Monday, March 31, 2008

This is Bound To Make Your Ribs Hurt

I didn't even know that Zeke was a candidate for the Hoosiers job. In case you thought he was (LOL!), he is not. Why? He has a job.

Also, Tony Bennett (who coaches WASU, not this one) said "Thanks, but no thanks" to the aforementioned Indiana head coaching position. This is fairly surprising as he is losing three starters, including his two best to graduation.

In news that no one other than me cares about, does a lateral move from Kent State to TCU puzzle your mind? If we were talking football, that's one thing, but Jim Christian coaches basketball (though, he has crossed paths with two NFL Pro Bowl players). Fun fact. Anyhow, give credit to TCU for getting a proven coach.

Lastly, in a no-brainer, Pitt's Jamie Dixon opted to stay with the Panthers after being offered the same post at Cal. Now that Bill Self has reached the Final Four (gasp!), do not be shocked if Dixon gets the Self treatment for being "the best coach not to reach the Final Four". In Dixon's case, it's the Elite 8. Of course, there's also that Bruce Pearl guy.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Unbiased Elite Eight PREVIEW [Sunday Edition]

Pay and I have decided to stick with what works, revisiting last year’s Elite Eight format we enjoyed so much, as we deliver your Unofficial Unbiased Preview to the Elite Eight.

The Saturday matchups (UCLA/Xavier & UNC/Louisville) got their due yesterday.

Don’t worry. We aren’t afraid to tick off a few coaches, call out non-professional athletes, or let our gut reactions – not our corporate sponsors or contacts – decide our analysis and perhaps, a prediction or two.

Without further banter, let’s roll!

…games are in order of time- slot (2pm and 5pm respectively)…

South Regional Final: #1. Memphis vs. #3. Texas [aka “Free Throws Don’t Matter vs. Isn’t this game in TEXAS!?!?”]

Never underestimate the impact of a Naismith-finalist in games such as these.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Key Players
Derrick Rose v. DJ Augustin will headline the night. In fact, I’m going to say that again just to give the phenomenal PGs (freshman and sophomore, respectively) enough credit. However, the key player on the Tigers roster I am targeting is All-American and Naismith finalist Chris Douglas-Roberts. The stabilizing force for Calipari’s bunch, CDR can get to the line at-will (11-for-12 against the Spartans) and his hot hand is the worst possible news for any opponent. His size and defensive prowess make him a force on both sides of the court as well.

Texas Here’s my aforementioned promised second mentioning of the important of Rose v. Augustin (happy?). While Pay might justifiably bring up a guy named Atchley, I’m focusing on the best big man Texas has, Damion James. Arguably Texas’s most consistent player through three tournament games, James will have to earn rough baskets in the blocks and hit open jumpers for the Longhorns to withstand the force and fury of the Memphis attack. Might I also add that both Dorsey and Dozier can be prone to early foul trouble. Despite being a sophomore, James would be wise to exploit that early and often.

Moment of Truth
After AJ Abrams’s first five shots, whenever they take place, Texas will likely have a preview of the night their senior perimeter shooter is going to have. Whether he’s taking threes off of a screen or taking a runner near the free-throw line, it’s imperative how Abrams starts (and therefore finishes). Memphis locked Antonio Anderson on Drew Neitzel and gave him absolute fits; however, this matchup will be tougher on AA. I promise.

Key Stats
Don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about Memphis and free throws, AGAIN. Let’s try this instead: 15-0 to close out the first-half en route to a 50-20 halftime lead, and 0-16 to allow Michigan State to claw the score back to a 17-point deficit. Embarrassing to say the least for Michigan State, an upset special against Memphis which a ton of the media embraced (good luck with that one). Just as important was Drew Neitzel not scoring until 1:47 left in the game. Good luck, AJ Abrams.

-Dexter Pittman (4, 6, & 2) and Clint Chapman (4, 2, 1), Texas’s big men reserves combined for 17 of the most stabilizing minutes Rick Barnes could have ever hoped for on Friday night. Both role players average six minutes per game, yet found new responsibilities once the Lopez twins surfaced in the opponent’s lineup. Job well done, men. Problem is: can they possibly do it again against such amazing athletic talent?

Interesting Facts
- Though Memphis’s struggles from the free throw line (59.8%) have been documented, Texas is not much better at 68.0%. In fact, among the regulars, only DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams shoot above that clip.

- Four of the five Texas starters shoot above 37% from 3-point range.

Pay’s Prediction: Texas wins 75-67
Clement’s Prediction: Texas wins 87-84 (OT)

Midwest Regional Final: #1. Kansas vs. #10. Davidson [aka “Bill Self: You can do this vs. Gus Johnson’s Praying to Scream Our Game-Winner as loud as he possible can”]

Any chance, win or lose, that Curry is already the MOP of the Midwest Region?
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Note from Clement: CBS commentator Gus Johnson needs to learn the difference between excitement for an incredible play or team effort AND going out of his way to root for the underdog and Cinderella story at the expense of calling a fair, accurate game. [Only HIS writing is more over-the-top, ego-inflated, and ridiculously biased.]

Key Players

It’s not fair how good Kansas is. In a tournament that has long been dominated by guard play, they have one of the nation’s best defenders (Mario Chalmers) and a dynamic guard with a flair for the unselfish (Brandon Rush). Additionally, there’s the less-heralded Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins, who may be the only guard quick enough to defeat Darren Collison or Ty Lawson in a race. Perceived as their only “weakness” prior to this season, Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson have been dominant in the blocks when they’ve needed to be and Sasha Kaun can take big defenders out for a 15-foot jumper.

Davidson – Let’s just get the two key players out of the way. Jason Richards and Stephen Curry must not only have repeat performances of their last three games, but they might even have to play better if they want the last two minutes of this game to be significant. In the trenches, Andrew Lovedale will have to body up with the Jayhawk quartet of Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun and Cole Aldridge. Keeping the Davidson Final Four dream alive also requires the selfless contributions from Sander, Meno, Paulhus Gosselin and Rossiter that are almost never seen in box scores.

Moment of Truth
After the first prolonged Jayhawks run, will Stephen Curry begin to force shots if Jason Richards and Co. are ineffective? If Davidson can hold Kansas to less than 45% and/or force 15+ turnovers, they have a chance to defeat the dominant Jayhawks in a close game. In the end, Bob McKillop’s team will be four to five plays short of making a miraculous trip to the Final Four.

Key Stats
- 27 to 4. That may be one of the runs that Kansas has had in this tournament. It’s also Jason Richards’s assist-to-turnover ratio. Sick.

- Kansas shot over 50% from the field for the season and has done so in each of its three tournament games.

Interesting Facts
- December 21, 2007. That’s the last time Davidson lost.

- Kansas has a 5-3 record this season in games decided by single digits.

Pay’s Prediction: Kansas wins 83-72
Clement’s Prediction: Kansas wins 81-65

Final Four coverage will come fast and furious this week.

Unless you enjoy spoon-fed answers from the “networks”.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Unbiased Elite Eight PREVIEW [Saturday Edition]

Pay and I have decided to stick with what works, revisiting last year’s Elite Eight format we enjoyed so much, as we deliver your Unofficial Unbiased Preview to the Elite Eight.

The Sweet Sixteen got their pub the past two mornings. [I & II]

Don’t worry. We aren’t afraid to tick off a few coaches, call out non-professional athletes, or let our gut reactions – not our corporate sponsors or contacts – decide our analysis and perhaps, a prediction or two.

Without further banter, let’s roll!

…games are in order of tip-off (6:40pm and 9:05pm respectively)…

West Regional Final
: #1. UCLA vs. #3. Xavier

Beware of the impact, and chest hair, of UCLA's role players.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Key Players
When Darren Collison fouled out with over 5 minutes remaining in their Sweet Sixteen matchup against the Hilltoppers, the Bruins appeared to not break a sweat. It should’ve came as no surprise when the tandem of Westbrook/Shipp brought up the ball, thanks in large part to the brilliance of freshman Kevin Love. His passing has always been flaunted, his defense has arrived on the national scene, and now Love may be the one man whose team needs him more than any other. Josh Duncan is in for a nightmarish matchup.

XavierAs important as Lavender’s poise, Burrell’s discipline and Raymond’s clutch-shooting has been to the Musketeers, anyone who has watched Xavier this tournament must realize the impact of PF Josh Duncan. Steadying them during a late WVU run, fouling out in the closing minutes was just as impactful for Alexander to WVU as Duncan was the Musketeers. In fact, if Duncan can play 30 minutes – battling with Love without fouling out first – then, he might be the West Regional MVP you never expected. Kevin Love is in for a nightmarish matchup.

Moment of Truth
It’s too hard for me to believe this game won’t be foul happy. The Bruins have shown in back-to-back games that they can overcome double-digit deficits (A&M) and nearly blow one of their own (WKU). The same can be said about the Musketeers actually (Georgia and WVU respectively). The real question I have is: who will be the first impact starter to foul out? Collison, Burrell, Lavender, Love or Duncan? In fact, it’s much more likely a few of these guys might be gone before the final buzzer, whether that’s after 40 minutes or not.

Key Stats
Without going too crazy, here’s two critical tourney statistics worth mentioning:
UCLA – Without going overboard, Kevin Love’s numbers have been astronomical throughout the season. However, his regular season numbers (17.6, 10.7, & 1.5) were pedestrian compared to his tournament averages (22.6, 11.3, & 5). While A&M offered up some beef, no opponent has had the talent that Josh Duncan has the attacking perimeter players the Musketeers offer a bounty of. Keep it up, Kev.

Xavier – Their opponents have shot respectively 6-13 (Georgia), 8-21 (Purdue), & West Virginia (1-11) for a total of 33.3%. While far from problematic as a whole, Xavier will rely heavily on limiting open shot opportunities from behind the arc from the Bruins and affording them a hot start early.

Interesting Facts
-UCLA is trying to be the first team to make 3 straight Final Fours. Who was the last to do it? Michigan State and Tom Izzo (sandwiching a Final Four-appearance in there). Of course, the Bruins did it with relative ease back in the 70s (aka The Wooden Years).

-Trying to remember the last time Xavier was in the Final Four? Good luck. Truth is: Xavier reached the Elite Eight in 2004 (Santos!) and was dispatched by top-seeded Duke. That’s as close as they’ve gotten to the final Saturday of the college basketball season. However, if you’re looking for a Cincinnati-based Final Four squad, check out the 91-92 Bearcats with a young Nick Van Exel at the point.

Pay’s Prediction: UCLA wins, 75-68
Clement’s Prediction: UCLA wins, 78-73

East Regional Final
: #1. North Carolina vs. #3. Louisville

If Lawson is knocking down his shots early...good luck Cardinals.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Key Players
Early in the first half of their Sweet 16 battle versus Washington State, it was Danny Green who led the Tar Heels to an insurmountable 14-point halftime bulge. His aggressiveness and ability to finish is invaluable against Louisville’s pressure defense. That said, Ty Lawson and Quentin Thomas will have to continue making excellent decisions in breaking down the Cardinals. Of course, Tyler Hansbrough cannot have a first half like he did against the Cougars if he wants his legacy at Carolina to end in a national championship. Also, Wayne Ellington will need to continue hitting mid-range jumpers in transition.

Louisville – If the Cardinals are to extinguish the Tar Heels, it will come down to senior center David Padgett. He anchors the zone, is perhaps the nation’s best floor communicators and helped hold Tennessee to 34% field goal shooting. Do-everything forward Terrence Williams has struggled at times, but can take over a game at both ends of the floor and is never to take a big shot (and make it). However, Earl Clark and Andre McGee have elevated this team to the Elite Eight, and others (Jerry Smith, Juan Palacios, Derrick Character) are fully capable of contributing double-figure points.

Moment of Truth
Much like the first Elite Eight matchup, there will be fouls. Whomever can get the other into foul trouble first has a decided advantage and may force the opposition to veer away from their preferred style of play. Also, both outrebounded their opponents in the last round by more than ten. The squad that is most capable of securing the basketball will win this game and book their ticket to San Antonio.

Key Stats
-The Tar Heels have shot 57.7% including 42.6% from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore point guard Ty Lawson carries a nearly 2.5 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

-Meanwhile, the Cardinals surrender only 38.4% from the field and only 30.7% from behind the arc. Something has to give in that department. Also, the Cardinals must improve upon their 64.9% clip from the charity stripe should they wish to upend the favored Tar Heels.

Interesting Fact
- Roy Williams and Rick Pitino are second (behind Coach K) in Final Four appearances (5) with 5 different teams combined.

Pay’s Prediction: North Carolina wins, 76-72
Clement’s Prediction: North Carolina wins, 83-71

See you tomorrow with the OTHER half of the Elite Eight...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

An Unbiased Sweet Sixteen Analysis…UNLEASHED!!! [Part Deux]

Pay and I have decided to stick with what works, revisiting last year’s Elite Eight format we enjoyed so much, as we deliver your Unofficial Unbiased Preview to the Sweet Sixteen.

Don’t worry. We aren’t afraid to tick off a few coaches, call out non-professional athletes, or let our gut reactions – not our corporate sponsors or contacts – decide our analysis and perhaps, a prediction or two.

Without further banter, let’s roll!

Thursday’s game get their pub yesterday, with Friday’s slate arriving today.


Contrary to what some of the "majors" have failed to tell you, guys like Jason Richards (8 assists a click) are teammates of recent all-world baller Stephen Curry for the Davidson Wildcats.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#3. Wisconsin vs. #10. Davidson [Pay]

Here is one of the biggest misnomers in the NCAA Tournament: Davidson is a one-man team. Why? It’s because Jason Richards is one of the best point guards in the country. PERIOD. Additionally, the Wildcats have a host of players who The Rock would love, because they know their damn role. On the other side of the scorer’s table, Wisconsin brings a suffocating brand of defense that many thought during the season was symptomatic of the anemic offenses in the Big Ten. They thought wrong. While the Badgers are capable of scoring points, they prefer to slow it down. Chances are that if they are successful in that pursuit, they will be deemed victorious.

Players to Watch: Hmm, let me check. Oh yeah, Stephen Curry. Not only is he a classic tournament player who was not recruited by the big schools, he is one of the nation’s best ten players … as a sophomore. For an undersized shooting guard, Curry finds ways to get open, score and involve teammates against taller, stronger guards. As always, Jason Richards (8.0 apg) will be a vital role in making certain that Curry gets his looks. Of course, Michael Flowers and Travon Hughes have the grand responsibility of not only gloving both players while staying out of foul trouble, but also forcing action at the other end. Brian Butch, Marcus Landry and Joel Krabbenhoft almost always present matchup problems for opponents and can be a source of frustration for Thomas Sander, Andrew Lovedale and Boris Meno. This battle of the boards can be a game-decider.

Moment of Truth: When the Wildcats are inevitably down by double digits in the second half, what coaching decisions will Bo Ryan to prevent his men from being a self-fulfilling prophecy? If and when Stephen Curry gets hot, what adjustments will the Badgers make if Michael Flowers is unable to control the sophomore stud?

#1. Kansas vs. #12. Villanova

Role players interchange as stars and vice-versa for the Jayhawks (i.e. Russell Robinson).
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Is a 12-seed from a power conference truly a Cinderella? Whether or not they reached the Sweet Sixteen or not, Villanova isn’t a true Cinderella story. However, they will be the second after they defeat Kansas. Of course, that isn’t very likely to happen. Despite our problems with their coach being able to win the big games, Kansas’s rosters is LOADED with shooting, athleticism and clutch play. In fact, they probably have pound-for-pound the most talented roster in the entire country. Fortunately for the Wildcats, this game is in Detroit and not Kansas City. At least, that’s working for them.

Players to Watch: Despite losing his size, the injury to Casiem Drummond won’t decide this game. More important to the Villanova attack is the play of their three guards (Reynolds, Cunningham, and Fisher). While their frontcourt has plenty of work to do against the able-bodied Jayhawks, the Wildcats will only go as far as their slashing and shooting guards can carry them. As for Rock Chalk, the Jayhawks have a trio of guards of their own (Chalmers, Collins, and Robinson) who need to take care of the ball, attack the basket at will, and keep up with the intensity of the aforementioned Wildcats. It’d be too much to ask for Scottie Reynolds to put up a Herculean effort to carry his team to the Elite Eight, right? Right?

Moment of Truth: The first eight minutes of the game are always important. Duh. However, Kansas would be well-served to jump out early and put their feet on the throats of the Wildcats. If Villanova can keep it close early – or perhaps take a lead or two – Jay Wright will be able to push the buttons he wants to on offense, rather than try and keep up with the high-scoring Jayhawks.

South Region

AJ Abrams will need to offer more than a helping hand to the Longhorns offensive attack.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#2. Texas vs. #3. Stanford [Pay]

Forget Texas’s perceived home court advantage. If Stanford wants to win it all, they will have to beat everyone. Everywhere. This is the furthest the Cardinal have gone in the NCAA Tournament since 2001 and head coach Trent Johnson isn’t about to make excuses. He only has two NBA-ready 7-footers who deny and/or alter all shots in the half-court set that are 12 feet and in. Not to mention, they can score the ball. For the “home” team, DJ Augustin paces the Longhorns and must lead the way in harassing opposing ball-handlers en route to disrupting the Cardinal’s lethal half-court offense. The question for me is wildly clear: Will someone please induce a full-court press against Stanford and force the Cardinal out of their comfort zone? Perhaps, this is a testament to what Mitch Johnson means to this team in terms of engineering the offense.

Players to Watch: If AJ Abrams gets hot from behind the arc early, then the Cardinal are in serious trouble. Despite having tall defenders in Fred Washington, Lawrence Hill and Taj Finger who can cover on the perimeter, Abrams can shoot over them. Since Texas is decidedly smaller than Stanford, expect the Longhorns to use the physical 6’10” 299-pound Dexter Pittman or wiry big man Alexis Wangmene at the same time as center Connor Atchley during brief spells for Damion James. Meanwhile, the Cardinal perimeter players must hit open shots created by collapses on the Lopez brothers if they want to keep the Texas defense honest.

Moment of Truth: In a one-possession game, Rick Barnes has the luxury of turning to his trusty point guard, DJ Augustin. Though Mitch Johnson has been spectacular at the point for the Cardinal, he has only faced one team with a guard tandem as talented as Texas’s. Rick Barnes and his staff have likely watched the Stanford-Marquette game tape at least five times, and dissected exactly how the Longhorns can exploit the Cardinal.

#1. Memphis vs. #5. Michigan State

Coach Izzo's championship-experience and Morgan's stature are two reasons MANY people are lovin' the Spartans to be the first to bounce a 1-seed (Memphis).
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Never in the history of the Final Four have all four 1-seeds made the Final Four. While several analysts (notably Jay Bilas, Clark Kellogg and “America’s Bracket”) warmed up to the idea a few weeks back, popular theory has Memphis being the most vulnerable of the 1-seeds. Whether that’s due to their competition (a stacked bracket remains) or their own deficiencies (free throws and a 3-point obsession, of course) is up to you. If it’s up to me, I see a Spartans team that is easily playing its best basketball all season. That’s lethal when you have a seasoned coach (with a national title), a senior driven to overcome a disappointing year and a Big Ten pedigree that is in stark contrast to Memphis’s style of running and gunning with incredible depth, no less. Is this where the first, and potential only, 1-seed takes its bow before the Final Four? We know where history stands on that possibility.

Players to Watch: Most people think of Memphis and isolate their backcourt: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. While they will have their impact for sure, I can’t help but target two Tiger big-men – Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier (combined 16 points and 16 boards a game) – who may have just as much with the Tigers continuing their winning-ways. Their ability to control the boards, block shots and spark transition is key for the Tigers to dictate the pace of the game. As for the Spartans, you know they’re dead-set on forcing the Tigers to play Big Ten basketball. While Raymar Morgan is the team’s leading scorer, it’s the Spartans leading rebounder, Goran Suton, that needs to replicate his performance versus Pitt against the Tiger big men. His 14 points, 9 rebounds, and most importantly, 3 fouls were key in dealing with the plethora of Pitt bigs. He’ll need to take advantage of easy shot opportunities, crash the offensive glass and make smart passes to shooters behind the arc named Neitzel.

Moment of Truth: As soon as the game reaches the penalty, in either half, (which can be quite early in a Spartans game) the Tigers’ greatest weakness will be exposed: free-throw shooting. The worst in the nation and in the NCAA Tournament (remember, 15-32 against Mississippi State in Round 2), free throws may afford Memphis a lead before the half and the ability to put away Izzo’s crew. If they can’t, John Calipari’s consistent care-free attitude towards poor free-throw shooting may again bury the Tiger’s Final Four aspirations.

See you Saturday and Sunday with the treatment for the Elite Eight!

Until next time…

An Unbiased Sweet Sixteen Analysis…UNLEASHED!!!

Pay and I have decided to stick with what works, revisiting last year’s Elite Eight format we enjoyed so much, as we deliver your Unofficial Unbiased Preview to the Sweet Sixteen.

Don’t worry. We aren’t afraid to tick off a few coaches, call out non-professional athletes, or let our gut reactions – not our corporate sponsors or contacts – decide our analysis and perhaps, a prediction or two.

Without further banter, let’s roll!

Thursday’s game get their pub today, with Friday’s slate arriving tomorrow morning.

East Region

Their opening matchups were a little on the easy side, so Terrence Williams and his fellow Cardinals are in for a much tougher affair against the Volunteers.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#1. North Carolina Tar Heels vs. #4. Washington State Cougars [Pay]

Perhaps, the most intriguing matchup of the Round of 16, UNC and WASU has the potential to be the second coming of Kansas and Southern Illinois (Kansas went on to win by the skin of their teeth). It all comes down to tempo and who sets it. If the Tar Heels own the tempo battle, then the score will be in the 70s or perhaps the 80s; however, if the Cougars have any say, the UNC scoreline may be closer to the 56.1 ppg that WASU has allowed this season under the tutelage of Tony Bennett. Over the last three halves of action, the Cougars have undeniably been the East Region’s second-best team after Carolina. They will need to trump their performance against Notre Dame (Luke Harangody wonders how that is possible) and frustrate the heck out of Tyler Hansbrough and obtain production from unexpected sources (e.g. Daven Harmeling, Caleb Forrest and Nikola Koprivica).

Players to Watch: Because he’s still not 100%, all eyes are always on Ty Lawson (who will be shadowed all night by either Derrick Low or Kyle Weaver), whose silky smooth moves split double teams in the backcourt on a regular basis allowing for easy Carolina points. Of course, there’s Wayne Ellington, who has quietly (don’t say that to Clemson) averaged 17 points per contest. Nevertheless, the key player for Carolina in this tournament run is none other than Danny Green (11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 44 blk, 42 stl), who is the nation’s most influential 6th-man and can change a game with his energy on both sides of the floor. He will likely be challenged by senior forward Robbie Cowgill who has had an up-and-down season. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels must be concerned with Taylor Rochestie’s ability to get on a hot streak from behind the arc. Though more than a few can light it up from three-point range, none can shoot at Rochestie’s 44% clip. What teams often forget is that Rochestie can make decisions with the best of them (146 assists to 54 turnovers) once defenses begin to overplay his deep shot.

Moment of Truth: If UNC finds itself down late in the first half due to a high turnover amount, what changes will Roy Williams make? On the flipside, if WASU is down by double digits entering the break, do they continue their deliberate style or go small to up the pace and maximize possessions? If the Cougars can punish the Tar Heels for liberal ball-handling, get three players in double figures and avoid foul trouble, then they have a chance. Of course, it’s important to know that the Cougars were 0-5 against UCLA and Stanford, teams who have dominant bigs who can be mentioned in the same breath as Psycho T.

#2. Tennessee Volunteers vs. #3. Louisville Cardinals [Clement]

As the only region to hold seed, one might think the East Region is the toughest out there. Not so fast. While the Tar Heels have been nothing but lights out their first 80 minutes of PT, the 2-seeded Vols have been far from impressive. Struggling against Jeff Jones and American was borderline embarrassing, especially considering how the Eagles were completely dominant on the glass. Transition to Sunday and the Vols nearly coughed up a second-half double-digit lead before narrowly escaping Butler (Mike Green, could you miss so many gimmies like that ever again?) in OT. Fortunately, the region regains its momentum with the phenomenal play of the Cardinals. Keep in mind that Rick Pitino is as savvy a coach remaining in the tournament field. With his team playing EXACTLY how Pitino knew they could, this is a lethal team that presses, passes, and hits deep threes at will.

Players to Watch: Chris Lofton’s injury may or may not end up being a big deal. Whether his “leg injury” limits his time or his range is extremely important for the Vols. There’s no better way to quiet a streaky three-point shooting team (like Louisville) than to knock down early shots and encourage them to force up rushed shots of their own. As for Pitino’s bunch, if you know anything about me – and my feelings towards Louisville – you’d know I have both of my eyes constantly, for better or worse, focused on Edgar Sosa. Whether he can play intelligent or not is pinnacle to his team’s ability to step up from above average to sublime.

Moment of Truth: When either team faces that early 19-11 deficit (and trust me, one of these teams undoubtedly will), will there reaction be panic or steely resolve? In a game likely to be filled with momentum shifts and runs, the team that can adjust in the half court and isolate the best shot opportunity for each possession will walk away the victors.

West Region

Westbrook's flair for the dramatics - on both sides of the ball - must be present for the Bruins to end Cinderella's run.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#3. Xavier Musketeers vs. #7. West Virginia Mountaineers [Clement]

It’s no secret that I’ve been calling out nearly every major media pundit (ESPN, CNNSI, CBSportsline, etc.) for labeling the Musketeers as a potential “Cinderella” story. Obviously, no true upset occurs any earlier than a 6/11 matchup (and when teams like Villanova are a #12 seed, additional requirements must be filled). However, I can’t blame the media for not loving what Xavier brings to the table. Despite choking away the end of their season (two bubble-busting losses to St. Joe’s) in A-10 play, the Musketeers have senior leadership, tremendous guard play and tournament pedigree. It doesn’t take Bob Knight to realize that those are three vital components for a championship contender. Meanwhile, on the PHSports bubble for quite some time, WVU rode a wave of momentum through the Big East Tournament semi-finals (including an impressive W over UCONN) and were seemingly under the radar to an overrated Arizona squad and given far too little a chance against the Dookies [sic]. Meanwhile, despite lacking any sufficient depth, the Mountaineers have a tourney-tested coach (sans his thugs), a dynamic scorer in Joe Alexander and resolve after battling through arguably the nation’s most competitive conference.

Players to Watch: We all should know the big names (Alexander, Burrell, Lavender, Duncan, & Butler) by now. However, each team possesses vital role players – whether starters or reserves – that are key to each reaching the Elite Eight. For the Musketeers, Derrick Brown (11 & 7) might draw the unenviable task of Joe Alexander duty (good luck). Just as important as staying out of foul trouble for Brown is Xavier’s need for him to crash the boards on offense and add some garbage points to their scoring total. As for the Mountaineers, I’m remembering back to Xavier’s classic 2nd-round matchup versus the Buckeyes. I’m remembering the clutch threes that ultimately blew Xavier’s late lead and buried the A-10 representatives. So, who is most likely to deliver that from Coach Huggins’ country boys? Alex Ruoff is that guy. Around 3 for 7 a game from behind the arc, he has the ability to hit those shots that cut deficits or break the backs of opponents. That’s a lethal combination when the Elite Eight is on the line.

Moment of Truth: My question for the Musketeers, my personal selection to win this game by double-digits, is how they’ll (Xavier) react in the final, not the first, ten minutes of the first half. While WVU has shown lights-out shooting in the second half, I want to see if Lavender (offensively) and Burrell (defensively) can completely suffocate the overachieving WVU guards. Adjusting against an unbalanced Duke is one thing; however, if Duncan stays out of foul trouble, Xavier’s balanced attack on both sides of the ball will be far too much for the Mountaineers to overcome in the second-half.

#1. UCLA Bruins vs. #12. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers [Pay]

The Hilltoppers enter Thursday are gunning for their 30th victory. Enter UCLA. While conventional wisdom suggests that #12 seed Western Kentucky has little chance to advance, their perimeter shooting and ability to cause turnovers provides real hope. Additionally, Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook have struggled mightily in their last three games. As a result, two players – Darren Collison and Kevin Love – scored 40 of their 51 points on Saturday night against Texas A&M. Though much credit goes to Mark Turgeon’s young men, if a repeat offensive performance occurs on Thursday night, UCLA’s exit will dominate water cooler conversations on Friday morning. That’s because the Hilltoppers can score (77.3 ppg and shoot it from behind the arc (six leading scorers shot 38% or better in the regular season).

Players to Watch: We all know to watch for Kevin Love when he winks for the camera going into every other media timeout. In all seriousness, Josh Shipp must regain his beloved mid-range jumper if UCLA wants to cut down nets in San Antonio. Even if Westbrook struggles offensively, he is too much of a defensive stud to let that get to him. For Western Kentucky, Courtney Lee will likely be gloved by Westbrook, so Tyrone Brazelton, who has been the Hilltoppers’ best player in the NCAA Tournament, must continue to be aggressive, but, at the same time, make good decisions.

Moment of Truth: When the ball is tipped, which Western Kentucky will we see? Will we see a team who feels fulfilled by simply making it to Phoenix or a team with a chip on its shoulder that is continuing to seek respect for its institution and conference? Many intangibles, including (dare I say) whistles must not go in UCLA’s favor for WKU to continue dancing. In all honesty, I see this as a three-possession game until the final three minutes.

See you Friday morning with the treatment for the Midwest and South regions!

Until next time…

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

(Sweet) Sixteen Candles: Part II

Don’t worry, I’m not here to reminisce about THIS (Anthony Michael Hall was a complete bad*** though).

Instead, there’s 1 thing each of the remaining tournament teams is just DYING for (or is that just me?).

What might those things be?

Lucky for you…I KNOW!!! (If only I could grant a wish or two…)

The East and Midwest got there pub already, so now let’s move on to the South and West.

South Region

Memphis wishes their depth would be simply too much for the Spartans to handle. One of the major reasons Drew Neitzel was finally able to get his shot going was the extreme fatigue on Ronald Ramon’s legs from chasing him. Fortunately for the Tigers, their rotation is athletic from top to bottom. They’ll be able to run and run … and run as the Big Ten’s Spartans try their best to slow the game down.
Translation: Run, run and run some more!

Michigan State wishes Memphis would continue their terrible performance from the free throw line (15-for-32 against Mississippi State). While it may not be enough to single-handedly take out the Tigers, missing front ends of 1-and-1s in both halves can afford the Spartans an opportunity to further milk the clock and reduce possessions for both teams.
Translation: FOUL FOUL FOUL...whenever necessary.

Stanford wishes the Lopez twins could duplicate their efforts against Marquette for the next
40 minutes of playing time. Despite Texas’s guard-play advantage, the Longhorns don’t have
the bigs up front, much like Marquette, to take away the advantages that the Lopez twins give the Cardinal. Feed them down low early and often and hope their combined 14+-feet can detract Longhorn slashers from attacking the hoop.

West Region

UCLA wishes Kevin Love enjoyed blocking 7 shots against Texas A&M, as they need him to continue his dominance for their interior defense. Due to the incredible proficiency from behind the arc, Western Kentucky can’t be allowed to accumulate easy buckets and second-chance points off of offensive rebounds (long and short). Without Love avoiding ticky-tack fouls and clogging the paint with his long arms, the Bruins might be in for a long night inside and outside of the 3-point line.

Western Kentucky wishes Courtney Lee would have one of those nights that could propel him into the NBA Lottery. A likely first-rounder, Lee would be well off to have a near-40 point night for a variety of reasons. The Hilltoppers need their star to be as good as he can be, if only to open up high-percentage opportunities for his teammates (as well as himself). It’s time for a star to shine out of the Sun Belt.

Xavier wishes they’ll be able to find a lockdown defender to toil with West Virginia’s Joe Alexander. While Xavier’s Stanley Burrell may be the best perimeter defender in the tournament, he isn’t likely to draw Alexander (who can be found all over the court). This means that guys like Josh Duncan and Derrick Brown better have fresh legs and short memories when drawing a scoring talent like Alexander .

West Virginia wishes it could see phenomenal play out of more of its bench. While the Mountaineers relied on 4 of their 5 starters to carry them against Arizona in the first round (68 of their 75 points), without the play of Joe Mazzulla (13, 11, and 8), WVU would’ve had little chance of upsetting the 2-seeded Blue Devils. Problem is, outside of Mazzulla, is there a reliable Mountaineer reserve? That’s why they’re wishing.

And there we have it.

Of course, you may have a wish or two of your own for March Madness. Or an answer or two.

Either way, LET US KNOW!

Until next time…

(Sweet) Sixteen Candles

Don’t worry, I’m not here to reminisce about THIS (Anthony Michael Hall was a complete bad*** though).

Instead, there’s 1 thing each of the remaining tournament teams is just DYING for (or is that just me?).

What might those things be?

Lucky for you…I KNOW!!! (If only I could grant a wish or two…)

I’ll give the East and Midwest their just-due late tonight, while the South and West will get theirs in 24 hours or so.

East Region

North Carolina wishes they could dictate the pace, up tempo and basket-to-basket running, right from the start. While a replay of their Arkansas game is unlikely, it’s essential that Ty Lawson gets going as early as possible on the offensive side of the ball (especially his jumper).
Translation: Ty Lawson making shots early.

Washington State wishes Wayne Ellington wouldn’t be able to consistently knock down his outside shot. It’d be put more pressure on Green, Lawson, and Ginyard to make the big play outside the paint. Ellington also might then struggle to get to the hoop and effectively aid in breaking down the Cougar attack.
Translation: Don’t let Wayne Ellington bury you from behind the arc.

Louisville wishes Edgar Sosa could play heady-basketball 100% of his on-court playing time. Rather than having to sit him after a few early mistakes (i.e. Oklahoma game), Coach Pitino needs his most talented shotmaker to remain both consistent and careful with the basketball.
Translation: Edgar Sosa…BEHAVE!

Tennessee wishes senior shooting guard Chris Lofton would put on a shooting exhibition. Rather than let the game come to Lofton, the Vols need their senior leader to take charge and knock down early shots. Without it, they will struggle mightily, especially down the stretch matching 3s with the Cardinals.
Translation: Chris Lofton needs to be a better Chris Lofton.

Midwest Region

Kansas wishes they’d realize early in their game that Villanova was a 12-seed for a reason and run them out of the gym before halftime. Exploiting Villanova’s lack of depth and their complete dependence on Scottie Reynolds should allow the Jayhawks to run'n'gun for 40 minutes.
Translation: Run, Chalk, Open Shot, Three is Good, Jayhawk.

Villanova wishes they’d push Kansas to the brink by making their free throws, limiting transition buckets for the Jayhawks, and forcing Kansas into tough decisions with little time on the shot and game clock.
Translation: Make Kansas out-coach and out-execute you in the final minutes.

Wisconsin wishes they would continue to allow the 3-point shot to be an effective part of their offensive arsenal. An above-average 3-point shooting team most of the season, the Badgers were lights out in both halves against the Beasleys. It’s essential the Badgers use this shot – alongside their interior game and the slashing ability of their guards – to have an effective three-pronged attack against resilient Davidson.
Translation: It isn’t just Stephen Curry who needs to make threes early and often.

Davidson wishes Wisconsin would keep the game close throughout the first half. The Wildcats have shown time and time again in this tournament (okay, it’s only been two games) that they aren’t scared of their opponent or any second-half deficit they might face. With that being said, it’s not a good idea to fall behind big to the Badgers. Especially with their suffocating defensive attack and slow-down offense pace being Bo Ryan stalwarts.
Translation: The halftime score better not be approaching double-digits.

See you soon with the South and West regions.
Maybe this post should've been called Eight Candles.

John Hughes would not be happy.

Until next time…

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sweet Sixteen…Thoughts

While analysis can continue, now that the Sweet Sixteen is set, from tonight until Thursday afternoon…I figured it’d only be fair to speak out, even if it was just a thought or two or SIXTEEN.

Be sure to check out a few pictures of some "regional x-factors" below.

East Region

Tennessee's Chism may be playing defense much further away from the paint than he's accustomed to.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

North Carolina
– Scoring around 110 points in each of their two opening games, will the Heels struggle at all against the suffocating defensive attack of the Cougars? Or will their torrid fast-breaking pace be too much for the sudden Pac-10 threat?

Washington State – How on Earth does Tony Bennett plan on game-planning for the ridiculously high-octane Heels offense? HOW!?!?

Louisville – Will Rick Pitino’s boys stick to what has worked (3/4 press on defense and outside shooting on offense) the majority of the season or will a new gameplan be required to take out the East Region’s 2-seeded Vols?

Tennessee - Will Tennessee be able to use their blended style of agility and interior strength against the suffocating pressure, terrific passing, and outside shooting prowess of the Cardinals?


Hughes must have a substantial impact on both sides of the ball, regardless of his age, for Wisconsin to survive a tough Midwest Bracket.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

– Will a Bill Self-coached team not overlook a dangerous 12th-seeded team from the nation’s most competitive conference?

Villanova – Are the Wildcats playing with company money at this point OR are they legitimately viewing themselves as Final Four material?

Wisconsin – Will the Badgers be able to dictate tempo, specifically out of the halftime gates when Stephen Curry becomes superhuman?

Davidson – Will the Wildcats be able to eliminate the tremendous boost the three-ball has given the Badgers in their opening two matchups?

South Region

Kemp's impact off the bench is vital towards the Tigers have a consistent, balanced attack.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Memphis – Does the Tigers history of missing free throws really matter until the Final Four?

Michigan State – Can the Spartans maintain their incredible first weekend momentum and continue to play 40 minutes of basketball a game?

Stanford – Will the Lopez twins be able to keep up with the pace of DJ Augustin and the run’n’gun Longhorn attack?

Texas – Can Texas stay out of foul trouble against the Lopez twins in the blocks?

West Region

Both Lee and Brazelton may need the games of their lives to take out the heavily-favored, yet vulnerable, Bruins.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

– Can UCLA give Kevin Love 20-30 touches in the paint and finally run their offense consistently through their incredibly talent post-player?

Western Kentucky – Can they shoot the 3-ball well enough to turn their game against UCLA into a shootout?

Xavier – Does Xavier have the depth to handle the incredible mismatches on the perimeter and in the paint West Virginia has caused its early opponents?

West Virginia – Can the Mountaineers, and their coach, continue to make all the right moves and all the big shots?

Interesting questions, indeed.

But the real question is: can YOU answer any of them???

Until next time…

March Madness: 8 Questions to Pose…in Advance…on Sunday

It’s a spin on our typical 5-NFL Questions columns you saw for nearly 6 straight months worth of Sunday mornings.

However, it just HAS to be March Madness-style.

In case you’ve missed our work due to tourney-fever, check out the lineup:
Thursday Streaming
Thursday Analysis
Friday Streaming
Friday Analysis
Saturday Streaming

As for today…can you answer THESE 8 questions??? are ordered by region and by order of start time...

After wowing the majority of the country Friday afternoon with his 40-point effort v. Gonzaga, what does the son of Dell Curry have in store for us this Easter Sunday?
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Midwest Region

#12. Villanova vs. #13. Siena
-Will Siena again be able to dictate the tempo of the game, start to finish, due to the incredible ability to isolate mismatches all over the court (mainly through their insane athleticism)?

#2. Georgetown vs. #10. Davidson

-Can Stephen Curry take a beating? While he can keep the scoreboard close, you better believe the G-Town defenders will be battering and bruising the 40-point opening round phenom.

West Region

#12. Western Kentucky vs. #13 San Diego
-Simply put, which one is better fit as Cinderella of the opening weekend?

East Region

#2. Tennessee vs. #10. Butler
-If the Bulldogs can play half as well as they did Friday, can the Volunteers rebound from such a putrid performance of their own and knock out one of the few remaining mid-major powers?

#3. Louisville vs. #6. Oklahoma
-Can Oklahoma continue to quiet the naysayers by taking care of the ball, staying out of foul trouble, and limited the impact of Louisville’s 3-point attack?

#1. North Carolina vs. #9. Arkansas
-All I can ask is, how does Arkansas plan to stop the Tar Heels from pushing it to triple digits for the second straight game?

South Region

#2. Texas vs. #7. Miami [FL]
-Can the Hurricanes ditch chucking the 1st half and put up a 40-minute upset bid effort?

#1. Memphis vs. #8. Mississippi State
-Can the Bulldogs stay in this game by Memphis struggling from either behind the arc or at the charity stripe?

If YOU have the answers…then by all means, let us know!

See you Sunday afternoon!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March Madness: Saturday Live Blogging & Streaming Updates

Back for Day Three of Live Blogging and Updates!!!


It should be an entertaining day throughout; with Duke and WVU tipping off early and plenty of action continuing well past midnight.

Drew Neitzel and the Spartans are official 'dangerous' after an impressive W over Pitt.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

...Completed Games...

East Region

The Cougars had every answer for Big East Player of the Year Harangody, who did have 22 rebounds.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#4. Washington State 61
#5. Notre Dame 41 [Final Score]
Holding the Irish to 41 points!? These Cougars are a legit threat in Charlotte.

Midwest Region

Is their a more talented duo OUT of this tournament than Beasley & Walker?
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#3. Wisconsin 72
#111. Kansas State 55 [Final Score]
Trevon Hughes, not Michael Beasley, was the story on Saturday afternoon.

#1. Kansas 75
#8. UNLV 56
[Final Score]
Jayhawks were just too much. Is their path to the Elite Eight the bracket's easiest?

South Region

Both Lopez twins had big-time performances Saturday evening.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#3. Stanford 82
#6. Marquette 81 (OT)
[Final Score]
A battle of wills took place at the Honda Center that went into OT. What a game! What an ending! (Especially when you win AFTER your coach is tossed before halftime!)

#4. Pittsburgh 54
#5. Michigan State 65 [Final Score]

A team with senior leadership, impact big-men, wing scorers, and a proven coach will be a brutal out in the second weekend.

West Region

John Flowers and WVU are Sweet Sixteen bound after being last season's NIT Champs.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

#2. Duke 67
#7. West Virginia 73 [Final Score]
The Mountaineers dominated the second-half (+11) behind double-doubles from Joe Alexander (22 & 11) and Joe Mazzulla (13, 13, & 8).

#3. Xavier 85
#6. Purdue 78 [Final Score]
Watching Xavier's Stanley Burrell play defense is a work of art.

#1. UCLA 51
#9. Texas A&M 49 [Final Score]

Questionable officiating plagued this game in my opinion. Collison was very clutch late.

Drew Lavender's health definitely has held up through the first two rounds of tournament play.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Hope you enjoyed it!!!!