Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Breaking down my bracket: Final Four

To see my full bracket click here:

For a breakdown, scroll down the page.

Final Four: With three number one seeds and a number two, I am really chalky, but I think this year is very top heavy.

UCLA vs. Texas: In San Antonio, the Longhorns will have the home-team advantage, but UCLA is a tougher defensive team and better on the inside with Kevin Love. If Durant was on this Texas team, they would win, but he's not and the Longhorns won't have an answer for Love and will lose.

North Carolina vs. Wisconsin: It will take everything the Badgers have to reach the Final Four and beat Kansas and by the time they play the Tar Heels they will be running all on emotion. But it will not be enough as the Tar Heels' explosive offense will lead them to the championship.

UCLA vs. North Carolina: North Carolina is a great offensive team, but their defense will not be good enough to stop Love and the Bruins. In an amazing final game, the Bruins get Howland the National Championship he searched for the past two years.

Champions: UCLA
Final Score: 67-62

Breaking down my bracket: West Region

To see my full bracket click here:

For a breakdown, scroll down the page.

West Region: In the West, UCLA will again make it to the Final Four. They have a tough path, but will be near home throughout the journey, as they were last year. Ben Howland is one of the game's best coaches and he will take the Bruins into San Antonio.

Three upsets in the first round: Arizona, with Chase Budinger and a healthy Jarred Bayless will knock off an inconsistent West Virginia squad, Baylor will feed off of their heart and take down Purdue and Western Kentucky will beat Drake in the only 12-5 upset I have this season.

In the second round, the Bruins will roll over BYU, UCONN will easily defeat Western Kentucky, Xavier over Baylor and Duke in a close win over Arizona, which I could see going either way.

UCLA is a much more disciplined team than UCONN and will embarass the young Huskies in the Sweet 16. On the other side, Duke will be beaten by a tougher defensive team in Xavier.

UCLA will again win easily, sweeping through the bracket with a victory over the Muskateers.

Breaking down my bracket: South Region

To see my full bracket click here:

For a breakdown, scroll down the page.

South Region: Memphis is the weakest of the number one seeds, in my opinion. They had the easiest schedule in their conference and have a tough road to the Final Four. Texas is a talented squad led by D.J. Augustin and with an upset over the Tigers, will move to San Antonio.

I have all chalk in the rest of the region, except No. 10 Saint Mary's with a minor upset over No. 7 Miami. The Gaels had a rough finish to the season, but have a better team overall.

In the second round, I have Michigan State and Drew Neitzel knocking off Pitt, Memphis rolling over Miss. State, Marquette upsetting Stanford and Texas over Saint Mary's. Stanford may have two seven-footers, but Dominic James will pull a Dwayne Wade and lead his team to victory.

That leaves two Sweet 16 games I can see going either way. Neitzel is a senior with a lot of heart and solid talent around him. If Memphis is not careful, Neitzel could lead his team into the Elite Eight. Meanwhile Texas and Marquette matchup very evenly. Augustin and Texas will pull off a win over James and Marquette in a classic battle.

Texas will have the momentum and hand Memphis an early exit in the Elite Eight, but I could see any of the four Sweet 16 teams making the Final Four.

Breaking down my bracket: Midwest Region

To see my full bracket, click here:

Continue to scroll down the page to see my breakdowns of the other three regions.

Midwest Region: Kansas is one of my best friend's favorite college teams and over the years of watching a lot of Jayhawks games with him, I have grown to like them as well. However, this team is without a leader and could collapse under pressure, as they have in recent years. Wisconsin on the other hand is a veteran squad led by Brian Butch and that is why I have them making a run to the Final Four.

In the first round, I have a couple of upsets. Like I have said before, I think Siena will prove to be a tough matchup for Vanderbilt and will knock them out. Davidson and Gonzaga is a game between two mid-majors and Stephon Curry will be the leader that Gonzaga lacks and carry them to a victory. Kent State will also pull off a slight upset over UNLV. Clemson should have some problems with a good Villanova squad, but will carry over their success from the ACC tournament and advance. Wisconsin, Kansas and Georgetown should all roll to victories.

But the toughest choice for me was USC-Kansas State. Two very similar teams led by superstar freshmen in the best matchup of the first round. O.J. Mayo has a better supporting cast than Kansas State, although if Bill Walker plays up to his ability, Walker and Michael Beasley could pull off the win. But I think Mayo will lead the Trojans into the second round.

I almost had Georgetown lose to Davidson in the second round, but Curry and the crew will come up just short, because of the Hoyas size and better athleticism. Wisconsin, Clemson and Kansas should have little trouble in the second round.

The Sweet 16 will get interesting in this bracket. If the Hoyas escape the Davidson game, I don't think they will have enough to beat Butch and the Badgers. Likewise, I think Clemson will not have enough left in the tank to beat a more talented Jayhawks squad and in the end it will be a similar game to the ACC Championship, with Kansas playing the role of UNC.

Then Wisconsin will pull off the huge win and end Kansas' season too early once again.

Breaking Down My Bracket - East Region

My deliberations are over, my bracket is done and I am ready for a big day of hoops tomorrow. I'll break it down by regions in each post, but to see the entire thing click here:

East Region: In the East, I decided to go with North Carolina, picking the chalk to come out of the region. UNC is a great team, that is probably the best offensive squad in the tournament and has improved its defensive play as of late. With Tyler Hansbrough inside and Ty Lawson back outside, the Tar Heels will not be stopped in what is arguably the easiest region for the number one seed.

In the first round, I have UNC beating Mt. St. Mary's easily, an extremely talented Indiana team knocking off Arkansas, Notre Dame over George Mason, Washington State over Winthrop, St. Joseph's upsetting Oklahoma, Louisville beating Boise State, South Alabama in a small upset over Butler in a matchup of mid-majors and Tennessee breezing past American.

A couple of tough choices in the first round. Indiana has a team that could legitimately upset UNC, but also could lose in the first round. The Hoosiers definitely have the talent, but it will depend on how functional they can be. In the end, talent will lead them to the second round.

South Alabama and Butler is really a toss up in my opinion. Both teams had great years, but I think that Team USA led by senior Demetric Bennett and his 20 points per game will get the upset win.

Meanwhile the bigger upset will be St. Joe's over Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a good team, with Blake Griffin leading the way, but the Hawks will be too much for them. Ahmad Nivins, star of the St. Anthony's team featured in The Miracle of St. Anthony's, and Pat Calathes will lead them to the second round.

In the second round I have North Carolina over Indiana in a tough battle, Notre Dame over Washington State, Louisville over St. Joseph's and Tennessee over South Alabama.

Tennessee over South Alabama is really the only game I have full confidence in. The toughest game for me to pick was Louisville-St. Joe's. I really like this Hawks team and could definitely see them pulling off the upset.

UNC over Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 and Tennessee over Louisville.

Then UNC over Tennessee.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And it begins: Early predictions for March Madness

Selection Sunday is one of the best days of the year, ranking up with my birthday, St. Patrick's Day and Christmas Eve. It's fun to sit and watch and find out who made it, who got snubbed and who will be playing who. Then the process of filling out a bracket begins.

I always print out a bracket as soon as it is online and then fill it out, going off the top of my head and using my instincts and a few stats. A great resource for the tournament is Basketball State ( For a few bucks, you can get sorted stats and team comparisons for every team in the tournament.

Here are a few of my picks so far:

  • First-round upsets: St. Joseph's (11) beating Oklahoma (6), Kent State (9) beating UNLV (8), Siena (13) beating Vanderbilt (4), Davidson (10) beating Gonzaga (7), St. Mary's (10) beating Miami.
  • Sweet 16 surprises: Davidson (over Georgetown), Butler (over Tennessee)
  • Elite Eight: Butler (over Louisville), Xavier (over Duke), Wisconsin (over Davidson)
  • Final Four: Texas, UCLA, UNC Kansas
  • Championship: UCLA over UNC
I feel a little wrong picking three number ones and a number two for the Final Four, but I can't see any of those teams going out early. Memphis has a tough path to the Final Four, with Stanford, Texas, Marquette, Pitt and even Michigan State standing in the way. Not to say any of the other four top seeds have it easier, but Memphis seems to be the most vulnerable to losing to a team like Texas or Stanford in the Elite Eight.

Meanwhile I think Davidson, Siena and Butler are going to make a lot of waves in the tournament. Part of it may be the MAAC-bias in me as far as Siena, but I think they are a tough match-up for Vanderbilt.

If you look at the stats, Siena is a similar, but smaller team. Vanderbilt's main advantage will be forward A.J. Ogilvy, who is 6'11, 250 pounds, averages 16 points a game and is more athletic than any of the Saints' big men.

However, Siena has the advantage in speed with Edwin Ubiles, Kenny Hasbrouck and Alex Franklin, all athletic guard/forwards who average at least 15 points per game.

Siena averages 76.8 points per game, while holding opponents to 71.1 points per game. Meanwhile Vanderbilt averages 80.6 points and gives up 74.4.

Siena will need a lot of bounces to go their way, like its win over Stanford. In that game Siena held the Cardinal to 67 points while scoring 79 and shut down big man Robin Lopez (8 points), although his brother (Brook, who is slightly better), did not play. Vanderbilt does not have two 7-footers anyways, so if Siena can shut down Ogilvy, a similar player to Robin, they have a chance. (Sorry for the mistake earlier about Robin/Brook, it was an error at the site I was looking at for stats).

The Saints pulled off a big upset with a win over Stanford in 1989 as a 14 seed.

Davidson and Butler are two powerful mid-major teams who have a chance to make runs deep into the tournament. Butler needs to get past Tennessee, while Davidson has to eliminate Georgetown, both tough, but winnable games.

Xavier, a three seed, is my sleeper team to make the Final Four. If they had not drawn UCLA, my favorite to win the NCAA tournament since early February, I would say a Final Four berth would be a possibility. But UCLA is a much stronger defensive team and that is why I seem them cutting down the nets at the end of March.

A lot could change throughout this week, but as soon as I get my final bracket done, I'll post it on the blog.

(Photo credit

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Duke win vaults Blue Devils into prime position

Its been awhile, but school work and other Mirror work kept me from posting, but from now on I will be updating this blog at least two-three times per week. Every Wednesday night I will post my top five teams in the NCAA and talk about college hoops, now that we are heading closer and closer to March Madness.

TC's Top Five:

1) Duke:
Despite the fact that Memphis remains the lone undefeated team in the nation, the Blue Devils are the best team right now. With a win over UNC on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils should be ranked No. 2 in the country when the polls come out next week, barring an upset by Boston College on Saturday. Duke was able to handle the Ty Lawson-less Tar Heels and the strong inside game of Tyler Hansbrough to prove they can beat any team in the country. With a 20-1 record and a loss to Pittsburgh earlier this season when Pitt was at full strength and among the best teams in the country, the Blue Devils are off to their best start in years. The Tigers may be running rampant through the C-USA, but it is the C-USA. Houston is definitely not anywhere close to UNC. Not one of the teams in the C-USA, other than Memphis, would be able to survive against the ACC teams, which is as deep as any conference in the country. Memphis averages 80.6 points per game, while allowing 59.9 per game, while Duke has allowed 66.5 points per game, while scoring 85.9. They have also done so against the sixth toughest schedule in the country, while Memphis has played against the 40th hardest schedule.

2) Memphis: No matter how hard of a schedule a team plays, being undefeated headed into February is always a major accomplishment in college basketball. The Tigers have a great shot at finishing out the regular season and heading into March Madness undefeated, but do not have the depth to last through the grueling tournament. Memphis faces off against Central Florida (fourth place C-USA) and Houston (second place C-USA) in the coming week. Houston is 17-4 on the year, but the game will be played at Memphis and the Cougars already lost to the Tigers at home earlier this year. UCF is 12-10 overall and 5-3 in conference play, but have not faced Memphis yet this season and will likely not be able to pick up a road win against the Tigers. Look forward to Feb. 16 when Memphis travels to UAB, could be a trap game before the big Tennessee matchup later this month.

3) Kansas: After dropping out of the ranks of the unbeaten last week, the Jayhawks remain one of the best teams in the nation. Kansas is a tough, defensive minded team that had its first bad game of the season against Kansas State on the road and could not overcome the struggles. Kansas State is also a great team, led by Michael Beasley. The Jayhawks will bounce back and remain a number one seed heading into the NCAA tournament.

4) UNC: Like Kansas, UNC has recently dropped in the polls after losing their first game, to Maryland back on Jan. 19. But the Tar Heels rebounded with three straight wins, two coming on the road, before losing the home half of their series against Duke on Wednesday night. The Tar Heels still have Tyler Hansbrough, who should be the National Player of the Year (although Beasely is making a big run at him), and Ty Lawson will be back. The Tar Heels may be able to return the favor on the road against Duke in the final game of the regular season for both teams on March 8, but there is still awhile to go before that. Nonetheless, UNC will be a fun team to watch down the stretch.

5) UCLA: Kevin Love is making a case to join Hansbrough and Beasely in the National Player of the Year race and the Bruins are continuing to surge through the Pac-10 season, with four straight wins since dropping their first conference game of the season to inter-city rival USC on Jan. 19. Love is averaging 22.1 points and 14.5 rebounds over the six game stretch since Jan. 12 and has moved into fourth place in the nation in rebounds per game, behind Beasely, Rider's Jason Thompson and High Point's Arizona Reid. UCLA makes two trips to Washington in the next four days to play Washington State and Washington. The Cougars of WaSu are a tough team to face at home and played the Bruins to a tight finish back on Jan. 12, so it should be a fun game to watch.

Player to Watch: Jason Thompson (Rider)...He may not get enough national attention to make a run at the Player of the Year award but he has all but locked up the MAAC Player of the Year award as well as a spot in at least the early part of the NBA draft. Thompson is averaging 20 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game. I am looking forward to seeing him play in person, twice, as he plays Fairfield later this season.

Mid-Major Team to Watch: 21-1 and 12-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference, the No. 8 RPI conference, they are having a remarkable season so far. They are a very balanced team and should cause a lot of trouble in March Madness as a 6 or 7 seed, if they can run the table in the MVC which is not as unlikely after a big win over Illinois State, considered to be the second best team in the conference. Drawing Butler could give them a chance to prove they are worthy of a higher national ranking than No. 15. An "upset" of No. 10 Butler could vault them into the top 25, but games against Evansville, at Southern Illinois, at Northern Iowa, and against Bradley come first. None of those teams has been consistently good all season, but anyone can upset Drake.

Games of the Week (2/7-2/13):

2/7 - No. 4 UCLA at No. 17 Washington State:
A rematch of two talented teams should be exciting to watch.

2/9 - No. 16 Marquette at No. 21 Notre Dame:
Two teams looking to establish themselves as contenders for the Big East title clash in Indiana, part of a big time college basketball Saturday.

2/11 - No. 5 Kansas at No. 12 Texas: Both teams rely heavily on talented guards and it should be an entertaining game to watch, probably best game of the week.

Welcome back to Dick Vitale, great to hear him call UNC-Duke tonight, wouldn't have been the same without him. Lots more great games to come, including Maryland at Duke, Notre Dame at the surging UConn Huskies and Wisconsin at Indiana...all next Wednesday.

-Tom Cleary