Saturday, March 20, 2010
It was an astonishingly impressive win by Northern Iowa -- and "shocking" doesn't do it justice for KU and KU fans, whose expectations were "Title or Bust" (let alone "Final Four or Bust.")
I mark it as a refreshing balancing out of the past two tournaments, which featured an all-1-seed Final Four (2008) and the overwhelming favorite winning it all (2009).
It obviously crushes a huge number of brackets, and if you picked Kentucky or Syracuse -- or anyone else, frankly (including Duke!) -- you are feeling really good.
Cranks were quick to piss on the idea that this was one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, but I absolutely think it was, if you consider the expectations for Kansas.
There was also the obligatory knee-jerk "This is why you don't expand the Tournament!" commentary, which is actually counter-intuitive: You would see MORE huge upsets if the Top 32 teams, getting byes, had to play another 32 teams that came from a 64-team gantlet. You would certainly see them in the 2nd round, as we saw tonight.
Anyway, tonight -- hell, the rest of the week -- is not about that, or even about superlatives (as much as I want them to be).
It's about the very definition of CRAZY, BRACKET-ROCKING UPSET.
I picked KU to win it all -- as did a lot of people. And I couldn't care less about my bracket. I am just savoring the unexpected. THAT'S what the Tournament should be all about.
*The Daily Quickie Readers leader is 28-4.
*I am in the 37th percentile. (WTF?!)
*Obama is in the 97th percentile.
*If you used the National Bracket, you'd be in the 60th percentile.
*Yesterday was largely a dud, not just compared to Thursday but in an absolute sense. There were the two 10-7 upsets, but "10-7" is the new "9-over-8"; it's just not really an upset.
*Michigan St pushed to the finish by New Mexico St was intriguing, but didn't materialize as an actual upset. Obviously, Cornell is a great story -- but, again -- many saw it coming.
*Cal's win over Louisiville paired with Washington's win over Marquette affirms that the Pac-10 was able to nullify its entire crappy season, while helping to undermine the Big East.
*My biggest bracket whiff was picking Utah State over Texas A&M, compounded by the fact that I took Utah State to the Sweet 16. Ouch. I have 14 of 16 Sweet 16 teams left.
Today's Games, which will fill out half the Sweet 16: (My picks have a star -- 7 of the games have that team on my bracket; Ohio-Tennessee isn't, obviously, so I have to make a new day-of-game pick.)
1:00: 2 Villanova* vs. 10 St. Mary's. A true toss-up, considering the way Nova played against Robert Morris (and the way the Gaels played against Richmond). High upset potential.
3:20: 13 Murray St vs. 5 Butler*. Butler is better than Vanderbilt, and Murray St is going to find that out. But there's a reason Murray pulled the upset: Rebounding. And Butler's not big.
3:35: 14 Ohio* vs. 6 Tennessee. Well, I had Georgetown beating Ohio and Tennessee losing to San Diego St, so there's that. And Bruce Pearl's teams have been tough to match up with on that two-day turnaround. But Ohio looked REALLY good beating Georgetown. Would love to see this.
5:40: 9 Northern Iowa vs. 1 Kansas*. NIU will be a lot tougher to beat than Lehigh, but Kansas -- and all the 1-seeds -- have been buzz-saws so far.
5:45: 11 Old Dominion vs. 3 Baylor*. Baylor was the sexy pick to make a run, and it looks like a good call. ODU's early win over Notre Dame is tempered somewhat, now that we know the Big East uniformly stinks (except the regular-season and Tournament champs).
5:50: 11 Washington* vs. 3 New Mexico. My bracket looks terrible right now, but I can claim at least a minor moral victory if Washington wins, because I have them picked to get to the Sweet 16. I just don't buy New Mexico going on a deep run.
8:10: 7 BYU vs. 2 Kansas State*. Jimmer Frenette is a nationwide sensation, and the chance to watch him in action again will be fun to see. But Kansas State is a quantum leap better than Florida, and BYU is going to figure that out quickly.
8:15: 9 Wake Forest vs. 1 Kentucky*. I don't expect anything other than a UK rout. Wake has been playing with house money since that shot went down to carry them past Texas.
Friday, March 19, 2010
*Saved the worst for last: Utah State busted my Spokane-South. I had U.S. to the Sweet 16. Ugh.
*Honestly, who DIDN'T have Cornell? Not really an upset -- but totally awesome, nonetheless.
*I have Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, but was actively rooting for the Wofford upset. Oh well.
*Purdue deserves some credit, but not much. Purdue partisans have to justify a 4-seed, which means that they need to not just beat a short-handed Siena, but go to the Sweet 16. (I had Siena, dammit.)
*Everything else was mostly predictable or conventional -- seriously, did you really take Clemson?
*New York City is the worst market in the 1st round evening: We're stuck with Duke-Pine Bluff and Syracuse-Vermont, likely all the way through.
(We got Cornell and Siena in the afternoon, though, which was ideal. It's not like I don't have MMOD on my computer and iPhone anyway.)
How's your bracket?
*After one day, not a single entrant in the Daily Quickie Readers group still has a perfect bracket.
*Of the millions of brackets in the ESPN.com Tournament Challenge, only 51 are still perfect.
*I went 9-7, with my worst miss Georgetown (to the Elite 8) and my best save Washington (to the Sweet 16).
*The National Bracket is in the 38th percentile; Barack Obama's bracket is in the 97th percentile.
*That was the single-best first day of the Tournament of all time. The afternoon was already ridiculous, then you add in the Ohio monster upset, the Northern Iowa long-distance finish and the wild Washington upset win.
*As I wrote here yesterday, then led in my SN column this morning, yesterday reinforces that "64" has nothing to do with why the Tournament is amazing. Yesterday did not affirm that the current format shouldn't be messed with; in fact, it probably proved that expanding it won't hurt the Tournament at all -- and can only offer more benefits.
More upsets. More buzzer-beaters. More bracket-watching. More ducking out of work. More shared moments.
That's what the most hard-line anti-expansionists don't get -- no one remembers the quality of the teams, or even the quality of the games. They remember upsets (or, in the case of Robert Morris, near-upsets) and they remember great finishes.
Doubling the number of 16-game days from 2 to 4 (by going from 64 to 96) seems like a pretty good way to get more of what we all essentially love about the Tournament.
Today's column includes a complete game-by-game preview of today -- I hope that yesterday was foreshadowing, not an anomaly. An indicator that the gap between 2s and 3s and 13s and 14s and 15s has narrowed to the point that any game is a toss-up.
Things slow down dramatically after today. Yes, 8 games tomorrow and 8 games Sunday will be fun, but it isn't nearly as exciting as the mid-afternoon workday frenzy of yesterday and today.
By Monday, the field will be 16 -- from yesterday's start, let's hope that it includes plenty of upstarts. Remember: Anything more than a 5-seed in the Sweet 16 should count as a Cinderella. Obviously a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 is a real Cinderella, and if they don't come from a power conference, they can expect the full-blown Cindy treatment.
Complete column here. More later, reacting to the afternoon set of games.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The reason this afternoon was so terrific had nothing to do with the so-called "quality" of the teams. It had to do with:
*A lower seed beating a higher seed.
*A "no-name" beating a "name."
*Your judgment jeopardized/validated.
That it was "Murray State" or "Robert Morris" or "Vanderbilt" or "Villanova" -- it doesn't matter. 99 percent of fans who engage during the NCAA Tournament -- hell, 99 percent of college hoops fans who claim to love the sport -- had never seen Murray or Bobby Mo play.
What matters is that a "15" was beating a "2." Or that a "14" beat a "3." Or that you'd never heard of Murray State but heard of Vanderbilt. Or that this team won on a dramatic last-second shot. Or that your personal picks were right/wrong/whatever.
Expanding the Tournament doesn't change any of that. In fact, it multiplies it: Instead of two days of jam-packed games, upsets, buzzer-beaters and bracket affirmation, you get four days.
Expanding the Tournament might be all about the money, but it doesn't necessarily mean the idea is a bad one, when you remove the money and focus simply on the fan experience.
This is what the critics of expansion miss almost entirely. "Murray State" is a placeholder for any no-name team that wins on a buzzer-beater. "Old Dominion" is a placeholder for any lower seed that upsets a higher seed. "BYU" is a placeholder for a "have-not" beating a big-brand "have."
And "Look at me: I'm still 4-0!" or "Wow, if I had lost Villanova, my whole bracket would have been screwed, but I love it anyway!" has nothing to do with how many teams are in the tournament or what their pre-Tournament "quality" might be.
There is nothing inherent in expanding the Tournament to 96 teams that detracts from all of these basic elements of what makes the Tournament so amazing. In fact, it might just enhance it by giving us more.
That's what everyone seemed to be crying out for today: We love this. Give us more.
Their 12-game winning streak is one shy of Duke's 13 straight from 91-93. But given Florida's brutal draw -- BYU is ripe for a Tournament win -- I think it ends this afternoon.
Because the "12-game winning streak" has, of course, the world's biggest caveat: They haven't played in the Tournament since they cut down the nets in 2007.
And this year's team is not that '07 mini-dynasty. That team is a memory -- albeit one that should continue to satisfy every Gator fan for decades, no matter how (or if) they do in the Tournament.
Obviously, I am rooting for Florida to win. But having watched enough of their games this season, I do not expect them to win. I did not pick them to win.
Then again, I didn't pick them to win in 2006 -- the exact opposite of the expectations I had for them in 2007, when it was "championship or failure."
My expectations this year couldn't be lower. A win would be improbable and most enjoyable.
But mostly, I want them to uphold the standard of of the team that created this current 12-game NCAA Tournament winning streak: Play with heart and make a game of it.
I am honored and thrilled that more than 300 of you have chosen to join the group this year -- with plenty of room for more! (It remains a source of pride for me that the Quickie Readers group total from 2006 -- more than 10,000 entries -- would have been the 11th-biggest group in the Tournament Challenge this year. I'm sure many of you were a part of that.)
Today's SN column has an annual tradition: The best quick-hit viewing guide you'll find, with each game of the day laid out -- by time, the only way that matters -- and complete with prediction and typically brief-yet-shallow analysis.
Here is the big point from the column: Today is precisely the reason why the hysterics about a 96-team Tournament are overblown. Anti-96ers continue to think that "dilution" would be a problem to people. And it might -- to the 99th percentile of sports fans, the ones who follow college hoops enough to pay close attention to it before March 1. Even most of those fans probably never saw Top 10 New Mexico play a regular-season game and are guessing if they can figure out Richmond-St. Mary's.
But everyone else really dives in after Selection Sunday. And today showcases why fans really care: They get a distraction from work during the day, they get to compete/gamble with their friends or co-workers. Hopefully, they get the rush of a buzzer-beater or upset. That's it.
College basketball's media intelligentsia don't like to hear that, because it offends their sensibilities -- not to mention diminishes their life's work and passion. But it's just that simple. And whether the pairing is Kansas-Kentucky or Richmond-St. Mary's, fans will watch because the game is on during the work day and you have basically gambled on it against your friends. There are plenty of lame NCAA Tournament games; fans remember buzzer-beaters and fans remember upsets. And it doesn't matter what the names are on the front of the jerseys, as long as the higher-seed beats the lower-seed or a team wins at the last second.
That's why last night, while watching the NIT, it was so clear to me: The only difference between no one caring about Northwestern-Rhode Island and everyone caring about Northwestern-Rhode Island is calling them "NIT" games vs. "NCAA Tournament" games.
If they were on an NCAA Tournament bracket and on at 2:30 in the afternoon on a work day -- ideally featuring some kind of down-to-the-wire finish -- fans would care. It's just that simple. And 32 more games -- two more workday 16-game diversions -- would be as enthusiastically welcomed as the 16-game workday diversions that happen today and tomorrow.
There's a lot more in today's SN column, including an analysis of Tebow's Pro Day workout, which did exactly what it had to do: It shifted the conversation from "his mechanics suck" to "his mechanics are improving." All he had to do was show improvement -- ironically, the bearish draftniks themselves are responsible for that absurdly low bar. After a month of focused work with tutors and experts, they couldn't NOT improve.
Oh, and be sure to check out the Obama bracket analysis I did for Newsweek.
Enjoy what will hopefully be a wild day of games!
After last year's debacle -- finishing in the 18th percentile -- I had "bracket-bypass" surgery: No more gorging on unfulfilling upsets.
If Kansas doesn't win it, at least I won't fail alone. For the record, my picks:
Midwest 1st: KU, UNLV, Mich St, Maryland, San Diego St, G'town, Okla St, Ohio St. 16: KU, Mich St, G'town, Ohio St. Final: KANSAS over G'town.
West 1st: Cuse, Zaga, Butler, Vandy, Xavier, Pitt, BYU, K-St. 16: Cuse, Butler, Xavier, K-St. Final: SYRACUSE over Xavier.
East 1st: Kent'y, Texas, Cornell, Wisco, Washington, New Mexico, Mizzou, West VA. 16: KY, Wisco, Washington, WVU. Final: KENTUCKY over WVU.
Midwest 1st: Duke, L'ville, Utah St., Siena, ND, Baylor, Richmond, Nova. 16: Duke, Utah St, Baylor, Nova. Final: VILLANOVA over Duke.
Champ: Kansas over Kentucky.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
President Obama's NCAA Tournament bracket gets released, which last year instantly became one of my favorite March Madness traditions.
I'm going to talk to my 3-year-old's preschool class to get their picks for a half-dozen of the most contentious bracket picks.
Meanwhile, I'm tracking Tim Tebow's Pro Day in Gainesville, which goes this morning and should -- like everything else Tebow-related -- dominate NFL news today.
Oh, and I've got my fantasy baseball league draft at 5:30 today, and I'm scrambling to get caught up in time to build on last season's breakthrough middle-of-the-pack finish.
Not bad, considering that tomorrow and Friday are the best sports days of the year -- and today should really be about hanging out (and maybe clearing your work schedule for tomorrow).
Today's SN column digs into Obama's Final Four, Tebow's Pro Day, the Play-In Game (Woot: Pine Bluff!), the NIT (1-seed goes down in the 1st round!) and more. Check it out here.
Much more coming later today.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
For some context, Obama's bracket in 2009 out-picked 80 percent of the country.
What can we read into his Final Four? I'm saving it for tomorrow's SN column, but Obama is fully on board with the KU and John Wall bandwagons and obviously (a) doubts Duke (woo!) and (b) doubts the health of Onuaku as a linchpin of a Syracuse run to Indianapolis.
There is something comforting about the rhythm of the first week of the NCAA Tournament. The brackets come out Sunday night. There is a flood of info on Monday as you make your picks. Then, Tuesday: The self-doubt.
The lead of today's SN column highlights my biggest doubts, region-by-region, on my bracket:
*Georgetown over Ohio State
*Xavier to the Elite Eight
*Washington to the Sweet 16
*My knee-jerk Duke antipathy, which blinds me to the arguably reasonable notion that they are headed to the Final Four.
I still feel better about this bracket than any I have filled out in years -- hmm, perhaps aside from the year that Florida won its second title and I had no doubt they would win it again as I filled out my bracket.
On the other hand, aside from those few picks above, my bracket lacks those stunning reaches that make the Tournament exciting. But I have gotten over the idea of proving how smart I am through longshot Tournament bracket-picking; I'll settle for feeling middle-of-the-pack right.
More you'll find in today's column:
- My annual homage to the Play-In Game!
- Um, should we worry about the Cuse?
- Brady Quinn is delusional.
- Tiger/Masters boffo ratings? Obviously.
- Andre apologizes: He knew better.
- Cliff Lee is kind of competitive.
- I still believe in the Rockets.
- Gilbert is contrite -- let him back.
- Putting "peephole" into prison context.
Check out the entire column here. More later.
Monday, March 15, 2010
First of all, I know Jeff Ma and the Citizen Sports group, and they are brilliant, terrific people creating an absolutely phenomenal product -- they are at the leading edge. They have the Sportacular iPhone app, but for their best stuff, go to Facebook, where they understand the space as well as any company out there, including Zynga.
And what they do -- particularly in social media -- would fit snugly in Yahoo's portfolio of sports products. It's a complement -- and something that keeps pace with ESPN in the social media space.
But there's more: In the same way that Carol Bartz recognized that Jamie Mottram's sports-blog strategy was a template for other categories (News, Entertainment, etc.), the Citizen Sports platform capabilities can be leveraged for way more than sports. And it will be.
On the one hand, Citizen Sports would help Yahoo connect with their users in new and different and powerful ways. On the other, of course, there is tremendous revenue potential to unlock -- either with brand sponsorships or a la carte mobile applications.
Credit Yahoo for dipping into start-up sports media to help the company grow. And Citizen Sports would be a hell of a smart acquisition -- the $50 million Swisher is talking about seems like a great price.
I'm surprised that AOL didn't pursue this more aggressively, because it is a similarly good fit for what AOL is trying to do, esp. at that price.
Tracking, but all eyes on Carol Bartz at the World Sports Congress on Wednesday in Yahoo's LA backyard.
No more empty calories and super-sized portions, represented by too-clever-by-half over-thinking. Portion control.
I'll post it when it is live, but I'm ready to reveal my bracket now, a sneak peek for DS.com:
Final Four: Kansas over Syracuse, Kentucky over Villanova.
1st Rd: 1 Kansas, 8 UNLV, 5 Mich St, 4 Maryland
11 San Diego St, 3 G'town, 7 Oklahoma St, 2 Ohio St.
Regional: Kansas, Michigan St, G'town, Ohio State.
Midwest champ: Kansas over G'town.
Analysis: Chalk (except SDSU over Tennessee). 5 Mich St over 4 Maryland isn't an upset. 3 G'town over 2 Ohio St isn't an upset (but it is iffy). Yes, Kansas has a tough path, but they are also clearly the best team in the country. This region is rugged but predictable.
1st Rd: 1 Cuse, 8 Gonzaga, 5 Butler, 4 Vandy
6 Xavier, 3 Pitt, 7 BYU, 2 Kansas State
Regional: Cuse, Butler, Xavier, K-State
West champ: Cuse over Xavier
Analysis: Chalk 1st round. I don't consider Xavier over Pitt an upset, if you know X-Men's Tourney history. (Same with Xavier over K-State. OK, so I'm in the tank for Xavier.) Yes, BYU over Florida, ending the Gators' NCAA Tournament winning streak at 12.
1st Rd: 1 Kentucky, 8 Texas, 12 Cornell, 4 Wisco
11 Washington, 3 New Mex, 10 Mizzou, 2 WVU
Regional: Kentucky, Wisco, Washington, WVU
East champ: Kentucky over West Virginia
Analysis: I'm suckered for Cornell (Temple is under-seeded). Wisconsin will give Kentucky its toughest game. I feel OK not buying New Mexico; but I can envision great regret taking Washington, won't I?
1st Rd: 1 Duke, 9 L'ville, 12 Utah St, 13 Siena
6 Notre Dame, 3 Baylor, 7 Richmond, 2 Nova
Regional: Duke, Utah St, Baylor, Nova
South champ: Nova over Duke.
Analysis: I couldn't take Duke to win the region. You knew that. I am obsessed with the Spokane sub-region: Purdue is the worst over-seed since Cincinnati as a 1 in 2000, and Utah State will have huge "home-ish" support in Spokane. I may be a year too late on Nova, and merely trying to make up for taking UCLA over Nova in the 2nd round from last year: My debacle.
OK, let's get to your picks. Don't forget to get into the Daily Quickie Readers Tournament Challenge. The original returns!
In the 1st round, there is only 1 upset: Georgia Tech over Oklahoma State. (Louisville over Cal doesn't count.)
In the 2nd round, there are two upsets, but not really: 5 Michigan State over 4 Maryland and 5 Texas A&M over (over-seeded) 4 Purdue. Both are by 54-46 percentages.
From there, the bracket is all chalk. The closest there is to an upset is Ohio State over Georgetown by a 51-49 polling margin. But, again: Chalk rules.
The National Bracket always closely correlates to the seeding, so don't look for much unconventional thinking.
Then again, if you had used the National Bracket last year, you would have outperformed 88 percent of all brackets. So there's that.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
I'm also putting together my annual take-you-through-my-thought-process column for the Wall Street Journal, so I don't want to "spoil" that, but here's the gist:
I'm not going to screw things up like I did last year, when I tried to be all cutesy and show how smart I was. Occam's Razor, my friends: Kansas over Kentucky, and I ain't looking back.
Much more on this in a bit, but the only things I'm sticking with are: (1) No matter what their seed, Duke will underperform. That they are a 1-seed -- and that they are on a collision course with Villanova, a movie we saw last year -- doesn't change that.
And (2) I cannot understand how Purdue earns a 4-seed. You cannot go with "resume" or "body of work" when so much of that was wrapped up in a player who is not available, and all evidence we have is that the team is not very good. Purdue losing to Siena will be a very trendy pick, and I probably will not be able to resist it -- given that even if Purdue beats Siena (or even beats the Texas A&M-Utah State winner), they ain't getting further. But I'm betting on the former.
Here we go: I'm already slipping down the rabbit hole. I could spend the next three hours writing out commentary on everything I'm thinking right now about the bracket. I'll post my Sporting News link as soon as it's ready, and otherwise will chime in with more later Monday.
This really is the best few days of the sports year, even these 72 hours before anything happens on the court. Enjoy it! How's YOUR bracket look?
Question: Did Minnesota earn its way to an at-large bid, even if they lose to Ohio State? (And if they DO beat Ohio State, which team on the Bubble definitely loses out?)
All the bracket projections seem to indicate that Mississippi State has not yet earned an at-large bid, despite beating Florida and Vandy on back-to-back days.
Speaking of Florida, the Gators seem to be that team that is most tenuously on (or off) the Bubble. (Illinois might be, too.)
Know who is really hating life? Akron. Had a chance to win their way in and lost to Ohio.
Of yesterday's Bubble teams who lost, Cal is still in -- despite the Pac-10 being terrible this year, their RPI is Top 25.
UNLV should still be in -- congrats to San Diego State, which started the week as a solid "out" and not only earned an at-large invite, but got the auto-bid.
Xavier: Definitely still in. Have been locks for weeks. (Richmond is a lock, too, even if they lose to Temple in the final.)
Georgia Tech is definitely in, even if they lose to Duke today.
Speaking of losers, it is going to be fascinating to see where Purdue gets seeded: Resume vs. reality. They are obviously not the same team they were with Hummel.
Let's review the action at the margin. If you assume Utah St and Georgia Tech are definitely in, let's call it 2 spots for these teams:
Obviously, if Mississippi State and/or Minnesota win, then it is likely that Florida, VA Tech, Illinois and Ole Miss are out.
If MSU and Minnesota lose, I think it comes down to VA Tech, Florida and Illinois for 2 spots. Illinois' RPI is in the 70s; VA Tech played a PATHETIC schedule; Florida couldn't win when it mattered most.
Of the three, I could see the committee taking Illinois and Florida, punishing VA Tech for padding its schedule with terrible teams and rewarding Illinois and Florida for putting together tougher schedules.
As usual, I don't think anyone -- aside from that team's fans -- is going to cry or gripe about their team being left out. All had their chance to win 1 or 2 more games to get themselves securely in the field, and didn't.
One eye on Minnesota, one eye on Mississippi State. But otherwise, let's get to 6 p.m. already!