Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Future’s For Discovering: Big East Bubble Breakdown and Pre-MSG Forecasting

To date, a conservative estimate posits that no less than five Big East teams have punched their ticket for March Madness and no more than five teams will be considered outside of the mix unless they win the automatic bid at Madison Square Garden. That leaves a whopping six teams vying for additional at-large bids. This piece takes a look at each of these teams’ key wins, projects their remaining regular season games, and determines what work needs to be done. To make the projected record somewhat objective, I am using KenPom.com’s projected record, which is based on cumulative probabilities of winning each game and may not equal the individual game predictions. For that reason, I underlined two projected upsets that may be controversial.

IN: UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Villanova
OUT:
Seton Hall, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers, DePaul
NOT YET IN:
Providence, Syracuse, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Georgetown

Providence 17-11 (9-7)
Key Wins: v. Pittsburgh, v. Syracuse, Cincinnati (2x), Rhode Island
Remaining Games: @ Rutgers (W), @ Villanova (L)
Projected Record: 18-12 (10-8)
Record v. Big East Top 5: 1-4

Syracuse 20-8 (8-7)
Key Wins: Florida (N), Kansas (SA), @ Memphis, v. Notre Dame, v. West Virginia, Georgetown (S)
Remaining Games: v. Cincinnati (W), v. Rutgers (W), @ Marquette (L)
Projected Record: 22-9 (10-8)
Record v. Big East Top 5: 0-5

West Virginia 19-9 (8-7)
Key Wins: v. Villanova, @ Ohio State, @ Georgetown, v. Providence, v. Notre Dame
Remaining Games: @ South Florida (W), v. DePaul (W), v. Louisville (W)
Projected Record: 22-9 (11-7)
Record v. Big East Top 5: 1-5

Cincinnati 18-10 (8-7)
Key Wins: Georgetown (2x), v. West Virginia, v. Notre Dame, @UNLV, v. UAB
Remaining Games: @ Syracuse (L), @ South Florida (W), v. Seton Hall (W)
Projected Record: 20-11 (10-8)
Record v. Big East Top 5: 0-5

Notre Dame 16-12 (7-9)
Key Wins: Texas (N), Louisville (S), Georgetown, @ Providence
Remaining Games: v. Villanova (W), v. St. John’s (W)
Projected Record: 18-12 (9-9)
Record v. Big East Top 5: 1-5

Georgetown 15-12 (6-10)
Key Wins: @ UConn, v. Memphis, @ Villanova, Syracuse (S), v. Providence, Maryland (N)
Remaining Games: @ St. John’s (W), v. DePaul (W)
Projected Record: 17-12 (8-10)
Record v. Big East Top 5: 2-4

As a result of this exercise, West Virginia finishes alone in 6th place. Three teams tie for a 10-8 regular season mark. If the tie-breaker of choice is each team’s record against the other three, here is how it would break down.

Providence: 3-0 (7th seed)
Syracuse
: 1-1 (8th seed)
Cincinnati
: 0-3 (9th seed)
Notre Dame earns the 10th seed and Georgetown takes the 11th.

So, what does that leave each team to do secure an at-large bid?

West Virginia: Absolutely nothing (if they defeat Louisville in the season finale)
Providence: Win at least 1 game (win would have to be against Notre Dame) and advance to quarterfinals
Syracuse: Nothing (barring no costly injuries)
Cincinnati: Win 2 games (2nd win would be against Syracuse) and advance to quarterfinals
Notre Dame: Win 2 games (2nd win would be against Providence) and advance to quarterfinals
Georgetown: Win 1 game; 2nd win (would be versus West Virginia) would lock up a certain bid with road/neutral wins against UConn, Villanova, West Virginia and Maryland.

Answers from the Editor - Bracket Style

Last night, Clement went where no man has gone before (except himself) and asked a series of questions pertinent to the NCAA Tournament. Today, I answer them. Is this deja vu? I think so.

Q: "On the Outside Looking In...Sorta"
Who has the best shot at a #1 seed: Memphis or Michigan State? And please, don't tell me neither (even if that's the case).

A: Neither has a realistic chance, but if you put a revolver to my head, I’d go with Michigan State. Memphis has zero chance of a #1 seed, because they have zero signature wins and zero additional opportunities for them. Michigan State has none either, but they have a number of very strong wins and could catapult to a #1 with a lot of help coupled with regular season and conference tournament championships in the Big Ten.


Q: "East Coast Bias"
Which team west of the Mississippi isn't getting enough respect: Washington, Arizona State, or Utah?

A: Actually, I think all of these teams are getting enough respect. Perhaps, many of Utah’s non-conference wins (Wisconsin-Green Bay, Ole Miss, Morgan State, Weber State, LSU, Gonzaga) have gone under the radar but they are respected, since they hold a 2-game lead in the hotly-contested Mountain West with only three to play. I would not be shocked if two of these play into the second weekend of the tournament.

Q: "Bengals from the Bayou"
How has LSU remained under the radar so much? Is SEC basketball that unexciting and uninspiring this season (outside of Mr. Meeks)? Are they a legitimate threat in the tournament?

A: LSU has remained under the radar as a result of their OOC schedule, which ranks 22nd from the bottom of Division I. Additionally, they play 10 of their conference games in the frail SEC West (enough said). That said, they are starting to gain respect with every victory (4-0) against the sturdier SEC East. While LSU has performed admirably as we reach March, I do not see the Tigers outplaying their seed.

Q: "Hurricane Season???"
Which team is more likely to have a costly hiccup in their remaining games: Miami (Fl) or South Carolina?
A: Sadly, Miami is more likely to have that hiccup, despite being the more potent team in my opinion. South Carolina (9-4 in conference) has a realistic chance at 11 wins in conference with a visit from Rocky Top sandwiched between trips to Nashville and Athens. It’s no secret that the Hurricanes are battered and bruised, but they have started to play well in the clutch, and if they win at Georgia Tech and defeat NC State at home, then they are 8-8 in the nation’s top-ranked conference. That may keep them in the Last Four In, but we have seen that bids may be stolen in even the power conferences (e.g. Georgia).


Q: "(Mid) Major Dilemma!"
What's the (updated) prognoses on teams like Utah State, Creighton, and Siena, assuming neither of the three wins their conference tournament?

A: If Utah State does not win their conference tournament, then they should be prepared for a high NIT seed. If Creighton and Siena win the rest of their regular season games and lose in the final to the next best team, then they both should be in. Of course, a lot of this depends on other variables (i.e. teams other than Butler and Gonzaga winning their conference tournaments).

Question #6: "50/50"
Pick an ACC and a Big Ten team - out of each pairing - who you favor as being more likely to secure an at-large birth: Big Ten (Penn State or Michigan) & ACC (Virginia Tech or Maryland).

In the Big Ten, I’d give the nod to Penn State, as they have defeated the 1st and 3rd best team in their conference on the road. In the ACC, I would select Virginia Tech by a very slim margin based on the same rationale. That said, much can change at the conference tournament.

***Bonus Question***
What did you answer for the poll (Chalmber is Chalmers, btw...thanks Clement) and why? Just a sentence or two will do.

A: This is a great question, because I was only able to eliminate three players (Chalmers, Brewer, Noah) from this list due to the composite strength of their respective teams. I went with Juan Dixon, because fans forget exactly how dominant he was in the final two minutes of a game. Any time that Maryland needed a play to either lead a spurt or to kill a crowd, Juan Dixon did it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

10 Questions to the Editor - Bracket Style [Take 3]

The past few weeks have proved highly beneficial, so no need to banter anymore.
Questions: [Take 1] [Take 2]
Answer: [Take 1] [Take 2]

Let's roll!!!
I'm also freaking out WAY too much about Bart Scott (man crush). Geez.

What's it gonna take for Tyreke Evans to lead Memphis to a (quasi) improbably #1-seed?
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Question #1: "On the Outside Looking In...Sorta"
Who has the best shot at a #1 seed: Memphis or Michigan State? And please, don't tell me neither (even if that's the case).

Question #2: "East Coast Bias"
Which team west of the Mississippi isn't getting enough respect: Washington, Arizona State, or Utah?

Question #3: "Bengals from the Bayou"
How has LSU remained under the radar so much? Is SEC basketball that unexciting and uninspiring this season (outside of Mr. Meeks)? Are they a legitimate threat in the tournament?

Question #4: "Hurricane Season???"
Which team is more likely to have a costly hiccup in their remaining games: Miami (Fl) or South Carolina?

Question #5: "(Mid) Major Dilemma!"
What's the (updated) prognoses on teams like Utah State, Creighton, and Sienna, assuming neither of the three wins their conference tournament?

I'm afraid March madness will be Maynor-free, as long as VCU lacks a second scoring threat.
Somehow, Mason-ites won't miss him too much.

Credit: CNNSI.com

Question #6: "50/50"
Pick an ACC and a Big Ten team - out of each pairing - who you favor as being more likely to secure an at-large birth: Big Ten (Penn State or Michigan) & ACC (Virginia Tech or Maryland).

***Bonus Question***
What did you answer for the poll (Chalmber is Chalmers, btw...thanks Clement) and why? Just a sentence or two will do.


Oh yeah - for the audience - why exactly aren't you watching 30 Rock, yet?
It's funnier than The Office. Yeah, I said it. Meant it, too.


video

Thursday, February 26, 2009

InClement Weather: Free Agency Countdown

With the clock ready to strike midnight and open up the free agency floodgates, I'd like to remind people that it was the J-E-T-S that outspent everyone last year. While they improved five games from the previous campaign, it wasn't enough as 9-7 was two games out of the AFC East. Yes, they were 8-3 before someone's arm went out, too. I remember.

Yeah, it still stings.

Let's take a brief glance at 13 Questions various teams across the league have to be asking themselves.

If the boy-wonder really wants Alby to come to D.C., how many salaries must this team purge to do it?
I'm talking about YOU Jason Taylor.

Credit: AllNFLTalk.com

1) Should Dan Snyder throw a $100-million contract at DT Albert Haynesworth that he can't refuse?
Redskins fans have heard more than a few sources suggesting quite favorably that Snyder is willing to break the bank - yet again - and do whatever it takes to get the soon-to-be 30-year old DT extraordinaire to the burgundy and gold. While the guy has MVP potential on the defensive side of the ball, once defenders get their mammoth contracts; it's impossible to play up to them. I'm just sayin...

2) Which linebacker - alongside recently franchised Terrell Suggs - is most valuable to the Ravens: Ray Lewis or Bart Scott?

With Suggs in check, the focus now remains whether the heart and soul of the defense (33-year old Lewis) or the up-and-coming superstar (28-year old Scott) is a sounder investment. While it remains a longshot both will remain with the team, the Ravens do have quite a quandry on their hands. Mainly due to Big D's fascination with Lewis, a guy named Rex Ryan now coaching out in the Meadowlands, and an ever-increasing market for Scott. Good luck, Ozzie Newsome.

3) Who will be this season's Jerry Porter/David Givens?
If you don't get the reference, check your "fandom" at the door. My prime candidate is none other than Pittsburgh's Nate Washington. While a nice deep threat, the key word I like to use is: threat.

4) Which former Raven defender is Rex Ryan most likely to poach for his New York Jets?
Truth be told, safety Jim Leonhard might be the only Raven - if any - who ends up playing for Gang Green. It's rumored the Jets will guarantee $25-million over 3 years to Lewis; however, the front office has been salivating over Scott for weeks now. Neither may be a legitimate option if a bidding war ensues, truth be told.

Many Jet fans - myself included - are more worried about the apparent impending (idiotic) release of RG Brandon Moore.
Credit: NYJetsCap.com

5) Is Dallas doing the right thing by keeping Mr. Owens?
The cap hit is obvious; however, with capologists working night and day...perhaps it is finally time to cut loose the primmadonna. It won't happen though. Not with a new stadium opening and a dellusional owner trying his best to have his team playing (at home, kinda) in Super Bowl XLIV.

6) Is there any remote chance the Bidwells don't resign Kurt Warner?
Nope. Numbers have been thrown around ($2 years, 22 million) for the past 48-72 hours and we all know Warner has his best thing going in the desert. Who would've thunk that a few years ago? Not me. The status of Anquan Boldin may deter Warner from signing immediately though.

7) What is to be made of Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans?
To be honest, my wanning support for Young has become tiresome. The Titan front office has claimed they'll match any offers for Collins (Kerry, that is), although I'm not sure if other teams are exactly clammoring for the near-40 year old. Tennessee is likely to have Collins starting in Week 1 and give Young one more year to impress them, even if it's holding a clipboard.

This almost seems like it happened twenty years ago. Doesn't it?
Credit: Chron.com

8) Which wideout acquisition would satisfy Donovan F. McNabb the most?
First off, it ain't Marvin Harrison. I also highly doubt the Cardinals are willing to move Boldin to an NFC rival (and conference championship opponent, no less) without asking for a ridiculously-loaded trade. That leaves TJ Houshamazilli and a few "wiley" veterans (perhaps a Lav Coles-type) front and center. Obviously Housh is the prized offensive skill player - outside of Warner - on the market. If Philly wants to make a statement to its coach, QB, and city...they'll make a concerted run at the talented former Bengal.

9) Which route would you take at OT: young and unproven or older and established?
Tra Thomas is entering his 12th season and could anchor a veteran group deep into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Khalif Barnes has been up-and-down; especially with the last season's disaster in Jacksonville. Which route do you prefer for a franchise-making position?

10) Is Jason Brown really going to become the highest paid interrior lineman in football?
Honestly, I barely know about the guy and he's likely to net a potential $50-million contract to call out blocks and assignments for another team. One thing I do know: he won't last in Baltimore at that kind of asking price.

11) Is Derrick Ward this offseason's equivalent of Michael Turner?
No. In fact, let me clarify that. NO! Ward is a very talented guy; however, I believe he's not the dynamic #1-back Turner proved he was clearly capable of being. While Ward won't likely stay with the G-Men, the market seems kinda quiet on him - outside of Mangini's man crush on him in Cleveland - for now. I suppose he'll get Dominic Rhodes-money. Let's hope his performance for his new team is much stronger though.

12) What's to be made of this year's under-the-radar cornerback crop?
Not much. Foxworth is gonna cash in and a few other #2s may sneak their way into #1 money. Once the Raiders locked up the best CB in all of football, the position took a real notieriety hit.

Harrison come to Philly and the state of Pennsylvania? It is where he registers his gun.
Props to Tony Kornheiser for that gem.

Credit: CNNSI.com

13) Is Marvin Harrison done?
No, but I'd take a flier on Torry Holt - who may or may not become available - before I would with Harrison. Word to the wise, Marvin: follow the example of Ike Bruce in San Francisco this upcoming season and restablish yourself as a valuable veteran on an up-and-coming team.

That's all I got. Good luck to your teams. Except for Patriot fans. But remember that's it's much more likely the draft - and not free agency - that will make or break your team's near-future.

By the way - just for fun - here's the funniest show on TV you're not watching.

video

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looking for the next Josh Pace…

You may have never heard of Josh Pace; however, if you’re a Syracuse fan…you know all about him. In fact, every national champion of recent memory has their own “Josh Pace”.

A role player who steps up tourney time, especially in the Final Four, to do those “little things” that you need to win a championship. Things that the average fan might not expect from that player, but a good coach desperately needs.

This “Josh Pace” might be a starter, a sixth man, a role player, or someone who never before saw the court in crunch time. Ironically, this isn’t typically an injury-replacement either. Whomever it is, the true fans remember them as much as they do the stars. (Maybe not so) Ironically, as a Cuse fan, I remember Pace more than Carmelo from the 2003 tournament. Except for a certain elbow-incident and a certain referee, of which Pay can chuckle about.

Pace's size was no issue in the 2003 tournament, as his ability to rebound and find open man was invaluable for Boeheim's crew.
Credit: JAMD.com

We know the big names of the past six national champions already…

Kansas [2008] – Brandon Rush & Mario Chalmers
Florida [2007] – Returning 5 starters [Noah, Horford, Brewer, Humphrey, & Green]
Florida [2006] – Noah, Brewer, & Green
North Carolina [2005] – Sean May, Rashad McCants, & Raymond Felton
Connecticut [2004] – Emeka Okafor & Ben Gordon
Syracuse [2003] – Carmelo Anthony & Gerry McNamara

…and on and on…

But did you know these names???

Kansas [2008]

Probably no more annoying face to a Tar Heel fan after last year's Final Four.
Credit: Kansan.com

Cole Adrich’s first half against North Carolina in the Final Four allowed Kansas to build a lead big enough, even they couldn’t blow it. His physical presence led to several quick baskets in the paint and allowed even more spacing for a ridiculous barrage of 3-pointers from the Jayhawks. Come title game time, Junior Darnell Jackson logged 29 minutes and contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds while only committing 1 foul. Not the easiest assignment when you draw Joey Dorsey (held to 3 shot attempts) and Robert Dozier. I also found it interesting that Memphis got a grand total of 2 points from its bench.

Florida [2007]

Another Florida big man to contend with. Lucky (insert opponent).
Credit: Gamespot.com

Senior Chris Richard was buried behind the starting frontcourt duo of Noah/Horford, obviously for good reason. Meanwhile Maurice Speights had lottery potential off the bench. No problem for Richard, who logged 20 minutes and put up 8 points and 8 rebounds (sound familiar?) despite drawing a guy named Oden more than a few times. Just a breather is all the big men for Florida needed, even as Noah struggled to a quiet 3 point, 6 rebound performance. Richard fouled out; however, all 5 fouls were vital to Florida limiting Oden to dunks, when his team was trailing by double digits. How can I tell those dunks weren’t that effective? Ohio State shot 4-23 from behind the arc despite a dominant big man attempting to control the paint.

Florida [2006]

Nothing more inspirational than a starter taking a backseat in order to win a championship. Right?
Credit: CollegeHoopsJournal.com

Perhaps the year that proves the (lone) exception, Florida was white hot in the tournament and bulldozed their way to an easy national championship (defeating George Mason & UCLA with relative ease). One name does stick out though: Walter Hodge, who saw far fewer minutes than the season prior, yet still provided valuable backcourt depth for Green/Humphrey – while still shooting over 40% from behind the arc – and was a steadying veteran for Donovan’s thin 8-man rotation.

North Carolina [2005]
I know it's a cheap shot, but remember that Atlanta took this guy OVER the likes of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Savvy!
Credit: ESPN.go.com

After a furious second-half comeback by the Fighting Illini, it was freshman -future-#1 pick - Marvin Williams that tipped a ball in to help break a tie and seal the win for Carolina. While Sean May’s 10-11 performance and McCants’ 13-point first half received the bulk of the headlines, Williams has excelled in the 6th man role and made the biggest basket of the night for Roy Williams’ first national championship.

Connecticut [2004]

This guy OWNED the Cuse, much like many former UCONN players.
Credit: ESPN.go.com

Two names immediately stick out for any Big East fan: Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson. While Okafor and Gordon got all the glitz, without these two role players, UCONN wouldn’t have been playing for the national championship. Brown, as clutch as anyone in recent memory, was the team’s calming influence during tense times. Meanwhile, Anderson was as close to a Robert Horry-clone, especially when a clinching three was needed, as I’ve seen in college hoops in the last twenty years.

Syracuse [2003]
Where have you gone...Billy Edelin?
Credit: ESPN.go.com

The headliner of this post, Josh Pace was a sophomore guard who saw sporadic minutes behind a backcourt that included a freshman PG (McNamara) and a senior – who rarely played in the second half – Kueth Duany. Even troubled freshman PG Billy Edelin (nobody knows what he’s been through), often saw more time than the undersized Pace. With a floater akin to Mark Jackson, Pace gave the Orange(men) three things every team would LOVE to have from its undersized two-guard: 1) weak-side rebounding 2) an ability to get to the hoop and avoid contact 3) 1-on-1 defensive abilities in a zone scheme. Boeheim is quoted as saying that without Josh, there wouldn’t have been a title in Syracuse. Pace’s 8 points and 8 rebounds (funny how often that number gets mentioned) were crucial, especially on long free throw misses by Kansas.

Of course, this list continues.

But the real question is…whose name will be added to that list.

Suggestions???

Monday, February 23, 2009

NCAA Tournament Bracket Projections - February 23, 2009

It's not a misprint. UConn remains the top overall seed despite a loss to Pitt. It's not easy for even the top team to lose its best perimeter threat and then face another top seed. I believe UConn will get used to live without Jerome Dyson during the regular season and the conference tournament, and that Kemba Walker will fill at least a portion of the void.

Despite a loss to Texas and a predicted home loss against Kansas (that's why we have them as a #3 seed this week), Blake Griffin will return to full strength and the Sooners will be judged on their performances with the nation's best player. Staying in the Big XII, they remain at 4 teams this week. That changes if Kansas State pulls off the upset at Missouri on Wednesday, then wins one of their final three (v. Nebraska, @ Oklahoma State, v. Colorado) and avoids a 5/12 defeat in the Big XII tournament.

This week's team to look out for is Villanova. They are 10-4 in the Big East (playing PC, Cuse and Marquette 2x), have a legitimate interior threat in Dante Cunningham, and are one of the nation's hottest teams. In fact, it was a toss up between Memphis and Villanova, but the nation's top defense won out.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, another team to look out for is Ohio State. The value of their early season wins have fizzled and they are suddenly .500 with four games to play in the Big Ten, leaving many things to chance at the Big Ten Tournament, unless they win at least three of their last four. Another team that needs a rapid mend is none other than Davidson. Even a blind man can see that Stephen Curry, even prior to his ankle injury, was pressing and forcing shots. They were bumped up a seed due to matchup conflicts and can find themselves on the 12 or 13 line if they do not rectify their play quickly.

Moving to the last four in (which is easily the most fun topic for true bracket aficionados), Maryland and Notre Dame seeped into the field while Miami-FL (5-8 in the ACC, but I think they will win their last three games and easily pass the eye test) and South Carolina hung on for dear life. The margin for error is not very much, as Cincinnati (who blew a chance at a signature win on Saturday versus Louisville), San Diego State (20+ point loss to a NIT team = NIT bound) and Kansas State are all within an earshot of that elusive 34th at-large bid.

The Seedings

1: UConn (Big East), Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Oklahoma (Big XII)

2: Duke (ACC), Louisville, Michigan State (Big Ten), Memphis (C-USA)

3: Villanova, Wake Forest, Kansas, Marquette

4: Clemson, Missouri, Washington (PAC 10), Arizona State

5: Purdue, Illinois, West Virginia, Xavier (A-10)

6: Butler (Horizon), Florida State, Texas, UCLA

7: Gonzaga (WCC), Syracuse, LSU (SEC), Minnesota

8: California, Tennessee, Boston College, Ohio State

9: Utah, Dayton, Penn State, Wisconsin

10: Arizona, Davidson (Southern), BYU, Florida

11: Kentucky, Siena (Metro Atlantic), Creighton (MVC), Maryland

12: Utah State (WAC), UNLV (MWC), Notre Dame, Miami-FL

13: South Carolina, Vermont (America East), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), VCU (CAA)

14: Buffalo (MAC), North Dakota State (Summit), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), American (Patriot)

15: Cornell (Ivy), VMI (Big South), Tennessee-Martin (Ohio Valley), Belmont (Atlantic Sun)

16: Weber State (Big Sky), Morgan State (MEAC), Long Beach State (Big West), Robert Morris (Northeast), Alabama State (SWAC)

IN: Penn State, Maryland, Notre Dame

OUT: Virginia Tech, USC, Cincinnati


Last Four In: Maryland, Notre Dame, Miami-FL, South Carolina

Last Four Out: Cincinnati, San Diego State, Kansas State, USC

Next Four Out: St. Mary’s, Georgetown, Michigan, Virginia Tech


Seeding Summary (Multi-Bid Conferences Only in Order of Percentage)
ACC: 8/12

Big Ten: 7/11

Big East: 8/16

Pac-10: 5/10

SEC: 5/12

Big XII: 4/12

Mountain West: 3/9

A-10: 2/14

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Answers from the Editor - Bracket Style

Yesterday, Clement posed a baker's half dozen worth of NCAA Tournament-related questions. Today, I will answer them. We are a logical bunch at PHSports.

Q: "The Other Tyler in Chapel Hill"
What does Tyler Zeller's return mean to North Carolina's rotation? Will he become a major factor or perhaps hinder the minutes of contributors off the bench? Is 5 regular season games and the ACC Tournament enough time for him to be prepared for major minutes come March Madness?
A: Immediately, Zeller's return gives Carolina its second big off of the bench and gives Roy Williams more options when crafting his lineups. Perhaps, he may hinder the minutes of other contributors off of the bench (e.g. Bobby Frasor, who has been excellent), but he plays a position of need. In two games before the injury, Zeller averaged 22.5 minutes; even if he is effective, expect him to play no more than 15-18 minutes when he has reached true game fitness.

Q: "Cinderella Arrives at MSG"
Which Big East "letdown" do you see more capable of making a legitimate run at MSG: Georgetown or Notre Dame?
A: Georgetown. They are the only team currently on the outside looking in who have adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers in the top 25. However, they are wildly inconsistent and lack poise in the final four minutes of games. I can also see their legs turn into jello if they get to play a third game in as many days. Detractors may say that Notre Dame has a better chance because they have the best player, can score, have a deeper bench and have stronger play at the point. One minor point: playing defense is optional at Notre Dame. Everyone saw the result against Louisville. We also saw result at Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Q: "Judgment Day"
Oklahoma may be the #1 team in the country next week. What else should we know about this besides "The Terminator" Blake Griffin?
A: Despite my unquestioned love for one Blake Griffin dating back to last winter, I am not as wild about this Oklahoma team as the pollsters are. The reason being that they eke out results against inferior competition when they should be throttling them. The key element in getting this team from a mid-grade Big XII team to a national contender has been the presence of freshman guard, who averages more than 14 points per game and shoots nearly 50% from the field. Senior point guard Austin Johnson has improved his play every year, and this is a testament to head coach Jeff Capel.

Q: "Hokie Hotline"
Is there anyone in college basketball who has a more murderous road ahead than "bubbly" Virginia Tech (home and away w/ Florida State, Duke, UNC, and @Clemson)?
A: No. They are in serious trouble. Even without Jeff Allen, there is no excuse for losing to UVa. Urgency requires results. They need one to two players excluding their big three to make steady scoring contributions on a regular basis if they want to win two of these games.

Q: "Bracketbusters Galore"
Should Stephen Curry play in the bracketbuster game? Is it worth it to risk further injury with such a crucial matchup against Butler?
A: If he is good to go, then yes, he should play. It's not worth it to risk injury, which would say bye-bye to their at-large hopes even with a victory. This win would not even be Davidson's best win, because they won a neutral court against West Virginia.

Q: "Revenge of 2008???"
Which team is a more dangerous matchup come March Madness: Memphis or Kansas?
A: Very tough question (because both teams have a go-to guy), but I'll go with Memphis. Both are excellent defensive teams, but Memphis is the best nationally, and the team has undergone a metamorphosis since Tyreke Evans moved to the point. Kansas may be more well-rounded as a team.

***Bonus Question***
Let's be geeks for a moment. If you could have any starting 5 (plus a 6th man) in the country - without the following 5 - who would it be? You might consider matching up against this squad.
C - Hasheem Thabeet [Connecticut]
PF - Tyler Hansbrough [North Carolina]
SF - Blake Griffin [Oklahoma] (we know it's a stretch, but Blake will excel at any forward spot)
SG - Stephen Curry [G, Davidson]
PG - Ty Lawson [North Carolina]
6th Man: James Harden [SG, Arizona State]

A: No matter who I choose, my team will be undersized. Therefore, I am going with talent, versatility and defense (sorry, no 'Gody). We also want to make this a full-court game.

C - DeJaun Blair [Pittsburgh]
PF - Dante Cunningham [Villanova] (I really badly wanted to go with Sam Young, but he's only 215 pounds)
SF - Terrence Williams [Louisville]
SG - Jodie Meeks [Kentucky]
PG - Darren Collison [UCLA]
6th Man: Jerel McNeal [SG, Marquette]

Friday, February 20, 2009

10 Questions to the Editor - Bracket Style [Take 2]

Last week's column was such a success (both the questions and the answers), that Pay and I decided this will be a weekly installment until Selection Sunday.

Let's get into it, with a half-dozen questions (plus-one, fittingly) for our resident bracket expert.

Judging by their recent loss to the Citadel, more than just ESPN is hoping Stephen Curry laces up his sneakers and plays Butler on Saturday. It's a 12-noon tipoff, by the way.
Credit: NBCSports.com

Question #1: "The Other Tyler in Chapel Hill"
What does Tyler Zeller's return mean to North Carolina's rotation? Will he become a major factor or perhaps hinder the minutes of contributors off the bench? Is 5 regular season games and the ACC Tournament enough time for him to be prepared for major minutes come March Madness?

Question #2: "Cinderella Arrives at MSG"
Which Big East "letdown" do you see more capable of making a legitimate run at MSG: Georgetown or Notre Dame?

Question #3: "Judgment Day"
Oklahoma may be the #1 team in the country next week. What else should we know about them, for better or worse, besides "The Terminator" Blake Griffin?

Question #4: "Hokie Hotline"
Is there anyone in college basketball who has a more murderous road ahead than "bubbly" Virginia Tech (home and away w/ Florida State, Duke, UNC, and @Clemson)?

Question #5: "Bracketbusters Galore"
Should Stephen Curry play in the bracketbuster game? Is it worth it to risk further injury due to Saturday's matchup being such an important matchup against Butler?

Question #6: "Revenge of 2008???"
Which team is a more dangerous matchup come March Madness: Memphis or Kansas?

***Bonus Question***
Let's be geeks for a moment. If you could have any starting 5 (plus a 6th man) in the country - without the following 5 - who would it be? You might consider matching up against this squad.
C - Hasheem Thabeet [C, Connecticut]
PF - Tyler Hansbrough [F, North Carolina]
SF - Blake Griffin [F, Oklahoma] (we know it's a stretch, but Blake will excel at any position on the frontline)
SG - Stephen Curry [G, Davidson] (yes, he'd be 100% healthy)
PG - Ty Lawson [PG, North Carolina]
6th Man: James Harden [G, Arizona State]

See ya soon, boss.

Will either of Pitt's top performers - Fields & Blair (Young not pictured) - crack Pay's squad?
Only time will tell...
Credit: MSNBC.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 NFL Mock Draft: Two Round Pre-Free Agency Version

This year's draft is a little odd (aren't they all?). As of today, there is definitely a Top 12 in this draft (which sucks for Redskins fans like myself, since they're sitting at 13...please B.J. Raji, drop to 13...PLEEEEASE). The Top 12 are somewhat interchangeable with each other. They could land in a number of orders.

Other trends spotted include this draft boasting some of the best talent we've seen at the center position in some time. I have four going in the top 2 rounds. There are some teams that definitely need help at the position, and could possibly have them going higher. Another trend is that Eugene Monroe seems to have unseated Andre Smith as the top offensive lineman in many mock drafts and draft lists. I'll stick with Andre Smith until I am convinced otherwise. I will take credit for being an early adopter of the "Jason Smith is better than Michael Oher" philosophy, and now we're seeing that trend on draft boards.

Several players that didn't go on day one in this mock are Ziggy Hood (DT, Missouri), Jared Cook (TE, South Carolina), Derrick Williams (WR, Penn State) and Javon Ringer (RB, Michigan State). It was not in the cards this time around. Maybe next time. I think people will give me the most hell about Hood, as he was nearly unstoppable at the Senior Bowl practices.

Looking forward to the comments. Be as brutal as you would like. Opinions differ, and that's what makes these mock drafts a thing of beauty.


1st Round

1. Detroit: Matt Stafford, QB - Georgia
As much as the Detroit front office wants people to believe that they plan on giving Culpepper another shot, the writing is on the wall. They forgo the sane pick at offensive tackle, and tab Matt Stafford as their franchise QB of the future.

2. St. Louis: Andre Smith, OT - Alabama
With Andre Smith falling in their laps, they can't pass on this pick. They now have their new left tackle. However, if Smith goes first, the Rams could easily trade down several picks and still land a top offensive lineman from this draft.

3. Kansas City: Aaron Curry, LB - Wake Forest
As much as I want to put Orakpo at this pick, I just don't see the Chiefs passing on Curry, unless Stafford falls in their laps. Curry would be a great addition to a position that forced them to move their most talented OLB to the middle.

4. Seattle: Eugene Monroe, OT - Virginia
Walter Jones is up there in years and his health could be a concern. Monroe comes in from a school that is slowly turning into an NFL Left Tackle factory.

5. Cleveland: Malcolm Jenkins, CB - Ohio State
Regardless of talk about Leigh Bodden heading back to Cleveland, CB is a position where the Browns desperately need help. Jenkins would have been the top corner off the board last year. This year, he holds the same distinction, as he only elevated his status, if anything.

6. Cincinnati: Jason Smith, OT - Baylor
Cincy has Levi Jones, but needs the help along the offensive line and Smith could be a great fit. He could easily step in at LT right away, moving Jones to the right side. The other question right now: Will Cincy go another direction while trusting Stacey Andrews enough to give him the starting nod on a one-year "Prove It" deal?

7. Oakland: Michael Crabtree, WR - Texas Tech
When your leading receiver had under 25 catches, you need help at WR. Fortunately for this scenario, the top receiver in the draft is available. Crabtree would offer great help to…*crickets chirping*…whomever their QB is…even JaMarcus Russell.

8. Jacksonville: Jeremy Maclin, WR - Missouri
While Crabtree almost fell into their laps, Maclin will actually fit the team better, especially after they just released Jerry Porter. Maclin would be the home-run threat that the Jags have been missing. Jason Smith could be an option here too.

9. Green Bay: Everette Brown, OLB - Florida State
With a switch to the 3-4 and Kampman occupying one OLB spot, the Packers are in need of a bookend OLB who can get after the QB. Brown is an exceptional pass rusher who is high on a lot of lists. Question is, will he be Lamarr Woodley, or Jamal Reynolds. Kevin Greene should tutor him well.

10. San Francisco: B.J. Raji, DT - Boston College
Regardless of whether they keep the 3-4 or switch to the 4-3, the 9ers are in desperate need of help in the middle of the D-Line. Raji is a big boy who can tie up blockers (as shown in the Senior Bowl week). He should help free up Patrick Willis to do even more damage.

11. Buffalo: Brian Orakpo, DE - Texas
Chris Kelsey and Ryan Denney aren't scaring anyone when it comes to pass rushing. Orakpo, on the other hand, has the skills at the DE position to spend the afternoon in opposing backfields.

12. Denver: Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB - Ohio State
Forget last year's injury. The Broncos should not hesitate to draft Wells if Raji is not available at this pick. Gone are the days of Shanahan's questionable blocking schemes. A talented back like Wells is a must.

13. Washington: Michael Oher, OT - Mississippi
The Skins address a position that was the oldest in the league and is in dire need of help. Oher should start as a rookie. The question will be whether they start him out on the right side before shifting him over to eventually replace Samuels, or do they go ahead and move Samuels over to the right side right away?

14. New Orleans: Vontae Davis, CB - Illinois
Regardless of them drafting Tracy Porter last year, the Saints need help at CB. McKenzie is showing his age and Gay was a bit of a bust. It seems no matter how much they addressed the defense last year, they still need help on that side of the ball.

15. Houston: Aaron Maybin, DE - Penn State
Right off the bat, DE is a need position. If Dunta Robinson and DeMarcus Faggins both leave via free agency, CB will be the bigger need. A sophomore, Maybin is as good a pass rusher as there is available in this draft. While he wouldn't play every down, he could easily play a Mark Anderson-like role and rack up the sacks playing on passing downs.

16. San Diego: Rey Maualuga, ILB - Southern Cal
Without a monster safety available in this draft, the Chargers fill their other major need on defense. Maualuga can step into the inside position much like a former USC LB did nearly two decades ago.

17. New York Jets: Mark Sanchez, QB - USC
If a QB like Marc Bulger were to become available, the Jets would probably go that direction. However, if they don't go that direction and Sanchez falls to them at 17, expect this to be the pick. While he will have to prove who the real Mark Sanchez is, if he continues along his trajectory at USC, the Jets could save a lot of face after the Brett Favre shenanigans.

18. Chicago: Eben Britton, OT - Arizona
Tait's retirement forced their hand. With Chris Williams currently being the only OT under contract, the Bears reach (slightly) and land a young OT that has a lot of potential. Britton can easily step in on the right side and spend 10 years there as bookends with Williams.

19. Tampa Bay: Peria Jerry, DT - Mississippi
Jerry is another DT that showed up well at the Senior Bowl, boosting his status. Jerry displayed a great first step, getting by offensive linemen. With Jovan Haye possibly on the move, the Bucs need to address the DT spot.

20. Detroit (from Dallas): Alphonso Smith, CB - Wake Forest
Smith has been moving back up the charts after a nice Senior Bowl showing. Detroit desperately needs leadership where they can get it, and this heady Demon Deacon can offer that early on.

21. Philadelphia: Brandon Pettigrew, TE - Oklahoma State
Philly fans might bury me for this, but I think with this pick they'll be saying "LJ who?" Pettigrew has potential to be another Jeremy Shockey (without the 'tude). At the very least he would be like a Danial Graham in his prime with the Patriots. Some have Pettigrew going as early as #11 to the Bills.

22. Minnesota: Jim Laurinaitis, ILB - Ohio State
While an offensive QB would be a nice addition here, a defensive QB would be almost as nice. Laurinaitis is a lot like former a former Buckeye, Chris Spielman, and could add a lot of value here. WR is tempting with DHB on the board, but until they figure out the QB situation, adding another young WR to the mix will be a waste.

23. New England: Brian Cushing, OLB - Southern Cal
Surprisingly, the Patriots have several directions they can go, where they need help. They could also address CB, S, DL, OL, RB, WR. At OLB, they have Vrabel and Thomas, who are aging. Cushing is one of those Belichick/Patriots type of guys. He could step in at OLB, and slide either of the aforementioned inside.

24. Atlanta: Michael Johnson, DE - Georgia Tech
The Falcons stay in-state, and take Johnson, with hopes of moving Jamaal Anderson inside to tackle. Johnson is a superb pass rusher in the Jonathan Abraham mold. If Brandon Pettigrew, Peria Jerry or any of the top 4 CBs drop to this pick, they could easily fit here.

25. Miami: Clint Sintim, OLB - Virginia
Sintim is a Joey Porter clone. He fits right into the 3-4 OLB spot and has a great combination of size and strength. Sintim isn't receiving a lot of hype, but everyone will know his name by draft day.

26. Baltimore: D.J. Moore, CB - Vanderbilt
With McAlister gone and Rolle up there in years, the Ravens need immediate help at CB. Moore is an athletic corner who could emerge as a #1 in Baltimore. He can also help in the return game.

27. Indianapolis: Sen'Derrick Marks, DT - Auburn
A DT is a must here. The Colts reach for Marks at this point. Don’t rule out a trade down to the top of the 2nd round. They could also go with the best player available.

28. Philadelphia (from Carolina): William Beatty, OT - Connecticut
The Eagles need tackles, and they nab the top pure OT prospect available. Beatty played at a smaller school, but he has loads of talent and is good enough to start in Philly, should they not continue with Tra Thomas.

29. New York Giants: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR - Maryland
Pound for pound, he may be the most intriguing prospect at WR in this draft. He comes with a caution tag, as he didn't play a ton at Maryland, but has all the tools to be a top flight WR. A big help for a team that could be without Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress.

30. Tennessee: Percy Harvin, WR - Florida
The Titans were carried far on offense by their running game. However, they desperately need help at the WR spot. Harvin fills two roles for the team. He is a weapon at both WR and as a kick/punt returner.

31. Arizona: Knowshon Moreno, RB - Georgia
Edgerrin James could care less about his post-season return to the starting role. He wants out of Arizona as much as Boldin does. That leaves Tim Hightower who started the 2nd half of the season, but never hit his stride. Moreno can share time with Hightower, and eventually take over the #1 spot, and be the type of Georgia RB for the Cards that Garrison Hearst never was.

32. Pittsburgh: Max Unger, C - Oregon
The Steelers are in a tough situation along the offensive line, with many members being free agents this offseason. Across the board, Unger has been a popular fit at this pick with the Steelers, and I tend to agree. He has played all over the line for the Ducks, and can do that in the NFL as well.


Second Round

33. Detroit: Clay Matthews, OLB - Southern Cal
Another player who would be good for a rebuilding project in Detroit, Matthews would add value beyond what he does on the field. If William Beatty or Max Unger are available, don't rule them out here.

34. Kansas City: LeSean McCoy, RB - Pittsburgh
With Larry Johnson trying to get out of KC, Pioli gets an insurance plan. McCoy is another first round talent that falls into the second round because of some of the need picks made earlier.

35. St. Louis: Darius Butler, CB - Connecticut
Butler comes from a small school, but like fellow Huskie draftee, Beatty, he has the talent to start as a rookie in this league. Probably not on the same level as Rodgers-Cromartie, but can easily start on a CB-Needy team like the Rams.

36. Cleveland: Tyson Jackson, DE - Louisiana State
The team is not happy with Shaun Smith for a plethora of reasons. They hit the jackpot when a surefire first rounder drops because he only fits 3-4 teams.

37. Seattle: William Moore, S - Missouri
Deon Grant and Brian Russell are getting up there in age and showing the signs of aging. Moore is another athlete that ranks as high as a first rounder, and could push Russell early.

38. Cincinnati: Alex Mack, C - California
The Bengals take the best prospect on the board, filling a need position as Ghiaciuc is a free agent, and isn't much to write home about either.

39. Jacksonville: Duke Robinson, OG - Oklahoma
The Jags follow suit and nab the top lineman on the board. With the amount of offensive linemen coming off season ending injuries, the Jags desperately need help in the trenches.

40. Oakland: Larry English, DE - Northern Illinois
English ranked high before being man-handled at the Senior Bowl practices and game. There is still a vast amount of talent. They could also go offensive tackle here.

41. Green Bay: Phil Loadholt, OT - Oklahoma
With Mark Tauscher headed into free agency, the Packers look to the mountain-sized Loadholt. Loadholt projects as a right tackle, and should settle right into Tauscher's old spot.

42. Buffalo: Chase Coffman, TE - Missouri
The Bills need to help Trent Edwards by getting him a reliable safety-valve receiver. While they could look at a TE with vast potential, like Jared Cook, Coffman's 90 receptions last season mean that he could help right away.

43. San Francisco: Josh Freeman, QB - Kansas State
The 9ers need a QB, and while they could probably sit back and try banking on another bad year, putting them in position to draft a QB high next year, they can't overlook the fact that they actually have a talented roster that is a QB away from doing good things

44. Miami (from Washington): Hakeem Nicks, WR - North Carolina
Nicks would serve as a nice compliment alongside Ginn. Nicks has good size and athletic ability. He also comes off a very productive campaign at UNC.

45. New York Giants (from New Orleans): Jamon Meridith, OT - South Carolina
Meredith would fill several roles for the Giants. He will probably be groomed to play either tackle spot. He is athletic enough to play either and strong enough to play inside as well. Eventually, he could shift Deihl inside and take over at left tackle.

46. Houston: Sean Smith, CB - Utah
Smith is a big corner with athletic ability. He's built a lot like Charles Woodson. While I wouldn't put him close to the same level, coming out of college, Smith definitely has a lot of potential.

47. New England (from San Diego): Rashad Johnson, S - Alabama
Time for the Patriots to move on from Rodney Harrison. Johnson could be the first safety off the board in this draft, and would make a nice tandem with Brandon Merriwether.

48. Denver: Ron Brace, DT - Boston College
Another player who raised his stock during the Senior Bowl. He joins teammate BJ Raji as the two potential 3-4 NTs who will go early in this draft. Brace may not get the same upfield push that Raji does, but he cannot be moved easily.

49. Chicago: Coye Francies, CB - San Jose State
Francies may need some coaching, but his potential is vast. He is tall, has speed and has a physical style of play. He is a raw version of Nate Clements.

50. Tampa Bay: Paul Kruger, DE - Utah
A steal at this point in the draft. He could end up going much higher, but someone has to drop. Kruger would make Kevin Carter expendible. Greg White still has some hype from 2007, but it is slowly wearing off after a down year.

51. Dallas: Victor "Macho" Harris, CB - Virginia Tech
This will be the third year in a row that I'm pushing for the Cowboys to move Anthony Henry to safety, opening the door for another corner. We all know that Jerrah has the need for loud-mouth prima donnas on his teams. In comes Macho Harris, who fits the bill, but this kid can back it up on the field.

52. New York Jets: Shonn Greene, RB - Iowa
The Jets are playing with fire at RB. Thomas Jones is 30, and everyone knows what that means to a RB. Greene is a big back who can take the pounding in the middle and can extend Thomas Jones's career.

53. Philadelphia: Nic Harris, LB - Oklahoma
The Eagles take a bit of a gamble here that could pay big benefits. Harris was a safety at Oklahoma who played similarly to Thomas Davis when he was at Georgia. The Eagles move him to a sideline to sideline backer who eases the coverage schemes on the safeties by occasionally covering the TE.

54. Minnesota: Eric Wood, C - Louisville
Time to pull the plug on Matt Birk. Although Wood isn't as dominant a blocker as some of the other centers in this draft (Unger and Mack), he has everything you look for in the QB of the offensive line who originates the line calls.

55. Atanta: Patrick Chung, S - Oregon
Why not replace Lawyer Milloy with a similar style player. Chung needs a little work on his coverage, but is not lacking in that department. He will do a lot for the run defense as he excels at being the 8th man in the box.

56. Miami: Keenan Lewis, CB - Oregon State
The Dolphins could go a number of directions, but could use Lewis's help at CB. Lewis is a big physical CB who matches up well against the bigger receivers in the league.

57. Baltimore: Kenny Britt, WR - Rutgers
With the Demetrius Williams Training Camp and Pre-Season Teases a thing of the past, the Ravens put some focus on getting Flacco a target as Derrick Mason reaches the upper limit of WRs in age. Kenny Britt is a possession type receiver who can be a perfect compliment to Mark Clayton.

58. New England: Bruce Johnson, CB - Miami
Depth at CB has always been an issue for the Patriots. Every year they add a couple of young prospects that don't pan out as envisioned. Time to try their hand at another CB who is rising up the charts. Johnson isn't going to get much fanfare before the combines, but may walk away from the combines potentially a couple of million dollars richer.

59. Carolina: Rhett Bomar, QB - Sam Houston State
Remember him? Top QB recruit in the nation, landing at Oklahoma but had some off field issues? He resurfaced at Sam Houston State and didn't disappoint there. He has better tools than any QB in this draft. Yes, I said it. With the right coaching, he could be the best QB to come out of this draft.

60. New York Giants: Robert Ayers, DE - Tennessee
A player who burst onto the scene his senior season, and finished his campaign with a Senior Bowl Defensive MVP award. He has great size, but his speed and agility drills at the combines will determine where he goes. He's a great fit for a team that currently has no backup DEs, that LOVES to rush the passer.

61. Indianapolis: Terrance Taylor, DT - Michigan
An athletic DT who also doubles as a power lifter and an exceptional wrestler, Taylor fills a huge need for the Colts. With two DTs taken early, the Colts can focus on other areas of need after this pick.

62. Tennessee: Antoine Caldwell, C - Alabama
Kevin Mawae is getting up there in years and Leroy Harris is better suited to be the backup guard on the team. Caldwell is an athletic center who teamed with Andre Smith to anchor a dominant offensive line for the Tide.

63. Arizona: Connor Barwin, DE - Cincinnati
Though he only really got playing time as a senior for the Bearcats, Barwin was a great pass rusher during that time. He would serve as a pure pass rusher in the NFL until he adds some bulk. He could even end up at OLB. He is also versatile enough to line up at TE, whether it's as a blocker, or to actually make a Vrabel-Style catch in the end zone.

64. Pittsburgh: Fenuki Tupou, OG - Oregon
He played tackle at Oregon, but projects to guard in the NFL. Has the size and strength to move DTs around. With a possible mass exodus of offensive linemen out of Pittsburgh, they need to address the position. An OT would have been ideal, but it would be a major reach at this point.

Monday, February 16, 2009

NCAA Tournament Bracket Projections - February 16, 2009

For the first time in many years of projecting brackets and the three years I have projected to the masses, having the same 65 teams in back-to-back weeks is a FIRST. Once again, despite the injury to Jerome Dyson, UConn stands at the top of the mountain with even UNC taking giant steps forward. After putting 100 on Duke at Cameron, the Heels won ugly against Miami last night.

In a lot of brackets, I see Wake Forest sliding fast. However, they are the only team to beat the top 4 in the ACC (wins versus UNC, Duke, Florida State and at Clemson). For that reason, I had to place them above Duke, who is starting their annual fall from grace. As a result of Duke’s fall, I was forced to place Oklahoma – who has often played to the level of their lesser competition – as a #1 seed.

Despite two losses in the PAC 10, I expect UCLA to run the table to win the conference outright and claim a protected seed. That said, the PAC 10 has been full of twists and turns, reducing predictability by the nanosecond.

In terms of whose stock rose, this was a good week for Arizona and Boston College.

* While I thought Arizona would get past USC, I anticipated a hard-fought win by the UCLA Bruins last weekend. I anticipated incorrectly, as great offense defeated great defense. Nic Wise, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger (yes, in that order) make up one of the best trios nationally.

* Undeterred by a home loss earlier in the week to Clemson (who lost yesterday to UVa!), BC is now 3-0 against teams from the Triangle area and added one more signature victory to their at-large bid mantle. If Al Skinner continues to regulate and the Eagles earn regular contributions from their single-digit scorers, they can move up two more seed lines.

Though not many teams fell precipitously, Miami-FL and USC could consider this week a missed opportunity despite decent performances. Ultimately, this may pave the way for the likes of Penn State and Notre Dame who gained crucial home wins this weekend and demonstrated a sense of urgency that was not seen in previous contests. The Irish will be back in the field if they sweep away contests against West Virginia and Providence.

If you have any questions, comments, or just wish to send a shout, shoot me a line at phashemi@gmail.com.

The Seedings

1: UConn (Big East), North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma (Big XII)

2: Louisville, Wake Forest, Michigan State (Big Ten), Duke (ACC)

3: Memphis (C-USA), Villanova, Marquette, Clemson

4: Illinois, Kansas, UCLA (PAC 10), Missouri

5: Washington, Ohio State, Arizona State, Syracuse

6: Xavier (A-10), Purdue, Florida State, West Virginia

7: Butler (Horizon), Texas, Gonzaga (WCC), Boston College

8: Tennessee (SEC), Minnesota, Dayton, California

9: LSU, Davidson (Southern), Arizona, Utah

10: UNLV (MWC), Wisconsin, Florida, Utah State (WAC)

11: Virginia Tech, BYU, Kentucky, Cincinnati

12: USC, Miami-FL, South Carolina, Creighton (MVC)

13: Siena (Metro Atlantic), VCU (CAA), Vermont (America East), Buffalo (MAC)

14: Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), North Dakota State (Summit), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Cornell (Ivy)

15: American (Patriot), VMI (Big South), Tennessee-Martin (Ohio Valley), Belmont (Atlantic Sun)

16: Weber State (Big Sky), Long Beach State (Big West), Morgan State (MEAC), Robert Morris (Northeast), Alabama State (SWAC)

IN: NONE

OUT: NONE

Last Four In: Cincinnati, Miami-FL, South Carolina, USC

Last Four Out: Penn State, Notre Dame, Kansas State, San Diego State

Next Four Out: Georgetown, Providence, Michigan, UAB


Seeding Summary (Multi-Bid Conferences Only in Order of Percentage)
ACC: 8/12

Pac-10: 6/10

Big East: 8/16

Big Ten: 6/11

SEC: 5/12

Big XII: 4/12

Mountain West: 3/9

A-10: 2/14

Sunday, February 15, 2009

10 Answers from the Editor - Bracket Style

Yesterday, Clement had a chance to collect questions relevant to the NCAA Tournament from numerous PHSports stakeholders. Today, I answer those questions. Simple enough.

ACC Country
Q: With FSU enjoying plenty of recent success, who has a tougher road to an at-large berth in the crowded ACC: Virginia Tech or Boston College?
A: In short, Virginia Tech has the tougher road to an at-large berth because BC's signature win (@ UNC) grows stronger by the day. The Hokies also have a tougher schedule with 5 of their last 6 against teams with a .600 winning percentage in % or better. That said, there is never a day off in the ACC and both teams are capable of defeating top teams or playing to the level of lesser competition.

UPDATE: This question was answered for us.

Q: Is Maryland only a miracle run in the ACC Tourney away from returning to the Big Dance?
A: Since a home loss against BC, Maryland has been playing its best string of games this year. To garner consideration, they need to win a game or two that they are not expected to (@ Clemson, v. Duke, v. UNC, v. Wake) and take care of weaker teams away from the Comcast Center. Mind you, this is the same team that trounced Michigan State early in the season. If the Selection Committee sees anything like that result, then watch out. To answer your question, it depends on seeding. Likely, Maryland will need two wins in the ACC Tournament and a collapse by one of the teams ahead of them.

Big East Talk
Q: Cincinnati appears to be on the upswing while Georgetown remains stuck in the abyss after a tough loss at the Carrier Dome. Meanwhile, Notre Dame shakes off 7-straight losses - many of them ugly ones - to destroy Louisville. Last night, West Virginia pounds Villanova and reminds us about their dangerous talent. Assuming UCONN, Pitt, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova, and (maybe) even the Cuse are locks for March Madness...what happens to the "rest of the field", including the aformentioneds (Georgetown, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, West Virginia) as well as Providence.
A: First, let's take WVU out of this discussion. They have a stronger resume, have a real chance at 10 wins in conference and have Pitt and Louisville scheduled twice each. After them, I'd put the Bearcats into the field of 65, who are not the prettiest team to watch, but grind it out for 40 minutes. They also have two extremely winnable games in addition to three chances to pad the resume against Louisville, WVU and the Cuse. On the outside looking in, I'd put Notre Dame and Georgetown. The Irish earned their first signature win of the year, but can they keep it going? Realistically speaking, can they play strong defense again? As for the Hoyas, they have the best wins among this group and can return to the fold with a 8-10 conference record plus two wins in the Big East Tournament, including 1-2 games against teams that they are not expected to beat given their current form.

CAA Speak
Q: Do you think a darkhorse can emerge come CAA Tournament time, or do you believe VCU/Mason are the odds on favorites - even with a talented Northeastern team tied atop the standings - to cut down the nets in Richmond?
A: Absolutely. Any of the top seven teams (VCU, Mason, Nor'Easter, Drexel, Hofstra, Old Dominion, James Madison) in this conference have a 'good' chance to make the finals. I still think VCU is the favorite because all they need is Maynor plus two for three games. Rams fans know that's easier said than done this season, but that's asking less than what other teams demand.

Big Ten Bias
Q: Will Penn State right the ship, or are they looking more and more like an early bloomer who will fade well before Selection Sunday?
A: The Nittany Lions stole a must-win game from Minnesota with dominating play in the final four minutes (thanks to a guy named Battle), which killed the assertion that they fade in the face of urgency. Unless they win 10 games in conference, they will need to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

Missouri Valley Time
Q: With an impressive showing Bracketbuster weekend (more below), can Northern Iowa and Creighton secure bids, assuming one of them wins the conference championship over the other?
A: No. Creighton had plenty of missed opportunities in non-conference play. Northern Iowa has no chance to secure a berth other than winning the automatic bid.

Pac-10 Pontification
Q: I can't figure out this conference one bit. Can we get a sentence or two on the postseason "likelihoods" for Arizona, USC, and Cal?
A: USC has the weakest resume of the three but has the best adjusted defensive efficiency, which is conducive to winning. Arizona has the strongest win and the hottest, but Cal has the strongest non-conference resume. It's a web confusion and trend data is useless in the PAC 10.

WCC
Q: What's the best case (realistic) scenario for St. Mary's - sans Patty Mills - right now? If he can return before tournament time, how much can the Selection Committee take into account his injury and their play before it? Is that fair to do so?
A: There is more conditional speak here than in a legal document. Mills is scheduled to return right before the WCC Tournament; therefore, the Selection Committee will pay special attention to the Gaels form and Mills's effectiveness. Nothing short of a trip to the finals (and losing to Gonzaga) will garner consideration for an at-large bid. Also the Gaels would need plenty of help from bubble teams who would play the role of choke artist.

Prognosis: Negative

Free-for-All
Q: Who is this year's San Diego (winning their conference tournament unexpectedly and then making noise opening weekend of the tournament)? Maybe Portland/Nevada/Niagara/Belmont? Okay, probably not Belmont.
A: If Butler does not win the Horizon League Tournament, then Wisconsin-Green Bay and Cleveland State have a real chance to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament should they face a low-grade protected seed (#11-16 overall).

Bracketbusting
Q: What are your favorite Bracketbuster matchups? Who has the most to gain from the weekend's matchups? Who has the most to lose? Individual team or conferences may apply.
A: Butler/Davidson and Utah State/St. Mary's are diluted by injuries to Stephen Curry and Patty Mills. Davidson and Utah State have the most to gain if their star players do not play and they either impress or win. Consequently, Butler and Utah State have the most to lose if they do not take care of business. By process of elimination and admitting my CAA/George Mason bias, I have three matchups.

VCU @ Nevada -- Can the Nevada guards rattle Eric Maynor? Who will cover Luke Babbitt? Will Larry Sanders be good to go?

George Mason @ Creighton -- Bias aside, this is going to be a beautiful battle of quality guards.

Buffalo @ Vermont -- Oh, those pesky Catamounts! I really want to see how good Buffalo is. Is Turner Gill also coaching the basketball team?

All of this said, none of the mid-majors involved in the BracketBusters are bona fide two-bid conferences (assuming the top teams from these one-bids win their conference tournaments). A TV sweep for the Horizon and MVC *may* garner consideration for a second bid, but I would not bet the bank account.