NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s thoughts; Sunday lookahead

As a journalist friend of mine tweeted after the Wichita State Shockers pulled off the shocker, shocking Ohio State and sending shockwaves through everyone’s bracket – “If you write headlines for a living and use any permutation of the word “shock” tomorrow, I will find you and electrocute you.”

Clearly my friend has his own issues, but there’s really no better word to describe Wichita State making the Final Four than “Shocker.”

They didn’t do it with any flukes either, beating 1-seed Gonzaga and 2-seed Ohio State along the way. Although they were doing a pretty good Jean Van de Velde  impression at the end of the game Saturday, they held on. Kudos.

Syracuse’s fourth consecutive impressive defensive display has me believing they are capable of winning two more and cutting down the nets. The height and length of their guards is so problematic for opposing point guards. I never would have thought the Orange had a chance the way they stumbled down the stretch, but right now they look as good as anyone out there, including Louisville.

On to today’s games:

11:20 a.m. Florida vs. Michigan (CBS): As I switched from watching my No. 3-seeded Michigan State play Duke on Friday night to watch No. 3-seeded Florida play Florida Gulf Coast, I couldn’t help but be reminded that it doesn’t hurt to have a little good fortune on your march toward a title. To make the Elite Eight, the Gators have remarkably played a 14 seed, an 11 seed and a 15 seed. While that certainly helps you get to this point, I think it’s going to hurt the Gators today when they face Michigan, a team that is already battle tested having rallied to beat No. 1 Kansas. Plus, when a team wins a game in miraculous fashion, they usually follow it up with more wins. See Marquette this year. Final score: Michigan 70, Florida 64

2:05 p.m. Duke vs. Louisville (CBS): Blue bloods. Hall of Fame coaches. Great guards. Imposing big men. The only No. 1 seed and the only No. 2 seed remaining in the field face off. The met earlier in the year with Duke winning 76-71, but Louisville was without out their rim-protecting big man Gorgui Dieng. The Cardinals made the Final Four last year, and have shown no signs that they won’t do it again. Final score: Louisville 74, Duke 61.

So if I’m right that would be a Final Four of Louisville vs. Wichita State and Michigan vs. Syracuse. Shocker indeed.

NCAA Tournament: Friday thoughts; Saturday lookahead

Well, it’s officially baseball season for yours truly, as my beloved Michigan State Spartans lost to Duke on Friday. I really thought MSU had all the right pieces to beat Duke, but credit to the Blue Devils. They did the little things necessary to win. Both teams made 20 baskets and shot the same percentage from the field, but Duke shot better from the 3-point line and shot amazingly from the free throw line (24 of 26) to earn the win.

But the tournament goes on, I did correctly pick the other three games including the impressive second-half display by Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines who upset Kansas.

There are eight teams left in the field and only one of them is a No. 1 seed. In fact, there are more 3s and 4s than 1s and 2s.

The seed breakdown is: No. 1 (Louisville); No. 2 (Ohio State, Duke); No. 3 (Florida, Marquette); No. 4 (Michigan, Syracuse); No. 9 (Wichita State)

The conference break down is: Big East (3), Big Ten (2), ACC (1), SEC (1), Missouri Valley (1)

Let’s take a look at today’s two games, as we learn who half the Final Four will be:

1:20 p.m. Marquette vs. Syracuse (CBS): They played already once this year with Marquette winning 74-71. The Orange’s famous 2-3 zone won’t be as hard to decipher for the Eagles as it was for Indiana on Thursday, since they are used to it. Marquette has a toughness advantage, but Syracuse gained a lot of confidence offensively with their last victory. I can’t shake Marquette’s first game against Davidson out of my head. Final score: Syracuse 65, Marquette 60

3:55 p.m. Ohio State vs. Wichita State (CBS): The Buckeyes have won each of their last two games on final-possession 3-pointers, and need to establish themselves early in this one to prevent it coming to another nail-biter. Wichita State has been particularly stingy on defense, holding opponents to around 35 percent. The Buckeyes have struggled all year to find a consistent third scorer behind Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, but the emergence of forward LaQuinton Ross has been a revalation, scoring 34 points in the last two games. No last-second 3-pointer necessary today. Final score: Ohio State 68, Wichita State 56.

I went with the two favorites today, do you foresee an upset? If so tell me about in the comment section below.

 

NCAA Tournament: Thursday thoughts; Friday lookahead

Well, on selection Sunday, right before the brackets came out I had made up my mind. I knew what two teams I was going to have face off in my championship game. But alas, the selection committee didn’t help me out putting both of them in the same region. Those two teams were Miami and Indiana. I guess maybe the committee helped me out after all as both of the teams I liked most to cut down the nets lost on Thursday.

I was pretty surprised by all of Thursday’s results, really. The only winner I picked correctly was Ohio State and I thought they would win by more. I picked the favorites Indiana and Miami and then I picked La Salle to upset Wichita State in a close one. Instead they got thumped.

We now know there will be a Big East team in the Final Four as Syracuse and Marquette will meet Saturday to punch a ticket to Atlanta. Ohio State faces Wichita State to declare the West region champ.

Kudos, too, to Arizona for putting up a fantastic fight against Ohio State. Who would have thought LaQuinton Ross would be the hero? I can certainly understand the attention the Arizona defense payed to Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas on that final possession.

Well, let’s see if I can do better than 1 out of 4 with my picks today.

4:15 p.m. Oregon vs. Louisville (CBS): There are a lot of teams in the Sweet 16 that I think Oregon can beat, but Louisville is not one of them. They have shown very little that makes me think they won’t shut down the Oregon guards and create a lot of havoc with their defense. Final score: Louisville 74, Oregon 59

4:37 p.m. Michigan vs. Kansas (TBS): This is an interesting matchup of contrasts. Michigan, led by point guard Trey Burke who I consider to be the best player in college hoops even though it pains me to say as a Michigan State grad, is a guard oriented team. Kansas has talented guards, but it’s their big men, including shot-blocker Jeff Withey that gives them the advantage. If Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson Jr., (might as well find Grant Hill Jr. and Christian Laettner Jr. to help while you’re at it) can hit jumpers and pull Withey away from the goal, they have a great shot. Final score: Michigan 69, Kansas 64

6:45 p.m. Michigan State vs. Duke (CBS): OK, we all know I am a Spartan, but I do like this matchup for Michigan State. It’s a great game, pitting the two best coaches of the last 15 years. There are plenty of must-see matchups: Duke’s Ryan Kelly vs. Michigan State’s Adreian Payne as tall offensive-minded players who can shoot from the outside; Duke’s Mason Plumlee vs. Michigan State’s Derrick Nix banging on each other down low; and the key matchup Duke sharp-shooter Seth Curry vs. MSU’s talented freshman Gary Harris, a sharp-shooter himself. Duke has the edge on the perimeter. MSU has an edge on the boards. Final score: Michigan State 70, Duke 60

6:57 p.m. Florida Gulf Coast vs. Florida (TBS): When this game tips off, there will be 10 teams still competing for a national title and one of them will be Florida Gulf Coast. Amazing. The important thing for Florida is to take the lead early and not let the Eagles feel like they have a shot. FGCU is going to have fun, that much I know, but the Gators should be patient enough to prevail with some ease. Final score: Florida 78, FGCU 60

Well that’s what I think. What do you think? Please leave a comment. I certainly was wrong a lot on Thursday.  Which picks do I have wrong for Friday?

NCAA Tournament: Picking Thursday’s winners

Man I hate that long wait from Sunday until Thursday, but alas, it’s Thursday and that means four teams will take another step toward the NCAA championship.

First here are tonight’s games:

4:15 p.m.: Miami vs. Marquette (CBS)

4:47 p.m.: Arizona vs. Ohio State (TBS)

6:45 p.m.: Indiana vs. Syracuse (CBS)

7:17 p.m.: Wichita State vs. La Salle (TBS)

Player to watch tonight: Yogi Ferrell, Indiana point guard. Ferrell, a freshman, plays with a veteran’s poise, and he’s going to need it tonight against Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone. Ferrell traditionally terrorizes opponents by blowing past the guy guarding him and getting to the rim or distributing the ball, but that doesn’t really work against a zone. His abiblity to be patient, find holes in the zone and still get the ball to his more high-profile teammates will be the Hoosiers’ key to victory. If he cans a couple 3-pointers when the ball gets kicked back to him, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Individual matchup of the night: Arizona’s Nick Johnson vs. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. This will be a battle to see if either can figure out a way to contribute offensively while being guarded by the other. Both are physical guards whose hallmark is defense. Whoever is winning this battle will tell you who’s winning the game.

Need-to-know stat: The highest-numbered seed to ever make the Elite Eight is 12th seeded Missouri in 2002. That’s bad news for 13th-seeded La Salle which takes on Wichita State tonight. Remember it on Friday, too, as 12th-seeded Oregon and 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast hope to make history.

Spoiler alert, I am about to reveal the final scores of tonight’s games. I’d still go ahead and watch them, though.

Miami vs. Marquette: I picked the Hurricanes to win it all, so I’m not going to waver yet, but something about Marquette makes me nervous. Some times those teams that seem like they’re destined to win, end up … well, winning. Marquette needed a miracle to beat Davidson by one in its opener, and another high-tension effort to beat Butler by 2 on Saturday. No more magic. Final score: Miami 66, Marquette 57

Arizona vs. Ohio State: Ohio State needed an escape job to beat Iowa State, while Arizona won both its games by double-digits. Though I wonder if the toughness they’ve seen from Belmont and Harvard will prepare them for the Buckeyes. Some times it’s best not to overthink it, and I’m not sure Arizona has someone equipped to stop Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. Final score: Ohio State 70, Arizona 59

Indiana vs. Syracuse: I’m having a hard time visualizing what’s going to happen in this game, becasue I can see it going both ways. If the Hoosiers have a tough time solving that zone and aren’t hitting 3-point shots, which can happen to them on occasion, I give the Orange a great shot of winning. But the Hoosiers have an underrated defense and Syracuse has had a few of those offensive clunkers throughout the year, icnluding the last time they played on this court scoring 39 against Georgetown. I think easy baskets will be hard to come by, but the Hoosiers have more players capable of making a one-on-one play. Final score: Indiana 60, Syracuse 53

Wichita State vs. La Salle: The Shockers were impressive in taking down No. 1 seed Gonzaga. La Salle has impressively made the Sweet 16 all the way from the play-in game. As I said above, No. 13 seed has ever made the elite eight, but that’s usually because they are facing a No. 1 seed if they make it this far. La Salle’s four guard lineup will be different from the interior-focused teams Wichita State has beaten (Pittsburgh, Gonzaga). This is a coin flip. Final score:  La Salle 70, Wichita State 67

Enjoy the games and check back to this blog at mydesert.com for a look back at Thursday’s game and a lookahead to Friday’s action.

 

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 conference call, Pac-12 on top

A fun thing to do after the Sweet 16 is set is to compare the conferences to see how each of them fared. It would be easy to say the Big Ten is doing the best because it has four teams still alive, the most of any conference, but a better way to judge a conference is how they are doing vs. expectations. And under that microscope, it is the Pac-12 that is having the best postseason so far.

It’s a very simple formula I invented to rival the RPI called the SCEI or Shad’s Conference Excellence Indicator. It’s simple and it’s based on the seeds. Everyone seeded 1, 2, 3 or 4 is supposed to be in the Sweet 16. Everyone else has exceeded expectations. So let’s look at conferences vs. expectations.

This is how many teams each conference should have had in the Sweet 16 based on seeds:

Big Ten: 4 — Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan

Big East: 4 — Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Syracuse

Big 12: 2 — Kansas, Kansas State

ACC: 2 — Miami, Duke

Mountain West: 1 — New Mexico

Atlantic 10: 1 — Saint Louis

SEC: 1 — Florida

West Coast Conference: 1 — Gonzaga

This is what actually happened:

Big Ten: 4 — Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan (as they were supposed to)

Big East: 3 — Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse (Georgetown lost)

ACC: 2 — Duke, Miami (as they were supposed to)

Pac-12: 2 — Arizona, Oregon (both exceeding seed expectations)

SEC: 1 — Florida (as they were supposed to)

Big 12: 1 — Kansas (Kansas State lost)

Atlantic 10: 1 — La Salle (making up for Saint Louis loss)

Atlantic Sun: 1 — Florida Gulf Coast (exceeding expectations)

Missouri Valley Conference: 1 — Wichita State (exceeding expectations)

So, using simple math, the conferences vs. expectations shake down like this:

Pac-12: Plus-2

Atlantic Sun: Plus-1

Missouri Valley Conference: Plus-1

Big Ten: Even

Atlantic-10: Even

SEC: Even

ACC: Even

Big East: Negative-1

Big 12: Negative-1

Mountain West: Negative 1

West Coast Conference: Negative-1

So there you have it. The Pac-12 has done the best so far, we’ll see what the next round brings. The elite is supposed to be just 1 and 2 seeds, and six of those eight still remain. But we alredy know the 9-Wichita State vs. 13-La Salle matchup and the 3-Florida vs. 15-FGCU matchups will produce two interlopers. Will any of the other non-1s and 2s break through?

Come back to this blog at mydesert.com each day this week as we work toward Thursday’s return to action.

NCAA Tournament: Saturday thoughts; Sunday lookahead

We all love the little guy, but Saturday was not a good day for them as it pertained to the NCAA tournament. Six of the eight games pitted a “BCS” team against a “non-BCS” team and the big boys won all six of them, five of those coming by double digits. And that doesn’t even count Gonzaga losing, the ultimate “I told you so” for doubters that the Zags deserved a No. 1 seed.

I was one of those doubters, and, well … I told you so. I thought Gonzaga should have been a 3 seed, and there is no indictment in that, that’s the equivalent of traditional powers Michigan State and Florida. I know Zag fans are touchy about it, but there’s really no shame in admitting that Gonzaga shouldn’t have been a No. 1 seed as they proved in barely beating 16-seed Southern and losing to 9-seed Wichita State. Sure it’s easy to say they shouldn’t have been a No. 1 seed now, but it was also pretty easy before Saturday, too. Consider this, once the field had been whittled to 32 teams, the Zags had absolutely zero wins against any of the 32 teams still playing. Think about that. They were 0-2 against the final 32 teams in the field, losing to Butler and Illinois. Is that the stuff of No. 1 seeds? Other No. 1 seeds, like Indiana for example, were 8-4 against teams still in the field of 32. Just in the same way we’re all comfortable saying Oregon shouldn’t have been a 12 seed, I don’t see why it’s so taboo to say Gonzaga shouldn’t have been a No. 1 seed. In both cases, the seed has been proven to be wrong.

Another note: Looking ahead, 9-seed Wichita State will play the winner of 12-seed Mississippi vs. 13-seed La Salle. So one of those three teams will be playing in the elite eight.

Anyway, in my previous blog I picked all of Saturday’s eight games, and I went 5-3.

My worst pick was Saint Louis to beat Oregon 73-62. I apologize, Ducks, I didn’t believe in you, but it’s har to find a team that had a more impressive weekend.  My other misses were I thought Gonzaga would win a squeaker, and I thought Butler would eke past Marquette. I got the other five correct, basically just picking favorites, but I was suprised at how lopsided the victories were for Michigan, Michigan State and Arizona.

Without further ado here are my Sunday picks:

10-Iowa State vs. 2-Ohio State (9:15 a.m. CBS): I have a basketball crush on Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, even though he terrorized my Michigan State Spartans twice this year. Just take a few possessions to watch him play defense, and you will like him too, unless you are a Cyclone guard. Iowa State can score in bunches and is scary, but I have to go with Craft. Final: Ohio State 77, Iowa State 66

9-Temple vs. 1-Indiana (11:45 a.m. CBS): The bloom fell off the Atlantic 10 rose on Saturday, with VCU, Butler and Saint Louis all exiting. I don’t foresee a situation where Temple can stay with Indiana. Hoosiers have a little too much of everything for Temple. Final: Indiana 81, Temple 67

8-North Carolina vs. 1-Kansas (2:15 p.m. CBS): This one could be interesting as the Tar Heels certainly are peaking at the right time. Kansas was lackluster against Western Kentucky, and has scoring droughts too often for my liking. Also the Big 12 has really layed an egg so far. I’ll call for a big upset. Final: North Carolina 69, Kansas 67

11-Minnesota vs. 3-Florida (3:10 p.m. TNT): The Gophers have been an enigma all year. A team that can beat Indiana and Michigan State, but finished 3-8 in their final 11 Big Ten games. They showed some spark in manhandling UCLA. The Gators are a different story, but not immune to upset. Another shocker. Final: Minnesota 80, Florida 70

15-Florida Gulf Coast vs. 7-San Diego State (4:10 p.m., TBS): A nice opportunity for the Aztecs to advance, but I loved what I saw in FGCU. All five guys seemed confident in their abilities to score and defend. Two days of hearing how great you are, doesn’t always help though. It’s a tight one, but … Final: SDSU 60, FGCU 56

13-La Salle vs. 12-Mississippi (4:40 p.m. TruTV): This is a tough one to handicap, but using the format that was layed out Saturday with big-conference teams going 6-0 against small-conference teams. I’ll take the Rebels. Final: Ole Miss. 73, La Salle 60

7-Illinois vs. 2-Miami (5:40 p.m. TNT): I’ve picked Miami to win it all and I’ve seen no reaso to waver on that. Illinois does have heavyweights Indiana and Gonzaga on its victory list, but unless the 3-pointers are really falling, I don’t see it. Final: Miami 79, Illinois 61

2-Duke vs. 7-Creighton (6:40 p.m. TBS): Let’s see, a talented Missouri Valley Conference team going against a high seed. Where have we heard that before. As Creighton tries to recreate the magic that Wichita State had in beating Gonzaga on Saturday.The talente level is not much different, and Creighton has the best player on the floor in Doug McDermott, but Duke won’t let this one slip away. Final: Duke 79, Creighton 74

NCAA Tournament: Friday thoughts; Saturday lookahead

Haven’t had more fun watching an underdog try to cling to a lead than I did watching Florida Gulf Coast against Georgetown. They were doing everything wrong, but it felt so right. Not taking time off the clock. Being careless with the ball. Playground alley-oops early in the shot clock up 9 with two minutes left? That’s the plan. But it worked, and it was exciting, and, oh those back-door cuts for dunks. Wow.

The Florida Gulf Coast wikipedia page lists it’s notable alumni. No. 3 on the list behind an MLB pitcher (Chris Sale) and a PGA golfer (Derek Lamely) is Courtney Jolly a pro monster truck driver. That makes sense.

The Eagles’ win was the ugliest blow of an ugly day for the Big East. Four teams played and all four lost. Eight Big East teams made the field, and only three remain. Louisville and Syracuse which beat their inferior foes soundly; and Marquette which you may recall needed a miracle to beat 14-seed Davidson. Aside from Georgetown, the other four losers were involved in 8-9 or 7-10 toss-up games. Pitt, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Villanova all lost. This is a bit of a trend for the Big East, first-round struggles. Sometimes those struggles are erased by having one team earn the National Championship, as Louisville might this year, but it has been a trend of late. Of course, the Big East won’t exist as we know it next year, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Another conference that had a rough first round with one exception was the Big 12. No. 4 Kansas State lost to La Salle on Friday following No. 5 Oklahoma State’s loss to Oregon on Thursday. No. 1 Kansas then barely beat No. 16 Western Kentucky. Tenth-seeded Iowa State helped the conference save face by crushing Notre Dame.

The Atlantic 10 is now a remarkable 6-0 in the tournament with all five of its teams making the round of 32. The Big Ten also did well, going 6-1 in the first round with only an upset loss by Wisconsin ruining a perfect slate.

SENSATIONAL SATURDAY

There are eight games today including all three remaining Pac-12 teams in action. Here is a quick hit and a pick on each game.

4-Michigan vs. 5-VCU (9:15 a.m. CBS): This is by far the most attractive game of the day and should be a fast-paced, fun-to-watch thriller. I think Michigan has just the point guard to handle the 40-minute pressure cooker VCU creates. Final: Michigan 73, VCU 68

3-Michigan State vs. 6-Memphis (11:45 a.m. CBS): This game features a lot of NBA caliber athletes, incuding a must-see star in Memphis’ D.J. Stephens said he’s going to win the NBA dunk contest next year. The Tigers’ athletic ability will be difficult to overcome, but I’ll put my faith in coach Izzo. Final: Michigan State 64, Memphis 56

1-Louisville vs. 8-Colorado State (2:15 p.m. CBS): Coach Larry Eustachy has been in these big games before, but his team hasn’t. I expect a relatively easy trip to the Sweet 16 for the Cardinals. Final: Louisville 68, Colorado State 50

6-Arizona vs. 14-Harvard (3:10 p.m. TNT): The Wildcats have a talented, deep squad that should be too much for Harvard, but so did New Mexico. It’s hard to play a complete game twice in a row, though. Final: Arizona 76, Harvard 64.

12-Oregon vs. 4-St. Louis (4:10 p.m. TBS): The Ducks showed the world they were underseeded with a complete dismantling of Oklahoma State on Thursday. St. Louis showed they love they’ve been receiving is legit. I’ll take the steady veteran team in this one, over the electric guards of Oregon. Final: Saint Louis 73, Oregon 62

6-Butler vs. 3-Marquette (4:45 p.m. CBS): I just love Butler and the Atlantic 10 as a conference has done nothing but win so far. However, sometimes when a team escapes like Marquette did against Davidson, they capitalize on their second chance. Tough to call. Final: Butler 53, Marquette 50

9-Wichita State vs. 1-Gonzaga (5:40 p.m. TNT): After Thursday’s games, it’s tempting to pick Wichita State with the upset here, but the near loss to Southern should ensure Gonzaga is ready from the start. The bracket has opened up for the winner of this game, who will next fave the winner of 12-Mississippi and 13-La Salle. Final: Gonzaga 66, Wichita State 60.

12-California vs. 4-Syracuse (6:40 p.m. TBS): Syracuse has the capacity to lay an egg at any moment, but they certainly appeared serious and ready to perform on Thursday as they crushed a decent Montana team. Cal has the favorable, unfair home-court advantage, but it’s not going to be enough. Final: Syracuse 78, Cal 65.

There you have it. We’ll see how close I come when we review Saturday’s action and look ahead to Sunday in my next blog.

 

NCAA Tournament: Friday mid-day update

Half of Friday’s 16 games have been completed, so let’s take a look at what’s happened.

First here are today’s final scores, and you’ll see there have been some suprises already today.

1-Indiana 83, 16-James Madison 62

13-La Salle 63, 4-Kansas State 61

7-Creighton 67, 10-Cincinnati 63

2-Miami 78, 15-Pacific 49

9-Temple 76, 8-North Carolina State 73

12-Mississippi 57, 5-Wisconsin 46

2-Duke 73, 15-Albany 61

7-Illinois 57, 10-Colorado 49

BADGER BLUNDER

The biggest surprise in the first half of games to me, was definitely the failure of Wisconsin. One week ago, they were busy beating Michigan and Indiana, today they couldn’t make an uncontested 3-pointer to save their lives. And as it pertains to the NCAA Tournament their lives are over.

FIRST PAC-12 BLIP

Colorado did the classic come-back-too-quickly maneuver, trailing 37-22 to Illinois only to rattle off a 22-2 start to the second half to take the lead. But alas, Illinois righted the ship after making no baskets in the first 10 minutes of the second half, to regain control and get the victory. The Pac-12′s five teams are now 3-1 with UCLA still to play tonight against Minnesota.

ATLANTIC-10 AWESOMENESS

Wow! Respect is certainly due the Atlantic 10 whose five teams are now a total of 6-0 when La Salle followed up its play-in game victory Wednedsay with a victory over the fourth-seeded Kansas State today. La Salle, along with Saint Louis, Butler, VCU and Temple (who beat N.C. State today), will all be playing this weekend, comprising 5 of the 32 teams still alive. How many will make the Sweet 16, time will tell, but the league has been impressive so far.

Here are the remaining games tonight:

3:50 p.m. Georgetown vs. Florida Gulf Coast

4:15 p.m.: Iona vs. Ohio State

4:20 p.m.: Villanova vs. North Carolina

4:27 p.m.: Northwestern St. vs. Florida

6:20 p.m.: Oklahoma vs. San Diego State

6:45 p.m.: Iowa State vs. Notre Dame

6:50 p.m.: Western Kentucky vs. Kansas

6:57 p.m.: Minnesota vs. UCLA

Enjoy.

 

NCAA Tournament: Thursday thoughts, Friday lookahead

It took most of the day, but finally Harvard provided us with the signature moment of the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Harvard’s victory over New Mexico, a vogue pick to go deep in the tournament, sent a lot of brackets crashing down.

Here were my main takeaways from Thursday:

PAC-12 BREAKOUT

Much-maligned all year, and apparently incorrectly so, the Pac-12 was the biggest winner Thursday with Cal and Oregon winning as 12 seeds and Arizona winning easily as a six-seed. The 3-0 day with UCLA and Colorado set to play today, shows that the league was underseeded by the committe. That is especially true for Oregon, the Pac-12 Tournament champion, which drew a lot of surprsied looks when they were seeded 12th on Selection Sunday. They drubbed 5-seeded Oklahoma State 68-55, showing that they deserved better. Though now, it worked out perfectly, as they move on to play 4-seed St. Louis. Had they been a 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 seed they would be facing a 1, 2 or 3 seed. UCLA plays Minnesota and Colorado plays Illinois in a pair of Pac-12, Big Ten tilts. Neither conference has lost a game in the tournament.

MOUNTAIN WEST WOES

Year after year, the Mountain West schools put together great regular season resumes only to flop in the tournament. That hapened again Thursday when its two highest seeds 3-New Mexico and 5-UNLV both lost. They are 1-3 (Colorado State won and Boise State lost in a playoff game Wednesday) with San Diego State facing Oklahoma today. The Mountain West is particularly a hit in the RPI, a tool used by the committee to assess teams. They were the top RPI conference this year, even over the Big Ten, generally thought of as the top conference. Their continued lack of success makes me doubt the voracity of the RPI in general.

MY BRACKET

Like a lot of people, I didn’t suffer too many hits on Thursday, correctly guessing 13 of 16. I missed Wichita State, Oregon and Harvard. My best pick was probably Cal. Tennis and boxing writer Leighton Ginn is leading The Desert Sun pool. He had an impressive 15 correct, including Oregon, Cal and Harvard! His only miss was Wichita State.

THE FOUR GAMES I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO TODAY

6-UCLA vs. 11-Minnesota (6:57 p.m.): The Bruins’ perception may have changed after Thursday’s great Pac-12 performance, but Minnesota is actually the Las Vegas favorite in this game despite being the worse seed. It’s the only game outside of 8-9 games where that is the case. That level of disrespect is a great motivator, so I have a funny feeling the Bruins are going to play with great purpose today and pull off the “upset”. Final: UCLA 62, Minnesota 58

8-N.C. State vs. 9-Temple (10:40 a.m.): Even better than the Pac-12 is the success of the Atlantic 10 Conference which is 4-0, including dominating victories Thursday by VCU, Butler and Saint Louis to go wiht a LaSalle playin victory. Temple hopes to carry the banner today against an N.C. State team which has as much talent as anyone, but haven’t figured out how to maximize. If N.C. State wins today, they may even give top-seed Indiana trouble on Sunday, but … Final: Temple 73, N.C. State 72

5-Wisconsin vs. 12-Mississippi (9:40 a.m.): Mississippi averages over 80 points a game. Wisconsin allows 56. The Rebels are led by fiery and sometimes obnoxious Marshall Henderson, who has tons of fun playing basketball. The Badgers’ goal is to make sure their opponent has absolutely no fun playing basketball. Should be almost comical to watch. Final: Wisconsin 69, Mississippi 55

7-Notre Dame vs. 10-Iowa State (6:45 p.m.): The Cyclones play an exciting brand off basketball with six players averaging 9 or more points. Anyone is a threat to shoot, most likely a 3-pointer, at any time. Notre Dame meanwhile just has a knack for playing entertaining close games, most notably their five-overtime victory over Louisville. Which ever team wins, will be a tough test for Ohio State in the next round. Final: Iowa State 73, Notre Dame 64

Enjoy Friday. Here is the schedule:

9:15 a.m.: Albany vs. Duke

9:40 a.m.: Mississippi vs. Wisconsin

10:40 a.m.: Temple vs. N.C. State

11:10 a.m.: Pacific vs. Miami

11:45 a.m.: Cincinnati vs. Creighton

12:10 p.m.: LaSalle vs. Kansas State

1:10 p.m.: James Madison vs. Indiana

1:40 p.m.: Illinois vs. Colorado

3:50 p.m.: Florida Gulf Coast vs. Georgetown

4:15 p.m.: Iona vs. Ohio State

4:20 p.m.: North Carolina vs. Villanova

4:27 p.m.: Northwestern State vs. Florida

6:20 p.m.: Oklahoma vs. San Diego State

6:45 p.m.: Iowa State vs. Notre Dame

6:50 p.m.: Western Kentucky vs. Kansas

6:57 p.m.: UCLA vs. Minnesota

NCAA hoops mid-day update: What we’ve learned so far

First here are the scores and Saturday matchups after eight of Thursday’s 16 games are complete:

3-Michigan State 65, 14-Valparaiso 54

4-Saint Louis 64, 13-N. Mex. State 44

6-Memphis 54, 11-St. Mary’s 52

12-Oregon 68, 5-Oklahoma State 55

9-Wichita State 73, 8-Pittsburgh 55

1-Gonzaga 64, 16-Southern 58

3-Marquette 59, 14-Davidson 58

6-Butler 68, 11-Bucknell 56

Saturday’s matchups: Times to be determined later tonight.

Michigan State vs. Memphis

Butler vs. Marquette

Gonzaga vs Wichita State

Oregon vs. Saint Louis.

UPSET OF THE DAY

Oregon over Oklahoma State didn’t shock many as a 12 has beaten a five seed now in 23 of last 25 years. Most believe Oregon never should have been seeded that low, and they proved it this afternoon with a convincing victory. Will it be a harbinger that all the disrespected Pac-12 teams will do well? Wichita State over Pittsburgh was not a suprise either, but it is the only other game where the worse-seeded team won.

DRAMATIC MOMENT

“You’re my boy Blue!” That’s whta Marquette fans are saying after their remarkable comeback to beat Davidson. Vander Blue made a layin with one second left to cap a rally that included three consecutive made 3-pointers in the final minute to earn a one-pont victory. Marquette, by the way ranked 318th in 3-point accuracy during the season.

NEAR HISTORY

With four minutes left, top seed Gonzaga was feelinga little Southern discomfort as 16 seed Southern had tied the game at 54. We all know a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed and with the Bulldogs ’ ability to pull it out. That mark now moves to 113-0 for 1 seeds.

LOW-SCORING

16 teams have played and only one (Wichita State) scored more than 70 points. If you’re looking for a high-scoring game tonight, check out the Michigan South Dakota State game that just started. I feel like both teams will eclipse 70.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

4:15 p.m. South Dakota State vs. Michigan

4:15 p.m.: Louisville vs. N.C. A & T

4:20 p.m.: Belmont vs. Arizona

4:27 p.m.: Cal vs. UNLV

6:20 p.m.: Missouri vs. Colorado State

6:45 p.m.: Akron vs. VCU

6:50 p.m.: Harvard vs. New Mexico

6:57 p.m.: Montana vs. Syracuse