Saturday, March 23, 2013

3/24 (Wichita State!) Quickie

There is always this moment of hindsight -- when my bracket basically implodes -- when I wonder "What was I thinking?"

Saturday night, that was when Gonzaga -- a team I picked to go to the Final Four -- lost to Wichita State. The Shockers totally earned it, out-playing the top seed in the game's final minutes.

Why did I buy Gonzaga? Why did I ignore their decade of underachievement in the tournament? Why did I buy into this year as different?

In retrospect, my strategy in that region should have been "Anyone BUT Gonzaga."

And so it will be Wichita State playing the winner of Ole Miss and LaSalle for the right to play the winner of Arizona and (presumably) Ohio State to go to the Final Four. Amazing.

It was an awesome night for the NCAA Tournament. A 1-seed losing in the first weekend is big enough, but the Butler-Marquette slugfest -- ousting the Bulldogs -- was an instant classic.

Speaking of shockers (sorry), it was jaw-dropping to see Brad Stevens' team execute so poorly down the stretch. Credit Marquette -- I can't help but think that the buzzer-beating loss to Butler in the preseason gave Marquette that extra edge they needed to push through to the finish.

Meanwhile, I also lost Saint Louis. Oregon is very good. It finally dawned on me that folks griping about Oregon being "under-seeded" had it entirely backwards.

Being under-seeded is a huge advantage. Sure, you start with a 5, but presuming you get past that -- as 12-seeds tend to -- you are playing a 4, rather than a 1- or 2- or 3-seed, which you would if you got seeded "accurately."

And so instead of playing Louisville (and presumptively losing) or playing Duke (and presumptively losing) or playing Michigan State (and presumptively losing), Oregon draws Saint Louis -- a scrappy team of extraordinarily hard workers totally ill-equipped to keep pace with the Ducks' athleticism.

Oregon is in the Sweet 16 BECAUSE they were under-seeded, not DESPITE being under-seeded.

Somehow, my bracket is hovering near the 70th percentile. (I picked Marquette over Butler, but lots of people did, too.) But that ranking will change with every round Gonzaga isn't advancing toward the Final Four I predicted for them -- and shouldn't have.

Among the stronger feelings engendered by the tournament -- "Shoulda." It is frustrating, but helps contribute to what makes it so great.

In the end, I'll trade my mediocre bracket for thrilling nights like this every time.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 22, 2013

3/23 (FGCU!) Quickie

The names are immortal in college hoops history:

Richmond. Santa Clara. Coppin State.
Hampton. Norfolk State. Lehich.

The six 15-seeds that have knocked off a 2-seed, the most exciting and meaningful result possible in the NCAA Tournament (until a 16 eventually beats a 1).

Add to the pantheon: Florida Gulf Coast.

It wasn't close. It wasn't a grinder. It wasn't a nail-biter.

This was FGCU punching Georgetown in the mouth, then continuing to smack them around for the rest of the game (despite the Hoyas' final futile flurry). FGCU earned it all the way, the better team.

(That alley-oop near the end? Ridiculous.)

The Round of 32 is sizing up with a couple of teams that you have to be rooting for, because they deserve the spotlight that comes with being in the Sweet 16:

Ole Miss. VCU. Florida Gulf Coast.

When they play San Diego State on Sunday, FGCU should come in as confident of being a Sweet 16 team as anyone in the field.

More than that, they join arguably the most elite fraternity in college hoops -- the 15-seeds who beat 2-seeds. The name "Florida Gulf Coast" will live in college hoops history and with fans energized by what happened on Friday night.


*My bracket: I'm in the 58th percentile nationally. I went 21-11 in my Round of 64 picks, but lost only two Sweet 16 teams (Wisconsin and Georgetown). Along with the "National Bracket," I am tied for 62nd in the DQR group. Mrs. Quickie is tied for 19th. My two boys -- who picked their own brackets this year -- are tied for 93rd.

*Today's games:
VCU-Michigan is the first (and best) game of the day.
Butler-Marquette is the second-most intriguing.
Give Wichita State a puncher's chance against 1-seed Gonzaga.
12-seeds Oregon and Cal don't feel like Cinderellas if they win.
The only real Cinderella today is Harvard.

-- D.S.

03/22 (Harvard) Quickie

Harvard: Wow.

The essential tension of the NCAA Tournament is between "Wow, do I want to see an upset!" and "Wow, do I want my bracket to be right!"

Two sides of that yesterday, which I lead today's Morning Win with:

Davidson: How could you not want to see a 14-over-3 upset? Argh! Well, what if you have Marquette to the Elite Eight, like I do? And so I'm resigned to Marquette losing, then jubilant when they break Davidson's heart. It felt horrible, but only until I looked at my bracket.

Harvard: How could you not want to see a 14-over-3 upset? Agreed! Especially if you think New Mexico was going to lose in the next round anyway, like I do? So it is virtually costless for me if the Lobos don't win, relative to the excitement of seeing Harvard pull off one of the most stunning first-round upsets in NCAA Tournament history?*

* - Let's unpack that for a second. First of all, nothing beats a 15-over-2. There have been six of those in history - they are sacrosanct. Next up is the 14-over-3 - there have been 16 of those heading into yesterday. In the column today, I ranked the Top 5 14-over-3s and put Harvard over New Mexico at No. 3, behind '86 Cleveland State over Indiana, which was the climax of "Season on the Brink," and '05's Bucknell over Kansas, because... it was Bucknell over Kansas. So even if you count the 20-some 13-over-4s, that puts Harvard '12 in the Top 20, which ain't bad.

Otherwise, yesterday was notable for Southern hanging with Gonzaga until the finish (which, for a 16-seed, offers about as much March immortality as you can get -- consider that people still remember 16-seed Western Carolina nearly beating 1-seed Purdue in 1996); the two Pac-12 12-seeds KO'ing 5-seeds (a fairly amazing "eff you" to the Selection Committee); and the vicious blowouts, including Syracuse, VCU... and Wichita State just clobbering Pitt.

Today's best? Wisconsin versus Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss is the most intriguing game of the day, at the start of the slate, and UCLA-Minnesota -- by far the most popular upset pick of the first round -- which is the final game of the night and only worth staying up for to see if the wisdom of the crowds (and pundits) is right.

How's your bracket? I went 11-5, and I suspect that most people were right around the 10-/11-/12-win mark. The bigger question is how damaging were your losses? Did you have New Mexico going to the Sweet 16? How about UNLV? The National Bracket went 11-5. President Obama went 10-6. My 4-year-old son, who picked his own bracket this year, went 12-4 to lead the family pool standings.

Enjoy the day and weekend! No Morning Win on over the weekend, so check back here for shallow, quick-hit goodness!

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

03/21 (First Thursday) Quickie

Last chance to join the Daily Quickie Readers group of the Tournament Challenge -- you can be a part of multiple groups at the same time. Join in!


Best day of the sports year? Best day of the sports year.

That's the lead of today's (new!) Morning Win column on

The epicenter is the 8 games this afternoon -- watching at night is fun, but watching during the workday, with everyone you know invested in the outcomes (despite not having a deep-seated fan-love of any of the teams) is special.

Here's a little clip from the column, because it's a Quickie tradition:

12:15 (CBS): 3 Michigan State vs. 14 Valpo (Auburn Hills, Mich. - Midwest)
Pick against Tom Izzo in the first round? Yeah, right.
12:40 (truTV): 6 Butler vs. 11 Bucknell (Lexington, Ky. - East)
Against any other 6, Bucknell would be the upset pick.
1:40 (TBS): 8 Pittsburgh vs. 9 Wichita State (Salt Lake City - West)
The classic 8-9 dilemma: Does it even matter?
2:10 (TNT): 4 Saint Louis vs. 13 NM State (San Jose - Midwest)
Billikens are the best team you’ve never watched.

2:45 (CBS) 6 Memphis vs. 11 Saint Mary's (Auburn Hills - Midwest)
Only upset of the day, thanks to Gaels’ running start in First Four.
3:10 (truTV) 3 Marquette vs. 14 Davidson (Lexington - East)
Upset special? It’s a sneaky-trendy pick, but Marquette too tough.
4:10 (TBS) 1 Gonzaga vs. 16 Southern (Salt Lake City - West)
Zags need a tune-up after long layoff.
4:40 (TNT) 5 Oklahoma State vs. 12 Oregon (San Jose - Midwest)
Is Cowboys PG Marcus Smart the Tourney’s top NBA prospect?

Most people's Round of 64 is chalky. (9-over-8 doesn't count.) My entire night slate is chalk (except for 9 Mizzou over 8 Colorado State, which I could have gone either way on, given the Rams' superlative offensive-rebounding skills. This afternoon is about Saint Mary's using the springboard of the First Four to catch Memphis flat-footed and pull off the only upset of the day. (Or so I'm picking.)

Meanwhile: Of the Heat's 24 straight wins, last night's was the most impressive -- down 27 in the 3rd, they still won... The pushback on the NFL's new rules around lowering the head is a pretty good indicator of the institutional issues that caused the brain-injury epidemic in the first place... I'm bummed for my LIU-Brooklyn team that lost in the play-in, but hard not to feel good for James Madison. (BTW: Those LIU uniforms have to be among the 5 coolest in the Tournament field.)

Anyway, check out today's column (and please try to share it around!) and get your bracket into the Daily Quickie Readers group.

Enjoy the day!

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

3/20 (Bobby Mo!) Quickie

Be sure to join in the Daily Quickie Readers pool of the Tournament Challenge. (Or maybe it should be called "Morning Winners.")

Today's Morning Win column on leads off with Robert Morris' awesome upset of Kentucky last night. It is very possible that will be the most exciting result of the month, entirely understanding that the NCAA Tournament doesn't really start until tomorrow.

It's great for Robert Morris. It's great for the (largely irrelevant) NIT. It's great for people who revel in schadenfreude about Kentucky.

Let's be clear: In November, I picked Kentucky to repeat as champs -- so either I am the worst or best person to talk about this. But my big reason was the Calipari "system," a clever arbitrage of the NBA's age limitations.

Calipari promises elite recruits three things: (1) NBA development. (2) Playing time. (3) A chance to compete for a national title.

Clearly, (3) totally fell apart this year. Next up is (2), which also falls apart in the event that this year's highly touted freshmen stick around next year, when even more highly touted freshmen show up. Something's gotta give, because they all expect 30 minutes per game.

Here's betting that Cal runs off the current frosh -- the new guys coming in next year are way better and, again, his system is predicated on "one-and-done," not (as I write in the column) "one-and-one-more."

A few more pieces of extra commentary:

*The near-universal pick of Louisville to win the title by sports pundits is baffling to me. This isn't Kentucky '12; didn't we just finish a season where every day was a new example of "Parity!"

*I don't expect everyone to follow my lead and pick Florida -- but it's pretty validating that the leading prognosticator from last year (Harvard's John Ezekowitz) has Florida winning it all (and my same Final Four: Florida, Louisville, Indiana, Gonzaga) and basically my same bracket. If I am going to fail this year, I'm taking down the reigning King of the Bracket with me.

*Good for NC A&T. Really good for Saint Mary's -- makes the pick of Play-In Game Winner over Memphis that much easier.

*LIU is near and dear to me: My grandfather taught journalism there for 15 years and their awesome '97/'98 team surged just as I moved to Brooklyn. Here's to a huge win, then taking down Indiana.

*As for my picks this year, I'm chalky, with the following exceptions:

Round of 64: Minnesota over UCLA and Saint Mary's over Memphis and Colorado over Illinois. (I also have a few 9-over-8s, but that doesn't count.)

Round of 32: Arizona over New Mexico, Wisconsin over Kansas State, VCU over Michigan. (At this point, 5-over-4 hardly counts.)

Round of 16: Florida over Georgetown, Marquette over Miami. (At this point, 3-over-2 hardly counts.)

Round of 8: Florida over Kansas.

Final Four: Florida over Indiana.

Title game: Florida over Louisville.

Be sure to join in the Daily Quickie Readers pool of the Tournament Challenge. (Or maybe it should be called "Morning Winners.")

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

3/19 (Wait, Wait... What's THIS?) Quickie

Wait a second... what's this?

Yes, I'm dabbling at being back in the morning game -- thanks to my pals and colleagues at USA TODAY Sports for the indulgence, patience and support.

So what will you find today? The easiest thing would have been to go big with Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn. The better thing is to talk about the self-doubt we all feel about our bracket when we hit the unofficial halfway point between Selection Sunday and tip-off on Thursday.

But there's more: Love for the First Four, love for the Heat hitting 23 straight wins and -- yes -- a brief item on Tiger and Lindsey.

I think you'll like it. It's zippy (I hope you would expect nothing less) and it is tricked out by my editor Mike Foss with all sorts of photo and GIFfy goodness.

So please check it out and pass it around to your friends and colleagues. Let's see if we've got something here.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 18, 2013

3/18 (Bracket!) Quickie

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(You can join as many groups as you want.)

Final Four picks, in order of confidence:
*Louisville (over Duke)
*Florida (over Kansas)
*Indiana (over Marquette)
*Gonzaga (over Ohio State)

I am picking Florida over Louisville in the title game, which is high-risk/high-reward, given that everyone seems to be picking Louisville to win it all (and if not Louisville, then Indiana). It is also totally foolish, given that I am personally rooting for Florida to win it all -- it's like I'm forgetting everything I know about the Quickie jinx.

Yes, I am concerned about picking Gonzaga to the Final Four. There is a certain contrarianism to picking the Zags, given that they are the only 1-seed not to make it to the Final Four on the "national bracket" aggregate of all fans' picks -- a rarity over the past decade. I can understand the impulse to take Ohio State -- the Buckeyes' defense is among the best in the field and Gonzaga has potentially been softened up by playing a cupcake conference schedule.

There is a mind trick about getting behind a (or "the") hot team and getting burned, but this year's Gonzaga team feels closer to a traditional big-conference power than others in years past. (Speaking of which, how many people would be taking Saint Louis to the Elite Eight -- if not Final Four -- if they weren't in Louisville's region? I know I would be.)

There are a handful of specific picks that nag me, in an otherwise chalky bracket: Taking Kansas over VCU... taking Marquette over Butler... taking Duke over Michigan State... and the biggie: Taking Gonzaga over Wisconsin, which underscores how messy my West is: Gonzaga over the two Big Ten Tournament finalists, in addition to going long on Sean Miller and Arizona (taking the 'Cats over New Mexico and into the Sweet 16).

Meanwhile: Happy birthday, Mrs. Quickie -- whose mid-March birthday is right in line with her enthusiasm for the NCAA Tournament.

One more time: Join the Daily Quickie Readers group of the Tournament Challenge.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

3/17 (Selection Sunday) Quickie

Join the Daily Quickie Readers group of the Tournament Challenge.

Best sports day of the year? Today is on the short list, if only for that sliver of an hour tonight when Greg Gumbel reads the pairings on the 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket.

I have a tradition going back decades where I scrawl them all down by hand as he says them, then immediately afterward pick the bracket all the way through -- the crushing self-doubt, changes (and change-backs) come later in the night, through Monday morning.

Regardless, there is a day of hoops left. Of the eight teams playing today, 7 are tournament locks and one (Ole Miss) has probably done enough to get itself one of the final at-large bids, even if it doesn't beat Florida for the SEC automatic bid. Today isn't about "must-win" as much as "must-see."

If you want to do well in your pool, there is one game you must watch: Saint Louis vs. VCU. It doesn't matter who wins -- but you must pay attention to how they play. Both teams are strong contenders to make runs to the Sweet 16... possibly the Elite Eight and even the Final Four. Of all of the non-"power" conference teams, these two are the most likely to crash the Final Four. (1-seed Gonzaga doesn't count, because it is... well... a 1-seed; New Mexico is a Sweet 16 team, but I wonder about their offense when they meet elite defensive teams in the second weekend.)

Of the other three games, Miami is fascinating -- nouveau riche on the scene. There are always a few that pull 2- and 3-seeds and flame out in the first weekend. Is Miami one of them?

Ohio State is a Final Four contender (as is Wisconsin, if they can find the offense). Florida is a Final Four contender (and I'm thrilled if experts want to keep sleeping on them -- what I'm looking for with Florida is where they are sent, not seeded).

But even as a Florida fan, the game I'm paying attention to today is the Atlantic 10 title game in Brooklyn between the bruising Billikens and VCU's "Havoc."


*Louisville wins Big East: Also on the short list of Final Four contenders. Great defense, more than good enough offense.

*Kansas wins Big 12: See Louisville. Great D, good enough on offense.

*Indiana loses: Everything you need to know about the uncertainty at the top of college hoops this season is captured by the fact that Indiana and Duke both lost before getting to their conference finals and are still locks as 1-seeds. The bracket is as wide-open this year as it wasn't last year.

Fire up the and get ready for tonight.

-- D.S.