Sweet Emotions

Well, ladies and gents, things are about to get real. With the fun and excitement of the first weekend behind us, we are now left with serious games with serious implications and emotions in the Sweet 16. As Steven Tyler put it:

I pulled into town in a police car
Your daddy said I took you just a little too far
You’re telling me things but your girlfriend lied
You can’t catch me ’cause the rabbit done died
Yes it did

I’ll just let that sink in for a minute. While we wait, here are my thoughts on today’s Sweet 16 matchups:

4 Wisconsin vs. 1 Syracuse
I’m not going to lie. Any game featuring Wisconsin has the potential to make you want to stab your eyes out. That said, their combination of quality guard play and tough defense should make this game very competitive. The Syracuse zone forces teams to hit outside shots to win, something Wisconsin has shown it can do on occasion. There is potential for an upset, but here’s hoping Syracuse uses their superior size and athleticism to spare us another round of “Bo Ball”.

Living proof that stage presence can overcome a lot of ugly.

4 Louisville vs. 1 Michigan State
Based on the season thus far, this seems to be a match-up of similar teams on similar paths. Both teams play suffocating defense at times, both teams struggle to score, and both teams overcame mid-to-early season set-backs to win their conference tournament. While Michigan State is the higher seed, all but one of the personnel match-ups seem to favor a finally healthy Louisville roster. The problem is that one match-up happens to be Draymond Green, who can and has put his team on his back. If Louisville can somehow convert a high percentage of transition baskets, look for the Cardinals to advance.

6 Cincinnati vs. 2 Ohio State
While the Cardinals and Spartans might feel like they’re looking in the mirror at one another, the Bearcats and Buckeyes couldn’t be more different. Cincinnati seemed to switch gears from mediocre also-ran to true Final Four contender heading up to the tournament, while pre-season Final Four favorite Ohio State has gone the other direction. The Buckeyes will have the clear talent advantage and they should be able to force their tempo on a Bearcat attack that sometimes resembles a team from the Rec League Final Four. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the Buckeyes will be able to return to form this late in the season.

7 Florida vs. 3 Marquette
On paper, this pairing would seem to favor the Golden Eagles. According to KenPom, Marquette has a balanced, efficient attack with the nation’s #28 offense and #16 defense. The Gators trend toward the scoring side with the #3 offense and #73 defense. Marquette seems to be the tougher, more consistent team and with dynamite scoring from Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East POY Jae Crowder we could see them pull away. However, you can never under-estimate guard play in the NCAA tournament and Florida’s can be unmatched at times. If the Gators are hitting outside shots, this could go down to the wire.

As we all pretend to be interested in what they’re paying us to do, lets keep our fingers crossed that 4 potentially great match-ups all materialize tonight. See you tomorrow.

 

The Greatest Day Ever

How you doin'?

Today marks the real beginning of the NCAA Tournament and one of my favorite days all year. The upsets, the overtimes, the buzzer-beaters, the Cinderellas… It all starts today.

Here what I’ll be watching:

6 Murray St. vs. 11 Colorado St.
Are the Racers for real or have they been the benefactors of a dreadful schedule? Has Colorado State been “tested” against a tough MWC schedule or are they as mediocre as their record would indicate? We’ll get the answers today and hopefully see Isaiah Cannon put on a show.

Early Exit Artists
Will the Louisville Cardinals and Vanderbilt Commodores continue their trend of high seeds and early exits? Logic tells you that with Louisville being the Big East tournament champs and Vanderbilt taking the SEC tournament title over #1 Kentucky this should be a no-brainer. My gut still tells me to trust neither win as a given against tough first round opponents.

Is Kentucky Still Kentucky?
After steam-rolling through the regular season, the Wildcats looked anything but dominant in the SEC tournament. Was that a result of a lack of motivation or a sign of regression? We might not get a full answer against an over-matched WKU squad, but it will be interesting to see if the Cats start strong.

There’s just no equivalent to the excitement of knowing you’re going to see so many games that mean so much for each team’s players, coaches, and fans. It’s the NFL playoffs turned up to 11. It’s the NBA playoffs, if the players cared. It’s March Madness and it knows no peer.

Previewing the Hall of Fame Showcase

College hoops fans are salivating at the mouth with ESPN’s 24 hours of college basketball. Perhaps the crowning moment is the Hall of Fame Showcase on Tuesday night when basketball junkies get their first tastes of nationally-recognized teams playing one another.

Up to this point in the season, it’s been cupcake city for the top teams in the country. In St. Louis, fans will be treated to a double header of Louisville vs. Arkansas and Memphis vs. Kansas.

Louisville vs. Arkansas 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN2:

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Long off-season for Rick Pitino

The Cardinals are playing their first game of the season after a tumultuous off-season in which team leader Terrence Williams defected to the NBA and head coach Rick Pitino battled questions concerning his character after news broke about a past extra-marital relationship. Likewise, Arkansas had its own off-the-court issues which resulted in five players being suspended indefinitely including starting point guard Courtney Fortson.

The Cardinals will rely on a triumvirate of returning players to guide their team: PF Samardo Samuels, PG Edgar Sosa, and SG Jerry Smith. The Razorbacks will hope for big games from PF Michael Washington and SG Rotnei Clark who set a record in their opening game by going 13 of 17 from three point land.

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Arkansas coach John Pelphrey

Another interesting sub-plot in this battle involves the coaches. Arkansas coach John Pelphrey played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky in the early 1990s and was an instrumental piece in the Wildcat’s return to success under Pitino. In the end, the 22nd ranked Cardinals have too much depth for Arkansas to overcome. Expect a competitive game early with Louisville gradually pulling away in the end.

Memphis vs. Kansas 10:00 p.m. ET ESPN:

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Last year's national coach of the year Bill Self

The preseason number one Jayhawks will headline the Hall of Fame Showcase when they play the Memphis Tigers in what is a rematch of the 2008 championship game. The situations surrounding the two teams are vastly different now. Memphis is undergoing a transition from John Calipari to a rookie head coach, Josh Pastner. Bill Self leads arguably the most loaded team in the country which returned five starters from last season as well as adding sensational freshmen Xavier Henry (former Memphis commit), Elijah Johnson, and Thomas Robinson.

These two programs provided one of the most competitive championship games in history, but now one has to wonder how Memphis will fare in this rematch? The Tigers have a solid starting five, but the bench and front court are extremely thin which doesn’t bode well for a match-up against the talent-laden Jayhawks.

The Jayhawks will use its team depth to their advantage. Self’s teams are known for playing great defense and one shouldn’t expect any difference with this team. Where Kansas can punish Memphis the most is the front court. Memphis will rely on a senior in Pierre Henderson-Niles, who has never logged significant minutes but did lose substantial weight in the off-season in order to play more, and junior college transfer Will Coleman. Coleman is an athletic freak, but he’s had problems adjusting to the energy and level of play needed to compete in Division I.

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Rookie head coach Josh Pastner

Like the first game, you can expect a relatively competitive match early on, but Kansas should eventually pull away. Many eyes are sure to be on Memphis coach Josh Pastner as well, though. He’s making his national TV debut after creating waves in the recruiting world this past week.

College basketball is a game of upsets so maybe we see one tonight despite what we all expect (#5 Kentucky nearly lost to Miami Ohio last night). Very rarely do ranked teams like Kansas and Louisville play teams of the quality Memphis and Arkansas possess this early. Tune in, it should make for some entertaining basketball.

College Basketball Preview, Volume 4: Pat Forde

You should see how long it takes me to get this look.

You should see how long it takes me to get this look.

After months of anticipation, speculation and vacations (of all types), the College Basketball season finally kicked off Monday night with a handful of warm up games that included the debut of Roy Williams’ revamped Tar Heels against Isiah Thomas’ FIU Panthers. Having gotten but a sniff of the appetizers, I feel like it’s time to go ahead and dive into what you should expect from the main course this season. Here’s the early-season edition of The Minutes, forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball.

Bluegrass Coach Swap

Let’s start off in Lexington, Kentucky, where change has been the name of the game this off-season for the Wildcats. Gone is (1)Billy Gillispie, who was indignantly dumped by the Big Blue faithful after only two seasons at the helm, and in comes (2)John Calipari, fresh off his second vacated final four appearance in as many trips.

With him, Calipari has brought in the highest pai… I mean… highest ranked freshmen class in the nation. Included in this heralded group of newcomers, is all-everything floor general (3)John Wall. Wall has been compared to everyone from Derrick Rose to Jesus Christ by those in Lexington over the summer. To say that expectations are high for the projected #1 over-all pick in the 2010 NBA draft would be a gross under-statement. It will be interesting to see how the unproven and slightly effeminate Wall matches up against the more experienced and better looking (4)Edgar Sosa when the Cats host the Cards in Rupp Arena on January 2nd.

Sharp Dressed Man

Did you know I helped write this? Oh yeah...

Did you know I helped write this? Oh yeah...

Speaking of experience and good looks, it’s been a rough off-season for (5)University of Louisville head coach (6)Rick Pitino. Not only did the top Card have to deal with the hassle of bumping up security around his house to account for John Calipari’s move to the state, but the Hall of Fame coach was also the victim of a pathetic extortion attempt by some random blond charlatan. Although it was obvious to everyone with eyes that this woman was insane, “the media” and “the police” still felt justified in ruining Pitino’s summer with a useless investigation into her allegations of rape and forced abortion. How anyone could suspect a man with such gentle, soft hands of committing such lurid acts is beyond me.

Despite the fact that (7)Ted Kennedy’s death and (8)9/11 have been forever marred by scandal, Coach Pitino has soldiered on like great men do and the Cardinals have to be one of the favorites this year in the Big East. Pitino was able to add a star studded class of his own to an already stacked roster and the Cards look hungrier than ever. Look for newcomers (9)Richie Phares and (10)Mike Marra to make a big impact this season for Louisville. Continue reading