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Featured CBB – FantasySP Blog

The Butler did it!


The college basketball season comes to a close tonight with the National title game at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. The entire basketball world will be watching as the NBA takes the night off to enjoy.

The tournament has been filled with nothing but surprises and I am finally relenting and going to go with one myself and the Butler Bulldogs.  I have been most impressed by Head Coach Brad Stevens. Is there a better coach in the game? It was a shocker last season when Butler made it to the title game and almost knocked off Duke. When star forward Gordon Hayward departed early for the NBA there was no chance they could make it back to the tourney, much less the Final Four and beyond. Wrong. Even more impressive with Stevens is his humble approach to the game. This was never more apparent than when Stevens was side by side with Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart. Smart is one of the cockiest coaches around and I think many like myself were pleased to see Butler put an end to that. What will be the difference tonight? Bulldog big man Matt Howard. Is there a scrappier, harder working player around? Howard reminds me of former Lakers forward Kurt Rambis, only with a better offensive game. Howard doesn’t fit the NBA prototype, but any coach will tell you he has a future in the Association. If Howard can avoid foul trouble, look for Final Four MVP honors for the big guy.

It would be easy for me to pick Connecticut. The Huskies come from the vaunted Big East and have found a way to win over the past three weeks. Every game was a must for U Conn as a loss anywhere along the way would have ended their run. It started with the five wins in as many days at Madison Square Garden. But Connecticut was willed to victory by Kemba Walker.  Tonight could also be the end for legendary Jim Calhoun. A title would be his third and put him in the rarified air with Coach K, Bobby Knight, Adolph Rupp and John Wooden. Connecticut was hit with suspensions in February for recruiting violations by Calhoun.  He will be suspended from the first three Big East conference games next season with a reduction in scholarships as well. If U Conn wins tonight, what better time for Calhoun to step down. U Conn has long played the AAU recruiting game, something that has become the norm across the game. AAU coaches have become “agents” for players and want preferential treatment from programs to have their star players considered for scholarships. Few refuse to take part, one of which is Maryland coach Gary Williams, but that’s another story in itself.

The story lines in the 2010-2011 were many. Kentucky again rolling out a new crop of true freshman for a “one and done” season. The job John Calipari has done recruiting is amazing.  Looking at the 2009-2011 recruiting classes, the Wildcats have landed a dozen 5-stars and four 4-stars according to Rivals. There are conference’s that don’t bring in that kind of talent over decades. There are rumblings that Calipari may also have coached his last college games, for now. He will be courted by every NBA team with an opening, like Nick Saban, Calipari still wants to prove he can get it done in the pro game.

The other big story line of the season BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Jimmer arrived on the radar a season ago, then took it to another level this season. Perhaps the next “great white hope” Fredette takes the perimeter game to another level, not only in distance but in quickness of release. Its unfortunate we may never see Jimmer play another college game as he too appears NBA bound. Many will be interested, but the home state Utah Jazz have a particular need at the position and covet the potential to put “butts in the seats”.

Everything will be final when CBS shares “one shining moment” following the game, one of the great traditions in sports broadcasting.

Final Four…. and more


Wow, what a tournament it has been. Upsets galore, bracket busting of epic proportions and we had the chance to watch all of it, in its entirety. A big thumbs up for the new television deal which brought in the Turner family of networks in early rounds enabling every March Madness game to be shown in its entirety, available to everyone (with cable). How improbable are the Final Four teams meeting Saturday night at Houston’s Reliant Stadium? ESPN’s bracket contest with nearly six million entries had only two that called the National Semi Finals dead on.  If you are trying to make up for tournament losses, Kentucky is the favorite in Las Vegas at 8-5; VCU is the long shot at 7-1.

The underdogs tip it off first, with #11 Virginia Commonwealth and #8  Butler scheduled for a 609pm (EST).  Butler making an improbable return to the Final Four, especially after losing its best player, Gordon Hayward, early to the NBA.  Butler looked like anything BUT a repeat candidate early on, with a 6-5 record in the Horizon Conference.  The Bulldogs will rely on the inside/outside game of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack and stubborn defense.  VCU was a “bubble team”, which was targeted by the Alabama’s, Colorado’s and Virginia Tech’s of the world as being undeserving.  The Rams appeared to be fading after a solid season, losing their last four conference games. VCU is led by big time forward Jamie Skeen who transferred to Richmond from Wake Forest and exciting point guard Joey Rodriguez.

#4 Kentucky and #3 Connecticut will tip immediately following, scheduled for 849pm. The Wildcats represent the old “blue blood” tradition with their 14th appearance in the National Semifinals.  Connecticut looks to save face for the Big East conference which sent a record shattering eleven teams to the March Madness field. UConn also features the most exciting player left standing, Kemba Walker, who has led the Huskies to nine wins in 19 days beginning with the Big East tournament. While considered the “old guard” of the Final Four, the Wildcats are anything but that. UK lost five players to the NBA draft from last season. “New” freshman lead Kentucky, guard Brandon Knight and forward Terrence Jones, both strong candidates to be “one and done”.

Not to be outdone, the Connecticut Lady Huskies are also in the Final Four. The ladies semifinals and finals taking place in Indianapolis, one day behind the men. While the men’s tournament saw all #1 and #2 seeds go down, the ladies saw the elite survive. Sunday at 7pm its #2 Texas A&M taking on #1 Stanford, followed by #1 UConn and #2 Notre Dame with the winners meeting Tuesday night for the championship.

I would like to gladly pass along that Wichita State won the NIT championship last night, beating Alabama 66-57 at Madison Square Garden. Shocker guard Graham Hatch was awarded tourney MVP. Any time I can bring bad news from the campus of our arch rival Crimson Tide, I cherish the moment.

A champion has been crowned in the CIT post season tournament as Santa Clara defeated Iona in the championship game on Wednesday night. Tonight, it’s the third and deciding game in the CBI tournament. Creighton at Oregon are tied at a game apiece in their unique “best of” format.

Finally, we save the best for last. Last night the annual NCAA slam dunk and three point challenges were held as part of the Final Four festivities in Houston, Texas.  Andrew Goudelock from College of Charleston defeated Chris Warren of Ole Miss to win the long range shooting competition. Goudelock converting 60 shots in the three rounds for the victory. The big news came from the slam dunk competition, where a 5’10 white kid with a 50”vertical took home the prize! Here’s a look at Jacob Tucker from Illinois College.

Enjoy you weekend with the Final Four, then the National Championship game on Monday night!

Wait NCAA! The NIT, CBI and CTI dance first!

Were you aware that there 140 teams played in post season basketball tournaments this month? You know about the NCAA tournament, commonly referred to as “March Madness. And you even know about the NIT which has been where teams that miss out on the main tourney play as a consolation.  But that’s not all, there are two other tournaments!  The College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and the tournament (CIT), more on them in a moment.

The National Invitational Tournament (NIT) takes center stage tonight at Madison Square Garden. The NIT has been reduced to its Final Four. Alabama and Colorado tip in tonight’s opener, followed by Wichita State against Washington State. The Crimson Tide and Buffaloes were top seeds and were just outside the Big Dance bubble. Wichita State and Washington State survived whereas top seeds Boston College and Virginia Tech from the ACC did not.

Its the 4th year of the CBI which began with a field of 16 teams. The CBI has reached its finals, but they do things differently than the rest with a best two of three championship. Creighton took the opener Monday night, with game two tomorrow (Wednesday) in Eugene, the if game Friday, also in Oregon, should the Ducks even the series . All games in the tournament played on campus of participating teams.

The newest member of the postseason, the CIT is in its 3rd year. 24 teams have been reduced to two with Santa Clara playing at Iona for the title tomorrow night. Like the CBI, all games in the tournament are played on campus.

I like the idea of tournament games being played on campus. Would the NCAA ever consider it for the Big Dance?  I like the idea of higher seeds getting a home game, at least in the first round, to reward a better regular season performance. As it stands now, a higher seed plays on a neutral court, sometimes a hostile one, despite having a much better body of work. Imagine if higher seeds played at home all the way to the Final Four. Would some of the long shots have won? Would VCU win at Kansas? Would Butler win in Gainesville? Just a though.

March Madness Countdown to Eight… Four


If you are like me, your bracket was toast long ago. Even with nearly as many losses as wins, March Madness couldn’t be any more enjoyable! We have a great mix of traditional powers, Cinderella stories and future NBA stars.

We get four games tonight, and another four tomorrow (Friday) night which whittles the field down to the Elite Eight. I am not going to bother picking winners, as one thing I have learned from this tournament, expect the unexpected.

Tonight (Thursday)

West Region/Honda Center-Anaheim, California

It all tips off tonight with home favorite San Diego State hosting Connecticut in Southern California. Aztec coach Steve Fisher has returned to the limelight with a large role in the ESPN documentary “The Fab Five” where he reminisced as the ringleader of the very talented Michigan Wolverines team of the early 90’s. The program debuted immediately following Selection Sunday giving it a tremendous target audience. Now, Coach Fisher has guided San Diego State into the Elite  Eight. By now, you have seen Aztec forward Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was one of the top players in Los Angeles in high school, and has been the catalyst Fisher needed. The Huskies carry the torch as one of only two remaining team of eleven that qualified from the beleaguered Big East. U Conn has a  superstar of its own in guard Kemba Walker who has been performing like a player of the year candidate since the late Fall.

Also in Anaheim, a beast from the East, defending national champion Duke meeting the Pac 10’s last man standing Arizona. The Wildcats could be fueled by a regional crowd, expecially if potential #1 overall NBA draft pick forward Derrick Williams can keep the ‘cats close. The Blue Devils have been  focused since  capturing the ACC tournament and have recieved a major spark with the return of injured guard Kyrie Erving, who had been out for much of the season.

Southeast Regional/New Orleans Arena-New Orleans, Louisiana

Will Butler make another surprise visit to the Final Four? Last season could have been considered an aberration, but if they make it again, they might be onto something. The improbable win over Pittsburgh with a more improbable  ending is one we will see replayed for the ages. Matt Howard no longer has his side kick Gordon Hayward who has moved on to  the NBA, but back to back buzzer beaters has Butler living on the edge. Wisconsin was not a sexy pick to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The most popular upset pick in the first round had Belmont knocking off the Badgers. So far, so good- winning Wisconsin basketball, even  if their coach doesn’t like that references to their ugly, defensive slow style.

Florida is next in line to try and halt the Jimmer Express. BYU and the high scoring Fredette blew out a solid Gonzaga team to reach the Big Easy. So far, the predictions of gloom and doom for the Cougars without suspended forward Brandon Davies hasn’t surfaced. The Gators come in white hot, Florida on a roll through the end of SEC play and conference tournament has coach Billy Donovan looking for a third trip to the Final Four. If the loss of BYU’s best big Davies is going to be felt, the Gators dynamic front line will put it to the test.

Tomorrow (Friday)

East Region/Prudential Center-Newark, New Jersey

In what I maintain is the toughest region, North Carolina gets it started, taking on Big East rep Marquette. The Tar Heels were rolling down the stretch until an awakening in the ACC tournament final loss to Duke. The Tar Heels survived Michigan and now get double digit seed Marquette who tries to save face for the Big East. The marquee match up of the Sweet Sixteen also takes place in Newark, as the #1 overall seed, Ohio State takes on the latest fab freshman group from Kentucky. In a downright demolition of George Mason, the Buckeyes appeared unbeatable.

Southwest Region/Alamadome-San Antonio, Texas

Its an unexpected Richmond reunion at the Alamodome as a pair of double digit seeds from Virginia’s state capital, Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth are but one game away from meeting face to face in the Elite Eight.  Richmond faces its toughest test yet as they take on #1 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks, led by the Morris twins, Marcus and Markeith, are considered by many the favorite to win it all.  VCU takes on Florida State, with the Seminoles one of three ACC teams (of four) still dancing. Notre Dame was expected to arrive, but FSU added lights out shooting to a stingy defense in an easy win over the Fighting Irish.

The winners meet this weekend, which will bring us to the Final Four.

The 2011 Final Four will be held next Saturday and Monday, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas

Lets not forget the NIT

For those of you that are unaware, the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) used to be the post season event for college basketball. The NIT has both pre and post season events. The pre-season NIT takes place in November and features some of the elite teams tipping off a new season. The post season event now features a mixture of those that don’t get invited to the Big Dance. A major difference in this event is that all games leading up to  the Final Four are held on campuses of participating teams. The final four is always held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. OK, lesson over, you may now impress your  friends with the details.

NIT teams enter with different frames of mind. Some are happy to be there with any post season play considered a success, while others come in flat, disappointed and feeling disrespeted by the NCAA selection committee. Much like bowl games in college football, an extension of the season can be a good chance to take a look at young players and/or potential new starters for next season.

This years tournament featured two teams that many felt deserved to be in the Big Dance, Virginia Tech and Colorado. Hokie fans targeted Virginia Commonwealth as a team that was less deserving a spot, and let it be known. Top seeded Tech was an easy winner over Bethune Cookman in the opening round, but were shock(ers)ed by Wichita State in round two. We all know how VCU has capitalized on its chance. More on the Colorado Buffaloes in a bit.

I’ll take this opportunity to note an omission in the NIT field. For the first time in 18 seasons the University of Maryland Terrapins are not participating in a post season tournament. With future Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams and an elite facility in the Comcast Center, the Terps should have easily been part of the 32 team field.  Why was Maryland left out? It was simply a numbers game. The NIT took 14 conference champions that were left out, up from eight a year ago. Even so, having a coach approaching 700 career wins and a recent National Champion, is all the reason to include Maryland. The Terps had narrow losses this season to tournament teams like Pittsburgh, Illinois, Temple, Villanova, UNC and Duke twice, including the ACC tournament. Just a few short weeks ago, the Terps pounded Sweet Sixteen member Florida State. With 19 wins, including tournament types in Penn State and Clemson, Maryland is a “name” program that the NIT needed to stay on the basketball “radar”. The Terps will be back, in the big Dance, next season, write it down!

The NIT 32 team field has been narrowed down to the quarterfinals, which begin tonight. (all times EST)

Tonight (Tuesday)

#7 Kent State @ #1 Colorado (ESPN @ 9pm)- The top seeded Buffaloes were shocked to be left out when tournament pairings were announced two Sunday’s ago. Colorado defeated Missouri, Texas and Kansas State three times this season. CU is led by Alec Burks, one of the top guards in the nation that many haven’t seen. The Buffs have made the most of their predicament and  should advance to the semifinals easily with a win over Kent State at the Coors Events Center.

Tomorrow (Wednesday)

#6 College of Charleston @ #4 Wichita State(ESPN2 @7pm)- One of my favorite all-time coaches in this one, Bobby Cremins. The Cougars are a gem of a program, nestled away in beautiful, historic Charleston. Cougar guard Andrew Goudelock may be the best player in the history of the program. CoC will have a battle on its hands in Wichita as the Shockers looked good in the upset of Virginia Tech.

#2 Miami(FL) @ #1 Alabama(ESPN2 @9pm)- Two elite programs out to prove they belonged with the big boys. Bama was a ‘bubble” team for what seemed like months after a weak non conference  schedule. Many in the program could not believe they were passed over by rival Georgia. Keep an eye on Alabama big man JaMychal Green, one of the best in the country. The U is another example of what may turn out to be the underrated Atlantic Coast Conference.

#4 Northwestern @ #2 Washington State (ESPN2 @ 11pm)- The Wildcats upset top seed Boston College to get here. Northwestern closed strong taking #1 Ohio State to overtime in the Big 10 tournament. Washington State has held serve and was impressive in 2nd round match win over Oklahoma State. The Cougars feature the Pac-10’s leading scorer, guard Klay Thompson.

Tuesday (March 29th)
Final Four (ESPN2 @ 7 & 9pm)

Thursday (March 31st)
Championship (ESPN2 @ 7pm)