Posted on: April 3, 2010 4:05 pm
In almost two hours, one of the greatest televised events of 2010 tips off. I am, of course, talking about Get to the Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story, airing at 6:00 on CMT. There is also, of course, a little game called Michigan State vs. Butler followed by another matchup called Duke vs. West Virginia. Yes, it's Final Four time in America, that beloved moment every division 1 school in the country wishes it could experience right now.
These are games, by and large, which could go either way. It's almost pointless to truly try to project anything that will happen. But just for kicks, let's do a little prognosticating of our own:
Tom Izzo confounded by Butler. Izzo is one of the most resourceful, quick-thinking coaches in NCAA history, a virtual Napoleon of X's and O's. Will he figure out a Butler team that has shifted thus far to make adjustments to beat some of the best teams in the country? This Spartan team hinges on Izzo's mind for unraveling a team's mysteries -- but if Butler can keep switching things up and disallow Izzo to figure out a game plan, the Bulldogs could leave Michigan State confused and spinning its wheels.
West Virginia may not have the magic they did against Kentucky. Part of Kentucky's loss to Huggins' squad was good old-fashioned out-coaching, to be sure, paired with an unwillingness to concede to the number one seed Wildcats. But from the Big East tournament finals magic to a pack of Mountaineers who simply couldn't miss and a bench that had an almost Angels In the Outfield-esque magic in the Elite eight, if all the pieces aren't there tonight, Duke may well walk away with the game.
There will be a lot of people at Lucas Oil Stadium who have never cared about Butler at all this season until this game. Mark it down. If you think all the Indianapolans (Indianapols? Indianapolians?) filling the stands rabidly for the Bulldogs today have been there all along, you're crazy. The biggest bandwagon in the country is parked six miles off Butler's campus right this second.
There will be more hair product in the Duke locker room tonight than an episode of Tabatha's Salon Takeover. The Blue Devils know that to be a winner, you have to look like a winner. That's why every Faux Hawk and front-spike will be in full effect tonight.
Hope you like Hoosiers, 'cause a huge helping of it is going to be crammed right down your throat. You know why. Don't make me tell the story that every sportswriter in the nation has attached himself to over the past week. Yes, we see all the parallels. Please, shut up.
Bob Huggins will continue to dress like your unemployed uncle. There's something to be said for dressing comfortably. And I'm all for that. But if we keep encouraging Huggins to wear whatever he wants, in the finals he's just going to wear an old Iron Maiden tour shirt and some tighty-whities.
The beauty of this thing is that anything can happen. Especially this year, for some reason. So let's get this party started.
Posted on: March 30, 2010 1:20 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 2:47 pm
And then there were four. Four teams from a field of sixty-four (sixty-five counting Winthrop), each having braved the bullets meant for them and emerged a contender for the national championship. Over the past two weeks we've grown to know and follow teams we may have, in some cases, had precious little exposure to before (I'm looking at you, Saint Mary's) or grown more respect toward (nice going, Cornell). But the four that matter now are the Final Four. It's their party from here on out, so let's get to know 'em.
"The Resourceful One"
Michigan State is that friend who saves one-fourth of a meatball sub to eat two hours from now. He's the one who can figure out how to get beer. He's the guy who always has a plan -- and he can get himself out of a squeeze simply by being practical. When things get tough, count on Michigan State to come through just by being smart -- like that time he figured out how to get front row Widespread Panic tickets the day before the show by calling his cousin whose friend was a college radio DJ who knew the band's promoter. He's good people to know and always cool under pressure.
Why Michigan State will win: They'll size up the situation, tweak accordingly, and find a way to get things done.
Why Michigan State won't win: By overthinking things, sometimes the big picture gets lost. Plus, there's that ruptured achilles tendon.
"The Pretty Boy"
Duke's got it all. He's cool. He's charming. He's got great parents. He's been raised well. And he's all the ladies can talk about. Everything seems to go well for him, especially when things look bleak. He's just that kind of guy. His perfectly coiffed hair and dashing good looks make him a favorite of many, though when things aren't going well for him he's quick to complain about it. Good thing, then, that things perpetually seem to go his way.
Why Duke will win: They're arguably the strongest team left, and they haven't even really had a scare yet. They're a tournament team and have a huge shot at the title.
Why Duke won't win: When the cops bust the party, Duke calls dad and then tells on everybody.
"The Quiet Type"
No one ever expects Butler to show up. He always says he's going to, but at the last second goes home instead. Everyone likes Butler, but no one really knows him all that well. He doesn't normally run with this kind of crowd, but fits in well. He keeps a low profile, but get him going and he's the life of the party. He's fun while he's there, but you never know how long he's going to stay, and he's never been to a party this big before. He's either going to flame out with the cool kids or make a lot of new friends.
Why Butler will win: As Butler stays modest and says very little, few realize how much they're capable of accomplishing.
Why Butler won't win: More experienced partiers could drink them under the table.
West Virginia told you it would be here, but you didn't think that slacker could get its act together and get motivated. Now you're eating your words, because West Virginia -- who you really only know in passing because he hangs out in auto shop class all day -- is showing up and he's ready to par-tay. He's a wildchild: funny, unpredictable and probably going to get into a fight before the night's over. Having him at the party makes everyone a little nervous, but he seems alright. For now.
Why West Virginia will win: Things seem to be aligned for them and they're stone cold rollin'.
Why West Virginia won't win: They could go nuts, flame out and lose it. They also won't stop requesting John Denver songs.
Posted on: March 29, 2010 1:38 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 12:24 pm
When the NCAA tournament resumes Saturday and coverage continues every waking moment, you're going to see plenty of love shown to the four teams who have overcome poor seeding, easy brackets and point guard injuries from all your "real" media types. What you won't see, though, is any affection thrown toward your "Almost Final Four" who fell just short on Saturday and Sunday. What about at Tennessee where an Elite Eight has never happened or at Kentucky where the Elite Eight might start getting treated like the Final Four after coming heart-breakingly short yet again?
Is it fair that these teams are supposed to be forgotten? Not in a society where participation ribbons will probably replace testing scores one day (not a Derrick Rose joke). So, with that in mind, let's take one last look at the four teams who fell just short of appearing on those corny Final Four banner t-shirts.
What Went Wrong: Tennessee actually didn’t play a bad game. They shot the ball well and held their own on the boards with a very physical Michigan State team. Outside of Scotty Hopspon’s missed free throw-foul combo and the worst half-court shot in NCAA tourney history, Tennessee showed a lot of character in a run to the Elite 8 and a comeback from down 8 points in the second half.
What Really Happened: They tried to mess with The Izzo. And you don’t mess with the Izzo in March.
On the bright side: They made it out of St. Louis without anyone getting arrested, which, according to odds makers at least, is more of an upset than their run to the Elite 8.
Kansas State (West)
What Went Wrong: Kansas State couldn’t hit their free throws and they got out-rebounded by a team that hadn’t out-rebounded a team in the tournament yet. Just like their previous coach, they came in reeking of their last battle with Cincinnati and struggled to keep their legs under them. Kansas State won the battle on Thursday but Xavier won the war on Saturday.
What Really Happened: Furious with how they ousted The Prophet Jimmer Fredette in the second round and the way they’ve glorified a beard that strictly prohibits BYU’s grooming code, Salt Lake City’s BYU alumni group decided to fight back against Kansas State. They turned to former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings, a BYU grad and SLC resident, who, not surprisingly, is also an alien. Jennings snuck into the Wildcats’ hotel Friday evening and, just like in Space Jam, sucked all the talent out of Frank Martin’s team while they met for their “One Blogging Moment” reading club. Look for another Jennings run of dominance in the near future, this time on Pros vs. Joes.
On the bright side: They get to leave Salt Lake City and return to civilization Manhattan.
What Went Wrong: Everything. In the back of their minds, Kentucky fans had feared all year that their team might not be mature enough to handle the pressure or that they might not be sound enough from the free throw line or the three-point line. In Syracuse on Saturday, the bottom fell out in the worst possible way as they struggled in every aspect. DeMarcus Cousins, a model citizen most of the year, appeared to lose his cool at points and DeAndre Liggins got T’d up for, well, we still don't know. They shot 4-32 from three and hit only 55% from the free throw stripe. It was just a fundamental beating. And, it was just as Kentucky fans dreaded it would be.
What Really Happened: Kentucky’s freshmen all struggled to maintain the proper focus late in Saturday’s game as concerns over the strength of Russian ruble continued to linger with experts. Is it the right time to enter the job market or is this a sign of greater economic issues to come?
On the bright side: Just over 2.6 million Kentuckians already vacated this game from their memories.
What Went Wrong: Another team that really didn’t play a terrible game. They got decent, if not great, contributions from their big three and locked up Kyle Singler, who shot 0-10. But, Nolan Smith abused the Bears for 29 and it seemed like every three ball was falling for the Devils. Even Andre Dawkins came in and knocked down two big ones in the first half. It was the type of game that you have to just move on from with your head held high, knowing that you’re proud of your effort and that you didn’t get punked out after a Jon Scheyer elbow. Oh, wait….
What Really Happened: This game was decided well before Demond became Tweety or Scott started drawing. Coach K has a pact with the devil, which was agreed upon while he played for him at Army, and ensures that hell must freeze over before Duke stops making Final Fours with rosters that just don’t seem Final Four caliber. It appears the forecast is as blazing as ever.
On the bright side: Unless you’re a Duke fan, there really isn’t one. Sorry.
Posted on: March 28, 2010 7:54 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2010 7:56 pm
Duke 78, Baylor 71
After watching fellow one seeds Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse go home early from the tournament, Duke avoided upset against Baylor to advance to the Final Four. It is the Blue Devils first trip to the Final Four since 2004.
Nolan Smith was unstoppable.
Smith scored a career-high 29 points to the lead the Blue Devils. John Scheyer added 20 points and Kyle Singler couldn't buy a bucket. Singler needed 5 free throws to get on the scorecard while shooting 0-10 from the field.
Baylor did an atrocious job of boxing out and grabbing defensive rebounds late in the game. Duke scored much of its big points down the stretch on second chance shots, including three big 3-pointers in a two minute span.
Grow a pair, ref.
Baylor had momentum and was looking to stretch its lead to five with 4:37 to go when Quincy Acy was called for an offensive foul. Had it gone the other way (the correct way), the foul would've been on Brian Zoubek, his fifth. The call was terrible and completely changed the game from that point forward. Zoubek remained in the game and momentum swung to Duke's favor. I guess the easiest road to the Final Four wasn't enough for Duke, they needed a few crucial calls, too.
Ekpe Udoh is the real deal.
Udoh is a long, athletic big man that can rebound, create his own shot, and dunk. And he dunks quite often. This kid should expect a big NBA check soon.
Scott Drew needs a statue on Baylor's campus.
In 2003, the Baylor basketball team hit the lowest of lows with the disappearance and murder of Patrick Dennehy. Insert new head coach Scott Drew and seven years later, the Bears are in the national spotlight and fell just short of a trip to the Final Four. It's truly a remarkable turnaround.
"LaceDarius" and "Tweety" are two awesome names. I'm considering changing my name to one of the two. Or, maybe even a combination like LaceTweety or TweetDarius.
Bring on the Huggy Bear
Duke moves on to face West Virginia in the tournament semifinals. This one might as well be the title game.
Posted on: March 27, 2010 2:30 pm
Baylor is one win away from reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1950, when there were only eight teams in the field. The Bears face top-seeded Duke in the South Region's final game tomorrow afternoon.
Before we can all root for the Bears to take down the ACC perennial powerhouse, we must first know a little more about Baylor University. So, here ya go...
10 Things You Didn't Know About Baylor University
(1) Baylor is a private Christian-affiliated research university in Waco, Texas
(2) The university campus is located just southeast of downtown Waco, roughly bounded by Interstate 35, La Salle Avenue, Eighth Street and the Brazos River.
(3) The school's motto is "Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana" (Latin for "For Church, For Texas")
(4) Baylor's first mascot, an American black bear, was donated by Herbert E. Mayr who won the live animal a poker game.
(5) Notable Baylor alumni include Trey Wingo, Laura Bush, Jeff Dunham, and many former students.
(6) 73 percent of Baylor's entering freshmen were in the top 25 percent of their high school graduating class.
(7) Baylor junior forward Ekpedeme Udoh's middle name is Friday. Seriously.
(8) Baylor head coach Scott Drew is the older brother of NCAA Tournament legend Bryce Drew.
(9) Baylor has four vacated NCAA Ribbon Dancing Championships.
(10) Despite not being located on a shore, Waco, Texas constitutes one-fourth of the world's sand dollar sales.
There ya go.
Posted on: March 27, 2010 12:29 am
Edited on: March 27, 2010 12:31 am
In case you weren't aware, Purdue was playing without Robbie Hummel tonight.
Truly, you haven't been able to hear the name Purdue over the past month without someone chiming in that they've lost Hummel, arguably the Boilermakers' greatest star this season. Seriously. It's everywhere. I think I myself have written that upwards of a hundred times since this blog began. He hasn't played a second, and he's all anyone can talk about regarding Purdue.
That said, how would you like to be Purdue and battle that for your entire postseason? How many times a day do you think JaJuan Johnson gets asked each day what this tournament season would be like if Hummel were there? The doggedness of having to field questions and judgments about Hummel's absence is probably more of a detriment than Hummel's actual absence.
Tonight that absence may have finally caught up to the surging, overcompensating Boilermakers as Duke sent them packing 70-57. Coach K's number one seed was simply a better team than the boys from Indiana, and though Matt Painter's expert coaching job kept finding new ways for his team to dismount solid opponents, it wasn't meant to be. Perhaps their luck just ran out. Perhaps they were just tired. Or perhaps Duke was just too good for them.
We're going to hear more about Duke in the next few days, perhaps even the next week, but I don't think we should let this Purdue team slide into the night without giving them their due. Here's a team that, for weeks now, has been told they can't do something because one of their key players is out. Siena was everyone's "lock" to beat them because it was believed that without Hummel, they were nothing. Wrong. Then it was Texas A&M's turn to get pumped because, as the press would have us believe, Purdue couldn't do it again without Hummel. Again, wrong. Strangely enough, it seemed there were other guys on this team; and amazingly, they wanted to win this tournament as well. Imagine that.
I say kudos to the Boilermakers in this tournament. Everyone kept expecting them to lose, and tonight they did -- to a one-seed -- but not before proving everyone that losing one guy doesn't mean it's time to hang it up and go home. This was a great story that's very underreported, and these guys deserve a standing ovation for putting up with all the slings and arrows tossed their way since Hummel's injury on February 24th. So way to go, guys. You may have been a four seed on paper, but the world for some reason was against you. And you shut a lot of folks up.
Duke progresses to play the three-seed Baylor in the South region finals on Sunday at 5:05 PM.
Posted on: March 26, 2010 9:31 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2010 9:45 pm
I feel like I should call Crimestoppers or something.
"Hello? Yes, I saw who murdered the Saint Mary's Gaels. Saw the whole thing. It was Baylor. Yes, I'd like to remain anonymous, please."
It's probably good that Saint Mary's had the week they've had, with Omar Samhan openly asking Taylor Swift to call him and offering Bill Simmons an interview over Twitter if he wants it, because they sure did walk into a buzzsaw tonight.
The inherent problem with loving a cinderella team is that eventually, probably, you may have to put that team down. Because these teams are cinderella teams for a reason -- they're loved in this tournament because they weren't supposed to, by conventional basketball wisdom, be able to do what they're doing. Saint Mary's was absolutely living proof of that. Their unbelievable offings of both Richmond and Villanova were the stuff of which great headlines were made.
But let's be honest here -- and this will probably be an unpopular stance: there's a reason why cinderella teams don't win the NCAA tournament. It's because almost every time, they just can't keep unseating teams that are just more experienced and better coached than they are. Cinderella teams traditionally have a good run, and we all grow starry-eyed by their childlike wonder at the Big Dance, some colorful character from their bench, and then eventually they just get crushed.
Before you hate me completely, I want to be clear that no one was more surprised and happier than I was to see this hodgepodge of everyman kids and Australians doing so well. I followed Samhan on Twitter and read his blogs. I loved the good feeling surrounding them. It was great. It was magical. But it was never meant to mean the Saint Mary's Gaels were going to win the national championship. You know it and I know it. I love you, Mr. and Mrs. America, but did you ever really think they were going to be the last team standing?
Yes, they were a great team. I agree. And yes, on any given saturday a team as good as the Gaels could -- and did -- beat teams that on paper were favored over them. But they just couldn't keep it going forever.
It's just a shame their demise had to be so gruesome. It really was never even close. LaceDarius Dunn dropped 23 points on the Gaels with 14 more donated by Tweety Carter to bust down Saint Mary's 72-49. In the end, Baylor was simply a better team -- in general, only tonight, whatever you want to believe. Sorry to break that to you, but if it wasn't Baylor it was gonna be Duke. It's true. I'm sorry. Just being honest.
But it was really cool while it lasted, wasn't it? And we all now have a new little tourney crush to watch for next year. Where they'll keep winning and knocking off giants until they win it all. At least, that's what we'll let ourselves believe for a little while. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's what makes this tournament so great.
Posted on: March 26, 2010 2:23 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2010 2:25 pm
Welcome to Houston, everyone -- also known as "Space City" -- for two great matchups from the Southern Region of the bracket tonight. I can tell you're not from here, because your car doesn't have giant cattle horns attached to the grill, so let me break down the head-to-heads going down at Reliant Stadium this very evening:
SAINT MARY'S vs. BAYLOR (7:27 PM)
Jim Nantz, with his matinee idol good looks, and Clark Kellogg, with his interesting pronunciations of everyday words, will be on-hand tonight for the games in Houston, opening up with surprise Saint Mary's taking on the number three-seeded Baylor Bears. From a logistical standpoint, this should be a Baylor lean -- but the Gaels have astounded everyone in this tournament (for my money, they've been the most consistently strong cinderella in a wacky, wacky season), and I'm not sure that Saint Mary's isn't in some circles a bit of a favorite here. The Bears are good, but the Gaels are constantly proving that they're better than you thought they were.
So is there anything we should know? Yes, actually.
Watch out for Tweety Carter, running the show from behind the scenes. He's not going to be a leading scorer. He's not going to blow you away with assists or rebounds. In fact, if you look at the box scores you may not even know he's a major factor But watch any amount of Baylor playing basketball and you'll see that Carter is the engine that makes this team run. He's a huge leader on this team as far as setting the pace and keeping his teammates pumped, and that means a lot for a team. He's quiet and consistent and his teammates look to him often. If he's taken off the court, it's a step in the right direction for the Gaels to diffuse the Baylor bomb.
Omar Samhan isn't going to be the biggest man out there. The Saint Mary's center is going to have his hands full with a tall Baylor team tonight, including 6'10 Ekpe Udoh, 6'10" Anthony Jones and 7-foot Josh Lomers. We've seen how Samhan can run roughshod on a shorter team, but tonight we'll see how he goes head-to-head with some other big men, which should be fun.
Mickey McConnell is shooting 52% from three-point land right now. Yes, I hate the phrase "three-point land," too. But Samhan has a great supporting cast, including point guard Mickey McConnell, who has been a great backup to Samhan thus far. The two make a great tandem that brings a lot of firepower to the battle, and Baylor needs to double-tier their game plan to effectively cover whoever's "on" tonight. Because one of them, if not both of them, will be. Bet on that.
Baylor has the best names in the Tournament this year. You have to love a team that not only has a Tweety, a Quincy Acy, a LaceDarius and a Dragan, but at the same time has a Fred, a Nolan and an Oscar. That beats Saint Mary's Bens, Matthews and Tims any day.
Scott Drew is a good coach, if widely unliked. Baylor's coach has been slammed by Rick Barnes for negative recruiting tactics and rumors abound that he's not even incredibly liked by his own staff. Drew himself even has said that he'd do things differently as far as his approach to staff and colleagues if he had it to do over again. The Dallas Morning News even compared him to Eddie Haskell. That said, he's done very well for Baylor and if the Bears do well in this tourney, Drew could get some offers elsewhere. Although we know what happened the last time a semi-unliked coach from Texas had a great stint and took a major league job. How'd that work out, Kentucky?
The Bottom Line: If Baylor thinks this is in the bag, they're wrong. The Gaels are cruising on adrenaline big-time and Omar Samhan's tweets from this week not only hit on Taylor Swift and referenced GTL-ing, they also gave a glimpse into a team that knows they have to work hard but doesn't see why they shouldn't make the final four. Could be a bare-knuckler in Houston tonight between these two if Saint Mary's trademark scrappiness shows up again.
DUKE vs. PURDUE (9:57 PM)
On one hand, Duke's not exactly a surprise to be where they are right now. On the other, I don't know that anyone expected Purdue to really have handled the absence of gamechanger Robbie Hummel this well. So what happens when the Boilermakers and the Blue Devils go at it tonight?
Purdue's number could be up. Let's be honest, the Boilermakers have more than exceeded expectations in this tournament after losing Hummel (they're an impressive 5-2 since they lost him in February), especially since one of the major storylines coming into this tournament was the oft-echoed -- and as it turns out, ultimately wrong -- "Purdue's no good without Robbie Hummel." JaJuan Johnson and Chris Kramer in patricular are really stepping up. That said, they're really going to have to scale the wall to beat a Duke team that seems to have that trademark Duke NCAA Tourney luck and magic this season. Purdue shouldn't be counted out, but this may be the first game this tournament where they're gonna wish they had Hummel. How they cope with that is up to them.
Duke's stats stack the chips in their favor. Statistically, Duke is 17-1 at neutral sites over the last two seasons, and in NCAA Tourney play they're 10-4 against the Big Ten. Coach K always has his boys ready to play in the postseason, and this team was already rollin' ("stroking" as Billy Raftery might creepily say) coming in to this tournament. They're going to be a handful for the Boilermakers tonight, but this Purdue team is constantly finding ways to keep themselves on top.
This will be a classic offense vs. defense game. Just as some baseball games are hyped as "pitchers vs. hitters," so this game sits in a very black and white place. Purdue's playing great defense right now, a sense heightened by necessity after losing Hummel. But Duke's offense is a complete blitzkrieg right now. The victor of this game could come down to as simple as whichever team's doing its thing better. If Purdue's defense cracks or Duke's offense slips up, this game could change at a moment's notice.
Luke Wilson and the Ivan Brothers will, once again, wear you out. Yes, we get it. The fictional Ivan Brothers are really good -- but so unconvential! And yes, we also get that Luke Wilson's phone must not be ringing a lot these days (even with his amazing at&t plan). Every year there's something at every commercial break that you just start tuning out, and this year it's these guys.
The Bottom Line: Duke has the edge, but Purdue for some reason seems to have a lot to prove, and that's a big motivator for them right now. If their gas doesn't run out, they could give the Blue Devils a scare -- but they're going to need to be at the top of their game.
Either way, Houston's going to be a good time tonight. Join me, won't you?