Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday (Elite 8) Quickie

Let's start with this simple proposition:

Tom Izzo is the best college basketball coach in the country. Period.

Because we judge our college basketball coaches on their success in the NCAA Tournament -- and no coach is more successful than Izzo.

He does it with championship-caliber teams. He does it with second-tier teams. He does it when we expect him to do it. And, most important, he does it when we don't expect him to do it.

Sure, Michigan State dodged a bullet in having to play Northern Iowa rather than Kansas, but - on the other hand - UNI beat Kansas. And the MSU defense locked down that clever UNI offense.

Now, Michigan State is one win -- against Tennessee, a game the Spartans should win -- from their most improbable Final Four yet of the prolific Izzo Era.

Meanwhile: So much for St. Mary's. That first-half beat-down by Baylor was one of the most devastating things I have ever seen at an elite moment of a college hoops season.

At this point, it sure looks like Baylor has precisely the kind of freakish athletes and shooters and size and fearlessness that typifies the profile of teams that bounce Duke out of the Tournament.

Oh: That was a classy move by Evan Turner to stalk off the court last night after Tennessee blocked him (cleanly) from the Elite Eight. Future endorser for Brand LeBron, I'm sure.

Today's regional finals:

Kansas State vs. Butler: Like most everyone else, I'm rooting for Butler. But Syracuse played with zero heart against the Bulldogs; K-State will play very very differently.

Kentucky vs. West Virginia: I don't buy the hype that this will be some sort of epic clash. I think UK will roll -- WVU can't keep up with Wall and Bledsoe and UK's NBA size is an ass-kicker.

Enjoy the games...

-- D.S.

Friday, March 26, 2010

03/26 Quickie: K-State, Gus Johnson, More

Beyond it leading today's SN column, last night was ridiculously amazing on a couple of levels:

*The game itself -- and you know what game I'm talking about -- was, shot-for-shot, as dramatic as they come. It lacked the shock value of Northern Iowa over Kansas, but it was a better game.

*It was all the more interesting in that the principals -- K-State and Xavier -- were hardly "brand" names of college basketball, certainly among casual/non-fans. It supports the notion that the Tournament transcends even its essential elements like upsets, Cinderellas and buzzer-beaters -- or that it has to be with the Final Four on the line.

This was, simply, a marvelous basketball game between two very good, very motivated teams.

*It completely marginalized the "marquee" game of the night -- Kentucky-Cornell. Now, partly that was because UK-Cornell was a blowout early and never really became a game. But I live in NYC and even our local CBS affiliate kept it on the K-State/Xavier game virtually all the way. I watched the entire first half of UK-Cornell -- and basically none of the 2nd. But, again, it affirms that pre-game storylines are fine, to a point. But at some point, the quality of the game itself trumps everything.

*Gus Johnson. If he wasn't already the most beloved play-by-play announcer, this just added to it with a new twist: He was a trending topic on Twitter last night. It was a classic "Gus Johnson game," and don't discount that the game was infinitely more enjoyable and memorable for it. (As a thought exercise, consider Dick Enberg calling that game. Or Jim Nantz.)

*The late finish. If this was the 7 p.m. game, it would have been great. But it would have lacked that clock-pushes-past-midnight-no-we're-not-done-yet-god-it's-late-but-how-can-you-sleep value of the 12:30 ending. Also, that it happened on a Thursday night, rather than a Friday night -- there is something extra special with a game specifically like this, about knowing you have to get up early the next morning for work or school, but just not caring, because this game is so great. Sorry, West Coasters: You miss out.

The game didn't set a new bar for upsets or Cinderella stories -- it merely set a new bar for game quality: The big 3s, the string of made free throws (totally underrated!), the intensity.

Tonight, we might see Northern Iowa continue on its Cinderella path -- I think they will beat Michigan State, but with an Izzo team in the Tournament with a week to prep, that's still a big challenge. And it would be fun to see St. Mary's beat Baylor. (In the column lead, I lay out a Butler-Northern Iowa-St. Mary's-John Wall Final Four as ideal.) But Ohio State-Tennessee? Duke-Purdue? Meh.

Then again: Kansas State-Xavier was supposed to be a "Meh" game last night. It ended up being the best game of the tournament.

See the entire SN column here. There's a lot more in there.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

03/25 Quickie: Cornell-Kentucky, More

As I lead in today's SN column, I am as excited about Cornell-Kentucky tonight as I have been about a college basketball game not involving personal rooting interest in years. Probably going back to George Mason-UConn in '06.

I've been thinking a lot about that Mason team -- it's the gold standard for Cinderellas and it is the bar by which we will measure Cornell.

Making the Sweet 16 is fun -- even making the Elite Eight is impressive. But immortality comes with the Final Four, and Cornell isn't even close yet.

Getting through Kentucky will resemble George Mason vs. Florida more than it will GMU-UConn -- if only because Kentucky is the closest thing I have seen in college hoops to Florida's ridiculous 3-NBA-center depth in the post.

Cousins, Patterson and Orton remind me of Noah, Horford and Richard -- and as good as Florida's guards (Green, Humphrey, Brewer) played in '06, there are plenty of good undersized PGs or sweet-shooting 2s or athletic 3s in college hoops. Few teams have NBA size -- and even fewer have THREE post players who are NBA-quality.

Now, there are a few mitigating factors: I love that Cornell has experience shooting in the Carrier Dome and Kentucky has none -- if UK has a potential scare area, it's 3-point shooting, which has been fine the past two games, but just think back to that loss to Tennessee: Missed 3s.

If Kentucky pounds the ball down low (and hyper-charges the pace behind Wall and Bledsoe), they will win -- probably handily (by 10 or more points).

If they try to win by shooting 3s... if they let Cornell dictate the pace... if UK's big men get into foul trouble... well, then Cornell can win.

They certainly have just as good of a shot -- if not better -- as George Mason did against regional 1-seed UConn back in 2006.

More you'll find in today's column:

*What will cause more problems: Syracuse's Onuaku out with an injury vs. Butler or WVU's Bryant out with injury vs. Washington. The latter, definitely.

*It's not surprising that Urban Meyer is getting vilified by the sports-media industry he threatened yesterday. I am less perturbed by what he did than others.

*MLS! (No, really!)

*Baseball change is... well, minimal!

*Rex Ryan! Arnold Palmer! Name of the Year!

See the complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2010 Name of the Year Bracket Released!

Annually, the best bracket of the year: The Name of the Year (NOTY) bracket. Check it out here. Not only is it the strongest field I have ever seen, but with the explosion of Twitter and Facebook, the NOTY competition should be as well-publicized as ever. My votes, forthcoming.

03/24 Quickie: Gotta Love Reform

It's a big week for reform: First, health care. Now: NFL overtime.

Longtime readers know that I have had a particular problem with the NFL's overtime system, which I have argued forever is a Super Bowl-sized disaster waiting to happen.

We nearly had it two years ago -- and we got as close as we can this past season, when the NFC title game went into OT, the Saints got the ball, kicked a field goal and that was that.

This always struck me as absurd. College football's playoff -- or non-playoff -- system has its problems, but at least they don't decide games by a coin flip.

And so today's SN column lead is in praise of the NFL owners getting shocked into submission -- the NFC title game must have freaked them into action.

I don't care what the motivation was; this was reform whose time was long overdue.

More you'll find in today's column:

*West Virginia is screwed.
*I picked the wrong San Diego State.
*UNC: 2010 NIT champs?
*Surprise: I'm no Jimmy Clausen fan.
*I think Gil is going to jail.
*Jose Canseco: Breaking news?

And then there's this -- which didn't make the column: This morning was all about the "F-bomb."

First, there was Joe Biden's "This is a big f-ing deal" to Barack Obama at the health-care reform bill signing.

But then there came a story -- first reported on PFT -- that when he took the Wonderlic, Tim Tebow asked if the players in the room could bow their heads in prayer before the test.

The response, from at least one player: "Shut the f--- up." And, apparently, the rest of the room cracked up.

Submitted without further comment.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

03/23 Quickie: Cornell Mania and More

This could have run tomorrow or Thursday, but I couldn't wait to dig into Cornell Mania -- Big Red is the story of the Sweet 16 week (no offense to Northern Iowa).

I can't imagine a more intriguing match-up than Cornell vs. Kentucky on Thursday night -- it might be the most-watched game of the Tournament.

I have almost -- almost -- convinced myself that Cornell will win. I think there's obviously a puncher's chance they WILL win, for a lot of reasons:

*They destroyed Wisconsin's defense, which is superior to Kentucky's.

*They nearly beat Kansas at Kansas back in January.

*Kentucky has yet to be tested... really, all year.

*The crowd should be with them.

*They shoot 3s extremely well -- and I'm not sure Kentucky does the same.

I think where I net out -- where we all probably net out -- is that we really WANT Cornell to win, in the same way we all wanted Northern Iowa to win.

I suspect that it comes down to John Wall hurtling down the court so quickly that Kentucky simply out-paces Cornell. I would run every possession and drive straight at the basket.

The notion that we are even thinking "Well, you never know..." is amazing enough.

More you'll find in today's SN column:

*UNI over Michigan State, b/c of Lucas' injury.
*Brittney Griner: 14 blocks in one game. Yikes.
*Why Illinois and VA Tech are better than Kansas.
*I would trade Donovan McNabb.
*I would go to the draft if I was Tebow.
*John Brantley IS a very good passer.
*Hope for Warriors fans.
*Hope for new NFL overtime rules.
*Hope for Erin Andrews, dancer.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 22, 2010

03/22 Quickie: How's Your Bracket?

Let's get right to the fun stuff:

As fleeting as it might be, from now until games start ending on Thursday night, I am in the 93rd percentile nationally of all brackets that are out there. This, of course, is in stark contrast to last year's finish in the 12th percentile.

Let's be clear: I'm headed for a nosedive, because I have Kansas winning the national title, and I (stupidly) picked Villanova to the Final Four. (I also had Georgetown to the Elite Eight.) That said: I picked Washington to the Sweet 16, along with Xavier and Butler. The phrase "Even a broken clock is right twice a day" comes to mind....

Astoundingly, Barack Obama is still pacing ahead of me -- 95th percentile -- even though he too has Kansas and Villanova in his Final Four, plus G'town in his Elite 8. That percentile will plummet. Meanwhile, the trusty ol' National Bracket has been tilted -- it's in the 55th percentile.

Per today's SN column, my big takeaway from the weekend -- from Northern Iowa knocking off the Tournament's prohibitive favorite to Cornell's leave-no-doubt run into the Sweet 16 -- was that, thankfully, unpredictability is back in the NCAA Tournament, after a couple years of conventionality.

If UNI can beat KU, then anything than happen: UNI can certainly beat Michigan State -- or Ohio State, for that matter. Xavier can beat K-State -- although I'm not sure anyone is playing better than Syracuse right now. St. Mary's could win 2, including a win over Duke. Why not?

(By the way: Purdue fans annoyed that I've been hammering Purdue as an "over-seed" can finally back off: Congrats on the run into the Sweet 16 -- it justifies the seeding, although I would say that given the over-seed, it's like a double-digit seed making the Sweet 16.)

And then there's the Game of the Tournament (at least, besides UNI-KU): Kentucky vs. Cornell. I was blown away at the way Cornell sliced up a Wisconsin defense that is far better than Kentucky's. That said: UK has athletes that Wisco doesn't -- and that Cornell has never seen before, even when they took Kansas to the wire in Lawrence.

However: That Cornell could keep up with Kansas -- and dominate Wisconsin -- should give them all the confidence they need to hang with Kentucky. All the pressure is on the Wildcats, and it would be an even bigger upset than UNI over Kansas.

Given the way the Tournament has unfolded, it wouldn't surprise me. And, obviously, everyone in the country besides Kentucky fans will be rooting for it.

Complete column here (Tiger talks! Mauer signs!) More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday (Kansas) Quickie

First, the fun stuff: As of the Kansas upset (see post below), no one in's Tournament Challenge had a perfect bracket anymore.

Despite losing Kansas (my champ pick) and Villanova (a Final Four pick), I am in the 84th percentile -- for now -- mostly thanks to picking Washington to the Sweet 16.

If you used the National Bracket, you'd be in the 50th percentile. Obama is in the 95th percentile.

The best part about the Kansas upset: All bets are off, both literally (on your bracket) and existentially (on the bracket). If KU can lose, anyone can lose, anytime.

One last point: Isn't it possible that rather than being a "!" event -- as most mainstream analysis is framing it -- Ali F's shot was precisely the best option possible if UNI wanted to win? Don't want to belabor it, but I'll bet the analytics bear that out.

More on tap today:

12:10: 8 Gonzaga vs. 1 Syracuse*
Kansas will be ultimate cautionary tale.
2:20 10 Georgia Tech vs. 2 Ohio St*
Suddenly, no more Kansas in the way.
2:30 5 Michigan St* vs. 4 Maryland
2:40 10 Mizzou vs. 2 West VA*
Probably freaked by Kansas loss.
2:50 12 Cornell vs. 4 Wisconsin*
How can you NOT root for Cornell?
4:50 6 Xavier* vs. 3 Pitt
My last Sweet 16 upset pick alive.
5:00 5 Texas A&M* vs. 4 Purdue
Make or break for Boilers. (I had Utah St.)
5:15 8 Cal vs. 1 Duke*
Shades of 1993? (No.)

If Thursday/Friday is any indication, then yesterday's insanity will yield to today's conventionality. Hope not.

-- D.S.