Saturday, March 17, 2007

NCAA Tournament Round 2, Day 1 Live-Comment

UPDATE 2: Ask and ye shall receive! Now THIS was a great day of games! (Even if the favorites dominated... except for hardly-mid-major Butler and suddenly-Cindy-ish 6-seed Vandy!) Like many, I was sad to see VCU get KO'ed, but at least it was a dramatic game. At this point, that's all we're looking for. And, after waiting around for two days, we finally got.

: OK, so today is definitely an improvement on Round 1. Ohio State taken to the limit and now mid-major Butler knocking off big-conference Maryland (but given the styles of the two teams, you kind of had to see it coming... of course, I didn't on MY bracket, but that's another story.)

And Louisville and Texas A&M are in a tight one that should stay close the rest of the way.

ORIGINAL POST: Well, at least the Ohio State-Xavier game was an exciting one, even if OSU won the game (or, I should say, Xavier choked it away).

Worth noting: OSU played so much better without Oden. (And where was Oden down the stretch of regulation? Why isn't he demanding the ball? And why doesn't Matta run the O through him?)

Meanwhile, I can't believe Jim Nantz is shilling for Circuit City. It seems so... lowbrow for someone who hangs his hat on "A tradition unlike any other..."

Saturday 03/17 Quickie:
Worst. First Round. Ever.

The NCAA first-round returns are in, and this was -- without standard Shanoffian hyperbole or instant hysteria:

Worst. First Round. Ever.

No upsets. I steadfastly refuse to count 9-over-8 as an "upset," so we're left with two in the entire Tournament first round:

VCU over Duke, which will only grow in legend given its upset novelty.

Winthrop over Notre Dame, which nearly half of America saw coming, hardly qualifying it as a classic "upset."

No fantastic finishes. How pathetic (and/or symbolic) is it that VCU-Duke has to pull double-duty as both "best/only upset" and "best/only fantastic finish?" (Maybe VA Tech over Illinois on a 12-0 game-ending run, but that was less fantastic than ugly.)

This year's theme so far? Lame, predictable results.

And that is the worst possible thing to happen to the Tournament.

I guess it's testimony to the Tournament's history and legacy of upsets and wild finishes that a Tournament without them seems so... worthless.

I'm sure that as rounds go by and results (hopefully) offer upsets and great finishes, we'll forget about this first round. First rounds are rarely remembered anyway -- except for their upsets and wild finishes.

Which is precisely why this first round -- for all of our lamentations Friday night and Saturday morning -- is so forgettable.

How's your bracket look?

Tournament Challenge: I'm in the 72nd percentile of the Daily Quickie Readers group. But I lost one Sweet 16 team (Creighton) and one Elite Eight team (Georgia Tech). This was NOT the year to take a flier on a few underdogs going long.

National Bracket: The collective wisdom of all fans' picks is outperforming 72 percent of all individual brackets. But here's something interesting: The two outright upsets that were predicted on the National Bracket -- Gonzaga and Georgia Tech -- didn't happen. Seems like the "collective wisdom" couldn't foresee that the first round would suck so badly.

See yesterday's Quickie post below for my picks and previews for today's games. Let's just say this: We BETTER get some upsets and/or fanstastic finishes.


-- D.S.

Friday, March 16, 2007

NCAA Tournament Round 1 Day 2 Live-Blog

EVENING UPDATE 2: Well, what do you know! More games, more lame-ass, better-seed-winning results! This entire first round goes down as the Lamest Ever, and I'm not sure it's close. Let's review: One decent upset (VCU). One upset everyone saw coming (Winthrop). And that's it. So few that three 9 over 8 upsets suddenly seem to sound good as "upsets." All I can say is: We better see some seriously crazy results this weekend.

: Why shouldn't we expect more of the same? Kansas? Texas? Southern Illinois? Florida? All expected winners. How sad that our hopes to salvage the day for an upset rests not with some fun mid-major but Illinois? A 12-seed is a 12-seed, I guess.

: Ho-hum! 7 over 10? Another game, another "seed" win. (Looks like Creighton was a bit of a mid-major inflation, versus Nevada, a little less cachet but a little more winning.) Wisconsin wins. Oregon seems to have its game in hand after a slow start.

All I can say is that the second round better be (a) full of upsets and (b) full of close games, because we are one uneventful night set away from being the Lamest Tournament First-Round Ever.

: Winthrop wins! And, yet, it figures in The Most Drama-Free Tournament First Round Ever that the one upset of the day would be the ONE upset that EVERYONE saw coming since, like, last March. And TAMU-CC looks like a one-half wonder. Damn.

: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is about to save this Tournament from itself (VCU, notwithstanding). Oh, and I guess Winthrop was for real. Very real.

: There's nothing quite as depressing as watching a long-shot team you picked for the Elite Eight start out a first-round game sucking, then battle back into it -- only to eff up the ending. (I suppose it could be worse: In the Sports Bog "Celebrity" Pool, Ken "KenPom" Pomeroy had GT going to his Final Four.)

UPDATE: As long as UVA loses on Sunday, picking Albany was worth what seemed like a decent risk at the time. Now, all I need is GA Tech to continue their mini-surge to avoid becoming GACK Tech. (Yes, I know they weren't the favorites. Uh, except in the National Bracket.)

ORIGINAL POST: I can't believe that I'm going to go from the lofty heights of a great Day 1 to bottoming-out on my bracket when Georgia Tech poops the bed vs. UNLV. (I have Tech to the Elite Eight. I can already feel the hindsight bubbling up, like a belch: WHAT WAS I THINKING?)

Picking Albany over UVA? Worth the risk, given that I have the winner of the game losing in Round 2 anyway. (But UVA looks damn good. Almost as much as Albany looks weak.)

Besides, right now I am focusing all my energy rooting for North Texas over Memphis. Might I have been one year (and one seed) off on my pick of Memphis being upset in the first-round?

-- D.S.

Not Tournament-related, but new: My season preview of the Nationals is up at Deadspin. Check it out!

It's notable because it represents the second team I have adopted -- in a major sport, no less -- because it was available to me to write as a Deadspin preview and because I previously didn't have a strong allegiance in the sport. Shallow? Yes. Awesome? Yes.

Oh, and here's the Nats preview from The Dugout. You shame me, gents.

Friday 03/16 (Tourney) Quickie:
VCU Saves the Tournament!

There was one result – ONE – that could singlehandedly save yesterday's NCAA Tournament games from a legacy of being the least entertaining, dramatic or meaningful "Round 1-Day 1" that anyone could remember.

Duke losing to VCU in a nail-biter.

Thankyouverymuch. And, given that result, the consequence is that no one will really remember that the rest of the day was kind of a dud. They will just remember this:

Just that Duke lost.

To VCU...
On the Tournament's first day...
In the only real upset of the entire day...

Perhaps it is actually harder to hate Duke today: Maybe a team that is so mediocre just isn't worth the wrath? (Nahhh!)

God: It was so so SO sweet, wasn't it?

(Great related column: Will Leitch has a great essay about Duke losing to VCU in today's online edition of the New York Times. Subscription req'd.)

Next-Biggest Storyline: Other than that, yesterday's main storyline was the utter lack of drama and/or upsets (before VCU/Duke. Xavier/BYU, as an 8-9 game most people didn't care about, doesn't really qualify).

The Tournament has built itself on either (a) upsets or (b) fantastic finishes. Outside of VCU/Duke, there weren't really any. This is bad – very bad – for the Tournament.

The good news is that if the Tournament, statistically, HAS to have SOME upsets or great finishes, we're due today for at least a couple, aren't we?

How about, say, a 13-seed Albany over a 4-seed UVA followed by a Georgia Tech over a UNLV to start the day, with maybe a Winthrop over a Notre Dame and Creighton over Nevada in the late-afternoon set.

Too much to ask? I say we're entitled. (And, um, my bracket's future sort of depends on it.)

Bracket Update: OK, so who ELSE had VCU beating Duke? How does everyone's brackets look today, halfway through the first round?

I went 14-2, missing Indiana and Xavier. I had Gonzaga and BYU losing in the next round anyway, so they aren't bracket-killing mistakes.

Embittered Hindsights:

(1) Xavier is such a clutch Tournament team, I should have never doubted them

(2) Indiana? Away from home? Against Gonzaga? I'd pick against them again.

Tournament Challenge Update: In the "Daily Quickie Readers" group a grand total of SEVEN people (out of nearly 1500!) got all 16 games right yesterday.

Everyone else's chances of having the mythical "Perfect Bracket" were obliterated within the Tournament's first 16 games.

National Bracket Update: If you used the "National Bracket" to make your picks, you would have gone 13-3.

Consider that, if you didn't do that well. (Of course, the N.B. will ALWAYS look better on a day with few upsets.)

The N.B.'s biggest misses was calling the Gonzaga upset outright and, to a lesser extent, Marquette over Michigan State in a "toss-up" 8-9 game.

But in Dan Steinberg's DC Sports Bog "Celebrity" Pool, I'm tied for second, behind Steinberg himself. Doesn't he know that it's totally uncool to be winning your own pool? Here's a link.

Quickie-style recap of yesterday's results:

d. Gonzaga
Zags' mystique nearly as eroded as Duke's
UNC d. E. Kentucky
Compare to how other 1-seeds dominated.
Xavier d. BYU
Drew Lavender: The new Earl Boykins?
Pitt d. Wright State
Happy to draw VCU over Duke? Or worse off?
UCLA d. Weber St
Just tracking Collison's ankle (looks good!)
Michigan St d. Marquette
As ugly as we thought it'd be
Ohio St d. CCSU
Oden/Conley end Tourney virginity
VCU d. Duke
See post below. HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Afternoon Games:
Vandy d. GW
Surprisingly easily, wouldn't you say?
Texas A&M d. Penn
Trendy Aggies scared early, revved late
G'town d. Belmont
Hoyas' size was too much
Butler d. ODU
Bulldogs' late shooting pulls away
Wazzu d. Oral
Wazzu better than you thought, aren't they?

Click here for my late-afternoon live-blog.

L'ville d. Stanford
Cardinal were an embarrassment to at-larges
BC d. Texas Tech
Another early-round KO for Knight
Maryland d. Davidson
Looking ready for a run to the Sweet 16?

Click here for my early-afternoon live-blog.

Quickie-style preview of today's games:
(My picks to win are listed)

13 Albany over 4 Virginia
Could start my Round 1, Day 2 badly.
10 Georgia Tech over 7 UNLV
Pool-wreck Potential! I have Tech to 8.
2 Memphis over 15 North Texas
Another lightweight win for Tigers.
11 Winthrop over 6 Notre Dame
This is THE trendy upset pick of Round 1.
5 Tennessee over 12 Long Beach St
12-over-5? No: Vols love LBS style of play.
2 Wisconsin over 15 A&M-CC
Too much banging by the Badgers.
10 Creighton over 7 Nevada
Another trendy upset pick for Round 1

3 Oregon over 14 Miami (Ohio)
Wazzu set it up: Pac-10 looks good!

1 Kansas over 16 Niagara
Self ready to end KU's Round 1 Kurse?
5 VA Tech over 12 Illinois
Illinois needs to avoid "pulling a Stanford"
8 Arizona over 9 Purdue
Will confirm it's a good Round 1 for Pac-10
4 Texas over 13 New Mexico St
Adjust your MMOD screen to "Durant Channel."
9 Villanova over 8 Kentucky
Nova's Reynolds is a big-conference S. Curry.
4 Southern Illinois over 13 Holy Cross
Salukis in rare position of heavy favorite.
1 Florida over 16 Jackson State
If Gators lose, don't look for me for a while.
5 USC over 12 Arkansas
Pac-10's Round 1 dominance capped off.

Worth a quick look: Saturday's Round 2:

4 Maryland vs. 5 Butler
Terps: Good inconsistent? Or bad?
(Pick: Maryland)

3 Pitt vs. 11 VCU
How can you NOT root for VCU?
(Pick: VCU)

2 UCLA vs. 7 Indiana
Road finally catches up with Hoosiers.
(Pick: UCLA)

1 UNC vs. 9 Michigan St
Closer than you'll think.
(Pick: UNC)

3 Washington St vs. 6 Vandy
How good did Wazzu look?
(Pick: Wash. St.)

2 Georgetown vs. 7 BC
Old Big East rivals. Where's John Bagley?
(Pick: G'town)

1 Ohio State vs. 9 Xavier
Thad Matta's old school, players
(Pick: Ohio State, but close!)

3 Texas A&M vs. 6 Louisville
Cards ain't playing Cardinal anymore
(Pick: A&M)

Wait: There's other stuff to talk about in sports?

NBA fines Phil Jax $50K for "witch hunt" comment. Pocket change.

MLB: Sammy Sosa will be on the Rangers' 40-man roster. Victory!

NFL: Tank Johnson gets 4-months in prison. Cellblock D's Intramural Football Team – reigning Oz champs! – gets a boost!

Obit: Bowie Kuhn, former MLB commish, dies. His biggest legacy will likely be the start of free agency, which happened on his watch.

Finally: If you read one non-Tournament-related thing today, make it this amazing post from WithLeather's Matt Ufford about a night out with John Amaechi.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Have you EVER been more happy about a first-round NCAA Tournament result??!?!?

I haven't.

(And I called it.)

But that is SO much less important than Duke losing. And it was SOOOOO sweet. VCU was incredible. Who else just KNEW this was one of "those" games that Duke ALWAYS wins.


I'm flipping out. I'm giddy.

(And how sweet -- HOW SWEET -- is it that on a day of games where EVERY favorite won, Duke lost. Just the icing on the top.)


NCAA Tournament Day 1 Live-Blog RECAP

Late-afternoon games.

Early-afternoon games.

Tons of fun to do. Didn't hurt I went 8-0. But picking all favorites (which was the way to 8-0 today) isn't a good long-term strategy.

Tonight: Looking for upsets and/or wild finishes. Any. Please.

UPDATE: Damn you, Duke. Damn you. (If you're wondering why I'm cursing them, my "bold" pick of the bracket was VCU over Duke en route to the Sweet 16. Crap.)

Thursday 03/15 Quickie:
Tournament, Day 1. 'Nuff Said.

It's Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament! It is, arguably (or, actually, no argument) the greatest day of the sports year.

Starting at around noon ET, you can find me over at Deadspin, where I'll be all afternoon, live-blogging all of the day's games. Should be a ton of fun, so be sure to drop by and check it out.

(For a taste from the way-back machine, check out my live-blog of Tourney Day 1 from 2003.)

Quick relevant reminiscence: 10 years ago this week (cripes: 10 years?), I was the college basketball editor at And today was IT: Probably my finest moment on the job.

I knew that would be the key source for millions of fans across the country stuck at work during the first round's afternoon games. (Remember obsessively hitting "refresh" on the scoreboard pages to track games?)

I decided that the key to my coverage strategy would be to update the front-page lead "top story" blurb as often as humanly possible. (Consider this was more than a half-decade before the word "live-blog" was even conceived.)

My recollection is that I averaged a fresh top-story blurb every 8-10 minutes, reflecting the latest momentum moves and storyline shifts. (Somewhere buried in my file cabinet, I have every single one of those blurbs printed out.)

An hyper-enthusiastic 24-year-old, I thought that my efforts appropriately matched the spirit and intensity of the day for fans. (That day, as I believe it has every year since on the first day of the NCAA Tournament, the site set its new one-day traffic record.)

You would have never known it was me behind the scenes, managing the coverage and obsessively flipping those top stories over (and over... and over...), but I was there, having the time of my life.

Including the greatest front page headline never to see the light of day: When 15-seed Coppin State beat 2-seed South Carolina, the concept on the table was:

Coppin a Feel:
Cocks Go Limp

Without hyperbole:
Greatest. Headline. Ever.

Shout-outs to current college basketball editor Andy Glockner, who will be running the show today, and to friends like Executive Editor Kevin Jackson and Page 2 editor David Schoenfield, both my beat-editing colleagues at the time, who were in on the all-hands-on-deck coverage team then -- as they probably are now. Fans remain in phenomenal hands.

Meanwhile, 10 years later, I am reviving that new-comment-every-few-minutes role – not on, but on the leading sports blog.

That 24-year-old Dan -- a limitless career ahead of him -- could never have possibly imagined how things would work out over the following 10 years. (Indeed: I'm sure he would have yelped, "34? What could THAT fogey know?" Ahh, arrogance of youth...)

But I think that Dan would have been excited to know that the first afternoon of the NCAA Tournament remains his most thrilling moment of the sports year. (Sorry for the 3rd-person reference.)

So I have no other editorial message today besides this: Enjoy it.

LAST CHANCE! Sign up NOW for the "Daily Quickie Readers" group of's Tournament Challenge. Come on: You KNOW you have an entry or two left!

By the way, I don't know if this stat is accurate, but commenter GuyInTheCorner claims that there are only three Tournament Challenge groups that have more than 1,000 entrants: Mike and Mike's, Deadspin's and "Daily Quickie Readers." For that, I heartily and sincerely thank you.

(As impressive as last year's largest-in-the-country 10,000-person pool group was, this year's total 1,300 – and counting! – is arguably more impressive, because I don't have my platform to drive entries, just this blog. So THANK YOU!)

Meanwhile, just in time for today's Tournament tip-off, Deadspin wrapped up its team-by-team coverage with my preview of Florida. Here it is, in all its biased glory – the biggest symbol yet of my Gators fan-ness!

Previewing Today's Afternoon Games:

4 Maryland over 13 Davidson:
Inconsistent Terps should worry you.

7 BC over 10 Texas Tech
I can't buy BK in the Tourney.

6 L'ville over 11 Stanford
Like Clerks, Cardinal shouldn't even be here today.

3 Washington St over 14 Oral Roberts
Remember when I picked 16 ORU over 1 Memphis last year? Was I a year early on the Oral upset pick?

5 Butler over 12 ODU
Complete toss-up.

2 G'town over 15 Belmont
How strong will trendy Hoyas look?

3 Texas A&M over 14 Penn
A nation of bandwagoneers holds it breath.

6 Vandy over 11 G. Washington
The annual 5 p.m. ET game no one ever sees!

More Sports News:

Syracuse wins NIT opener. Motivated much?

NBA: Mavs-Suns. I had a very hard time getting too fired up for Mavs-Suns last night. Not just because the NCAA Tournament starts today, but because in the grand scheme of things, a regular-season NBA game – no matter who is playing in it – is meaningless. It's even MORE meaningless between top contenders. Does last night's result provide any indication of what will happen in the postseason if/when they meet again? No. Oh, and the Spurs are winning the West. So, really, when does Maryland-Davidson start? Give me one-game, win-or-bust playoff formats any day.

However, all that said: The Suns winning in Dallas in a thriller WAS kind of awesome.

NBA Whining: Phil Jackson says Kobe Bryant is the subject of a "witch hunt" by the NBA? Oh for crying out loud... literally.

NFL: No. 21 in this newly redesigned jersey will be a Top 3 seller among NFL fans.

MLB: Gary Matthews denies taking HGH. Well, of COURSE he does. And short of anyone with proof he took it, it's all speculation, at best.

Meanwhile, the Albany DA will provide the names of all athletes involved in the recent PED bust to MLB. Intriguing! How fast before THOSE are leaked? Meanwhile, the NFL says they don't want to know. (Kidding: But, really, you know I'm not...)

Reptiles at spring training: I have heard that the movie sequel will be called "Snakes in a Press Box." The YouTube parody video writes itself.

But, seriously, are you paying attention to anything else in sports besides the Tournament? No. So here we go!

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The "National Bracket": An Analysis
Of The Wisdom of the Fan Crowd

Click here (or scroll down) for today's Quickie ("Defining Choices")

And be sure to check out my fun pre-Tourney conversation with Peter Bean from Burnt Orange Nation: Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. Cross-blog mash-up!

On to a very intriguing post:

The National Bracket: It's one of my NCAA Tournament obsessions. As a "Wisdom of Crowds" tool, this aggregate look at the combined picks of every fan entering's Tournament Challenge is a phenomenal peek into the collective wisdom of the fans.

Two years ago, I made a big deal out of this: If you used the National Bracket to make your own picks, you would have outperformed 90 percent (90 PERCENT!) of all individual brackets.

Now, you might not would have won your office pool (which will always go to the statistical outlier), but you would have finished VERY respectably. This, using the collective wisdom of fans everywhere.

So what does an analysis of THIS year's National Bracket reveal?

Of course, the vast majority of decisions are heavily for the seed favorite. This year, there are even a handful of outright upsets called by the majority:

Round 1:
10 Gonzaga over 7 Indiana (56-44)
Round 2:
5 Tennessee over 4 UVA (52-48)

In Round 1, there is one intriguing virtual tie:
10 Georgia Tech (50.1) vs. 7 UNLV (49.9)

And in the Sweet 16, there is one virtual tie:
3 Texas A&M over 2 Memphis (50.2-49.8)

But usually, the "wisdom" is more subtle: Merely a NOTABLE percentage of fans see something in an underdog -- matchups that are close enough to flag as a significant portion of the "crowd" spotting a potential upset. (For the purposes of my analysis, if the underdog is within 30 percentage points of the favorite, it's worth noting.) Ones to watch:

Round 1 Teams within 30% range:
Old Dominion (36.5) vs. Butler (63.5)
Winthrop (45.3) vs. Notre Dame (54.7)
G. Washington (38.0) vs. Vandy (62.0)
Texas Tech (47.1) vs. Boston College (52.9)

Notably outside the +/- 30% range:
Creighton (32.7) vs. Nevada (67.3)
VCU (24.4) vs. Duke (75.6)
Arkansas (33.9) vs. USC (66.1)
Illinois (32.4) vs. VA Tech (67.6)
Long Beach (21.2) vs. Tennessee (78.8)

Sweet 16: Now THIS is fascinating. Of the 8 Sweet 16 games, besides the 50/50 Memphis-Texas A&M game, only ONE has the underdog within even 20 percentage points of the favorite: Texas (40.6) vs. UNC (59.4). Do the fans know something the experts don't?

The theme continues in the Elite Eight: Of the four games, Ohio State is a massive 55 percentage point favorite over Texas A&M. Florida is a similar 55-point favorite over Wisconsin. Kansas is an 18.4-point favorite over UCLA. And...

...UNC is less than THREE percentage points ahead of Georgetown, 51.3 vs. 48.7. This indicates, as opposed to the other regional finals, that UNC-G'town is a virtual dead-even match in terms of popular perception. The crowd speaks: Watch those Hoyas.

In the Final Four, Florida is nearly a 24 percentage point favorite over Kansas; Ohio State is 22 percentage point favorite over UNC.

The final is predictably tight: Ohio State is the popular pick, which I respect as the choice of the "crowd," but by less than 7 percentage points over Florida. I think that makes this result a virtual toss-up.

As it should be.

As a P.S., it will be interesting to see if that vote total -- or any along the way -- change in the final 24 hours before the brackets lock and the games begin.

-- D.S.

PS: On the opposite end of the "wisdom of crowds," FanIQ has the breakdown of all of the various "expert" picks for your comparison. Please keep "expert" in quotes.

Wednesday 03/14 A.M. Quickie:
"Defining Choices" of an NCAA Bracket

Today's Extra-Special Highlight: mash-up NCAA Tournament spectacular! Scroll down below this post for the first half of my Tournament-obsessed email exchange with Peter Bean. Then, check back on Burnt Orange Nation early this afternoon for Part 2! (Yeah, it's long, but what else are you doing today besides similarly obsessing about the brackets?)

On to today's Quickie:

It is the Question(s) of the Day

"How's your Spokane?"
"How's your Sacramento?"
"How's your New Orleans?"
"How's your Buffalo?"
"How's your Lexington?"
"How's your Columbus?"
"How's your Chicago?"
"How's your Winston-Salem?"

With less than a day before the Tournament begins, everything is focused on the brackets. YOUR brackets. Your friends' brackets. The experts' brackets. Maybe even my brackets.

Yesterday, my picks were unveiled to a Wall Street Journal Online audience. (Did you see them? Here's a link.)

My Final Four: Florida over UCLA. Georgetown over Texas A&M. Florida over Georgetown in the title game, in a classic Heart-over-Head pick that will ultimately be my downfall. The foursome is hardly novel: Katz, Wilbon, Thamel, Steinberg and who knows how many others share the same group. If that's not the kiss of death, I don't know what is.

Biggest Risk, Round 1:
VCU over Duke
Winthrop over Notre Dame
Biggest Risk, Round 2:
Georgia Tech over Wisconsin
VCU over Pitt
Creighton over Memphis
Biggest Risk, Sweet 16:
Georgia Tech over Oregon
Southern Illinois over Kansas
Texas over UNC
Biggest Risk, Elite Eight:
Texas A&M over Ohio State
Georgetown over UNC

Other than that, I'm fairly conventional.

So I've put my pool fortunes behind five "Defining Choices":

(1) A VCU team I'm picking mostly because they're opening with Duke and I'm suckered in by the "this year's George Mason" question (when I should be focusing on the oft-cited Quickie foundation of the "regress-to-the-mean" principle).

(2) A Georgia Tech team I'm picking mostly because I had them in the Final Four in my PRESEASON picks.

(3) I've got So. Ill. over Kansas because I believe what I saw from KU last March over what I saw from them last weekend.

(4) I've got Texas over UNC because I've drunk the Durant Kool-Aid.

(5) And I'm behind Georgetown and Texas A&M beating Texas (or UNC) and Ohio State, respectively, because I believe in the power of holding a grudge from how the previous season's Tournament ended.

There you have it: Five defining choices that will make (or, more likely, break) my bracket.

So: What were YOUR bracket's Defining Choices?

DON'T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR THE "DAILY QUICKIE READERS" GROUP OF THE ESPN.COM TOURNAMENT CHALLENGE! (And don't forget to scroll down for the Shanoff-BurntOrangeNation mash-up, Part 1!)

Play-In Game: Niagara advances! OK, who had the Purple team advancing in their office pool? (Trick question! Your pool didn't COUNT the Play-In Game! But if, like me, you picked Niagara, give yourself a symbolic extra point – and consider it good mojo for the games that "count.")

By the Wednesday before the NCAA Tournament, the rest of the sports world is either temporarily irrelevant or simply ignored. Still...

NBA: Bernie Bickerstaff is headed out as coach of the Bobcats, per Michael Jordan's edict. So: Who will MJ pick to replace him? A few guesses: (1) Billy Donovan, (2) Doug Collins, (3) Larry Brown, (4) Anyone else with UNC ties, (5) Um... Leonard Hamilton?

MLB: Sammy Sosa racks up two more hits. Hilarious. You HAVE to root for him, don't you?

File-it-away Quote of the Day: "I want to 100 percent stay in New York. Period." – A-Rod.

NFL: This Lance Briggs thing – are you with him or would you rather have him STFU? Seems to me that slapping him with the "Franchise" tag is within the Bears' rights, whether he likes it or not. Play the one year, then walk away, if he feels so strongly about it.


(And don't forget to scroll down and keep reading for the Shanoff-BurntOrangeNation mash-up, Part 1!)

-- D.S. Mash-Up:
Dan Shanoff and Peter Bean Talk Tourney

The following is the first half of an exchange between me and Peter Bean of the most excellent blog, Burnt Orange Nation. It began as a simple, friendly email exchange and turned into a post-worthy discussion of the brackets that we both thought our readers would enjoy. Check back on Burnt Orange Nation later today for the thrilling second half!

Peter Bean: Let's just get right into this, Dan. Start us off with your general thoughts on the Madness. Any ill will toward the committee for snubs or seeding issues? Any ill will toward the committee as an entity in general? Thoughts on how things played out this year?

Dan Shanoff: You know, I have a hard time being TOO hard on the Committee. There are snubs EVERY year -- that's as much of a guarantee as the fact that there will be upsets that will make the Committee look amazing (see GMU in '06).

I think the reality is that snubs are a Sunday night discussion -- maybe Monday morning. At that point, we leave the snubbees behind and focus on what's ahead. To crib one of Don Rumsfeld's most-mocked lines ever: You deal with the bracket you have, not the one you want.

So what ABOUT this bracket? We can get into the specific regions in a second, but I think you and I are in a unique position. My favorite team (Florida) is the "No. 1" No. 1 seed and the prohibitive favorite. Your favorite team (Texas) is one of the trendiest picks of the entire field.

It's an interesting position for Gators fans, actually: For the first time ever as basketball fans, anything less than the national title will be a total and utter failure, effectively undermining everything Florida's star players have done this season. (Ironically, on the football side, Gators fans annually wrestle with this concept of title-or-bust.)

I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, you play to win the titles. On the other, how much fun or appreciation can you have if winning the title merely MEETS expectations and any other result triggers unmatched disappointment? It's the Curse of the Favorite -- and, in exclusive misery, a favorite that returns all five starters from the defending national champion.

I think a handful of teams' fans can relate this year: Ohio State, UNC, Georgetown, UCLA, Kansas.

So here's my question for you: Given the trendy expectations for Texas -- and the fact that this might be Kevin Durant's only tournament -- what are your expectations? And, as a UT fan, how were they tempered between Sunday afternoon, when the possibilities looked limitless, and Sunday night, when you saw that UNC was the likely Sweet 16 opponent?

Peter Bean: How about when we went from up 22 on Kansas in the first half of the Big 12 championship, to losing in overtime, to seeing our name called as a #4 seed opposite North Carolina - the team with the most upside in the entire tournament? That was fun.

I don't necessarily envy your position as a Gator fan; as trendy a pick as Texas may be, we're still underdogs - something that the players and fans can feed off. We're not supposed to beat UNC, but we might, because we've got Kevin Durant and they don't.

I've tended to enter the tournament feeling one of two ways about the Texas team: either they have a shot to win it all and that's the goal (2003, 2006), or they don't (2004, 2005). When they don't really have a shot, I root for the team and hope they make some noise of some kind, but I'm realistic with my expectations.

This year, Texas has a shot to win it all, so anything short will be disappointing. At various points during this season, we've flashed twenty-minute stretches of basketball that would embarrass the 1990 UNLV Rebels. Unfortunately, we haven't put that together for an entire game yet; obviously, we'll have to if we want to beat UNC (let alone Georgetown).

I've got a lot invested in the East bracket, obviously, so let me take this opportunity to ask someone a little more neutral: is the East the toughest bracket this year? You've got two #1 seeds (UNC and Georgetown) and the best college basketball player in the country. Your thoughts?

Dan Shanoff: I'm with you: The East is brutal, and that's entirely due to the Top 4 seeds. The 1-seed, 2-seed and 4-seed are arguably the strongest team of their seed line. And the 3-seed (Washington State) is no less than the second-best of their seed line. This is ludicrous.

Would it have been so awful if the Committee swapped South 4-seed Virginia with East 4-seed Texas? It would have made the East much less brutal, it would have upgraded the South -- and it would have put Kevin Durant on a near-guarantee collision course with Greg Oden in the Sweet 16, which would have been the most widely watched college basketball game of the year, if not the decade. It would have been a poor man's Magic-Bird from '79. If I had any problems with the Committee selections, it was this one.

Anyway, that regional is going to be sick if it follows the chalk. I actually picked Texas over UNC on my bracket. UNC only knows how to play fast -- but that's the only way Texas knows how to play, too. And for all of the talk about UNC having the best freshman class, it would be a nice moment to reveal that the country's best frosh class was in Austin this year.

Georgetown versus Washington State is another doozy, if the diametric opposite of UNC-Texas. Imagine G'town and Wazzu combining for fewer points in the entire game than UNC and Texas combine to score in the first half. Wazzu got a little screwed: Their freakishly deliberate style would give almost any team in the field fits (including Texas and UNC), but the ONE team in the field TOTALLY prepared to solve it is Georgetown.

One of the reasons I have Georgetown out of the East is that Texas and UNC -- completely spent from running each other out of the gym 36 hours before -- will be unprepared physically (or psychologically) to beat the Hoyas. For Texas, beating UNC might BE their national-title game, their vindication as truly the most talented team in the field... if not the champs.

But you're the Big 12 expert, not me, so when you've finished dissecting UT's chances in the East, I'd be curious to hear if you believe the hype (and overflowing bandwagon) of Texas A&M in the South. You know: Texas' OTHER hoops team?

Peter Bean: Nah. . . they're a football school.

Okay, I'll admit it: the Aggies are -very- good this year. So good, in fact, that I think they've got the best shot to win the South Regional. They'll have no trouble muscling Penn out of the tournament, they're too physical and disciplined to get trapped by Louisville (even in Lexington), and then they'll head to San Antonio where an army of farmers will be whooping like the crazy people that they are.

In 2003, Texas got the #1 seed in the South Region, which was also hosted in San Antonio. I, and 40,000 other Longhorn fans, went to those two games, and easily cheered that TJ Ford-led Texas team past UConn (Okafor and Gordon) and Michigan State (Davis, Brown, et al.). It was a grossly unfair home court advantage. As pumped as Aggie fans are about this year's basketball team, I'd be shocked if they don't enjoy a similar advantage this year.

I'm with you on not getting overly-worked up about the committee's selections, but if I'm Ohio State or Memphis, I'm more than a little bit annoyed by the committee sending A&M to San Antonio. I think the Aggies are a very strong basketball team, but their resume is hardly laced with gold; why are they getting such a favorable placement? What's the point of being a #1 seed if you're not afforded any advantage? The Buckeyes are barely closer to San Antonio than San Jose; what's going on here?

I think that's the big story in the South, along with Greg Oden. Ohio State has somehow managed to be relatively underrated by most fans. Greg Oden hasn't shone quite as much as Kevin Durant. The Big 10 is unexciting, if not outright bad. The Buckeyes aren't a pretty team to watch. All told, I haven't seen many brackets with Ohio State advancing to Atlanta. But aren't they a LOT like last year's UCLA team? Are we collectively selling the Buckeyes short?

Dan Shanoff: In short: Yes. Despite the arguments for A&M (most persuasively, the geographic advantages of the regional), it is being totally overlooked that, at least according to the "rankings," Ohio State is the best team in the country.

I have to admit that I'm biased against the Buckeyes: As a Florida fan, I watched Ohio State lose by 26 in Gainesville. Yes, Oden was barely back from his early-season injury, but he was eaten alive by the Gators big men. Oden has gotten better, sure, but so has everyone else since mid-December.

It won't help that they play in the deliberate Big Ten. I'm intrigued to see Ohio State play a team like Tennessee, which is small but fast. Florida has the best and deepest frontcourt in the nation, and Tennessee completely took them out of the game. Also, much like Texas or UNC or Kansas, you have to wonder what the Ohio State frosh will do in their first go-round of the NCAA Tournament... those unexpectedly close early-round games or the pressure of being down late -- especially when you're the 1-seed. Insane pressure. But -- and this is a seven-foot "but" -- it always helps to have the best freshman center since Patrick Ewing. Remember him? Had a pretty good freshman year, if I remember correctly.

You know: There's a reason why you're a great person to talk this over with. I think the Big 12 has the unique chance to pull a "Big East '85" and put three teams in the Final Four. There's Texas. There's A&M. And then there's Kansas, which as the Big 12's only 1-seed, has technically been given the best shot at making the Final Four of anyone from the conference.

So: Looking out West, is it KU's to lose? Given their Tournament performances the past few years, I personally find it hard to give them credit as a team that can string together four wins in a row -- particularly when they couldn't even put together ONE in a row as recently as last March. How do you size up Kansas' chances as compared to their top competition in the region? How does one beat the Jayhawks in the Tournament (besides, one might snarkily suggest, simply showing up) and do any teams match up favorably to derail KU's Final Four expecations?

Check back later today on Burnt Orange Nation for the thrilling Part 2, including a look at the West and Midwest regions, along with sleepers, Cinderellas, trends to watch and more!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tuesday 03/13 A.M. Quickie:
How Can You NOT Love the Play-In?

Today's Lead: How to make the NCAA Play-In Game sexier:

Oh, I'll 'fess up willingly: I love the NCAA Play-In Game. But I'm finding it hard to articulate why. Maybe it's the utter futility of it:

How the two teams have the ignominy of SHARING a line in the printed bracket. Or how the losing team doesn't even get the thrill of playing on the first day of the Tournament.

Or how the game isn't included in bracket office-pools, even though it could be a total-point difference-maker!

I'm such a fan of the Play-In, I've even put in the thought to figure out a few suggestions of how to improve it -- to make it sexier, if you will:

(1) Stop playing it in Dayton. No offense to Dayton, but the symbolism of playing it in Dayton alone kills any buzz this game might have. Rotate the locations, the more buzz-worthy the better: Cameron Indoor, Vegas, the Superdome, Rucker Park, who knows? But we're playing hoops here, not solving the tension in Bosnia.

(Update: Already, I have heard from many fans in Dayton. I didn't mean to dis your town. I respect and appreciate your passion, particularly your warm and generous hosting of the Play-In game.)

(2) Give the Play-In loser an automatic bid (and home game) in the NIT. Seed 31 NIT teams but leave a slot open for the NCAA Play-In loser. Give them a chance to get more pub (and gate receipts) than the Play-In.

(3) Insist the Play-In be included as the annual NCAA Tournament bracket office-pool. The major stumbling blocks have been (a) pool organizers want to allow for as much time as possible for people to submit brackets, and (b) who cares: the Play-In winner has zero chance of beating a 1-seed. But it would get the pool-scoring off to a fast start and get people talking. "I'm winning my pool: 1 point!" Yeah, that means you have to turn in your sheet by end-of-business Tuesday, but admit it: Your bracket was finished Monday morning anyway.

Update (4): Several readers/emailers/commenters have thrown out a way to make the Play-In game truly spectacular: Make all four 16-seeds a Play-In. That increases the at-large bids by three more teams (which should make Drexel, Syracuse and Air Force fans happy) and turns the 16-seed into a much more interesting drama.

(And don't even think about arguing about the classic "integrity" of the 64-team bracket. They were happy enough to change -- and fans willing enough to accept -- going from "64" to "65." So, really, what's so bastardized about "68?")

Mock if you want. I'll be following the game.

Speaking of which, the game tonight: FAMU? Hell, they only have the best band in the country. Niagara? They are so pissed that they're in the play-in game that they have managed to play the disrespect card... in the Play-In Game! (Deadspin has the preview from two team experts themselves!) Pick: Niagara.

In case you missed it: I had a column in the Wall Street Journal Online breaking down the Tournament.

And WOW: Today, there's even a follow-up column unveiling my bracket picks. Here it is. Read it! Read it now! Pass it around!Oh, I cannot wait for your dissection of my idiocy. (I'll have a full discussion of my picks tomorrow.)

"Expert" picks: Needless to say, I'm a little disappointed that my "inspired" Final Four of Florida, UCLA, Texas A&M and Georgetown seems to be the hot pick for many others: Andy Katz, Michael Wilbon, NYT's Pete Thamel, DC Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg. Damn, it's hard to be a novelty act these days!

And, always an annual favorite, Deadspin has started rolling out its team-by-team previews, each with a different specialist author. When he finally gets to the Gators preview, you might just see a familiar name. (No, not "Joakim." D'oh!)

Women's Selection Monday: What does it say that the only team that moves the needle among casual (non) women's hoops fans is seeing where LSU was seeded and then saying, "So how 'bout that Pokey?"

(I'm sympathetic to picking Maryland: Like Florida, they return all their starters from last year's national-title team. Don't sleep on them. Or, in Pokey's case, with them.)

Player to watch? And I truly mean: WATCH this player – Courtney Paris from Oklahoma. Just a sophomore, she could be the best player in the WNBA today. Presuming she stays all four years (and doesn't, say, sue the WNBA for early entry), she'll go down as the most dominating women's hoops post player of all time. But she needs a title.

Meanwhile, where is the NIT Bracket Challenge? Online or offline, I don't care. Now that the NIT is a bracket-friendly 32 teams, I want my damn pool. (BTW: Does anyone know the names of the teams snubbed by the NIT?)

Tournament Challenge Sign-Up: Don't forget to sign up for the "Daily Quickie Readers" group of the Tournament Challenge. Come on: You get FIVE entries. You're telling me this can't be one of 'em?

NBA: Mavs win streak ends at 17 after being thumped by the Warriors. Plus: Leandro Barbosa hits career-high 32 for 2nd time in 3 games.

NFL: Moss to Packers rumors heat up! Favre-to-Moss = Hilarious.

NHL: Great Evgeny's ghost! The Penguins will be staying in Pittsburgh!

Last thought: Is there any exercise more worthless than voting in the college hoops Top 25 ranking that comes out the day after Selection Sunday?

-- D.S.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Monday 03/12 A.M. Quickie:
Break Out Your Brackets

Biggest item: Don't forget to enter your bracket in the "Daily Quickie Readers" group of's Tournament Challenge!

UPDATE: Here is a column I did for today's Wall Street Journal Online. It's an overview of the Tournament field, key storylines, etc. Really fun to put together.

Now, all sorts of random day-after thoughts about the NCAA Tournament bracket...

Florida as No. 1 No. 1: Winning their regular-season and conference-tournament titles puts them on par with others. Being the defending champs with all five starters returning is a legit separation detail.

Toughest Bracket: East, no question. UNC at the top. Georgetown is the best 2-seed. 3-seed Washington State is a trap game every time (ironically, for every team BUT Georgetown). 4-seed Texas is the hot pick.

This Year's George Mason: The bandwagon behind Winthrop couldn't be more full. It's getting to the point where NOT taking Winthrop is the ballsy pick. Meanwhile, speaking of ballsy, can you muster the stones to take VCU over Duke? Because you know you want to.

Top 5 Toughest First-Round Games to Pick:
1. Creighton-Nevada (South)
2. UNLV-GA Tech (Midwest)
3. Butler-Old Dominion (Midwest)
4. BC-Texas Tech (East)
5. BYU-Xavier (South)

Bubble Screw-Jobs: Count me among those who think Drexel got screwed. I'm less sympathetic toward Syracuse (but make no mistake: the Orange still should have been in there, no question). I haven't seen much of Arkansas this year, but I watched them get demolished by Florida on Sunday. Not worthy.

Five Upset Specials:
1. Georgia Tech over UNLV (And here is a classic example of where my pre-existing bias is going to derail my pool. You just know I'm going to go long on Tech just because I picked them for the Final Four in the preseason -- and watch them lose to UNLV in the first round en route to a Rebels trip to the Sweet 16. Just watch.)

2. Gonzaga over Indiana
3. VCU over Duke (Still revving for this.)
4. Texas Tech over BC
5. Albany over UVA
(Wow, am I down on the ACC or what?)

In-My-Gut Final Four (Subject to Change):
Florida, UCLA, Georgetown, Texas A&M
(Just saw: Same 4 as Wilbon. Same first 3 as Tony K. So much for unconventional. Update: AND I have the same Final Four as Andy Katz. Oh, and the NYT's Pete Thamel. Yeesh: I'm in so much trouble...)

Beat the Experts: The terrific site FanIQ is MADE for this event. They'll be tracking all of the "expert" picks, but -- more important -- allowing you to compete against them. All of them. In one place. Now THAT is what the Web was made for. Check out this link.

Full bracket picks coming soon.

Wait: There's other stuff in sports today besides the brackets?

NIT: Who's with me on an office pool? I got Drexel!

CBB: "Tubby's our basketball coach," the Kentucky AD said, in what can only be presumed as the least convincing vote of confidence of the year.

NBA: Mavs win 17th straight. When do the playoffs start again?

NBA: Isiah gets an extension. He's an easy target but he out-performed Larry Brown and, amazingly, has the Knicks in contention for a playoff spot.

NFL: Stallworth to Pats. Between him and Welker, an upgrade at WR.

Media: Emmitt Smith is joining ESPN as an NFL analyst. And, one presumes, resident expert on all things ballroom dance.

MLB: Matsuzaka allows 4R (4 IP), including 2 HR to non-roster players.

NHL: Chris Simon suspended for rest of season. Good.

Tennis: Federer 41-match win streak ends: Zzz...

Back to my bracket...

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Selection Sunday: It Is SO On

Full coverage tomorrow (in a new post), but if you feel like discussing tonight with the 10 people who are poking around the sports-blog world, have at it. Oh, and this: Gators. -- D.S.

Sunday 3/11 Quickie:
Selection Day!

It's Selection Sunday, and forget seedings: The most important things to watch for are (a) specific matchups and (b) geography. (Who wouldn't rather be a 3-seed playing in a region close to home than a 2-seed shipped a few time zones away?)

Buzzer-Beaters 1: Miami (Ohio)'s buzzer-beating 3 to come from behind and win the MAC tourney title and put themselves in the NCAA Tournament is the reason we all watch countless hours of Championship Week coverage.

Buzzer-Beater 2: FAMU's win was, too, except that was on ESPNU, to the only time most fans probably saw it was on replay. Only slightly less thrilling, but a heart-stopper nonetheless.

Final thoughts:

Georgetown has earned a 1-seed (they'll get a 2).

I'm all for an ACC result that makes the regular season comically meaningless. An NC State win will absolutely bump a Bubble team. And how can you not root for Sidney Lowe in that jacket?

Florida will have earned a 1-seed if they continue to obliterate the rest of the SEC (win or lose, they'll get a 2 and love it).

The winner of Ohio State-Wisconsin deserves a 1-seed. The loser deserves a 2. But since the conference times their tournament final until the very final minutes before the bracket comes out, both will probably get 1-seeds. (Consider it a karma payback for scheduing the Ohio State-Michigan football game two weeks before the SEC title game.)

Oregon has earned a 2-seed (they'll get a 3).

If Kansas wins, they will be a 1-seed. If Texas wins, they will be the hot bracket pick to win the national title.

UNLV's win over BYU (plus their Top 10 RPI) should make the Rebels a hot Sweet 16 pick.

It all depends on matchups, though. And we'll find those out soon enough.

-- D.S.