Saturday, March 22, 2008
(But, yes: Having touted UCLA since November as my pick as champ, this one had me freaking right up until the final seconds.)
Meanwhile, so much for my prediction that Pitt would oust Memphis in the Sweet 16. But two cautions: (1) Given the trouble UCLA had with Texas A&M, don't think Memphis is a lock over Mississippi State tomorrow -- or Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Everything else since Duke was ousted to start the day was pretty chalky: Stanford fans should be thanking some deity for that win; that was an NBA Lottery-player shot from Lopez to win the game.
Coming Sunday: TWO 12/13 games in Tampa, Stephen Curry vs. Hoya Paranoia and Tennessee vs. Butler (could be the best game of the day). I'm not sure that there will be as much craziness as there was on Friday, but that's probably because 4 of Friday's Cinderellas are all playing each other.
...is the game that Duke loses.
When it happens in the first weekend of the tournament, it is so sweet. When it happens to a team doing all the little things Duke usually does -- clutch 3s, great D, benefiting from the refs -- it is all the sweeter. What an unbelievably played game by West Virginia.
And when I predict it on my bracket, it is the sweetest of all. (And begins to slightly make up for my atrocious Friday picks. No: More than slightly. A lot more: Duke loses! Yes!!!)
With back-to-back season where they are booted in the first weekend -- no matter how successful they were in the regular season -- it is time to wonder whether college hoops has passed Duke and Coach K by.
Certainly NCAA Tournament hoops, where Duke's lack of size (or, at least, interior toughness) and speed from the point guard (evident against VCU a year ago, Belmont on Thursday night and again this afternoon, against WVU's back-up PG) becomes glaringly obvious.
But that is a discussion for Monday and a second consecutive extra-long offseason for Duke fans.
For now, it is time to celebrate West Virginia, celebrate a Sweet 16 without the insufferable Duke slurping and, after my worst-ever first-round bracket picks, celebrate a big, big pick.
I have blown a LOT of picks through the first 32 of the Tournament: 13, to be exact.
19-13 after the first round is my worst start ever. I am in the 9th percentile out of 600+ participants in the Daily Quickie Readers group bracket challenge. Yeesh: The bottom 10 percent! (Consider: If I had gone with the "National Bracket" consensus picks, I would have been 24-8, good for the 85th percentile. For the record, out of 3 million brackets, no one nationally in the Tournament Challenge was still perfect after Round 1.)
There were quite a few misses where, in hindsight, I'm like, "Of course I should have gone the other way!" How could I pick against Butler? Why did I not take a flier on Siena? Why did I believe in Gonzaga? Why was I so bullish on George Mason?
But that Villanova win bums me out the most, because I had it right -- on the record -- and changed it wrong. That's the worst kind of mistake.
In my initial "gut" pass through the bracket, I picked Nova over Clemson (and even took Nova to the Sweet 16) -- it's right there in my Wall Street Journal column! -- but changed my mind and knocked them out in Round One. Ugh: That stings. Obviously, I could have used it.
In addition to the upsets I didn't pick, there were the erroneous ones I did pick, egregiously affirmatively: Davidson, South Alabama, St. Joseph's, St. Mary's... hell, even 9-seed Oregon.
Again: All part of my personal Worst. First Round. Ever.
That said, I'm so satisfied right now: Given the choice between being thrilled by the results on the court (and being wrong on my bracket) or being happy with the results on my bracket (with predictable results on the court), I will take being wrong (and thrilled) over being right (and bored) every time.
That was the best First Friday of the NCAA Tournament that I can remember. And tomorrow in Tampa will match yesterday's dramatic results: TWO 12-vs.-13 games ensures that the Sweet 16 will have at least two Cinderellas, guaranteed.
All thanks to Tampa, a sub-regional site that will go down in legend as being one of the best ever.
Eight games today:
2 pm: West Virginia/Duke is the headliner (alone in the 2 p.m. time slot) and I picked WVU.
4 pm: K-State/Wisconsin offers another chance to watch Michael Beasley and K-State's fab frosh. And Purdue/Xavier is a toss-up, based on the 90 Purdue hung in the first round.
6 pm: Kansas/UNLV (the second round is where Kansas fans start to get uneasy about their annual Self-induced choke); Notre Dame/Wazzu is a 4-5 toss-up; Stanford/Marquette: It will be interesting to see what Marquette does with Stanford's size.
9 pm: Pitt/Michigan State will be a slugfest; UCLA/Texas A&M may not mean the Aggies are held to 29 points like the Bruins limited Miss Valley State to, but I see another blowout.
Just as Friday eclipsed Thursday, I am just looking forward to Sunday being far more exciting than Saturday.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I loved the Drake story. I had them going to the Sweet 16. But when your season ends in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a 5-seed losing to a 12-seed on a 3-point buzzer-beater in overtime, your dream season was definitely ruined.
It totally eclipses Davidson's 10-over-7 win over Gonzaga, which has yet to prove it knows how to win tournament games when it isn't the underdog. Stephen Curry was absolutely ridiculous, scoring 40 -- a single-game mark that can't possibly be topped in this Tournament. Cripes, he had 30 AFTER HALFTIME.
Miami over St. Mary's was an upset, too, even though Miami was the higher seed: On the National Bracket, more people picked St. Mary's than The U. (So much for the "wisdom" of the crowd.)
The only result that wasn't some form of surprise: Tennessee beat American (but it was a pleasant surprise to see AU put up such a game effort -- their fans should be proud and satisfied).
The sick start to today's 16 first-round games more than makes up for yesterday's lame afternoon.
Western Kentucky! The 12-5 upset lives! Stephen Curry's 40! What an early-afternoon!!!
I also (stupidly) discounted Beasley & Co. against what was supposed to be a pretty good USC defense. In hindsight, picking Winthrop over Wazzu was stupid and forgetting how UNLV performed last March was a mistake, instead selectively listening to the minimal buzz around Kent State. OK: Enough self-flagellation.
Today's Names to Know in today's Sporting News column:
Belmont, Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, Kansas, UNLV, Wisconsin, Pitt, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, Marquette, UCLA, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Butler, South Alabama, Boston Celtics, DeAngelo Hall, Adam Wainwright, John Patterson, Freddy Adu, David Beckham, Barack Obama and More!
Why Belmont saved the Tournament's first day...
Why OJ Mayo's college career is over...
Why Wisconsin will be a tough out for K-State...
Why Pitt and Michigan State will batter each other...
Why Purdue is the surprise of the first round...
Why George Mason left its mojo in 2006...
Why Butler vs. Birmingham fans is the match-up of the day...
Why we better see a few more upsets or buzzer-beaters today...
Why the Celtics are more for real than ever...
Why Adam Wainwright is in better shape than John Patterson...
And more... after the jump!
More Bonus Posts coming throughout the afternoon as the two rounds of games finish up. Here's where you'll net out on Monday: How many Sweet 16 teams do you have left?
I'll be posting all weekend, obviously...
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Let me just say this: Tonight better be better. Although, to be fair, a first round can be saved by one or two buzzer-beaters or upsets; no one really remembers first rounds beyond the one-off upsets or buzzer-beaters. There's plenty of time for Madness.
After a brief bit of drama from 14-seed uber-Cinderella Georgia against Xavier, it's been 3-for-3 on chalk this afternoon, including 2 relatively non-competitive games (including a 5/12 between Temple and Michigan State).
Every year I'm hit with the same conflicting sensations during the first afternoon:
Would I rather have my pick be right or to see an upset? Watching Xavier (who I picked) against Georgia (great story, 14-seed), that was in full effect.
Given the slim chance that any of us have of winning our various pool groups -- and the power of the collective enjoyment of seeing upsets, I think you have to subjugate your personal interest in being right for the greater good (and fun) of seeing upsets.
If you pick an upset AND root for an upset THEN get that upset, presumably that's the ideal scenario...
But the contrary is true, too: If you pick an upset AND root for an upset BUT your underdog loses? That's just the worst.
Enjoy the late-afternoon set, everyone. I'll pop in, and feel free to add in your own comments.
PS: I love CBSSports.com's "VIP" line for watching on-demand video of live games. I particularly like the detail where they show me where I'd be if I WASN'T a "VIP."
LAST CHANCE! SIGN UP for THIS YEAR'S DAILY QUICKIE READERS GROUP Tourney Challenge! As of 8 a.m. Thursday, we have topped 600 participants (up almost 200 from late yesterday afternoon) to maintain a spot as one of the most popular "indie" tournament pools in the country. Thanks for being a part of it!
Today's Names to Know in today's Sporting News column:
"First Thursday," Drew Lavender, Dennis Felton, Bill Self, 5/12, Kent State, OJ Mayo, Michael Beasley, Bob Huggins, Terrelle Pryor, Red Sox, Rockets, Allen Iverson, Miami Heat, Larry Harris, Joba Chamberlain, Barry Bonds, Branden Ore, NIT's "Bitter 16," ALT+TAB and More!
Why "First Thursday" should be a recognized holiday...
Why this afternoon's games won't produce any upsets...
Why tonight's games BETTER produce a few (
Why Mayo vs. Beasley is bigger than the hype...
Why Terrelle Pryor IS good for
Why Terrelle Pryor will visit
Why the Rockets' Streak is so over...
Why AI left his heart in
Why Barry Bonds WILL be playing in 2008...
Why you have to love the NIT's "Bitter 16"...
Why you should do "ALT+TAB" drills this morning...
And a lot more... after the jump!
Today's Bonus Post: On March Madness expectations, and on not having a rooting interest this March. It is actually really a Bonus Post from YESTERDAY, late afternoon if you didn't see it. It was interesting to put it together. Check it out here (or just scroll down and read below) and let me know what you think.
Meanwhile, my editor at the Wall Street Journal took my bracket-picks column and turned it into something ridiculously cool, putting my "Heart" picks against another guy's "Head" picks. Click here to check it out.
Expect updated posts throughout the afternoon's games, but – like Super Bowl night – I might just use my Twitter account and update that way. If ever there was a day for it, this is it. (In fact, I predict the NCAA Tournament this afternoon today and tomorrow will be the breakthrough moment for Twitter among sports fans.)
And, hey: It's First Thursday! The best day of the year! Enjoy it!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Please consider that of the many misconceptions of my Florida fandom, I did not start rooting for them when they started winning national championships. Rather, there was very little to say about the Gators from 2002-2005, as they perennially underachieved -- when teams make Final Four runs to the championship, as a national sports columnist you sort of have to cover them. (OK, in my case, cover them exhaustively.)
Anyway, regardless of the Florida flame-outs from '02-'05, I still went in with the same hopes as any other fan: Maybe this is the year for a Final Four run, even the Sweet 16. '06 was a bonus: I don't think anyone saw a title coming, aside from die-hards who pick them every year regardless. '07 was a different story altogether: Anything less than a repeat championship would have been failure.
NCAA Tournament expectations are fascinating: Mount St. Mary's fans? Hell, they WON A GAME! Being blitzed by UNC is all icing. American may lose by 40 to Tennessee; that won't stop fans from enjoying the ride over the past week to their first-ever NCAA invite.
For other teams, the expectation is "Wow, a Sweet 16 would be nice." Vanderbilt from last year comes to mind.
For other teams, not making the Sweet 16 -- at a minimum -- is a freaking embarrassment (Duke), and anything less than a Final Four is a wasted season. (UNC, Kansas, Memphis)
For a handful of teams, nothing less than a title will do. I think UCLA and Ohio State fans were like Florida fans a year ago; there was little consolation in being in the Final Four. Compare that to the joy of LSU in 2006, for whom making the Final Four was such an unexpected surprise that just making it that far was good enough.
Success on the scale of George Mason, obviously, is in its own stratosphere.
I'm sure there is some quantified way to describe expectations: If you are a 1-seed or a 2-seed, you have to be thinking "Final Four or Bust." In the case of UCLA and UNC, I can't imagine they would be satisfied with a mere Final Four appearance. (Kansas and Memphis, however, have been so dogged by recent problems as top seeds that making the Final Four would be considered a breakthrough.)
If you are a 3-seed or below, the Final Four is a bonus. But if you are a 3-seed and don't make the Elite Eight, it's a bit of a waste. (Ask a Xavier fan.) Even fans of the 4-seeds (say, Pitt) might be disappointed to not make the Elite Eight.
Even though "chalk" says the Sweet 16 should be the Top 4 seeds in each region, this is where things get complicated. I would argue that fans of Drake (a 5-seed) would be utterly crushed if the team didn't make the Sweet 16. Same with fans of 7-seed Butler, 6-seed USC or Purdue or even 11-seed Kansas State.
The fact is: There are probably 12 teams whose fans realize that just making the Tournament is fun enough; they have no expectations. Maybe getting out of the first round would be amazing, but only because it would mean they knocked off a great seed to do it.
Everyone else will be crushed to lose in the first round. The math is harsh: 20 other teams besides my "No Expectations 12" will lose be out before the weekend. And I would imagine at least 32 teams heading into the Tournament EXPECT to make the Sweet 16; again, the math is unforgiving.
For every unexpected team that galavants into the Sweet 16, there is an "expected" team that didn't, whose otherwise entertaining season is kind of ruined. That goes all the way up the line, the stakes getting higher (and tougher) as the tournament rounds progress.
For UMBC to not beat Georgetown, no big deal. For UNC not to win a championship, big deal.
There was something to be said for those days as a Florida fan -- or fan of any team, many of you can relate -- when the modest goal was the Sweet 16... maybe the Final Four if we were very very very very fortunate.
I'll admit it: Last year's tournament was not fun for me. The pressure that anything-but-a-title-is-a-failure made wins nothing more than "expected," with an insane fear of anything unexpected. Every negative play during a game -- early or late -- was panic-inducing. Only when the result was clearly out of reach was I able to actually relax. No, not enjoy it -- simply relax.
That said: I would rather lose in the first round, disappointingly, than not be in the field at all. Because miracles can't happen -- expectations can't be beaten -- if you're not in the bracket to begin with.
I empathize with nervous UCLA or UNC fans. I appreciate the dread that Kansas and Memphis fans might be feeling. I can't imagine what fans of teams like Butler or Drake or Xavier must be feeling, knowing that this represents as good as chance as they'll get to go to a Final Four.
I'm trying to think of a fan base (outside the No-Chance Dozen) for whom it's all a bonus: Fas of Villanova, the last team in, comes to mind. (When the bracket first came out, my gut was to take Nova to the Sweet 16, an intuition I overruled -- booting them in the first round, which I may yet come to regret.) Or how about fans of Baylor, which just a few seasons ago seemed like a program destined for implosion, let alone an NCAA Tournament.
Despite how blissfully brutal last year's Tournament was for me, I miss that feeling: The expectations... daring to dream... fearing the worst. All I have now is: "Hey, I hope my bracket picks are right!" or "Hey, I hope we see some upsets!" Those are two of the most worthy sentiments in all of fandom, and for those whose teams didn't make it, they are absolutely sustaining. But the missing piece is obsessing over your own team. Enjoy it while you can.
Opening all 63 games to online on-demand (no more regional black-outs), the Facebook partnership, expanding the "VIP" access to accommodate what will likely be an Internet-crippling volume of eager consumers. This might be his best yet:
CBSSports.com is going to let fans create their own "One Shining Moment" highlight mash-ups, then make them embeddable. That's some genius right there. I tip my cap to you, Mr. Kint.
Today's Names to Know in today's Sporting News column:
UCLA, Mount St. Mary's, Celtics, Rockets, Andrew Bynum, Jason Kidd, Terrelle Pryor, DeAngelo Hall, Matt Ryan, Dante Green, More!
Why UCLA is my pick...
Why UNC, Memphis and Kansas are NOT...
Why Mount St. Mary's is OK with me...
Why the Rockets are yesterday's news...
Why Andrew Bynum will have to learn on the fly...
Why the Jason Kidd trade was a bust...
Why Terrelle Pryor should not go to Ohio State...
Why DeAngelo Hall is a good fit in Oakland...
Why Matt Ryan will be a top draft pick...
Why Dante Green is a Top 10 freshman...
And more... after the jump!
Bonus post coming later today: Coping with not having a real rooting interest in the NCAA Tournament beyond "I want my picks to be right" or "I want to see upsets."
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It was 1997, the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and 15-seed Coppin State was playing 2-seed South Carolina. Coppin State was a 30-point underdog. But they won, decisively, 78-65 -- tying the biggest seed upset in NCAA history. It was momentous.
Sitting at my cubicle, I had been working at a frenetic pace -- in a rudimentary form of live-blogging, I had committed myself to updating the "top story" blurb on ESPN.com as often as possible; I believe I was changing it every 5 or 6 minutes, which has to stand as a site record.
Anyway, the Coppin State upset demanded an equally momentous headline leading ESPN.com. The provenance of the headline we came up with is hazy in my memory: It might have been me; it might have been my colleague Kevin Jackson; most accurately, it had to have been a collaboration.
But the result was the Best. Headline. Ever.:
Coppin a Feel: Cocks Get Blocked
Now, in my hazy memory, that headline was published live to the site for a few minutes before it was yanked down. It's possible that I simply dreamed that part up, because the idea of that particular headline being showcased to what was, at the time, a record audience level for ESPN.com (and probably any site online at the time) is too enticing to let go of, even if it is only in my not-a-lie-if-you-believe-it memory.
So when Coppin State takes the floor tonight against Mount St. Mary's (which itself has all sorts of intriguingly inappropriate headline implications), I have more than a rooting interest in the only sub-.500 team in the bracket -- and the first 20-loss team to ever make the NCAA Tournament field.
I have the rooting interest of having another chance to proclaim: Coppin a Feel! Amazingly, more than a decade of shifting consumer tolerance later, it isn't even that inappropriate of a headline. I hope whoever my predecessor as college basketball editor is gives it a shot. Getting that headline published for the world to see would be a career Shining Moment, for sure.
Today's Names to Know in today's Sporting News column:
Coppin State, Mount St. Mary's, Houston Rockets, Daryl Morley, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas, Dice-K, Yankees, Virginia Tech, Michigan football, NIT, Billy Donovan, Bracket Caster and More!
Why I love the Play-In Game...
Why the Rockets will beat the Celtics...
Why the Rockets are more like the A's than Rockies...
Why Dwight Howard is a better bet than LeBron...
Why Gilbert Arenas is a pass-first PG...
Why Dice-K will be bigger than the World Series...
Why the Yankees are good guys today...
Why Michigan football is as bad as the rest of 'em...
Why my NIT pick won't surprise you at all...
Why SN's BracketCaster freaks the hell out of me...
And more... after the jump!
Today's Bonus Post: More on my love for the Play-In Game, plus more of your bracket predictions.
Also: There's a new Varsity Dad post up -- Tournament-related, obviously.
Have you seen my NCAA column in the Wall Street Journal? Here's a link with all my picks.
Monday, March 17, 2008
OK, so here's my Sporting News column breaking down the bracket. And scroll down to read the post below from last night for my reactions to the bracket. Couple of highlights:
UCLA is my pick to win the national title.
Tennessee, Georgetown and Texas are my picks to round out the Final Four (meaning I think that UNC, Kansas and Memphis will all lose before the Final Four).
I felt very good about going through my bracket making picks... right up until about midnight last night, when I was faced with a crisis of confidence: The top half of the Midwest.
Originally, I made a few bold calls there: Kent State over Kansas in the opening weekend; Villanova over Clemson; Villanova over Vandy to the Sweet 16. Bold! Umm...too bold?!?!
I got nervous -- very nervous: I have never seen Kent State play; I 0nly heard good things. I think Kansas' Bill Self is a Tournament choker -- but could I have applied that discount too early? Was I insane to pick the lowest-seeded at-large team not just to pull an upset (albeit a 12-5 upset) but to go to the Sweet 16? Even George Mason in 2006 was an 11-seed. I sure was impressed with Clemson beating Duke.
All those choices literally kept me up most of the night.
And so even though I am all about the clarity of your/my "gut" reactions, I made changes to that top-half-of-Midwest part (note: ONLY that part) of my bracket, from my initial sweep of picks: Kansas to the Elite Eight (but still not making the Final Four); Clemson beating Villanova, then the Tigers being the team out of that pairing to beat Vandy and reach the Sweet 16. I'm sure I have corrupted my system; I'm sure that Nova fans are giddy.
Meanwhile, there is a ton more to cover about these brackets. I have a piece running online for the Wall Street Journal coming later this morning. I'll post a link when it is available. It breaks down all of my picks -- including my soul-sucking corrections. More to come this afternoon and all week, heading into Thursday afternoon.
In the comments, let's get your (1) champ, (2) Final Four, (3) biggest reach, (4) biggest upset "lock." I will try to keep the Comments rolling all day long.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Brackets! Yes! Sorry for the delay: I've been cranking on my usual morning Sporting News column, which will go up tonight (hopefully in a few minutes), because -- let's face it -- why wait for the morning the same analysis that I'm totally geeked up to offer an hour after the brackets are revealed? Here's the link. I'll update when it's up.
Let me throw out a few thoughts:
Nothing in the bracket reveal made me question my long-standing pick that UCLA would win the national title...
I do not think that any of the other three 1-seeds will make it to San Antonio...
Texas losing the Big 12 title game to Kansas will prove the best thing that could have happened to them, because they are the 2-seed... in a region that ends in Houston...
I love that Drake is a dreaded 5-seed...
I love that Georgia is a 14-seed (and that they are in the Tournament at all -- apologies to whichever at-large team was bounced to make room for them)...
I love that Butler drew South Alabama -- in Birmingham...
I love that we're going to see Michael Beasley vs. OJ Mayo in the first round (though remember what USC did to Kevin Durant last year in the first weekend)...
I am fascinated that the last team in is so obvious (Villanova, the only at-large 12-seed) but equally fascinated how unimpressive the 11-seed and 10-seed at-large teams are...
I have no sympathy for Arizona State, even in comparison to Arizona (which seems damning on its face). Every year someone gets screwed, but it's at the margin -- every team left out had plenty of opportunities to not just crack the edge of the field, but get squarely into the 9-seed/10-seed range. Honestly, I feel for Arizona State fans, but it happens.
I do not like how many of the Top 16 teams I have in my Sweet 16...
"Gut" Final Four based on my as-they-are-announced pass through the bracket (plus long-standing biases that inform them): UCLA, Texas, Tennessee, Georgetown. (Champ: UCLA over Tennessee... although I could talk myself into picking Hoyas over Vols in the semifinal.)
Much more tomorrow. Leave your own thoughts in the comments. I'll be checking the list and updating the comments all night and early tomorrow.
UPDATE: Read this in the New York Times. I did, then about 10 seconds after finishing I emailed the author for the URL to his rankings, which he kindly sent me.
I usually don't second-guess my picks, but his rankings have made me seriously re-think KO'ing Clemson in the first round to last-team-in Villanova (who I then take to the Sweet 16, ignoring how good Vandy has looked at times this season -- not to mention their Tournament success a year ago). Oh, and did I mention that I have Kent State beating Kansas, before beating the winner of that Clemson-Nova-Vandy-Siena sub-region? (Conveniently overlooking that I have NEVER SEEN KENT STATE PLAY.)
Ack: The top half of my Midwest region is FREAKING. ME. OUT.