Tag Archives: Gonzaga Bulldogs

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: Final Four Coastal War

Heading into the NCAA Tournament, not many people could’ve predicted the Final Four cast that will be on display this coming Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.  Two schools arrive from the extreme east coast, both from the Carolinas no less.  It had been since UCLA made it to their third straight Final Four in 2008 that the west coast had representation.  This year the college basketball world was graced with two left coast participants.  Each of the teams in the Final Four has at least one distinct attribute which provides an advantage over their semifinal opponent; and perhaps which will carry over into the title game.  It’s going to be a true coastal war on Saturday evening.

Standing Tall

North Carolina crushes opponents on the boards.  The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin, and that will serve as a major factor against Oregon.  Jordan Bell was a one man wrecking crew against Kansas in the Elite Eight.  How will he be able to handle UNC’s huge front line of 6-10 Kennedy Meeks, 6-9 Isaiah Hicks, and 6-10 Tony Bradley?  The ability to crash the boards, particularly on the offense end allows Justin Jackson to unleash his quick-release jumper freely, and give the Tar Heels multiple possessions.  If the Ducks can’t neutralize this quickly, it will make for a long night.

Oblivious to the Danger

Right now, Oregon is playing with absolutely no fear.  Tyler Dorsey is flat-out killing it.  Jordan Bell single-handedly terrorized Kansas around the rim, and Dillon Brooks is a willing go-to guy who is unconscious about unleashing some offense.  The Ducks have a pretty light rotation, but what they do have are multiple stars that can rise to the occasion, leaving multiple outlets if a big shot is necessary.  Oregon can play with pace to get out in transition; and have the individual offensive skills to find shots when the game bogs down in the half court.  If anyone can run with UNC, it’ll be the Ducks.

Well-balanced Diet

Mark Few’s team is the most balance team remaining.  Gonzaga can put pressure on opponents from the perimeter, slashing to the paint, or attacking the rim with size in the post.  There’s also a nice blend of veterans and young players; and more than any of the other teams remaining, the Bulldogs are likely playing with the biggest chip on their collective shoulders.  Nigel Williams-Goss is still the key cog in the machine, and he has the chops to carry the Zags for the final two games.  Gonzaga’ capacity to be multi-faceted will be crucial against South Carolina.

Up in Your Grill

Much like their coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks have been right up in their opponent’s kitchen every single game.  South Carolina has proven to be the most physical team remaining in the field, and that will be their ace-in-the-hole.   Gonzaga struggled with West Virginia’s pressure and physicality in the Sweet 16.  While Martin’s team won’t press heavily, the constant harassment and bumping in the half court is more than sufficient to rattle cages.  Although the Gamecocks don’t have a ton of size on the front line, the guards are powerfully built, and that drives their physicality.  If South Carolina is given the freedom to play as physically as they have all tournament, Gonzaga will be battered, bruised, and possibly go bye-bye.

New Blood vs. Blue Blood

Aside from the east coast/west coast rift, the 2017 Final Four also gives us some upstart programs trying to make a name, versus one legendary program, and coach who is trying to cement his legacy.  Although Dana Altman, Mark Few, and Frank Martin have been around for quite some time, this is the breakthrough opportunity each has been waiting for.  Altman did a nice job at Creighton for many years, but never really gets mentioned among the great college basketball coaches.  Martin gave Kansas State some of its best years in the college basketball landscape, but winning a title at a football-crazed school could propel South Carolina to sustained success in hoops.  Mark Few is Gonzaga basketball.  Whether Gonzaga ascends to the upper echelon of college basketball’s elite programs, hinges upon what Few’s team does this coming weekend.

Predictions

In the first semifinal, I see Gonzaga’s depth and versatility being the deciding factor versus South Carolina.  The whistles will probably be a bit tighter especially early-on in the semifinal games, and that won’t make it easy for the Gamecocks to apply the physicality that Frank Martin’s team is accustomed to.  With a bit more free reign, Mark Few’s team will outlast South Carolina to reach Monday’s final.

As much fun as it would be to see an all west coast National Title game, I think the Tar Heels are going to simply be too much on the boards for Oregon’s slim frontline to handle.  It was one thing to punch Kansas in the mouth, as the Jayhawks only real threat in the paint was Landen Lucas.  North Carolina will pound the paint and the glass until the Ducks are beaten into submission.  Normally the pace that Oregon can play at would be a distinguished advantage, but the Tar Heels love to get out in transition, especially after giving up a basket.  North Carolina will meet Gonzaga for the championship.

Despite a topsy-turvy last few weeks, which provided a less than predictable Final Four, we’ll be left with two #1 seeds squaring off for the National Championship trophy.  Roy Williams, an all-time great, with an opportunity to carve his legendary status into stone.  And Mark Few, a great coach who has stayed the course at a school long considered a mid-major.  Winning a national title will validate not only his status as an all-time great coach, but will permanently remove the mid-major label from Gonzaga University.

Prior to the tournament, I didn’t like Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet 16.  However, the Bulldogs have gotten better as the tournament has progressed, and have the versatility and firepower to go toe-to-toe with North Carolina.  Without a doubt, Roy Williams’ team has the experience and the pedigree.  A year ago most of these same players ended the season with heartbreak against Villanova.  This year the Zags rip the Tar Heels hearts out once again.  Gonzaga 86 North Carolina 82.  The Gonzaga Bulldogs will be College Basketball’s 2017 National Champion.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

March Madness – From Pistol Pete to a Magic Carpet Ride

I didn’t begin to grow my hair, longer than the crew cut I sported at the time, because of the influence of rock groups I listened to, like Steppenwolf and Cream, who were popular at the time. It was due to a basketball player who was my idol, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. I loved the way Pistol Pete’s shaggy brown hair flopped as he brought the ball up the court for his team, the LSU Tigers.

Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in 1966, so Pete’s first year as a starter for the Bayou Bengals was the fall of 1967. And there were very few games that were televised back then, but when there was a game on television I was watching. I couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoons and the SEC game of the week.

I was also a sophomore on our high school’s team in ’67 (we didn’t have a varsity and junior varsity). We had an “A” team and a “B” team and I was on the “B” team.

The problem was, we had to cut our hair to play sports at Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. I began to let mine grow in 1968 which was my second year on the “B” team (that team went 17-0 by the way). But come November and basketball practice, whack, we had to get that hair cut. Mine wasn’t trimmed short enough so I had to go back and get it snipped again. And friends, it wasn’t very long to begin with.

The fall of 1968 was also when I had my first kiss, my first taste of whiskey, and my first cigarette. I’ve since given up the cigarettes.

So those were heady days. And as the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band go, “Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

It has now been 50 years since Pistol Pete Maravich was in his first varsity season down in Baton Rouge. I was fortunate to witness him play the first game in what became Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn on January 11, 1969. The home team Tigers won that game, 90-71. Sorry Pete.

And, it is noteworthy that LSU never made the NCAA Tournament during Maravich’s playing days. They did receive an invitation to the NIT his senior year.

March wasn’t exactly bursting with madness back in those days. In fact, there were only 23 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, the UCLA Bruins were in the middle of a three-year title run under the tutelage of John Wooden and the leadership of their star center, Lew Alcindor, who was later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yes, it’s a long way from those 23 teams, from 50 years ago, to the field of 68 that we grapple with today, and there are 10 of the usual suspects (North Carolina, Princeton, West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, New Mexico State, SMU, and UCLA) in both sets of brackets.

But interest is at a fever pitch, in the year 2017, and we are all caught in the throes of what is now termed “March Madness.”

The “Sweet 16” will have begun play by the time you read this, and here is the way I see it shaking down.

In chronological order:

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon

Gonzaga over West Virginia

Kansas over Purdue

Arizona over Xavier

North Carolina over Butler

South Carolina (Welcome Cinderella!) over Baylor

UCLA over Kentucky

Wisconsin over Florida

 

Elite Eight

South Carolina over Wisconsin

Gonzaga over Arizona

Kansas over Michigan

UCLA over North Carolina

 

That leaves us with a Final Four of:

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Kansas vs. UCLA

 

So let’s fasten our seat belts as we approach the final turn on that magic carpet ride… ”March Madness.”

 

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

The West: What to Look For in Day Two

The Round of 64 provided quite some excitement in the west region, let’s recap

Number 1 seed Gonzaga let the SDST Jackrabbits stay close before pulling away. The Zags looked just as good as they have all season, solid defense and a balanced attack. The win advances the Zags to the round of thirty-two where they will see Northwestern.

The Wildcats playing in their first ever NCAA tournament beat Bryce Drew’s Vandy team after a mistake foul by Matthew Fisher-Davis with Vandy up one with fourteen seconds left gave Northwestern two four shots and their first NCAA win.

If you are playing in a second chance bracket or a round by round bracket pool take Gonzaga as a lock. Northwestern snuck into the tournament with some upset wins and will be no match for the balanced Bulldog offense.

My Pick Gonzaga

Notre Dame defeated Princeton in the 5-12 match up in Buffalo. It was one of the better games of the day as it came down to a missed Princeton three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left in the game. The Irish will march on to face West Vergina.

Huggy Bear and his team had all they could handle with a resilient Bucknell team that kept it close until the very end. Prevailing 86-80 over the Bison

The Notre Dame -West Virginia game could be the best of the day Saturday and it’s an early 12.10 tip-off from Buffalo.   The former Big East rivals come in each 3-2 over their last five games. Notre Dame is the only team to reach the Elite Eight the last two NCAA tournaments and I expect them to get to the second weekend. Look for them to feed swingman Bonzie Colson. The only way I see the Mountaineers winning this one is if they play better defense than they did vs Bucknell and control how many touches Colson gets.

My Pick Notre Dame

I did not think Xavier could do it, knock out a Melo Trimble Maryland team; at least not the shell of what Xavier is without Edmond Summer. Xavier proved they can take on anyone. Maryland was kept to 40% shooting from the floor and a cold 25.9% from behind the arch. Xavier was powered by their ability to hit shots at right times and the thirty point they had coming off the bench.

Florida State were winners over FGCU in one of the fastest paced basketball games I have ever watched. FSU struggled in stretches to keep up with FGCU but held on for the win. FSU is one of the tallest teams in college basketball and they like to score inside they have to stick to that it has worked all season if they want to compete with Xavier.

For me, though the is something about this Xavier team that I really like they have a spark and that’s why I have to pick them to make it to the sweet 16.

My Pick Xavier

St.Mary’s took out VCU in a battle of Mid-Major Darlings, St.Mary’s was put in the same region as conference rival Gonzaga kind of odd for the committee to do with teams from a non-major confrence. That being said I highly doubt they meet up. St.Mary’s gets to deal with an Arizona team fresh off a 100-82 win over North Dakota. Arizona looks like a team that could win the whole thing. Sean Miller has a team that is built for a deep run. The Pac-12 Regular season and Tournament champions will look to overpower the Gales who to their credit have had a great season. I don’t think the wildcats will have much of a problem with St.Mary’s. Arizona will inch closer to their first final four trip since 2001.

My pick Arizona

E-mail Karic at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @karic_jones.

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen Friday Games Notebook

Syracuse vs. Gonzaga

The battle of these two high seeded teams was the best played game of the night. When it came down the stretch Gonzaga did not make a basket in the last six minutes. While Syracuse was the opposite they were clutch towards the end of the game and Michael Gbinije had the go ahead basket for the game with 22 seconds left in the game . Gbinije was the leading scorer for the Orange tonight scoring 20 points on 8-23 FGs.

This game was full of ebbs and flows all night. Gonzaga started the night hot and playing well but the Syracuse zone finally got to work and slowing down the Zags offense and turned a game that looked like it was going a the way of a blow out for a Bulldog win into a dogfight that Syracuse was able to gut out and hold on in the final seconds to advance to the Elite 8 with a 63-60 win. Syracuse plays No. 1 seed Virginia Sunday March 27th at 3:09 pm pt on TBS.

Iowa State vs. Virginia

Georges Niang of Iowa State had one of the best games on Friday night of any player playing tonight in any game. But his 30 points 8 rebounds 4 assists were not enough to curb the Tony Bennett coached Virginia while they flexed their ACC muscle and showed why they deserved to be a No. 1 seed in this years edition of March Madness.

Virginia did a great job all night sharing the basketball and making sure to the spread the wealth with four guys scoring in double digits. The main difference in tonight’s game was that the Cyclones of Iowa State turned the ball over more and got out rebounded. Virginia was victorious winning by 13 points 84 to 71. The Orange move on in the dance and matchup with Syracuse who is the No. 10 seed game tips off at 3:09 pm pt on March 27th on TBS.

Indiana vs. North Carolina

This was a matching going into Friday that those who are all about tradition had circled on their calendars. The Tar Heels put on a clinic tonight should the nation as to why they are one of the favorites to with this tournament. They made Indiana work for a lot of their points while showcasing what UNC has done all year to some of the best teams in the nation.

Everyone in North Carolina’s starting five have at least 14 points. Both teams came to play tonight but Indiana just could not answer what the Tar Heels kept dialing up all night. North Carolina wins 101 to 86. MVP of this game was was Bryce Johnson  who had a double double for North Carolina with 20 points and 10 rebounds. North Carolina will move on to play Notre Dame on March 27th on TBS at 5:49 pm pt.

Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame

A game that had most on the edge of their seats more of the game had an ending that made Notre Dame fans celebrate and make those who are die hard Wisconsin fans sink to their feet in defeat. Demetrius Johnson of Notre Dame made the play of the game that ended Wisconsin’s season when he stole the ball with 14.7 seconds left in the game for the go-ahead layup. Giving the Fighting Irish a 61- 56 win and a spot in the Elite Eight. Demetrius Johnson was the man of the night all game making plays when he needed dropping 16 points while leading the team with 6 assists.

This matchup of Wisconsin and Notre Dame was so evenly matched going into the game and it showed throughout the night on the court. This along with the Gonzaga-Syracuse game was one of the best games tonight. Notre Dame moves one to play the North Carolina Tar Heels at 5:49 pm pt on TBS March 27th. Another great night of college basketball. Not sure how tonight will be topped this weekend but I’m sure it will happen being that this year’s basketball season has been one of surprises twist and turns.

Email Josh at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLovern87.

Image via Wikipedia

Alford Takes Blame for Bruins’ Lackluster Season

It’s not very often that the head coach of a college basketball program returns contract money to the university, but that is exactly what UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford did after a disappointing 15-17 season. In an open letter written by Alford dedicated to fans of the UCLA program, he announced his intentions by stating, “At the end of the day, year three was clearly not up to UCLA standards. My coaching staff and I fell short not only of our own expectations, but the expectations of athletic director Dan Guerrero, the Chancellor and you, our fans…As a coaching staff, we intend to earn that extension back.” Alford’s announcement was made shortly after multiple banners were seen flying through campus calling for Alford’s removal from the program.

It was not all bad for the a Bruins team that defeated then first ranked Kentucky on December 3rd, and earned an impressive road victory at Gonzaga December 12th. Despite gaining momentum during the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Bruins were a disappointing 6-12 in Pac-12 play. Junior and Los Angeles native Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins in scoring on the year, contributing nearly 17 points per game. UCLA also received key contributions from Sophomore big man Thomas Welsh, and the son of head coach Steve Alford, Bryce Alford who will also be returning for his final go-around as a Bruin next season.

Conference play proved to be too daunting of a task for this years’ UCLA team, as the Bruins were only able to pick up one win against a ranked Pac-12 team. The lone victory came against then-seventh ranked Arizona 87-84 on January 7th. However, inconsistency was a major theme for UCLA this season, as bad losses against Washington State and Stanford combined with a much improved Pac-12 spelled doom for the year’s version of the UCLA Bruins.

Despite the lackluster regular season, the Bruins, like all Division I programs, had the chance to make a run in their conference tournament and steal and a bid to the NCAA tournament. This dream came to a crashing halt, as the Bruins received a thrashing at the hands of bitter crosstown rival USC 95-71 in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. With their final loss of the season, the Bruins finished a disappointing 0-3 against their hated rival for the first time since 1954.

Alford and his coaching staff originally received a contract extension through the 2020-2021 season after taking the school to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago for the first time since 2008. However, help should be on the way for the Bruins as five star recruits Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are both committed to UCLA as well as four of the top five scorers on the team have at least one year of eligibility left.

Despite this year’s struggles, the Bruins still remain one of the most appealing destinations for a potential recruit. Not only are the Bruins able to sell the beautiful city of Los Angeles, but they are also able to harp on their rich history which includes eleven national championships. While it is extremely refreshing to see a coach take direct responsibility for the lack of his team’s success, the Bruins should be back in the NCAA Tournament field in no time.

Email Alec at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @alec_kwait.

Photo: SD Dirk/Flickr.

Pac-12 Embarrassment at the NCAA Tournament

Being a fan and writer of the Pac-12 Conference I want the conference to do well when the chips are on the line for its teams, but after viewing the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament I had to come to conclusion that the Pac-12 just was not very good in 2016. Was the Pac-12 overrated by the tournament committee? I think so. Were they over seeded? Most definitely.

Watching plenty of Pac-12 basketball this year I saw that the conference was very average, but not horrible in any respect. I thought we would get about five or six teams into the Big Dance, but I thought any more than that would be over stretching the talent level in the conference. Now, I am not saying that the talent level was absolutely lacking, but lets face facts here, the college game has become diluted due to the “one and done” player.

Watching the Pac-12 perform over the weekend I thought,  “Am I being punked here?” It didn’t appear to be the same conference I had seen during the regular season and they paid a heavy price in this year’s Tournament.

The NCAA Tournament has not been kind to Pac-12 in the past and once again it wasn’t in 2016. The last team standing are the Oregon Ducks, the number one seed in the West region, and almost the first number one seed to bow out. The Ducks got all they wanted from a determined Saint Joseph team on Sunday night and now have a date with the Duke Blue Devils.

Just about every time March Madness rolls around the Pac-12 sends a couple of legit prospects to the dance and just about every time thereafter the conference is let down by those prospects. The expectations are not even met, forget about the teams even coming close to exceeding them.

What really cemented the Pac-12 as being largely overrated for this tournament was on Saturday night when three seed Utah, was crushed by 11 seed Gonzaga. Saying the Utes were crushed is putting it politely. It also may have proved the point about how some of these Pac-12 teams may have been overvalued by the committee. The final score of the Utah/Gonzaga game 82-59. Really? The seeding for that game should have been flip flopped. The Utes played like they were the 11 seed and Gonzaga played like they were the tougher three seed.

Say what you want about Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few, but he gets his teams ready to play regardless of their seeding and it showed against Utah.

The conference got seven teams into the Tournament and most of those teams were bounced in the first round. Oregon State, Arizona, California, USC and Colorado were all put to rest on Thursday and Friday. Only Oregon and Utah were left standing at that point.

Oregon is left holding up the conference flag at this point and to say that they are a difficult number one seed to bounce out may be a bit of a lie at this point. After their performance against Saint Joseph, picking Duke to win against Oregon is not a big stretch to take. I do think that match-ups matter for teams as well, so for the teams that were bounced early let’s take a look at their individual games.

Oregon State: The Beavers were a pretty good story for the conference. It was the first time they had been invited to the Tournament in 26 years and had played some decent basketball, but a seven seed? Really? They were matched up against a Virginia Commonwealth team that had been to the tournament before, had some success, but were regulated to a 10 seed. Oregon State was certainly over seeded, no doubt about it.

Arizona: Being a six seed for the Wildcats was something that wasn’t really looked at as a bad thing by their fans. I did not hear many complaints coming from Tucson about it, but their downfall was playing a Wichita State team that wasn’t playing like an 11 seed. They were playing more like a five or six seed. The Cats were not even favored in that game.

Utah: For a team that I thought had the potential of getting to the Final Four, they really screwed the pooch against Gonzaga and this was only a couple of games removed from getting waxed by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.

California: The Golden Bears were dealt a major blow by having their point guard, Ty Wallace, suffer a broken hand a day before their first round game. He was their Senior leader, he filled up the stat sheet for them, and then in a blink of an eye he was gone. That’s the reason, not an excuse for them because they still had enough talent to win that game.

USC: They were in a tough match up with Providence and then lose at the buzzer. It was the 8 seed versus the 9 seed and those games are a toss-up as it is, but in this game Providence was the better team. USC underperformed in my opinion all year with the good talent that they have on that squad.

Colorado: Sometimes the better team just underperforms. It was a pick’em type of game with Connecticut and the Buffs just didn’t play to their capabilities. When you don’t come to play, negative things happen and they did for Colorado.

In the end, the Pac-12 needs to have better showings in the Tournament than they have been giving us. The committee will remember this next year and may not give the Pac-12 the benefit of the doubt. Even though they are supposed to evaluate a team on their merits for that year I am almost certain that they will remember putting seven teams into the Tournament and remembering that six were out by the end of the first weekend of play. That will play a part in their thinking next year.

Imagine if Oregon had lost to Saint Joesph. What would people be thinking of the Pac-12 then? Let that thought swish around in your head for a bit.

Email Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

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NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Notebook

Recap of the First & Second Rounds

I just knew the Midwest Region would be the craziest one when I picked to write about it. Technically in the opening round of play, there were five upsets according to seeding. No upset was more bizarre than Michigan State losing to Middle Tennessee. What we thought was going to be the region of revenge on the committee by Sparty, they go out and lay an egg against MTSU.  I have never seen a Tom Izzo team so unprepared for an inferior opponent before. Without a doubt, Michigan State is the most disappointing team in the tournament so far, and probably will end up being so no matter what. Virginia fans laugh and sigh in relief.

More upsets were abound, with Little Rock taking down Purdue, a very hot Gonzaga team taking out a very hot Seton Hall team, Syracuse making Dayton look pedestrian, and, if you want to count it as an upset, Butler having a nice win against Texas Tech.

In the second round, Gonzaga completely routed Utah. Syracuse took down the almost-Cinderella of the tournament in Middle Tennessee, making Dayton fans wonder “what if.” Iowa State exposed Little Rock as just a one-hit wonder, and Virginia showed it was superior to Butler down the stretch by outlasting the bulldogs in the final minutes.

In total there were six upsets with lower seeds defeating higher seeds. The big boy contenders to make it to Houston are set, so lets look at the matchups:

No. 1 Virginia versus No. 4 Iowa State

I said it before, this one has a chance to knock out the No. 1 seed. Iowa State looks like the most focused team in the region so far. They started out silencing all the doubters by beating Iona by 13. Then they stayed hot by beating Little Rock by 17. These aren’t teams to completely brag about, but the Cyclones routed both of them with ease. That’s what you want good teams to do. Virginia obviously dismantled 16 seed Hampton with ease, but they has some trouble with Butler most of the game before taking control in the final minutes and winning by eight.

This is an interesting matchup. Iowa State has been scoring at will, and Virginia has a very good defense that can shut down any offense in the country. One thing that intrigues me about this game is its location: Chicago. This game is a lot closer for Iowa State fans than Virginia fans. Both teams will travel well, but I can see more Cyclone fans being there than Virginia fans. And trust me folks, the United Center can get loud. This seems like a home game for Iowa State, which we all know about Hilton Magic.

My prediction: The magic will follow them to Chicago, and Iowa State will take out the 1-seeded Cavaliers in a close game.

No. 10 Syracuse versus No. 11 Gonzaga

If you predicted this for the Sweet 16, kudos to you. Syracuse was arguably a team that most bracketologists left out of the tournament. Now, they sit in the Sweet 16 after a hot shooting performance against Dayton and taking out a tournament darling in Middle Tennessee. Then you have a team like Gonzaga who, if not for winning their conference tournament, would probably not be in the field either. Gonzaga started off taking out what many thought was a sleeper team in Seton Hall after they won their conference tournament. They won that game by 16, totally dominating from start to finish

Then the 11-seeded Zags took on another hot team in Utah, destroying what many thought was another hot team coming into the tournament. Gonzaga won this game by 23, setting up a date with Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Coming into this game, both of these teams have been shooting lights out from the field. The same can be said about each team’s defense. Syracuse has stifled teams so far with that zone, but Gonzaga has made teams frustrated on offense as well.

What is intriguing to me is the rebound department. Tyler Roberson has made a name for himself on the boards so far for the Orange, plus he averages eight rebounds a game. Domantas Sabonis from Gonzaga averages 11.6 rebounds per game. These guys will go head to head and will be my determining factor in this one. Syracuse averaged 35.5 boards during the season while Gonzaga averaged 39.6 boards, 210th vs 33rd in the country.

My prediction: Kyle Wiltjer continues his hot shooting and outshoots both Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije, and the Zags dominate the Orange on the boards. Gonzaga wins this one by 3 and sends the 11-seeded bulldogs to the Elite 8.

Email Chris at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @chrislvsketchup.

Stats provided by ESPN

Photo from creativecommons.org

Jinxing Your Team One Pick at a Time

50%. That’s roughly the number of people who are picking Kentucky to win it all on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. That has to be by far the highest in a while. I’m actually a little surprised that it’s that low. The next highest team picked to win it all? Wisconsin at just under 10%.

So what teams are capable of knocking off Kentucky? I’d say short of some surprise team going 15-22 from 3 against them, only the other Top 5 teams. Wisconsin has a pretty good shot. They’re extremely balanced, play ultra-efficient on offense and have player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky. And though it is a different Kentucky squad, the Badgers were one shot away from beating them in the tourney last year and won’t be intimidated. Wisconsin’s possible Elite 8 opponent Arizona also has as good a shot as anyone. They have experienced guards, play elite defense, and have the bigs to match-up with Kentucky’s size. At least to the point anyone could match their size. Duke (gulp) is probably the only other team that has a realistic shot, if for no other reason than they come closest to matching Kentucky from an NBA talent stand point, and they also have the 3-point shooting to match.

Ultimately do I think Kentucky will go down? On to the picks…


SWEET 16

Kentucky over West Virginia
Too much size, too much talent, too much everything for West Virginia to pull off the upset here.

Wichita State over Butler
Regardless of what their seed says, the Shockers are really good. They were in the Final Four two years ago and were undefeated last year until running into a Kentucky team that made the championship game. Key players from those two teams lead this year’s group and they move on here despite Butler’s edge inside.

Wisconsin over Arkansas
I like Arkansas to get past North Carolina because of their edge on defense and having the best player on the floor (Bobby Portis) but that won’t be enough to get them past Wisconsin. The Badgers are simply too good and Arkansas didn’t really challenge the only elite team they played in SEC play (Kentucky)

Arizona over Baylor
Rico Gathers can match up with Zona but I don’t think Baylor has anyone else to match the Wildcats’ size. Close for a while, but Arizona wins relatively easily.

Villanova over Louisville
I don’t think Louisville is that good, but I’m not sure anyone else they’d play before this point is great either. With the quality of competition increased immensely, the Cardinals fall.

Michigan State over Providence
Providence has two great players in Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton that will carry them to this point. However, I think the Spartans have the ability to take one of them away and down the Friars. Having one of the best coaches in the country won’t hurt either.

Duke over Stephen F. Austin
Duke could get a scare from San Diego State (if SDSU gets through St. John’s) but even if the Aztecs hold Duke 20 points below their season average, I don’t think they can score enough on offense. Every year there are one or two surprises in the Sweet 16. I think Stephen F. Austin is that team this year, but their Cinderella run will end here as the Blue Devils’ talent proves too much to overcome.

Iowa State over Gonzaga
I admittedly have little feel for this part of the region. The Cyclones are obviously talented enough to beat Gonzaga, and after recent years I refuse to believe the Zags can make the Final Four until they actually do it.


ELITE 8

Kentucky over Wichita State
The Shockers have the guards to play with Kentucky (and probably have the edge there) but they would get slaughtered on the boards. Kentucky wins fairly handily.

Arizona over Wisconsin
While I hate it when people use rematch to describe two teams that played a previous year, this is about as close as it gets. Wisconsin returned virtually everyone from last year’s Final Four team and got huge improvement out of players like Nigel Hayes. These two teams played basically dead even last year in a game Frank Kaminsky dominated. He’ll have to do the same because this Arizona team is better than last year’s. They replaced defensive standout Aaron Gordon with Stanley Johnson, who can take a game over, and their defense is just as good. The difference this year is Arizona will have Brandon Ashley, who missed the tournament last year due to injury.

Michigan State over Villanova
The Spartans are battle tested after having played almost 1/3 of their games vs Top 10 teams. Villanova seems like the likeliest one seed to bow out earlier than hoped and with only one day in between games, I’m going with Tom Izzo.

Duke over Iowa State
The Cyclones have the offensive firepower to keep up with Duke and have some good wins this year. But I think Duke has just enough of a size advantage, and Iowa State’s 3-point defense (217th in the country) will be a problem against a Duke team that has four regulars who hit at least 38% from beyond the arc.


FINAL FOUR

Kentucky over Arizona
Arizona has the size to match Kentucky. They have solid guard play. What they don’t have is outside shooting and it will be hard to score on Kentucky in the paint. This would be a close, low-scoring game with Kentucky ultimately securing a return trip to the title game.

Duke over Michigan State
The Spartans defense isn’t as stingy as usual and when these two teams played in November, the Spartans gave up 81. They can’t afford to play at Duke’s pace, and the Blue Devils have too much talent on offense for Michigan State to overcome.


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Kentucky over Duke
Duke has what you’d want to beat Kentucky except for defense. The Blue Devils defense has been anything but great this year. On the flip side, the Wildcats have the NBA level talent down low to match Jahlil Okafor and limit him the way other teams cannot. Kentucky completes its undefeated season.

Here are the bigger first round upsets I see going down:

13 Valparaiso over 4 Maryland
11 Ole Miss over 6 Xavier
12 Stephen F. Austin over 5 Utah
13 Eastern Washington over 4 Georgetown

Jason is on Twitter at @Jlindy87 or you can e-mail him at [email protected]

The only thing missing from the Sweet 16 is a #16 seed

Obviously that’s an exaggeration.  Other seeds besides the 16’s have been obliterated from the NCAA Tournament field after the first weekend.  Hell, there’s not one #5 seed remaining.  It just feels like we’re only missing a #16 because we still have a #12 Oregon, #13 LaSalle, and #15 Florida Gulf Coast still hanging around the bracket.

As with any inexact science, I was hit or miss with some of my pre-tournament predictions last week.  However, I’ll give it another crack now that the field has been whittled down a bit.  To try and maintain some semblance of sanity, we’ll start with the most orderly region, and work our way to insanity.  So here we go with a breakdown of the Sweet 16, starting in the East region.

East

The only region to stay true to form in the Sweet 16.  Not that it didn’t come awful close to blowing up.  Indiana, Miami, and Marquette each escaped by the skin of their teeth.  I’m sticking to my guns in the East.  I still think the Syracuse Orange make it to the Final Four.

Although I’m a firm believer that many championship runs are started with narrow victories, I don’t think it’ll hold true for the Hoosiers.  The Syracuse zone defense, along with their length and athleticism will be bothersome for Indiana.  Plus Jim Boeheim has the big bodies to throw at Cody Zeller all day. 

I didn’t think Marquette would make it past day one, so I certainly don’t think they’ll get past the Hurricanes.  It’ll be another battle, but Shane Larkin is playing so well, I think he’ll lead the Hurricanes into the Elite Eight.  But two straight physical matchups with Big East foes, and a short prep time for the ‘Cuse zone spells the end of Miami by the end of next weekend.

Midwest

The #1 Louisville, #2 Duke, and #3 Michigan State survived, so that makes for a pretty normal region.  #12 Oregon joins them; but as I said before the tournament, that seed didn’t make a lot of sense for the PAC 12 Tournament champions. 

The Ducks are the fun story in this part of the bracket after knocking off the #5 seed Oklahoma State and #4 St. Louis; a team that was supposed to threaten the likes of Louisville and make a run to the Final Four.  Well, the fun ends for Oregon on Friday.  The Cardinals have ramped up an already nasty defense to a new level.  Oregon isn’t going to enjoy it.

Coach K and Coach Izzo is a matchup of epic proportions.  Like Louisville, the Spartans have put a couple of beat downs on their competition.  Quietly Duke has gone about their business, cruising to two easy victories.  I’m just not sure how the Blue Devils are going to handle the frontcourt of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. 

Like they did in 2009 the overall #1 seed Louisville Cardinals will face Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, on one day’s rest.  The game will be held in Indianapolis once again.  The outcome will not be the same.  The Cardinals will take this one, and move on to the third weekend.

South

The #15 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles have become the headliner, despite the presence of some heavy hitters.  #1 Kansas looked asleep in the first half against #8 North Carolina, but woke up in time to stomp the Tar Heels in the second half. 

I had my doubts about #4 Michigan coming into the dance, but they’ve more than proved me wrong.  The Wolverines throttled #5 VCU; and are the one team that is making me question my original Final Four projection.  I still think the Jayhawks best them.  Better coach, better defensive team, and plenty of talent to go toe to toe with Michigan.

One would assume at this point that the #3 Florida Gators should smoke FGCU.  Then again, the Eagles were supposed to get smoked in the round of 64.  I won’t claim to know a ton about this club.  But when I watched them play this past weekend, I didn’t see a team skating by on luck.  I saw a team that was outplaying what was supposed to be better competition.  I’ve got to think the Gators will prevail, but I sure hope FGCU makes it fun.

I still have a chance to salvage three of my original Final Four picks.  The Jayhawks won’t disappoint.  The Gators are making a habit of exiting in the Elite Eight.  They’ll do it again this year.  Kansas takes them down, and marches on to Atlanta.

West

This is the region of insanity.  The #13 LaSalle Explorers are trying to replicate the play-in game magic that VCU showed a couple of seasons ago.  It’s not a surprise to me, but #9 Wichita State shocked #1 Gonzaga, ousting the first top seed.  And the west did have what looked to be the major upset of the tournament when #14 Harvard upset #3 New MexicoThat lasted just until some team named FloridaGulfCoast arrived on the scene.

The nice thing about the LaSalle and Wichita State matchup is that it guarantees a mid-major makes the Elite Eight.  On the other hand, one of them will have to go.  I think it’ll be LaSalle.  I’ll go with the Shockers to move on and face the winner of Ohio State/Arizona.

The Buckeyes/Wildcats is an intriguing matchup.  Arizona was a popular pick to go out early.  The talent is certainly there, but running into Aaron Craft without a true point guard is an issue.  Craft will give the Wildcat guards fits.  Ohio State will send the Wildcats packing.

The West region will be decided by a brawl.  Two tough defensive teams, that struggle to score at times.  Malcolm Armstead versus Aaron Craft will be an unbelievable duel.  In the one region where I lost my Final Four pick, I think Ohio State gets it done.  Too much experience and the better floor general move on to the Final Four. 

Obviously, it’s never going to be this simple.  Although it looks like the bracket is about to normalize with higher seeds after this weekend, there’s bound to be more insanity.  I can’t wait until Thursday night for the Madness to continue!