Friday, March 16, 2012

03/17 (Lehigh Wins! Duke Loses!) Quickie

Wow. Wow. Wowowowowowow.

Aside from your own team's greatest moment, the greatest moment of any/every college basketball season is the moment Duke is ousted from the NCAA Tournament. It is the best feeling in the world. They could be good. They could be bad. Overrated, underrated. It doesn't matter.

In this case, that Duke was a 2-seed makes it special -- the best seed Duke has ever had when they have lost in the Round of 64 of the tournament. That they lost to Lehigh is great, but any 15-seed would have been an absurd-sounding team.

Norfolk State beating Missouri was -- at least according to Vegas bookies -- an even bigger upset, but it was entirely reasonable to see Mizzou flaming out early in this tournament (if not THIS early). It was glorious, like the handful of other "15 over 2" games, a defining moment in tournament history... right up until the Duke-Lehigh supernova eclipsed everything.

It's a "national" moment we're having right now, when we can all come together in schadenfreude and celebrate the annual renewal of the best moment of the college basketball season. Your status in the pool seems secondary. The reveal in two weeks of the tournament's champion seems secondary, too.

Let's sit back and enjoy this unprecedented bit of madness.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

03/15 (First Thursday) Quickie

Last chance to join the Quickish readers group of the Tournament Challenge. Do it now!

I've said this for going on 10 years now: The first Thursday (and Friday) of the Tournament are the most sanctified sports days of the year. I call today "First Thursday," and I think everyone should know what I'm talking about: The first Thursday of the Tournament, when 16 games - running from noon until after midnight - keeps you entertained and enthralled. Let's get to it:

Picks in bold.

12:15: (6) Murray State vs. (11) Colorado State (CBS)
12:40: (8) Kansas State vs. (9) Southern Miss (TRU)
1:40: (4) Louisville vs. (13) Davidson (TBS)
2:10: (4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Montana (TNT)

Tastes a bit chalky. Hopefully, that means we'll get upsets.

2:45: (3) Marquette vs. (14) BYU (TBS)
3:10: (1) Syracuse vs. (16) UNC-Asheville (TRU)
4:10: (5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach St (TBS)
4:40: (5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Harvard (TNT)

The afternoon finishes a bit more interesting: With a game already under its belt, BYU might be confident enough to spring a surprise on Marquette. Meanwhile, let's see how Syracuse responds to not having Fab Melo. And with two 5-12 games, you know something interesting is going to happen.

6:50: (1) Kentucky vs. (16) Western Kentucky (TBS)
7:15: (5) Wichita State vs. (12) VCU (TBS)
7:20 (7) Gonzaga vs. (10) West Virginia (TNT)
7:27 (3) Baylor vs. (14) South Dakota State (TRU)

Wichita State vs. VCU is the best game of the first round. Don't call WVU over Gonzaga an upset; the game is in the Eers' backyard, Pittsburgh. Anyone NOT want to see SoDak State beat Baylor?

9:20 (8) Iowa State vs. (9) UConn (TBS)
9:45 (4) Indiana vs. (13) New Mexico State (CBS)
9:50 (2) Ohio State vs. (15) Loyola (TNT)
9:57 (6) UNLV vs. (11) Colorado (TRU)

Indiana returns to the Tournament in what feels like forever. The defending champs could very well go down. UNLV looks to put the final nail in the worst season ever by a major college conference.

So, if you discount West Virginia as an upset and recognize that picking a 9 over an 8 is not an upset, then I have zero upsets today. It's possible that's how it will play out, but you have to hope for at least a few -- and, in the absence of that, close games with buzzer-beating finishes. Wow: That Wichita-VCU game is just amazing -- it's perhaps the best first-round match-up I can remember. Here's hoping it lives up to the potential.

Oh, and it's the NBA Trading Deadline: Dwight Howard said he was staying, then going, then staying. Let's assume he stays -- if I'm the Nets, I'm trying to trade Deron Williams for whatever I can get, because that guy is as good as gone in July.

Oh, and Peyton Manning is still out there, and apparently the Titans owner not only offered him the starting QB job basically sight unseen, but he gave him a lifetime-contract offer, with a lucrative job in the front office (and maybe a piece of the team?) after his career ends.

Yet another reason I love my wife: On her resume, under "Interests," right at the top... "March Madness."

She finished her bracket last night, as usual relying on "Four Factors" advanced metrics like offensive rebounding percentage. My kids filled out their brackets. I filled out a bracket for our two-week-old baby. I have my bracket ready to go. Add your bracket to the Quickish group.

It feels like a holiday. Maybe that's because it IS a holiday.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

3/14 (Pre-Madness) Quickie

As an unabashed fan of the NCAA Tournament play-in round in Dayton, I was gleeful that last night's "First Four" was an absurd motherlode of unlikely comebacks -- in the first game, Western Kentucky coming back from a gazillion down with 5 minutes to play, in the second game, BYU coming back from 20-something down in a half. If that can't get you in the mood...

Frankly, if that can't get you in the mood, try...

*My annual bracket picks made in the Wall Street Journal.

*My annual analysis of President Obama's bracket picks at The Awl.

*Check out Quickish's incredible stream of NCAA Tournament recommendations.

*Join the Quickish readers group of the Tournament Challenge!

Meanwhile, two nights ago my older kids made their picks. 5-year-old Gabe filled out his own bracket, by hand -- he went entirely with chalk, which means he will absolutely out-perform me. 3-year-old Jonah did his picks based on me telling him each match-up. He ended up with Kentucky winning it all (on his own, I promise), but also with Kansas State and Temple in his Final Four, which -- if true -- means I need to ship him off to Vegas in April. I have to tell you that doing the picks with them this year was, quite possibly, my favorite moment yet as a parent.


*Trade Dwight Howard today, Orlando.
*Trade Carmelo Anthony tomorrow, New York.
*Calvin Johnson is worth every penny.
*I'm all for the Redskins loading up on meh receivers.
*The best thing I read today was SI's Tim Layden on March 14, 1981.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 12, 2012

03/12 (NCAA Picks) Quickie

My annual Wall Street Journal column is live at Give it a read. Now, let's discuss:

Final Four: Kentucky, Michigan State, Florida State, UNC.
Champ: Kentucky (over UNC).

South: I nearly picked Duke to lose to Xavier in the Round of 32; it doesn't matter -- I picked Duke to lose to UNLV in the Sweet 16.

West: I really respect Mizzou and fully intended to take them far -- maybe even the Final Four. Then they were slated to match up with Florida, a team that has enough guards to match up with the Tigers' four-guard offense. (Bradley Beal at power forward? Yes, please.) Taking Florida to beat Mizzou is bold; picking the Gators to then get past Marquette is dumb. I did both. It is unclear I would be picking either if I wasn't a Gators fan. That's a terrible situation.

East: I'm sick of picking Syracuse to go deep then having them choke. I'm a sucker for Wisconsin in the tournament (even though they might not get past Vandy in the Round of 32). My favorite pick -- which barely rises beyond conventional wisdom, I'm seeing -- is Florida State over Ohio State, a team that can barely function offensively, let alone matched up against college hoops' toughest D.

Midwest: UNC over KU in the regional final is my only chalky 1-2 pairing of the Elite Eight. But the Midwest region also includes my only double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16: 14-seed Belmont, which will finally be the team we all thought they would be a year ago.

In the end, my bracket is boring and safe (although it's not like I went against my judgment simply to be safe -- for example, I was prepared to take Wichita State to the Final Four, as long as they didn't play in Kentucky's region. Whoops.) I have just a handful of upsets, and an entirely conventional Final Four, right down to Kentucky over UNC, which most of the country will be predicting. That means we're either all going to be right -- so the early rounds matter a lot more -- or we're all going to be wrong, and that dude in your pool who picked Anyone But Kentucky is going to clean up.

What did you pick? Any crazy upsets? (If so, why?)

Don't forget to sign up for the Quickish group of's Tournament Challenge.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

03/12 (Bracket Madness) Quickie

Join the Quickish Readers group of the NCAA Tournament Challenge. It's super-easy, and you can join other groups, too. Join up now!

Meanwhile, I have filed my picks for my annual bracket-picking column in the Wall Street Journal. I'll post it here when it is live over there, but let's just say I'm fairly conventional. (Is there anyone who ISN'T picking Kentucky to win it all?)

Let me just say that I am very disappointed that the Selection Committee put Wichita State against VCU on the first Thursday -- and in Kentucky's eighth of the bracket, no less.

Put Wichita in any of the other regional 5-seed slots, and I could see them going to the Final Four (or at least the Elite Eight); put VCU in any of the other regional 12-seed slots, and I could see them in the Sweet 16, at least.

Nevertheless, you deal with the bracket you have, not the bracket you want. And so the fact that I only have three seed upsets out of 32 first-round games? The fact that I have only three teams seeded higher than 5 in the Sweet 16? The fact that if you add up the seeds in my Final Four you get a number barely higher than the bare minimum four?

I'm rolling with it, and while I have at least a few picks that make me queasy and others I am surely going to wish I had the guts to pick when they end up happening, I feel better about this bracket than I have in years.

Obviously, I'm doomed. So, on that note, join me in the Quickish Readers group for three weeks of fun!

03/11 (Selection Sunday) Quickie

It's Selection Sunday! Join in the "Quickish Readers" group of the NCAA Tournament Challenge!

I love Selection Sunday. I love the bracket reveal -- despite the ubiquity of online brackets within 30 seconds of the reveal, I still hand-write my own bracket as Greg Gumbel says the names. And I love the initial "gut-instinct" rush to think through the brackets, before that first (and second and third...) doubt creeps in: "Are you really taking Wichita State to the Final Four?" "Are you really picking against Kentucky?" "Wait, what does say?"

There's sugar-coating it: My brackets have been awful the past few years. I went bold two years ago and finished in the bottom 15 percent. I went safe last year and finished in the bottom 40 percent.

This year will be a mix of the two -- I will almost certainly pick Kentucky to win it all, despite the nagging feeling that in a Final Four slugfest against an athletic and rugged opponent who can shoot, the Wildcats would fold. I don't want to be the 10% of the country picking against the 'Cats. For the sixth year, I will be making my picks for the Wall Street Journal. (See '11 here.)

There are definitely teams I am eyeing for a Sweet 16 run and beyond (with the standard caveat: Depending on the match-ups.) Wichita State, Xavier, VCU, Florida State, Creighton. (Of course, most bracket projections have Wichita and FSU in the 4/5 seed range, which means picking them for the Sweet 16 is hardly a reach.)

But there is something about that empty bracket at 6:30 on Sunday night -- infinite possibilities, and the tantalizing prospect of the weeks ahead.

-- D.S.

PS: I know I missed the Redskins/RG3 frenzy yesterday. Bottom line: Love the bold move for the Redskins -- a lot of that is a function of how much I like Griffin -- and, obviously, it's tremendous for the Rams. My move to DC was fortuitous -- I'm not a Redskins fan, but I can't wait to watch RG3 up close.