Saturday, March 24, 2007

Elite Eight, Day 1 Live-Comment:
UCLA Saves the Tournament!

Thank god for UCLA, whose win over Kansas ensured that the NCAA Tournament would avert its Doomsday Scenario -- all four 1-seeds making the Final Four. Saved!

For UCLA, it is affirmation of Ben Howland as one of the Top 5 coaches in the country. (Oh, you want the other two? Ask me after tomorrow.)

For Kansas, it is one more disappointing finish to end a season. But, hey, at least they made it out of the first round this time.

Ohio State thumps Memphis: Wow: Given OSU's troubles in the past two rounds, this thumping was surprising.

Florida-Oregon: If Oregon is this year's Florida, they're going to have to get through last year's Florida to claim it.

UNC-Georgetown: Perhaps the most highly anticipated game of the tournament.

More Sunday on everything.

Saturday 3/24 (Very) Quickie

Jeff Green hit the most challenging game-winner of any I have ever seen in an NCAA Tournament game. What a shot and what a player. He's a taller Dwyane Wade.

Yes, I was VERY nervous about Florida. I think I set a record for number of times one can mutter the F-word.

UNC just seemed to flip a switch, didn't they? And all of a sudden, "looking like crap" turned into "they've surged to a lead."

Say this about Oregon: At least they bring a little seed variety to the Elite Eight.

But when your lowest-remaining seed is a 3, Cinderella is dead. (Or, at least, on vacation this year.)

Again, my question of the weekend: Is it good or bad for college hoops that every regional final is 1-vs-2 (with that one exception 1-vs-3, in the region where the 2 didn't deserve a 2 anyway).

Today's Regional Finals:
West: UCLA over Kansas. My bracket says UCLA. My head says UCLA. They play Saluki-quality defense and know how to win in this game. KU has been playing with house money since they got out of Round 1.

South: Ohio State over Memphis. How many more lives can the Buckeyes have? Enough to be the best freshman-dominated team since the '92 Fab Five -- also a Final Four team?

More sports news:

Kobe goes 50+ -- AGAIN! That's four straight games. He's only the second NBA player ever to do it. If it wasn't for the Tournament, how much more attention would this streak be getting?

Wilt's record is 7 games, and I'm predicting Kobe goes for it. The next two games are against the Warriors and Grizzlies, so it's definitely within reach.

Chone Figgins: Out 5-6 weeks with broken fingers. As always: How much will this affect his fantasy stock?

Texans release David Carr: If they were just going to get rid of Carr inevitably, then their epic 2006 Draft mistake wasn't passing on Reggie Bush -- it was passing on hometown hero and 2006 Rookie of the Year Vince Young.

Knicks sign Randolph Morris: You read that right. (Short story: Draft loophole.) And so he goes from NCAA Tournament one week to NBA roster the next.

(Unlucky for the Knicks: Morris stinks. Softest big man in college in a decade. Makes Brendan Haywood look like Ben Wallace. But points to Isiah for creative player acquisition!)

Any developments in the Pat Tillman investigation reminds fans how truly tragic that story really was.

Here's hoping for a full recovery to the kid who wears the UNC mascot uniform. Thoughts and prayers with him, his family and UNC fans thinking of him.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sweet 16, Day 2 Live-Comment

I miss Gus Johnson already, and James Brown hasn't even started talking yet. Why, CBS, why?!?

For those of you checking in, let me bring back up a question from this morning: If all four 1-seeds advance to the Final Four -- which would be unprecedented -- would that be good or bad for college hoops?

Now, I'm off to watch Florida and the rest... Enjoy the games!

-- D.S.

Previewing the NCAA Tournament:
Tonight: Sweet 16 Day 2

Let's get right to tonight's games:

(A.M. Quickie below or click here.)

(1) Florida vs. (5) Butler.
A year ago, Florida's toughest game of their run to the title was at this stage – the Sweet 16 – against a vastly underrated 7-seed Georgetown. Butler is no Georgetown, but they do enough systemic things – pesky defense and lots of 3s – that I'm very nervous about the game. I think Butler may have trouble with Florida's perimeter defense. (The Gators' loss to 3-happy Tennessee earlier this season could be a template, but Butler doesn't play nearly the frantic style the Vols did, which was at least as critical to UT's win over UF as the shooting.)
Bracket/Gut Pick: Florida.

(2) Georgetown vs. (6) Vanderbilt. (East)
In the second game of the season, the Hoyas beat Vandy at Vandy. This isn't the same Vandy team, but it isn't the same Georgetown team, either. I'll be interested to see what Vandy star Derrick Byars can do against that Georgetown defense. This won't be a blowout: Having already thumped Florida earlier this season, it's not like Vanderbilt will be scared by Georgetown's size and speed.
Bracket/Gut pick: Georgetown.

(3) Oregon vs. (7) UNLV. (Midwest)
The most trendy analysis of the week is that Oregon is this year's Florida. The second-most trendy analysis of the week is that UNLV is last year's Georgetown. Keep in mind that in last year's Sweet 16 game, last year's Florida was a last-gasp basket away from losing to last year's Georgetown. Confused yet? Good.

Bracket pick: UNLV*
Gut pick: Oregon.

(* - I had Georgia Tech winning in this spot on my bracket, so I feel like the right thing to do is maintain the limited remaining integrity of my bracket and pick the team slotted to play Oregon in Georgia Tech's place.)

(1) UNC vs. (5) USC. (East)
What does it say when USC's top storyline this week is that its top recruit for next season is a huge douchebag? As with every team who has played UNC so far, the Trojans will have a hell of a time with UNC's (a) size, (b) depth and (c) speed.
Bracket/gut pick: UNC.

Sneak peek at the Regional Finals:

West: (2) UCLA over (1) Kansas. I'm still waiting for Bill Self's inevitable Tournament collapse. Seeing the trouble that KU had with SIU's defense, I think the Bruins handle the Jayhawks, similar to the way they handled a KU-like Memphis team in the Elite Eight last year.

South: (1) Ohio State over (2) Memphis. I still can't buy Memphis in the Final Four. And after watching OSU over the last two thrilling games, I think they're destined to make the Final Four.

So: Who are YOUR picks and why?

-- D.S.

Friday 03/23 A.M. Quickie:
Name of Game: "Survive and Advance"

Wow, how amazing was that Ohio State-Tennessee game? (Well, at a minimum, the best of the Tournament so far, despite the late finish. Yikes: There is no tougher morning than the Friday after the first night of Sweet 16 games and those late-night tip-times.)

I'm not quite sure how Tennessee blew a 20-point lead (or, alternatively, how Ohio State ralled from 20 points behind), but give the Buckeyes credit for not folding like the young team they are.

After the way they have gritted through the last two rounds, I think they'll finally find a "we're-on-a-mission" complex and beat Memphis – the only thing standing between them and the Final Four. After watching OSU the last two games, I certainly can't doubt them anymore in this region.

Speaking of Memphis, they euthanized my bracket by beating Texas A&M. End-of-game clock issues aside, I wouldn't have called that foul on A&M with three seconds to go, giving Memphis the chance to win the game.

On the one hand, Memphis deserved the call after battling for what seemed like a half-dozen rebounds on that final offensive play. On the other hand, if they couldn't put it in after three tries, they didn't deserve the gimme of the free throws. (Yes, I know the FT shooter wasn't one of their best, and he deserves credit for making 'em both.)

Ah, why should I hide it? Mainly, I'm just pissed one of my Final Four teams was bounced.

Meanwhile, the real pool-killer for me (and let-down for fans everywhere) was SIU losing to Kansas. God, did the Salukis look scrappily upset-worthy. But I'd rather advance in the tournament without honor than lose with respect. In the end, this SIU team was nothing more than a Sweet 16 team.

The other game in the South – UCLA over Pitt – simply showed that Teacher still knows how to kick Student's ass.

The upshot of last night – which I'll post about in more detail later – is that we still have two 1-vs-2 games in the regional finals... which isn't particularly good for the Tournament or compelling for fans. I appreciate that 1-vs-2 is, seeding-wise, the best you could hope for (in theory), but given the history of the Tournament, it's a let-down.

Tournament Challenge: Unsurprisingly (given that I had SIU over Kansas and Texas A&M to the Final Four), I have plummeted to the 40th percentile, but if you used the "National Bracket" to make your picks, you would be beating 85 percent of the field.

NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Day 2 Previews coming shortly.

CBB Coaching Carousel: In the Big Ten, Alford out and Tubby in (albeit at different schools).

CBB Coaching Carousel A: Steve Alford leaving Iowa for New Mexico. Hmm: Who will take over at Iowa? How about Winthrop's Greg Marshall?

CBB Coaching Carousel B: Tubby Smith avoids the indignity of being fired by Kentucky by quitting and bolting for Minnesota, a program perhaps even worse off than Northwestern (and that's saying something).

The far more juicy subplot: Who replaces Tubby at Kentucky, which – for all of its recent flaws – is still one of the most legendary coaching roles in college hoops?

(I would equate Kentucky basketball with Alabama football: It's still got a ton of brand value, but it ain't what it used to be. Still, they have the cachet – and booster money – to lure a big-name coach.)

People are saying Billy Donovan, and – as a Florida fan and Donovan fan – I just don't see it. Texas A&M's Billy Gillespie's name has come up, and even though the guy is insanely ambitious, he's also a Texas guy.

I repeat what I said yesterday: What about Rick Pitino?

NBA: Kobe scores 60, making him only the fourth NBA player ever to score 50-plus points in three straight games. Wow. Just wow.

NBA Draft: Duke PF Josh McRoberts declares for the draft, probably a year late in a pool stocked with so many better big men. His final college game (that loss to VCU) aside, I have never seen a big man with so much talent do so little to dominate a game. He's the next Vin Baker. (Meaning: Soft, underachieving big man -- not alcoholic NBA washout.) But you don't need an MBA to know that.

Arenas Watch: I know you all think I'm in the bag for Gilbert (and I am), but I recommend you read his latest blog post, which could be unmatched in terms of star athletes speaking frankly. Here's the link.

MLB: Papelbon to close. So, in the end, the Red Sox will stick Jon Papelbon back in his role as closer. (Most intriguing implication: How does this affect his fantasy-draft value?)

NFL: Anyone want to trade for David Carr? You won't find a more experienced backup QB. (But I'm not sure I would give him the starter's keys.)

Vick Watch: Uh, do you believe that the special compartment in his water bottle was for jewelry? (Yeah: If "jewelry" means "pot.")

Women's College Hoops: Penn State coach Rene Portland was never going to be confused with Pokey Chatman -- what with Portland's whole "no-lesbians" thing -- but she resigned from Penn State. Wanna bet there's more going on behind the scenes than has been reported?

Cricket: Pakistan's coach was strangled to death. Holy shit, that's a crazy turn.

Pop Culture: Peyton Manning to host "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, marking the final evolution of him into the NFL's most omnipresent fame whore. He can redeem himself by reprising Joe Montana's role with the classic "I'm going upstairs..." line.

5,000-to-1 odds of me being the next Editor-in-Chief of I'd think I would at least have a 300-to-1 shot, which is the Nationals' MLB-worst odds of winning the World Series.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Well, MY Bracket Is Busted

Damn! Well, I needed Southern Illinois to upset Kansas for my "differential" pick in the Sweet 16. But in the end, I needed Texas A&M -- one of my Final Four teams -- to win even more. (Sigh. Another year, another middling pool finish.) -- D.S.

NCAA Breaking: Tubby Smith to Minnesota
Who Takes Over at Kentucky?

Well, now THIS is an interesting way to lead into tonight's NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games: Tubby Smith is out at Kentucky -- and in at Minnesota.

I'm sure Kentucky fans' heads are spinning giddily over the developments. Who would replace Tubby? Mark Few of Gonzaga? Not nearly "SEC" enough. Notre Dame's Mike Brey? Zzz. Marquette's Tom Crean? Wasn't he a hot name, like, four years ago?

Florida's Billy Donovan? Only in the same fantasy that has Ashley Judd being hired as my son's nanny... with benefits. Why would he leave Gainesville? Florida has eclipsed UK as a program.

Here's what Kentucky fans are going to find out: Their program isn't what it used to be -- one of the Top 5 college hoops coaching jobs in America. No longer.

Seriously, I'd call Pitino.

Thursday 03/22 A.M. Quickie:
Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions

Just to clarify, Gisele Bundschen is not having Tom Brady's baby, as previously reported/speculated. Presumably, now he can concentrate on his one bastard baby. And WE can concentrate on the return to the Tournament tonight...

"Sweet 16 – Day 1" Edition:

(4) Southern Illinois vs. (1) Kansas.
Not to be too me-first, but this is the game that will make or break my pool status. Everyone basically has the same Final Four teams, and Kansas is a very popular pick. I have the Salukis beating KU. Had. Had the Salukis beating KU. When I filled out my bracket 10 days ago.

After watching Kansas play twice, I am less confident. (SIU – "So. Ill." in Quickie terms – also has a key player injured.) Kansas is playing better than any team in the field right now. Their ability to change directions from defense to offense is staggering. Their players are so damn athletic. Julian Wright was on my first-team All-Tournament First Weekend. (And Wright might just be the most intriguing player in the NBA Draft. Hell, you pretty much know what you're getting with Durant. What the hell do you get with the unique package that is Wright?)

And so I'm worried about my bracket. Very worried. If SIU wins, I am going to make some noise. If SIU loses, my chances are seriously damaged. I'd like to think that SIU presents a challenge defensively that Kansas hasn't seen this season. That after two virtual blowouts, a close game might cause the Jayhawks to seize up a little bit down the stretch. I'm not confident.

My bracket says: Southern Illinois
My gut says: Eh...Kansas.
(That's not supposed to be a hedge. I'm beholden to my bracket. So. Ill. is the pick.)

(3) Texas A&M vs. (2) Memphis.
There's a reason I picked 1-seed Memphis to lose in the first round of last year's tournament: I think they are so overrated, I can't even describe it. I dislike the coach. I dislike the players. I dislike the program. Who in their right mind thinks that this team can win the region, let alone a national title? All I know is that Texas A&M remains the anti-Memphis: Popular pick, even "trendy." They seem to be pretty clutch. Coach Billy Gillespie seems like a likeable, quirky guy. And who DOESN'T love Acie Law? Finally, the biggest point: Home-court advantage. How much will it help Texas A&M to be playing in San Antonio? Huge, I'm betting.

My bracket says: Texas A&M
My gut says: Texas A&M

(3) Pittsburgh vs. (2) UCLA.
Well, the best storyline of the night is that former Pitt coach Ben Howland has to play against his old team, his old players and his old protege. If any team knows how to play against a Howland-coached team, it's a Howland-coached team. That makes this the opposite of whatever a traditional "contrast in styles" game is.

My bracket says: UCLA
My gut says: UCLA

(5) Tennessee vs. (1) Ohio State.
Given (a) the trouble that Xavier caused the Buckeyes, (b) the Vols' "small-ball" style of play and (c) the way Tennessee negated Florida's size when they thumped the Gators a few weeks ago, I think that Tennessee could very well beat Ohio State.

At the very least, I think their style of play will force Thad Matta to play Greg Oden many fewer minutes than he would normally want to.

(Of course, given how much better Ohio State played AFTER Oden fouled out against Xavier, they might be better off if he DOESN'T play that much. That's a funny thing to say about the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, isn't it?)

My bracket says: Ohio State.
My gut says: Tennessee.
(Again, that's not a hedge. I'm behind my bracket. Ohio State is the pick. I'm just saying that I think the Vols give them a hell of a game.)

So that's the topic on the table: Who do you see advancing tonight and why?

College Hoops Coaching Carousel: New Mexico is getting Iowa's Steve Alford and the Hawkeyes are going to let him go. OK, so who wants to be Iowa's next head coach? That's a pretty good gig, perfect for a coach from, say, the Missouri Valley Conference. Maybe Winthrop's Greg Marshall?

CBB Hilarity: This Ron Guenther story is pretty funny: The Illinois AD made the mistake of demonstrably and publicly yelling at his coach from the stands. You know what? It makes me like him more.

I appreciate that you want a minimum of decorum from your school's AD, but I love the fact that he cares enough to let his emotions take over during a game -- just like a fan. The school said he won't be punished.

Do you know "NOTY?" While I was talking up "Enlightened Bracketologist" yesterday, I should have used that as a segue to point you to the excellent blog Name of the Year. Only one week left to get your 2007 ballot/bracket voted on and sent it. (I used to pick Page 2's NCAA Tournament All-Name Teams, so this site is close to my heart.)

NIT: Clemson and Air Force round out that other men's Final Four. When I was on the AFA bandwagon back in November and December, I *knew* I should have been saying, "They're a Final Four darkhorse – an NIT Final Four darkhorse!"

NFL: Falcons trade QB Matt Schaub to Texans. (But they won't admit it yet.) Longtime Quickie readers know that I've been touting Schaub as the best backup QB in the NFL (and a better fit for the Falcons' West Coast offense than Mike Vick... not a better QB than Vick necessarily, but better in the offense that Mora chose to run). Now he'll get his chance as a starter in Houston.

More NFL: The new discipline policy could go into effect as early as next week. Even more than PED-testing, I think this will have a profound effect on the game – if the league exercises it. But what happens when so many players get in trouble it guts the game?

In a related note, apparently Levi Jones tossed Joey Porter around like a rag-doll when they went at it. OT vs. LB? I'd say that makes sense.

More NFL: Big Ben rips ex-coach Ken Whisenhunt, who had criticized Ben as rushing back last season. Ben disagreed, noting that he disagreed with Whisenhunt a lot. Whoops.

MLB: Tony LaRussa arrested for DUI. Chalk it up to a defending champ's curse. Perhaps "Three Nights in August" is more appropriately summed up as a future stay in the drunk tank.

More: Yankees say they won't offer A-Rod a contract extension. I think it's yet another signal that he takes the option to leave the team after the season.

Matsuzaka Watch: 5.2 solid IP, his best spring outing yet. Am I still going to pick him for AL Cy Young? The MLB Season Preview post is coming soon...

Extra Innings Update: Cable operators made their pitch, but MLB didn't swing – the net result is that you still can't buy Extra Innings on your cable system.

NBA: Did Celtics coach Doc Rivers throw the game versus the Bobcats? He can protest he didn't, but he left the second-string in while Boston blew an 18-point lead and lost the game – but helped their Lottery chances. I would respect him more if he said he DID throw the game. I'll bet Boston fans would, too. It's very hard not to look at that result skeptically and at least label it a "virtually thrown game."

Finals preview? Mavs beat Cavs. I love how some people tabbed this as a potential Finals match-up. The Mavs would sweep. The Cavs are not ready.

The Southeast race is kind of interesting. The Wizards hold a slim lead over the Heat after an Arenas buzzer-beater took Washington over Seattle. Meanwhile, the Heat won their 10th in 11 games. ("They're better WITHOUT Wade!" Ha ha: Not quite, but their Wade-less success is interesting, isn't it?)

Chris Bosh vs. Dwight Howard: Without Bargnani (appendectomy) as a sidekick, Bosh was dominant (34 points, 16 rebounds) and outplayed Howard (17/12) in a Raptors win. Between Bosh, Howard and Amare, is Bosh the best young big man in the game?

More NBA: The reason I believe Kobe Bryant that he wasn't doing some side-recruiting for Nike of Kevin Durant is because it's so obvious that Durant will be a Jordan Brand player.

Speaking of Durant, he became the first freshman to ever win the Player of the Year award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches (which should lead you to wonder what the NABC was smoking when they opted not to select Carmelo Anthony as POY when he was a freshman).

LPGA to ban, test for steroids: What, you didn't think that PEDs were as rampant among the ladies as they are in the guys' sports?

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday 03/21 A.M. Quickie:
Wait, When Do The Games Start Again?

The Wednesday before the Sweet 16 starts is a very strange day in sports:

With everyone's attention still focused on the NCAA Tournament – but more than 48 hours since the most recent game ended and more than 24 hours until the next round begins – it's a whole lot of... waiting.

Maybe that's why the sports-news slate is so thin this morning. I'll try to update throughout the day with interesting posts that pop up.

UPDATE 2: Scroll down (or simply click here) for a revival of the old "Quickie Book Club" feature for a new book that I think is particularly relevant this month, "The Enlightened Bracketologist." It's a ton of fun. (The book, not my post. But read the post anyway.)

UPDATE: I just finally got a chance to read the New York Times story today about OJ Mayo's "recruitment" to USC. I can't figure out who looks like the bigger douchebag: Mayo or USC coach Tim Floyd?

Women's NCAA Tournament: Defending champs KO'ed! Maryland loses in the second round to Ole Miss. The women's tournament is much more exciting than the men's this year.

NFL: Redskins trade S Adam Archuleta, one year off of a sweet free-agent deal, to the Bears for a late-round pick.

MLB: Manny Being Manny Update. He put his $4000 grill on eBay and the bidding is up to $20K. Good luck collecting on that fake bid, Manny.

MLB: Dodgers GM Ned Colletti gives manager Grady Little the dreaded vote of confidence. If LA misses the playoffs, watch the fire wire.

Stalker Watch: The woman once accused of stalking Bob Uecker was asked to leave a Brewers game yesterday. That's just some scary stuff.

MLB Injury Watch: Come collect your prize if you had "On the DL" for where you predicted Kerry Wood and Mark Prior would start the season.

NIT: West Virginia and Mississippi State win their quarters to advance to the semis in NYC next week.

Brackets: The NCAA seems to be trying to keep athletes from participating in online pools. Wanna bet how many still do?

Tournament Challenge Update: Props to P. Clevenger and L. Jalbert for leading the ultra-competitive Daily Quickie Readers group. Slim lead over C. Ward, B. Baumann and D. Krupa. (Great: Now I'm going to sit here all day trying to guess first names...)

NBA: Fines MJ $15K for talking about Kevin Durant, which seems hypocritical, given that it was the league's own rules that created Durant Mania.

More NBA: If the Sixers want to continue to keep sucking, they can replace GM Billy King with Larry Brown.

NBA Draft: Big Baby is entering the draft. He might have been better off last year; this year's class is SO deep with big men. He's still a first-round pick, most likely knocking yet another guard to the 2nd.

NFL Scheduling: Rumors floating around are that the season-opening Thursday night game will be between the reigning champ Colts and the feel-good Saints in Indy.

NFL Suspensions: Will Roger Goodell suspend Pacman Jones for the entire 2007 season? It's a rare decision where you'll hear very few complaints from fans, media and bloggers. (h/t ProFootballTalk)

-- D.S.

Quickie Book Club:
"The Enlightened Bracketologist"

When I first found out that The Enlightened Bracketologist was going to be published, I sent frenzied emails to basically everyone I knew who was a sports fan/writer: "HOW DID WE NOT THINK OF THIS?!?!"

I fully admit: I have a bracket fetish. And so if, like me, you think that the NCAA Tournament's bracket structure is the most perfect thing in all of sports, then you will also agree that a book's premise is also damn near perfect:

Applying the "bracket" system to solve any/every argument.

Let me put it this way: It's cool enough that I would buy it in its current hardback edition for display on a coffee table. (At least it's displayed that way on mine.)

The authors scored a coup by writing very little of the book themselves. Even better: They got experts in each bracket's field to supply the seeding and the projection of how the bracket would advance:

Some of my favorites: Roz Chast on "Animation Characters"; Stanley Bing on "Corporate Jargon"; Stefan Fatsis on "Scrabble Words"; Jeff MacGregor on "NASCAR Phrases"; Steven Garvey on "Baby Boy Names" and Michael Solomon on "Jew/Not a Jew."

In terms of sports-specific brackets, they include March Madness Moments (naturally); Baseball Myths, Celebrity Sports Couples, Spotscaster Signature Calls, Golf Swing Thoughts, Innovations in Sports, Magical Sports Numbers, NASCAR Phrases, Sport/Not a Sport and Sports Books -- that's nearly 10 percent of the book, as it should be.

Editors Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir (who you might know as the New York Times' sports media columnist) obviously had a ton of fun putting this together, and it shows.

If I was more clever (and had better knowledge of HTML), I would have done a meta-bracket of the book's bracket topics, but that's probably the best feature of the book:

As much as an "enlightened" look at some of the great arguments of our time, it can inspire countless more bracket-driven arguments. (Frankly, it sounds like a hell of a party game.)

I can just imagine that Reiter and Sandomir are already at work on a sequel. I just hope they ask me to participate. If not, I'll be sitting at home, doing them in my head anyway.

It's really one of the most fun books I have ever come across, and I highly recommend it.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday 03/20 A.M. Quickie:
There Are No Cinderellas Here

I spent yesterday affirming that, indeed, there are no Cinderellas in this year's Sweet 16.

7-seed UNLV? Not with that Top 10 RPI. 6-seed Vandy? I have a hard time with a 6-seed who finished second in a high-major conference being thought of as a "Cinderella." How about "name" Cinderellas like Butler or Southern Illinois? It's an offense to the concept of "Cinderella" that we would even CONSIDER that a 4- or 5-seed could be a Cinderella.

It's like a statistical correction from last year's run by George Mason. The Tournament has a way of evening itself out, and this year's result only shows how vital Cinderellas are to the process.

All-Tournament (So Far): Meanwhile, I quickly came to some conclusions about my All-Tournament Team from the First Weekend: Acie Law, Derrick Byars, Tyler Hansbrough, Al Horford, Julian Wright.

NFL: Joey Porter faces battery charge after cutting Bengals OT Levi Jones. Two points here: (1) Yet another embarrassing off-field incident for the NFL; (2) Finally, a Bengals player is on the OTHER side of an arrest.

More NFL Blotter: Police are investigating a rape report from the home of Patrick Kerney, who just signed a free-agent deal with the Seahawks. Kerney has not been named as a suspect. (Well... yet.)

NBA: Dirk says he gets nerves. "I think everybody who says they don't get tense, they're lying." Yes, but they don't TALK about it.

Meanwhile, don't look now, but the Hawks are only 4 games out of the playoffs in the East. Every game they win is putting more distance between the Suns and that Hawks' Lottery pick that PHX owns.

NAIA Tournament: Four OTs later, Concordia (CA) KO'ed top-seeded Robert Morris in the semis. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if a game like that happened in the D1 Final Four?

Women's Tournament: Upset City! 13-seed Marist knocks out 5-seed Middle Tennessee to become only the third 13-seed ever to make it to the Women's Sweet 16. (2-seed Stanford was upset, too, by Florida State.)

NIT: I guess it WAS a good idea to put Syracuse in the NIT. The Orange's Carrier Dome win last night in the quarterfinals was the largest NIT crowd ever.

(More: Kansas State was eliminated by DePaul. Their consolation prize is that between the arrival of Durant-like freshman Michael Beasley and the return of Bill Walker from injury, the Wildcats are one day closer to making the NCAA Tournament, not the NIT, next year.)

MLB Notes: David Wells has diabetes. Does that really surprise you?... Ken Griffey moves to RF. That will seem kind of strange actually... Dontrelle Willis (my favorite pitcher -- and perhaps player -- in baseball) will be the Marlins' Opening Day starter. Again: Does that really surprise you?

Varsity Dad: Gilbert Arenas joins the club! ("Daddy Zero?") His new baby boy already has a nickname, and it might not surprise you to learn Gilbert had endorsement deals in mind. Here's the post.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday 03/19 A.M. Quickie:
Only If "Sweet" Means "Favorites Advance"

Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament... while wondering if I'm the only person who was pleased by Greg Oden's crazy-hard foul as the first reliable indicator that the guy actually cares.

(I'm also wondering if I'm the only person who noticed that Ohio State got noticeably better after Oden fouled out. Coincidence? Perhaps not.)

Check out my latest Tournament piece in today's Wall Street Journal Online.

Meanwhile, here's my biggest storyline: Despite the uptick in excitement over the weekend, the favorites continue to march on. That lends itself to a key question today:

Where is Cinderella? Or, more interestingly, in the absence of some double-digit seed crashing the party (for the first time in 10 years), WHAT is a Cinderella?

The highest seed left is 7, which is sort of Cindy-ish. But UNLV also beat arguably the weakest team of the 2-seeds. (Nothing against the Rebels, though. Can't wait for the clips from that '90 team.)

Here's an interesting phenomenon: From their seedings, 4-seed Southern Illinois and 5-seed Butler have absolutely no business being described as Cinderellas. But their mid-major status conflicts with that. Would you call 5-seed Tennessee or 5-seed USC a Cinderella? Hardly.

It lends itself to a fascinating discussion about what, exactly, makes a Cinderella. I'd argue that it SHOULD be seeding (6/7-plus, at least), but it WILL be the "rep" factor of the team.

Little ol' Butler FEELS like a Cinderella, even though they were seeded with an EXPECTATION of making the Sweet 16. So they hardly qualify.

But if everything continues to proceed like they have in the first two rounds, we won't have to worry about "Cinderella." It will be all high seeds, all the time.

A few more things noticed after watching Tournament all weekend:

1-seeds: KU looked the best, but played the worst team of the four. But you can't say Florida, UNC and Ohio State didn't look vulnerable. Were those close wins wake-up calls or foreshadowing of early exits?

(OK, this is the type of post that freaks me out as a Gators fan: Oregon is the new Florida. Here's my response: Yes, the path is eerily similar, but I'm not seeing enough roster similarities. Presuming the great outside shooting is a push, last year's Florida team had an unmatched FOUR post players in its rotation, and that doesn't even count Corey Brewer, who was probably the best defensive player in the tournament field.)

Durant is Done: I know his NBA potential is amazing, but it's hard to sustain excitement for a National Player of the Year who can't even get his team out of the first weekend of the Tournament. What a let-down. (Yeah, yeah: 30 points. More relevant: 1 Tournament win.)

(I wonder if the bitter taste of this loss will inspire him to think twice about jumping to the NBA. Doubt it. I think he's gone, and I wouldn't be surprised if PG DJ Augustine bolted, too.)

Looking ahead: UCLA-Pitt is the game to watch, because of the backstory of Ben Howland formerly coaching at Pitt, leaving them for the Bruins and being replaced by his protege, Jamie Dixon.

Florida-Butler: As a Gators fan, this scares me. Butler is like a better Purdue.

Oregon-UNLV: I can't believe UNLV has repositioned itself as a Cinderella after all those years as the Bad Boys of college hoops.

KU-So. Ill.: It's been too easy for the Jayhawks so far. How will they handle it if they're in a close game?

UNC-USC: Well, all of a sudden this game isn't NEARLY as exciting as it would have been if the Heels were playing Texas.

Georgetown-Vandy: No team is playing better than the Hoyas, but no team is worthy of "Cinderella" status more than the Commodores.

Ohio State-Tennessee: As mentioned above, the Buckeyes would do well to sit Oden and play small-and-fast versus the Vols.

Memphis-Texas A&M: Watch that Aggies home-court advantage! The regional is in San Antonio.

Tournament Challenge: I have 10 out of 16 Sweet 16 teams. Where'd I go wrong?

USC: Didn't everyone get this wrong?
Vandy: Ditto.
Memphis: I was done when Creighton lost.
Pitt: But picking VCU was worth the loss.
UNLV: At least I picked Wisco to lose.
Butler: Damn my hometown bias for the Terps.

Here's the thing: If I followed my own advice and stuck with the "National Bracket," I would be beating 90 percent of all individual bracket entries right now. 90 percent!

More Sports News Items:

NBA: Kobe scores 50 on Sunday to follow up his 65 on Friday. Not bad. But what did he do in the NCAA Tournament? (Oh. Right.)

NFL: Packers say Rodgers not on block for Moss. Either the GM is lying or he's stupid. (Or both.) How could they not even consider that deal?

Varsity Dad: For those of you parents out there following the "soft launch," there's a new post up.

Seriously: It's like there's nothing else going on in sports this week...

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

NCAA Tournament Round 2 Day 2 Live-Comment

UPDATE: Well, sort of on the "dramatic," but not nearly as much as Saturday. Nevermind that I was basically eating the couch cushion for 38 of Florida's 40 minutes against Purdue. More of the same: Favorites continuing to roll.

UNLV over Wisconsin was an upset in name only; some of us foresaw Wisco going out in this round (yet some of us also foresaw Georgia Tech bouncing them, so go figure...).

Also, I have decided that 5-over-4 games in the Second Round (see: Tennessee over UVA) are the equivalent of 9-over-8 in the First Round; it's just hard to get too worked up that it's an upset, except...

USC over Texas! Given the OVERLOAD of hype for Kevin Durant and UT heading into this tournament, his exit in the first weekend is extremely notable (and not just because it busts any bracket that had the Longhorns, say, beating UNC and advancing to the Elite Eight. D'oh!) And to get worked over as badly as they did? The Longhorns are the Dud of the Tournament. I don't care how young they are: If Rick Barnes can't win with this much talent, he can't win, period.

Complete Sweet 16 coverage coming Monday morning. My bracket is pretty broken right now, but here's food for thought: If you used the "National Bracket" to make your picks, you'd be beating 90 percent of all individual brackets out there.

ORIGINAL POST: We can only hope that today's games match yesterday's for dramatic finishes -- with maybe one or two upsets thrown in for good measure. (If everyone -- um, me -- doubted UVA and they advance to the Sweet 16, does that count as an "upset?")

Sunday A.M. Quickie:
Tournament Redemption

I'll just point to the final update post from yesterday night:
"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."
If you love tight games and great finishes, Round 2 was everything Round 1 was not. At the same time, it's hard not to notice: The favorites continued to win: UNC, Ohio St, Georgetown, UCLA, Pitt, Texas A&M. 5-over-4 isn't much of an "upset," even if the winning team is mid-major Butler and the losing team is big-conference Maryland.

So thank goodness for Vandy. (When did you ever think you'd say that?) Only a handful of higher-seeded teams stands between the Commodores being the only Cindy of the Sweet 16. If that's not the case, it means that sometime today, the favorite went down. I won't hold my breath, but I'll hope.

Meanwhile, today's previews and picks:

5 Tennessee over 4 UVA
UVA wants to score? Vols can score.
1 Florida over 9 Purdue
Because if not, I'm wrecked for '07.
7 UNLV over 2 Wisconsin
I had GA Tech winning here. Same diff.
4 So. Ill. over 5 VA Tech
Hokies got their Tourney miracle in Rd. 1
3 Oregon over 11 Winthrop
Winthrop's goal was to win ONE game, right?
7 Nevada over 2 Memphis
I had Creighton winning here. Same diff.
1 Kansas over 8 Kentucky
KU's offense is clicking.
4 Texas over 5 USC
Day ends with more "Durant Show."

Live-comment coming later today.