2021 NCAA Tournament Previews: Friday, Early Evening Games

#4 Oklahoma State (-8.5) vs. #13 Liberty
6:25 pm, TBS
Only Loyola-Chicago was more criminally underseeded than the Cowboys of Ok State.  Hard to imagine what The Committee was thinking here as a 4-seed over West Virginia, but that’s what happened.  And, now they have to endure the pure pain of playing Liberty here.

Oklahoma State
Cade Cunningham will very likely be only the 4th Big XII player since 1960 to be the Top Pick in the NBA Draft (Danny Manning in 1988, Blake Griffin in 2009, and Andrew Wiggins in 2014).  Cunningham is averaging 19.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.9 bpg, with shooting percentages of 46/43/86% and has been as good as advertised.  Cunningham is flanked by a legit Number Two in 6’5” JR Ice Likelele (9.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.1 spg, 50% FG, 41% from three), but they have both missed games down the stretch, allowing others to step up, most notably 6’3” SO Avery Anderson (11.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 48% FG, 85% FT), 6’9″ SO Kalib Boone (9.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 65% FG), and 6’7″ Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 53% FG), who have all really stepped up when Cunningham out.  This is not a one-man show, like many people thought.  And, it’s not a two-man show, like I definitely thought.  This team is legit.  They’ve only lost 3 of their last 13 games – one at Kansas, one at Baylor, and the Big XII title game against Texas.

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2021 NCAA Tournament Preview – Friday, Late Afternoon Games

#2 Ohio State (-16) vs #15 Oral Roberts
3:00 pm, CBS
Contrary to popular belief, the 15/2 upset is not very common.  People think that it is because of 2012, when TWO 15-seeds won, including Lehigh shocking Duke, and then the very next year was Dunk City making the Sweet 16.  But, there has only been one since 2013 and there were only 4 before 2012.  In all, 15-seeds are 8-132 in the first round.  However, if it is gonna happen this year…this might be the one (for the record, I am not picking this or even considering picking it – just saying).

Ohio State
When the Buckeyes beat Penn State on Feb 18, they were 18-4, ranked 4th in the country and were sitting as a projected 1-seed in pretty much all bracketologies.  But, they lost their last 4 reg season games and looked to be sliding.  Until the B1G Tournament, when they beat Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan before losing in OT to Illinois in the title game.  They look to be back in midseason form.  6’7” SO E.J. Liddell (16.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 49% FG, 37% from three) has become a superstar, and 6’3” JR Duane Washington (15.3 ppg, 2.9 apg, 37% from three) is so fun to watch because he’s so smooth with a soft touch.  He and his awesome “no f’s to give” attitude dropped a 30-spot on the Illini  6’1” SR PG C.J. Walker (9.1 ppg, 4.2 apg) is about as rock solid as they come, and 6’7” JR Justice Sueing (10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), a Hawaiian who started his career at Cal, has really become a nice player to go with his great judicial name.  One issue with the Buckeyes is the tallest guy on their roster is only 6’8” and that’s SR Kyle Young (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who is dealing with a high ankle sprain and will not be 100%.  But, if they are up late, they can finish the game because their two primary ballhandlers are RIDICULOUS FT shooters – Washington (90%) and Walker (95%).

Oral Roberts
Now, I’m not going to “mid-major shame” anyone here because I don’t expect everyone – even people who cover college hoops for a living – to pay attention to the little leagues.  They don’t really matter, I get it.  And, that’s fine.  But, don’t pretend to follow them.  Don’t pretend that reading a kenpom page makes you an expert on that team.  And, there are a LOT of professional college basketball writers who act as if they care about mid-major hoops, but don’t pay the least bit of attention.  And, do you know how I know that?  Because I have heard countless people, in the last week, talk about ORU as a threat to OSU.  That is true.  But, they do so while referencing how great of a scorer Max Abmas is.  And, that is also true.  But, when you hear them say “Max Ab-miss,” you know that they’ve never actually seen an ORU game.  The dude plays 37 minutes a game for the Golden Eagles…and his name is clearly pronounced “Ace-miss.”  I have no idea why it’s spelled Abmas, but it’s pronounced “Ace-miss.”  And, Mr. Abmas is the only player in the country who averages more points per game than Luka Garza.  The 6’1″ SO Max Abmas is averaging 24.7 ppg on the strength of 84 three-pointers with ridiculous percentages of 49/46/90%.  WOWOWOWOW!  Abmas also averages 3.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, and 1.5 spg.  And, all of this usage and he only averages 2.0 TO per game.  You will not see a better pure shooter on any team in any tournament in America over the next two weeks plus he averages 3.5 assists per game.  And, yet…he still might not even be the best all-around player on his own team.  6’8″ JR Kevin Obanor (18.6 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 50/46/88%) is an absolute monster!  These two are unbelievable on the mid-major level and lead a top-70 offense.  They are not good at all defensively, but they can score with anyone.

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2021 NCAA Tournament Preview: Friday, Early Afternoon Games

After a year without the Tournament, this is awesome!  So, let’s get right to the games…

#7 Florida (-1) vs. #10 Virginia Tech
12:15 pm, CBS
I love the first game of the Tournament.  It’s always interesting to think of what two teams are gonna tip us off.  And, this year, it’s a pretty good one.  Or, at least a competitive one.

Florida
The Gators come stumbling into this Tournament and, I think, are one of the few major seeding mistakes that the Committee made in what was a rather well-seeded tournament, in general.  This team is not a 7-seed especially after losing 3 of their last 4 with that only win a close one over a bad Vandy team in the SEC Tournament that they easily could have lost.  The big story of the UF season is the loss of Keyontae Johnson after he had a TERRIFYING collapse in a game at FSU in November.  Johnson, the preseason SEC POY, was the best and most important player on this team, and their ceiling is definitely lowered without him.  But, most importantly, it looks like he’s going to be okay.  Before the recent swoon, the Gators had been pretty good considering they lost their best player.  They are top-40 in both offense and defense, and have one of the most unsung stars of the SEC in the 6’5” SO Tre Mann (15.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 45/39/84%), who is a stud on both ends.  He is probably the best player that no one ever talks about.  They also have former McDonald’s All-American in 6’5″ SO Scottie Lewis (7.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 spg), but he has been surprisingly slow to emerge in now his sophomore year in Gainesville.  They have a couple of decent wings in Reisterstown’s own 6’3” JR sharpshooter Noah Locke (10.5 ppg, 41% from three) and 6’1” JR transfer from Cleve State Tyree Appleby (11.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.6 spg),.  And, losing Johnson has forced Mike White to go big and allowed for 6’11” JR transfer from Michigan Colin Castleton (12.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 59% FG) to emerge as a really good SEC big.  The Gators are 8-0 this year when Castleton scores 14 or more.

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2021 NCAA Tournament: First Four Preview

So, BSB might actually be back this time.   Doogan and I started this as an alternative to sending each other overly wordy, unabridged emails about sports.  And, since it’s been a long, hard winter for all of us, Doogan and I and our master admin, J, are in need of an outlet for “thoughts.”  So, let’s fire up the BSB machine again and even if it’s just a glorified email exchange, it will be cathartic for the three of us.

And,  is there a better time of year to start back up?  The NCAA Tournament, a Sixers playoff chase, the start of an interesting Phillies season…and, a ton of tennis tournaments and the Summer Olympics for me to write really long posts about to no one but myself!!!

So, let’s get this started with a preview of Thursday night’s First Four games.  I’ll get another one up tomorrow previewing Friday’s First Round games and then we’ll go from there.

#16 Mount Saint Mary’s (+1) vs. #16 Texas-Southern
 5:10 pm, truTV
Alright, alright, I recognize that these 16v16 games are kind of like tennis or the biathalon in that I care about and enjoy them WAYYY more than most of even the most ardent sports fans.  So, I’ll try and be short on them…I will probably fail at that attempt.  This game is one of those classic First Four games (if that phrase even means anything) with a (SWAC/MEAC) team vs. a non-champion from a bad league.  The winner of this game gets to get destroyed on national TV by Michigan on Saturday.

Mount Saint Mary’s
The best story from this game is the 5’7″ point guard on Mount St. Mary’s, Damian Chong-Qui.  Chong-Qui, who turned into the go-to guy just 6 games into the season when they lost Jalen Gibbs for the season, has a ridiculous backstory.  The Sun article is really good, but in summary, when Qui was 4, his family was the victim of a home invasion where his dad was shot once and stabbed five times and lost the use of his left hand.  Just TWO MONTHS LATER, his mother was randomly murdered, being mistaken for someone else.  When he was twelve, Qui’s dad dropped Qui off and went to get dinner for them.  While waiting for food, someone fired shots into a crowd and one of the random bullets struck the older Qui in the back and he is now paralyzed from the waist down.  And, a just year later, his son Damian, won the starting point guard job for powerhouse McDonough despite being only a freshman and standing a mere 4-feet-9-inches tall.  Qui, who says he “doesn’t believe in height” is now a budding star for MSM, averaging 14.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg (again, at 5’7”), and 5.6 apg.  He’s incredible!  They also have a strong, athletic frontline of 6’9″ JR Nana Opuku (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg), 6’9″ JR Malik Jefferson (8.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 58% FG), and 6’8″ JR Mazie Offurum (9.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.0 apg).

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Documentation of the All-Time Greatest Edition of Our Nation’s Greatest Sporting Event

Like Puccinelli before me and Herodotus before him, I am but a humble scribe simply tasked with the documentation of the historical events unfolding before my eyes.  This year’s NCAA Tournament is only 1/3 of the way to crowning a champion, but it is already the best edition of this legendary sporting event.  So, let’s go through all of the MADNESS of what just happened, pod by pod, shall we?  I’ll indicate the pod by the team that survived.

Kansas
The overall #1-seeded Jayhawks are through in one of the less interesting pods of the weekend.  Led by Perry Ellis and a host of other good “college players,” KU romped 16-seeded Austin Peay and then handled a game UConn team.  Freshmen Chieck Diallo and Carlton Bragg barely got off the bench for a deep, veteran-laden KU team.  We did get drama in the 8/9 game, as Josh Scott and Colorado led most of the way, only to see UConn – and the ridiculous free-throw shooting of Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs – come all the way back to win.

Maryland
The Terps took a big lead against #12 South Dakota State only to see it slowly slip away and slip away, but they held on.  The other first-round game gave us some MADNESS as #13 Hawai’i – with a slew of skilled athletes like Roderick Bobbitt and Stefan Jonkovic – pretty much handled a 4th-seeded Cal team that was red-hot and featured several future first-round NBA draft picks, including Jaylen Brown. who is likely to be a household name at some point, and Ivan Rabb.  The kicker here is that their leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace, broke his arm in practice the day before the game.  Then, in the Second Round, this fun Hawai’i team led for about 30 minutes before Maryland turned on the jets.  Now, the Terps, who I still believe have the best five starting players (not the best lineup because they don’t really fit) in the country in Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter, and Diamond Stone, are moving on to the Sweet 16.

Miami
Sheldon McClellan barely led the 3rd-seeded Hurricanes past a pretty gritty Buffalo team, who was making their second straight tournament appearance despite losing Coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State last season in the First Round, but that was the least interesting game of a great pod.  The other First Round game saw Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet continue their incredible careers by upsetting #6 Arizona just two days after dismantling Wade Baldwin, Damion Jones, and Vandy in the First Four in Dayton.  Two days after that, the Shockers were given a noon tip against Miami and fell down by 25 early.  But, Baker and Van Vleet still had a little magic in them, as they stormed back and took the lead, only to see Angel Rodriguez just throw daggers at them to close out the game and two insanely historic careers in Wichita.  Think about this – Baker and Van Vleet both arrived on campus four years ago to a school that was a good mid-major program, but nothing remarkable.  But, four years later, the two of them graduate with a Final Four, an undefeated regular season, and 4 years where the only year that they did not win MULTIPLE TOURNAMENT GAMES was when they ended their season with only one loss all year – to the eventual national runners-up.  Wow!

Villanova
Jay Wright’s ‘Cats get the monkey off their backs of 6 years of total disappointment in this tournament.  Freshman Jalen Brunson and senior Ryan Arcidiacono led the way, along with unsung superstar, Josh Hart, as #2 ‘Nova romped UNC-Asheville in the First Round and absolutely destroyed #7 Iowa in the Second Round.  Pretty lackluster madness, right?  Nope!  The other game in this pod was Iowa versus #10 Temple.  The Hawkeyes – led by the sharp-shooting of Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff – were up most of the way, but the Owls made a furious comeback and actually sent the game to overtime on three INCREDIBLY clutch free throws by senior star, Quentin DeCosey.  Then, the overtime went back and forth until all-around d-bag, Adam Woodbury hit the winning putback at the buzzer thanks to a blatant two-handed shove in the back that wasn’t called.  Had that been called, there would have been free throws for Obi Enechionya on the other end, and we would have all been treated to an NCAA Tournament game between two BIG FIVE TEAMS!  We were robbed by the MADNESS.

North Carolina
The MADNESS here came in the First Round.  There was a hint of some MADNESS even in the First Round game for top-seeded UNC.  #16 Florida Gulf Coast (not exactly strangers to MADNESS, themselves) played toe-to-toe with the big, bad Tar Heels for the entire first half and entered the locker room down just 1 at 41-40.  The Heels came out and flexed their muscles in the second half, but it was fun for 20 minutes.  The other First Round game was fun for all 40.  Providence and USC went up and down and back and forth all night before Kris Dunn hit a couple ENORMOUS shots down the stretch to erase a pretty sizeable USC lead that was built by their relatively unknown stars, Julian Jacobs, Jordan McLaughlin, and Bennie “Buckets” Boatwright.  And, then it happened – MADNESS!!!  USC, up 1 with :01.5 seconds left was so focused on stopping either Dunn – the two-time Big East Player of the Year – or Ben Bentil – the 2016 Big East scoring champ – that they forgot to cover little ole Rodney Bullock, who took the inbounds pass and scored a wide-open layup to win it.  Wow!!!  The Friars moved on to the Second Round and got pummeled by Carolina, but they had already contributed to the MADNESS.

Indiana
Maybe not true MADNESS, but probably the best actual basketball game of the tournament so far came from this pod.  When Indiana rolled Chattanooga and Kentucky rolled Stony Brook in the First Round, we were guaranteed this great matchup between two ultimate college hoops heavyweights who were the respective champs of the Big Ten and SEC.  Star PG Tyler Ulis versus star PG Yogi Ferrell.  Everyone’s favorite one-and-done, Jamal Murray, versus the completely unknown future star, O.G. Anunoby.  In what was just a terrific basketball game that was no befitting the Second Round, the Hoosiers eliminated Calipari’s ‘Cats and sent Ulis, Murray, and Skal Labissiere to their next stops in the Association.

Notre Dame
MADNESS lives and his name is Austin, Stephen F. Austin.  The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks simply dominated #3-seed and sleeper Final Four pick, West Virginia, in the First Round winning by 14 in a game that wasn’t even that close.  The other First Round game saw Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste come back from a huge deficit to lead #6 Notre Dame past #11 Michigan.  That set up some MADNESS.  Stephen F. Austin, who best player, Thomas Walkup, actually might be a lumberjack, outplayed Notre Dame, but the Irish took every punch and eventually got the game-winning tip-in at the buzzer turning a one-point loss into a one-point win.  And, who scored that monumental basket?  But, of course – Rex Pflueger.  I mean that makes sense, considering he hadn’t scored since March 5th, and only scored more than 2 points in SEVEN of ND’s 34 games.  MADNESS!!!

Wisconsin
On January 12th, the Badgers were 9-9 and 1-4 in Big Ten play.  They had lost to Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette at home.  They had lost their Hall of Fame head coach.  So, why wouldn’t they be in the Sweet 16?!?  They won a First Round game that was the lowest-scoring game in Tournament history, 47-43 against Pitt, and then took on #2 Xavier, led by Jalen Reynolds, Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis, and freshman star Edmond Sumner.  This is the best Xavier team ever assembled and a legit championship contender.  Then Bronson Koenig happened.  The junior hit a 26-footer with :15 seconds left to tie the game at 60.  Then Sumner committed a charge on the other end with :05 seconds left, setting up Koenig’s heroics, as he took an inbounds pass in the corner and calmly DRILLED a ridiculous game-winner.  MADNESS!!!

Oregon
Let’s start in the First Round with some MADNESS.  #8 St. Joe’s took on #9 Cincy in a true East Coast style brawl out in Spokane.  Isaiah Miles hit a 3 with :20 seconds left to put St. Joe’s up 78-76.  Cincy comes down, Troy Caupain drives the lane, draws about 4 Hawks defenders, lets go of an incredible wrap-around pass to Octavius Ellis, who does exactly what you’re supposed to do and DUNKS THE BALL.  The problem?  When the red light goes on, the ball is through the basket, but he is still touching it.  Basket waved off, St. Joe’s survives, MADNESS wins…as always.  The Hawks and superstar, DeAndre Bembry, then move on to face #1 Oregon, who dispatched Bill Carmody’s 14-19 Holy Cross team that won their first 4 road games of the year in the Patriot League Tournament to win the thing.  Oregon, led by Pac-12 POY Dillon Brooks and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Chris Boucher, actually struggled most of the way against the Hawks, but hit some monster shots down the stretch to squeak out a victory.

Duke
MADNESS!!!  #5 Baylor got manhandled by #12 Yale in the First Round.  Yep, you read that right.  Yale manhandled Baylor.  They outrebounded Baylor.  How do a bunch of Ivy League kids outrebound big, bad Baylor?  Well, some awful reporter asked Taurean Prince that question in an even more ignorant, condescending way than I just did.  And, Prince’s deadpan answer was phenomenal:  You see when someone takes a shot and misses, anyone on the court can go up and grab the ball with two hands.  When that happens, it’s called a “rebound.”  Ya, they got more of those.  But, anyway, MADNESS struck with a little white guy named Makai Mason dropping 31 on Baylor and eliminating a sleeper Final Four pick before the sun went down on Thursday.  The first game of the tournament had the potential for Madness, but Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, and the last Plumlee put the Dookies on their backs and carried them past a good UNC-Wilmington team.  Then, Duke ambushed Yale from the start in the Second Round, but Yale came storming back, cutting a 27-point lead to just 3, but couldn’t finish the job, and Duke and their 6 useable players move on to the Sweet 16.

Texas A&M
Obviously, there were a lot of pods with a LOT OF MADNESS.  But, nothing can top the MADNESS that ensued in this little pod.  Let’s get this out of the way first – #3 Texas A&M ran over #14 Green Bay in an easy First Round win.  Jalen Jones, Danuel House, College Station’s own Alex Caruso all were too much for the Phoenix.  But, that is where the non-MADNESS ends in this pod.  First Round, late Friday night:  11th-seeded Northern Iowa (who got into the Dance on a crazy buzzer-beater by Wes Washpun to beat Evansville in the MVC final) led #6 Texas almost the whole way, but the ‘Horns made a great comeback and tied it on an Isaiah Taylor runner with :02 seconds left.  Overtime, right?  Nope…MADNESS!  The incredibly well-coached Panthers had an inbounds play ready to go without even using a timeout.  They threw the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took two dribble and shot a one-footed shot from half-court.  GOOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!!!  You gotta be kidding me.  One of the best moments that’s ever happened to this program (at least from a guy not named Faroukmanesh), right?  Well, yes…and no.  It sent the Panthers to the second round, which is great, right?  Well, yes…and no.  In an evil twist of fate, the greatest buzzer-beater in NCAA Tournament history enabled the worst collapse in COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY.  I still don’t believe that this happened, but UNI had a TWELVE-POINT LEAD WITH :44 SECONDS LEFT.  WHAT?!?!?!?!?  But, they didn’t have their “designated inbounds passer,” who was struggling with cramps.  What?  Not having an inbounder costs you 12 freaking points in :44 seconds???  Good grief…  Yes, A&M went on to win in double-OT.  Absolute incredible and total MADNESS – no other word for it.

Oklahoma
The MADNESS here is pretty much confined to how freaking awesome one dude is.  The guy known simply as “Buddy” was an absolute force in two games so far, scoring 53 points in a pair of OU wins to reach the Sweet 16.  The games weren’t without their fun, though, as the 2nd-seeded Sooners were pushed by both #15 CS-Bakersfield (with Dewayne Durham) and #10 VCU, but survived in both of them.  The other game in this pod was a decent game where VCU’s Melvin Johnson outdueled Gary Payton III and Oregon State, who was playing without their second-best player, Tres Tinkle.

Virginia
UVA looked pretty good in validating their #1 seed, as future U.S. Senator, Malcolm Brogdon and, especially, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes, rolled over Hampton and then survived a REALLY tough test from Kellen Dunham, the immortal Rosie Jones, and the rest of the Butler Bulldogs, who looked very upset-ready.  The ‘Dogs had knocked out Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech Red Raiders in the 8/9 game in the First Round.

Iowa State
The MADNESS in this pod came from two teams that are no longer around.  #5 Purdue, with the ridiculous frontline of AJ Hammonds, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan, were cruising past a 29-win AR-Little Rock team, up 13 at the under-4 timeout.  But, then their glaring hole at point guard reared its ugly head and Little Rock came storming back including an INSANE 3 to force overtime by Josh Hagins.  The Trojans finished the job in double OT, knocking out yet another sleeper Final Four pick before their tournament even got started.  The Cyclones of Iowa State, led by 56 points in two games by Georges Niang, ran away from AJ English and Iona and then took care of Little Rock to reach the Sweet 16.

Gonzaga
MADNESS!!!  An 11-seed in the Sweet 16 is always crazy, but it’s starting to be less so with the ‘Zags.  They have now made – get this – FOUR Sweet 16s as a double-digit seed.  No other program has ever done that more than twice.  Cinderella stops being Cinderella when it’s always the same team.  But, the ‘Zags, who were a 2-seed last year and a 1-seed the year before that, looked very much like the best team in this pod, as they crushed #6 Seton Hall and an exhausted Isaiah Whitehead in the First Round and then absolutely pummeled Jakob Poeltl and #3 Utah in the Second Round.  Utah had nearly blown a lead to Marvelle Harris and #14 Fresno State in the First Round, but survived.

Syracuse
And, after all of this, we STILL haven’t mentioned the craziest thing that happened.  THE BIGGEST UPSET IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY.  Ya, that happened, too.  There are good arguments about whether or not the Middle Tennessee upset of #2 Michigan State really was the biggest upset ever, they are all based in the fact that MTSU isn’t all that bad and were criminally underseeded as a 15-seed.  But, NO ONE is arguing that this Michigan State team is the best team in the history of the tournament to lose in the First Round.  They were – along with Kansas – the Vegas favorites to WIN THE WHOLE F’ING THING.  The other 2-seeds to lose to 15-seeds were very vulnerable and overrated 2-seeds like Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgetown.  Or, they happened in years with prohibitive favorites, like ’91 Syracuse in a year when UNLV and Duke were LOADED, ’93 Arizona when the Fab Five were all back as sophomores and UNC was loaded.  Or, 2001 Iowa State, in a year with a 1-loss Stanford team and a Duke team that had an NBA starting lineup of Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, and Carlos Boozer.  But, this Michigan State team was one of two odds-on favorites to win the whole thing, had one of the two best players in the country, and a coach that is going to be elected into the Hall of Fame this year.  You’ve got to be kidding.  Giddy Potts just hit ANOTHER THREE.  And, in under-the-radar MADNESS, 10th-seeded Syracuse, who shouldn’t have even been in the tournament, cruised past Dayton and Middle Tennessee for a spot in the Sweet 16, where they will wear home whites as the higher-seeded team against #11 Gonzaga.  Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinijie are laughing all the way to Chicago.

A Slap in the Face

I watch way too much college basketball.  I’m almost embarrassed about how much of my life from November to March is consumed by college hoops.  I stay up too late watching it.  I waste too much time reading about it or talking about it or just plain thinking about it.  I think you could adequately call me “obsessed.”  Or, to be kind, “avid.”  But, I have ZERO interest in tonight’s championship game.  This one is always partially for all the fly-by-night late-February fans, but this year’s has taken that to a new level.  It’s a flat-out slap in the face to the game’s true fans.  Neither Kentucky nor Connecticut were probably even in the TOP THIRTY best teams for the FOUR-MONTH regular season.  And, now, these two teams will play a 40-minute game to decide the 2014 “champion?”  No thanks…

I don’t accept this. 

To me, the 2013-14 college hoops season resembles the 1994 baseball season.  It happened.  There were some great individual performances and some elite, memorable teams.  But, in the end, no one was actually crowned “champion.”

Sweet Sixteen Picks – Friday

My goal was to get at least 5 of the 8 Sweet 16 games right.  While, the disappointing Thursday performance didn’t help, I still have a shot – if I can go 4-0 today.  Here goes…

Indianapolis, IN – Friday, 7:15 – Tennessee vs Michigan (-3)

Tennessee has looked fantastic this tournament in winning 3 games rather handily.  But, they beat an Iowa team that was taking on water, a UMass team that was grossly overseeded, and a Mercer team that was just happy to be still playing two days after shocking the Dukies.  The Wolverines have looked just as impressive and have played the toughest team either had to face in Texas.  That being said, it is hard not to be tantalized by the incredible talent on this Tennessee roster.  Jarnell Stokes has been – by far – the best player in this tournament so far, and Jordan McRae is a star as well.  Plus, with the emergence of Josh Richardson and the steady presence of Jeronne Maymon (they seem to have cornered the market on “J” names) give this team some depth beyond their two studs.  Talentwise, I like Tennessee A LOT more than I like Michigan, and if they switched coaches, I think this Tennessee team might be a 10-point favorite.  But, coaching is so important this time of year and Beilein is just such a better coach.  So, with 5 days to prepare, I have to go against my original leaning and give the points, but I’m not all that confident about it.
The Pick:  Michigan -3 (*)

New York, NY – Friday, 7:27 – Connecticut vs Iowa State (-2)

The other early game is another one that is tough to get a read on, but for different reasons.  Iowa State was a legit title contender (in my eyes) before the Georges Niang injury, but now they probably don’t have the depth or balance to win the whole thing (which is very unfortunate).  That being said, they played a good UNC team on Sunday with Niang and took care of business.  Dustin Hogue filled in admirably, and Melvin Ejim and Deandre Kane were stellar – as usual.  So, how much does it hurt them?  The difference may be in the fact that UNC only had a day to prepare for a Niang-less Cyclone team, while UConn now has 5 days.  In this really interesting battle between two heady coaches who are really good friends and both institute a lot of pro sets, there is one thing that is probably the reason this line is skewed – Madison Square Garden is going to be rocking with Huskie fans.  In a vaccuum, there is no way UConn should only be getting 2 points against ISU even with Niang, but the line is saying something, and I think that something is that MSG is a big advantage for a team that has won 7 Big East tournament titles and one NIT in that very building.  I’m shaky on this one, too, but gimme Shabazz and the Huskies in the Big Apple.
The Pick:  Connecticut +2 (*)

Indianapolis, IN – Friday, 9:45 – Kentucky vs Louisville (-4.5)

I have trouble remember a better pair of games tipping off around the same time in my entire life.  This is the most that can possibly be at stake with two games at the same time (later rounds are all played with staggered start times), and these two games are phenomenal!  This one in Indy might be the most anticipated college hoops game of the year so far, as two BITTER BITTER BITTER rivals face off with their seasons on the line.  Add in two coaches that despise one another and two fanbases at each other’s throats, and you’ve got yourselves ridiculous drama.  Plus, it’s the defending national champion against the preseason #1, who just knocked off a 35-0 team to get here.  Buckle your seatbelts, it’s gonna get GOOD.  Or not…  I think it might not be close.  I have watched UK a lot this year, and they just aren’t nearly as good as they were against Wichita, and I have very little confidence that they will play that well – even against their arch-rivals – tonight.  This is my favorite pick of the round.
The Pick:  Louisville -4.5 (****)

New York, NY – Friday, 9:57 – Michigan State vs Virginia (+2)

And, finally, the 8th game of the round and it is another game that is so tough to read.  Michigan State is playing up to their potential – that is, one of the odds-on favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas next week.  But, UVA is playing incredibly well and cannot be overlooked.  The Cavs play relentless defense that can rattle anyone.  The Spartans need a solid game from point guard, Keith Appling, who has been struggling lately (and may be battling numerous injuries).  On paper, MSU has more talent and experience, but the question remains how healthy they are.  It is tough to know, but one thing that we should all remember is that Tom Izzo teams are built for March, and while injuries can derail even the best of plans, I am not ready to say it ends here.  Gimme Sparty here and I’ll lay the 2.
The Pick:  Michigan State -2 (**)

Sweet Sixteen Picks – Thursday

I can’t remember a better first weekend of the tournament (though, I expect I say something to that effect every year, but this one seemed different), and now I can’t explain how great this Sweet 16 is looking.  There isn’t one total mismatch and all 16 of these teams are playing very well and none should be just “happy to be there.”  And, yet, there is not a clear favorite or underdog.  Obviously, Dayton and Stanford are surprises to be here, but they play each other and both are playing really well.  There is only one team that is more than a 5-point underdog and that San Diego State, who spent most of the year in the Top 10 in the country and even cracked the Top 5.  At least a dozen (maybe even 13 or 14) of these teams are legit Final Four contenders where we wouldn’t look back and think it absurd that they made it.  And, about half of them are legit title contenders.  This is going to be spectacular.  So, let’s make some picks, shall we?  The stars rate my confidence – going by a 5-star scale where 5 stars is a mortal lock.

Memphis, TN – Thursday, 7:15 – Dayton vs Stanford (-3)

These are the two “Cinderella” teams of the bunch and they happen to play each other in the region that holds the #1 team in America possibly waiting for them in the Elite Eight.  But, these two teams (particularly Stanford) are not your typical “happy-to-be-here” underdogs that we see in most years (Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, Ohio in 2012, Richmond in 2011, Cornell in 2010…well you get the idea).  Dayton is a legitimately solid team that earned an at-large bid from a 6-bid league, while Stanford has top-level talent, even though they muddled through various parts of the season.  I might be the only one, but I really like this Stanford team and think they have the talent to play with the best teams in the country.  Chasson Randle is a special point guard, and Dwight Powell is a borderline star.  Plus, when they added Josh Huestis to the starting lineup, they got INCREDIBLY big.  Their starting lineup is 6’2″, 6’6″, 6’7″, 6’10”, and 6’11”.  That’s NBA size that I think will overpower Dayton here.  A game like this usually begs me to take the points, but I am going to lay the 3 here.
The Pick:  Stanford -3 (**)

Anaheim, CA – Thursday, 7:47 – Baylor vs Wisconsin (-3.5)

Did any team in the tournament look any better than Baylor last weekend?  They pounded a good Nebraska team before absolutely annihilating Doug McDermott and Creighton in the second round.  And, this after a blisteringly hot February that led into a run to the Big XII title game.  I am not sure anyone wants to play this Baylor team right now, but you know Wisconsin won’t be scared.  Bo Ryan’s teams are always prepared (though, they seem to underachieve a bit in the tournament) and this team, in particular, does something that Bo’s teams of the past didn’t do – score.  They do give it up defensively more than usual, but the Badgers can spread you out with all 5 guys showing long-range potential, even their 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky.  This should be a fantastic game, but I am not sure that Wisconsin can keep up with the athletes that Baylor has – if the Baylor of the past month shows up…which is still a question mark.  But, with Baylor playing so well, I feel you have to take the 3.5 here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win outright.
The Pick:  Baylor +3.5 (***)

Memphis, TN – Thursday, 9:45 – UCLA vs Florida (-5)

As good as the Baylor-Wisconsin game should be, this is probably the game of the night.  A game of contrasting styles to the max, as UCLA loves to get up and down the floor, as the 15th fastest team in the country on offense without sacrificing any efficiency, as they rank 12th in the country with 1.17 points per possession.  This team is so gifted offensively with matchup nightmares all over the court, most notably their 6’8″ point-forward Kyle Anderson, who is averaging a ridiculous stat line of 15 points, 8.5 boards, and 6.5 assists per game.  Those are outlandish numbers in a 40-minute game with a :35 second shot clock.  And, what makes this game so great is that this incredibly fast and efficient UCLA offense is going up against maybe the best defensive team in the country (they are actually ranked #2 behind Arizona in adjusted dEff).  When UCLA has the ball, this is going to be unbelievably intriguing.  However, the other side is where the mismatch occurs and probably where the game will be decided.  Florida – known for their suffocating defense – is actually a very efficient offensive team – which will be going up against UCLA defense that has taken its lumps publicly this year.  The fast-paced tempo of the Bruins offense actually belies the relative effectiveness of their defense, so I think they are very underrated on that end of the court, but it is still hard to make the case that they are any better than “decent” on the defensive end.  Because of this, I think Florida makes just enough plays to win the game, but, personally, I think the right side of this is to take the points.
The Pick:  UCLA +5 (**)

Anaheim, CA – Thursday, 10:17 – San Diego State vs Arizona (-7.5)

If you like defense, take a nap this afternoon so you can stay up and watch this one.  These two teams really get after it on the defensive end.  They don’t just hold teams down because they are slow and plodding and conservative.  These two teams have long, athletic defenders all over the court and they seem to absolutely love to play straight-up man-to-man, in-your-face defense.  And, the numbers reflect this, as both teams are ranked in the top 10 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (Arizona is #1, SDSU is #7).  The problem for the Aztecs is that they really only have two scorers that they can rely on – Xavier Thames and Winston Shephard – and if you could pick any two guys in the country to take and matchup against those two, you might pick Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, who both happen to play for Arizona.  So, the two big questions for this game are (1) can SDSU find offense from their gritty, hard-nosed role players like Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien (or off the bench from guys like Dwayne Pollee), and (2) will the defensive efforts of Johnson and Gordon still allow them to contribute on the other end or will the offensive load fall on UA’s secondary scorers like Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?  Whatever ends up happening, this is another fascinating game and, as maybe the ultimate sign of how great this tournament continues to be, is the largest spread of the round…at only -7.5.  At the end of the day, I do think Arizona will win the game, but I don’t think I can possibly give 7.5 when the game is likely to be in the 60’s.
The Pick:  San Diego State +7.5 (***)

2014 CTC Day Fourteen: Chris Wins the Final Day, but the Spotlight Falls on Stritts Who Ends a Dominating Rookie Campaign with an Overall Victory

While Chris takes the Day Fourteen honors, as the only one to hit Michigan State, Virginia, and Florida, Stritts takes home the overall title with a record-breaking performance of more than 3,200 points.  Stri finishes a distant 2nd with Teddy a personal-best 3rd place, and GrossJr taking 4th (and 2nd in the Money Division).  Chris’s big day cracks him a Top 5 finish in his rookie campaign.

GrossSr was the biggest upward mover on the final day, gaining 4 spots to a 6th-place finish.  Teddy gained 3 spots to 3rd.  Chris picked up 2 spots to reach the top 5, while Lynch picked up 2 and cracked the top 20.

There were only 3 people in the entire field that had a champion alive in all five of Sunday’s games.  One was Becks, who did okay, hitting Michigan State and Florida for a 160-point day.  The other two were Bry and Lohse, who both went 0-FOR-5!  The huge 0’fer cost Bry a shot at the overall title and cost Lohse a chance to get out of the basement.  (Man, I wish I had placed a 5-team parlay against my picks today.)  Bry took the biggest drop on the day, slipping 5 spots to 8th.  Mac, who only hit Florida on the day, lost 3 spots to 7th, as his title hopes went up in smoke over the final two days.  Caleb, Dave, and Colton all lost 2 spots on the day.  Colton went from 2nd to 23rd in a matter of about 54 hours.

There were 5 more titles handed out on the day – I’ll recap the individual conferences sometime soon (when I get the energy).  All in all, it was another great and successful CTC.  Thanks to everyone for participating and congrats to Stritts – our overall champ!

DAY FOURTEEN SCORES:

  1. Chris – 220
  2. Teddy – 210
  3. Becks – 160
  4. Gersh – 160
  5. GrossJr – 160
  6. GrossSr – 160
  7. Lynch – 160
  8. PapaCim – 160
  9. Stritts – 160
  10. WaTers – 160
  11. Stri – 120
  12. Doogan – 110
  13. RDoc – 110
  14. Alexi – 60
  15. Caleb – 60
  16. J – 60
  17. Lazarow – 60
  18. Mac – 60
  19. Primm – 60
  20. Scoot – 60
  21. Stumpf – 60
  22. Bry – 0
  23. Colton – 0
  24. Dave – 0
  25. Lohse – 0

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS:

  1. *Stritts – 3289
  2. Stri – 3168
  3. Teddy – 3138.5
  4. *GrossJr – 3112
  5. *Chris – 3102
  6. *GrossSr – 3012.5
  7. Mac – 3015.5
  8. *Bry – 2963.5
  9. Alexi – 2940.5
  10. *J – 2926
  11. *Doogan – 2883
  12. *Gersh – 2872
  13. *Becks – 2850.5
  14. PapaCim – 2850
  15. Caleb – 2757
  16. *Stumpf – 2679.5
  17. Scoot – 2664.5
  18. Dave – 2661
  19. *RDoc – 2654
  20. Lynch – 2627.5
  21. *Primm – 2596.5
  22. WaTers – 2587
  23. Colton – 2492.5
  24. Lazarow – 2327
  25. Lohse – 2284.5

2014 CTC: The Big Ten (3/16)

It was a strange(-ly awesome) year in the BiG this year.  First of all, I have to point out to all the people that are tired of this being the best league in the country and are trying to boost up the Big XII – that’s cute and all, but it’s just no true and it’s not really that close.  I am not a Big Ten lover.  I didn’t go to Penn State or root for Maize and Blue or even worship at the altar of Izzo.  I actually never really like the Big Ten growing up because the style of play was rough and slow and the teams weren’t good enough to make that style incredibly watchable.  But, in recent years, this conference has proven time and time again that it is THE premier conference in college basketball.  Look at this year as a perfect example of why it’s the best.  Michigan State is ravaged by injuries.  Ohio State has an incredibly down year.  Michigan loses its best player for the season.  Wisconsin loses three in a row at one point.  Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois are all down and in serious rebuilds.  And, what conference is STILL the best?  The Big Ten.  I know that this league hasn’t won since 2000 (which is shocking to me), but there is no doubt, in my mind at least, that this has – by any objective measure – by clearly the best conference in the country for at least 3-4 years now.  And, 2014 has been no different.  This tournament should insanely interesting with the champion having certainly earned it.

The majority of the field went with either Wisconsin or Michigan State as their Big Ten champ, so if they meet in the semifinals, it will be huge.  5 of the top 6 seeds were pegged as champions with only #4 Nebraska getting no support.  Only 3 people took top-seeded Michigan.  Not a lot of sleepers, though a lot of people like Iowa and Ohio State to go further than their seeds say they should.  Gersh and Stri split the 2012 title and since our 2013 champ didn’t enter this year, they are the de facto defending champs.  Bry won the Big Ten in the first two years and remains the only one with multiple titles in this conference.

CHAMPIONSHIP (March 16th – 60 points)

#1 Michigan vs #3 Michigan State
Much like the ACC final, the Big Ten finale pits the regular season champ versus the consensus preseason pick to win the league.  The Wolverines came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten by 3 full games over Wisconsin and MSU.  But, I think it’s safe to say that things might be slightly – or totally – different if the Spartans had stayed healthy all year.  And, they looked pretty spry in their impressive win over Wisconsin in the semis.  Michigan has looked really shaky this week, barely surviving Illinois in the quarters and then squeaking by Ohio State in the semis. Do they have one more bullet in the holster for their dear old rivals?

Bry, Lohse, and RDoc are the only 3 with Michigan here.  10 people (Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) have Sparty.  GrossSr and PapaCim have locked up the 2014 Big Ten title regardless of Sunday’s outcome.

SEMIFINALS (March 15th – 40 points each)

#1 Michigan vs #5 Ohio State
Not sure if these two teams ever play in any other sport, but it’s always nice to see the state universities of these two neighbor states engage in a friendly sporting endeavor.  Both teams are somewhat lucky to even be in this game, as Michigan needed a last-second bucket to beat Illinois in the quarters, and Ohio State barely survived a pair of games – first, a 2-point win over Purdue in the opening round, then erasing an 18-point second half deficit against Nebraska in the quarters.

8 people (Alexi, Beks, Dave, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) have Ohio State in this one, with Alexi and Dave picking the Buckeyes to win it all.  Lazarow has already lost this game with Nebraska.  The other 16 all have Michigan, though only Bry, Lohse, and RDoc have the Wolverines winning this tourney.

#2 Wisconsin vs #3 Michigan State
Wisconsin looked really, really good against Minnesota in the quarters.  Michigan State took care of business against Northwestern.  Now, we have a Final Four caliber game in the Big Ten semifinals.  These two only played once in the regular season – at the Kohl Center in Madison – and it was a hard-fought 2-point win for the Badgers.  But, MSU was missing both Brandon Dawson and Keith Appling.  This should be really, really good.

11 people (Alexi, Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) have the Spartans.  Doogan and Lohse have already lost this game.  The other 12 all have Wisconsin, including 9 (Caleb, Colton, J, Lazarow, Mac, Primm, Scoot, Stri, Stumpf) with the Badgers winning the tournament.  10 people actually have MSU winning this whole thing (everyone who has them winning here except Alexi).  Needless to say, this game is a BIG DEAL for the CTC.

QUARTERFINALS (March 14th – 20 points each)

#1 Michigan vs #9 Illinois
Possibly the most underrated coaching job of 2013-14 is the one done – AGAIN – by John Beilein in Ann Arbor.  Can we finally put him in the discussion with the best coaches in the country?  He just flat-out wins everywhere he goes.  Last year, he took a young team to the championship game, and this year, he loses his backcourt to the NBA and his best player to a back injury, and still wins the best conference in America by THREE FULL GAMES.  We should also be talking about Nick Stauskas as a potential Big Ten POY and the Wolverines as a possible 1-seed.  That is amazing after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch McGary.  Walkon Spike Albrecht (who, despite his ridiculous heroics in the title game, was a walkon for a reason) is even playing major minutes for this team.  And, let me repeat – they won the best conference in the country by three whole games.  They open their Big Ten tournament against an Illinois team that is very dangerous and handled Indiana on Thursday.

All 25 entries have Michigan winning this one, but only Bry, Lohse, and RDoc have the Wolverines taking the Big Ten title on Sunday.

Michigan 64 – Illinois 63

#4 Nebraska vs #5 Ohio State
This is the one.  The one the Cornhuskers need to complete their case for inclusion in the field.  Nebraska has made incredible strides this year – after opening their shiny new building – and want to finish the season off right, with their first trip to the Dance in quite some time.  Terran Petteway has emerged as a go-to guy for the ‘Huskers on the offensive end, but the main improvements they have made this year have come on the defensive side of the ball.  They are a fantastic defensive team who finishes possessions by limiting offensive rebounds.  Their quarterfinal opponent, Ohio State, is seriously deficient offensively, so this could be a real struggle for the Buckeyes, who lost in Lincoln in late-January – the game that was the start of the turnaround for Nebraska.  The teams also played on Jan 4, when Ohio State was in the Top 5 in the country (man, that seems like a long time ago), and the Buckeyes annihilated the ‘Huskers 84-53 in Columbus.

Only 5 people (Bry, Caleb, Chris, Doogan, Lazarow) took Nebraska here.  The other 20 all have OSU, including Alexi and Dave, who have them winning this tournament.  6 others (Becks, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) all have the Buckeyes reaching the finals.

Ohio State 71 – Nebraska 67

#2 Wisconsin vs #7 Minnesota
The Gophers avoided a probable bubble-bursting loss Thursday night with a comeback win over Penn State.  Now, they have a chance to get off the bubble – in the right direction – on Friday if they can take down potential #1-seed in the Dance, Wisconsin.  Can we quick talk – as I like to any chance I get – about just how great Bo Ryan is.  Bo has been at Wisconsin for 12 years now.  He has been in the top 4 of the Big Ten (the best conference in basketball for much of that time) 12 times.  That’s right, Bo Ryan’s Badgers have never been lower than 4th place in the Big Ten regular season.  That would be impressive at any school, let alone at Wisconsin.  And, there are many who think (myself included) that this year’s version might be Bo’s best team ever.  Aside from a strange dip in late January, where they lost 5 of 6, the Badgers are 24-1, including wins over Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia (in the ugliest game ever played), Iowa (2x), Michigan State, and Michigan.  He’s got at least 4 guys (usually all 5) that are dead-eye shooters on the court at all times, and he’s got a 7-footer that dropped 43 (including 6-6 from 3-point range) against North Dakota earlier this year.  This Wisconsin team is so tough and will be a really tough out in any tournament they participate in.

Teddy is all alone on Minnesota here, hoping for a free 70 points on the field.  The other 24 all have the Badgers, including 9 people (Caleb, Colton, J, Lazarow, Mac, Primm, Scoot, Stri, Stumpf) that have the Badgers taking this title.  Bry and Dave are the only two that have them going to the finals and losing.

Wisconsin 83 – Minnesota 57

#3 Michigan State vs #11 Northwestern
And, the final entry to the Big Ten tournament this year is that team from East Lansing.  That team of the walking wounded.  Another fascinating stat about the greatness of a coach can be told here – no player that has played four years for Tom Izzo has ever left Michigan State without a trip to the Final Four.  But, that amazing statistic is actually on the line this year.  And, wouldn’t it be ironic if the class that breaks it is consists of Adrien Payne and Keith Appling?  Those two are fantastic and, yet, they are in danger of being the first two Spartans to play 4 years with a trip to the Final Four.  But, there are reasons why these stats exist, and, when healthy, this team is one of the best bets to make the Final Four and keep it going.  The big question that remains is:  are they healthy?  They are all back on the court, but are they healthy?  That remains to be seen.  The first team to test them was supposed to be a good, deep Iowa team that would run, run, and run.  That would have been a real test for a team that hasn’t played much together this year.  But, instead they get a NW team that likes to go slow, slow, and slower.  The Wildcats knocked off Iowa in the nightcap of Thursday’s festivities and now get a crack at Izzo and company.

7 people (Bry, Dave, Doogan, Lazarow, Lohse, RDoc, Scoot) have already lost this game with Iowa.  The other 18 have the Spartans, including 10 (Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) with them as their champs.  Alexi is the only one that has them in the finals without picking them to win it.

Michigan State 67 – Northwestern 51

OPENING ROUND (March 13th – 10 points each)

#8 Indiana vs #9 Illinois
The tipoff of the 2014 Big Ten tournament is between two teams that are too talented to be in the position of mere spoiler of “bid thief.”  But, that is the case for both UI and IU.  John Groce better get it together in Champaign, as Bruce Weber continues to shine in Manhattan, KS.  They Illini only have one senior of significance, and they were spectacular down the stretch, as they finished with a crazy 5-game stretch (@Min, Neb, @MichSt, Mich, @Iowa) in which they went an astonishing 4-1.  I’m not sure I would pick any team in the country to go 4-1 over that stretch, especially not a team that won ONE game (against Penn State) between Jan 5 and Feb 18.  But, tournaments like this are about who you can beat and Illinois has proven all year that they can beat anyone.  As for the Hoosiers, I am not sure why Tom Crean (who I think is a terrific coach) is getting a total pass on this season.  They have no chance at an at-large bid, despite one of the best freshmen in the country (Noah Vonleigh), a solid, if not spectacular, PG (Yogi Ferrell), and an experienced role player who can do a lot of things on both ends (Will Sheehey).  Is it because there just isn’t much other talent?  Well, doesn’t that fall on Crean as well?  I know that they lost an All-Star roster of players to the NBA, but at a place like Indiana who was put back on the map the past couple of years, I didn’t expect any down years any more, but that’s what we had.  I guess there is still time to make it up, but they have to win a really tough tournament.  The winner of this game will get #1 Michigan on Friday.

Only 6 people (Bry, Caleb, GrossJr, J, Lazarow, PapaCim) went with Illinois here.  No one has either of these teams beating Michigan in the quarters.

Illinois 64 – Indiana 54

#5 Ohio State vs #12 Purdue
What happened to OSU this year?  They should be great, and they looked great early on.  But, they just don’t have any offense and, ya know, scoring is important.  I asked Doogan the other day if Ohio State would be a Top 10 team in the country if Desean Thomas stayed in school instead of leaving a year early to play in Spain.  He said yes, and I agree.  That is exactly what they are missing – and he is one of the best at it – scoring.  As for Purdue, it doesn’t get much tougher for a 5-seed than to draw a 12-seed as good as the Boilers. The winner of this game will take on a Nebraska team that really needs a win to get off the bubble.

Bry is the only one that went for the big upset here with Purdue.  A Purdue win would also bust a ton of brackets.  Alexi and Dave have the Buckeyes winning this tournament.  Becks, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, and WaTers have them going to the finals.  11 more (Colton, GrossJr, GrossSr, J, Lohse, Mac, PapaCim, Primm, RDoc, Scoot, Stumpf) have them reaching the semis, so this is huge here for most of the field to keep OSU alive.  Aside from Bry, only Caleb, Chris, Doogan, and Lazarow have OSU not making the semis.

Ohio State 63 – Purdue 61

#7 Minnesota vs #10 Penn State
Richard Pitino has done a great job in Minneapolis, but the team is inconsistent and unsteady.  Sometimes they look great, sometimes they look very flat – and that might be inexperienced coaching.  But, they are in decent shape to make the tournament, but they have to beat Penn State on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions have one of the best backcourt duos in the great Tim Frazier and the nearly-great D.J. Newbill.  This is a dangerous game for the Gophers, and they better bring the good team to this one.  The winner here gets #2 Wisconsin.

9 people (Bry, Dave, Doogan, GrossJr, Lynch, PapaCim, Primm, RDoc, WaTers) took the Nittany Lions here with an upset that might kill Minnesota’s tournament hopes.  No one has either of these teams beating Wisconsin in the quarters.

Minnesota 63 – Penn State 56

#6 Iowa vs #11 Northwestern
God, I love this Iowa team.  But, they have really struggled to stop anyone lately.  And, if you don’t play defense, you just don’t win Big Ten games.  But, they do have a TON of talent and are probably the deepest team in the league (depth has hidden importance this year because of the new quicker whistles).  This game should be a fascinating game of completely contrasting styles.  Iowa LOVES to run and will on any occasion.  Northwestern will go slow, slow, and slower.  The ‘Cats are tough and should not be overlooked.  Iowa is in no danger of missing the Dance, but they are playing with the fire of a bad seeding and a loss here might put them in the dreaded 8/9 game.

Gersh, GrossJr, Lynch, and PapaCim went with a really nice NW upset pick here, though none of them have the ‘Cats beating Mich State.  Doogan puts his Big Ten champ at risk here in the nightcap.  Lohse has the Hawkeyes in the finals.  Bry, Dave, Lazarow, RDoc, and Scoot all have them beating Michigan State, so they need them to stay alive here.

Northwestern 67 – Iowa 62

CTC UPDATE

Championship Picks

  • #1 Michigan (3) – Bry, Lohse, RDoc
  • #2 Wisconsin (9) – Caleb, Colton, J, Lazarow, Mac, Primm, Scoot, Stri, Stumpf
  • #3 Michigan State (10) – Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers
  • #4 Nebraska (0)
  • #5 Ohio State (2) – Alexi, Dave
  • #6 Iowa (1) – Doogan

Biggest Upsets

  • R1 – #12 Purdue (Bry)
  • QF – #6 Iowa (Bry, Dave, Doogan, Lazarow, Lohse, RDoc, Scoot)
  • SF – #5 Ohio State (Alexi, Becks, Dave, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, WaTers)

Previous CTC Champions

  • 2008 – Bry
  • 2009 – Bry
  • 2010 – Waters
  • 2011 –  Primm
  • 2012 – Gersh, Stri
  • 2013 – Cheryl

2014 Scores