Monday, March 31, 2008

Why Musburger is Still the Best

"A Star is Born in the Teeth of a Lake Michigan wind."

It's Opening Day!

Could this be the season? It all starts today for our beloved Wahoos. MTAC, fresh off of the weekend in Detroit, will be down at the Jake...errrr....the Prog today to hopefully witness the first of about 95-100 wins for the Indians. Obviously, I am emersed in Kansas Jayhawks Basketball, but my first love will always be Tribe ball. I bleed Red, White, and Blue. My father, brother, and I went to so many opening days together. I cannot wait to take my son to opening day with me in the years to come. But it's such a great day. I love the pagentry, the bloom of the new season, the expectations, the smell of the Hot Dogs and Peanuts, the sold out stadium. Its all good. But, with a new season upon us, there are also a whole new batch of high bars the Indians must get over. In 2007, The Indians were just one win away from the World Series, with three chances to get there. This season, everyone is back and it most likely will be C.C. Sabathia's last ride on the Indian Express. So what does MTAC think about the 2008 season?

There is no way Travis Hafner repeats 2007 - The pressure of the contract negotiations followed by the pressure of the actual big contract weighed on Pronk heavily. He was so poor during the Red Sox series that it got in his head. With a clear mind, Pronk will hit .280 with 35 HR's and 115 RBI.

Franklyn Gutierrez and Ryan Garko become stars - The talk of Winter Haven was certianly not David Dellucci, it was Franky G. The talented Rightfielder raked all spring long and looked like he is primed for a breakout season. There is no platoon for him; he is now an everyday player. We think his offense catches up with his defense. Garko was near or above .300 all year, but didn't drive in as many runs as he should have. He looks thinner this Spring and the ball continues to jump off his bat. With Hafner hopefully getting back into form, Garko will see a lot of pitches and he will be lining doubles into the gaps for the next six months.

The rotation will be a rock - We here at MTAC are no fans of Cliff Lee, but you could do a lot worse as the #5 starter. C.C. and Fausto are the best 1-2 punch in the AL. Jake Westbrook is the model of consistancy and can be penciled in for 15 wins and an ERA around 3.50. Paul Byrd is the master of deception and somehow continues to win games. With Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey, Adam Miller, and Brian Slocum in reserve in Buffalo, the Tribe starters will be money all year.

and the bullpen... - The depth is the envy of the rest of the league. Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, along with Jenson Lewis will be stellar again. Masa Kobayashi, to be honest, we don't know what to make of him. Jorge Julio and Craig Breslow will not be long for this team. Tom Mastny and Brendan Donnelley will take those spots by mid-season. The issue is still closer Joe Borowski. By June, Betancourt will be closing.

Left Field - Eric Wedge is giving David Dellucci just enough rope to hang himself. We think he struggles out of the gate again, and by June, he's still hitting .215 and is released. Ben Francisco will become the Leftfielder with Jason Michaels getting plenty of AB's against lefties. Make no mistake, Francisco MUST and should be on this team.

Andy Marte - Ugh...did he really make the team? He's lucky the Tribe has such an organizational hole at Third base, or he'd be long gone. Errors in the field will do him in, as well as his long, pull everything swing. This kid is 4A. He's not Brandon Phillips.

The Prediction: Last year, we said 90 wins and missing the playoffs. This year, we say 94 wins and the AL Central Crown. The difference: Too much Tribe pitching depth and the Tigers bullpen is really THAT bad.

More on the Final Four

Reading all of these articles really makes me smile. It's so solid. It just keeps getting better. Now we get to play against Roy Williams? I am a member of the Roy Williams fan club. The is a big faction of the KU fan base that is anti-Roy and still harbor major resentment towards him. Not me. He did what he had to do. He has never once bashed Kansas. In fact, nobody shows more love for the school than he does. I promise you, this week, 100 times you will hear the following from him: "For 15 years, I gave my heart, my body, and my soul to that school." But as Ryan Greene from the Lawrence Journal-World put it:

"Now, of course, it’s time for Roy Williams to face the Kansas music. You’d have to think he’ll have much more pressure on him from the media in the upcoming week than Bill Self will because, first, he’s the only one with ties to both schools and Self is just more of a cool customer in the public arena, while Williams has a tendency to provide the emotional moment. Either way, KU fans now have what they truly want Saturday night.”

Two quick thoughts before the article rundown: Sasha Kaun saved the Jayhawks yesterday. Seriously. I have so much respect for him. For three years, he seemed to regress and not be able to figure out to do with his thick frame. After being benched early in the year, he embraced his role as a reserve and continued to get better. There was no better illustration of that improvement than yesterday. He was 6-6 from the field, led KU with 13 points, and grabbed seven boards. “I just wanted to play good," Kaun said. "I was committed to trying to give everything I could to the team. I thought we had a good mindset about everything...It was just a sense of urgency that it might be over. We had to step up and get some good possessions...I’ve been waiting for this game for so long to go to the FInal Four, and last year we came up short, it’s an unbelievable feeling right now.”

Credit Bill Self for going to the Box and One on Stephen Curry in the second half yesterday. Other than the three he hit with 58 seconds left, KU defenders held him down for the final 10 minutes of the game. The junk defense didn't let Curry get the screens he needed to get free. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and Sherron Collins all took turns harrassing him.

Kansas-Davidson Game was Great, but Less Fullfilling - Jason Whitlock, KC Star

When it was over, your sigh of relief felt a bit empty, a little less satisfying than you’d imagined. You were happy the team you love escaped, but you were unimpressed with the route the Jayhawks climbed to safety.

Kansas’ cakewalk to the River Walk turned bittersweet on Sunday.

You were hard-pressed to find any evidence inside Ford Field that the champion of the Big 12 is superior to the champion of the Southern Conference. Kansas’ biggest lead was six points, and the boys from the tiny Carolina school of 1,700 students controlled the tempo, the action, from start to finish. With 16.8 seconds left, they had possession and the ball in the hands of the tournament’s best player, shooting star Stephen Curry.

Credit Kansas for denying Curry the game’s final shot. Other than that, thank the basketball gods for KU’s good fortune.

A trip to the Final Four should never taste sour, especially when you’ve knocked at its door four times and been denied, but Bill Self had the damnedest time explaining his emotions Sunday.

•“This game has a different feel to it than a lot of other games,” he said.

•“I don’t want to say we played poorly, because that takes away from Davidson,” he said.

•“Our guys didn’t handle it great, but we were tough enough to get the win, which is all that matters,” he said.

•And finally, Self said: “I would say instead of jubilation, it was probably more relief. You know, you picture the way you are winning a big game like that. You make a shot. You celebrate…. This was not one of those deals. I just wanted to make sure that I hurried up and shook hands and the officials left the court, so they couldn’t put any more time back on the clock.”

Jayhawks Shaky Play Surprises Self - Joe Posnanski, KC Star

Pressure will do strange things to men. The pressure on this Jayhawks team was immense. First, none of them had ever been to a Final Four. The seniors had lost in the first round twice, they had been beaten down by UCLA in the Elite Eight last year — they knew the score.

“I really feel like without a win today,” Self would say, “their careers would be incomplete.”

Second, they were playing America’s darling — a team that seemed to be touched by magic this whole tournament. Everyone was rooting for Davidson. Third, this was the last regional final — and the first three No. 1 seeds had already made it into the tournament. If Kansas lost, then the Jayhawks alone would be seen as a No. 1 failure.

And fourth, probably the most important factor, everyone wanted so much to win this game for Self. Nobody wanted to see him go through the suffering of another Elite Eight defeat — especially to a tiny and feisty No. 10 seed like Davidson. Self is a good guy. Everyone likes him.

Players respect him. Nobody wanted to see him lose again.

Feel Good Story of the Year Ends with KU, Self Headed to the Final Four - Pat Forde,

But as America sagged over the demise of its endearing underdog, a freshly unburdened Bill Self heaved himself up from his knees on the sideline. The Kansas coach looked briefly into the stands and blew a gust of air through his cheeks.

As one Kansas staffer said, "It looked like 400 pounds of pressure had just left his body."

Self had been asked a day earlier what the emotion would be upon winning and reaching his first Final Four. He said probably joy, then acknowledged that there would be some relief, as well.

Given the way this went down, relief won in a landslide.

"I would say instead of jubilation, it was probably more relief," Self said. "You picture winning a big game like that, you make a shot, you celebrate, or something happens and you're able to go congratulate all your coaches and your players. This was not one of those deals.

"I just wanted to make sure that I hurried up and shook hands and the officials left the court so they couldn't put any more time back on the clock."

Self Feels Sense of Relief After Davidson Scare - Jeff Goodman, Fox

Bill Self would have been crucified. The fans in Lawrence would have gladly pushed him out the door to return to Oklahoma State — for the $3 million or so per year that billionaire Boone Pickens is reportedly willing to toss around to lure Self back to his alma mater.

It wouldn't have mattered that Self took the Jayhawks to their third Elite Eight in five seasons.
The whispers had gotten louder. Self could recruit against just about anyone, but was he a big-time X's and O's guy?

He had a pair of first-round exits on his resume in his five postseason appearances — and this year's road couldn't have been paved any smoother.

A walk-over Portland State. Then an overachieving UNLV team in the second round. Villanova, the final at-large team in the tournament and a No. 12 seed, in the Sweet 16.

Then No. 10 Davidson in the regional finals.

A Final Four is the measuring stick for those in Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk-land. The Jayhawks had been to a dozen of them, but won just twice — with the last coming 20 years ago when Danny Manning led them to the national championship.

Well, Self has finally silenced the skeptics who questioned his coaching ability with a Final Four appearance, courtesy of a down-to-the-last-shot, 59-57 victory against Davidson.

"I was nervous the whole time," Self admitted.

The Big Stop - Stewart Mandel,

The play was called "Flat," short for flat ball-screen. Under normal circumstances, Richards handles the point and Curry flies around the floor bouncing off screens, looking for his opening, but "the amount of time left was an issue," said Curry. "Usually I have 30 to 35 seconds to fight through screens."

The goal was to draw a big man out to the top of the key, allowing Curry to drive, pop a three or kick to the open man. But Kansas is 35-3 first and foremost because of its perimeter defense. With the Jayhawks' season on the line, it was only fitting that they prevailed by stopping the hottest shooter in the country, putting four guards (Rush, Collins, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson) on the floor so that when Rush got screened off Curry, as was the plan, another guard, Collins, was right there to pick him up.

"It kind of defeated the purpose of the play," said Curry.

It was also emblematic of Curry's entire night. Though he finished with an impressive 25 points, 20 of them came in the game's first 22 minutes. In the second half, his open looks started disappearing, his shots looked increasingly rushed and off the mark. Defenders like Robinson and Rush were never more than a step away from him. Curry would finish just 9-of-25 from the field.

Kaun Inspires Hunted - Tom Keegan, Lawrence Journal-World

And through it all, there was Kaun, the least offensively gifted of the nine players who appeared in the game for Kansas, clapping his hands to demand the ball, tossing bodies aside to get into position for rebounds, challenging so many shots and blocking one, not looking anything but energized by the heat of the moment.

Kansas played a terrific defensive game, most notably on the final possession, and made superstar Stephen Curry work so hard for his 25 shots. Still, KU needed all Kaun’s field goals to fall for that effort not to go down as a footnote swallowed by tales of failure. Kaun contributed 13 points and six rebounds and shot 6-of-6 from the field, 1-of-3 from the line.
His offensive output came in handy because Davidson reserve Bryant Barr evoked bad memories of Texas Tech’s Darryl Dora and Marchello Vealy of Oral Roberts, lesser-known players for whom the basket grew so large in victories against Kansas.

The Monkey - Gone!

Before we get into anything, let me just say that we at MTAC could not be any happier for Kansas Head Coach Bill Self. A class act across the board finally gets to his first Final Four. We were there again yesterday, now 3-0 live at Regional Finals. As we have said in the past, our job is to get them to the Final Four, once they get there, they should bring it home. No need to rehash what you already know; The KU defense put the clamps down on Davidson's Stephen Curry on the final possession with the Wildcats down two. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and then Sherron Collins all switched onto him and wouldn't allow him to get a look. Eventually, the ball ended up in the hands of Jason Richards, who's NBA three for the win was wide left. Just like that, the monkey was lifted off of Self's back, a country was disappointed, but the Jayhawk nation rejoiced as they have returned to the Final Four. 59-57. What a game.

Our Experience: As stated Saturday, the set up and atmosphere at Ford Field was attrocious. Friday was definitely worse. Had Davidson not been KU's opponent, the crowd would have been dead. Everyone was caught up in the Davidson story and rightfully so. We would have been as well if we weren't diehard KU fans. The way it went, there was one section of Davidson fans - their entire student body - and one section of KU fans. The rest of the the reported 57,563 (no chance there was 57k there) had no real rooting interest, but took up for the Wildcat cause. So my boy Sean and I were essentially the only two real fans in our section with hardcore interest.

As the game went on, it was clear Davidson was not going away. In fact, several times we both thought we were done. I couldn't take it. Late in the first half, as Kansas continued to miss bunnies and open jumpers, Rush spotted up for a three. He hadn't hit a shot yet. I yelled "One Time Brandon!" Brick. I then jumped up and screamed "BRANDON! WAKE UP! JESUS CHRIST!" Keep in mind, the building is like a library and nobody else around me is standing. I sit down, look up and 40 people are staring at me. I've yelled at games before and I'll do it again. But this one was reminiscent of my late father, who loved to melt down on occasion during Tribe Playoff games. But we digress.

As poorly as KU played in the first half, they were still up two. But our main concern was that they had played good defense, but they were getting nothing in the post outside of Sasha Kaun, weren't hitting outside shots, and seemed to be committing too many dumb turnovers (see Cole Aldrich's outlet pass right to Jason Richards). Seemed like the UCLA game all over again. Mario Chalmers and Kaun really were the only two who showed up in the first half, and Kaun had gone to the bench with two fouls with eight minutes left in the half.

The second half gets going and with 15 minutes left, Andrew Lovedale hit a layup to give Davidson a lead and the crowd roared. We sat in disbelief. This was the first of two times where we thought The Jayhawks were done. A short three minutes later, KU went up six at 43-37, and this is where we figured we would pull away. But oh, the ups and downs of sports. This is why we love this game so much. Fast forward three minutes, Davidson's Bryant Barr, a guy I had never heard of until the second half of this game, hit back to back three's, Lovedale scored inside, Barr hit his third straight triple, and Davidson led 49-45. We sat with our heads in our hands while the parisan Wildcat crowd stood and screamed. I believed it was here when Sean turned to me and said "this is when it is no longer fun. This is painful." At the under eight TV timeout, KU trailed 51-47. This is where the game changed and the KU defense kicked into high gear. Kaun's layup and Sherron Collins' three - his only basket of the game (1-8) - put KU on top 52-51, a lead they would never relinquish.

The final minute felt like it took an hour. A 59-53 lead almost disappered. Curry, who was hounded all game, hit the three to cut it to two. Davidson had one more chance to win it with 16 seconds left. Coach Bob McKillop, a master X's and O's guy, called a timeout. I had to walk out to the aisle and pace. I was in full freak out mode. Later I was told by my brother that the woman behind him said "That poor guy is going to have a heart attack." Everyone in the building knew, heck, everyone in the country knew Curry was going to take a three for the win. I could just visualize it: Another classic loss by one of my teams. This one was going to hurt more than any other KU loss. I said to Sean, "lets see what my dad has up there for me." I am not a religious man and I don't pray. That was the best I could ask for, my father looking down, who had been to the 2003 regionals with me the year before he passed away, helping my boys out. Sure enough, Curry ended up with the ball, but couldn't get any sort of look, instead, it was Jason Richards who got the look. It was wide right.

I don't know if I was more happy or more relieved. Relieved probably, but so happy for Self, who now has shed the "best coach to never get to the Final Four" tag. Thrilled for Darnell Jackson, who despite playing very poorly, wanted it more than anyone else. For guys like fifth year Senior Jeremy Case, the last Roy Williams recruit, and Senior Rodrick Stewart who rarely plays, but is the epitome of a team player. But nobody deserved it more than Self. It was a pleasure watching him cut down the nets.

There will be more to follow....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Being There

First things first, another big win. One more win closer to the Final Four. A great first half by the backcourt set the tone. The second half was a snooze-fest, but the game was long over. One more win and Bill Self gets over the hump.

I was at Ford Field last night. I couldn't wait to see what the "new set-up" was all about. 55,000 people allegedly attended. The number was more like 40,000, but it sounded more like 5,000. It was the single worst atmosphere of any major sporting event I've ever attended. The set up with the court in the middle of an football stadium made it so completely non-intimate. The crowd was a complete non-factor. Other than the Davidson section, you could hear a pin drop in the stadium. It was like watching a game in a library. We tried so hard to get into the game, but it was a real struggle, even with the stakes being as high as they were. The place was a morgue.

How can they players feed off of the energy of the crowd when there was no energy? The biggest group of fans were from Wisconsin and now they are out. People couldn't give their tickets away for Sunday's Final last night. By the second half of the KU/Nova game, the place completely emptied out and there couldn't have been more than 5,000 people left. Our seats were in the risers section on the floor of the football field. Unless you were sitting where we were, the players looked like ants. When we walked up from our seats, it was a serious hike. Everytime I turned around, the players and the court got smaller and smaller. Anyone who would pay for seats behind the baskets should have their heads examined. Tak about bad seats. You were seemingly miles from the court.

The whole set up to maximize the amount of fans is an abomination. Wait until they see how few people the game Sunday. They will e lucky to get 20,000, which will make the place look and sound empty. You know what else? I don't care as long as I am there an my Jayhawks win.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Scout's View on KU's Luke Winn grabbed a great scouting report on Kansas from an opposing assistant coach who faced the Jayhawks this year. It's a very interesting read.

"The biggest issue is keeping [Kansas] out of transition. They're a team of great spurts, and early in the year their margins of victory were so large because they were going on 3-4 big spurts per game, getting out in the full-court, and it was always the deciding factor.

"They're a very balanced team, so you have to choose something to take away. They're a team that ball-screens a lot, and out of their screens they get a lot of layups for their bigs off penetration, and they get a lot of lobs. The way I think you handle the the screening action is to push up and try to contain the guards, which is easier said than done, but it means their big men are going to have a tougher time getting easy looks.

"You have to be conscious of keeping them off the offensive glass, too, since they're usually plus-8 or plus-9 in that category. Off of pick-and-roll plays, they get the ball to the rim and then always seem to have two bigs crashing the glass, and on top of that, [Brandon Rush] is a very good offensive rebounder himself. So there are a lot of block-out responsibilities there.

"We felt like Mario Chalmers was a huge key; he's the one guy who attacks the rim constantly off of ball screens and can score. Rush is more of a catch-and-shoot guy -- he's the best shooter in the Big 12, and he's 6-foot-6, but he's not great off the dribble with his mid-range game. Nor is Russell Robinson. But Chalmers is terrific; he can get to the basket, he can stop and shoot at 15 feet, he can step behind the screen and hit a three, all with a lot of effectiveness. From our view Chalmers was their best player.

"Now that Sherron Collins is healthy, you have to find a way to keep him in front of you, because he's so big and powerful. If he gets his body by you, you're not going to get back around him, and he's a very effective finisher at the rim. He's good at setting big guys up for easy little dump-off passes. So you have to keep him contained and make him shoot over the top instead.

"There are a couple of things that seem to go unnoticed with Kansas. The first is that their bigs sprint to their screens; if you watch Sasha Kaun or Darnell Jackson or Darrell Arthur, they sprint from the post to set a screen. So the big guys guarding them are at a disadvantage, because they never get in the right defensive position. They'll run some double ball-screens on the outside, too, where the first guy slips [to the basket] and that forces you to help.

"The second is that they're an unbelievable passing team. That's why they're very hard to zone. They're always in attack mode, and their guards catch the ball where they want it, close to the three-point line in triple-threat position. They'll run some high-low sets that are effective, especially with Darnell Jackson, whose shooting has expanded the floor for them. Last year they didn't have a big man who could shoot that well. Arthur is so strong and quick on offense that we wanted to make sure he didn't get deep post-ups. We tried to be physical with him before he got into the post and not allow him to get the ball. When he does have it, his main move is a fadeaway over his right shoulder, and he'll counter that with a jump-hook -- but he always needs a dribble to get that off, so you can attack him that way.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, [Kansas] is going to play man against you. Chalmers is as good a defender as you'll find anywhere in the country; he's a great anticipator, has quick hands and causes havoc in passing lanes. He and Robinson are constantly looking to create steals. Rush is a very underrated on-ball defender because of his length, and they're throwing a lot of different big guys at you. They're efficient defensively because of their quickness and their length, and the fact is that they dominate the glass, so you rarely get multiple shots.

"One thing you can do is try to take their big men away from the basket. For guys like Arthur and Jackson, and much more so Kaun and [Cole Aldrich, their comfort zone is within 7-8 feet of the basket, and once you get them away from it, they don't guard as well or rebound nearly as well. Arthur has been prone to foul trouble, too, and if a team attacks him and gets him out of that comfort zone, there's a chance he'll pick up some early fouls. Sometimes he's overly aggressive, or a half-step out of position, or just trying to make a play that sometimes he shouldn't make. If you get him out and they have to bring in Kaun or Aldrich, who aren't as athletic, then you try to lure them out to the perimeter.

"There are two intangible things that are just as important with Kansas. First, you can't lose your composure against them, because they're so well-coached that their effort never varies. You have to match the mental toughness of an experienced team. The second is the tempo of the game. You have to try to control your pace, because if you get running with them, they're going to run you out of the gym. That's what they like to do, and you have to be smart enough to avoid it."

The Bullpen is Set....We're Not Happy

Our boy, Tom Mastny, otherwise known as "Thomas Nasty" has become the odd man out, despite having a great spring. Offseason pickup Jorge Julio has made the team, as has journeyman lefty Craig Breslow, picked up off of waivers two days ago. Here's a prediction: Breslow won't last through May. The obsession wiht keeping two lefties is the only reason he is still around. Meanwhile, a quality reliever in Mastny is going down to AAA. The guy spent the entire year on the big club last year. This shows you the depth of the Tribe pen. Mastny would be the key set up man for 80% of the teams in this league. He can't even make the Indians. So here is the Tribe pen as it stands:

Joe Borowski - Closer
Rafael Betancourt
Rafael Perez
Jenson Lewis
Masa Kobayashi
Jorge Julio
Craig Breslow

Poor Nasty. He deserves better than this. Now all the Indians have to do is figure out a way to get rid of OF David Dellucci so Ben Francisco can play Left Field. On the link below, make sure you scroll down and read the comments. The fans despise DD.

Mastny Optioned to Buffalo

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is This a Foul?

According to officials who do UCLA games, the answer is no.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Readers of MTAC know we have been obsessed with this story. The Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick and his former lover....errrrr...chief of staff Christine Beatty were formally charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and misconduct after being busted lying under oath about the affair the two had after secret text messages were uncovered linking the two. According to the Detroit Free Press story, Kilpatrick is being charged with eight felonies.

“This has been a very flawed process from the beginning,” Kwame said. “I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts in this matter have been brought forth.”

The mayor's attorney, Dan Webb, said the mayor will be found innocent of the charges and will not resign. “This man, my client, the mayor, is entitled to his day in court,” he said. “If this man is required to resign his office before his jury trial, that means he’s going to be punished before his day in court.”

You have got to love this story. For a refresher, here are some of the text messages:

Free Press columnist Stephen Henderson is one of the many who say it's time for Kwame to quit. The Detroit News' Daniel Howes says the real victims are the people of Detroit. Here is the national view from CNN.

It's Stiff

It looks as though th Indians brass has finally made their decision on the 5th starter. In a shock to nobody, Cliff Lee has taken the job thanks to a solid spring. In his last outing, he went five scoreless and most likely nailed it down with that performance.

Our take: This was bound to happen. Stiff Lee is a bad guy and a clubhouse cancer. Notice the team's performance picked up when he was sent to Buffalo? We think it was no coincidence. He is a head-case and when things go bad for him, he loses his control. Maybe we will see the guy who won 18 games a few years back this year. We hope so, but the good news is that Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers will be in the Buffalo rotation getting regular work.

More good news for the Indians pitching staff; veteran lefty reliever Aaron Fultz will be released, while fellow lefty Craig Breslow was claimed off of waivers from Boston and could take Fultz's spot.

Our take: Goodbye and Good Riddance Fultzy. This guy never showed anything after mid-May last year, throws a flat pitch with no zip on it, and could not be counted in an key situations. The main issue is that the Indians were dumb enough to pick up his option in December and now essentially cost themselves his $1.5 million salary. Give props to Shappy for cutting his losses with Fultz. The Breslow thing I don't get. His numbers were unimpressive and reportedly his big issue is control problems. It's nice to be a lefty, isn't it? Why claim this 27 year old scrub instead of keeping both Tom Mastny and either Jorge Julio or Scott Elarton (potential long man)?

Weekend Recap

The sea has parted in the Midwest for the Kansas Jayhawks. The same can be said for the UCLA Bruins in the West. North Carolina looks dominant in not being tested in either of their two wins, while Memphis' free throw shooting nearly cost them a game they were in control. Only the East held form, Two #2 seeds are out, while two #10's, and a #12, are still around. Lets take a look at what happened during the first weekend of the greatest event in American Sports.

The East

Oh, Carolina - Maybe no team in the entire field looked better in it's two wins than #1 North Carolina. They put up 113 against Mount St. Mary's and 108 in a 31 point blowout of Arkansas to get to the Sweet 16. The partisan crowd in Raleigh loved every minute of it. The Tar Heels claim they aren't happy or finished yet. Said SF Marcus Ginyard after the Arkansas game: "We've got another two-game tournament to play next weekend and that's what we're focused on right now. At this point, this game does not mean anything to us anymore. This is just not where this team wants to end up."

The Half-court Clinic - Mad props go out to Tony Bennett's Washington State Cougars. Most experts were picking Notre Dame to knock them off in the second round, but Wazzu literally took the Irish apart on both ends of the floor. Their slow down, halfcourt offensive style ran their sets to perfection, thanks to PG Taylor Rochestie. Their defense was even better. The double-teaming of ND's Luke Harangody worked so well, the Big East Player of the year was 3-17 from the floor. He is a Power Forward. The Cougars slow down style could really give UNC fits in the Sweet 16. It should be a great contrast to watch.

Pitino Does it Again - If North Carolina was the most impressive team in the first weekend, Louisville has to be a close second. After easily dispatching Boise State in round one, the Cardinals throttled a very good Oklahoma team by 30. They did it with balance. Seven players scored at least seven points, led by Earl Clark's 14. They shot 59% and held OU to 31%. Said Coach Rick Pitino "Offensively and defensively, we did a beautiful job. You really can't find a weakness in the way the guys played."

Teetering Tennessee? - Like the old saying goes, survive and advance. That is exactly what Tennessee did this weekend. Their opener with American was way closer than they would have liked. This was a two point game with 5:45 left, before the Vols pulled away. Sunday they were tested again by a solid Butler team. Give Bruce Pearl's kids credit, they surrendered the lead for the first time in the entire game with just over one minute left in OT, and then finished the game on an 8-3 run to close out the Bulldogs. Their lack of a true point guard was exposed by Butler, as they forced 20 turnovers. The way they played and the way Louisville played, you'd have to say the Cardinals are the favorite in their Sweet 16 matchup.

The Midwest

Two Down, Four To Go - The Kansas Jayhawks were very business-like in their two wins over Portland State and UNLV. They did it with offense against Portland State, and defense against the Runnin' Rebels, holding them to 26% shooting. Bill Self showed a lot of the four guard offense against the smaller UNLV team and it worked. All four KU guards, Mario Chalmers (17), Russell Robinson (13), Brandon Rush (12), and Sherron Collins (10) were in double figures. The draw looks good for KU as well. They get upstart #12 Villanova Friday, and the bottom half of the draw no longer has #2 Georgetown.

The Big East's Beast? - Who knew that the one Big East team left in the Midwest would be Villanova? Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher have been magnificent since the second half of the Clemson game and Jay Wright has his team back in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. Reynolds and Fisher combined for 45 points in the second round W of Siena. More impressive was the way they handled the Clemson press Friday night. The Wildcats were down 36-18 in the first half and looked bad. After blitzing the Tigers by 18 in the second half, Wright said "It's incredible what happened here today."

Just Win, Baby - Nobody talks about them, nobody gives them any chance, yet here they are again in the Sweet 16. You want to know why we said Wisconsin's Bo Ryan is the most underrated coach in America? Take a look at what he has done this year. The Badgers sit at 31-4 and handled the great Michael Beasley and Kansas State with ease 72-55 on their way to Detroit. Trevon Hughes' 25 set the pace for Wisconsin. If they can hit their threes (9-22) and defend the way they did against K-State (39%, 0-13 from deep), they will be really tough to beat.

Everyone's Cinderella - The darlings of the tournament are the Davidson Wildcats and the star of the tournament is clearly Stephen Curry. Curry went off for 40 in the win over Gonzaga, but was held to just five in the first half as Georgetown shut him down and led by as many as 17 early in the second half. Then Curry woke up and Bob McKillop outcoached John Thompson III. Curry scored 25 after the break, including one back-breaking three after another. Davidson fed off of the crowd who jumped on their backs and pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament. "I'm numb right now," said McKillop. Curry has played three NCAA Tournament games in his career. he has scored 30, 40, and 30. Not bad for a Sophomore who was overlooked by all of the big schools. They took down mighty Georgetown, the Big East Champ, why can't they do it again to Wisconsin? The Hoyas loss also signaled the end of the careers of Jonathan Wallace and Roy Hibbert, perhaps the most overrated player in the country.

The South

Will The Freebees Do Them In? - Memphis Coach John Calipari can tell us all he wants that his team will make their free throws when it counts, but is that really going to happen? Sunday, they had the game well in hand in the end against Mississippi State, before a barrage of threes and missed free throws gave the Bulldogs a chance to tie it with a last second three, which was missed by Jamont Gordon. For the game, the shot 15-32, 46%. They only won by three. You tell is if that doesn't make a difference. It doesn't matter to Calipari, who said after the game "I love the frame of mind we are in. We may not be the best team. We may be one of them, we not be anywhere near it, but I like the mental attitude." If they can get past Michigan State, they will be in for a tough matchup with either Stanford's post players or Texas's shooters and the home crowd in Houston.

Izzo's the Master - You have got to give props to coach Tom Izzo. With his team underachieving all year long, he finds a way to turn things around and get them to the Sweet 16. PG Kalin Lucas was spectacular in both games, and is the shot in the arm the Spartans need. He was blowing by Pitt's Levance Fields all game long in the second rounf win over the Panthers. Drew Neitzel was on in the second half as well, nailing five threes and leading the way with 21. Expect MSU to give Memphis a tough game Friday night.

Feed The Beast - This is the year of the big man. The three best are all still playing. UNC's Tyler Hansbrough and UCLA's Kevin Love get all of the press, but is Brook Lopez the best of the three? Everyone knows he is going to get the ball, and he still can't be stopped. With his team needed him badly while trailing to Marquette in the second half, Lopez went nuts, scoring 28 points in the last 25 minutes, including the game winner with 1.2 seconds left. Take Lopez off this team and they'd be lucky to be .500. Give credit to his brother Robin, who played his best game of the season, with 18 and nine boards. PG Mitch Johnson played 44 of the 45 minutes and dished out 16 assists. These three saved Coach Trent Johnson from serious embarrasment as he was ejected in the first half for receiving two technicals. After the game, Johnson had no problem falling on the sword: "The bottom line was, the responsibility was on me, and I was out of line. Just leave it at that if you would, please."

Houston, Here We Come - The Texas Longhorns escaped against Miami after almost gagging away a 17 point second half lead. The good news is that now they head to Houston, where you can expect a partisan Burnt Orange crowd. that should help them big time. Their matchup with Stanford is the marquee game of the Sweet 16. Its guards vs. the bigs, and both teams are Final Four caliber. Expect to see a lot of zone to try and limit Brook Lopez's touches in the post. The Horns will do it from deep, like they did against Miami to the tune of 13-26. All five starters hit a three as well. Will Texas run out of gas? Their bench played just 21 minutes combined and scored two points.

The West

Thank You, Pod System - Anyone who thinks the pod system doesn't give an advantage to certain teams should have watched the UCLA/Texas A&M game in Anaheim. They might as well have played in Pauley Pavilion. With A&M in the lead most of the second half, the crowd, and Kevin Love, willed the Bruins to a 51-49 win, a game they probably stole. Love was unbelievable. His two fall away jumpers in the last two minutes were unstoppable. Darren Collison, not to be outdown, went to the hole and hit the game winning runner with five seconds left. The question remains though, can UCLA win it all playing essentially no offense and being a two man team? Love and Collison scored 40 of the Bruins 51 points. Russell Westbrook was the next high man with 5. Like Texas, UCLA is relying heavily on its starters. Their bench played 20 minutes combined and scored four points. They have a walk to the regional final as Western Kentucky awaits.

The Belt Way - For the first time in 15 years, the Sun Belt's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are headed to the Sweet 16. The almost didn't get out of the first round. Their game with Drake was probably the best first round game as Drake fought all the way back from a 16 point second half lead to force OT, but Ty Rogers hit a buzzer-beating three to win it 101-99. PG Tyrone Brazelton was the man against Drake with 33, then star SG Courtney Lee took over the reigns in the win over San Diego. He had 29 including 4-5 from deep. This has been a nice story, but its all going to come to an end against UCLA.

The Hardest Draw Toughens Up The Musketeers - You tell us, if the committee got this right: In the first round, Xavier was dealt Georgia as their #14 seed. This is a Georgia team that plays in the SEC and is used to battling against top talent. Meanwhile, fellow #3 seed Stanford got the Ivy League Champ Cornell who was out of the game by the first eight minutes. They gutted out the win over Georgia after trailing by nine at the half. In the second round, a very well coached and solid Purdue team gave them a run, but in the end, the Xavier balance did the Boilers in. Four starters were in double figures, with C.J. Anderson and Drew Lavender both scoring 18. "We have a number of different players that can answer the bell on offense," said coach Sean Miller. "It's really a unique team to guard, because on different nights different people can beat you."

You Gotta Love Huggins - Everywhere the man goes, Bob Huggins just keeps winning. After lucking into a first round win over Belmont, Duke wasn't so lucky against a well oiled West Virginia machine. Joe Alexander has become a superstar over the last month of the season and the X-factor Joe Mazzulla came off the bench to score 13 points, grab 11 boards, and dish out eight assist. This is a typical tough-minded Huggins team. There is not reason they can't keep this run going.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Two Down - Four to Go

In today's Lawrence-Journal World, Tom Keegan wrote a column about Bill Self, the coach, the teacher, and the man. I found one set of quotes from PF Darnell Jackson particularily interesting:

“The first time I met coach Self, I just knew there was something about him,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t figure it out when I first got here. When he kept staying on me so hard, kept pushing me so hard, I understood that he was trying to get the player that was in me out of me. I couldn’t understand that, and now I do understand that. I understand that I have to be responsible when I’m on the court and when I’m off the court. Coach Self, man, he’s just a great coach, he’s a great father, he’s a great person, and he’s a great friend. That’s why every day I see coach Self, I just smile because he’s the father figure in my life that I want to be like when I grow up.”

Two more wins and the stigma of the guy who can't win big in March will go away. Self deserves it. I've met him in person. This guy is the genuine article. Nobody wants it more and maybe nobody deserves it more. We'll have more on yesterday's 19 point win over UNLV. Here are some more quotes for you courtesy of

Mario Chalmers on the Rebels’ early defensive pressure: “We could tell. We knew they were a pressure team. I think they tried to come out and punk us, but we didn’t back down, we just kept fighting with ’em.”

Sherron Collins on KU’s depth paying off: “Somebody like Terry or Wink went out, it was a little bit easier to handle the pressure and handle their guards because they weren’t all scorers like that. They got in foul trouble, and it played into our hand.”

Sherron Collins on KU’s guard-heavy offensive attack: “Every time we threw the ball into the bigs, everybody collapsed on them. When we went small, it was a mismatch problem out there somewhere. We just ran a lot of cutting, moving, caught them at awkward times and were able to make a play.”
Sherron Collins on being healthy entering regionals: “I think it’s good for our team, because I’m able to do a lot of things, like break down defenses and get easy shots for my teammates. I’m like the release button. If the pressure’s out there, I take pride in getting the ball and making something happen. Being a spark plug off the bench, that’s what I do.”

Bill Self on Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins: “I thought that those two took the game over. We went to a little spread-and-drive-it mode and they did a great job of getting in there. Mario was solid, Brandon was solid, our bigs didn’t score as much because of the way they defended, but I really felt like midway through the second half it was those two’s game.”

Bill Self on his team’s defense: “Our first shot defense was good. I’ll be excited to see the film to see if it was as good as I thought it was. We rebounded it pretty good, we defended it pretty good, we just put our hands on them too much. And they put their hands on us too much. it was obviously a tightly-called game. But that was a good defensive effort.”

Bill Self on having Sherron Collins healthy in the Tournament’s second weekend unlike last year: “The thing about it is Sherron, he didn’t practice yesterday. He couldn’t move. The doctors talked to him today and told him ‘Hey, you’re fine. You’ve got a bruised knee again. It’s gonna be sore, but you’ve gotta suck it up and go do it.’ I thought he was really good. And he’s a different element to our team. Because he can go get you a basket. The biggest basket of the game may have been five seconds on the shot clock and he goes and makes a play. That’s not coaching. That’s just getting the ball to a guy and getting out of his way. And he can go make a basket that you don’t have to run offense for or break the defense down. So it’s great to have guys like that, especially this time of year.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Coast to Tyus Edney against Mizzou

I love the first day of the tournament. You know nobody is paying attention to their job, everyone is checking their brackets, but most importantly, there are games on all day long. There is nothing better. We went to a bar to watch Kansas at noon. It was a nice, relaxing. pasting of Portland State, but had our eyes on the other games. Props to CBS for going all HD this year and doing an excellent job of switching around. What I don't understand is tonight's main game here at 7:00 is North Carolina/Mount St. Mary's. Brutal. Back to yesterday, the day session didn't have too much excitement, but the night session was great. Oh Belmont, couldn't you have just hit one more shot? Unless you were a Duke grad, there is no way you were rooting for the Blue Devils. That is what makes the tournament so great.

#2 Duke 71 Belmont 70 - This was the game of the day. The Belmont Bruins of the Atlantic Sun had the mighty Duke Blue Devils on the ropes, but Gerald Henderson, who seemed to be the only Devil who showed up, saved the day by driving the length of the floor and laying one in with 11.9 seconds left to give Duke a one point lead. Belmont had two chances to win it. A botched out of bounds play with four seconds left was a killer. In the end, they came up just short. "The last two or three minutes, I was sitting there thinking, 'We're really in this game.' We were so close to winning," Belmont's Henry Harris said. "There's a bit of amazement in your brain, just sitting there: 'Wow!' " A good read: ESPN's Dana O'Neil says Duke's intimidation factor is long gone.

#11 Kansas State 80 #6 USC 67 - Well, there goes my elite eight team! Didn't way say earlier in the year that K-State would be a legit team in March because they have two stars in Michael Beasley and Bill Walker? Well, they were out in full force last night. Beasley had 23 and 11 boards, despite sitting most of the first half in foul trouble. Walker picked up the slack with 17 first half points and finished with 22. As good as these two were, it was K-State's other two Freshman who were the difference. Unheralded Ron Anderson came off the bench to score 10 points and grab eight boards. PG Jacob Pullen had 11 off the bench as well. The Wildcats dominated the glass all night long 40-27, including 18 offensive rebounds. O.J. Mayo was great for USC with 20, but the Trojan big men spent the entire night in foul trouble. Taj Gibson and Davon Jefferson fouled out, and Keith Wilkinson played most of his second half minutes with four fouls.

#9 Texas A&M 67 #8 BYU 62 - Another big win for the Big 12. Josh Carter played the game of his life for the Aggies. He nailed six of 12 threes on his way to a career-high 26 points to lead his team to the W. Joseph Jones and Brian Davis were in double figures up front and played excelptional defense on BYU's star big man Trent Plaisted. He scored just 13 and was a non-factor all night.

#7 West Virginia 75 #10 Arizona 65 - A disappointing season comes to an end for Arizona at 19-15. They were as close as two with four minutes left, but they ran out of gas, while the Mountaineers continued to nail clutch shots down the stretch. Led by Alex Ruoff's five, WVU nailed 11 three-pointers. Ruoff's stroke was pure, going 8-11 from the field on his way to 21. Da'shawn Butler had 19 , Darris Nichols and Joe Alexander each chipped in 14 in this total team effort. Do not be shocked if West Virginia beats Duke Saturday. They play great perimeter defense and have scores. Chase Budinger led the Wildcats with 23. Their lack of bench really hurt. Jerryd Bayless, Budinger, Jawaan McClellan, and Nic Wise each played 38 minutes or more. Jordan Hill played 33, and would have played more if he didn't pick up his fourth foul so early in the second half.

#3 Xavier 73 #14 Georgia 61 - This one was closer than the score indicated. The Bulldogs continued to ride the success of their SEC Tournament title and had a nine-point lead at the half. But like Arizona, they just had nothing left in the tank. They won four games in three days less than a week ago, and their three best players essentially played the whole game. They were run out of the building in the second half 47-26. Josh Duncan had 20 and Derrick Brown 19 for the X-men. Yes, they struggled most of the game, but they enough to pull away in the end. Is it just me, or did Xavier kind of get screwed with this first round matchup? Who would you rather play as a 14 seed, an SEC team who won their conference tournament or Ivy League champ Cornell?

#5 Notre Dame 68 #12 George Mason 50 - Many people picked the Patriots to win this one. Mike Brey's Irish had other plans. Perhaps the most impressive non-big seed team of the day was Notre Dame. Mason had nothing in the post to stop Luke Harangody who had 18 and 14. They owned the glass 42-31 and the underrated Irish defense held the Patriots to 33% from the field and 3-17 from deep. Meanwhile, they hit 9-21 threes and blew away Jim Larranaga's club. Follaren Campbell, GMU's best perimeter player, shot 1-12 for the game. "If I would get past or have one [defender] on my hip, there was another big guy right beside him," Campbell said. "I mean, Notre Dame just played great defense. All my shots were contested. I tip my hat off to their defense."

#6 Marquette 74 #11 Kentucky 66 - The Golden Eagles superb backcourt was in charge all game long and Lazar Hayward gave the post play they have needed all year long. Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, and Wesley Matthews combined to score 48 points and turned the ball over just four times. Hayward scored 16 and grabbed seven boards as Marquette advances. UK's tumultous season comes to an end, as do the careers of guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. Crawford went out with a bang, scoring 35. Bradley had 19.

#6 Purdue 90 #11 Baylor 79 - Who would have thought the Baby Boilers could score 90 points? Well that's what happens when you play against the run and gun, all O, no D Baylor Bears. Five Boilers scored in double figures, none of whom was star Robbie Hummel, who played just 17 minutes in foul trouble. Keaton Grant (17) and E'Twan Moore (16) went stride for stride with five different Baylor guards and that helped Purdue cruise to victory. Curtis Jerrells had 27 in losing cause.

#5 Michigan State 72 #12 Temple 61 - Who says the Big Ten can't score points? If we would have told you Drew Neitzel would go 2-11, would you have thought the Spartans would have controlled the game from start to finish? It was their defense that was the difference. Temple's star guard Dionte Christmas, who averaged 20 points a game coming in, was held to 1-12 shooting for just three points. Temple shot 6-23 from downtown and never was close enough to make a serious run. Raymar Morgan led the Spartans with 15. Freshman guard Chris Allen had 12 off the bench.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Got It Done....Bring on the Rebels

The Recap: Its what you expect form a #1 vs. #16 game. Kansas just has more athletes and Portland State seemed overwhelmed after the first initial wave of Jayhawk pressure on their way to a 85-61 win. Four Jayhawks were in double figures, led by Brandon Rush with 18. Darrell Arthur was unstoppable in the post with 17 points on 8-10 shooting, and Mario Chalmers chipped in with 16 including three triples. Kansas won the battle of the boards 36-25, shot 54% from the floor, and hit 12-25 from deep. The swarming KU D held Portland State to just 38% shooting and forced 16 turnovers.

The Whup

Brandon and Mario Continue to Shine - The Junior tandem were sensational again, combining to score 34 points and hit seven three-point shots. Again, it was men against boys out there today, but Rush and Chalmers again looked so smooth, especially from deep. Mario's off the ball defense was exceptional again. He was all over the passing lanes, collecting three steals. If these two continue to play at such a high level, KU will be in great shape.

Shady in the Post - Early and often, KU guards fed the beast, and he was hungry. Portland State obviously didn't have the size to contend with the KU big men, especially Darrell Arthur. Shady had it going on early and finished with 17 on 8-10 shooting. He was all over the glass as well.

The Jayhawks on Fire, For Openers - What a first half it was for KU. Jumping out 13-3 made the game all but academic with the gap in talent. They shot 64% in 18-28 field goals. They hit 8-13 from deep. Rush had 15, Chalmers 10, Arthur and Collins had nine each. It was almost as if they were toying with the Vikings. "Not that they didn't have a chance," Self said, "but when we got up 13-3, I think our guys felt pretty good about themselves."

The Weak Beav

Starters Minutes? - Memo to Coach Self, you are doing a terrific job and its hard to nitpick when you win by 24, but with the game never in doubt and KU leading by 20 plus the entire second half, any particular reason Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, and Russell Robinson were still on the floor with three and a half minutes left? You are just asking for trouble with that. Play Jeremy Case, Tyrel Reed, Cole Aldrich, Rodrick Stewart, and anyone else the last seven minutes and call it a day.

Sasha's Free Throws - We are big fans of the Big Russian's game this season, but his free throw shooting has been terrible the last month. Today was no different. He was 1-6. It didn't hurt the Jayhawks, but he cannot be on the floor late in a close game if this shooting is going to occur. The way Arthur tends to be in foul trouble, this could be the case as we go deeper into the tournament.


This is a ho-hum, to be expected, blowout win. But after watching Duke struggle to beat Belmobt 71-70, it makes me feel that much better about the Hawks. Duke is so one dimensional and they weren't hitting their threes. KU does it inside and out. They hit 12-25 from deep for the game. All we know is if they continue on this shooting streak as they did in the Big 12 tournament semis and finals and now today, KU will be extremely hard to beat. "This is the part of the season where everyone has to be clicking on all cylinders," senior guard Russell Robinson said. "We're doing a great job of that so far." "I thought we'd have some first-game jitters," Self said. "But all in all, I thought we played pretty well."

Up Next: Saturday vs. #8 UNLV

The Road To San Antonio Starts Today

We've been previewing every region for you, but you know this is all about the Kansas Jayhawks for us. This is the best shot Bill Self has had and may have for a long time. He's got a nine-man rotation where Seniors Darnell Jackson, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, and Rod Stewart will all be done when this Tournament is over. Junior Brandon Rush and Sophomore Darrell Arthur have one foot out the door. It was also shock nobody if Mario Chalmers left as well. So Coach Self, this is it for you. There is no tomorrow.

It's tough to view this team's chances without bias and thinking with my head rather than my heart. There is so much to love about this team. Talent galore, veterans, and no egos. Seven different players led this team in scoring during a game this season. They can do it inside with Arthur, Jackson, and Collins or outside with Chalmers, Sherron Collins, and Rush. Robinson and Chalmers are the best defensive backcourt in the nation. The team is loaded.

The pressure for Self to get this team to the Final Four is immense. The Kansas fan base wants it badly and another early exit could really turn the Jayhawk Nation on him. He is a great guy, an excellent recruiter, but his in-game coaching at times can be questioned. This year, there has been no doubt about his abilities, especially the way he has turned this team into such a selfless bunch. But as we stated before, this has to be his year.

Can they do it? We think so. With Sherron Collins 100% healthy, which he wasn't most of the year and wasn't during the NCAA Tournament last year, this team plays at a whole different level. Collins will be the reason this team gets to the Final Four. After that, its a crap shoot. One thing is for sure, meeting North Carolina in the Final Four would be a game KU fans would want to win almost as much as a National Title. Nothing would be sweeter than beating Ole' Roy on the way to a championship.

Keep in mind its the 20 year anniversary of the 1988 Danny and the Miracles Championship team. Kansas started in the state of Nebraska (Lincoln), then went to the regionals in Detroit. This year its Nebraska (Omaha) to Detroit. Can the magic happen again? We hope so.

Preview: The West Regional

This happens to be the softest draw of the four by leaps and bounds. UCLA should thank the committee for doing them a real solid. They were granted a shaky #2 seed in Duke, a #3 Xavier team who’s PG Drew Lavender has a severely sprained ankle, and #4 Connecticut may have peaked in mid-February. This side does have great stories with #11 Baylor, SEC Tournament Champion #14 Georgia, and the 5/12 matchup of mid-major powers Drake and Western Kentucky. Watch out for #13 San Diego and the sleeping giant 10 seed Arizona.

Final Four Contenders

To this corner, its UCLA’s region to lose. In fact, we’ll say it, unless Kevin Love’s back flairs up, or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s ankle is more injured than they are letting on, the Bruins are a lock to come out of the West. They start out in Anaheim for two games, where they will be playing essentially home games; then they move on to Phoenix where they again will have a huge crowd advantage. That’s just the fan aspect. What about the fact that they have a superb big man in Kevin Love who gets a double-double in his sleep? Love is the main difference in this year’s Bruins club compared to the back-to-back Final Four teams that preceded him. Those teams were guard oriented and didn’t have anything in the post that resembled half of Love’s talent. PG Darren Collison has been their catalyst for two years after backing up Jordan Farmar as a Freshman. He is known for his sticky hands on defense and the ability to hit the dagger from deep. His backcourt mate Russell Westbrook may be the best athlete in college basketball today. His dunks are legendary (just youtube his name and you will see three beauties), his defense is stifling, and he gets up and down the court with lightning speed.

On the wing is Josh Shipp, who has quietly taken Arron Afflalo’s spot as the key perimeter threat and the Bruins haven’t lost a step. Mbah a Moute is their Mr. everything at the power forward position. He is an exceptional offense rebounder, garbage man, and defender. Bench bigs Lorenzo Mata-Real and Alfred Aboya have played major minutes for each of the last three seasons and know what it takes to succeed in March. If there is one hole with the Bruins, its depth in the backcourt. Collison and Westbrook rarely come out of games. In fact, they both played all 40 in the Pac-10 title game win over Stanford. Shipp also rarely comes out. They really miss three point specialist Michael Roll, who has missed all but six games this season and hasn’t played since late December. With this draw though, nothing should derail Ben Howland’s team. They have played so many tight games this year and know how to close.

Is #2 Duke really a Final Four caliber team? We don’t think so. While they have the legendary Coach K pulling the strings, the lack of a post game will really hurt them when they get into a half-court game. They do have shooters galore and always have four guys on the floor that can hurt you from deep. PG Greg Paulus has stepped up his game in a major way this season and looking like the player everyone expected him to be when he came in three years ago with such promise and hype. His turnovers were cut in half from last season and he is a 43% three point shooter. Paulus is one of five Duke players who averages in double figures. Senior SF Demarcus Nelson leads the way at 15.2 per game, while grabbing six boards. Freshman Kyle Singler lived up to his advance billing as a 6-9 face-the-basket forward who can stroke it from anywhere. Sophomore Guards Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer provide scoring ability on the perimeter as well. Henderson is more of a drive to the hole kind of player, Scheyer is perhaps the Devils most clutch shooter. Coach K benefited from watching Phoenix Suns Coach Mike D’Antoni during the summer, and plays a similar four out, one in style that has worked well for this particular group. Their bugaboo is going to be scoring and defending the post. Teams wants to slow them down and make them play a half-court game. We see them as a Sweet 16 team and no better.

If you were a regular reader of our stuff during the season, you know we are very high on #3 Xavier and the Atlantic 10 conference. They have one of the best young coaches in the game in Sean Miller, who if we were Indiana’s A.D., we’d be after immediately to run our program. This is a veteran laden team with guys who have been here before. Six players score in double digits, led by Senior Sixth man Josh Duncan, Duncan does it inside and out. At one point this season, he had back to back perfect games, going 15-15 from the field including all eight of his triple tries. PG Drew Lavender’s sprained ankle is a concern; he has not been himself over the last couple of weeks, but Miller says he is 100%. SG Stanley Burrell seems like he has been around forever. Also watch out for the C.J. and B.J. show (Anderson and Raymond) on the perimeter. This is a very dangerous team.

Don’t sleep on UConn either. A month ago, we would have told you there were a chic Final Four pick because of their two dominating post players (Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien) and solid point guard play (A.J. Price), but they have been struggling of late. Thabeet is a game-changer on the defensive end and the best shot blocker in the nation. Adrien goes hard on both ends of the floor and is NBA strong. This is a young team with a great coach in Jim Calhoun. Keep in mind, no team who lost in the first round of their conference tournament has even won the National Championship.


We’ve been waiting for 10th seeded Arizona to break out all year long. There is so much talent there in the starting five. PG Jerryd Bayless is one of our favorite players in the country. He can drop 30 on you at any time. Sophomore Chase Budinger has the sweetest stroke in the nation on the wing, and PF Jordan Hill is the muscle on the inside. They’ve been banged up all year, but played the toughest schedule in the country and can play with anyone.

Don’t be surprised if #12 Western Kentucky pulls off two upsets and gets into the Sweet 16. There two best players, Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton are seniors and Lee is a first round NBA prospect. They went 27-6 and 16-2 in their league. Trust us, this team can play.

Can #13 San Diego continue their improbable run and knock off Connecticut? The Torreros knocked off Gonzaga and St. Mary’s to win the WCC conference tournament and steal the automatic bid. Behind Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare, anything is possible.

Best Backcourt

Baylor – Curtis Jerrells, Henry Dugat, Ladarius Dunn, Aaron Bruce, Tweety Carter

Scott Drew’s club plays four guards at all times and they are all interchangeable scoring threats. All five have led the team in scoring in at least one game, and Jerrells was a first team all Big 12 performer. They love to penetrate and kick out for triple attempts. Close call, but on sheer depth, the Bears win out over Duke and UCLA.

Best Frontcourt

Connecticut – Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards

This is all about the three starters. They play the majority of the minutes and each excel in their own way. Thabeet is an incredible shot blocker. Adrien controls the glass. Robinson is the lockdown defender and improved greatly on the offensive end.

Best Coach

Mike Krzyzewski – Duke – You can’t go against a guy who has been to 10 Final Fours in this era. That is unprecedented. This year has been one of his finer coaching jobs. His team has been near the top of the heap the entire season despite having zero low post threat. He has played four, sometimes five perimeter guys at once and it has worked. Ben Howland of UCLA wins in any other region except this one.

First Round Upset Alert

#13 San Diego over #4 Connecticut – The Huskies have played up and down ball since the return of Jerome Dyson from suspension, going 3-3. San Diego is rolling after winning the WCC Tournament. They won at Kentucky earlier this year. They will not be intimidated and the Huskies won’t have any sort of home court advantage in Tampa.

Juiciest Potential Matchups

2nd Round – #2 Duke vs. #10 Arizona – If these two meet, it could be curtains for the Devils since Jerryd Bayless is too quick for Greg Paulus and there is nobody who will be able to stop Jordan Hill in the post. Duke, on the other hand, will try to run the Wildcats until they drop, since ‘Zona literally goes six deep.

Sweet 16 – #3 Xavier vs. #2 Duke
– Two teams who love to get up and down and shoot the three. Sean Miller is one of the best young coaches in the country and he’ll meet up with the legend that is Coach K. Would love to see this one.

Elite Eight – #1 UCLA vs. #2 Duke
– Two programs on the Mount Rushmore of College Basketball. Coach K vs. Ben Howland. The main question would be who on Duke could possibly stop UCLA’s Kevin Love?

Players With the Most to Prove

Robbie Hummel – Purdue – The 6’9 Freshman has carried the Baby Boilers over the last few weeks and is one of the toughest players to guard in this country. If he gets it going, Purdue could go deep. If he is off, they could lose to Baylor in the first round.

Joe Alexander – West Virginia – Bob Knight called him the best player in college basketball over the last month. He averaged 28 points a game in his last seven contests and turned a bubbling West Virginia team into a seven seed. He has to keep it going if The Mountaneers are going to make noise.

Courtney Lee – Western Kentucky – There may be no player in this bracket with more on the line with NBA scouts than Lee. The swing man led his team in scoring could vault himself into the lottery with a great NCAA Tournament. He has the size and strength to be an NBA two guard.

The Pick

Is there really any question? The only real question is who will finish second. We think it will be Xavier. UCLA was granted quite the draw and an ultra-soft bracket. They have been here before. This will make three straight years. They defend so well, have great talent, and play so smart thanks to the genius that is Ben Howland on the bench. Kevin Love will be the difference this time around.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lavin Lets His Hair Down

So Good....Brent tools on him....

Preview: The South Regional

The Committee certainly did top seeded Memphis no favors. At 33-1, they may have been rated the second best #1 seed, but they were given the toughest route to San Antonio. Not only could they see a rugged, hot, and finally healthy Pittsburgh squad in the Sweet 16 as the four seed, but the bottom half has in our opinion the best #2 seed in Texas as well as the best #3 seed in Stanford. More reasons to fret if you are Memphis: If you do survive an athletic Mississippi State team in the second round and Pittsburgh, they could be facing a potential road game to get to the Final Four against Texas in Houston, where UT has a huge alumni base. It will be tough sledding for the Tigers.

Final Four Contenders

#1 Memphis has been a constant in the top three all year long. They have a magnificent backcourt with depth, speed, and scoring ability. Wing Chris Douglas-Roberts should be a first team All-American. He is a scoring machine when he wants to be and has to be. Freshman PG Derrick Rose has been described by Coach John Calipari as “the ultimate teammate.” When he is called upon to score, he scores. When he needs to run the offense and feed the hot hand, he does it. He is a special talent. The depth in the backcourt is pretty amazing. Junior Antonio Anderson is a savvy veteran; Doneal Mack loves to shoot the three-ball. Of his 84 field goals made this year, 63 of them were from deep. Willie Kemp gets 15 minutes a night and can handle the ball if need be. If need be, Freshman Jeff Robinson can be used in a pinch. Late in the season, Calipari went to him and struck gold.

Up front, you have bruiser Joey Dorsey who is as physical as any big man in the country. His main issue is keeping his emotions in check. When he plays smart and stays out of foul trouble, the Tigers are extremely tough to beat. He is a beast on the glass and their best post defender. Next to him is beanpole Robert Dozier. A 6-9, 215, Dozier is more of a finesse guy who scores about 10 a game and grabs six boards. However, he is inconsistent, only scoring in double figures three times in his last 10 games. Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggert has been a godsend for Calipari. He gives them a quality, battle-tested big man to spell Dozier and the often foul plagued Dorsey. This may be Calipari’s best team at Memphis, but the lack of quality opponents over the past three months could derail them if they are locked in a close game late.

We love #2 Texas. This is a team who shoots as well as any in the country. Point Guard D.J. Augustin is a First team All America. He is brilliant with the ball and deadly when shooting. He and SG A.J. Abrams play so well off of each other. Abrams is one of the best catch and shoot players you will find on the college level. The two combine to average 36 points per game. That is what you call production. Then you add in PF Damion James, who has taken his game to another level during conference play. He is a double-double machine and can step out and hit the three. He is an extremely tough guy to defend; he is too strong for a wing player and too quick for normal four men. Center Connor Atchley rebounds like a big man and nails jumpers like a shooting guard. What makes him so different is that he draws his man away from the basket and opens up the lane for Augustin and Abrams to cut to the hole. Justin Mason is the glue guy that Coach Rick Barnes just loves. If this team has a hole, it’s their lack of depth. They play a lot of zone and that keeps them out of foul trouble and more fresh than you’d think, but if James or Atchley gets two quick fouls, Barnes must go to little used bigs Alexis Wangmene and big Dexter Pittman because Freshman sixth man Gary Johnson is nursing an ankle injury. You can bet Abrams and Augustin will play the full 40 in any game that isn’t a blowout. This is a team that could go the distance. Don’t forget, they own wins over UCLA, Kansas, and Tennessee.

Stanford would most likely be a #2 seed if not for two poor officiated games against UCLA during the season. If it’s possible for a team this highly seeded to be under the radar, than the Cardinal are just that. Everyone knows about the Lopez Twins, Brook and Robin, but many don’t know that Brook averaged 19 and eight and outside of Tyler Hansbrough was probably the best pure post player in the nation. The offense runs through him and the opponents know it, yet he manages to come up big in big games. An intriguing matchup would be if he met up with Memphis’ Joey Dorsey in the Elite Eight. His brother Robin is no slouch himself, averaging in double figures and playing solid defense. The Cardinal’s fortunes will rest with their guard play. Anthony Goods is a very capable scorer and a clutch performer. Mitch Johnson is a solid defender and role player who does all the little things. Senior SF Fred Washington provides a veteran presence on the floor and usually guards the opponent’s best perimeter player. Lawrence Hill and Taj Finger provide experience and depth off the bench. Trent Johnson reminds us a lot of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, as he gets the most with the least amount of talent of any coach west of the Mississippi.

While ESPN’s Bob Knight (it still feels weird saying that) picks #4 Pittsburgh to win the National Championship, we just don’t see how they can come out of this tough region, but they deserve mention. PG Levance Fields is back and healthy and has transformed the Panthers into contenders again. Watch out for SF Sam Young and PF Dejuan Blair when they meet Memphis in the Sweet 16.


Not many people are talking about #8 Mississippi State, but we are. They have a very good shot at knocking off Memphis in the second round because they have three game changers on their squad. Wing Jamont Gordon is one of the best players you’ve never heard of. He is a two time all SEC performer, can score on anyone off the dribble, and is as savvy as they come. PF Charles Rhodes is a force on the block, scoring 17 points per game. Jarvis Varnado is the best shot blocker west of UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet. His wingspan changes the game for any guard trying drive to the hole or any big man trying to post him up. Watch out for the Bulldogs.

#12 Temple comes out of the rough and tumble A-10 conference as the Tournament Champs. As a 12 seed, they get a winnable first round game with under-achieving Michigan State. They have two solid guards in Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale leading the way. Together they average over 35 points and 13 boards per game. They lack depth, but have the guards to play into the second weekend of the tournament.

Best Backcourt

Memphis – Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Willie Kemp, Jeff Robinson

This is a backcourt loaded region with Marquette, Texas, St. Mary, and Temple. As good as D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams, and Justin Mason are for Texas, there is no depth behind them. The Tigers can bring three guys in who give quality minutes. Plus, Rose is a lottery pick and CDR is a first team All-American.

Best Frontcourt

Pittsburgh – Dejuan Blair, Sam Young, Tyrell Biggs, Gilbert Brown

Blair gets you 15 and 10 seemingly every night. Sam Young went from a bench player to a star this year, leading the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game. When these two stay on the floor together, they give opponents fits with the strength and athleticism. Biggs is an excellent role player and Brown, since the injuries to guards Mike Cook and Levance Fields, has gotten more and more minutes and has responded.

Best Coach

Jamie Dixon - Pittsburgh

This is another loaded coaching bracket with guys like Tom Izzo, John Calipari, and Rick Barnes. We almost went Barnes who has done a magnificent job this year, putting together a better team without Kevin Durant, but the nod goes to Dixon who has continued the legacy left behind by Ben Howland when he went to UCLA. His teams aren’t littered with McDonald’s All Americans, yet they are always tougher than the team they play and play solid defense. Dixon’s players would run through a wall for him.

First Round Upset Alert

#12 Temple over #5 Michigan State –
The Spartans only seem to play well in East Lansing. They struggled all year away from home. This one is played in Denver, a neutral site, but as this game is close and gets later and later, the crowd will undoubtedly by cheering for the underdog Owls. They have the guards (Christmas and Tyndale) who can outscore and wear down MSU’s Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas. It’s not as though they haven’t played good competition this year in a league (A-10) that was better than the Big Ten this year.

Best First Round Matchup

#12 Temple vs. #5 Michigan State – We looked at Mississippi State/Oregon and Miami/St. Mary’s, but truly, there are few first round games we’d rather see than Temple/Michigan State. Great guard play on both sides, battle-tested teams, smart coaches in Tom Izzo and Fran Dunphy. Should be a good show at 10:30 am mountain time.

Juiciest Potential Matchups

2nd Round – #1 Memphis vs. #8 Mississippi State –
The Tigers better watch out. They will have a hard time scoring in the post against the beast that is Jarvis Varnado. Who is going to attempt to stop Jamont Gordon on the wing? Can Joey Dorsey slow Charles Rhodes? On the other side, will Memphis makes enough outside shots to set up their press? Chris Douglas-Roberts will be the difference in this one, but it would be no shock to us if the Bulldogs pulled off this stunner.

Sweet 16 – #2 Texas vs. #3 Stanford, #1 Memphis vs. #4 Pittsburgh –
This is what makes the South so brutal. All four of these teams are Final Four caliber. Texas/Stanford would be a great contrast in styles. Texas wants to play the game in the 80’s, Stanford in the 60’s. Memphis/Pittsburgh would be an ultra-physical game in the post. We’d love to see this doubleheader.

Elite Eight

#1 Memphis vs. #2 Texas – These two teams will get up and down the court all game long. There will be scorers galore on the floor, plus a great coaching matchup in John Calipari vs. Rick Barnes.

Players With the Most to Prove

Anthony Goods – Stanford –
The best Guard Stanford has must be the outside compliment to Brook Lopez in the post or else the Cardinal could be done earlier than they would like.

Jamont Gordon – Mississippi State – The ultra-talented Bulldog is usually the best player on the court when he plays, yet he gets no national publicity. This tournament is where he is going to make his NBA money.

Joey Dorsey – Memphis – The Tigers flat out will not go to the Final Four if Dorsey gets in major foul trouble or loses his cool. He is their best big man and an extremely physical presence in the post, but he can be easily rattled.

The Pick

As we said earlier, this is a brutal region with four legitimate Final Four threats. There is one major advantage here though – Texas gets to play the regionals in Houston, where you can bet there will be burnt orange every where. Memphis will meet them in the Elite Eight, but will be out shot by D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams, Connor Atchley, and Damion James. The type of game the Tigers don’t want to get into is a three-point shooting contest. They aren’t great from deep, but love to shoot threes anyways. It will be their undoing and Rick Barnes will take his Longhorns to the Final Four.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Preview: The Midwest Regional

In the rankings of toughest to easiest within the four regions, we’d put the Midwest third. To me, there really is only one team in the side that can win it all, Kansas. The #2 seed Georgetown has talent, but so many times this year, they lucked into wins they didn’t deserve. #3 Wisconsin had a great season at 29-4, but they over-achieved all year, have trouble scoring, and weren’t tested at all once conference season started in the below-average Big Ten. We aren’t buying Vanderbilt as a #4 seed when they couldn’t win on the road in conference. The team to watch is #5 Clemson.

Final Four Contenders

Readers of my columns know that I graduated from Kansas and live and die with this team. Since the bad one point loss at Oklahoma State on February 23rd, this ship has been righted. KU ripped off seven wins in a row, including the Big 12 Tournament championship. It seems like it’s now or never for Bill Self this time around. This team is nine deep with talent and experience galore. The front court has star Sophomore Darrell Arthur, the team’s leading scorer, whose 15 foot jumper is money. He stands next to two Seniors, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun. Jackson is the heart and soul of the team and one of the most improved players in the country. Kaun is the best defensive big man KU has and is extremely physical. They rotate with Freshman Cole Aldrich who is a defensive specialist and the team’s best shot-blocker. On the wing, Brandon Rush has picked up his game in the last few weeks, sensing this is it for him as well. He was MVP of the Big 12 Tournament and is the team’s best deep shooter and perimeter defender. Mario Chalmers is no slouch either. He and Russell Robinson are the best defensive backcourt in the country and Chalmers is the guy who wants the ball in his hands at the end of the games. He had 30 in the Big 12 final against Texas.

As great as this team is, they won’t go deep without PG Sherron Collins being the player he has been since getting back to 100% after battling leg and knee injuries most of the year. It’s no coincidence that the team began to peak once Collins got healthy. That was after the loss at Oklahoma State. He runs the floor with break-neck speed and penetrates to the hole better than almost anyone in the college game. This team moves the ball better than any team you will see and is so unselfish, almost sometimes to a fault. There is also the specter of Bill Self not being able to get over the hump and get to the Final Four. Will this year be different?

Many experts think Georgetown is the squad that could come out of the Midwest. The core of this team got to a Final Four last year and they are an excellent defensive team, something that always goes a long way in March. Five guys score at least nine points a game, and they have a big shot maker in PG Jonathan Wallace. Wallace did not have the Senior campaign he had hoped. His scoring, assists, and shooting percentages all went down, while his turnovers went up. That said, he still shoots 45% from deep and is extremely clutch. SG Jesse Sapp, like Wallace, has the knack for hitting the big shot. He hits 40% from deep and has started every game over the last two seasons. Forward DaJuan Summers improved his game this season and scores 11.3 points per game and is very athletic. The X-factor for this team is Patrick Ewing Jr., one of the best sixth men in the country. He is a guy who does it all on both ends of the floor and is the emotional leader of this team. Did I forget to mention the 7’2, 275 lbs beast in the middle Roy Hibbert? We’ve been saying all year that he is the most overrated player in the country, but he is still a force. He leads the Hoyas in scoring and in rebounding. He needs to stay out of foul trouble or Georgetown will be in trouble. John Thompson III is an excellent game coach. Remember though, this team won three games in the end on controversial officiating. That will catch up to them at some point.


It’s hard to call a #5 seed a sleeper, but to this eye, the one team who could give Kansas the most trouble is Clemson. Four times this season, the Tigers gave North Carolina and Duke all they wanted. True, they only won one of those games, but taking the #1 team in the country to OT twice should count for something. They have solid low post threats in Trevor Booker and James Mays (a shot-blocking extraordinaire). Guards K.C. Rivers (JR) and Cliff Hammonds (SR) are savvy veterans and lead the team in scoring, and SG Terrance Oglesby is one of the best three point shooters in the country. Oliver Purnell loves to full court press and goes 10 deep.

If you are looking for a mid-range seed to get to the Elite Eight, than #6 USC is your squad. You know all about Freshman star O.J. Mayo, but what you may not know is that for all of the flash and hype, he has become the ultimate team guy and the Trojans have responded to it. Credit Coach Tim Floyd for that development in Mayo. Fellow Freshman Davon Jefferson is an extremely athletic Forward who has gotten better and better as the season has gone on. Taj Gibson is solid in the post and was the difference maker on last year’s Sweet 16 team. This team cannot be counted out because of how Floyd’s changing defenses. Whether its man, zone, box and one, or triangle and two, Floyd always seems to pull the right strings with his club.

The biggest sleeper potentially in the Tournament because of their draw, where they are playing, and their ability to shoot the ball is Davidson. A #10 seed, the Wildcats come in with a nation’s best 23 game winning streak. They played North Carolina to a four point game, lost to Duke by just six, and had an 18 point lead in the first half on UCLA in Anaheim before losing. Stephen Curry and Jason Richards are the best backcourt you’ve never heard of. Curry is a lights out shooter, averaging 25 points a game and nailing 43% from deep. They are playing their first two games in Raleigh, a short two hours from their Charlotte campus. Don’t be surprised if they give Georgetown fits in the second round.

Best Backcourt

Kansas – Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins

Not only is this the best backcourt in the region, it’s the best in the nation. Collins is the straw that stirs the drink, Rush and Chalmers are big time shot makers, Robinson runs a steady point and is a lock-down defender. They are all interchangeable and Chalmers, Collins, and Robinson can all handle the ball.

Best Frontcourt

Kansas – Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich

Call me a homer if you will, but you go and find me another team that has four solid post players, one who is a budding lottery pick, two battled-tested Seniors who love to do the dirty work, and a McDonald’s All-American Freshman who is a great shot blocker and rebounder.

Best Coach

Bo Ryan – Wisconsin

Nobody does more with less than Ryan. Every year, no matter how little talent he may have, his team defends, shoots the ball well, and just flat out wins. They don’t beat themselves. That is all coaching.

First Round Upset Alert

#13 Siena over #4 Vanderbilt – Vandy is a team that lives and dies with the three ball. The same can be said for Siena, who plays a five out, none in, style. Their tallest player is just 6’7. If Siena is hot and Shan Foster and company aren’t, the Saints could pull the stunner. Vandy was a poor road team in conference and if this game is close, you know the fans will pull for the little guy.

Best First Round Matchup

#6 USC vs. #11 Kansas State – This is probably the best first round matchup in the tournament. Lots of storylines here: K-State’s Michael Beasley, the best player in the country, against fellow Super-Frosh O.J. Mayo. Mayo’s high school teammate for three years, Bill Walker, is K-State’s second leading scorer. Big 12 vs. Pac-10, two of the three best conferences in the country this season. Should be a lot of fireworks in Omaha.

Juiciest Potential Matchups

2nd Round - #3 Wisconsin vs. #6 USC – Two of the better coached teams in the country who will probably keep the score in the 50’s. The difference in this matchup is that USC has O.J. Mayo and Wisconsin doesn’t.

Sweet 16 - #2 Georgetown vs. #6 USC – The Trojans lack of depth in the post will be tested, and it wouldn’t shock us to see all-everything defender Patrick Ewing Jr. attempt to stop Mayo. This will be another game played at a snails pace.

Elite Eight - #1 Kansas vs. #2 Georgetown – Lets see how Roy Hibbert handles the bevy of big bodies Kansas will throw at him. The battle of the backcourts, Jesse Sapp and Jonathan Wallace vs. Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and Sherron Collins will be great to watch. The Hoyas will attempt to slow the Jayhawks down.

Players With the Most to Prove

Roy Hibbert – Georgetown – He should have gone pro after his NCAA Tournament performance last year. His stock has dropped because he can’t stay out of foul trouble and can’t get up and down the floor. He has the next three weeks to redeem himself.

Stephen Curry – Davidson – Most college hoops experts know he is an exceptional scorer, but he is far from a household name. Two wins this weekend and he will be.

Brandon Rush – Kansas – Like Hibbert, his NBA stock has fallen considerably this season. He began to make up for it with his Big 12 Tournament MVP performance, but if Kansas is going to get to the Final Four, Rush has to play that way, rather than the passive player we saw for a month and a half.

The Pick

Don’t expect to see Georgetown in the regional final. We think USC gets past both Wisconsin and the Hoyas to meet up with Kansas for the second time this year. They Jayhawks have everything working in their favor. Their draw seems very manageable. They are playing their best basketball of the year and they’ve got karma on their side. Check this out: It’s the 20 year anniversary of the 1988 National Championship team. That year, they went through Nebraska and Detroit to get to the Final Four. This year, they start in Nebraska to get to the regionals in Detroit. Nobody in this region has the depth and the talent that the Jayhawks possess, and Bill Self is due to finally get over that hump. Kansas will head to San Antonio and take their chances there.