Tag Archives: Marquette Golden Eagles

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?

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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!

March Madness Predictions

The most wonderful time of the year is here!  March Madness is just two days away.  Sorry play-in games, or First Four, whatever you want to be called.  The real tournament starts on Thursday.

Countless brackets will be filled out feverishly in the next few days.  Everyone has a method to the madness.  Or there are those who use a lack of an actual system, as their method of filling out what they hope to be a winning tournament bracket.

While I won’t do what Hayden was so generous to do for you yesterday, and provide you his entire bracket; what I will do is provide my take on each region.  It’ll be a mix of prediction, evaluation, and flat out speculation.  Just a little something for you to go with, or against while filling out your brackets.

The first thing I’m going to do is pick the games of the First Four.  I think bracket pools should evolve to where these are used as bonus points.  Extra credit for getting your bracket in by Tuesday.  In these games I like North Carolina A&T over Liberty; St. Mary’s to beat Middle Tennessee State; Boise State takes out La Salle; and James Madison ousts LIU Brooklyn.  They may not seem important, but it wasn’t long ago that VCU used the First Four as a springboard to the Final Four.

Alright, so here we go, region by region.

Midwest

Who will come out of the Midwest?

Answer: Louisville Cardinals – Matchups are so important in the tournament.  The greatest advantage the Cards have is that they can matchup with anyone.  The other critical variable is that U of L is predicated on defense.  No matter what, they are always in games because they will wear the opponent out, and get points off of their defense, even when the offense is struggling.  This is a deep, experienced team led by senior point guard Peyton Siva; focused on getting back to the Final Four.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: St. Louis Billikens – This is another gritty defensive team, with a lot of experience.  The core of this team gave Michigan State all they could handle last year in the round of 32.  Yes, I realize they are a #4 seed, which is a little high for a dark horse.  However, in a region with Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State, it’s fair to say that it would take a Cinderella run for anyone else to come out of this region.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: Saint Mary’s Gaels – I was leaning toward the Oregon Ducks, simply because they were seeded improperly.  However, this is a Gael’s team that has been to the tournament, and has a ton of experience.  Although they have to play an extra game, which may put the Memphis Tigers on upset alert, I wouldn’t be surprised to see St. Mary’s win two games.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Duke Blue Devils – At most, I envision Duke getting to the Sweet 16.  While there’s no shame in getting there, and losing to say Michigan State; more is expected from this team.  The Blue Devils also face a tricky second game.  Creighton could be particularly dangerous; and Cincinnati would be no easy task either.  Duke could be heading home early for the second straight season.

West

Who will come out of the West?

Answer: New Mexico Lobos – The Lobos have stellar guard play from Kendall Williams and Tony Snell; and they have a legit seven-footer in Alex Kirk.  There’s not much in their way until the Sweet 16 and a possible matchup with Ohio State.  New Mexico has all the components necessary to make a Final Four run.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: Wisconsin Badgers – The Badgers are positioned at a #5 seed partially because the Big 10 teams beat the hell out of each other.  As usual Bo Ryan seems to have an endless supply of big guys who can pound you on the glass and defensively; and can also stretch the defense from the perimeter.  Wisconsin should cruise to the Sweet 16; and could be a real problem for Gonzaga, assuming the Bulldogs make it there.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: Wichita State Shockers – I was tempted to say Belmont, but I think everyone, including Arizona is aware of what the Bruins can do.  Not that WichitaState is an unknown; I just think they’re better positioned to make a run.  The Shockers struggle to score at times, but they’ll get after it defensively, and come at you in waves.  I strongly considered picking WichitaState to knock out Gonzaga in the round of 32.  I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Gonzaga Bulldogs – The Zags definitely deserved a #1 seed, and they are a really good team.  However, the top line also makes them a prime candidate to be a disappointment.  Unless this team finally cracks the seal, and makes a Final Four; it will be exactly that.  I just don’t see them negotiating through Wisconsin.  If they do, either New Mexico or the Ohio State Buckeyes will take them out in the Elite Eight.

South

Who will come out of the South?

Answer: Kansas Jayhawks – The Jayhawks didn’t lose a ton from last year’s National Runner-up.  Bill Self is one of the elite coaches in the game.  They have a nice mix of upper classmen (Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford) and youth (Ben McLemore, Perry Ellis).  If things go as I think they will, Kansas may run the VCU Rams, and I doubt they get tripped up by them again.  Anything can happen, but I don’t see much at the bottom of the region to keep them from Atlanta.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: VCU Rams – So I just said Kansas gets out of the region.  Well, if anyone could take them out, I say it’s VCU.  Shaka Smart’s team gets up and down, shoots the triple, and creates havoc on defense.  They really don’t look physically imposing, but they are relentless.  The Rams can’t overlook the Michigan Wolverines in the round of 32.  However, VCU is more than capable of making a deep run.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: South Dakota State Jackrabbits – Any team with Nate Wolters has a chance to cause problems.  The fact that Michigan isn’t a top flight defensive team helps immensely.  Wolters should be able to get his offense going, and he has enough support to get out of the round of 64.  Reaching the Sweet 16 would be huge for the Jackrabbits, and certainly feasible with a possible mid-major matchup in the round of 32 with either the Akron Zips or VCU.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Michigan Wolverines – About 15 games into this season, I thought the Wolverines were the best team in the country.  Trey Burke is a Player of the Year candidate.  They have firepower galore.  They also settle for a lot of perimeter shots, and don’t play very good defense.  Combine that with an underwhelming coach in John Beilein; and you have a tournament disappointment.

East

Who will come out of the East?

Answer: Syracuse Orange – I realize the Orange didn’t exactly set the world on fire down the stretch.  The talent and experience is there to make this a formidable foe in the tourney.  The Orange has solid guard play, and James Southerland has been torching the nets from three.  The first major test should be the Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16.  For teams that haven’t run into it often, the length of the Syracuse zone defense can be a real problem.  I think both Indiana and the Miami Hurricanes struggle with that problem and the Orange crash the Final Four.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: Temple Owls – The East seems like the least likely to have a dark horse representative in the Final Four.  However, my rationale is simple.  Temple plays a methodical style, and has a player in Khalif Wyatt who is capable of carrying a team on his back.  If the Owls were to knock off Indiana in the round of 32, I could see them making their way through the weakest of the regions.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: Bucknell Bison – This is a flat out good team.  Mike Muscala will be a household name by the time the Bison exit the tourney.  Bucknell is well balanced, and has played major competition.  This is the one double-digit seed I’m confident will go to the Sweet 16 at minimum.  They’ll get by the Butler Bulldogs and then oust the Davidson Wildcats after they pull the upset of the Marquette Golden Eagles.  Once they get that far, who knows what can happen.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Indiana Hoosiers – Again, being the top seed has its privileges, and its drawbacks.  The Hoosiers have been their own worst enemy when they’ve lost this season.  They just seem to lose focus.  I don’t see them keeping it for three straight weeks.  If they do, they could win it all.  If they don’t, they could suffer a worse fate than the Sweet 16 ouster I’ve predicted for them.

Final Four

As you can see, in breaking down the regions, I gave you my Final Four picks.  Louisville out of the Midwest region vs. New Mexico out of the West region.  Kansas out of the South region vs. Syracuse out of the East Region.

I’m picking my Louisville Cardinals to once again overcome the New Mexico Lobos.  They battled last season in the round of 32.  This time the stakes are higher, but the outcome will be the same.  The Cardinals take a close one.  The Kansas Jayhawks will end the improbable run by the Syracuse Orange on the other side of the bracket; setting up a Louisville vs. Kansas matchup for the National Title.

I’m picking the Louisville Cardinals to get their third National Championship.  Final score: Louisville Cardinals 72 Kansas Jayhawks 65.

An all Catholic College Hoops Conference would be a revelation

Conference realignment in college athletics has been a maddening process to watch unfold over the last few years.  As a hardcore college hoops fan, I’m disappointed to see the Big East dissolve.  I won’t say I’m sad; after all, it is just an athletic conference.  But I am disappointed.

Growing up in the 80’s, the Big East was huge.  At that time, the amount of college hoops on national television was a mere fraction of what it is today; but you could count on seeing a Big East game on TV every weekend of the College Basketball season.

It seemed that every single March, I’d be watching an awesome Syracuse-Georgetown match up in the Big East semis or championship.  That rivalry is now gone.  Along with some other really great rivalries which developed over the lifetime of the Big East.

Although I’m disappointed with the loss of the Big East, I’m excited about the prospect of the remaining Catholic schools forming a league; along with the possibility of expanding to a nationwide Catholic basketball conference.

Now, my enthusiasm for this idea has nothing to do with religion.  I was raised Catholic; however, religion is not a part of my life.  There are other reasons for my enthusiasm for such a league.

First and foremost, I’m excited to see a conference whose members actually have something in common.  Conferences used to be regionally based.  The majority of conferences made complete sense.  The ACC had schools which resided on the Atlantic coast; the SEC was made up of schools which were in the Southeastern part of the United States, etc.

When teams would realign in the past, they typically would relocate to a conference that made sense regionally.  South Carolina joined the SEC.   Boston College and Miami joined the ACC.  You see where I’m going with this.

All of that went out the window with the latest boom of realignment moves.  The Big East was set to take on schools like Boise State, San Diego State, etc.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but those schools are out west.  Nothing against those schools; but that sort of tomfoolery really makes my Rainman-ish side itch.  I appreciate reason, logic, and order.

The formation of an all Catholic schools league would be logical.  Not only will the formation of a conference of all Catholic schools be logical because of the common thread they share; but it would also be a dang good college hoops league.

The Big East holdovers form a strong base of teams steeped in basketball tradition.  Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova have each won National Championships.  DePaul, Providence, St. John’s, and Seton Hall have each played in the Final Four.  Although most of that success dates back to the ’70’s & ’80’s, these are still successful programs.

What would make this a really great league, would be the possible additions that have been rumored.  If schools like Butler, Dayton, Creighton, Gonzaga, St. Louis, St. Mary’s, and Xavier join, it would make for a fun, yet powerful basketball conference.

There are enough top tier schools to be a force in the NCAA tournament.  Many of those schools consistently reach the second weekend of March Madness.  Even though the league would be strong, it wouldn’t be top heavy.  The talent gap between the first place team and the last place team wouldn’t be significant.  Once proud schools like DePaul and St. John’s would have a chance to revive after being buried in the Big East for years.

If all of those schools would come together, there’d be some awesome built-in rivalries.  Georgetown-Villanova will always have the Big East ties, and the 1985 NCAA Championship.  Butler/Xavier has been downright nasty in recent seasons.  Natural regional rivalries between St. John’s/Seton Hall, Dayton/Xavier, and Marquette/DePaul would exist.  Plus, the conference would span the Midwest with St. Louis/Creighton; and the West coast would be covered with Gonzaga/St. Mary’s.

Obviously this is a lot of speculation.  We know the seven Big East teams are on the move, but right now, there are only rumors about which other schools may join them.  Who knows if this will actually happen?  I certainly hope it does.  Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think an all Catholic schools league would produce some pretty awesome college hoops.