upset a total of four times, two of which came in the tournaments first round. To their credit the Jayhawks were in last year’s National Championship Game and won it all in 2008, but given their topsy-turvy tournament track record don’t be shocked to see them going home early…

UNC– The Tar Heels went 12-6 in the ACC with a 22-9 overall record and suffered some struggles this season. While UNC has one a pair of National Championships since 2005 (05′ and 2009) the Heels have fallen short of the Final Four a total of four times, with a Final Four loss to Kansas in 2008. With their up-and-down style of play UNC is far from a safe bet in this year’s tourney.

UCLA– The Bruins were once a household name when it came to the Big Dance, but the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s have long been over. UCLA had a stretch of tournament success from 2006-2008 with three Final Four appearances and a National Championship appearance, however they have also been upset three times as well (2005 1st round, 2009, 2011 2nd round)and didn’t even make it to the dance in 2010 and 2012. Given UCLA’s inconsistency, they simply can’t be trusted.

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Syracuse– The Orange Men have been feeling a bit blue lately going 2-4 in their last six games losing recently to Georgetown 61-39. Cuse did manage to go 11-7 in the Big East and 23-8 overall but have struggled thus far in the Big East Tournament. Since their one and only National Championship in 2003 Syracuse has failed to advance beyond the Sweet 16 in six of the previous seven tournament appearances, the most recent was an Elite 8 loss last year to Ohio State. With the Orange Men having the longest case of an Upset Stomach I’ve seen in a while, they have yet to earn any amount of trust.

Notre Dame– Aside from a 5 OT thriller victory over Louisville this season the Fighting Irish have had a lack luster season posting identical numbers to Syracuse (see Cuse’ numbers above). Notre Dame’s tournament history is riddled with first and second round upsets over the decades that have past since the schools one and only final four appearance way back in 1978. The last time the Irish broke into the Sweet 16…2003. Needless to say, the Luck of the Irish has been absent for Notre Dame year-in-and-year-out. Moreover, the Irish are a historical lock to be upset.

Sleepers That Could Open Your Peepers:

Michigan State– The Spartans finished second in the Big Ten standings going 13-5 with a 24-7 overall record. Coached by tournament veteran bench boss Tom Izzo and led by the likes of Keith Appling and Gary Harris the Spartans are ranked eight in the AP Poll and will likely garner a number three seed. Michigan State has made five Final Four appearances with two National Championship appearances (won it all in 2000, lost to UNC in 2009) in the last 12 years. The Spartans have made runs before and could be poised for another deep run this year.

Saint LouisThe Billikens have only made two tournament appearances in the last 12 years (2000,2012) but they managed to make it to the second round last year and only missed making the Sweet 16 by four points losing to the aforementioned Spartans 65-61. Led by playmakers Dwayne Evans and Kwamain Mitchell Saint Louis finished in 1st place of the Atlantic-10 Conference going 13-3 and 24-6 overall. The Billikens are ranked sixteenth in the AP poll and could surprise a few teams this year.

ButlerDespite some early exits pre-2010 and missing last year’s tourney, the Bulldogs have managed to play in two of the last three National Championships and finished 3rd in the Atlantic-10 with an 11-5 record going 24-7 overall. Given the Bulldogs recent success in the big dance, Butler should not be counted out of this year’s potential sleeper group as they can surprise teams the same way they did in 2010 and 2011 this year.

Marquette– The Golden Eagles ended the regular season with a four game win streak that included W’s against Cuse and ND and have stayed hot in the Big East tournament. Marquette is ranked fifteenth in the AP poll going 14-4 in the Big East and 23-7 overall. The Golden Eagles last Final Four was in 2003, however, they have posted back-to-back Sweet 16 finishes recently. Marquette may be able to pull off a similar run like the UCONN Huskies did in 2011.

Oklahoma State– Despite recent tourney woes the Cowboys were on fire in the second half of season going 11-3 in their last 14 games with wins over higher ranked Big 12 foes Kansas and Kansas State. Led by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown (both averaging 15PPG) Oklahoma State may have the offensive scoring ability to trip a few teams up in the tournament.

Cinderella Stories:

Iona– The surprise MAAC Conference Champions finished the regular season with a overall record of 20-13 going 11-7 in MAAC play. The Gael’s will likely be a sixteenth seed in the tournament and as we all are aware no sixteen seed has EVER upset a number one seed in the history of the tournament. Nevertheless, this year’s crop of sixteen seeds will be some of the strongest yet and could give those trustworthy teams I mentioned early a scare…at least in the first half anyway.

South Dakota State– The Summit League Champions went 25-9 overall with a 13-3 conference record and will likely be a fifteenth seed, which gives the Jackrabbits a slight chance at an upset. Only six teams all-time have ever been a fifteen seed and upset a two seed. However, two of those upsets happened in last year’s tourney with Lehigh knocking off Duke, and Norfolk State defeating Missouri. So there’s hope for the Jackrabbits still.

Florida Gulf Coast University– This would certainly be a textbook Cinderella story as the Eagles are making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance!!! FGCU won the Atlantic Sun Conference title and will likely be dancing as a fifteen seed. The Eagles went 24-10 overall with a 13-5 conference mark. Their a feel-good-story team that could win the hearts of millions while busting millions of brackets at the same time.

Belmont– The Bruins won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in their first year as a member going 14-2 with an overall record of 26-6. Belmont has been a rising mid-major program and will likely earn an eleventh seed, meaning they could legitimately make some noise if they catch fire this year.

James Madison– Won the CAA Conference Championship to punch their ticket to the tourney going 11-7 in CAA play with a 20-14 overall record. The Dukes will likely be a sixteenth seed, but just like Iona, this team could play a number one seed tougher than we’ve ever seen.

Side Note: The odds are stacked against these Cinderella teams yes, but in March…ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!!!

Final Thoughts: Granted there were plenty of teams I left out in what will be an eventual field of 68 teams, however I personally felt as though these teams stood out amongst the rest of the field. Who do you have going all the way? Who is most likely to get upset? Leave a comment below.

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Farewell to Calhoun

The University of Connecticut basketball coach, 70 year old Jim Calhoun is expected to announce his retirement on Thursday. He will be replaced by Assistant Coach Kevin Ollie. UConn has been ruled ineligible for the tournament next season due to poor grades. Many players have either moved onto the NBA or switched schools. I have been a UConn fan for as long as I can remember and whenever I think of the Huskies, I think Jim Calhoun. Although he has missed many games over the past few years due to cancer and other injuries/illnesses, the guy could still coach. He won 3 national titles with the school during his tenure.

Calhoun retires with 875 wins and 381 losses in 39 years of coaching. That is enough to put him 10th on the all time winning list for college head coaches. He has won seven Big East Tournament Championships. He has been in the Basketball Hall of Fame since 2005. In 2011, he became the oldest coach to win a Division 1 March Madness Championship. He retires with a record of 50-19 in NCAA tournaments. He will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, and will surely be missed by all who loved watching him coach.

Robinson Going Pro

According to many sources, Kansas Jayhawks’ forward Thomas Robinson will announce his intent to play in the NBA later today.  This is no surprise to anyone, and he is #4 on the big board for ESPN. Robinson has decided to not return to Kansas for his senior season.  As a Junior, Robinson averaged 17.9 PPG and 11.8 RPG, before losing to Kentucky in the Finals a week ago.  Robinson didn’t even start his Freshman or Sophomore years, averaging at most 14 mins per game.  Last year, however, he averaged over 31.  He is a great defender and a force on the boards.  Good luck Thomas!

 

 

March Madness Finale

If you look at the box score of last night’s NCAA Championship Game, you may see a kid that shot 1-10 and scored a total of 6 points has won the Most Outstanding Player award.  However, if you watched the game, you would have seen a Bill Russell-like defensive minded player completely changing the pace of the game.  Anthony Davis was not concerned about the offensive side of the game, he even told his teammates that he would just focus on defense and rebounding.  He had 6 blocks and 16 rebounds. Doron Lamb was the games high scorer with 22 points.

The game looked to be over almost right away, until the last 5 minutes when Kansas put together a small come back. However, they could not make up enough ground and they lost 67-59. Thomas Robinson had a great game with 18 points and 16 rebounds. Tyshawn Taylor added 19 points of his own for the Jayhawks.  The best team actually won this year, which you cannot always say at the end of the Madness.

 

Rivers Going Pro

Although it has already been around the rumor mill since last weekend, it has now become official: Austin Rivers is heading to the NBA.  Rivers was a unanimous choice for ACC Rookie of the Year.  Usually, I would disregard anything about Duke, but since it is the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, it is hard not to say something about.

Most people, including myself, thought that Rivers would last at least a few years at Duke, who are known for graduating most of their players, but not in this case.  He will become the 4th Duke player to leave after only one year. Kyrie Irving did it last year.  I also thought that Doc would push his son in the right direction.  However, he had this to say:

“At the end of the day, all you can do with all of your kids, or any kid in this situation, is give them as much input as you can, then you try to let them make the decision. They have to make it; you can’t make it for them.”

Don’t get your hopes up, though, Celtics fans.  Chances are, he won’t make it till our pick.

All-Americans in the Pros

We all know that there has been a ton of speculation regarding freshman sensation Anthony Davis of Kentucky.  He is an amazing player.  However, there are 4 other players on the All-American team that deserve a closer look too. For example, Thomas Robinson of Kansas was the first unanimous choice since Blake Griffin in 2009.  Davis was not unanimous somehow. Here is a look at the 5 All-Americans:

  1. Anthony Davis   Freshman            Kentucky
    14.3 PPG              10.1 RPG              4.6 BPG
  2. Thomas Robinson            Junior    Kansas
    17.7 PPG              11.8 RPG              .512 FG%
  3. Jared Sullinger   Sophomore        Ohio State
    17.6 PPG              9.1 RBG               .531 FG%
  4. Draymond Green             Senior   Michigan State
    16.2 PPG              10.6 RPG              3.8 APG
  5. Doug McDermott             Sophomore        Creighton
    22.9 PPG              8.2 RPG               .601 FG%

Final 4 is Finally Here!

If you somehow missed any of the games this weekend, you missed quite a bit.  The box scores do not do these games justice.  Especially in the Kentucky game.  Baylor went up 10-5 right out of the gate, but that was short lived as the Wildcats came back and exploded for 16 straight points.  The final score was 82-70, but it was much more lopsided than that.  Kentucky is going to be a tough team to beat.  Anthony Davis is going to be the #1 pick, and for good reason.  He played amazing once again with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks.  He even played when the game was a lock at the game, risking injury.  This team looks amazing day in and day out.  They will take on Louisville who they already beat by 7 points on New Year’s Eve.  I think this should be an easy win for Kentucky but you never know with Rick Patino on the other side of the court, he just needs to come up with a game plan to shut down 4 of the best players in the league.  Easier said than done.

Kansas is tough as well, with most likely a #2 pick Thomas Robinson scoring 18 points and Tyshawn Taylor dropping 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals.  They were able to take down the Tarheels with a strong finish to the 2nd half.  They will take on Ohio State who is led by Jared Sullinger, coming off a big game against Syracuse.  He has 19 points while grabbing 7 boards.  I picked Ohio State to win last year but I think that Kansas will take this one.

Day 1 – Sweet 16 Preview

#4 Wisconsin vs. #1 Syracuse

With the loss of Fab Melo, many people wondered if the Orange would even beat 16 seed UNC Asheville.  The Orange advanced after a tough fought game with the help of some questionable officiating.  In the round of 32, the Wildcats of Kansas State put up a fight against the Orange but the depth of the Orange proved to be too much in the end, as Dion Waiters and James Southerland combined for 33 points off the bench.  Despite these two victories, the Orange are still seen as the most vulnerable of the number one seeds.  Tonight’s matchup against Wisconsin will be a true test for the Orange.  The Badgers come into this game with the 4th ranked defense in the country and on paper, look to be a great matchup for Syracuse.  Wisconsin is very stingy with the basketball, coming into this game averaging the second fewest turnovers per possession in the nation, and this will truly prevent the Orange from capitalizing on turnovers and getting easy buckets off of fast breaks.  Syracuse will most likely have to score in their half-court offense which is not an easy task against the Badgers defense.  Expect this game to be a low scoring game, with Syracuse only scoring 70 points or better 4 times in their last 13 games and the Badgers only giving up and average of 53 points in their first two tournament games.

Keys to Success:

For the Orange, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph are the two players that will need to step up if they are going to advance to the elite 8.  Both of these experienced players have played in big games and know what it takes to win in the NCAA tournament.  The Orange will be successful if they can produce good ball and player movement and not settle for jump shots, and their success starts from these two seniors.

For the Badgers, Jordan Taylor will have to have a big game and the defense will need to continue to be strong.  Although Taylor has not been as productive this season as he was in his junior season, with a .402 field goal percentage, .359 three point percentage, and a .785 free-throw percentage, the Badgers are in the same position as they were one year ago, the Sweet Sixteen.  If the Badgers continue to take care of the ball and keep the Orange’s offense in front of them, they will have a good chance of advancing to the Elite 8.

Prediction: Wisconsin

 

#4 Louisville vs. #1 Michigan State

                The Big East Champion Louisville Cardinals will face their biggest test yet as they come up against Michigan State number one seed Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen.  The Spartans will enter the game minus an important role player in freshman guard Branden Dawson.  Dawson has been huge in piling up hustle points for the Spartans and his loss will provide an advantage for the Cardinals.  The player for the Spartans that has to step up in this game will be Draymond Green.  Green is averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 8 assists in the tournament, leading the tournament in scoring.  The Spartans have been a second half team so far in the tournament shooting 64.2 percent in the second half in wins against LIU Brooklyn and Saint Louis, but the Cardinals may jump on the Spartans early if they get off to a slow start.  For Louisville to win this game it is going to have to come from the defensive end.  The Cardinals play as hard on defense as any team in the country with Gogui Deng being a force in the paint and great guard defense led by Peyton Siva.  On the offensive side of the ball, Siva has been averaging 9.2 points per game and 5.5 assists per game.  He will need to continue to get his team involved if the Cardinals are going to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Michigan State

 

#6 Cincinnati vs. #2 Ohio State

The Cincinnati Bearcats are coming off of a huge win over the ACC Tournament champion Florida State Seminoles and will need to continue with this momentum if they are going to upset Ohio State.  With Fab Melo out, The Buckeyes have quickly become the favorite to reach the Final Four from the East Region.  Cincinnati has played well as of late, reaching the finals in the Big East Tournament and defeating Texas and Florida State in the first two rounds of the tournament.  One of the most intriguing matchups in this game is going to be the matchup between Yancy Gates and Jared Sullinger.  Gates and Sullinger are averaging 9.2 and 9.3 rebounds per game respectively, and whoever wins this big man matchup is going to give their team a huge advantage to win the game.  I would give the edge to Sullinger in this battle.  Sullinger possesses a point scoring ability that Gates does not as he is leading his team and averaging 17.6 points per game.  He has flown under the radar for much of this season and is much better than people are currently giving him credit for.  Each of these teams has the chance to bring Ohio its first men’s basketball title since 1962.

Prediction: Ohio State

 

#7 Florida vs. #3 Marquette

In the round of 32, Marquette beat a very good Murray State team who did not get as much credit as they deserved.  Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder is one of the best duos in the country and they have shown this throughout the tournament.  Each of these players were finalists for the Big East player of the year, an award that Crowder won.  A key to the game for the Golden Eagles is not Johnson Odom’s offense, rather his defense.  Florida’s offense is run around ball screens and spacing along the three point line with very minimal post game.  Florida shoots more three point shots than most and for Marquette to slow down their offense Johnson Odom has to come up big defensively.  For Florida the key player is Kenny Boynton.  He is averaging 16.3 points per game and has been Florida’s most consistent player all season.  He will have to have a big offensive night if the Gators are going to beat Marquette.  Florida’s defense will also be a huge factor in determining their success.  The Gators have struggled at time this year when they were shooting poorly from behind the arc because they could not get stops or force turnovers.  However, in their two NCAA tournament wins so far they allowed their opponents to a .71 and .77 points per possession.  The Golden Eagles are very capable of scoring in bunches and the Gators will need to play tenacious defense once again to stay in this game.

Prediction: Marquette

Guest Writer: Matt Frags

Can UConn Strike Twice?

Since UConn has been my favorite team since I can remember, I figured it would be a good idea to write an article since everyone is talking about their back-to-back wins, just as they did last year en route to a national championship.  They ran over Depaul, which they should every day of the week, and then barely snuck by West Virginia yesterday in overtime.  This was due largely in part to Shabazz Napier’s 26 points and Jeremy Lamb’s 22 points.  Luckily for the Huskies, WVU only shot 34.7% from the field.  They did, however, out-rebound UConn 40-24.

Next up is their toughest test.  They will be taking on #1 in the Big East Syracuse. Syracuse has been chosen by many, including me, to win the Final Four.  As much as I do not think UConn can beat the Orange, I will not count them out completely because I began to do that last year and we all know how that turned out. At the beginning of February, UConn got blown out of the water by them 85-67.  However, by the end of the month, they only lost to them 71-69.  I think it is possible for them to stir up an upset but is going to be tough.  I mean this is the same team who has lost against Providence and Rutgers, both awful teams.  Maybe we will be lucky enough to see another 5 overtime game like last season.   Unfortunately, the Huskies are missing one key component from last year’s team—Kemba Walker.