MLB scouts expected at La Quinta-Desert Christian Academy

For those interested in local baseball, La Quinta High School is the place to be this evening. Close to 20 MLB scouts will be in attendance in tonight’s La Quinta-Desert Christian Academy baseball game, secondary principal Steve Blankenship has told The Desert Sun.

Most of them will be there to watch Desert Christian Academy’s senior pitcher Morgan Earman, a 6-foot-4 prospect that has allowed just a single multi-base hit and two earned runs in 40 innings this season.

Making the game even more intriguing is the fact that La Quinta (14-5) will be the Conquerors’ (18-2) toughest competition to date, and feature their own standout on the mound — 6-foot-4 junior Trevor Abshire, whom has has allowed just four earned runs in 52 and 1/3 innings.

Both teams appear destined to make deep runs in the CIF-SS next month, and this could prove to be the biggest game in the valley this year. With a multitude of sluggers that have torched opposing pitchers already this season, both aces will have their work cut out for them.

How will they perform under the pressure? Find out at 6:30 p.m. in La Quinta.

TDS 2013 NFL Mock Draft

Every year the number of NFL mock drafts on the Internet seems to grow. It’s an inexact science, with so much uncertainty and suspense attached that it almost seems silly attempting to accurately predict how it will all unfold.

But that hardly seems like a reason not to give it a try. TDS sports reporter Andrew John recently tried to make sense of it all, predicting how the first round will look prior to trades being announced. In addition, he’s offered other possible scenarios to reduce the chaos and sort out which players each team could and should be targeting.

Comments below are welcome, particularly if the early part of the first round turns out much different than predicted.

Enjoy the draft.

1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — ERIC FISHER, OT, 6’7 306, CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Despite the lack of a consensus No. 1 player in this year’s draft, Fisher appears to be the favorite in the Kansas City war room. The Chiefs desperately need help shoring up the offensive line to keep newly acquired quarterback Alex Smith upright, and Fisher is the best pass-blocker in the class.

Other options: OT Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M is another option, though he doesn’t fit quite as well as Fisher.

2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS — LUKE JOECKEL, OT, 6’6 306, TEXAS A&M
Joeckel is good value here, where he’d strengthen an offensive line that has had difficulty staying healthy. If he doesn’t go No. 1, Joeckel won’t slide much.

Other options: The Jaguars really need a pass-rusher to help a unit that struggles to find opposing quarterbacks a year ago. Dion Jordan out of Oregon and Ezekiel Ansah from Brigham Young could be possibilities here.

3. OAKLAND RAIDERS — Sharrif Floyd, DT, 6’3 297, FLORIDA
There’s been much debate about where the unpredictable Raiders will go with this pick but they badly need a player who can disrupt plays in the backfield and stuff the run, and Floyd fits the bill. He conveniently fits in Oakland’s 3-technique system as well. A potential trade spot for a team looking to move up.

Other options: Dee Milner makes too much sense to actually be the pick here. His coverage skills would certainly help improve a weak secondary that struggled mightily against the pass a year ago.

4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — LANE JOHNSON, OT, 6’6 303, OKLAHOMA
The last of the elite tackles available, Johnson would help fill major need in Philadelphia. With as much offensive firepower as the Eagles have, they can’t afford to have the line falter for a second consecutive year.

Other options: DT Star Lotulelei perfectly fits Philadelphia’s 3-4 hybrid scheme. But the Eagles took a defensive lineman (Fletcher Cox) in the first round last year, and doing so again seems a bit redundant.

5. DETROIT LIONS — DEE MILLNER, CB, 6’0 201, ALABAMA
Cornerback has been an obvious need in Detroit for some time and Millner is fortunately still available under this scenario. He has the speed and cover skills to complement this superb defensive front the Lions have assembled.

Other options: Offensive tackle is the greater need with the retirement of longtime starter Jeff Backus. A pass-rusher such as Ansah could help make Detroit’s D-line even more volatile.

6. CLEVELAND BROWNS — DION JORDAN, OLB, 6’6 248, OREGON
The Browns could go any number of directions with this pick, including trading out altogether. Getting to the quarterback was a problem that plagued Cleveland all last season, and Jordan immediately helps solve that problem. Would the front office really draft quarterback Geno Smith only a year after taking Brandon Weeden in the first round?

Other options: Ansah is another pass-rusher that should get serious consideration here. TE Tyler Eifert out of Notre Dame is also rumored to be a serious candidate.

7. ARIZONA CARDINALS — JONATHAN COOPER, G, 6’2 311, NORTH CAROLINA
The Cardinals weren’t able to upgrade the O-line as much as they would have liked in free agency, and Cooper is talented enough to warrant serious consideration here. In need of a powerful run blocker, Cooper fills a need and has the talent to be a fixture on the line for years to come.

Other options: Lotulelei would be a great value here, though he doesn’t fill a need as much as, say, Cooper or Warmack.

8. BUFFALO BILLS — CHANCE WARMACK, G, 6’2 317, ALABAMA
The Bills need help rushing the passer and protecting their own, so it’s likely they go with a guy who can help on the line as opposed to quarterback Ryan Nassib who would be reunited with his college head coach (Doug Marrone) and offensive coordinator (Nathaniel Hackett).

Other options: Marrone, a former offensive linemen himself, understands the value of a solid line of protection, though it’s hard to not buy into him potentially taking Nassib and trying to rekindle the success his offense had at Syracuse.

9. NEW YORK JETS — EZEKIEL ANSAH, DE, 6’5 271, BRIGHAM YOUNG
After trading Darrelle Revis to Tampa earlier this week, the Jets are likely hoping Millner falls in their lap here. With him off the board, Ansah makes a lot of sense here. He has the raw skills and high energy to create pressure coming off the edge and he’s just too good to be passed over at this point.

Other options: Several way the Jets could go here. Floyd makes sense if he slides, as does pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo out of LSU. If they decide to trade Mark Sanchez, as rumored, a quarterback could be in play as well.

10. TENNESSEE TITANS — BARKEVIOUS MINGO, OLB, 6’4 241, LSU
Mingo has been called a perfect fit in Tennessee, where his versatility and explosiveness would dramatically upgrade a unit that struggled to make plays in the backfield a year ago.

Other options: Cooper and Warmack are options for a team that is trying to find consistency out of its offensive line. The Jets could also go with the best player available, should someone slide.

11. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS — STAR LOTULELEI, DT, 6’3 311, UTAH
It would be a major coupe is he does, though it’s fairly unlikely. Instead, this could provide an opportunity to trade this pick to someone desperate to move up and take Lotulelei.

Other options: Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri is the type of 3-technique DT that could be an option if Lotulelei is off the board.

12. MIAMI DOLPHINS — D.J. FLUKER, OT, 6’4, 339, ALABAMA
With the loss of OT Jake Long in free agency, a powerful run-blocker such as Fluker would be a nice replacement at this point in the draft. He’s a major reason Eddy Lacy ran all over Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

Other options: Trading up to get one of the elite OTs appears to make the most sense, as does CB Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State, who fills a need in the defensive secondary and is a match in Miami’s press-man cover scheme.

13. NEW YORK JETS — GENO SMITH, QB, 6’3 218, WEST VIRGINIA
Acquired via the Darrelle Revis trade, the Jets have an opportunity to acquire fill a need and grab a value player in Smith, who could be the heir apparent to Mark Sanchez.

Other options: Smith’s former teammate Tavon Austin would give the Jets another playmaker to team with whomever ends up under center in Week 1. They could also grab the best available player, should someone fall.

14. CAROLINA PANTHERS, SHELDON RICHARDSON, DT, 6’3 294, MISSOURI
This pick appears to be the consensus among most draft experts. The Panthers need a 3-technique tackle, and Richardson is talented enough to warrant consideration. He has the explosiveness and quickness to make plays in the backfield.

Other options: Austin would be a nice long-term replacement for aging receiver Steve Smith, should he be available here. Condarrelle Patterson, an athletic receiver out of Tennessee, could also garner consideration.

15. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — JARVIS JONES, OLB, 6’3 245, GEORGIA
Jones may not be the best fit in New Orleans, but he’s a big-time talent and is simply the best player available. The Saints have drafted well in early rounds recently, and prefer value over fit in most cases.

Other options: S Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas fills a need more than Jones does, but he’s not quite as talented or proven. Fluker also fills a need, if he happens to slide.

16. ST. LOUIS RAMS — TAVON AUSTIN, WR, 5’9 174, WEST VIRGNIA
With WR Danny Amendola gone, there isn’t much debate about the Rams taking Austin if he’s available. In this case he is, and his playmaking ability in the return and passing games make him a threat the Rams desperately need.

Other options: Patterson is likely the choice is Austin is already gone, as is Vaccaro and maybe even former Alabama RB Eddy Lacy now that longtime leading rusher Stephen Jackson is gone.

17. PITTSBURGH STEELERS — TYLER EIFERT, TE, 6’6 250, NOTRE DAME
With Heath Miller coming off a knee injury, Eifert provides instant value in an offense that utilizes its tight end as much as anyone. Eifert isn’t just a potential long-term replacement but also an immediate red zone target.

Other options: Jones makes sense in the Steelers’ scheme, should he fall. Patterson is also an option, and don’t be shocked if Lacy lands here, either. Pittsburgh could use help in the running game.

18. DALLAS COWBOYS — KENNY VACCARO, S, 6’0 214, TEXAS
Needing help in the defensive backfield, specifically at safety, the Cowboys would be ecstatic if they could land a local product as talented as Vaccaro. He’s the most polished player at his position and would be a perfect fit in Dallas.

Other options: DT Sylvester Williams out of North Carolina would be a nice fit for a team looking for pass-rushers, as would Richardson, should he fall.

19. NEW YORK GIANTS— JUSTIN PUGH, G, 6’5 307, SYRACUSE
There may be a better value pick available at this point, but upgrading the right side of the offensive line is paramount and Pugh is an underrated talent who can play multiple positions along the line. His versatility and tutelage under Doug Marrone in college could make him a long-term starter.

Other options: CB Desmond Trufant’s 4.38-second 40-yard dash would help upgrade the defensive secondary that allowed a flurry of big plays in the passing game a year ago. Fluker also makes sense is he’s available.

20. CHICAGO BEARS — MANTI TE’O, ILB, 6’1 241, NOTRE DAME
Te’o looked like a miracle worker prior to the BCS title game, and would quickly become a fan favorite in neighboring Chicago. He fills a need, too, replacing the departed Brian Urlacher. No pressure, though.

Other options: Eifert is likely the pick if he’s available. ILB Alec Ogletree makes sense, too, and Trufant would be a fantastic pick for a secondary that faces a trio of talented quarterbacks in the NFC North.

21. CINCINNATI BEGALS — EDDY LACY, RB, 5’11 231, ALABAMA
Lacy provides an upgrade to the run game and would allow the Bengals to move a step closer to being a playoff contender. Not many other players on the board immediately make such a difference.

Other options: Trufant has been rumored here, but he doesn’t fill a major need. Same with Xavier Rhodes. But both are god value picks.

22. ST. LOUIS RAMS — MATT ELAM, S, 5’10 206, FLORIDA
If the Rams don’t go after a safety with their first pick, they likely will here. Elam can step in and become and immediate starter at a position of need for a team that struggles against the pass.

Other options: Patterson would make sense if they addressed the need at safety with the earlier selection. He’s the type of dangerous playmaker they need.

23. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES — CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, WR, 6’2 216, TENNESSEE
With the departure of Percy Harvin, they need a playmaker that can take the pressure off quarterback Christian Ponder. Enter Patterson.

Other options: Te’o fills a need at middle linebacker. WR Robert Woods out of USC could also garner consideration.

24. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS — DESMOND TRUFANT, CB, 6’0 190, WASHINGTON
A number of solid cornerback prospects will be in the mix here, but Trufant may have the edge. He has the ball skills and speed to be an immediate starter.

Other options: CB Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State and D.J. Hayden out of Houston should also get consideration here.

25. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES — ALEC OGLETREE, ILB, 6’2 242, GEORGIA
Ogletree has more of the raw skills and talent to step right in and start, as opposed to Te’o whom Minnesota has targeted. He doesn’t have the leadership or instincts of Te’o but could perhaps end up the better player down the road.

Other options: Woods makes a lot of sense here if the Vikings go with a linebacker with their first selection.

26. GREE BAY PACKERS — MENELIK WATSON, OT, 6’5 310, FLORIDA STATE
The Packers could use an upgrade on the offensive line, and Watson fits their zone-blocking scheme. The could also use an edge rusher.

Other options: Pugh would be a great value pick if still around. Lacy would provide instant support to the run game. I don’t think either will be available.

27. HOUSTON TEXANS — ROBERT WOODS, WR, 6’1 200, USC
Star receiver Andre Johnson is going to slow down eventually and getting a player such as Woods at this point is good value.

Other options: There are other receivers in play here and offensive linemen that would help shore up a weakness that needs to be addressed.

28. DENVER BRONCOS — DATONE JONES, DE, 6’4 284, UCLA
With the loss of Elvis Dumervil, Denver could really use help on the edge. Jones has a unique combination of speed and power and would be a great fit in Broncos’ system.

Other options: S Eric Reid out of LSU would be a great fit, though this may be a bit of a reach.

29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS — XAVIER RHODES, CB, 6’1 210, FLORIDA STATE
Rhodes could be a great value pick here and provide depth at a position of need for a team that needs to improve its pass protection.

Other options: The defensive secondary is in need of upgrades, so really anyone with first-round talent could be in play here.

30. ATLANTA FALCONS — ROBERT ALFORD, CB, 6’0 185, S.E. LOUISIANA
Another team in need of an upgrade at the cornerback position should have not problem finding decent value this late in the round.

Other options: I really like DE Tank Carradine out of Florida State here, simply because he’s a talented, high-energy edge rusher that would be a great addition to a team already a fixture in the playoffs.

31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS — TANK CARRADINE, DE, 6’4 276, FLORIDA STATE
To get Carradine to play opposite of DE Aldon Smith would be a major coupe. With Jason Smith aging and the rest of the line fairly unproven, this is a great time to start upgrading.

Other options: TE Zach Ertz out of Stanford could help his former college coach, Jim Harbaugh, form a really dynamic two-TE set. I also like DT John Jenkins from Georgia, filling perhaps the 49ers’ biggest need.

32. BALTIMORE RAVENS — JUSTIN HUNTER, WR, 6’4 196, TENNESSEE
It doesn’t do much good to give quarterback Joe Flacco that big contract without surrounding him with weapons. Hunter is a major talent and could provide the offense with another big-play threat.

Other options: The defense needs help with the departure of future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Linebacker and safety should be high on the priority list.

andrew.john@thedesertsun.com
Twitter — @ALJnotes

Desert natives wrap up spring football

With spring football winding down on college campuses around the country, we checked in with several college football writers with knowledge of FBS players from the desert to bring you an update on them heading into the summer. Preseason camps will open in August, with roughly three weeks for teams to sort out their starting lineups heading into the season. We’ll do another update then.

Anthony Neyer, QB, Idaho, Jr. (Xavier Prep)
With Idaho starting quarterback Dominique Blackman being dismissed mid-season last year, new head coach Paul Petrino targeted Neyer as a possible replacement. Neyer, a 6-foot-2 215 pound pocket passer, played two seasons at Pierce College in Los Angeles and redshirted a year after walking on at USC before becoming the first quarterback to sign with Petrino during the winter. He’s expected to competed for the starting job this fall.

D.J. Alexander, LB, Oregon State, Jr. (Palm Desert)
The 6-foot-2 228-pounder, who finished last season fifth on the team in tackles, and is again penciled in as a starter this season and is perhaps a preseason All-Pac-12 candidate. The Beavers will wrap up their spring schedule on April 26.

Nu’uvali Fa’apito, LB, Colorado State, So. (La Quinta)
The 6-foot-1 225 pound linebacker, who played in a reserve role as a redshirt freshman a year ago, played with the second team defense behind an experienced group of linebackers throughout the spring. With three of them returning starters from last season, it’s likely Fa’apito will again be on the second unit despite recording five tackles and recovering a pair of fumbles in the second of two spring scrimmages on April 14.

Jordan White, WR, Colorado State, So. (Palm Springs)
After redshirting as a freshman last season, the 6-foot-4 205 pound receiver didn’t play much this spring. He ran with the third and fourth team offenses and didn’t catch a pass in either of the two scrimmages. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up in preseason camp, depending on his summer workouts.

Dontrell Onuoha, DE, San Diego State, Jr. (La Quinta)
Primarily a backup last season, the 6-foot-2 265 pound pass rusher appears to be in a similar role again this year. The entire starting defensive line returns, and Onuoha played with the second team defense throughout the spring.

Greg Latta, DE, Purdue, Sr. (College of the Desert via Palm Desert)
The 6-foot-6 265 pound defensive end got reps with the first team before a foot injury sidelined him for the remainder of the spring. He’s in a soft walking boot with crutches, but he’s expected to be back to full strength in 4-6 weeks and should be in the mix for a starting position this fall.

Trevor Bateman, DB, Brigham Young, So. (Palm Desert)
The 5-foot-9 180 pound speedster played on the BYU scout team in 2012 after returning from an LDS Church mission to Texas. He had an interception in the spring game and is listed as a third-string cornerback on the post-spring depth chart and is a special teams hopeful.

Erick Jepsen, OG, Southern California, So. (La Quinta)
Jepsen, a 6-foot-2 285 pound center, was not on the two-deep spring depth chart but could play a key role with his versatility with potential injuries along the offensive line this season. He’s likely penciled in as the third-string center heading into the summer.

Tryn Mesarch, DE, Utah State, RFr. (Palm Desert)
The 6-foot-5 256 pound defensive end redshirted as a freshman last season, and is expected to compete for playing time with three key returnees at the end position. Mesarch wasn’t listed on the Aggies’ two-deep spring depth chart and is expected to run primarily with the second and third team when preseason camp begins.

Taylor Pope, WR, Boise State, So. (La Quinta)
Pope didn’t play as a freshman and wasn’t listed on the post-spring depth chart Boise State released leading into the summer. He’s unfortunately fighting for playing time with a number of experienced receivers.

Brandon Vandenburg, TE, Vanderbilt, Jr. (College of the Desert via Xavier Prep)
The 6-foot-6 260 pound tight end leaves for Vanderbilt toward the end May, where he will enroll in two summer semesters and workout in preparation for the upcoming season. He is expected to be penciled in as the starter once preseason camp begins in early August.

Palm Springs linebackers Michael Greer and Rodney Butler will both be entering their freshman seasons this fall and therefore were not officially a part of spring ball where they will play in college. Greer will play at Oregon State and Butler at New Mexico State.

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 game times released for Sweet 16

Here are the starting times for the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games Thursday and Friday:

THURSDAY

4:15 pm: Miami vs. Marquette (CBS)

4:47 pm: Arizona vs. Ohio State (TBS)

6:45 pm: Indiana vs. Syracuse (CBS)

7:17 pm: Wichita St. vs. LaSalle (TBS)

 FRIDAY

4:15 pm: Louisville vs. Oregon (CBS)

4:37 pm: Kansas vs. Michigan (TBS)

6:45 pm: Michigan State vs. Duke (CBS)

6:57 pm: Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast (TBS)

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