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One Way Street – NCAA Bracket Predictions

As my esteemed colleagues have done since the NCAA unveiled its bracket for the annual tournament championship, I too will be offering predictions. I’m guessing that’s all the introduction you need so let’s roll out the predictions.

One Way Street: I lecture, you take notes

East

There’s not much else to be said here that hasn’t been previously stated: Ohio State was awarded for being the best team all season with a killer bracket. North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky are all formidable top 4 seeds, and tOSU’s potential second round match-up with all-time Cinderella George Mason ensures the Buckeyes will earn every game this March.

Potential Sleeper: Xavier. The Musketeers enjoyed a quiet season on the national scale, but do not mistake the silence. Xavier could pull an upset in the early rounds; in fact I’ve predicted them to defeat Syracuse in the Round of 32 in my bracket (for whatever that’s worth; i.e. not much).

Jared Sullinger

Player to watch: Jared Sullinger. tOSU’s all-world forward delivers Dyke-ism’s favorite tough twos. Quite simply, he’s a helluva player and the stronger he plays down low the more open (and more dangerous) the Buckeye offense becomes.

Winner: Ohio State. The Buckeyes have senior leadership, a good balance of talent, and one of the best players in the country in Jared Sullinger.

West

The West bracket is also balanced this season, though not quite at the level of the East. Duke, as the one seed, will be the favorite to escape, but San Diego State, UCONN, and Texas form a challenging top four seeds. But Arizona as a five, Cincinnati as a six, and Temple as a seven seed all poise serious threats who can make deep runs.

Potential Sleeper: Missouri. The Tigers are an eleven seed thanks to their woeful road record and struggles inside the conference. But what makes Missouri dangerous is Mike Anderson’s Forty Minutes of Hell style of play. The Tigers like to press and run teams to death. The system also produces turnovers and turnovers are a death nail in March.

Player to Watch: Kemba Walker. UCONN’s All-American showed up early in November with magical performances in Maui, and after a small stumble during the mid-season, Walker turned it on as the Huskies won five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament championship. UCONN goes as Kemba goes, and if a game is on the line in the waning seconds, he’s money.

Kemba Walker

Winner: Arizona. I’m taking an upset in this bracket. The Wildcats have the second best player to watch (and possible #1 NBA draft pick) in forward Derrick Williams. Williams poses a match-up problem for any team, and Arizona’s guards are just good enough to keep the Wildcats in ballgames. I think Williams is the deciding factor in a Sweet Sixteen match-up with Duke with propels Arizona onto the Final Four.

Southwest

Labeled as the third strongest bracket (of four), the Southwest boasts one of the strongest teams throughout the season in the Kansas Jayhawks. The other top seeds include Notre Dame, Purdue, and Louisville; all strong teams. The Morris twins lead Kansas as they attempt to wipe away memories of an early exit last season. The other top seeds all share an interesting similarity: small preseason expectations. Notre Dame was not projected to finish as high or as strong in the Big East after losing Luke Harangody. Louisville faced similar preseason expectations as it waited on a heralded 2011 recruiting class to arrive on campus. Purdue was a Final Four contender in August until Robbie Hummel tore his ACL again which accordingly dampened expectations.

Potential Sleeper: Georgetown. A six seed isn’t much of a sleeper, but the Hoyas struggled late in the season when guard Chris Wright broke his hand. Before his injury, Georgetown was rolling towards the top of the Big East standings. His return will provide help for teammate Austin Freeman. Then again, the Hoyas could be out in the first round like last season.

Player to Watch: Marcus Morris. The better of the Morris twins, brother Marcus has expanded his game from the smooth inside

Marcus Morris

hook shots to include the ability to knock down the three pointer in Bill Self’s high-low offense. Morris, often accused as dirty, provides the gritty toughness to succeed in March.

Winner: Notre Dame. I love the make-up of the Irish. They have experience across the board, and Ben Hansbrough has shown the ability to make tough baskets when the team needs a lift. The only thing that scares me is coach Mike Brey’s less-than-stellar record in the NCAA tournament, but the team plays good enough defense to survive.

Southeast

The weakest region of the tournament displays proverbial choke-artists, Pittsburgh. The Panthers last reached a Final Four when the tournament included eight teams. Some credit is due as the Panthers have maintained a good record and resume despite high preseason expectations, but in a season in which no team is truly dominate, Pittsburgh looks vulnerable. Meanwhile in this bracket, SEC regular season champs Florida were gifted a two seed while the Davies-less Cougars of BYU are the three seed and Wisconsin is the four. This bracket is perhaps the most wide-open of them all.

Potential Sleeper: BYU. I know what you’re thinking: How can a three seed be a sleeper? Technically, they cannot. But after BYU dismissed forward Brandon Davies for violation of the university’s honor code, the Cougars have looked beatable to the point where the national media has lost hope in them. However, they still have Jimmer Fredette, an electric scoring machine. Guard play in March can be a difference maker, and Fredette’s ability to light up the scoreboard is critical.

Player to Watch: Jimmer Fredette. The Cougar guard, as I just stated, is a scoring machine. Fredette has the ability to perform like Stephen Curry did in 2008 riding his success to a top NBA draft pick. Leave him open at your own peril.

The Jimmer

Winner: Florida. Even though the Gators were probably a seed too high, they’re still a good team. The lower half of the bracket is a little weaker than the top half, and I think SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parson spurs Florida into a Final Four for the first time since 2007.

Final Four

In one semi-final, we have Ohio State versus Arizona while the opposite side features Notre Dame versus Florida.

Ohio State defeats Arizona in a battle of future NBA forwards Sullinger and Williams. The Buckeyes’ balance is enough to put them over the top. In the other semi-final, Notre Dame continues their good form with a win over the Gators. Ben Hansbrough and the rest of the experienced roster put the Irish over the top late.

In the finals, Ohio State’s dream season comes to an end just like 2007. Notre Dame rides the wave of success to a somewhat improbable National Championship.

Dyke-isms: A Guide to Color Commentary

Hello college basketball fanatics, it’s me, Jimmy Dykes. The writers at EJSIC have cordially invited me to write a guess post about the world of color commentary. You hear guys like Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery and myself drop lots of knowledge during ESPN telecast that you, the viewer, had probably never before heard; like big men hedging on screens, or the fundamental way to block out a rebounder.

We make it sound easy and simple, but really, there’s a lot of work involve to become the best in our business. And while we all bring different flavors to a broadcast, there are a few commonalities one must know to succeed. If you follow this guide, you may end up a co-worker of mine.

1. Know the teams you’re covering

All great commentary stars with homework. As a beginner, you should start by reading the team’s beat writer’s articles in the local paper. You may even watch a game or two when you have an off-night. The key to successful commentary is picking up on the small things the viewer at home, i.e. the amateur, doesn’t see.

The last game I called was on Tuesday at Rupp Arena when Tennessee played arch-rival Kentucky. I’ve been following John (when you’re really good, you can call coaches by their first names) since his days at Memphis. I didn’t do too much research. I already know that he lets his posse players play street ball. For Tennessee on the other hand, I read a few newspaper articles and watched some of their games.

Putting in the extra mile, as we like to say in Bristol, makes all the difference in a successful commentary.

2. Developing Key Words and Catch-phrases

Another aspect to add to your game is key words. Nothing screams “expert” to the home viewer more than a few well-timed insider words. I’m talking about words / catch-phrases that convey a deeper knowledge and understanding of the game at hand.

A couple of my personal favorites are “nail” and “tough two.” Players who nail the tough twos in a game are more likely to spur their teams onto victory. It’s common to interject these words at pivotal moments of the game. For example, if a player misses a crucial free throw, I like to turn to my partner Brad Nessler and say, “Gotta nail those.”

You really have to hammer home your key words throughout a broadcast. That may mean repeating them as much as twenty to thirty times. I like to practice before a game by envisioning the players on the floor and seeing myself make the perfect call. I really believe it helps.

My colleague Dick Vitale has made his mark with catch-phrases, Bay-Be. Another close friend, Bill Raftery, stuns viewers with his brilliant “nickle-dimer.”

3. Develop a Useful Diagram

Diagrams are a great way to nail the viewer with information. It allows you, the commentator, to (1) convey a lot of information in a simple form, and (2) pull the attention away from the game and to your vast expertise. True, the commentator should never be above the game, but the few brief moments during a timeout is your time to shine.

One of my favorite diagrams is the NCAA seeding jet. I’ve used it each of the last few seasons to display number one seeds (i.e. first class), bubble teams (rear of the plane), and teams not quite good enough for the big dance (out of the plane). It accomplishes the tough two goals, and it’s really simple. In fact, I’ve made a quick airplane diagram for the commentators at ESPN and how we all fit into those categories.

Jet Diagram

As you cans see from the diagram, locks for number one seeds include three of our best guys: Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, and Jay Bilas. These guys (like Duke, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Arkansas) bring it each and every night.

The back of the plane has three solid guys who occasionally have an off night: Fran Franschilla, Stephen Bardo, and myself. We may make an errant comment once in a while, but otherwise, we’re solid. Barring a catastrophe, we’re in the tournament.

Out of the plane is three powerhouses experiencing down years (think North Carolina, UCLA, and Gonzaga): Coach Knight, Len Elmore, and Doris Burke. These three folks are usually great commentators who are experiencing a lackluster year due to a partner change (or in Coach Knight’s case having to work with Brent Musberger), or off-the-side-of-the-court problems.

4. Have a Great Working Relationship with your Partner

As a commentator, you can’t do it all. You can carry your partner for 24 miles of the marathon, but a good partner nails the final tough two miles for you.

Brad and I have a great relationship. We help each other with make-up before the game, we share a good meal with the crew, and we often room together on the road. I really can’t think of better guy to sleep in a hotel bed with than Brad Nessler. He doesn’t even pull the cover to his side of the bed.

5. Have a Favorite Player for Quick Reference

The media is supposed to be unbiased. As a commentator, you should work towards that goal. But, you need a quick reference at hand to relate to the fans. My favorite is Arkansas shooting guard Rotnei Clarke. He taught BYU’s Jimmer Fredette everything he knows.

Arkansas' Rotnei Clarke

I use Rotnei to demonstrate fundamental basketball and to show how hard a good player works. The viewers at home relate because Rotnei is a household name.

Other guys have picked out personal favorites to reference as well. Vitale has gone with the entire Duke team for the past decade which is another option. I’ve heard Doris Burke reference Ashton Gibbs and Kemba Walker a ton this season, but I don’t really know either of those players (which explains her poor performance this season).

Well EJSIC readers, I’ve reached my word limit. I hope this guide was helpful. Catch me on Super Tuesday. Until then, yours truly, Jimmy.

Al’s preseason predictions for NCAA men’s college basketball

Al for most of 2010

This has been one of the worst years to be a UNC fan. First, there was the horrible performance of the men’s basketball team that began in January of this year. Then there was the nightmare of the Duke national championship, which was all but gift-wrapped and handed to them by the NCAA selection committee and the other #1 seeds who laid down and died for no discernible reason. And then, UNC fans learned that a group of football players and an assistant coach (now former) figured that they could violate NCAA rules without getting caught while others looked the other way. And all for—get this—a team that until recently, had not beaten UVA or N.C. State in four years and lost every bowl game it was in.

I have seen no signs that this new basketball season will erase the pain of the last 10 months, so with that in mind, I submit these predictions, aka “Al’s nightmare” for the ESPN/USA Today preseason top 10:

1. Duke: Despite finishing second in the ACC regular season behind Maryland, Duke will remain ranked no. 1 throughout the entire season and will easily win the ACC championship, landing a #1 seed in whichever is the most advantageous region for them in the NCAA tournament. In a final four that consists of Duke, Seton Hall, Michigan State, Bowling Green State University (I’d like to thank Small Arms McGee for furnishing the name of this team), Duke will beat Seton Hall and Bowling Green State to win it all. The name of the Naismith Award will be changed to the Krzyzewski Award. People will conveniently forget that Wooden had more championships and call K the best and most successful men’s basketball coach in the history of the game. By 2012, Krzyzewski will be credited with inventing the game.
2. Michigan State: Despite a slow start to the season, which will include a loss to #1 Duke and to Texas and two inexplicable back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Penn State, knocking them down to about 11 in the rankings, they will finish strong to defeat Ohio State in the Big 10 Conference Championships. This will land them a no. 2 seed in the region least advantageous to them, where they will have to play the toughest opponents. This will wear them out so that they are too tired to beat Bowling Green State in the Final Four, setting Duke up for yet another win. Izzo will continue to be admired by most rational basketball fans but mocked by Duke fans for always coming up short in the NCAA tournament.
3. Kansas State: Kansas State will start out strong in the early season with a nice win over Florida in December and move into the No. 2. spot after Michigan State loses to Northwestern and Penn State in December. They will hang onto that spot until losing at Kansas in January. Despite an embarrassing loss at Nebraska, they will end up in the Big 12 Championship game and lose to Kansas. However, the NCAA selection committee will still give them the second No. 1 seed, but it will be in a region as far away from Manhattan as possible given the tournament venues. Sadly, they will exit the tournament in the Sweet 16, falling to Temple.
4. Pittsburgh: Pitt will beat all of their opponents in December and January (including Tennessee) only to lose to Georgetown, Syracuse, West Virginia and Louisville so that they end up in 4th or 5th in the conference and bow out early in the Big East tournament. They’ll be given a courtesy No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and lose in the Sweet 16 to Bowling Green State.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will not seriously be challenged by any out of conference team, squeaking by opponents with scores like 57 to 54, and will probably be ranked #4 after Pitt loses to Georgetown. They will win the Big 10 regular season and will beat Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament in a game that is about as exciting as watching your laundry spin in a front-loading washer or waiting for water to boil, only to lose to Michigan State in the final. They will still be the third #1 seed in the NCAA and will make it to the Elite Eight only to lose to Seton Hall 71 to 68, which will be their highest score of the season.
6. Villanova: Jay Wright’s team will stay in the top 10 for most of the season, losing only to Syracuse and Pitt and ending up in the Big East Championship final game after beating Pitt in a rematch, only to lose to Seton Hall, who will end up being the Big East Champ. However, based on their finish as #1 in the Big East, Villanova will earn the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but will lose in the Elite Eight, again to Seton Hall.
7. Kansas: The Jayhawks will have a tough year, because they will be without Josh Selby until the NCAA clears him on January 1, 2011 (this hasn’t been a very good year for Kansas fans either). They will most likely lose to Arizona, Memphis, Cal and Michigan (the score in that game 60 to 58 will be the lowest number of points Kansas will score all season) until Selby gets in the groove and leads them to the Big 12 Conference championship, which they’ll win. They’ll get a no. 3 seed and lose in the Elite 8 to Bowling Green State.
8. Purdue: The loss of Hummel will be felt by the Boilermakers, but because they play in the Big 10, they’ll still have a solid season. They’ll beat Virginia Tech handily in the Big 10 – ACC Challenge, but this will set them up for a loss at Alabama, just as Purdue fans are beginning to think they might be contenders without Hummel. They’ll recover and go on to win several more games before losing to West Virginia 64-54. After that, their season will be a series of ups and downs and they’ll exit the Big 10 tournament in the second round. They’ll land a no. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and lose to Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
9. UNC: The Tar Heels will go 7 – 4 in November and December and fall out of the rankings, after Barnes trips over the goal post in the Hofstra game and hits his head on Zeller’s knee, breaking Zeller’s kneecap and falling into a coma. One bright spot will be a win over Kentucky. After squeaking by St. Francis of Pennsylvania on January 2, the Tar Heels will learn that Barnes has come out of the coma. In his excitement, Roy Williams will leap up and accidentally smack a female reporter in the face, which Duke fans and other ABCers will describe as “Roy punches female reporter in the face” while the UNC Sports Information Office declines to comment. Trying to make amends, Roy will apologize to the reporter, explaining that it was an accident, but will make matters worse by adding, “I was just so happy. That li’l rascal coming out of the coma is even better than the rescue of those miners in Chile.” UNC ends up 3rd in the ACC (only because the rest of the conference is so horrible), after Barnes rejoins the team the last week in January. They end up with a No. 6 seed in the tournament, but lose in the second round to Syracuse. UNC fans pretend they’re happy that UNC made the tournament at all and won a game, but actually they are seething with rage and disappointment.
10. Kentucky: Out of conference, Kentucky will lose only to the ranked teams, including UNC and in conference, they’ll lose to Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State (in double overtime). They will play Florida for the SEC championship and lose, but will still end up with a No. 2 seed. They’ll lose in the Elite Eight to Gonzaga only because I will have picked them to win in that bracket and Gonzaga has spoiled every bracket I’ve ever made since they started going to the tournament. There will be lots of predictions that their season will be vacated as Calipari haters and bloggers come up with extremely convoluted stories of corruption and agents, but in the end, Kentucky’s season will stay intact as the NCAA decides to take another look at Baylor’s recruiting instead.